How to STOP a Panic Attack in its Tracks

Feb 21, 2022

Panic attacks suck. I know. I have a diagnosed panic disorder. I had my first attack when I was fourteen years old, and I had no idea what to do. It's a uniquely terrifying experience, and I became chronically anxious about when the next attack would occur. 

Panic isn't the same as fear. It isn't the same as anxiety. Panic, anxiety, and fear are related to each other, but there are some important differences. 

Fear is a physiological response to a threatening stimulus. It's a normal, healthy, and sometimes life-saving response. Fear is temporary; it stops as soon as the threatening stimulus is removed or resolved. 

Panic is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions, (such as chest pain, shortness of breath, derealization, and a sense of losing control of one's mind and/or body) when there is no actual danger or threatening stimulus present. In its simplest definition, panic is being afraid of the feeling of fear. 

Anxiety is a state of low-level but constant worry and dread which often has a trigger or a focus, but isn't precipitated by any present danger. 

The secret to stopping a panic attack is in a skill called grounding, and it's easy to learn. If you are prone to panic and anxiety, spend some time each day practicing this grounding technique, so that you can call it into action if an attack begins. The key is to get on top of the fear response as quickly as possible, and to restore a sense of safety and reality through an awareness of the senses. 

This technique can be easily taught to children and teens who suffer from panic and anxiety. It can be used inconspicuously at school, at work, in public, and any time the panic response begins.

Try this: 

  • Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Place your hands face down on your lap, and begin tapping your thighs with your hands, one side at a time, back and forth in a steady rhythm. 
  • Meanwhile, find a spot above eye level upon which to rest your eyes.
  • Repeat to yourself the sentence below, with observations in each of the three grounding senses: Sight, Sound, and Touch. 

Note: While it’s optimal to observe as many different things as possible, it is OK to repeat items if necessary – for instance if you are in a very quiet room and can only hear one or two things. Remember that silence is a sound, too.

“I am now aware that I see ________.”  (Repeat with four visual observations)
“I am now aware that I hear ________."  (Repeat with four auditory observations)
“I am now aware that I feel ________."  (Repeat with kinesthetic observations)

“I am now aware that I see ________.” (Repeat 3x, visual)
“I am now aware that I hear ________.”(Repeat 3x, auditory)
“I am now aware that I feel ________.” (Repeat 3x, kinesthetic)

“I am now aware that I see ________.” (2x’s)
“I am now aware that I hear ________.” (2x’s)
“I am now aware that I feel ________.” (2x’s)

“I am now aware that I see ________.” (1x)
“I am now aware that I hear ________.” (1x)
“I am now aware that I feel ________.” (1x)

Repeat until you feel calm and centered. At some point, you may find that your eyes naturally close, your hands stop patting, and your breathing slows. Just allow that to happen. Spend some time listening to the sound of your breath flowing in and out of your chest. See if you can relax your muscles more and more each time you breathe out. Open your eyes when you are ready. 


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