Panic Attack Management: 5 Simple Steps

Nobody enjoys a panic attack, but they're particularly awful when they happen at school.

On top of experiencing all of those physical symptoms - shortness of breath, tense muscles, pounding heart - you're worried about how other people will respond to you. 

Panic Attack Step 1: Notice what’s going on

One of the most crucial first steps is to notice what’s going on without immediately reacting to it. Sometimes, panic can subside on its own, without us immediately reacting to it. Give yourself a few minutes to take a step back and just notice the feelings and sensations without judging them.

Step 2: Separate

If the panic isn’t subsiding, find a calm area, alone, go there. This can be as simple as leaving to use the restroom and finding a stall to sit in - you can always let your teacher know you had to leave for the restroom, and few people will want any details if that's your excuse. 

Step 3: Grounding

In the moment, try to ground yourself. I like to use the 5 Senses Scavenger Hunt - name one thing that you see, one thing that you hear, one thing that you smell, one thing that you can physically touch, and check in with how your mouth tastes. This helps bring you back into your body and the moment. 

Step 4: Breath

Next, try focusing on slowing your breathing. Try breathing in through your nose for three slow counts, pause, and breathe out of your mouth for four slow counts. You can even count to yourself to keep focus Breathing in "one two three” out “five six seven eight." Or if breathing in feels too difficult, just focus on breathing out.

Step 5: Cool down

Before heading back to class, splash your face with cool water, and grab some from the drinking fountain yourself. Really notice how the cool water feels on your face and down your throat. Connecting with those physical experiences will help to calm your body even further.

Don’t judge yourself!

Many people report experiencing panic attacks about panic attacks. Of course it makes sense to wish that you didn’t have to experience them. Or to wish that you were different. But when we judge ourselves, we can make this an unhealthy cycle - the panic, the guilt about the panic, the panic about the guilt about the panic… it’s a panic cycle! So break the cycle, and be kind to yourself. And practice your steps, even before you need them.

Curious to hear more? Kelsey Torgerson specializes in anxiety and anger management for pre-schoolers, elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, teens, and college students. She provides cognitive behavioral therapy through her Clayton office. Families come from University City, Ladue, Creve Couer, Town and Country, Brentwood, and surrounding St. Louis areas. Reach out via kelsey@compassionatecounselingstl.com or 314-339-7640.