Tips For Recovering And Centering Yourself After A Panic Attack

Panic attacks are sudden, intense bouts of overwhelming fear accompanied by distressing physical symptoms like chest pain, trouble breathing, nausea, a sharp increase in heart rate, chills, shaking, sweating, and numbness in the hands or feet. These physical symptoms are very similar to those of a heart attack.


Though panic attacks seem to come out of nowhere, they actually happen when you encounter something that triggers an intense fear response. For example, if you're scared of doctors, going to an appointment could trigger a panic attack. And these triggers are different for everyone. Experts have theories about the underlying causes of panic attacks. One is that they are caused by imbalances in key brain chemicals that regulate emotions like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), cortisol, and serotonin.

If you've ever had a panic attack, you're not alone. According to Cleveland Clinic, about 11% of Americans have at least one panic attack every year. They are awful, and recovering from one and calming down afterward can be difficult. But there are some techniques you can use to get through a panic attack and get back to baseline after. Let's explore what those are.


Accept where you're at

Though it's difficult to accept something that sucks as much as a panic attack, that's a crucial part of making it through one. Since the physical symptoms of a panic attack come on suddenly, it's common for the fear to get even worse as you try to figure out what's going on, which can intensify the attack. So, it's important to know the symptoms of a panic attack and understand how they're different from having a heart attack.


The most important difference between a panic attack and a heart attack is pain, according to Scripps. Though panic attacks can cause chest pain, the chest pain accompanying a heart attack is much more intense and is often accompanied by pain in the arms. So, if your chest is tight, you're having trouble breathing, and you're experiencing nausea, sweating, chills, and/or shaking, try to notice if you're feeling intense pain in your chest or arms. If not, it's probably a panic attack.

If you determine you are having a panic attack, trying to deny or fight it isn't going to help. The best thing to do is literally say to yourself, "I'm having a panic attack." This acknowledgment can cue you to use calming techniques to get through the attack. It's also helpful to remind yourself that panic attacks don't last very long. Though it can feel like forever when you're experiencing one, panic attacks are typically over within 20 minutes, though often sooner than that.


Try to breathe

We know how annoying it is to suggest breathing exercises to cope with a panic attack. In the middle of a panic attack, it feels like you literally can't take a deep breath, which makes breathing exercises feel impossible. But taking a deep breath isn't actually the issue. During an attack, you feel like you can't breathe because you're not exhaling.


Panic attacks cause you to take short, shallow breaths through your chest, which prevents you from inhaling or exhaling fully. To take full, deep breaths, you need to calm down your nervous system by slowing down your breathing and moving your breath from your belly, not your chest. Practicing deep belly breathing when you're not anxious or panicked can teach you how you need to breathe during a panic attack.

Start by putting your hands on your belly. Notice how your belly expands and contracts as you breathe. Then visualize sending your breath to your belly, making your belly as big as possible while you breathe. Then visualize pushing the breath out by gently pushing down on your belly, like deflating an air mattress. Take 5-10 breaths like this, then notice how you feel. Chances are, you'll feel calmer. Practice this breathing once a day so it's your go-to when your next panic attack happens.


Try the ice cube hack

If you spend any time on Mental Health TikTok, you've probably seen the ice cube hack for anxiety and panic attacks. The idea is that putting an ice cube on pretty much any bare area of skin can snap you out of a panic attack. Seems fake, right? But psychologist Dr. Susan Albers told Parade that it actually does work!


She explained that when you put ice on your bare skin, your body gets preoccupied with reacting to the physical sensations caused by the ice. "This is like a jolt to the system to steer it away from the panic response and release chemicals into the body that counter a panic attack by slowing down the release of cortisol and adrenaline," she said. And because touching ice with bare skin can be a bit painful, it can also trigger the pain responses in your brain, further distracting it from the attack. If the shock to your system isn't enough to completely stop a panic attack, at the very least it can give you a moment to redirect yourself.

This hack isn't guaranteed to work. Your body and brain can get so stuck in a panic attack that even the ice cold won't snap you out of it. If that's the case, you'll just have to ride out the panic attack with the knowledge that it won't last forever. But the ice cube hack is definitely worth a try.


Eat something intense

If the ice cube hack sounds wild to you, there are other ways to shock your system out of panic attack territory. Micheline Maalouf, a licensed trauma therapist, told Insider that eating something with a really intense flavor — like an Extreme Sour Warhead — can get your brain focused on something other than the overwhelming fear and physical symptoms that accompany a panic attack. "It shocks our senses into focusing on the sourness of the candy," she said.


This strategy only works if the flavor is intense enough to take your mind off your symptoms. So, nomming on your favorite comfort food isn't going to cut it. The best options are super sour candies or foods with a ton of spice or salt. And the food has to be something that gets your tastebuds to react. So, if you suck Warheads on the regular or your wings are always five-alarm hot, go for an intense flavor you're not used to eating.

Once the burst of intense flavor distracts your system for a moment, start to focus on exactly how the food tastes and how it feels in your mouth. Focusing on the physical sensations produced by the food can pull you further out of the panic attack, moving you closer to baseline.


Engage your sense of smell

Grabbing ice and eating something intense both rely on hijacking your brain's attention. Engaging your sense of smell takes a different approach. Inhaling a calming or familiar scent can connect you to your surroundings, gently bringing you back to baseline and giving you a chance to regain control of your thoughts.


The great thing about this strategy is that you can practice it anywhere. Head outside and smell the grass and some flowers, or just notice how the air smells. Or go to the bathroom and take a big whiff of your favorite body wash, soap, or conditioner. Lighting a scented candle, turning on an essential oil diffuser, or putting some essential oils on the inside of your wrists are other great ways to engage your sense of smell to bring you out of an attack.

Smelling something to ground you is also an effective way to get yourself breathing during a panic attack without stressing out about taking deep breaths. Just take a big whiff of whatever you've chosen, hold the scent in your nose for a moment, then let the breath out as slowly as you can before taking another sniff. Without even thinking about it, you'll be practicing deep breathing, which will also help you recover.


Try the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise

The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise engages all five of your senses in a really intentional way to connect you to your body and what's going on around you. And using it is really simple.

When your panic starts to spike, look around the room and name five things you can see. You can say them out loud or in your head. Then, name four things you can touch without moving, and focus on how they feel when you touch them. Next, tune into three things that you can hear around you, even if it's just your breaths or ambient noise like the fridge running. After that, try to identify two things you can smell. This one might be tough depending on where you are, but if you focus really hard, you can probably identify at least two smells. If not, try smelling the collar of your shirt or your skin and see if you can identify what they smell like. Finally, identify one thing you can taste — maybe a hint of whatever you recently ate or drank.


The structure of the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique gives you something specific to focus on, and tuning into your senses takes time and attention, which grounds you in the present, distracting you from your panic and physical symptoms. This technique can be practiced literally anywhere, anytime, and you don't even have to move.

Meditate when the panic passes

Once the panic attack is over, it's important to take time to recover, center yourself, and take care of your body and mind. One great way to start your post-panic attack self-care is with a brief meditation session. According to Psychology Today, regularly practicing mindfulness meditation can help activate your "relaxation response," which helps calm the mind and body during and after panic attacks.


Meditation doesn't have to look like sitting on a meditation cushion in complete silence for a long time. It can be as simple as sitting on your couch or lying in your bed and focusing on your breath for a few minutes. Or you could focus on one object in front of you while breathing deeply. Or you could listen to some calming music to slow down your thoughts, listen to a guided meditation, count your steps as you take a walk, or sync your breath up with your movement while practicing some yoga.

The only "requirement" for meditation is that it calms your body and mind. Different techniques work for different people. So, try a few things and figure out what ups your relaxation factor. Even a short meditation can help bring you back to baseline after a panic attack. The practice can also help you focus so you can reflect on what triggered the attack in the first place.


Prevent the panic attack hangover

The physical and emotional symptoms of a panic attack can leave you feeling drained, weak, and shaky, a phenomenon experts call the "panic attack hangover." Christina Frangione, a registered dietician who specializes in eating disorder treatment, has been through the panic attack hangover multiple times herself and with her clients. She says the best thing you can do to prevent or deal with the aftereffects of a panic attack is to make sure that you give your body what it needs — hydration and a nutrient-dense snack.


The short, shallow breaths that often accompany a panic attack can leave your mouth and throat feeling like a desert. So, your first priority is to grab something to drink. Some people like a cold glass of their favorite non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverage to quench their thirst. Others prefer a hot cup of tea, especially a soothing herbal blend like chamomile. Whatever you prefer, take small sips instead of gulping it down.

Once you've hydrated, grab a snack. Your mood will only get worse if your blood sugar drops. So, grab something protein-rich like fruit and peanut butter, nuts, or some jerky. If you feel like the process of actually eating is just too much to handle, that's totally fine. Grab a smoothie or a protein shake. It doesn't really matter what you eat. What matters is replenishing your body's stores after an intense and draining experience.


Move a muscle, change a thought

During a panic attack, your brain and body are flooded with adrenaline. This happens because your brain detects a threat and it's preparing you to either fight the threat or run away from it. Once the panic attack is over, one of two things usually happens. Either you feel completely exhausted because the effects of the adrenaline are starting to wear off, or you feel fidgety and amped up because the adrenaline is still coursing through you.


If you come out of a panic attack and feel like your body is still buzzing with energy, then it can help to do some light exercise. Though you may feel ready for it, this isn't the time to go for a run. But a walk, some yoga, or some resistance training can help dispel the anxious energy leftover from the panic attack. Just make sure you rehydrate and eat before you do any movement.

A walk is a particularly effective way to get back to baseline. It's a gentle way to move energy, it gets you away from the place you had your panic attack, and if you head outside, you can practice some grounding mindfulness. You could even combine this strategy with the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise.

Write about what happened

Analyzing what just happened is probably the last thing you want to do after a panic attack, which is understandable. But as Tyler Ellis, the founder of Don't Panic, Do This!, points out, "Journaling is a great coping mechanism for anxiety, as it helps us to better visualize and understand our subconscious emotions."


Awareness is the best way to prevent panic attacks or stop them before they spin out of control. If you can identify the things or circumstances that trigger your panic attacks, you can avoid those triggers or come up with a plan for handling them without getting stuck in overwhelming fear. Identifying your warning signs for a panic attack is also important because it helps you identify a panic attack in the early stages. This makes de-escalation a lot easier.

Take some time to think about what was happening right before your panic attack started. Where were you? Who were you with? What was going on? Then try to identify the first physical symptoms you felt. Did your palms start to sweat? Did you get nauseous? Did your heart start racing? Then take some time to reflect on what helped while you were in the panic attack and after it was over. Ellis developed a handy worksheet to help you through this reflection. You don't have to write a novel. Anything you can write down gives you the invaluable information you need to deal with your next attack.


Practice positive self-talk

When you're experiencing a panic attack, you're probably saying some pretty mean things about yourself. Negative self-talk goes hand-in-hand with panic attacks. The panic makes the negative self-talk worse and the negative self-talk fuels the panic, creating a cycle of misery. Often, the negative self-talk persists long after the panic attack is over. Dr. Kim Maertz, who works at the Mental Health Center at the University of Alberta, suggests practicing positive self-talk to counter negative self-talk. "You can use a single phrase or combination of statements, depending on what is successful for you," she said. Some of her suggestions include: "I know what to do. I've handled this effectively before." and "The worst that can happen is I'll feel uncomfortable. I can live with that."


Positive self-talk may seem impossible while you're in the grips of a panic attack, but it might be more accessible once you've calmed down, had a drink and a snack, and maybe done some gentle movement. You can start by congratulating yourself for making it through a panic attack. It's a hard thing to do and you did it! From there, repeat some positive phrases that work for you. Phrases that are helpful to someone else might not be helpful to you, so take some time when you're not in crisis to pick some that really resonate with you. Maybe write them down or save them on your phone so you can easily access them post-panic attack.

Talk to someone you trust

Sometimes recovering from a panic attack is really hard because your brain is still flooded with all the fear, shame, and negativity that sparked the panic attack. When that happens, one of the best things you can do is reach out to someone you love and trust.


Talking to a trusted friend or a close family member serves a few purposes. Most importantly, it reminds you that there are people who love you and want the best for you. Knowing that we have social support is crucial for navigating mental health struggles, which can leave us feeling isolated. When you talk to someone you trust, you also have the opportunity to say out loud what you're thinking and feeling. Getting the obsessive, intrusive thoughts that come with a panic attack out of your head often gives some relief.

And when you do share what you're really thinking and feeling, the people who love you can share their perspectives and experiences. If they've dealt with panic attacks, maybe they can tell you what works for them. If they haven't, maybe they can reframe or redirect some of your negative thinking.


Unfortunately, there's still a lot of stigma around mental health issues, so it's important to be discerning about who you call. Someone who will judge you will only make you feel worse. Make sure you're reaching out to someone you know will be accepting, supportive, and validating.

Do something for yourself

After a panic attack, you deserve to do something for yourself. Once you've done some basic post-panic attack self-care, doing something you love is a great way to take your mind off the excruciating experience you just had. Though taking some time to debrief after a panic attack can be helpful, thinking too much about what happened can get you stuck in the obsessive, intrusive, negative thoughts that started the panic. Doing something you love requires your brain to focus on something else.


What you choose to do depends entirely on what you like to do. It could be as simple as putting on your favorite funny movie or TV show and vegging for a while. Or you could head to your favorite cafe for a hot beverage and bring along an interesting book. If playing in nature is your thing, you could go hiking, biking, or even swimming. It's totally up to you. Don't think about it too much. Just check in with yourself and see what feels right.

Get some rest

Panic attacks bring up a lot of scary feelings and thoughts that you might not be ready to process, and being forced to face them during an episode can leave you emotionally exhausted. Panic attacks are also rough on your body. Symptoms like nausea, hyperventilation, sweating, and shaking can leave you feeling like you ran a marathon, even if you didn't go anywhere. That's why Kate Rosenblatt, a clinical therapist and the Senior Clinical Manager at Talkspace, suggests getting some serious rest in the aftermath of a panic attack. "It's important to do your best to take good care of yourself after a panic attack," she said. "You deserve comfort, kindness, and support."


If you can, try to take a nap. It doesn't have to be a long one. Rosenblatt explains that even a half-hour snooze can help your system reset after a panic attack. If taking a nap feels impossible even though you're exhausted, try just lying down. Maybe listen to a guided meditation. Or try a yoga nidra practice. This ancient, restorative meditation technique, which is sometimes called Yogic Sleep, induces a deep relaxation that mimics sleep. Even if you don't drift off during the practice, you'll feel like you got some good rest.

Talk to a professional

Panic attacks aren't easy to deal with on your own. Yeah, you can reflect after each panic attack, try to identify your triggers, and come up with a plan on your own. But it's a lot easier with the help of a professional who has years of experience treating panic attacks.


According to the experts at the Mayo Clinic, a therapist familiar with panic attacks can teach you coping skills that will help you get through panic attacks when they happen. They can also use therapy styles like cognitive behavioral therapy to teach you how to identify the thought patterns that lead to a panic attack, analyze them, and redirect your thoughts. Eventually, these strategies can help you prevent panic attacks.

You can use the Find a Therapist tool on Psychology Today's website to find a good therapist in your area. Or, if telehealth works best for you, check out Talkspace or BetterHelp. They both offer fully online therapy sessions.