Panic attack – what to do?

This is probably the question we have to help with most often at the moment. My client came this morning only after a long odyssey of doctor’s visits. There is really nothing wrong with the heart, the cardiologist tells him. The lungs show no abnormalities, confirms the lung specialist. They both think it’s a panic attack. But isn’t that something mental? I succeed in taking my client’s fears that all is not well in his head. Since the pandemic has taken over our daily lives, people often experience panic attacks for the first time. And they are shocked. Suddenly, the heart begins to pound uncontrollably, sweat breaks out of every pore, the knees tremble and something is wrong with the breathing…

What to do during a panic attack?

We’ve gathered here five tips that have helped best with our clients:

Be reassured – it will definitely pass.

Even if the panic attack feels a bit like dying – it will pass. It usually peaks in 10 minutes, then the symptoms subside. Focus on the thought: This is a wave of fear. It’s crashing over me right now, it feels horrifying, but it’s about to weaken and pass.

Find a safe place for yourself.

If you are threatened by a panic attack in a room full of people, retreat to a quiet place. Sit down or lean against a wall. You may be able to think of a nice place of your choice with your eyes closed. Now focus on the thought again: I am safe and it will be over in a moment!

If you dare, confide in someone else.

Your family, friends or nice colleagues are scurrying around you and have no idea? If you dare, tell someone what is happening to you right now, that you are having a panic attack or are in the middle of one. What do you need right now? A glass of cold water? Soothing words? Someone to “breathe” to you?

Breathe in – and above all, breathe out for a long time.

During a panic attack you breathe too often and too shallowly, mostly because you feel a certain tightness in your chest. Therefore, count internally while breathing: 1-2-3 in and 1-2-3-4 out. At first this may not seem possible, but stick to it and keep breathing and counting. After about two minutes of “keeping up” you will breathe deeper and slower and other physical symptoms will diminish.

Concentration according to the 5-4-3-2-1 method.

Even if the panic attack is taking so much of your energy right now that a concentration exercise is the last thing you can imagine – give it a try: From your safe place, look for 5 different objects with your eyes, try to identify 4 different sounds, touch 3 objects with your hands (warm/cold, soft/hard, smooth/rough…), try to identify 2 smells, and now think about which taste you have on your tongue. Whenever your heartbeat, your wild breathing, your shaking hands want to distract you from this concentration exercise, consciously go back to your 5 senses.

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