Gillian Buckley Yoga & Wellness
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What to Do When You’re Having a Panic Attack

I've talking in previous posts about how to make small changes in your lifestyle to reduce anxiety. I've also discussed how yoga can help make anxiety more manageable as you work to create habits that support you. Here I would like to offer advice on shortening the duration and decreasing the severity of panic (or anxiety) attacks. 

So what is a panic attack? An anxiety attack comes on fairly quickly and can manifest itself physically. Some sufferers experience it as a difficulty to breathe. They might experience shaking and sweating. Panic attacks often cause a tightness in the chest—it's common for people to mistake anxiety for a heart attack. Anxiety attacks are extremely uncomfortable. Sometimes the worry or shame of experiencing them in public can make anxiety even worse.

There's no tried and true cure for panic attacks, but there are certain actions that can help to take you back to a place of calm. 

1. Let people in.

I know this one can be tough. Panic attacks can be embarrassing and often we worry about bothering people. But consider letting one or two people know about what panic attacks look like for you. Let them know what you need in these moments—more space? A way out of the situation? If it is too hard to express this in high anxiety moments, maybe you could let them know what you were going through afterwards. Perhaps they would be open to your calling them and just being on the phone with you as you ride the wave. 

Also, always remember that professional help is available. Family doctors are trained to look after your overall health—this includes your mental health. Talking about your panic attacks with a family doctor or a therapist can be a great way to process what has happened and look at a path forward.

2. Use your breath.

The breath is one of the most overlooked tools that we have at our disposal. Why is that? The breath can so easily change the mood and mindset in a matter of minutes. Two breath techniques (or pranayama) that I recommend are Box Breathing and Alternate Nostril Breathing.

3. Take some movement.

Many people find that movement helps them shift the nervous energy that might be in their bodies during a panic attack. This can take many forms from high energy HIIT workouts to gentle yoga. Experiment and see what works best for you. Going for a walk is a technique used by a lot of people, as it has the advantage of giving you a change of scene. 

4. Try a grounding exercise.

When you're in the middle of an anxiety attack, it can feel like the world is spinning. We might be caught replaying something that happened in our past or getting upset over future events that haven't happened yet. Grounding is a way to get our minds back to the present space. The next time an anxiety attack sneaks up on you, try identifying:

  • 5 things that you can see
  • 4 things that you can hear
  • 3 things that you can feel
  • 2 things that you can smell
  • 1 thing that you can taste

If this list feels like too much to remember, try just going through each of your senses and identifying one thing.

Don't forget that there is always help. Reach out: talk to your doctor, call a friend or contact an organization specializing in anxiety, such as Anxiety Canada. Remember that you aren't alone. You are so much more than your panic attacks. 

How do you cope with panic attacks? I would love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below.

Hi, I'm Gillian.

I’m obsessed with helping women live their best lives. Together we'll use yoga and mindfulness to build confidence, reach goals and have some fun!

Let's do this!

About the Author Gillian Buckley

When she's not teaching yoga classes or wellness workshops, Gillian can be found doing boot camp in the park, spending time with her kids or developing her latest and greatest kombucha flavour.