Woman clutching her face and suffering from a panic attack in a busy public square

3 Strategies for Defusing a Panic Attack

Woman clutching her face and suffering from a panic attack in a busy public square

Having an anxiety disorder is no joke. Panic attacks can make the victim feel like there’s something seriously wrong with their body. Racing heart, shortness of breath, and shaking can make it hard to distinguish between a panic attack and a heart attack. Fear of the panic attack symptoms often piles on to the initial anxiety, meaning the panic attack can get worse—not better—and spiral out of control. The best medication and therapies in the world can’t prevent 100% of panic attacks, and they can occur anywhere at any time. That’s why, in addition to addressing underlying anxiety in therapy, it’s important to teach clients how to defuse a panic attack in the moment. Here are three easy strategies your patients can use to help quell their anxiety during a panic attack.


In the early stages of a panic attack, focusing on keeping breathing steady and stopping racing thoughts in their tracks can stop the panic attack from escalating. That’s why, if you catch a panic attack early, meditation can be a great way to work through a panic attack. YouTube is a great resource for beginning meditators to access free guided meditations.

Positive Affirmations

Negative thinking is a well-known trigger for panic attacks. As panic attacks worsen, negative thoughts can spiral out of control. They can plague the victim, making the panic worse and worse as the person experiencing the attack feels worse and worse about themselves. That’s why positive affirmations are such a valuable tool in the moment for people with panic attacks. People with distorted thinking patterns often have the same negative thoughts that crop up repeatedly. Choosing a positive affirmation ahead of time can allow these sufferers to pull it out during a time of panic and repeat it until the negative voices in their heads are tuned out.

5 Senses Technique

For particularly bad panic attacks, sufferers may need a technique that does a hard reboot to their brain. That’s when the 5 Senses Technique comes into play. This technique forces the person to stop their thinking and instead focus on physically being in the moment. The technique tells the sufferer to name:

  • 5 things they can SEE
  • 4 things they can FEEL
  • 3 things they can HEAR
  • 2 things they can SMELL
  • 1 thing they can TASTE


As therapists, we’re often focused on the long-term goals of our patients. But for patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, short-term issues can be debilitating. Teaching our patients how to handle panic attacks puts them more in control of their lives and gives them the capacity to work on their more long-term goals. To continue learning techniques like these, as well as how accelerated resolution therapy can help those with generalized anxiety disorders, contact Colleen E. Clark today.

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