How To Stop Panic Attacks

How I learnt to stop panic attacks

stop panic attacks

Many years ago, my job involved travelling internationally on a regular basis. During a certain period, I had to take a (very) early flight to the Netherlands and this is a time I discovered panic attacks.

Until then, I was okay with flying - as long as there were no turbulences! – but taking off and landing were just a part of the journey.

On one of my earlier trips during that period, as we were descending towards Schiphol airport, the pilot announced that due to congestion around the airport, we would need to “circle around” until a landing slot became available.

I just remember thinking I might as well enjoy snoozing for a little while longer but I suddenly started to feel unwell.

I felt lightheaded, my breathing had become very fast, my legs had turned to jelly, I had gone from feeling cold to overheating and was feeling nauseous.

Feeling like I was going to faint, I just managed to attract the flight attendant’s attention and they asked me to breathe into a paper bag, explaining that I was hyperventilating. They brought me a small cup of water and open the air vent above me.

There was nowhere to run so I had to sit still and focused on me which as you will discover later, was in fact a blessing in disguise.

After what felt like an eternity, my breathing returned to normal and by the time we had taxied to the gate, I started to feel my legs again. But I felt totally drained and exhausted and I did not return to my true self until much later.

I am not sure of the exact reason I had a panic attack that day but I realised on subsequent trips that being delayed at landing was instantly triggering the same panic.

And that’s another thing about panic attacks. You get one and you look for the next one.

I did not know then what I know now about anxiety and panic attacks but not travelling to Amsterdam on that Monday morning was not an option, unless I quit my job!

So I had to learn to master my panic.

Panic attacks can be a distressing and overwhelming experience, but there are natural steps you can take to deal with them in the moment as well as to prevent them from happening.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden and intense feeling of fear and anxiety. It can happen quite suddenly and feel overwhelming or scary.

During a panic attack, you might feel like you can’t control what’s happening to your body, or feel out of touch with what’s going on around you.

Although panic attacks can feel very frightening, it is important to know that they won’t cause you any harm.

What are the symptoms of a panic attack?

The symptoms of a panic attack are similar to those of anxiety but heightened and more sudden. They can vary from person to person, but some common panic attack symptoms include:

  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • Sweating or chills
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feeling disorientated
  • Shortness of breath or feeling like you can't breathe
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or stomach discomfort
  • Dizziness or light headedness or feel like you might faint
  • Feeling detached from oneself or reality
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • Dry mouth

You might feel a few of these symptoms at the same time or have a different reaction. Everyone experiences panic attacks differently and your feelings are valid.

You might feel scared that your body is in danger or feel like you’re having a heart attack.

Most of them last just a few minutes but they may last up to 20 minutes.

Even if you don’t feel it during an attack, try to remember you are in control and the feeling will pass.

Panic attack vs anxiety attack

At this point I would like to highlight how unhelpful the word “attack” as nothing is attacking you. If fact, your brain is simply trying to protect you, even if it’s getting it wrong sometimes.

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are two distinct experiences, although they can have some overlapping symptoms.

Anxiety is often characterized by a general feeling of unease, nervousness, or worry. It may include physical symptoms similar to panic but they are typically less intense.

Additionally feelings of anxiety can last for hours or even days whereas panic attacks are sudden, intense and only last a short period of time, a few minutes up to 20 minutes.

What causes panic attacks?

Panic attacks can be caused by a variety of factors.


Because a panic attack is an intense feeling of fear and anxiety, it often happens if you are feeling very anxious or stressed about something happening in your life, or you have experienced something difficult or stressful.

This might be:

  • A difficult situation at home, work or school that is making you anxious
  • A recent traumatic event, such the death or serious illness of a loved one, a serious accident,
  • A major change in your life, such as a divorce or the addition of a baby
  • A frightening experience like abuse, or neglect

Lack of sleep

Just like lack of sleep can exacerbate anxiety, not getting enough sleep or feeling over tired can increase the risk of panic attacks.


People may experience panic attacks as a direct result of exposure to a phobic object or situation.

Past trauma

Unresolved past trauma can trigger panic attacks even if the event was a long time ago. It is important to get help with unresolved traumas.

Pharmacological causes

This may include:

  • Alcohol, drugs or medication withdrawal
  • Medication side effects
  • Excessive caffeine intake

However, it is also important to remember that panic attacks can occur without an obvious trigger.

In fact, panic attacks are often experienced as a result of misinterpreting physical symptoms of anxiety. Heart palpitations may be mistaken for symptoms of a heart attack, breathlessness or feeling faint may be taken as a sign that a person is collapsing or dying, and the racing thoughts can lead a person to think that they are losing control of their mind.

These misinterpretations – which a person may be unaware that they are doing – can trigger a panic attack, which seems to appear out of the blue but is, in fact, triggered by our thoughts.

A FALSE alarm

Whatever the trigger, it is important to remember that a panic attack is often simply a FALSE ALARM.

Just like an over sensitive smoke alarm might go off when you are frying certain types of foods in your kitchen, panic attacks are the result of the body’s natural “fight or flight” defence mechanism.

You don’t want to remove the alarm but you want to recalibrate it so it only triggers when it needs to.

What to do during a panic attack?

1.     Take back control of your breathing

Most people are likely to hyperventilate during a panic attack. Therefore, whereas usual advice is to practice deep breathing exercises and counting breathes, I prefer to encourage a different type of breathing technique as the first port of call.

Breathe in through the nose and breathe out thought the mouth slightly open (as if blowing on a hot drink), while focusing on long exhales, making them as long as you can.

Once you feel you are starting to get back control of your breathing, continue with the 7-11 abdominal breathing. Breathe in through the nose on a count of 7 and breathe out through the nose on a count of 11. Feel the tummy expanding as you breathe in and contract gently as you breathe out.

2. Do not fight your panic

This may feel counterintuitive but one of the best way to master your panic is accept it and observe it. Imagine it outside of you and observe it without trying to fight it. Remind yourself that this is just a false alarm and it will soon pass.

3. Change your thoughts – Have positive mantra

Panic attacks can often be triggered by the misinterpretation of the physical symptoms of anxiety. Heart palpitations may be mistaken for symptoms of a heart attack, breathlessness or feeling faint may be taken as a sign that a person is collapsing or dying, and the racing thoughts can lead a person to think that they are losing control of their mind.

As a result, you may think to yourself “I’m scared,” “what is happening to me?”“I can’t get through this,” or even “People probably think I’m insane.”

Replace these types of thoughts with more encouraging and positive statements
“Even tough I feel scared, I can get through this”
“This is just anxiety”
“I am OK”
Or simply choose a statement or word that speaks to you and repeat it in a loop internally like a mantra.

4. Don’t run away

People who experience panic in a specific situation or location often want to run away for it . For example people who have panic attacks in supermarkets may want to leave the supermarket to escape the panic. However, panic is all about fight or flight and running would create more of that. In addition, it would reinforce the message to your brain that supermarkets are dangerous.
Instead, focus on your breathing and act as normal. The more you do this, the more your brain will recognise that there is no danger in that situation.

How to prevent panic attacks?

Although it is good to have tools and techniques to help you cope with panic attacks, the best thing is to prevent them happening in the first place.

The causes of panic attacks may vary it is accepted that things like:

  • High levels of life stress
  • General anxiety
  • Personality and temperament
  • Negative thinking
  • Or tiredness

All have a part to play. To eliminate panic attacks:

1. Take steps to reduce stress

2. Learn to reduce your anxiety

3. Challenge your thoughts

Panic attacks can often be triggered by anxious or negative thoughts. Try to challenge these thoughts by asking yourself if they are based on reality or if there is another way to interpret the situation.

4. Hypnotically prepare not to panic

Use self-hypnosis, or work with a clinical hypnotherapist, to rehearse feeling calm in the situation which would usually create panic.

5. Get professional help

If panic attacks or the fear of panic attacks is controlling your life and you need more support, it is important to reach out and get professional help.

There are different types of panic attack treatments so it is good to look around and find the type of therapy that suits you.

In particular you should consider treatments for phobias, trauma and anxiety disorders.

About the author

Christine is a clinical hypnotherapist, practitioner of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), NLP, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and Matrix Reimprinting.

She specialises in anxiety and trauma.

To contact Christine, click here.

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