Key Takeaways Key Takeaways
  • Recognize the early signs of a panic attack.

  • Employ grounding techniques like the 5-5-5 or 3-3-3 rule.

  • Understand your triggers and how they relate to stress and trauma.

How to Stop a Panic Attack: A Checklist to Help You Through Anxiety

If you live with Panic Disorder or any other Anxiety Disorder, the fear of a panic attack may worsen your symptoms. One of the best ways to ease that Anxiety is to prepare for a possible panic attack and have a plan.

But what if you forget your plan when the time comes? If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know: no matter how many times you’ve talked through it with your therapist, it’s hard to recall calming techniques when your mind is racing.

That’s where your panic attack checklist comes in. Print or write out a list of the things you can do if you feel a panic attack coming and keep the list with you at all times. It may seem small now, but it can change everything if you need it.

Step 1: Take Inventory of Your Mental Health Toolbox

Use your answers to the following questions to think of resources you can access if you have a panic attack. You may notice that you’re missing resources in some areas—that’s okay. Take this opportunity to bulk up your mental health toolbox:

  • Do I have emergency anxiety medication? If so, always store it in the same place. If not, consider talking to a psychiatrist about it.
  • Who can I call if I need help? Recognize who your support system is. This can be a friend, sibling, spouse, or another loved one.
  • Do my senses get overwhelmed during panic attacks? Which ones? If so, think about how you can dull these senses when needed.
  • Are there meditations or affirmations I can easily access?
  • What kind of exercise can I do to release excess energy?
  • What other coping mechanisms have I learned from therapy?
  • Do I know what to do if it becomes a mental health crisis? What about my support system?

Step 2: Spot the Signs

The key to calming a panic attack is knowing when one is coming on. Sure, it’s different for everyone, but there are common signs to look out for, illustrated below. If you catch these symptoms early, it’s possible to mitigate the attack before it fully engulfs you.

It’s also important to practice self-awareness and identify your own personal triggers; common triggers include Stress, Anxiety (General Anxiety or specific Anxiety Disorders or specific Phobias, situational triggers such as crowded spaces (claustrophobia) or situations that remind individual of a traumatic event, traumatic events, lack of sleep, negative thinking patterns or having recently gone through significant life changes. For a deeper dive into how triggers are connected to Stress and trauma responses, have a look at our post on Four Types of Trauma Responses.

Step 3: Explore Coping Mechanisms

Grounding Techniques

Grounding is a psychological trick that helps shift your focus away from feelings of Anxiety and the onset of a panic attack. By engaging your five senses, you anchor your thoughts to the present moment. You can touch a textured surface, sniff a strong scent like coffee or peppermint, or even taste a sour candy. If this is new to you, our post on Emotional First Aid has some more grounding tactics worth checking out.

The 3-3-3 Rule

Another technique often recommended is the 3-3-3 Rule, which is a relaxation technique often used to manage anxiety and reduce stress. It incorporates your sense of sight, sense of hearing, and sense of touch to ground yourself. The technique includes the following:

Find Three Things. Listen to Three Things. Touch Three things. First, looking around and name three things you see. Then identify three things you hear, try and tune into these sounds, it could be cars driving by, the wind, or the sound of a laptop typing. Lastly, and physically touch or feel three things. It could be a body part, a pet, the kitchen counter, anything you can reach. Pay close attention to the sensations. The 3-3-3 rule is effective because it grounds you to the present moment and calms your mind. It can be particularly helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or feel a panic attack coming. This simple task can be a powerful tool in redirecting your focus, bringing you back to the present moment, and bringing inner peace to your heart.

Box Breathing

This technique is less about taking stock of your surroundings, and more about focusing on your breathing. Box breathing means inhaling in for a certain amount of time (usually four seconds), holding for four seconds, exhaling for four seconds, and holding for four seconds. In the 16 seconds that it takes you to complete a full round of breath, you’ve successfully distracted your mind from whatever has triggered the panic attack, which can help you refocus on becoming calmer.

Other Breathing Techniques

It’s easy to overlook, but how you breathe during a panic attack truly can make a world of difference. Short, shallow breaths may exacerbate your symptoms, so try to take deep, controlled breaths instead. The NIMH explains that controlled breathing can significantly alleviate the symptoms of panic disorder.

If you’ve already tried box breathing, try closing your eyes and shifting your full attention to the act of slowing down your breathing.

Step 4: Check Out This Sample Panic Attack Checklist

Not sure what to add to your panic attack checklist? You are not alone, and we are here to help. Think of the checklist below as your Anxiety SOS, a way to help you manage an attack and regain control.

Everyone’s needs will vary depending on their experiences in Step 1, 2, and 3. So, feel free to build on this sample checklist and tailor it to your own reality.

What to Do if I Have a Panic Attack?

  • Get to a physically safe location
  • Take my emergency medication (dosage, location)
  • Call someone on my support team (names)
  • Put on affirmations recording in my phone
  • Cover my eyes with a cool cloth
  • If I have suicidal thoughts, call 800-273-8255
  • Write down all my worries, cross out the ones that are almost impossible, and then determine what I can do about the remaining worries

Post-Panic Attack Checklist

Experiencing a panic attack can be a terrifying experience, especially if it’s the first time. You may be wondering what action to take moving forward, and how to prevent it from happening again. The great news is that there are plenty of steps you can take, a Post Panic Attack Checklist, if you will. Below are some ideas of a great place to start.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness Practice and Medication

These are popular treatments that can help you manage panic attacks in the long term. A lot of techniques such as 3-3-3 rule, and box breathing are all part of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), another popular treatment option for Panic Attacks, focuses on the thought patterns that lead to extreme Anxiety and helps to reframe them. Some people also find Anxiety Medication or Antidepressants to be helpful, but as always consult your healthcare provider for the best course of treatment.

Stay Informed and Inspired

In the age of social media, knowledge is literally at your fingertips. Instagram accounts like ours @LifeStanceHealth offer valuable insights, coping techniques, and a community of people who understand what you’re going through.

Parting Thoughts

When it comes to panic attacks, knowledge is power. Recognizing the signs early, employing grounding techniques, understanding your triggers, and knowing how to breathe can go a long way in helping you regain control. Medication and therapies like Mindfulness and CBT can offer longer-term solutions, but always remember that the journey towards managing your panic disorder is a marathon, not a sprint.

You do not have to face Panic Attacks alone. LifeStance is here to help you become better equipped to navigate the complexities of extreme Anxiety and panic attacks. If you need more tools for managing your Anxiety, book an appointment with one of our compassionate Mental Health Providers.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from a variety of mental health issues in an outpatient care setting, both in-person and through its digital health telemedicine offering.

Reviewed By

Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S
Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S

Nicholette is a faculty member at John Carroll University’s Clinical Counseling program, and she is also the host of the LifeStance podcast, Convos from the Couch.