When fear strikes, and your body and mind move into this fight or flight mode, it can be very difficult to stop the cycle of panic. Your body begins releasing adrenaline, preparing to run from danger or to stand up and fight. Your focus narrows. Your heart races. Blood is pumped to your hands for fighting and to your feet for running. And when you can’t pinpoint what the physical danger is, your mind starts racing, trying to find something to fight or run from. Your mind becomes a huge magnet–the closer the fear comes, the harder it is to resist.
All of sudden, your body and mind hit panic mode. Terror seizes every part of your soul. You can’t run because no matter where you go, there you are. The rush of numbness fills your body as your heart pounds out of your chest. Confusion swirls in your head and your mind frantically searches for an escape.
Does this sound familiar? What I just described is a panic attack. It can be an incredibly terrifying experience. When panic hits, everything in your body and mind goes into high gear, and it can be extremely difficult to break that cycle and stop the panic attack.
For years, panic attacks controlled my life. Fear told me what I could and couldn’t do. Even the fear of fear would create a generalized anxiety that kept me in a chronic state of worry. But today, panic attacks no longer control my life.
I want to share with you these five steps on how to stop a panic attack:
When panic hits, you immediately go into autopilot mode and start reacting to fear. But, you need to realize that it’s just an attack. It’s your body doing what it’s designed to do–it’s responding to a threat. The problem is that you don’t know where or what the threat is, so your mind races and adrenaline is released into your body, causing the situation to spin out of control.
The first thing you need to do is recognize what is going on. Tell yourself, This is just my body going into fight or flight mode. There is no real danger. You need to recognize what’s happening and remind yourself, This has not killed me in the past, and it’s not going to kill me now. Your body is lying to you and you need to call the bluff.
2. Don’t fight it
When panic hits, adrenaline is released into your body to prepare it for fighting or running. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Your mind races to find the threat so that it can focus on the danger. Physiologically, everything in you is gearing up to respond to a dangerous situation. So, when you fight those feelings, you are actually feeding your body more adrenaline. And, you don’t want that!
It’s like starting a campfire. As the embers start to spark, you blow on them to cause them to burn hotter. But, that’s backwards! You would think that blowing on a fire would snuff it out. On the contrary, you’re not blowing out the fire–you’re feeding it oxygen causing it to burn more. The same is true with a panic attack. When you fight it, you feed it more adrenaline making it worse. To stop the attack, you must not fight it.
3. Check your breathing
Another result of the “fight or flight” mode is rapid, shallow breathing. As your body prepares for danger, it’s trying to get more oxygen into your bloodstream for the extra energy it needs to face the threat. The increase in oxygen releases more adrenaline which you don’t want. Doctors have proven that simply by hyperventilating, you can trigger panic. And, the opposite is true, that by controlling your breathing, you can stop panic.
When you start to feel the rush of panic, you should immediately go into controlled breathing. I did this often, and it’s amazing how quickly you can stop the attack. I would quickly move into a 4-4-4-4 breathing pattern: Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. Then, keep doing that till the panic subsides. It may be hard at first because you’re used to shallow, rapid breathing, but keep doing it.
Prayer is powerful! I believe God responds before we even finish praying the prayer. There are numerous examples of this in the Bible. When panic hits, call out to God for strength, wisdom, and clarity of mind to break the cycle of fear. There were numerous times that prayer alone carried me through those terrifying situations.
The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue them and honor them” (Psalms 91:14, 15).
5. Call someone
There were times that I would call someone to help talk me through the panic. While it was good in that moment to help break the cycle, you have to be very careful with this step. When you call someone in the midst of panic, and it successfully stops the attack, you can start to rely on that person for peace. And, that’s dangerous because you can develop an unhealthy dependency on that person or the act of calling someone. If you need to call someone, do it rarely and don’t rely on it.
I have found these steps to be incredibly helpful over the years, but please understand that these techniques are temporary. They are only coping methods that can help you through a panic situation. Complete freedom happens when you find out what is triggering these attacks, and then work through the pain, the wounds and the patterns of thinking that cause you to experience this. Once you find freedom, the panic attacks and fear will go away. You won’t need these coping techniques any more!
For more information on finding freedom, you can read through the series called Freedom from Fear. Also, start meeting regularly with a counselor who can walk you through the pain.
Prayer: Father, give me the strength, wisdom and clarity of mind to stop the panic, and help me find freedom from what is causing this.