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Coping with Panic

1. Be Still- Resist escaping

When you perceive the initial whispers in your body of a panic attack, making attempts to escape or planning to exit is the equivalent of telling yourself that you’re going to be overwhelmed, that you are helpless in the face of what is coming, and that you’d better ‘get to safety’. This misinformation generates more adrenaline and makes matters worse. By deciding to remain you are giving yourself a powerful message that says:

‘I will still be safe if I don’t run’.

This also prevents your muscles responding with a further increase in tension, which happens if you are physically running, pacing around or restlessly fidgeting.

2. Go With Your Body’s Reaction- Don’t Fight It

Although you obviously didn’t want to get an attack, if it has been triggered, acceptance is the stance that holds the least fear. Resisting only increases and prolongs the adrenaline surge, and makes you more tense and afraid, whereas flowing with it allows it to spend itself in the quickest possible time. Trying to deny that it has begun (‘Oh no, not here! I don’t believe it, it can’t be happening again! Please, please, not now in front of all these people!) is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted- a waste of energy.

Once panic has begun, it won’t finish until the molecules of the chemical have left your bloodstream. This takes time just as an alcohol hangover takes time to clear out of the bodies system. It cannot be wished away, it has to run its course so you might as well adjust to allowing that time to elapse and the concentration of molecules to eventually dissipate.

Floating with the ‘wave of molecules’ as it washes over you, going with whatever physical reactions your body is having, allows the adrenaline to spend itself more quickly because by avoiding a tussle you are not creating any more. Make an accepting statement such as:

I can breathe and let this pass

I can allow this to wash over me

This wave might rise but I can allow it to rise and fall.

3. Stay in the Present – Don’t Futurise

Although every fibre of your being may be thinking of how to prevent the experience about to occur, try to stay with what’s happening right now. By allowing your thoughts and actions to prepare you for the worst, you are sending powerful messages of helplessness to yourself, not safety.

By keeping your attention on what is happening now, rather on what can happen in the future you help prevent catastrophic interpretations ( such as a racing heart being interpreted as the beginnings of a heart attack or dizziness being interpreted as signs of brain tumour).

4. Deflate the Danger- Tell Yourself the Facts

This means reminding yourself of the facts regarding the sensations you are experiencing, and why you get them.

For example:

‘It sure is hot in here, I’ve begun sweating- but then there are a lot of people dancing and alcohol always makes me sweat more so it’s nothing to worry about.’

‘My heart has begun to race – no wonder I’ve been fighting against the clock all day. I’ll try and ease up and that will help.’

‘My fingers are tingling and that dizziness is here a bit- I must’ve let my breathing get too fast again.’

‘I feel shaky and peculiar- my adrenaline must be higher today than I thought.’

‘I feel faint and a bit nauseous- I must be more careful not to let myself get so wound up, I’d better calm down the reaction now by easing up on myself.’


All the sensations of panic are harmless, no matter how intense- the response is protective in nature, though for a variety of reasons some peoples systems become more easily activated.

You will never stop breathing because of panic

Your heart is not at risk during a panic attack.

All panic attacks end- they are time limited.

5. Dampen Down the Reaction

Breathe slowly and abdominally, counting in over 4 and out over 11. Note this will take some practice if shallow breathing is habitual for you.

Let your muscles go slack and quiet.

To help to feel more grounded visualise your exhaled breath slowly leaving through your legs and feet into the ground.

Other strategies might include:

Relaxing in a warm bath

Placing a cool wet facecloth over your face if you’re sweaty

Listening to music

Taking a reasonably paced walk.

6. Be Consistent- Don’t Resort to Bad Habits

The overall objective of this approach is to decrease the intensity of your reaction to the uncomfortable sensations, and, in time, to sustain your learning that they won’t harm you. It is important to be consistent in holding that intention, so that all the strategies are flowing in the same direction. For example it undermines the approach if you’ve been having success learning to relax your muscles and breathe more slowly if you use the techniques whilst frantically rushing around trying to find an exit. The overall intention is mixed, if you are feeling safe then why are you planning your escape?

Some find that distraction can help them through being so busy that they then forget to worry. This may work in the short term, yet it is perpetuating the belief that ‘I had better get my mind off the subject quickly or it will escalate out of control’. The ultimate goal is that you learn to select and have confidence in safe truisms to replace the activating and frightening mistaken beliefs, rather than dodge them through distraction.


Contact information

Support and resources for people who have experienced sexual abuse and/or sexual violence.