Unless you are face-to-face with a bear or another physical danger, nothing feels more terrifying than a panic attack. Many have gone to the Emergency Room fearing heart attacks, strokes, and death. With symptoms including chest tightening, throat constricting, and faintness, it’s no wonder many seek urgent medical care! When you are begging for just one deep breath, you’ll take any help you can get.

The good news is that how long a panic attack lasts is within your control. Anxious, fear-based thoughts are what trigger the internal fight-or-flight response, which releases adrenaline into your body. In the absence of fear-based thoughts, adrenaline will metabolize in your body in 5 minutes or less.

Here are 5 tips for reducing anxious thoughts and ending a panic attack.


What makes a panic attack acceptable (not desirable, but acceptable) is that, while it feels awful, it isn’t dangerous.

Acknowledge that you are afraid and beginning to panic. Do not ignore it. NOTICE how the panic works in your body. This type of intentional body-observation actually helps you get a little space from your emotions.


Even though you may have a powerful urge to escape, postpone that decision for a little while. Don’t tell yourself you CAN’T leave – keep that option open so you don’t feel trapped. But put off the decision about whether or not to bolt. Stay in the situation. You don’t need to run away to get relief. Let relief come to you.


What is your job during an anxiety attack? It is not your job to bring the panic attack to an end; that will happen regardless. Your job is to see if you can make yourself a little more comfortable while you wait for the attack to end.

You might try deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, repeating an assuring mantra, or journaling to make yourself more comfortable. A therapist can help you create a toolbox of useful coping skills.


Here are examples the most common panic-inducing self-talk that fuels your panic attacks, and most importantly, what to say back:

"WHAT IF SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAPPENS"... What does a panic attack do? It makes you feel afraid. And if you’re having a panic attack, you’re already there! You’re already experiencing the worst that will happen. Remind yourself that people don't die/have a stroke/heart attack from panic attacks. In fact, if you invite the feelings in MORE, anxiety tends to decrease because you assure yourself that there's nothing to fear with the feelings themselves.

"WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME??" Make a statement of acceptance: "This is happening to me because I have a problem with anxiety. That's just a part of my life right now. It's uncomfortable, but I can deal with it."

"IT WOULD BE AWFUL IF I PANICKED IN FRONT OF MY BOSS (OR AT SCHOOL OR THE MOVIE THEATER OR SOME OTHER SETTING)." Thoughts like this can reveal deeper core beliefs about how you relate with the world around you. For example, "Don't show weakness;" "I must appear perfect;" "I'm in this alone and no one understands me;" "I'm not good enough." "Failure is not an option." A therapist can help you customize a more positive or balanced self-talk response that is customized to your specific social fear.

"IT'S NEVER GOING TO END." Talk back to this thought by reminding yourself to work WITH the anxiety symptoms (not against). Remember that ALL panic attacks end, regardless of how you respond.


You may start to feel better, but then feel another wave of anxiety. Your first reaction might be, “Oh no! It didn’t work!” The REPEAT step is here to remind you that it’s okay if that happens. Just take it from the top again. It’s not unusual or dangerous.

Author's Bio: 

Ericka Martin is a therapist and clinical supervisor in Vancouver, Washington. She has spent the last decade helping teens and adults move toward growth and healing. Before starting Star Meadow Counseling, she provided counseling services at university, shelter, and community mental health settings. Read more about Ericka at www.starmeadowcounseling.com.