How to Handle a Panic Attack

A lot of my clients with anxiety experience panic attacks - and it's crucial to be proactive. You need a plan before the attack occurs.

1. What Should You Do?

Make sure you know the signs of panic attacks. And if this isn't your first attack, you have a pretty good idea of how your body has responded to this severe anxiety before. 

When you start to notice your anxiety level rising, or you're experiencing the beginning stages of a panic attack, try and find a quiet place to retreat to. If you can't leave the crowd or the room, just focus on slowly breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. 

Our brains are hardwired to protect us. So if you suffer from anxiety, remind yourself that your brain is trying to do its job - it's just overreacting. Instead of becoming frustrated with yourself, bring some compassion to your brain in this situation. And see if you can flip the thought from "My brain is messed up and this is awful" to "This moment isn't great, but I know that I'll get through this."

2. Steps to Keep Calm During the Attack:

Identify the problem.

If possible, slowly remove yourself from the situation or setting.

Recognize that the panic attack is not going to last forever.

Try and take a seat.

Focus on your breath. 

Or if that feels hard, find one space on the floor or the wall to focus on. 

Make an effort to breathe through your nose and out your mouth at a slow pace.

Ground yourself and check in with your five senses. What do you see, hear, taste, touch, or smell in this exact moment? 

3. When to Consider the ER:

Many people, in the middle of a panic attack, think that they're dying. It makes sense. With your heartbeat pounding and your vision even blurring, you may be worried that you're experiencing a heart attack or stroke. 

If this is the first time you've experienced these symptoms, absolutely get evaluated by a doctor to make sure that there's not another underlying cause. Doctors will run tests to rule out any other concern.

If the ER doctor decides it is a panic disorder, it's really crucial to seek out mental health treatment. Psychotropic medication may be helpful tool, but it is especially effective when paired with regular counseling sessions.

If you or your child experiences panic attacks, its crucial to seek out counseling. Kelsey specializes in anxiety and anger management for kids and teens, from age 4 through college, and you can experience panic attacks at any age. Kelsey's office is located in Webster Groves, and she works with clients around the St. Louis, MO area. You can email her at compassionatecounselingstl@gmail.com with follow up questions and queries.