Stop the Anxiety! A Quick Guide for Overcoming Panic Attacks

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I had my first panic attack while giving a speech. One minute I was telling a joke and appreciating the reaction of the crowd. In the next moment, I felt like I was watching myself from a distance. My heart raced, my body shook, and I could not catch my breath. I wondered how I'd be able to finish my talk without anyone noticing. Somehow, I did finish the speech. But the panic was not finished with me.

Over the next two years, I experienced more panic attacks. Determined to not shrink my life, I sought help. I visited my doctor, began therapy, and read every book available on overcoming panic. Over time, I put together a grab bag of resources to survive the panic attacks. They worked. More than ten years after that first panic attack, I am nearly panic free. When the panic starts, I know what to do to stop it. Do you? Here are my tips to support you in overcoming panic.

First Things First

No matter how great you are at coping with panic and stress, no matter how helpful my list of strategies might be to you, the first steps you need to take toward healing are setting up appointments with both a physician and a therapist.

Panic attacks can be caused by health problems and by medication as well as by emotional stress. Your doctor can help you to discern this and guide you toward taking the appropriate actions.

If your panic stems from past emotional wounds, a therapist can work with you to heal these. In addition, a therapist can provide you with coping skills that are appropriate to your specific situation and personality.

Coping Strategies

The following strategies have helped me cope with stress and alleviate panic attacks. I hope that they will be helpful to you in your own journey of healing.

1. Eat Regularly

The Panic Attack Recovery Book by Shirley Swede and Seymour Sheppard Jaffe, M.D. provides helpful dietary guidelines for preventing anxiety. They suggest that drops in blood sugar can induce panic attacks. Eat small, healthy meals every 2 hours throughout the day. Keep safe snacks with you at all times in case you get stuck waiting. In addition, keep yourself hydrated!

2. Eliminate Stimulants

Stimulants - simple sugars, caffeine, and cigarettes - can cause you to feel the symptoms of a panic attack and, for some people, can actually cause panic attacks. Limiting or eliminating your use of these stimulants can help to eliminate panic attacks.

3. Breathe Deeply

Learn to breathe deeply. During a panic attack or in the midst of a fearful moment, people tend to take frequent shallow breaths. This style of breathing may cause you to experience tingling in our hands and feet and to feel light-headed. Taking slow, deep breaths can calm you. Put your hand on your stomach and breathe in so that your stomach expands. Practice this. After you learn how, try taking three breaths in this way whenever you experience stress: breathe in for a count of 8 and out for a count of 7.

4. Learn Creative Visualization Techniques

Creative visualization allows you to escape the stress of the moment and create a different reality. You can even fool your body into believing it is experiencing the vision in your head instead of the reality in the present. Visualize sitting in a calm environment - at the beach or in the mountains. Imagine yourself taking a vacation or succeeding at a challenge. Use these creative visualizations to cope with panic, to image success in stressful situations, and to provide yourself with a break from the stress of daily life. As with deep breathing, the more you practice, the better you will be able to utilize this tool in the midst of a panic attack.

5. Practice Relaxation Exercises

In my college theater classes, our teacher taught us progressive relaxation exercises. Now, this and other relaxation exercises have helped me to survive daily life and childbirth! To progressively relax yourself, find a quiet corner of your home and lie on the floor. Beginning with your toes, tense and relax each muscle group in your body - from your toes to your head. When you are completely relaxed, take a moment to notice how you feel. The more you practice this, the better you will be able to recall this feeling in the midst of a panic episode or a stressful situation.

6. Exercise!

Participating in daily exercise, such as walking, can relieve stress and alleviate panic attacks. Make the time doubly effective by using your walk as a time for prayer or meditation. Start your walk with a question to God about your life, an affirmation about yourself ("I am loved," "I am okay," "I am
a survivor."), or a simple prayer ("Thank You," "Bless this moment," "Guide me.").

7. Write!

Research by psychologist James Pennebaker has shown that people who used writing to make sense of their traumatic life experiences had the long-lasting effect of feeling happier and less anxious. Pick up an inexpensive notebook. Every morning, take fifteen minutes to dump all of your negative, stressful stuff into that notebook. Write three pages of this stuff. At the end of writing about what is difficult, write five experiences or
people or situations that you are grateful for. (For example, "I am grateful that I am alive," "I am grateful that the sky was a beautiful shade of blue," "I am grateful for the smiles of children.")

Carry a small notebook in your purse. Just as you begin to experience the symptoms of panic or stress, write down the following: the situation you are in, the sensations you are feeling in your body, the thoughts you are thinking now and the thoughts you were thinking before experiencing the first. symptoms, your present feelings and what you were feeling before the symptoms began. As you do this, remind yourself that what you are experiencing does not define you - it is simply something that is happening. You are not the symptom. This exercise can help you, over time, to pinpoint the causes of your panic attacks. It can also relieve the symptoms of panic attacks. (I use this exercise to control my asthma. It comes from the wonderful book Asthma Free in Twenty-One Days by Kathryn Shafer and Fran Greenfield.)


New research suggests that connecting with others relieves stress and increases our happiness. When I first experienced my symptoms of panic, I isolated myself. That was the worst thing I could do! No matter how challenging your panic becomes, connect with someone daily. Join a class or group in a shared area of interest - such as gardening or crafting. Connecting with others will lower your stress!

About the Author:

Right Now! Coach Rochelle Melander teaches people how to use positive words and practices to transform their lives and work right now. You can learn more about Rochelle's performance coaching and sign up for her free email newsletter at:

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