If you’ve ever had a panic attack, then you know how terrifying they can be. Your heart starts racing, and your breath becomes rapid and shallow. Your body tenses, up, and you feel like you’re going to pass out. You might even feel certain that you’ll die. Panic attacks are intense. So it makes sense that your first thought is, “How the heck do I stop this?!” But today, I’m sharing a surprising fact about how to stop a panic attack, what you might be doing wrong, and what to do instead. Watch below!
A panic attack is an intense burst of anxiety, with all sorts of physiological reactions, and it often comes out of the blue. Unfortunately, we don’t fully know what causes a panic attack. We don’t totally know why it happens. But we know that it can feel absolutely debilitating. And because of this, it’s natural to want to stop the symptoms. It’s normal to ask the question, “How do I stop a panic attack?”
Well, I’m going to tell you something that might surprise you. You ready? It’s not your job to stop a panic attack. Let me repeat that. If you’re wondering how to stop a panic attack, well, you don’t.
This might sound counterintuitive, you might be confused. So hang with me for a second.
We know that when it comes to anxiety, fighting and resisting don’t work. They make symptoms worse. (See why here.) Trying to stop your physiological responses when they’re in full swing, doesn’t work. So instead of trying to stop a panic attack, I want you to instead think about intervening. Tending to your body and your thoughts. Putting yourself in the best position to be comfortable and ride out the symptoms.
To help you make sense of this, let’s use the metaphor of a surfer. Imagine that you’re out surfing, paddling on your board, when all of a sudden, a huge wave starts coming toward you. It’s big, scary, and coming in fast. Now in that moment, there’s nothing you can do to stop that wave from coming. There’s nothing you can do to make that wave just fold into the water. It’s coming, whether you want it to or not.
You need to put yourself in the best position possible to ride that wave. Paddle out as efficiently as possible, align your body on the surfboard, and then use all your skills and knowledge to ride that huge wave, as best as you can. Stopping the wave isn’t an option. And if you spend your precious time trying to do so, the tumble underwater will be that much worse.
Your job as that wave is coming toward you is get yourself ready, and ride that wave as best as possible. If you try and stop a panic attack, you’re up for a fight. If you try to take your body from 100 miles an hour, to a dead stop and instant calm, you will fail. And then you’ll start to panic about not being able to stop the panic attack. I’m guessing you know how this cycle plays out.
Now, I want to be clear, this isn’t about taking a passive approach to panic. This isn’t about just floating on top of the water, while the wave is raging toward you. It’s not about saying, “Oh well, my body’s panicking, there’s nothing I can do.” That’s not helpful or smart either.
Your job, when you’re having a panic attack is to use all your coping skills to ride that wave as best as possible. And there are so many different ways that you can do this. Take some deep breaths. Engage in a grounding exercise. Work your self-talk. Use your coping statements. You’re not helpless. You have options.
When you feel a panic attack coming on, remember, stopping it isn’t the goal. Fighting and resisting won’t help. Scrambling to shut it down will lead to more panic. The panic will subside; it always does. Your goal is to do what you can to calm down. Use your skills, embrace your inner surfer, and ride the wave, no matter how big it seems.
Looking for more ways to calm down quickly? Hear one of my favorite statements to use in a moment of panic or worry.