**Trigger Warning: Language about panic attack is used in this article. Please read this with a clear mind and reach out if you need extra support.


I usually start by setting the scene – you know, drawing a picture for you so you can really feel yourself back in a time or place. But not today.

Today I’m talking about panic – not a feeling I want you to “go back to.” So I’m going to write this article backwards because I want you to have the skills to calm yourself before we start talking about the p word.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term “coping skills.” You know, the tools in your toolbet. The things that you know you can do to help yourself feel better. Coping skills are really those tricks and the knowledge that you have to be able to soothe your mind when it gets in a bind. This can be when you are depressed, anxious, sad, angry or all of the above all at once. These are the skills that help you cope with tough stuff.

I have some coping skills that just might be helpful. But I want to first pause and point out that the actual use of coping skills is very different than just knowing how to do them. Being able to stop yourself in the moment and use these skills is hard – sometimes impossible.

So here’s a trick. Make a list of these coping skills. Put them on your fridge or save them on your phone (screenshot them!). If you have easy access to them, it will help.

Better yet, share these with a loved one and when you are experiencing panic, you can call them and they can help you walk through them.

Remember – panic attacks feel very, very scary. But remind yourself that they are temporary.


Coping skills for Panic Attacks

1. Breathwork

I know, it’s probably the hardest thing to do when we are in a panic attack, but breathing can regulate our whole body and mind. Some of my favorite breathwork exercises are box breathing, counting, and visualizing.

Box breathing is taking an inhale to a count of 4 (or whatever your favorite number is), hold it for 4, then breath out for 4 and hold it for four. See the box?

Counting your breath is similar, but sometimes during a panic attack, it’s hard to hold your breath like in box breathing. So count your inhale and exhale with the goal of lengthening them both. Start with inhaling and exhaling to the count of four, them move to 5, and so on.

Visualizing your breathing is similar, but this takes the counting out and focuses more on where your breath goes. So inhale and imagine you are filling up a balloon in your lungs. Your rib cage will expand like a balloon.

2. Tap into your senses

This is a great grounding technique that will bring you back to the moment and it can be done several different ways. You can do the 5,4,3,2,1 method where you find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. You can also just scan your environment and find 1 of each of these if you are having a hard time with the previous exercise.

3. Try muscle relaxation

If you can bring yourself into your body and into the present, muscle relaxation can really help. I like to do progressive muscle relaxation, where you start with your feet and move up your body. You tense your muscles in your toes and then relax them, then move up to your calves, then your thighs, then your abdomen, then your shoulders, then your arms, then your face. Tense as hard as you can then let go. It might feel strange at first, but once you do it more, it will become easier.

4. Repeat a mantra to yourself

“This will pass.” “I am safe.” “I am strong and can ride through this.”

Whatever mantra you choose, repeat this to yourself over and over again until the panic subsides. So many thoughts go through our head when we are in a panic, and this can help ground us and remind us that this is a moment that will pass.

5. Call someone

If you haven’t called anyone to help with these techniques, I highly recommend it. When we are in a panic attack, sometimes it’s hard to think rationally. Having someone on the other end of the phone or sitting with us can help us move through these coping skills and ride the wave of our panic attack. If you don’t have anyone safe to call, you can reach out to the Maternal Mental Health hotline at 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262).


How do I know I’m having a panic attack?

There are several signs that you might be having a panic attack and most of them are physical sensations. Racing heart beat, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, chills, and numbness are all possible sensations you can feel during a panic attack.  You can also experience feelings of being detached (like you are watching yourself from outside of your body), thoughts of losing control or even feeling like you are dying.

And these moments usually come on pretty fast. Some people may be able to tell if they are about to having a panic attack while others get his with them like a brick wall.

Whether you are in a full blown panic attack or feeling extra stressed and anxious, you can use these techniques to pull yourself back into the moment.  Be gentle with yourself – panic attacks are scary when you are in them. Don’t judge yourself for having them. Find your social support to help you through them and know that we are here to help.



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