19.8 C
Saturday, June 3, 2023
HomeUSHow to Handle Panic Attacks When They Happen, According to Psychologists

How to Handle Panic Attacks When They Happen, According to Psychologists


Hyperventilation, chest pains, sweating, and a racing heart are just some of the terrifying symptoms of a panic attack.

One in 10 Americans will suffer a single one this year, according to the cleveland clinicand around one in 50 will suffer multiples.

Many patients say they feel like they are about to die, have a heart attack, or “go crazy,” while others say they feel like they have lost control of their body.

But DailyMail.com spoke to three psychologists about how you can prevent attacks naturally, without drugs, and how best to treat them if they occur:

Mental health experts Dr Ian Stanley, Dr Karen Lynn Cassiday and Dr Carolyn Rubenstein (pictured left to right) spoke to DailyMail.com about some tried and true methods of fending off attacks. They include identifying a panic attack naturally when it occurs, slowing your breathing, and distracting yourself from the physical symptoms.


While getting hackneyed guidance like “take a deep breath” may sound hackneyed to someone experiencing a panic attack or panic disorder, it actually works, according to Dr. Ian Stanley, a psychologist at the University of Colorado.

He recommends exhaling for a few seconds longer than inhaling. When one begins to emerge, Try breathing in for a count of four and breathing out for a count of six.

Inhalation is linked to the sympathetic nervous system which activates the “fight or flight” response. It’s the accelerator pedal, in a way.

For its part, exhalation is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the one that influences our body’s ability to calm down.

Extending the exhalation automatically places more emphasis on the side of the nervous system that provides rest and relaxation.

“It just trains the body to slow down and then provides physiological feedback, that the threat is not as imminent as a panic attack would lead someone to think,” said Dr. Stanley.


Have you tried any of these techniques? They help you?

  • Yeah 58 votes
  • No 46 votes
  • Only sometimes 26 votes


Dr. Carolyn Rubenstein, a Boca Raton, Florida-based psychologist, recommends honing your senses on something external to serve as a distraction from physical and emotional panic.

“What I really try to recommend to people is to think about the rainbow because it’s kind of creative.

‘And think about looking for three red things (in the room or around you), three orange things and three yellow, green and blue things.

‘And you can even expand that and go for gold and silver and black and white and really engage it. It works even if you are driving or if you are on a plane.

“It’s really helpful in terms of de-escalation because it will keep you engaged and it takes a little bit of time.

“And it really forces you to expand your perspective and get out of your body for a few minutes so you can calm down.”

Other helpful distractions might include listening to feel-good music, immersing your face or hands in ice water, or getting some fresh air.


For many people, just knowing the panic ahead can be a relief.

Telling yourself very calmly and matter-of-factly that the body’s response to some foreign stimulus is a miscalculation is enough to disarm panic, in many cases.

Dr. Rubenstein said: ‘You’re labeling it, you’re looking at it, rather than reacting to it. You come from a place of control, rather than being controlled by the symptoms.

“It’s a mental trick that we use, it brings logic, and not just the emotions that are in control.

“Tagging is really important to regaining that control and it puts you back in the driver’s seat for a bit, which can be incredibly helpful when you feel a total lack of control.”

Panic attacks are not fatal in and of themselves, but experiencing one can feel like having a heart attack or even dying.

The symptoms vary greatly and depend on the individual, but some include chest pain, dizziness, nausea, tremors, sweating, rapid heartbeat and hyperventilation, and a profound fear of losing control.

They usually come on quickly and can last anywhere from five to 20 minutes.

The period after a panic attack in which the body and mind are recovering can feel like a nasty hangover.


Dr. Karen Lynn Cassiday, CEO of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago, told DailyMail.com that people prone to panic attacks should maintain good posture and sit upright.

Disturbed breathing caused by poor posture induces and exacerbates the level of anxiety.

She said: “What people do, and also animals, when they’re under chronic stress, they get into this fearful posture and make it difficult to breathe naturally with their body and suddenly they’re exhaling too much carbon dioxide.”

Standing or sitting in a confident posture with a puffed out chest and open shoulders has a psychological boost, improves confidence, mood and energy levels and reduces stress, anxiety and depression.


While the 4:6 method helps you hit the brake pedal in a panic, Dr. Cassiday also cautions against taking too deep breaths when you’re in the throes of a panic attack.

Many people in the throes of a panic attack will be able to recall the often-given advice to take deep or deep breaths to stabilize your heart rate. But when you hyperventilate, this is easier said than done and actually exacerbates the problem.

This is because hyperventilation occurs when people breathe in so quickly and deeply that they expel an unusually high amount of carbon dioxide, which in turn causes heady symptoms like dizziness that characterize a panic attack. Those symptoms simulate the sensation of suffocation, which sets off a vicious cycle of breathless panic.

Dr Cassiday said: “The worst thing you can do is take a deep breath because that only serves to reduce carbon dioxide levels further.” Breathe slowly and gently through your nose so it’s as quiet as possible and you can barely hear it in the back of your throat.


Anxiety is a common illness, and licensed psychologists and social workers are trained to help people overcome it.

There are many treatment options for panic attacks and panic disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy, often called talk therapy or psychotherapy, is the first line of treatment for panic disorder and panic attacks.

CBT equips the patient to better modify their thought processes and actions to confront and disarm intrusive thoughts that lead to panic attacks.

Therapy can not only help someone better understand what to do when a panic attack occurs, but also how to modify their behavior and thought patterns that could trigger a panic attack in the future.

Dr. Karen Lynn Cassiday said that a panic attack is “like when you were a kid and someone’s older brother held your head underwater in the pool and you didn’t think you’d ever surface.”

“Having four or more of those symptoms is really overwhelming, which is why a lot of people might think, I’m having a stroke, I’m going crazy, I’m dying, something is terribly wrong with my body.” And indeed they are correct, it’s just not any of the things I just mentioned.

Many people dealing with panic attacks face the constant fear of being caught off guard while performing normal life functions, such as grocery shopping or driving.

Some people will never experience a panic attack. Many people will experience one or two in their lives. But an unfortunate 4.7 percent of Americans have panic disorder, chronic anxiety that includes frequent panic attacks.

The author of what'snew2day.com is dedicated to keeping you up-to-date on the latest news and information.

Latest stories