woman experiencing panic attack
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Know the Signs

You don’t have to be in a scary situation to have a panic attack. You could be on a hike, at a restaurant, or asleep in bed. All of a sudden you get a strong surge of fear. This triggers physical symptoms like a pounding heart, sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, chest pain, or trembling. It can last 5 to 20 minutes. Once you learn to recognize when attacks are coming on, you can find ways to stop them.

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traveling by airplane
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Live Your Life

It’s understandable that you’d want to avoid a panic attack at all costs. But it’s important not to let fear control your life. For example, don’t avoid places where you’ve had panic attacks in the past. If you have one, stay where you are, if it’s safe. When the attack is over, you’ll realize that nothing terrible happened.

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man looking himself in the mirror
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Talk to Yourself

When you feel a panic attack coming on, remind yourself that you’re feeling anxiety, and not real danger. You can even try directly addressing the fear. Practice a go-to response like, “I am not afraid” or “This will pass.”

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woman massaging temples with fingers
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Don’t Distract Yourself

As tempting as it may be to try to focus your mind elsewhere, the healthiest way to deal with a panic attack is to acknowledge it. Try not to fight your symptoms. But keep reminding yourself that they will pass.

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woman breathing through panic attack
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Breathe Through It

An attack may make you take quick, shallow breaths, so get your breathing under control. Close your eyes. Put your hand between your bellybutton and the bottom of your ribs. Inhale through your nose slowly and deeply. Then let all that air out gently through your mouth. You’ll feel the hand on your belly rise and fall. If it helps, you can count from 1 to 5 on each inhale and exhale. After a few minutes, you should start to feel better.

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hand on tree trunk
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Keep Your Mind in the Present

Notice five things you can see around you. Then, four things you can touch. Three things you can hear. Two things you smell. One thing you taste. When you stay grounded in what’s going on around you, it gives your mind something better to do than focus on fear or bounce from one worry to the next.

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man eating pizza
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H.A.L.T. Your Attack

H.A.L.T. stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired -- four feelings that bring out the worst in everyone. If you’re prone to panic attacks, they can turn into triggers. When symptoms pop up, check in with yourself: Am I hungry? Am I angry? Once you pinpoint what’s going on, you can take steps to fix it.

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man tensing tricep muscle
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Progressive Relaxation

When you feel a panic attack coming on -- or are in the middle of one -- tense one muscle at a time and then relax it. Repeat this everywhere until your whole body is relaxed.

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senior woman smiling
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Stop the ‘What Ifs’

Panic attacks feed on thoughts of “what if.” What if I can’t do it? What if I run into my ex? What if everyone laughs at me? Acknowledge that fear, then shift from “what if” to “so what?” Sometimes the worst-case scenario isn’t as bad as it seems.

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man writing in journal
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Rate Your Fear

When fear scrambles your mind, rate it on a scale of one to 10 every few minutes. This keeps you in the present moment. It’s also a good reminder that you’re not on a 10 the whole time.

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cup of coffee
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Careful With Coffee, Booze, Smoking

Caffeine can make you feel nervous and shaky. It can also keep you awake, which can trigger tiredness later. Nicotine and alcohol can make you feel calm at first, then make you jittery as your body processes it. All three can trigger panic attacks or make them worse. It’s best to avoid them.

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outdoor exercise group
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Make Time to Exercise

Physical activity lowers stress, which is one of the main causes of panic attacks. A workout, especially the kind that gets your heart pumping, can also get you to a calmer place. Can’t work in a workout? Even a 10-minute walk can help.

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hands in yoga pose
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Slow Down

Slow your body down, and your mind will follow. Practices like yoga and tai chi use slow body movements and train the mind to be calm and aware.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 04/12/2019 Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on April 12, 2019


1) Voisin / Phanie / Science Source

2) Chalabala / Getty Images

3) June Steward / Thinkstock

4) fizkes / Getty Images

5) WebMD

6) Jacek Mleczek / pexels

7) Ridofranz / Getty Images

8) WebMD

9) shironosov / Getty Images

10) shironosov / Thinkstock

11) Gregor Schuster / Photographer’s Choice

12) Rawpixel / Getty Images

13) Getty Images



Mayo Clinic: “Panic attacks and panic disorder,” “Coping with anxiety: Can diet make a difference?”

National Health Service (UK): “Are you having panic attacks?”

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Symptoms,” “Exercise for Stress and Anxiety.”

MentalHealth.gov “Panic Disorder.”

Lifeline: “Panic Attacks.”

No Panic: “Strategies for Coping with Panic.”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Anxiety.”

ADDitude magazine: “Panic Buttons: How to Stop Anxiety and Its Triggers.”

University of Michigan Health Service: “Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks.”

Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on April 12, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.