Ah, the dreaded “what if” questions are racing through your brain at the moment. What if I die from this pandemic? If I lose my job? Never get a job after this all passes since I was already unemployed before this global crisis started? Never see my parents again? If I’ll never be able to leave my house again? What if, what if, what if? Here’s how to reduce panic attacks in five steps.

As a person who has a history of panic attacks, these irrational thoughts would create physical symptoms: my heart rate would increase dramatically, my breathing would become shorter, and my senses would be heightened. My thoughts and restlessness would escalate to the point that my mind was spinning out of control, which would lead to a panic attack. Luckily, I have learned how to control panic attack, as well as try to prevent them from happening.

Here are some tools for how to reduce a panic attack

  1. Breathe It may sound simple, but in the moment of a panic attack, you may forget to breathe. The best approach is to breathe in and out slowly through your mouth, feeling the air slowly fill your belly and chest, and release slowly as well. You may breathe in for 3 to five counts, then breathe out for the same count. There are also Apps out there that help you get in that breathing zone, like Calm. If your phone is near and you feel like you have a bit of control to use the App, it certainly helps as a voice is there to guide you.
  1. Observe your surroundings – After gaining control of breathing, observe the environment around you to take more control of your senses. First, identify 5 things that your see, then 5 things you hear, then 5 things you can touch, then repeat it again but instead of 5 things, do four, then three, then two, then one. My therapist told me this is a good way to really feel grounded again, and to validate that you’re safe.
  1. Focus on one object  – If observing your surroundings seems impossible, find a single object int the room to focus all of your attention on during the panic attack. It’s essential to pick an object that is of clear sight and that you can consciously note everything about it. For example, you may notice a photo or painting hanging on the wall. Describe the colours, shapes, and patterns to yourself. Focus all of your energy on the object you have identified, and your panic symptoms may reduce.  
  1. Imagine your happy place – What is the most relaxing place that you can think of? Is it a warm sunny day walking on your favourite deserted beach? Is it a deep forest with woodland creatures and plants that remind you of a fairyland? Or perhaps a log cabin in the mountains? Picture yourself there and focus on all of the details as much as possible. Imagine digging your toes into the sand, or smelling the earthy scents of the trees around you.  This place should be quiet, so try to avoid imagining cities with a lot of loud sounds.
  1. Keep calming scents on hand – Calming scents, such as sage and lavender are known for relieving stress and sooth yourself. It can also help your body relax. If you are prone to panic attacks (such as myself), it’s nice to keep some lavender pouches, sage smudge stick, calming essential oils, near you. If you’re experiencing a panic attack, breathe in the scent. You can also try drinking chamomile tea as well as it’s incredibly soothing and relaxing.

The most important thing to remember when you’re experiencing a panic attack is that you’re safe and everything will be O.K. During and after an attack, it can help to remember that this too shall pass. It’s important to acknowledge that the attack is just for a brief moment of concentrated anxiety, and that it will end. Another option is to talk to a therapist or doctor if your panic attacks increase. 

Remember that during these uncertain times, everyone is experiencing some anxiety, so it’s helpful to everyone to talk to each other and listen while drinking some calming tea (virtually for the time being, of course!☺)

How to Reduce Panic Attacks: Resources

Anxiety, Fear, Panic – NHS

How to Stop a Panic Attack Before Things Get Really Bad – Psycom

5 Tips For Coping With Panic Attacks – Priory Group