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John Cordray Apr 28, 2015

It happened so suddenly and out of the blue. Racing thoughts filled my mind, my chest felt tight, and my heart was pounding so fast; I just knew I was having a heart attack.

Speeding to the emergency room, and finally getting the attention of a doctor, I was told I didn’t have a heart attack – I had a panic attack.

This was the story that a client of mine recounted to me as he described his latest panic attack. Panic attacks are real, scary, and are often confused with heart attacks.

Panic disorder affects about 1 out of every 75 people according to the American Psychological Association. That’s a lot of people who suffer from an invisible hell.

Panic disorder affects about 1 out of every 75 people according to the APA.
Panic attacks can lead to other anxiety disorders, relationship problems, depression, and can dramatically alter one’s lifestyle.

Imagine feeling that your worse fear is coming true, and you can’t do anything about it. Would you freak out? I think so. But for so many people who experience panic attacks it’s more than just “freaking out” – the fear is intense and magnified tenfold.

I always remind my anxious clients to remember two things about panic attacks:

1. There’s always a beginning and an end. I refer to this as the panic window. Panic attacks start slow (most of the time), then it peaks (high point), then it comes back down. The majority of panic attacks last for about 10-15 minutes.

2. Panic attacks won’t kill you. It may feel like your dying in the midst of a panic attack, but it won’t kill you.

Feeling out of control is a hallmark of a panic attack, so learning to take back control is the key to stopping it. As a therapist, I teach my clients 5 steps that will stop panic attacks in their tracks.

Try these 5 steps the next time you experience a panic attack.

Step #1: Go to a Quiet Place

Remove yourself from loud environments. Loud sounds and active movements in the room can heighten the panic.

Step #2: Take Slow, Deep Breath’s

I often call this “Smell the flowers, blow out the candles” to help people remember to close their mouth’s, inhale through their nose, hold their breath for 3 seconds, then exhale through their mouth’s as if blowing out candles. Do this slowly for 8 times.

Step #3: Practice Active Observation

During a panic attack people are not thinking clearly, they’re experiencing distorted thinking. Active observation forces you to stay in the moment by observing everything in the room using all of your senses. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you physically feel? What do you smell? Be as specific as you can with what you observe.

Step #4: Splash Cold Water on Your Face

Cold water will send active signals to your brain that will jolt you into reality. When you put cold water, ice or frozen gel packs on your face or neck your brain kicks in logical thinking automatically.

Step #5: Talk to Yourself – Refocus

After you’re able to gain more control, refocus by telling yourself the truth. Talk to yourself about what happened during the day, remind yourself of your blessings, focus on the positives in your life. Tell yourself to calm your heart and mind down. Tell yourself – I got this.

Repeat the steps above as needed.

It’s always difficult for people who suffer from panic attacks to describe how they feel to other’s who never had one. It’s very important for those who experience panic attacks to have people believe that they’re actually experiencing an attack on their emotions.

People who are having a panic attack can’t simply get over it. Panic attacks are not something you can just switch off. So, if you have never experienced a panic attack, please believe the person who has. They’re not making it up or trying to get attention. What people suffering from panic disorder need the most (besides a cure) is someone who will believe and support them through the attack. Panic sufferers need someone to remain rational and objective when they’re not.


If you suffer from a panic disorder please seek help from a trained professional to help you gain a sense of control. Don’t suffer alone, let someone help you through your invisible hell. You no longer have to feel helpless to fight your panic attacks.

You can do it. You got this.

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