What To Do If You Have A Severe Panic Attack

It can be scary to suffer from a panic attack. Panic attacks cause many alarming symptoms that can often be mistaken for experiencing a medical emergency or feeling like you are dying. Panic attacks vary in severity, and sometimes can be so severe that it leaves a lasting effect on how you mentally, physically, and emotionally feel. Panic attacks can be brought on for many different reasons, but if you have a history of panic attacks, and those panic attacks are or have become severe, then it is important to take the proper steps to take care of your mental and physical health.


What Signs To Look Out For


There are many scary sensations you feel when you are having a panic attack. Panic attacks will cause symptoms so intense that you will feel like you are dying, but it is important to know that panic attacks are not lethal, and the reason why you feel like you are dying is because panic attacks engage your body’s emergency response system. When the emergency response system in your brain and body is activated, you will experience many alarming symptoms. Common symptoms of a panic attack include:


  • Chest pain
  • Shooting pains through arms and legs
  • Hyperventilation
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Ringing in ears
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Pins and needles in hands and toes
  • The belief you are dying or having a medical emergency
  • Muscle tension
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Stomach pain
  • Headaches


These symptoms are indicative that you are having a panic attack. Panic attacks typically last up to 10 minutes before the symptoms decline. It is not uncommon to feel residual effects after the attack, such as tightness in your chest, stomachaches, or headaches.


What To Do During The Panic Attack


Severe panic attacks can be disorienting. It is difficult to know what exactly is happening to you and what you can do to relieve the discomfort and prevent the panic attack from getting too intense or progressing too quickly. It is important to know what compensatory skills you can perform to cope with a severe panic attack. If you begin to have a panic attack, or the panic attack begins to rapidly progress to the point in which you feel you are losing control, engage the following coping strategies:


Find Peer Support


Considering how scary a severe panic attack is, it can be helpful to have the support of a trusted friend or family member, who will be able to help you through the panic attack. Hearing supportive words or knowing that someone is there for you, and aware of your condition, can help you work through the panic attack, even if it is severe. It will also bring peace of mind to know that if your panic attack gets too severe there is someone available to contact emergency services for you.


Focus On Your Breathing.


During a severe panic attack your breathing will be labored, which means you will not be receiving sufficient oxygen to the brain and body. This lack of oxygen will cause your body to fall deeper into panic mode as your brain struggles and your muscles tense up. It is an important skill to know how to focus on your breathing. Focusing on your breathing and taking deep breaths will ensure your body maintains a healthy oxygen level. The large amount of oxygen being brought to the brain will also create a calming effect, which will lessen the intensity of the symptoms.


The best breathing exercise to engage when having a severe panic attack is the 4-7-8 Breath. The 4-7-8 Breath brings a lot of oxygen into the body quickly and helps you regain control over your body’s reaction to the attack. To perform a 4-7-8 breath, breathe in through the nose on a 4-second count, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat this exercise until you feel the symptoms subsiding. Considering the heightened state you will be in during a severe panic attack, it may take a few attempts to begin successfully completing the breaths. Do not get frustrated, remember that the goal is to regain control, and it may take a few tries for the exercise to be successful.


Create A Mantra


Creating a mantra can be helpful to keep your mind focused on calming down from the panic attack. A mantra is a phrase for you to repeat to yourself to remind you that you are not in danger and you need to remain in control.  While it is recommended that you develop your own mantra, there is a popular example of a mantra that is often used by those who suffer from severe panic attacks: “this too shall pass”.


Seek Professional Services


Panic attacks are indicative of a mental health issue, and severe panic attacks are not common. If you are experiencing panic attacks of any kind, especially severe panic attacks, it is important to seek professional mental health services. Mental health professionals will help you learn how to cope with your panic attacks by helping you understand why they are happening and how to reduce symptoms and recurrence of attacks. A mental health professional will be able to teach you how to stay in control of your body and mind, and will help you learn the warning signs so you can be prepared to engage your coping strategies to prevent a severe panic attack from getting out of control.


The two most common forms of therapy to reduce the severity and frequency of panic attacks are:


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you understand how your anxiety and thought patterns contribute to the recurrence of severe panic attacks. It will help you understand how your thought process triggers your panic attacks, so it will be easier for you to predict when you will have an attack. It will also teach you how to lessen the intensity of the panic attacks and even prevent them from happening.


Dialectical Behavioral Therapy


Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) will have a similar process to DBT, but the focus of the therapeutic process will be on emotional regulation, rather than triggering thoughts and situations. DBT will incorporate self-awareness with distress tolerance exercises to teach you how to cope with life stressors and triggers for panic attacks. It will also help you understand how to stay in control of your body and mind, so the panic attack does not worsen, and eventually occur less frequently.