themighty logo

7 Coping Skills for When I Have a Panic Attack


I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression a number of years ago and have had a difficult journey getting to where I am today. However, throughout my journey, I have learned a lot about myself and many different coping mechanisms. For me, the worst part of my mental illness was the panic attacks. How I cope with panic attacks has changed over the years, and my feelings about them have changed too.

When I was younger, my panic attacks felt suffocating. When I panicked, it always felt like all my coping skills went out the window, and I didn’t know what to do. My therapist and I devised a plan to keep coping skills with me wherever I went. She gave me a note card to write my panic attack coping skills so when I was having an attack, I didn’t have to think, only act.

Here is what is on the card:

1. Find a safe place.

Get out paper bag.

2. Breathe into it for two minutes.

*Should decrease panic symptoms.

3. If you don’t have a bag, try deep breathing.

Breathe in through the nose 1-2-3 and out through the mouth 1-2-3 for as many times until symptoms decrease.

4. Reach out and call someone.

Call your mom, dad or therapist.

5. Get endorphins going.

Exercise.

6. Cuddle up with your favorite blanket/stuffed animal.

Nap.

7. You can do this!

You are a strong, wonderful person who can accomplish whatever you put your mind to!

Even if I didn’t do the first six, I still read the last one out loud to remind myself I am a capable human being. I admit finding a safe place in public is difficult, but if I could get to a bathroom or go sit in my car, I felt safe. I found reaching out and calling someone the most difficult of all the steps because it was hard to admit I needed help. This is something I have worked on over the years and no longer have as much difficulty with.

These days, I am more mindful about how I acknowledge I am having a panic attack and how I cope. I use both deep breathing and positive self-talk to calm myself down. Positive self-talk is important because it helps me focus on the positive outlook instead of the negative. Instead of saying, “When will this be over,” I say, “This will soon pass.”

Another example is when I find myself saying things like, “I can’t do this. It’s too scary. I’m afraid.” I re-frame it and say, “I can get through this. I’ve gotten through this before. I can do it again.” Re-framing my negative thoughts has taken a lot of practice. I keep a box with affirmations inside, and read them to practice re-framing my thoughts. Affirmations are acknowledgements to yourself that you are a strong, wonderfully capable person. Reading them aloud to myself in moments of panic and high anxiety has helped me tone down the worries and self-doubt.

Now, for the most part, I have them memorized and use them when I need them. I still get panic attacks from time to time, but I feel they are milder than they used to be. In many ways, I have conquered my panic through these coping skills I have accumulated through my journey. I know panic attacks are different for everyone, but I hope you are able to apply some of my skills to your daily life.

Image via Thinkstock.