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7 Coping Skills for When I Have a Panic Attack

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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.


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


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.

Originally published: July 12, 2016
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