How To Stop a Panic Attack & Intense Fear
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This is my truth to you – I am not perfect. Even though I write about mental health and living anxiety-free, it doesn’t mean that I never experience anxiety, worry or fear emotions anymore.
To be honest, I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate these emotions completely because, even though they are unpleasant, they’re still a part of the human psyche. They’re part of you, me and everyone else. It’s just the way it is, but through the years, I’ve learned a few ways to prevent panic from spiraling out of control.
I shared a few of my most important insights about anxiety several days ago on this article: 3 Powerful Mind Shifts That Heal Anxiety For Life, and today I want to share more in-depth about fear and how you can get relief if you’re feeling intense fear or even a panic attack.
I used to get panic attacks very often and I know how dreadful they can get. I went from thoughts that I’m going crazy, to thoughts that I need to get to the emergency room ASAP because I honestly believed that something very bad is happening to me.
My doctor once debated with a team of her colleagues and couldn’t understand if I am having a heart attack or not. My electrogram showed nothing unusual but I was experiencing all of the other symptoms. Of course, it immediately got better after she gave me a calming medicine… She was pretty pissed at me at that time.
If you experience fear and panic, similar feelings might not be something new to you. I still experience them sometimes, but here’s how I end them, and hopefully – you can too.
Just a quick disclaimer – I am not a mental health professional. These are the things that I’ve learned with my CBT and mindfulness practice. If you are in an emergency situation or experience suicidal thoughts, please use these call numbers to get help.
If things are not that extreme, keep reading.
How To Stop a Panic Attack & Intense Fear
1. Don’t try to stop it or make it go away
I know, it sounds really crazy. “Fear is extremely unpleasant – what do you mean by this pathetic statement??”
Let me tell you a story. I once got into a car accident. It wasn’t life-threatening, but pretty significant for me to go into a shock. Once that initial shock went away, I started to feel extreme fear because I started to think about one insane thought: “I could have died today”.
That thought felt so scary that I went into a panic mode and I couldn’t stop it for hours. My boyfriend was trying to comfort me because he didn’t see any legit reason for me to panic – after all, nothing serious has happened, it was just a car accident without any injuries.
But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t stop that immense fear that was taking over my mind and my body – I was cold, my legs were shaky, my stomach was nauseous, my heart was pounding and all I wanted was for this feeling to “go away”.
It lasted for hours and nothing seemed to help – not even that calming medicine that once worked when my doctor got pissed at me.
In that never-ending dread, a thought came into my head that stopped that panic attack in a few minutes. It was a changing point.
I thought: “Okay, this is the worst. It is so bad that I just want to die and I don’t care anymore if I do, so it might as well just be as it is”. At that moment, the fear stopped.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not suicidal. I could never do that and at that moment, I didn’t really want to die, I just didn’t know how to stop that suffering. And this thought about death had nothing to do with my fear going away.
The thing that stopped my fear and panic is that with that thought, I simply stopped fighting that fear. I let it do what it wants to do. I let it take over. And this is how it lost its power.
After a few minutes, I was completely calm and went to do a few CBT exercises from my Thought Workbook to dissolve the last bits of worry. After a few hours, I was able to continue on with my life.
Rule number 1: Don’t try to fight your fear. Don’t try to stop your panic. The more you fight, the more intense it gets. Be with it – it can’t kill you. It’s just a feeling that arises from a particular thought. Once you stop fighting, the fear starts to subside.
2. Bring your thoughts to the present
If you experience fear and panic, there must be a thought that is making you scared. Maybe you are imagining the worst possible scenario or catastrophize something that happened before.
Try to bring your attention back to the present. Yes, the present may not feel good (you’re experiencing very unpleasant emotions and possibly – physical symptoms too), but that is OK. You don’t have to find a way to end it. You don’t have to keep searching for a magical relief. Just let those feelings, and thoughts be there with you, but don’t follow them.
For example: you keep thinking that something bad might happen on your flight tomorrow. Don’t fight that thought. Don’t try to make it go away. Simply notice that thought, notice what feelings it creates in your body and then gently get your attention back to the present.
If it seems hard, try to concentrate on your breath. Once you focus on your breath, your attention is taken out of your head, where all those negative scenarios are feeding your fear. Feel the air entering your body, and imagine that with every breath, you breathe out a part of that fear.
Rule number 2: don’t fight negative feelings, notice them and bring your attention back to the present. Focus on your breath or surroundings to stop getting lost in your thoughts.
3. Set a Worry Time
Once you stopped fighting and resisting your fear, took your attention out of your head to the present, try setting a worry time, or in other words – postpone your worry. It’s a simple exercise that can show you that your fear and worry is NOT uncontrollable. I used to believe that I simply can’t control my worry, but this technique showed me that it’s not true and it gave me great relief in times of intense fear. Here’s how to do this exercise:
1. Decide that you will postpone all your worries of the day until a particular time comes. For example, decide that every day, from 12:30 to 13:00 you will have your worry time.
2. When you see a worrying thought, take a quick look at it and, if it’s not an emergency, write it down on a piece of paper, and then put it away. Rest assured that you can take this piece of paper out on your worry time and worry as much as you need.
P. S. You can download an app called WorryTime that is designed for worry postponement – I use it myself and it works great!
3. Keep writing and postponing all those worrying thoughts until your worry time comes.
3. And when the time comes, set a timer for 15-30 minutes and take a look at those thoughts you postponed:
- Is the thought still worrying you? If so, write down a few things you can do about it. This will give you a small plan and help you to take the steps you need to improve your situation.
- The thought seems irrelevant or not worrying today? Great! You can throw it away, that worry is a history.
- The thought is still worrying, but there is nothing you can do about it? Postpone it again until tomorrow. I found that some worries take a few days to completely go away, and sometimes worrying situations resolve itself with time.
Rule number 3: try to postpone your worries to remind yourself that your fear and worry IS controllable.
I hope these tips will help you to at least minimize the fear and panic you have. Please remember that panic attacks can’t kill you and all panic attacks slowly subside with time. If absolutely nothing helps, try to simply wait it out. It WILL go away.
You can also try my Worry Workbook and Thought Workbook – these are printable CBT journals that help you take another look at the situation and modify your reaction to it. It might be something that you need right now.
And remember – this too shall pass.