What to Say to Yourself During A Panic Attack
A panic attack can be a very scary and uncomfortable experience, but it is not dangerous. In fact, panic attacks are a natural bodily reaction that simply occurs out of context. This natural response is related to our fight, flight, or freeze survival system that we use to keep us alive and safe.
For example, imagine that an earthquake happens. You might find your heart rate increasing, blood rushing to your muscles, and a strong need to escape. If these reactions were less rapid or intense, you might not react in time and get to a safe space.
The issue of panic arises when there is no immediate or apparent external danger for the intense bodily sensations. It is then that your mind may misinterpret what is going on internally as being life threatening. You may start to think, “If I feel bad, I must be in danger and if there is no apparent external danger, the danger must be inside of me.” This though process is problematic and can cause a snowballing effect in which it’s very easy to invent “dangers“ about panic symptoms.
For example, in response to increased heart rate, one might start to think “I’m going to have a heart attack. I am going to die.” In response to choking sensations, “I am going to stop breathing and suffocate to death.“ Or even in response to the overall intensity of your body’s reactions, “I am going to lose complete control.” These are only a few of the dangers our minds can create.
Once you tell yourself you are feeling these dangers, you multiply the intensity of your fears. This intense fear makes your bodily reaction worse, which then creates more fear and leads to a spiral of panic. This can be avoided if you learn to understand that your body is not dangerous. These dangers are illusions of the mind and they have no basis in reality.
One useful tool that can help you effectively deal with panic attacks are coping statements. These positive statements can be used to help you create attitudes of acceptance and a “floating” effect. Repeating these statements helps you separate from the sensations and gives you time, which allows the panic to pass. They can be said during the first couple of minutes when you feel a panic attack coming along or if in the midst of one. It’s also helpful to implement deep breathing as you repeat these statements, as it helps calm the body down. Here are a few phrases that you can say if you are having a panic attack. You can modify these, or create ones that work best for you.
This feeling isn’t comfortable or pleasant, but I can accept it.
These are just thoughts -- not reality.
I‘ll just let my body do its thing. This will pass.
I’ll ride this through. I don’t need to let it get to me.
This anxiety won‘t hurt me, even if it doesn’t feel good.
I deserve to feel okay right now.
I am safe and loved no matter what my mind wants to tell me.
No matter how difficult it gets, I am strong enough to get through this.
This is an opportunity for me to learn and cope with my feelings.
Fighting and resisting this isn’t going to help so I will do my best to just let it pass.
I can take all the time I need in order to let go and relax.
Nothing serious is going to happen to me.
This isn’t an emergency. It’s okay to think slowly about what I need.
I can handle these symptoms or sensations.
There is no need to push myself.
I can take as small a step forward as I choose.
Sometimes it can be very difficult to remember these statements in times of panic. It may be helpful to write them down on sticky notes or index cards and place them in common areas like your refrigerator, mirror, dashboard, or carry them around in your pocket. You can share them with a loved who can remind you when times get though. You can also record the coping statements in your own voice and listen to then while relaxing or entering into an anxiety provoking situation.
It is important to remember that if you or anyone you know experiences distressing panic attacks support is available. This is a very real condition and treatments exist.
Sarit Fassazadeh is a LCSW that specializes in Childhood Anxiety Disorders, Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorders, and Trichotillomania. She’s takes an ACT, CBT and mindfulness approach when working with her clients in the Los Angeles area. If you are interested in learning more about her services, click the link below.
Bourne, Edmund J. The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook. Oakland, CA :New Harbinger Publications, 2015.