Panic attacks can be sudden and overpowering. Steps such as deep breathing, grounding techniques, light exercise, or repeating a mantra may help relieve the symptoms of a panic attack.

People cannot always predict panic attacks, but making a plan of what to do when they happen can help a person feel more in control and make panic attacks easier to manage.

This article looks at ways to stop a panic attack, general methods for reducing anxiety, and how to help when someone else is having a panic attack.

Panic attacks can cause physical and emotional symptoms, including:

Below are 13 methods people can use to help regain control and reduce the symptoms of a panic attack.

1. Remember that it will pass

During a panic attack, it can help to remember that these feelings will pass and cause no physical harm, however disconcerting it feels at the time.

Try acknowledging that this is a brief period of concentrated anxiety and that it will be over soon.

Panic attacks tend to peak within 10 minutes of their onset, and then the symptoms will begin to subside.

2. Take deep breaths

Deep breathing can benefit people with anxiety disorders and panic attacks.

Panic attacks can cause rapid breathing and chest tightness, making the breaths shallow. Shallow breathing can worsen feelings of anxiety and tension.

Instead, try to breathe slowly and deeply, concentrating on each breath. Breathe deeply from the abdomen, filling the lungs slowly and steadily while counting to four on both the inhalation and the exhalation.

People can also try 4-7-8 breathing. This involves:

  • breathing in for 4 seconds
  • holding the breath for 7 seconds
  • exhaling slowly for 8 seconds

3. Smell some lavender

A small 2019 study found that inhaling lavender oil reduced blood pressure levels in people with preoperative dental anxiety.

Research in a 2019 review suggests that inhalation and oral administration of lavender oil may help relieve anxiety.

People can hold the oil under the nose and inhale gently or dab some onto a handkerchief to smell. If someone dislikes the scent of lavender, they could try replacing it with another essential oil, such as bergamot orange, chamomile, or lemon.

4. Find a peaceful spot

Some people may find that certain sights and sounds intensify panic attacks. If possible, try to find a more peaceful spot. This could mean leaving a busy room or leaning against a nearby wall.

Sitting in a quiet place can create some mental space and may make it easier to focus on breathing and other coping strategies.

5. Focus on an object

When distressing thoughts, feelings, or memories overwhelm someone, concentrating on something physical in their environment can help ground them.

Focusing on one stimulus can reduce other stimuli. As the person looks at the item, they may want to think about how it feels, who made it, and its shape. This technique can help reduce the symptoms of a panic attack.

If someone has recurring panic attacks, they can carry a specific familiar object to help ground them. This could be a smooth stone, a seashell, a small toy, or a hair clip.

Grounding techniques such as this can help people dealing with panic attacks, anxiety, and trauma. Other grounding techniques could include:

  • visualizing a safe place
  • listening to music or focusing on other nearby sounds
  • focusing on the senses

6. The 5-4-3-2-1 method

Panic attacks can make a person feel detached from reality. This is because the intensity of the anxiety can overtake other senses.

The 5-4-3-2-1 method is a grounding technique and a type of mindfulness. It helps direct the person’s focus away from sources of stress.

To use this method, people can complete each of the following steps slowly and thoroughly:

  • Look at five separate objects: Think about each one for a short while.
  • Listen for four distinct sounds: Consider where they came from and what sets them apart.
  • Touch three objects: Consider their texture, temperature, and what their uses are.
  • Identify two different smells: This could be the smell of coffee, soap, or the laundry detergent scent on clothes.
  • Name one thing you can taste: Notice the taste in the mouth or try tasting a piece of candy.

7. Repeat a mantra

A mantra is a word, phrase, or sound that may help with focus and provide strength. Internally repeating a mantra can help to reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and panic.

The mantra can take the form of reassurance and may be as simple as, “This too shall pass.” For some, it may have a more spiritual meaning.

As a person focuses on gently repeating a mantra, their physical responses may slow, allowing them to regulate their breathing and relax their muscles.

8. Walk or do some light exercise

Walking can remove a person from a stressful environment, and the rhythm of walking may also help them regulate their breathing.

Moving around releases hormones called endorphins that relax the body and improve mood. Taking up regular exercise can help reduce anxiety over time, which may lead to a reduction in the number or severity of panic attacks.

Learn more about the benefits of exercise.

9. Try muscle relaxation techniques

Another symptom of panic attacks is muscle tension. Practicing muscle relaxation techniques may help limit an attack. If the mind senses that the body is relaxing, other symptoms — such as rapid breathing — may also diminish.

A technique called progressive muscle relaxation is a popular, effective method for coping with anxiety and panic attacks.

This involves tensing up and then relaxing various muscles in turn. A person can do this by:

  1. Holding the tension for 5 seconds.
  2. Saying “relax” as they release the muscle.
  3. Letting the muscle relax for 10 seconds before moving on to the next muscle.

10. Picture a happy place

A person’s happy place should be somewhere they would feel relaxed, safe, and calm. The specific place will be different for everybody.

When an attack begins, it can help to close the eyes and imagine being in this place. Think of how calm it is there. People can also imagine their bare feet touching the cool soil, hot sand, or soft rugs.

11. Take any prescribed medications

Depending on the severity of panic attacks, a doctor may prescribe a “use-as-necessary” medication. These medications typically work fast.

Some contain a benzodiazepine or a beta-blocker. Propranolol (Inderal) is a beta-blocker that slows a racing heartbeat and decreases blood pressure.

Benzodiazepines that doctors commonly prescribe for panic attacks include diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax).

However, these medications can be highly habit-forming, so people should use them exactly as their doctor prescribes. Taken with opioids or alcohol, they can have life threatening adverse effects.

A doctor may also prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which can help prevent panic attacks from occurring in the first place.

12. Tell someone

If panic attacks frequently occur in the same environment, such as a workplace or social space, it may be helpful to inform somebody and let them know what kind of support they can offer if it happens again.

If an attack happens in public, telling another person can help. They may be able to locate a quiet spot and prevent others from crowding in.

13. Learn your triggers

Certain things may repeatedly trigger panic attacks. By learning to manage or avoid their triggers, people may be able to reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks.

Potential triggers could include:

  • enclosed spaces
  • crowds
  • money issues
  • public speaking
  • arguments

However, some people may experience panic attacks at unexpected times without any specific triggers.

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The following strategies may help lower general levels of anxiety and prevent panic attacks:

  • Breathing exercises: Learning to practice slow, deep breathing as a general relaxation method outside of panic attacks makes it easier to practice deep breathing during an attack.
  • Meditation: Regular meditation is a good way to help relieve stress, promote peacefulness, and regulate breathing.
  • Speaking with a trusted friend: Social support can ease anxiety and make someone feel less alone.
  • Taking regular exercise: This can improve sleep, reduce tension, and produce endorphins, which make a person feel happier and more relaxed.
  • Talking therapy: If anxiety or panic regularly affects a person’s life, a mental health professional can offer support, reassurance, and advice. Therapy can help people discover the causes of their anxiety and develop effective coping methods.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can give people the tools to reduce stress and increase their tolerance to fearful situations. It may be an effective treatment method for panic attacks.
  • Lifestyle changes: Measures such as proper hydration, following a healthy, balanced diet, and avoiding or reducing alcohol, smoking, and caffeine may help reduce anxiety.

Some 2022 research suggests that certain plants, such as lavender, valerian, lemon balm, and kava extract, may help improve anxiety symptoms. However, further research is necessary to support many of these claims.

People can speak with a healthcare professional for help creating an individualized treatment plan that works best for them.

Learn more about ways to naturally reduce anxiety.

If someone else is having a panic attack, a person can talk them through a few of the methods above. For instance, help them find a peaceful spot, encourage them to take slow, deep breaths, and ask them to focus on a nearby object.

If you do not know the person, introduce yourself and ask if they need help. Ask if they have had a panic attack before, and if so, what helps them regain control.

People can also try the following tips when someone else is having a panic attack:

  • Remaining calm, as this may help them relax a little more.
  • Suggesting they move to a quiet spot nearby and helping them find one.
  • Reminding the person that panic attacks always end.
  • Staying positive and nonjudgmental. Avoid validating any negative statements.
  • Initiating a gentle, friendly conversation to distract them and help them feel safe.
  • Avoiding the approach of telling them to calm down or that there is nothing to worry about, as this devalues their emotions.
  • Staying with them. If they feel they need to be alone, ensure they remain visible.

Learn more ways to help someone having a panic attack.

Panic attacks can be frightening and disorienting. If someone is worried about a panic attack, they can ask a doctor for more help. A doctor can explain short-term coping methods and long-term treatment options.

Recurring or severe panic attacks can be a symptom of panic disorder. This condition affects 2–3% of people in the United States each year.

People may want to talk with a healthcare professional if their panic attacks:

  • are recurring and unexpected
  • get in the way of daily life
  • do not pass or improve with home coping methods

The symptoms of a panic attack can resemble those of a heart attack. These include chest pain, anxiety, and sweating. If someone suspects a heart attack or stroke, they need immediate medical attention.

It is not always possible to predict panic attacks, but having a plan in place for when they do occur can help a person feel more in control.

Ways to do this can include finding a peaceful spot and practicing deep breathing methods and grounding techniques.

People can also adopt long-term strategies to reduce the occurrence or frequency of panic attacks, such as making healthier lifestyle choices, trying therapy, and learning how to manage anxiety in daily life.