How to stop a panic or anxiety attack fast

After going through a hellish bad trip, I was left with severe anxiety that caused me to have panic attacks regularly for almost two years. I desperately looked for help online, but none of the advice I found seemed to provide good, solid answers – I needed powerful help. One of the most common “solutions,” deep breathing, was no good for me because my anxiety was usually body related, such as fearing that I wasn’t getting enough air or that I was about to have a heart attack. Focusing on breathing made things worse.

In this post, I’ve laid out the techniques that I eventually developed for myself. It’s important to understand that anxiety and panic attacks do not come out of nowhere – the anxiety is originally caused by some trauma, and the panic attacks are triggered by something that reminds your subconscious mind of that trauma. I touched on this in an earlier post:

By “trauma,” I mean anything that your subconscious perceived as life-threatening, even if it wasn’t truly life-threatening in a practical sense, some examples are: a car crash, any type of mental, physical, verbal, or sexual abuse, having a troubled relationship with one of your parents, being bullied, intense fear of being abandoned or ostracized from a group, or even having your favorite toy taken away as a child. Any stressful event, no matter how big or small, can trigger trauma in the subconscious mind.

Over time, you learn to cope with the event or even suppress it, but it’s still there. You didn’t fix the trauma itself. In some cases, you may not have even known the trauma was there, which was true in my case. I did not come to understand that I had suffered significant abuse during my early childhood until over a year after my bad trip.

Read more from this post here.

Because something caused the trauma to begin with, you can find out what it is and get rid of it – you don’t have to deal with this anxiety forever. For now, though, think of this as having a garden (your mind) and pulling up the weeds (panic attacks) – you need to be out there in that garden pulling the weeds up as soon as they peak up out of the dirt. You have to be vigilant. The first step in healing from this problem for good is getting the anxiety attacks under control.

Techniques for stopping a panic or anxiety attack, fast

  1. Change you location and body posture. Our emotions (including anxiety) are deeply linked to our body, and certain bodily positions can trigger a panic attack. Certain environmental situations can trigger a panic attack too. Start by getting up, going to a different room, and putting your body in a different posture. If you’re at work, go to the bathroom or take a coffee break. If you can’t leave (such as feeling a panic attack coming on during the middle of an important meeting, which has happened to me), at least change the way you’re sitting or standing, how you’re holding your arms, etc.
  2. Laugh. This may sound strange, but start fake-laughing until you actually start laughing for real. If you’re not at home, go in a single-person bathroom or your car (put your phone to your ear if you feel like people will see you through the windows and think you’re crazy). This will regulate your breathing and release happy-chemicals that can overwhelm the anxiety and make it go away. Watching funny videos, such as SNL clips on YouTube also helped me a lot.
  3. Do something enjoyable that requires some concentration. Find an activity that takes mental concentration so that your mind gets off of the anxiety instead of spiraling downwards along with it. The activity should be both physical and mental, such as doing dishes, playing a video game that you like, drawing a specific thing that is challenging to you (like an accurate rose or celebrity’s face), scrolling through Reddit or Pinterest, exercising, or watching entertaining videos on YouTube. In a situation like a meeting, I’ve found that playing coordination games with my fingers helps. For example, line your fingers up so that each one is hovering about half an inch away from the corresponding finger on the other hand. Try to simultaneously touch your right thumb to your left thumb and your left pinky to your right pinky. Next, go to your ring and index fingers and do the opposite. Repeat this forwards and back until you can do it – it takes a lot of coordination and concentration. If you devote yourself to it, you’ll likely forget about the anxiety enough to prevent the attack.
  4. Care for your pet or loved one. Take your dog outside and get really involved in playing with him. Find a toy mouse or something similar and have fun getting your cat to freak out about it. Dance with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Play tag with you sibling. Do something that gets you physically engaged, laughing, and totally involved. These things will take your mind off of what’s going internally, change your physical state, and get you having fun instead of spiraling into anxiety.
  5. Walk outside barefoot. This is a grounding activity that will help you feel more secure when done in conjunction with other things. Simply go outside, find some grass, and walk around in it with your shoes off. Try to pay attention to the tingly feeling in your toes.
  6. Tell yourself that this is JUST anxiety, and that you are not going to let it control or dominate you this time. Say it out loud, over and over again, until you believe it.

Understand that the key to stopping these attacks is not to spiral into the anxiety. You’ve got to cut off it’s lifeline – your mental energy – before it has a chance to grow into a real anxiety attack. Weed your garden.

Techniques for preventing panic or anxiety attacks from happening

Once you find a method of stopping panic attacks in their tracks, you’ll want to start working on preventing them from happening in the first place. Here are some steps to do that:

  1. Decide you’re not going to let your anxiety control you. As I said above, you’ve got to starve the anxiety of your mental energy. The only power to control you is the power you give it.
  2. Keep records of when, where, and why you have anxiety. I can’t stress this enough. Once you start to keep records, you’ll be able to start seeing the patterns and triggers of your anxiety crystal clear, which will help you be more prepared to handle anxiety. If you know that you typically start having an anxiety attack when you try to fall asleep or when you’re driving on the interstate, you can prepare before you do those things. This will also start to take power away from the anxiety.
  3. Get more grounded. For a long time, I didn’t really get what “being grounded” meant. Now, I understand that it’s a feeling of resolute peace, safety, and security. It’s feeling connected to nature, the soil beneath your feet, and the Earth you live on instead of drifting around. It’s being more secure in who you are, present in the here and now, and less likely to rapidly change or get carried away by random ideas. Many people who take a lot of psychedelics get “heady” or ungrounded, meaning that they’re more in touch with drifting in highly spiritual, subconscious realms than they are with the physical, concrete world around them. It’s wonderful to be in touch with spirituality, but everyone needs a strong foundation. Some tips for getting more grounded:
    1. Exercise, exercise, exercise.
    2. Eat right, and eat enough.
    3. Get enough sleep.
    4. Go outside regularly and take barefoot walks in nature.
    5. Start working on getting your finances in order. Start building an emergency fund. Pay off debts. Keep a budget. Stop spending money on things you don’t really need.
    6. Stick to your word and decisions. This is better than changing your mind a lot or breaking promises you’ve made.
  4. Start to work on your past traumas. This is a big one – take a look at this post for more details on that.

These are the techniques that I’ve used to get in control of my anxiety. I hope it helps you too.