How to Prevent and Dissipate Panic Attacks

What are Panic Attacks?

I think about panic attacks as anxiety on steroids. The anxiety, the feeling of worry and stress have built up in our system so much that our system simply can’t handle it anymore.

Then we often end up hyperventilating and shutting down. That kind of fear response where our body is ceases its ability to function normally and we simply can’t function until the panic attack passes.

There are two parts to overcoming panic attacks.

The first part is designed to prevent the panic attack from arising in the first place, and the second part is what to do if the panic attack is already here.

I’ve had a few panic attacks in my life. I haven’t had one in some years now. This is what I would notice in my own system as a panic attack was growing and unfolding and developing in the moment.

I noticed that I would have a thought and that that thought would lead to anxiety and then that anxiety would build and then I would have another thought. That would lead to more anxiety and then another thought, which would lead to more anxiety and I could start to feel my heart rate increasing and my breathing speed up and then have another thought that leads to more anxiety and so on and so on until that panic attack results.

Here are Some Other Potential Depression Symptoms:

There’s a train that happens.

We have the first thought, which leads to some anxiety. We have a second thought which leads to more anxiety. Then there’s a third thought, which leads to more anxiety and so on and so on and so on until that panic attack ensues.

It’s not like we’re just flipping a switch and all of a sudden the panic attack is happening.

There’s a buildup process to the panic attack.

A lot of times these thoughts are coming from where we’re focusing our attention. Meaning we’re focusing our attention on something stressful that’s going to lead to a panic attack; something that causes us anxiety.

There a step-by-step process like a chain of events that lead to the panic attack. It’s not like we’re just going like, boom, we flip a switch in, the panic attack happens. It’s like there’s a whole chain of events that happen that lead to.
The key in part one of how to prevent panic attacks is to start to notice when the thoughts that you’re having are leading to anxiety.

For example: OK, I’m starting to feel anxious. What am I thinking about? Oh, I’m thinking about how I don’t know if I’m going to get all the tasks that I need to get done today.

Returning to the Present

Rather than continuing to focus on that chain of thoughts and “oh, my God, what if I don’t get them done,” choose to redirect your attention to something in the present.

You can refer to the video below for how to become present using your breath.

In addition to your breath, you can you can notice anything in your environment. What can you touch? What are you touching right now? For example, I can touch the cloth of my pants that I’m wearing.

What can you smell? What can you taste? What can you hear? What do you see in your environment?

Just by focusing on those senses, you’re able to come back to the here and now and move out of that thought chain that’s going to lead to the panic attack. However, in order to do that, you have to be present.

If you’re not in the here and now, these thoughts are going to keep arising and you’re not going to notice that feeling of anxiety building inside of you. Then you’re going to lose the opportunity to stop that thought train in its tracks before it leads to panic attack.

We need to work on our ability to be present and our self-awareness about what we’re thinking about and how we’re feeling at each moment.

Recapping Part One

TLDR: To prevent the panic attack in the first place – notice when your thoughts are starting to produce anxiety.

The sooner we can bring our attention back to the present moment our attention using our senses; sight, sound, taste, touch, smell; the sooner we can shift our attention away from these anxiety producing thoughts.

The sooner we can do that, the less anxiety is going to build in our system and the less likely we are going to be to have a panic attack.

The Vagus Nerve

We have a nerve that runs from the back of your head, down through your throat and neck, down into your chest, down into through many of your major organs and down into your belly.

This nerve is called the vagus nerve.

It’s responsible for your fight/flight/freeze response.

In other words, when enough stress builds up enough in the system, we either want to fight someone or run away or we freeze up and our system shuts down. This nerve is responsible for those reactions.

The good news is that we can play with the vagus nerve to strengthen it so that our system is able to better handle and respond to stress.

When we’re having a panic attack, that means that our stress level has already peaked. By stimulating this nerve using certain methods we have an opportunity to signal to our nervous system to relax.

The Breath

Let me say that a little differently. When we get anxious, our breathing speeds up and then when we’re relaxed your breathing starts to slow down.

Our breath corresponds to how we feel and similarly how we feel corresponds to our breath, meaning we can actually use the breath to shift how we’re feeling.

The method that we’re about to use comes from one of my teachers, Pamela Aaralyn. It uses chanting as a way to halt and slow down the nervous system when a panic attack is happening.

Yoga and the Vagus Nerve

There’s a whole branch of yoga called bhakti yoga which is the yoga of celebration, love, service, joy, welcoming and acceptance. One of the main ways that Bhakti yoga is practiced in the West is through chanting.

When we think of yoga, we tend to think of the physical practice and stretching. In reality, there are many, many different kinds of yoga. Bhakti yoga is practiced through chanting.

Bhakti yoga shows us that we can reach altered states of consciousness through chanting.

How to Shift Out of a Panic Attack

It might sound funny, but the method is to chant the vowels: a e i o and u.

Take the maximum possible inhalation you can. Then hold each vowel sound one at a time for as long as possible.

By taking such a long inhale and such long, slow exhales, it signals to our nervous system that it’s OK to relax.

Additional Discussion

On the surface, doing this method might sound ridiculous. It might look ridiculous.

See if you can let go of that judgment and choose to do it anyway, knowing that it is rooted in evidence-based practice of polyvagal theory.

By chanting, we’re stimulating the vagus nerve in the throat, neck, belly and chest. That that signals to our nervous system that it’s OK to relax.

Our nervous system detects that we’re taking long slow inhalations. It then identifies that since we’re breathing this way, we’re not in any danger right now. It must be OK to relax.

Repeat chanting the vowel sounds over and over until the panic attack dissipates.

Panic Attack Masterclass Video

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By David Redbord, MA, MPH, LPCC
#1 International Bestselling Author and Walking Therapist

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