7 Ways to Prevent an Anxiety or Panic Attack
Published | 6 min read
Have you experienced a panic attack? Panic Disorder affects 6 million adults in America, or around 3% of the U.S. population. Learn what you can do to prevent it.
You could be anywhere. Your heart starts pounding, and it feels like it’s hard to breathe. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know these signs of a panic attack all too well. Panic attacks are an overwhelming sensation of fear that can occur suddenly with no warning. You may feel like you’re losing control. In severe cases, it may even feel like you might die.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. At least 1 in 5 Americans over 18 have experienced a chronic anxiety disorder, including panic attacks, in the past two years. Experiencing an anxiety attack can put your body under a lot of stress. During an anxiety attack, the body’s automatic fight-or-flight response kicks in because you feel threatened, under pressure, or you’re facing a challenging situation.
Dealing with a lot of ongoing stress can sometimes lead to an anxiety attack. A panic attack is spontaneous and sudden, but an anxiety attack comes on gradually.
What causes panic attacks can vary depending on the person. It’s important and helpful to be aware of what triggers you to have a panic attack. The following quick guide can help you to understand panic attack causes to help you prevent future panic attacks, or at least stop them from getting worse.
How to Deal with Panic Attacks Before Things Get Worse
According to a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician from Eu Yan Sang, Ignatius Ooi Yong Chin, the sooner someone takes the necessary steps to address any health problem, the better the effect of the treatment and the shorter the time it takes to find relief.
“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. Feeling a panic attack? 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 to help 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
When you’re feeling calm and focused, do a self-evaluation of your triggers and look for a pattern. Then, decide upon relaxation techniques that may help calm your mind and work best for you to help prevent panic attacks.
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. Call a trusted person
Having someone to talk to can also help relieve the distress of a panic attack. This does not necessarily need to be someone who experiences panic attacks themselves or has knowledge about treating panic disorder.
Rather, it should be someone positive and encouraging who 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 ease up after 30 minutes.
4. Move your body
Studies show that exercise can help you to control anxiety and reduce your risk of panic attacks. According to Harvard Health, engaging in exercise diverts you from the things you are anxious about. Moving your body also decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious.
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. Practice 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 with experts for further treatment for panic attacks
If you have previously experienced a major incident, you may want to 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 consuming a traditional herbal soup containing lotus seeds (lian zi), Chinese yam (huai shan yao), poria, and dried gorgon seed (qian shi) to calm the mind and improve digestion. 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 an herbal supplement or lingzhi 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 along the space between the big and second toes until you locate a depression just in front of the metatarsal joint (the big toe joint). Pressing LR3 with medium to deep pressure for approximately one minute can help channel the body’s energies downward and redirect disrupted energy flows that can cause irritability or anxiety.
If symptoms persist, contact a clinical doctor or a TCM physician for a professional consultation to discuss your symptoms and panic disorder treatment options. A panic attack can be scary, and not knowing how to deal with one can make it worse. Taking the time to learn the techniques outlined above can potentially lower your risk of dealing with severe panic attacks in the future.
- NHS inform. 2021. How to deal with panic attacks. [Accessed 24 October 2021]
- ScienceDirect. 2012. The relationships among heart rate variability, executive functions, and clinical variables in patients with panic disorder. [Accessed 24 October 2021]
- Psychology Tools. Progressive Muscle Relaxation. [Accessed 24 October 2021]
- Anxiety.org. 2017. 10 things to know about treating your panic. [Accessed 24 October 2021]
- Explore IM. Acupressure Point LV3: Liver 3 or Tai Chong. [Accessed 24 October 2021]
- Anxiety and Depression of Association of America (ADAA). Exercise for Stress and Anxiety. [Accessed 24 October 2021]
- Hardvard Health Publishing. 2019. Can exercise help treat anxiety? [Accessed 24 October 2021]