How To Stop A Panic Attack

By November 20, 2013Anxiety

Most advice about how to stop a panic attack makes panic attacks stronger

Hello, my name is Noah Elkrief and in this video I’d like to talk to you about how to stop a panic attack. The reason why I’m making this blog post about how to stop a panic attack is because as I do one on one sessions with people, I often hear a lot of advice about how to stop panic attacks that actually makes panic attacks even stronger. In this blog post, I will show you how to come back to being in peace when a panic attack arises.

When you try to stop a panic attack, it gets stronger

If you look at your own experience, what happens when you try to stop a panic attack? Well, if you’re anything like the people that I work, with when you try to stop a panic attack, it gets worse. It gets stronger. We get more trapped in it. We become even more powerless when we try to stop it.

Why is that? Why does that happen? Well, in order to understand how to stop a panic attack, you first need to really understand why trying to stop a panic attack makes it worse. There are 5 reasons why this happens. I’m going to talk about each of the five reasons, and then I’m also going to give you an action step for what to do in order to stop creating the intensifying affect.

1) When you try to stop thinking about something, you think about it more

In order to make something clear for you, I would just like you to take a moment right now and try something. I want you to try as hard as you can to not think about oranges. Don’t think about what orange juice tastes like. Don’t think about what it’s like to peel an orange. Don’t think about the texture of the orange. Don’t think about what an orange feels like or looks like. Don’t think about the last time you had an orange. Don’t think about orange trees. Just don’t think about anything having to do with oranges. Can you do that for a moment? Give it a try. Don’t think about orange juices, oranges, juice anything. Close your eyes and do that for about 30 seconds.

How’s did it go? Probably not so good, right? You thought about oranges didn’t you? Because when you try not to think about something, that’s when you think about it. Trying not to think about something gives more energy to what you’re trying to not think about. You see how that happens?

Therefore, when you try to stop thinking the thoughts that are creating your panic attack, you’re just fueling it, giving more energy to the thoughts that are creating it. You can’t get rid of these thoughts by just trying to stop them and push them away. That’s not how the mind works. That just keeps the thoughts there, intensifies them, and makes the panic attack last longer.

Action step: Allow thoughts and feelings to be as they are

What happens when you try to stop thoughts and push them away? You can see from your own experience that it doesn’t work. What do you do about that? Give up that tactic. That’s what you do. Stop trying to get rid of the thoughts. Trying to get rid of the thoughts, fuels them. Instead, try something radical. Allow the thoughts to be there. Allow the feelings to be there. Paradoxically, this calms things down.

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2) When you try to make negative thoughts positive, you create a battle in your mind

When you try to stop a panic attack, when you try to stop specific thoughts, what you do is you create a battle, a war, in your head. First, you think, “I’m scared. This situation is going to hurt me. Something bad might happen.” And then you try to convince yourself of the opposite by telling yourself “This situation won’t hurt me. That’s crazy. It’s okay. Nothing bad is going to happen.”

What happens when you do that is you now have two beliefs colliding; the negative beliefs that’s creating your feelings, and this positive belief that you are trying to convince yourself is true. But, since you are not addressing the reason why you have the negative belief in the first place, just telling yourself something positive is not going to get rid of the negative belief. Instead, it’s just creating a battle, a war in your mind. And that war creates even more tension.

Action step: Don’t try to make your thoughts positive, let them be

Instead of trying to convince yourself that your negative thought isn’t true, and creating a battle in your head, let the negative thoughts be there. Let them take over you. Let them say, “I’m going to die in this situation.” Let them say, “This situation is going to ruin me” or “this is bad” or “I’m going to get hurt” or whatever they’re saying. Let them say it. Don’t try to overlay some positive belief that the situation is good. That just creates a battle. Instead, let it be.

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3) Believing that a panic attack is bad makes panic attacks more intense

Once we begin to have a panic attack, one of the first thoughts to pop up in our head is “This is bad, I don’t want to have panic attack”. It seems obvious that it’s bad to have a panic attack. But, as soon as you believe that your panic attack is bad, you are adding another layer of suffering on top of your panic attack, thus strengthening its intensity. So, is it bad to have a panic attack? Let’s take a moment and examine that a little closer. There’s a few ways to see that it might not necessarily be bad.

a) What are the facts, and what are my thoughts about the facts?

The first way to see that a panic attack is not bad is to separate the facts from our thoughts about the facts. The facts are that we have a specific sensation, a physical sensation in our body. That’s the facts. The thought on top of the fact says, “This sensation is good” or “This sensation is bad.” Right? When we have a tickle it says, “This sensation is good”. When have a bruise, it says, “This sensation is bad.”

But “bad” doesn’t exist as part of the facts. The sensation just is what it is. End of story. It’s not that it’s bad. It just is. You can’t see “bad” or touch the “badness” of a feeling. The feeling exists in your chest or stomach, but the “badness” exists only as a thought in your head.

When you start to have a panic attack, go to the physical sensations itself. Describe the sensations to yourself. Mind will want to say something like “it feels like there is a 1000 pounds of pressure on my chest”. But, stop, come back to the facts. There is some pressure on your chest, but it is nothing like a 1000 pounds in reality. As long as you stick with the facts, you will remain in peace regardless of the sensations your body is experiencing.

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b) Can’t you be in peace in the midst of discomfort in your body?

I’m sure you’ve had stomach aches from time to time. In the midst of a stomach ache, it seems that the stomach ache is creating your suffering. It’s making you unhappy. But if while you have the stomach ache, you start to do something fun, eat your favorite dessert, watch an entertaining movie, or watch a funny youtube video, will you still be unhappy? No.

When an activity takes your full attention, thus distracting you from your thoughts about your stomach ache, all of a sudden you are no longer unhappy. The stomach ache may still be there, but since you are distracted from your thoughts about, you’re able to be in peace even in the midst of this physical sensation.

The same is true with a panic attack. It’s just a physical sensation. In the midst of any sensation, a cut, bruise, stomach ache, we can still be in peace.

So, when you have a panic attack, just notice the sensations. Let the sensations be there and notice that it doesn’t affect your peace. We tend to think that tension or anxiety is the opposite of peace. But those are just physical sensations. They can’t touch our peace. They don’t take away our peace unless we confuse them to be who we are. Unless we confuse the tension to be, “It’s MY tension. I am in tension.” It’s just sensations in the body. So let them be there and just notice them.

c) Do you know what all of the future effects are of this feeling in your body?

Imagine you break your leg, okay? When you have that pain, it seems so bad. “The pain, I don’t like it. It’s bad that I broke my leg.” That’s what we would assume, right? When we break our leg we’re thinking of all the bad effects and that it’s bad to be in pain. These thoughts make us feel sad.

But now imagine that while you were in the hospital waiting for surgery, you met somebody the love of your life. While you were off from work, you realized that your job wasn’t right for you and you found a new job that you love much more. While you were off from work, you spent so much time reading self help books that you became much happier.

Six months later, if you found yourself much happier than you were before you broke your leg, looking back was it good or bad that you broke your leg? Well, if you’re happier, of course you would say that “it’s good that I broke my leg. It was good for my life.”

In the moment that we break our leg, if we label it “bad”, it’s because we’re ignoring all of the possible future effects that could be helpful in our life. We’re saying “it IS bad”, but how could we possible know what all of the effects are? Is it possible this will lead to more happiness?

In the midst of a panic attack, we’re labeling the sensation “bad” saying, “This will have a bad impact on my life. It’s bad that it’s happening.” And it really, really seems that way. I get that. But, it’s possible ask yourself, “Do I know that this feeling is bad for my life? Is it possible that it will lead to more happiness in my life? Is it possible that this will go and I’ll be happy again? How do I know that it’s bad?”

If we can see that we don’t know whether this feeling is bad or good for our life, then all of a sudden the panic attack relaxes a little bit because we don’t know that it’s bad to be feeling it. Or the feeling persists, the sensations persists, but yet we can be in peace in the midst of the sensations.

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4) When you think a panic attack signifies something about you, the panic attack strengthens

The fourth reason that a panic attack gets stronger once we start experiencing it is because we think that it means something about us. When we have a panic attack, we may think it means that we’re stupid, that there’s something wrong with us, that we’re not making progress, or that we’re never going to get better. Right?

All of these thoughts just make us feel worse. But how do you know that your panic attack means on these things about you?

Imagine that you are sitting in your room, then you look out of your window, and immediately see a car accident. Would you think that it was bad that there was a car accident? Probably. But, would you feel ashamed about the car accident? No, of course not. Why not? Simply because you don’t blame yourself for the car accident. And why don’t you blame yourself for the car accident? Because you didn’t control the factors that determined whether there was a car accident. What this demonstrates is that a “bad” situation only means something about you if you control it and are to blame for it.

Therefore, when we say that our panic attack means something about us, we’re actually saying, “My panic attack signifies something about me because I control whether I have panic attacks or not, and I am to blame for my panic attack.” But are you to blame for your panic attacks?

Action step: Discover that you are not to blame for your panic attacks and you will no longer feel ashamed about them

Are you to blame for your panic attack? Look. Panic attacks are created by thoughts. Do you control the thoughts that arise in you mind? Take a look for yourself right now. Be curious and ask yourself “I wonder, what’s the next thought to pop up in my head?” Do you know what the next thought will be? When you see the next thought that pops up in your head, ask yourself “Did I pick that? Did I put it there? Do I want to be happy or sad? Happy or stressed?” Well, of course you want to be happy. If you wanted to be happy, and you controlled what thoughts arise in your mind, wouldn’t you only choose to think positive thoughts? Yes, of course! If we controlled our thoughts, we would only choose happy thoughts, positive thoughts.

But, clearly that’s not the case. We constantly think negatively. Everybody, not just you. Everybody thinks negatively because they don’t control their thoughts. They don’t pick which thoughts come up in their minds, and they don’t pick which thoughts go. Just recognize that you don’t control the thoughts that arise in your mind. You don’t control them.

Therefore, when negative thoughts pop up and create this panic attack, it’s not your fault. You’re not to blame for it. It doesn’t mean anything about you. Really, it doesn’t. I’m not just saying that. If we don’t control the thoughts that arise in our minds, then we don’t control the feeling that those thoughts create. And if we don’t control the feeling, then we’re not to blame for it. If we’re not to blame for the feeling of panic attack, then it doesn’t mean we’re weak, stupid, wrong, bad or any of that. It just popped up.

The other thought we have about panic attacks is that it means we’re not making progress or that it’s always going to be this way. But do you know that’s true? Is it possible that tomorrow you’ll be in peace and that you’ll never have another panic attack? Is it possible that this panic attack will teach you a lesson that helps yourself or others? We don’t know any of that.

When it starts to rain, you just take it. You didn’t control whether it rained or not, so it doesn’t mean anything about you. Same thing with a panic attack. It just arises. Okay. It will come. It will go. It always goes, right? It always goes. So, let it run its course. There’s nothing you can do. You’re not to blame for it.

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5) Worrying about what others think about your panic attack strengthens your panic attack

The 5th reason that a panic attack strengthens once we have it is because we become worried about what other people think. We’re worried that the people around us will think we’re crazy or something. But if you got hit by a car and broke your leg, would you worry about what other people think about your broken leg? Or if you had cancer, would you worry that they think you’re crazy for having cancer? No, you likely wouldn’t worry about what people think in either of these situations.

The reason why is because you know you’re not to blame for either of these feelings in your body. You know that neither of these ailments to your body signifies anything about you. You’re not at fault for cancer. You’re not at fault for a broken leg. So that’s why you don’t worry about what people think.

But the same is true with a panic attack. It doesn’t mean anything about you as we just saw. You don’t control the thoughts that come. You don’t control the feelings that are created by these thoughts. So if people judge you for it, okay. It doesn’t mean anything about you. They’re just misinformed. They’re just confused. They just don’t know any better. It’s okay.

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An overview of how to stop a panic attack

Let’s run through some of the important points from this blog post about how to stop a panic attack. When a panic attack comes, don’t try to stop it. That just strengthens it. If you believe that a situation is bad and can harm you, don’t try to convince yourself “This situation isn’t bad and this situation won’t hurt me”. That just creates a battle in your head. The feelings of a panic attack aren’t bad, and don’t mean you can’t be in peace. You can be in peace with tension in your chest just as you can be with a stomach ache. The feelings of a panic attack don’t mean anything about you. When you worry about what other people think, recognize that you are not to blame for the panic attack, and it has nothing to do with you.

Overall, how to stop a panic attack? Let it be there. Allow it to be there. Just notice the sensations. Be aware of them. Allow the thoughts to come and to go. Don’t try to change it. And then watch what happens. It will either dissolve on its own without you trying to stop it or you can be relaxed in the midst of the body feeling tense.

Thank you for reading this post about how to stop a panic attack

I hope this explanation of tactics for how to stop a panic attack helps you. Please let me know if you have any questions about how to stop a panic or let me know how it works for you the next time a panic attack comes. Thank you for watching and I’ll see you on the next video.

Noah Elkrief