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Panic attacks are terrifying and confusing.

I heard this brilliant metaphor on the Armchair Expert Podcast from Dax Shepard, “you shouldn’t visit your first AA meeting when you go to Vegas”. Ain’t that the truth. He’s saying be prepared. In case it happens, it’ll help to know what to do in a panic attack, whenever it happens to you, and wherever it strikes.

Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of it to come up with a plan or support ideas for what to do in a panic attack. When you feel a couple of the first signs, it’s signature move time.

Firstly. Tell yourself that you’re having a panic attack. It might be a little one where you feel short of breath and you’re having trouble thinking clearly. That’s OK, you’re just having a panic attack and it will pass. It might be a huge one and your whole world is crashing down around you. That’s OK, you’re just having a panic attack and it will pass.

See the pattern here. Calling it out is really important. It helps to lower the flight or flight response, because you’re telling yourself you know what this is. Instead of adding more panic by saying to yourself, What’s going on? Am I having a panic attack? What’s wrong with me!?! Have a deep breath and just own it. Yep. A panic attack is happening. 

Secondly, you need a little signature move. Kinda like a signature pick up line, or a party trick that’s your go-to.

It’s about choosing just one thing that works for you, that helps ground you and supports you until it’s over. Here’s some ideas;

  • Take your shoes off
  • Put ice on the back of your neck
  • Count 50 breaths
  • Count backwards from 10
  • Sit on the ground and think about being as heavy as a rock
  • Put your arms up and stretch as high as you can

The thing is, when a panic attack starts, it’s best to give yourself some love and ride it out. Remind yourself it’ll be over soon, and have your signature move.

It’s hard to know what to do in a panic attack when you’re having a panic attack, so take some time now to think of a signature move that’ll work for you. The examples I’ve given you below tap into a few theories. The ones like taking your shoes off, and putting ice on your neck are sensory. In these moves we’re engaging one of your senses and focusing on that. So you’re focusing on how wet the ground is, or how cold the ice cube is, it’s a little jolt for your mind and forces you to focus on something else for a moment. This may work for you if you’ve just started working on getting these under control, as it’s a distraction strategy rather than fully experiencing the moment.

That brings us to the second option. Embracing it. Owning it, and just riding it out. Sitting and imagining you’re a rock, or becoming hyper aware of your breathing and focusing on your breaths are ways to be in the moment. If you’re having a panic attack, it’ll be over soon, these moves are designed to help you feel grounded when you’re feeling out of control.

There are an unlimited number of signature moves, which one are you going to try?