How To Stop A Panic Attack In Its Tracks

Quick, effective ways to get rid of panic (no meds, no paper bags).

Exactly How To Stop A Panic Attack Cold getty

Panic attacks are common. And intense. And terrifying.

They can creep up on you when you least imagine, or when you are in a situation that brings up fear, like public speaking or driving in inclement weather. Unfortunately, because stopping panic attacks can seem challenging, they can also cause you to limit your activities to avoid future episodes, and impact your relationships with others.

Sometimes, panic attacks can be caused by a medical condition. Often, though, they are caused by overwhelming stress, triggered by a nasty breakup, an unexpected job loss, or merely the buildup of many stressors over time.


Whatever the origin, you know panic when you've experienced it (although at the time you think you are going to die). Everyone's experience is slightly different and you may have only suffered a few of these symptoms:

  • Racing heart
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling weak or faint
  • Nausea
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Feeling spaced out or detached (out of body experience)

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What's happening is that your body is on full alert and responding to danger, although the threat is not even real. And when the body falsely feels under attack like this, it's your job to make it understand that it's not.


The first time I had a panic attack, I was told to breathe into a brown paper bag. Well, folks, first, I'm no longer brown bagging it, and second, it didn't work anyway.

What you need to know is that these nasty spells can be controlled — even stopped, within a minute of starting — without paper bags, jumping on one foot, or any other unusual tactics. 

As always, check with your healthcare practitioner to make sure these actions are appropriate for your particular situation.

Here are 8 simple ways to stop a panic attack and immediately seize it in its tracks:

1. Breathe slowly.



Put your hand on your stomach. Take a regular-sized breath. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then release the air slowly through pursed lips.

The aim is to restore the balance of carbon dioxide in your system, which is out of whack when you've been breathing too rapidly. When you can control your breathing, you can reduce your symptoms significantly.

Lying on your tummy may slow down your breathing, also, particularly if you are hyperventilating. I’ve heard some people can wake up with panic if they've slept on their stomachs. 

But, if you've been hyperventilating from a panic attack during the day, laying down on your stomach may slow down your breathing enough for you to try another tactic.


2. Spray some Rescue Remedy.

Keep a bottle of Rescue Remedy in your purse or car so that it's handy. Do 2 sprays in the mouth right away then focus on the other techniques. This fantastic potion of Bach flowers is suitable for any anxiety and an overall tonic for emotional well-being. 

3. Get fresh air.

If you are indoors or inside a car, open a window and breath in some fresh air. Mindfully focus on it against your face.

4. Inhale some lavender.



Aromatherapy can be heaven sent when you're experiencing panic. One whiff of lavender can do wonders to calm and restore. 

Other essential oils can be beneficial for anxiety and panic, too, such as frankincense, vetiver, and bergamot. Carry a rollerball with you, which you often find at health food stores or online specialty shops.

Important note: aromatherapy and some medications don’t mix, so check with your doctor to be sure it's a safe option for you. 

RELATED: I Had A Severe Panic Attack And Punched A Stranger On Black Friday

5. Go to your happy place.

Picture the place that evokes happiness and peace. It might be a beach, a garden, or at home with your family. If you can safely close your eyes, that's even better. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face, notice the breeze through your hair, and listen to the waves coming into the shoreline. 


Engaging all of your senses allows you to shift your focus entirely away from whatever started your panic attack.

6. Use self-talk.

As much as it feels like you are going to take your last breath, remember you are not having a heart attack. Say it out loud: "Stop! This is just my body freaking out. I am and will be fine."

Interrupt the inaccurate messages being sent to your brain. Telling yourself that you're going to be ok will remove any fear of impending doom.

7. Ignore the panic.



Carry on as usual. Act normally. Don't give into your fear and your body's overreaction to a stimulus. Panic needs fuel to keep it going.

8. Refer to a panic cue card.

Combine all of the steps above by creating a reference card to hold onto during a panic attack. On the back of a calming picture or photo of a loved one or simply on a 3x5 recipe card, write out your strategy. 

For example, in bold, colorful letters write out:

  • STOP
  • I’m not dying. This will pass.
  • Take Rescue Remedy.
  • Open window.
  • Breathe slowly.
  • Sniff lavender.
  • Imagine my happy place.
  • Proceed as usual.
  • Reward myself. I did it.

Of course, the best way to deal with panic is to prevent it from happening in the first place. This might mean reducing stress by getting adequate sleep, eliminating caffeine, exercising moderately, meditating, keeping up to date with physicals, and working with a coach or therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral and mindfulness approaches.


Master the steps to control a panic attack, and you will finally kick it in the butt, get back your life, and start enjoying it more fully.    

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Lisa Petsinis is a career and life coach. Contact her for a complimentary call and jumpstart the changes you want in your life today.