Eight Good Ways to Manage and Prevent Panic Attacks

A panic attack can be very scary.  Symptoms like accelerated heart rate, dizziness, and faintness are common signs of a panic attack. Other  telltale signs include sweatiness, chills, trouble breathing, and even chest pains. All of these can make you feel like you are losing control. Luckily there are a few things that you can do to try to help manage your stress levels and prevent panic attacks. Here are some suggestions you can implement into your everyday life.

1. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Caffeine can make you feel jittery and make you more prone to having a panic attack.  Alcohol turns to sugar in the body so ingesting alcohol can cause blood sugar spikes, which can also help induce severe anxiety.  Eating regular healthy meals and drinking water in lieu of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages can cut down on your risk. Moderating alcohol and caffeine consumption has been shown to help prevent panic attacks from happening.

2. Find something positive to think about after a panic attack.

Part of what makes panic attacks so frightening is the fear after you have one that this will continue to happen to you. That negative mind frame can leave you more prone to future general anxiety and attacks. Even if you’ve had a panic attack, it is important to try and positively reframe the events, and distract yourself with something that brings you pleasure. And if you cannot find something positive to think about that is true, fake it; it still helps to reinforce those positive internal channels. Being able to associate positive thoughts with your most recent panic attack may help you be less fearful of future panic attacks, which can help you break out of a bad panic cycle.

3. Do writing exercises.

When you start to feel signs of anxiety and stress creeping on, take some time to write down how you are feeling, what you are thinking about, and what other things you are experiencing. Journaling is an important tool used in therapy to create separation between emotions and event. In DBT, clients are encouraged to be an objective reporter of events, to decrease emotional responses to stressful events.  Keeping this up over an extended period of time, through several episodes of anxiety,  can also help provide insight into what factors trigger your panic attacks.

4. Get some exercise every day.

Exercise is a great tool for relieving stress and working through frustrations. And a continual exercise routine is helpful in preventing day-to-day anxiety and stress from leading to a full-blown panic attack. Do enough exercise to get your heart pumping.  While exercising, try to be present and mindful of the feeling of your heart exerting itself. Exercise helps our body release “feel good” neurotransmitters like endorphins that can counteract anxiety. In addition, the act of doing something for your health reinforces self-esteem and positive self-talk, which also undermine anxiety.

5. Relax your muscles.

When you find yourself feeling anxious, make a conscious effort to relax your muscles.  Loosen up your neck, shoulders, and arms in particular because that is where most people hold the bulk of their tension.  Consciously making an effort to relax your muscles can give your body clues to indicate when the muscles are tense. Having a stretching routine you can do at home is also a great way to do a quick reset and combat muscle tightness associated with anxiety

6. Hold your breath.

When you start to feel a panic attack coming on, and you start to feel like you are going to hyperventilate, hold your breath.  Hold your breath for ten to fifteen seconds several times in a row, taking a deep breath in between.  This will get you into a pattern of deeper, slowing breathing, and that breathing will ease some of your panic. When you are breathing slowly and deeply, your body will naturally calm and relax itself. Holding your breath may seem counterintuitive, but this type of breath-work helps interrupt the process of your body cycling up into a panic attack.

7. Get your brain moving.

When you are starting to feel yourself panic, there are several things that you can do to give your brain something else to focus on:

  • Draw a picture.
  • Read a story out loud.  Choose a calm and relaxed voice as if you were reading a bedtime story to a child.
  • Think of a positive mantra and repeat it over and over to yourself.  Choose a calming and reassuring sentence such as “I am fine. This is just a panic attack.  Everything will be okay.”
  • Make yourself laugh out loud.  According to research, inauthentic laughter does the same good things for the brain as authentic laughter.
  • Listen very closely to some intricate music.
  • Practice brain puzzles like Sudoku, crosswords, or saying the alphabet backwards.
8. Meditation.

A great way to keep your mind active and focused on letting your thoughts come and go is meditating.  Meditation is proven method to effectively center yourself and calm your thoughts. In many cases, daily meditation will prevent anxiety attacks from ever occurring.

If You Can Prevent Panic Attacks, You Will be Happier and More Productive

There is no doubt that panic attacks are debilitating. The loss of control can be terrifying, and prevent you from being as productive and happy as you can be. Everyone who experiences panic attacks differently, but by applying some of these tips to your daily life, you will certainly lower the chance of having an episode of acute and extreme anxiety. Of course, sometimes panic attacks happen regardless. Always remember that they are only temporary. If you feel as though you are experiencing more panic attacks than usual, it is best to contact your doctor or seek professional help.

Dr. Raul J. Rodriguez

Dr. Raul Rodriguez

DABPN, DABAM, MRO