In this guide, we will discuss How to stop a panic attack in public, why people would say ‘deep breathing makes me anxious’, what does deep breathing really means and the difference there is with thoracic breathing, why some experts consider deep breathing as a bad idea and some additional techniques that are worth trying.
How to stop a panic attack in public?
If you are wondering ‘How to stop a panic attack in public’ consider the following:
- Focus on your breathing by using deep breathing techniques.
- Acknowledge you are having a panic attack.
- Try to close your eyes and think about your happy place.
- Practice meditation or mindfulness.
- Find an object in the room or the place you are at and focus on it.
- Relax your muscles by implementing muscle relaxation techniques.
Mentioned above are the Do’s of panic attacks. But, to help yourself when in this kind of a situation, you should know both the Do’s and Don’ts of panic attacks.
We understand how panic attacks can be endured with severe discomfort and can make you feel extremely frightened.
Even if applying these techniques may not stop the panic attack immediately, it may shorten the episode.
Many panic attack sufferers fear they will have a panic attack in public which may increase their anxiety.
We know breathing comes naturally and involuntarily without thinking too much about it.
When we breathe, our blood cells receive oxygen and release carbon dioxide which is the waste product carried back through our body and expelled when we exhale.
Subsequently, when someone is having a panic attack breathing becomes shallow and this has a scientific reason behind it.
When our body is prepared to fight or run, the energy and oxygen get concentrated in our muscles so they can be more efficient.
Moreover, we know how improper breathing can upset the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, contributing to anxiety, panic attacks, among other physical and emotional disturbances.
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“Deep breathing makes me more anxious”
We tend to hear how deep breathing seems to make people more anxious or their panic attack even worse.
However, most people are not aware of the way they breathe and here we will see the difference between deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing and thoracic or chest breathing.
When we are feeling anxious, we tend to breathe in a shallow and superficial way, meaning thoracic or chest breathing.
Subsequently, our blood is not getting enough oxygen and here is when we feel how our heart rate increases, we feel dizzy or about to faint, muscle tension, chest pain, shortness of breath, among other physical symptoms.
What is the difference between thoracic breathing and diaphragmatic breathing?
One way of determining your breathing pattern is by putting your hand on your chest and the other one on your upper abdomen near the waist.
When you breathe, you will notice how one of your hands tends to move while the other stays still.
The proper way of breathing would be when you breathe and you notice how your abdomen expands and contracts which each breath as well as noticing how your hand raises.
Being aware of your breathing pattern becomes important when you are having a panic attack because you can do the same exercise and notice how your chest and shoulders raise while you breathe instead of your abdomen.
The muscle that we tend to ignore but it is crucial if we would like to stop a panic attack, is the diaphragm.
This skeletal muscle is the one that sits at the base of your chest and separates your abdomen from your chest.
When you are breathing properly, it will contract and flatten when you release the air.
A relaxation technique (Breathing exercise)
Here is a simple step by step exercise that you can practice at home, as many times you’d like.
It will be extremely useful when preventing or stopping a panic attack.
- Sit comfortably in a chair, your bed, or where you can relax and there is support for your head.
- Place one hand on your chest just underneath the collar bone and the other hand place it on your stomach.
- Inhale slowly until the count of three (but you can change it eventually) deeply through your nose. Your shoulders should be relaxed and you will notice how your chest stays still or moves just a little. Notice how the hand on your stomach starts to rise.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth blowing the air in the count of three. Purse your lips slightly but remember to keep your shoulders, jaw, and muscles in your face relaxed. Notice how the hand on top of your stomach moves when the air goes out.
- It is recommended to practice a few times during the day when you get the chance.
This exercise can be done standing up, sitting down, or even lying down, whichever you prefer or feel more comfortable.
At first, you may notice how you feel a bit dizzy, but it is completely normal. However, if you feel anxious or panicky stop and try at a later time.
As indicated by Sheryl Ankrom, MS, and LCPC from verywellmind.com, “Sometimes people with a panic disorder initially feel increased anxiety or panic while doing this exercise. This may be due to anxiety caused by focusing on your breathing, or you may be unable to do the exercise correctly without some practice.”
Why some experts won’t recommend deep breathing
Some experts will indicate that deep breathing can worsen the symptoms of someone having a panic attack, this is why a new treatment has been proposed to treat the symptoms of a panic attack by getting patients to breathe less.
This is a totally different approach when treating the feeling of suffocating or the shortness of breath that comes with panic attacks.
As indicated by Stephanie Pappas from livescience.com, “The treatment, which involves a technique for altering your breathing, is more effective at alleviating both short-term panic disorder symptoms and hyperventilation than traditional psychological therapy, and it may make people less prone to panic attacks in the first place, said study leader Alicia Meuret of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.”
This new treatment is called capnometry-assisted respiratory training or CART. Meuret indicates how deep breathing during a panic attack when someone is hyperventilating may not be a good idea.
This is based on the fact that, whenever someone is hyperventilating, people tend to breathe too quickly and deeply that they tend to expel a high amount of carbon dioxide, which can result in the symptoms of numbness and feeling dizzy.
Subsequently, in their trials with patients suffering from panic attacks, they found how the treatment seems to be effective when normalizing the baseline levels of carbon dioxide in the blood makes people less prone to hyperventilating, helping them to ‘reverse’ the attack.
When you are having a panic attack, your instincts will tell you to fight back. However, recognizing you are having a panic attack instead of thinking you are actually having a heart attack will help you send a message to your brain about how you are not really in danger.
In addition, remind yourself you are safe, how this is just temporary and will pass.
Also, with most panic attacks you won’t be able to determine what were the triggers or what caused it in the first place.
However, when you are in a public place there may be many potential stressors or triggers.
What you can do is close your eyes during the panic attack so you can block the stimuli around you and will actually make it easier for you to concentrate on breathing.
In contrast, you could also find an object from the environment and focus on it.
When you pick this object focus on the colors, shapes, or the size of the object, start describing it to yourself out loud or silently.
When you start doing this, your brain will shift the focus helping you reduce the symptoms of the panic attack.
Another useful technique is muscle relaxation. When we are having a panic attack, the natural response would be to tense our muscles.
However, try to consciously relax one group of muscles at a time, for instance, start with your feet and work your way up to your head and the muscles in your face.
You could start by moving your toes, then continue with your feet by tensing followed by relaxing the group of muscles.
It is possible that you may try one technique and you will feel frustrated because it didn’t actually work for you but the idea here is to find the one that actually does, so don’t be discouraged if you tried it and it didn’t work at first.
Some people have actually found comfort using essential oils, smooth stones, beaded bracelets, reciting their mantra, or even having someone else to hug them and tell them everything is going to be OK.
Find what actually makes you feel better.
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Why is this blog about How to stop a panic attack in public important?
As we have discussed in ‘How to stop a panic attack in public’, talking about many useful options such as breathing exercises, meditating, focusing on an object, or even using essential oils to help you cope with the symptoms related to a panic attack.
However, they may not all be effective or work for you so it is important to give them a try and keep trying if the first didn’t work out.
Moreover, we talked about the difference between thoracic and diaphragmatic breathing and how deep breathing can help you to reduce the symptoms while having a panic attack.
However, deep breathing seems to work for some people, and for others, it seems to make things worse so we recommend giving it a try once and stop if it is not making you feel any better.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
What we recommend for Panic disorder
- Panic courses are a cost-effective way to seek help for panic attacks. A panic course such as this may help you alleviate those feelings of fears as it has with over 50,000 people.
- If you are suffering from a panic disorder, then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.
Weighted Blankets may help you sleep better if you are having panic attack and they are affecting your quality of sleep. Weighted blankets apply enough weight on you that they make you feel much more relaxed and calm at night
Ankrom, S. (2020, Apr.) Deep Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety. Retrieved from verywellmind.com.
Pappas, S. (2010, Dec.) To Stave Off Panic, Don’t Take a Deep Breath. Retrieved from livescience.com.
Gotter, A. (2018, Dec.) 11 Ways to Stop a Panic Attack. Retrieved from healthline.com.
Deering. S. (2019, May.) Here’s What You Should Do If You Have a Panic Attack in Public. Retrieved from healthline.com.