How Can I Prevent Panic Attacks?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 24, 2024
4 min read

Experts haven’t found a way to completely prevent panic attacks. But if you think you might be prone to them, you can take steps to help protect yourself. And it starts with your everyday habits.

The first step is to find out what’s going on. The symptoms of a panic attack, such as a racing heartbeat, sweating, feeling short of breath, and feeling fear or dread are similar to a heart attack or other ailments. So if you have an attack -- or think you've had one -- go to your doctor (or an emergency room, if urgent) to rule out other causes and to make sure it doesn't lead to other problems, such as developing the fear of leaving home or creating trouble at work.

Experts don’t fully understand why panic attacks happen. But they do know that the things that make people vulnerable include:

  • Family history
  • Stressful events, such as the death of a loved one
  • Substance abuse
  • Problems with the brain or nervous system
  • Other psychological problems

Day-to-day life can bring stresses large and small. Taking them in stride begins with taking care of yourself.

Eat right. Try for a balanced diet. Stay away from foods that don’t agree with you, because the reactions can cause anxiety.

Avoid smoking and caffeine. They can ratchet up anxiety.

Don’t drink alcohol or use illegal drugs. They may seem to calm you down. But they can throw off your emotional balance, interfere with your sleep, and conflict with medications.

Do you get stressed out often? Try to figure out if it tends to happen in certain situations. To start, keep notes on when you become anxious and then look for patterns. Once you discover something that gets you frazzled, seek ways to handle it better. For instance, if taking a walk helps settle your nerves, go for a stroll before you face situations or events that might agitate you.

Changing how we handle negative thoughts also can help. In our minds, we all keep up sort of a running commentary about what we’re doing and seeing. Some of us get into the habit of focusing on irrational thoughts that make life harder than it has to be. We might emphasize the negative in situations, or we may think we have to be in control all of the time.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be very helpful for learning how to control our thoughts and coming up with practical strategies.

Mindfulness and meditation are other practices that can help deal with negative thoughts.

With practice, we can recognize what we’re doing and replace those thoughts with positive ones. We can see the good in what happens and let go of things we can’t control.

Taking care of yourself physically can improve your state of mind. Think about trying some of these:

Regular exercise. It’s a proven stress-buster and it helps your mood, sleep, and just about everything else. To get the most benefit, aim for at least 2.5 hours a week of moderately intense activity, such as walking, or 1.25 hours of harder exercise, such as jogging or swimming laps.

Yoga, tai chiand other slow-paced activities. They can calm down anxiety.

Breathing exercises. When you learn to control how fast you inhale and exhale, then practice it every day, that can ease anxiety. You can also draw on it to help calm you if you do have an attack.

Enough sleep. It keeps you from being groggy during the daytime.

A number of medications are helpful for preventing panic attacks. Consider talking with your doctor about whether this would be appropriate for you.

Rough workday? Constant job stress? That can make anyone edgy. If you think it’s affecting you, do what you can to keep your duties going smoothly:

  • Manage your time. Make to-do lists and give yourself enough time for each job. If you have a big project, break it down into manageable pieces and set mini-deadlines for them.
  • Do tasks carefully, so that you’re less likely to need to take time to correct them later.
  • Don’t commit to more work than you can handle. If your plate gets too full, check in (calmly) with your supervisor about how to prioritize.

Keep one last thing in mind. Even if you do have panic attacks, you and your doctor have a great shot at beating them. Nearly 90% of people who have attacks get relief after treatment. A fulfilling life is within your reach.