Reviewed by Dr Andre Budihardjo, MM and Physician Ignatius Ooi Yong Chin
7 Ways to Prevent a Panic Attack Before It Gets Worse
Published | 7 min read
An article that describes a panic attack and the steps you can take to prevent a more severe onset of the disorder.
A panic attack refers to a wave of overwhelming fear characterized by an unexpected and immobilizing intensity. Panic attacks can occur suddenly and without warning. It can cause you to feel as if you’re losing control or fear impending death. It can also cause your heart to pound and make it difficult for you to breathe.
This is different from an anxiety attack, where the body’s automatic fight-or-flight response to being threatened, under pressure, or facing a challenging situation. Another difference between panic and anxiety attacks is how they come on. Panic attacks are spontaneous, but an anxiety attack usually has a gradual onset.
For that reason, it is important to be aware of triggers, and you may refer to our guide on how to manage a panic attack before it gets worse.
A Guide to Preventing Panic Attacks Before They Get Worse
According to a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician from Eu Yan Sang, Ignatius Ooi Yong Chin, the sooner someone takes the necessary treatment to address any health problem, the better the curative effect and the shorter the time it takes.
“The same is true in TCM. For early panic or mild illness, the efficacy of treatment will be more significant than that of advanced or serious illness,” he says. Therefore, taking these positive steps can help you do away with the debilitating symptoms of a panic attack and help you live a worry-free life.
1. Focus on your breathing
If you struggle to breathe during a panic attack, stop what you’re doing immediately. Then, sit down and practice several breathing techniques as a routine to help you prevent a panic attack from getting worse. “Some panic attacks may come from stimuli from the surrounding environment. To reduce irritation, close your eyes during a panic attack to focus on breathing more easily,” explains physician Ooi. These techniques include:
- Breathing in as slowly, deeply, and gently as you can through your nose
- Breathing out slowly, deeply, and gently through your mouth
- Counting steadily from one to five on each in-breath and each out-breath
- Closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing
“The main principle is to breathe in a “deep inhale and slow exhale” way. During a panic attack, the worst case is hyperventilation; people will mistakenly think that they lack oxygen and make their breathing more rapid. Such rapid ventilation will not relieve the panic but will make it worse,” the TCM physician adds.
2. Ground yourself
Panic attacks can be sudden and overpowering. Doing a self-evaluation of your triggers and how they can help you look for a pattern. Decide upon relaxation techniques that may help calm your mind and work best for you.
Use lavender essential oil to give you a sense of calm. Lavender is a traditional remedy for relieving symptoms such as anxiety. Alternatively, you may also choose a comforting mantra to relieve symptoms. This step should be able to give you focus and strength to stay connected in your present moment.
3. Identify your “point person”
Having someone to talk to can also help you do away with the distress of a panic attack. This does not necessarily need to be someone who experiences panic attacks themselves or has knowledge about treating the disorder.
Rather, it should be someone positive and encouraging and gives you the opportunity to think rationally about your situation. It is also beneficial to have a “point person” that can stick by your side while you go through the different symptoms, which usually eases up after 30 minutes.
4. Sweat it out
Studies show that exercise can help you to control anxiety and reduce your risk of panic attacks. Moderate to intense workouts can elevate your heart rate and induce sweating in a non-threatening way.
In time, it can give you better control over your heart racing as you will slowly get used to it racing because you want it to.
5. Practise meditation or muscle relaxation techniques
Scientific studies also show that meditation activates the “relaxation response”, which is the physiological opposite of the stress response. According to physician Ooi, Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) can be an alternative technique to alleviate disturbing and disruptive emotional symptoms such as a fear of looming danger or death. It includes the simple practice of tensing a group of muscles as you breathe in and relaxing them as you breathe out.
Like breathing exercises, mindfulness, and yoga, PMR is also regarded as a relaxation technique. It is particularly beneficial for managing stress or nervousness and can help you get through a panic attack.
6. Consult further treatment with experts
If you have previously experienced a major incidence, you should consider taking medication to alleviate the physical symptoms of a panic attack. Medications that a doctor may prescribe include an antidepressant or benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepines approved by the FDA to treat panic disorder include alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Klonopin). This class of drugs is generally used on a short-term basis as they can cause mental or physical dependence.
7. Use natural remedies
You can also use natural remedies to help treat panic attacks. Try to consume a traditional herbal soup to calm the mind and improve heart health. You can make this soup by simply mixing one packet of soup ingredients with water and boiling it on high heat. Simmer for one and a half hours before consuming it. Alternatively, you can also take a herbal supplement or tonic to improve sleep quality and calm the mind, respectively.
Acupuncture, on the other hand, is a TCM treatment that is effective in managing anxiety symptoms like a panic attack. This is evident from a 2017 review of the clinical and scientific evidence for acupuncture. Specifically, this publication includes the findings of a 2016 study of over 400 patients, which showed that anxiety management through acupuncture was significantly more effective than conventional treatments.
Certain acupressure points such as Tai Chong or LR3 ― located on top of the foot on both sides ― can also help as a grounding mechanism for the flow of energy in the body. Slide a finger inward along the space between the big and second toes until you locate a depression just in front of the metatarsal joint. Pressing LR3 with medium to deep pressure for approximately one minute can help channel the body’s energies downward, directing away possible errant energy flows that cause irritability or anxiety.
If symptoms persist, consult a clinical doctor or a TCM physician for a professional assessment of the causes and the appropriate treatments of panic attacks and their symptoms.
It is important to know the different ways to cope with a panic attack before it gets worse. By doing the techniques outlined above, you can potentially lower your risk of dealing with severe panic attacks in the future.
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