5 ways to neutralize panic attacks

Fear of Flying School

To stop your panic attacks, you must STOP fearing them.

But how?

By accepting that they CAN’T harm you.

And by learning how to challenge the negative thoughts that cause them.

Finally, you must get COMFORTABLE with the unpleasant SYMPTOMS of a panic attack. You can do this by conditioning your mind and body using the following steps.

1. Test you breathing speed

Did you know that breathing too fast is a MAJOR cause of panic attack?

Known as ‘over-breathing’ or ‘hyperventilation’, breathing too quickly results in lots of shallow breaths.

In turn, these cause your blood to have too much oxygen. But not enough carbon dioxide.

Which is a bit of a problem (but not a dangerous one). Why?

Because you NEED carbon dioxide to make use of the oxygen in your blood.

With too little carbon dioxide, your body can’t get sufficient access to the oxygen that its inhaled. And that causes symptoms like:

  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Out of body feelings
  • Tingling in your hands and feet

That’s why the first step to cutting your risk of panic attack is to make sure you don’t over-breath in your day-to-day life.

Because if you do, you’ll be more on edge than you should be. And, therefore, more likely to slip into panic mode.

So, how do you know if you over-breath?

Simple.

Just count how many breaths you take in one minute. If you’re doing more than 14, you’re breathing too much. That’s because the ideal is about 10.

2. Learn to breath slower

When you’re breathing too fast, you suck in air using the top part of your chest.

That’s the WRONG way to do it.

To slow things down, you should instead breath using your abdomen. That’s the area around your stomach.

How do you do that?

To get into training, sit down somewhere. Next, place your hands flat on your stomach about 2cm (1 inch) above your belly button.

You want the tips of the middle finger on each hand to touch each other when you breathe out. But not to touch when you breathe in.

You should aim to breath in for 3 seconds. Then out for 3 seconds.

That will give you about 10 breaths per minute.

Ideally, you should practice this for 5 minutes at least 3 times per day until you’re default breathing speed is about 10 breathes per minute when resting.

Besides slowing down your default breathing speed, you’ll be able to use this exercise to calm down when you’re on a plane and feeling panicky.

One thing before you get started: when first trying abdominal breathing, you might feel light headed or dizzy. If that happens, stick with the program as the problem should soon go away once your body adjusts.

Meanwhile, if the idea of doing abdominal breathing freaks you out, start your training by breathing as you normally do. But instead of breathing in then straight out, hold each breath for 5 seconds.

Once you get used to doing this, switch to the abdominal method.

3. Get used to the symptoms of over-breathing

This may sound contradictory, but once you’ve got your day-to-day breathing under control, you need to practice over-breathing.

Why?

So you can get REGULAR experience of the symptoms of panic. The idea here is that by getting used to those unpleasant sensations in a controlled environment (like your home), you’ll get to know them for what they are: unpleasant.

But NOT dangerous.

Nor evidence of impending doom.

With that experience under your belt, you’ll be FAR less nervous if panic symptoms emerge while you’re on a plane.

So, how do you deliberately bring on the symptoms of panic? Simple – takes lots of fast, shallow breaths.

Then learn to feel – but not fear – the symptoms as they start washing over you.

4. Get your heart pumping

When you panic, your heart rate quickly speeds up. And that can be scary in itself.

Especially if you’re not used to the feeling of a pounding heart.

The best way to deal with this is to get comfortable with your heart working hard. On that note, I suggest you regularly do an exercise that gets your heart rate up.

Like running on the spot. Or skipping. Or whatever.

Once your heart is pumping, actively focus on how it FEELS.

Do this a few times per week and you’ll soon get comfy with the sensation. Which means you’ll be MUCH less worried when it hits you during a panic attack.

5. Deliberately create panic attacks

Am I kidding?

No.

The idea here is that once you’ve mastered the previous four things, you need to generate panic attacks in order to become a black belt at handling them.

By doing this over and over, you’ll get to a point where you’re able to manage a panic attack on a plane. So how do you create a panic attack at a time of your choosing?

By using creative visualization. In other words, your imagination.

Here’s how it works.

Sitting in a quite, safe place (like your home), you imagine a flying-related scenario that has traditionally made you feel panicky.

As your thoughts give rise to fear, you aim to avoid full-scale panic.

You do this by FEELING the unpleasant symptoms but not allowing yourself to be OVERWHELMED by them.

Meanwhile, you challenge your catastrophic thoughts with facts.

The idea is to repeat this exercise regularly until your visualizations no longer make you panic.

At that point, you’ll be so used to panic that its power to terrify you will be hugely reduced.

And happily, that will LOWER your risk of having an attack in the first place.

Before you begin

If you suffer from a medical problem like a heart condition or asthma, I suggest you DON’T do these exercises.

Meanwhile, to make your panic-inducing sessions less traumatic, you might find it better to do them in the presence of a trained professional like a psychologist.

Your experiences

What do you think of these techniques? Leave something for me in the comments.

This is the fourth instalment in a series of posts about panic attacks.

Leave a comment

19 comments

  1. Tianna

    Thank you so much for that. I get panic attacks in the car sometimes and it’s really unnerving, but this article really helped. 🙂

    1. Tim Benjamin

      Cool – I’m glad it helped you, Tianna.

  2. S.k.

    I get panic attacks (I assume that’s what they are ) at home – but mainly in stores or places with people. I feel like I’m going to pass out. But at home when this happens, I just lay down, I try to overcome the horrible feelings but can’t. It’s ruining my life …

    1. Tim Benjamin

      Hey SK – yep, that sounds frustrating. The first step to managing panic attacks is to become a bit of an expert in what they are – and how they work. Next, you need to learn techniques for managing them. Besides my own articles on this, check out what the Mayo Clinic has to say.

  3. nasir

    I panic when I step inside an elevator. And when, for a joke, someone outside the room I’m in has locked me inside. But I’m trying my best to follow the ideas suggested in this article.

    1. Tim Benjamin

      Hey Nasir – a good way to get used to being in confined spaces is to start with baby steps. For example, as often as you can, take short rides in an elevator. Eventually, you’ll start to feel comfortable doing that. And as you do, start taking slightly longer rides. Again, as you get comfy with these, start taking even longer rides. Eventually, you’ll find that being in an elevator doesn’t worry you at all – no matter how long you’re in there for. This process is known as ‘progressive exposure’. And the great thing is that you can apply it to overcoming any phobia – including a fear of flying. 🙂

  4. Jannel

    I didn’t have a fear of flying before, but last year it happened. I felt shortness of breath, numbness in my legs and arms and I almost fainted. They gave me oxygen :(. Next month, I will be riding a plane and I dont know how to convince myself not to panic. 🙁 please advise..Thanks.

    1. Tim Benjamin

      Yep – I’ve been through similar stuff, Jannel. As a first step, I suggest you take a look at these fear of flying articles. Good luck 🙂

  5. NM

    I’ve suffered from panic attacks for years. Relapses during stress. This really helped in putting things in perspective and trying to take control of them.

  6. wendy

    I have suffered panic attacks for 4 months straight – it feels like it never goes away. I’ve been on meds and seeing a psychiatrist – but I still fear the fear! Are there any medical reasons behind panic attacks? Oh yeah – I’ve also developed ticks and confusion the last two weeks. I just want to be myself again.

    1. Rena

      Wow.. I have been the same way too.

  7. Krystal

    I have not flown in 15 years in fear of having a panic attack on the plane that will not go away until I am off it. I am flying in 6 weeks. I was going to take a practice flight but can’t afford both.
    I find these articles helpful, at the same time I am worried since I have not fully experienced it in 15 years. What if I freak out and yell to be let off the plane?!

  8. Kathy

    It sounds good. I will be trying these ideas in two days when I depart (fly) home.
    I think you are right about fearing the panic attacks because I am worrying already. The panic attacks are horrible. I am not afraid to fly but I think it is the clostiphobic that I am not able to get out & walk for 8 hours

  9. Angela

    I have found this information very helpful….I haven’t flown on an aeroplane since 2006.

    1. Tim Benjamin

      Hey Angela – glad to hear it’s helping you 🙂

  10. Mark

    One week to Fly Day. Reading your e-book and practicing the techniques has helped. You described exactly how I felt when flying and I am less concerned now than I ever have been in the past thinking about flying. Thank you

  11. Robin

    I took a flight from Adelaide to Melbourne last month it was only 1:15 hrs flight. It was my first time ever experiencing a panic attack during a flight, I’ve never had them before. When i had a panic attack, not only is my heart racing, i had an extreme hot flashes which was extremely uncomfortable. I had to as the flight attendant for an ice packs, which was all dissolved once we landed. I now have another trip booked to Brisbane, which is a 2 hrs flight, in a month from now on September 22. I am already panicking that it might happen again.

    Any advice?

    1. Tim Benjamin

      Hey Robin – you can read my advice here 🙂

  12. Joe

    I like the idea of a creating a panic attack. What are some proven ways I can set my panic off so I can get used to the feeling and become numb to the sensation, once it hits?

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