• Nicole Ambrose, LCSW

How to Stop a Panic Attack By Using Your Five Senses



If you’ve ever experienced intense anxiety or panic attack, you know it can feel like something is taking over you and you’ve become completely helpless. Your heart rate speeds up and feels like it’s going to beat out of your chest. You might feel a tingling sensation run down your arms and legs and into your hands and feet. The thermostat in your body goes haywire; one minute you’re hot and the next you have chills. Your breathing becomes shallow and you start to wonder if you’re dying. There is an indescribable amount of fear that washes over you.


Imagine if you had a way to regain your sense of control. Imagine having a strategy to combat the symptoms and ground your body and mind. If this is something you regularly experience, or if you’ve been diagnosed with a panic disorder, let me offer you a technique that can help you at the moment. Of course, I highly recommended seeking treatment in therapy, but this method will allow you to intervene on your own to stop the panic.


First things first...take a deep breath and name it. Become familiar with the symptoms so that when it begins you can confidently name your experience as a panic attack. This will reduce some of the fear and allow you to take action. Often the panic is fueled by fear of what’s happening. In this instance, knowledge is power and will help you to maintain some control. Now let’s use your five senses to induce relaxation throughout your body.


Sight


Find an object to focus your attention on. It could be something on your body like a button or your shoe. Or maybe it’s something in your environments like a plant or a piece of furniture. Notice every little detail about this object. What color is it? Is it big or small? Textured or smooth? Does it reflect light or is it dull?


Touch


You can use touch a few different ways to help ground yourself. Try touching the object that you spent some time observing. Were your initial observations true? Consider how it feels. Is it heavy or light? Soft or hard? You can also engage touch by using your hands to apply mild pressure as you give yourself a hug. If you have someone with you, you might ask them to hold your hand as you bring awareness to the light pressure on your skin and the temperature of their hand in yours. Cold compresses and cold water can also be effective in gently shocking your system as you move into relaxation. Splash a little cold water in your face or apply an ice pack to the back of your neck to help regulate the hot flashes you may be experiencing.


Sound


Similar to sight, you can use what’s readily available in your environment. Listen carefully to the sounds around you. If you’re outside, you might hear birds chirping, the wind blowing or the sound of traffic going by. If you’re at the office or in a store, maybe you’ll hear the buzz of people talking around you. For some, certain sounds may be overwhelming, so for those people, I recommend grabbing some headphones and playing soothing sounds or music at a volume that feels good. I personally enjoy using binaural beats for this.


Smell


Using smell to stimulate relaxation is particularly effective because it also encourages deeper breathing. Shortened breaths associated with panic reduce the amount of oxygen getting into your body. This can cause that tingling sensation that you feel in your limbs. When we take longer, deeper breaths we can slow down our heart rate as well.


Shift your attention to your nose and focus on the smells surrounding you. Do you smell grass or flowers? Maybe someone is cooking and you can smell their food. What about your own smell? Do you have cologne on? Can you smell your laundry detergent on your clothes?


Take several deeps inhales through your nose. Fill your lungs. Then exhale through your mouth. Continue this until you feel your heart slow and your body begins to relax. Another strategy may be to carry a little jar of essential oil with you. Scents like lavender, bergamot, lemon, and basil have calming effects that can help.


Taste


Using taste might seem a little odd, but it’s highly underrated in my opinion. Taste is one of the best distractions when a panic attack ensues. It’s one that can be used to tap into just about all of the senses at once. When you start to experience symptoms of panic, try sucking on a lemon or lime wedge. You’ll get a shock from the sour and bitter flavor that will quickly shift your attention away from the panic and straight to your mouth.


I always encourage those with a history of panic attacks to carry some Warhead candies with them. Those things will certainly do the trick. Hold the candy or lemon wedge in your mouth while you spend some time acknowledging the taste. What sensations do you feel in your mouth? Can you smell anything? Does it make a sound on your teeth?


Your only objective is to become aware and stay present using your senses to ground you at the moment. Put together a panic attack tool kit to keep with you so that you are prepared to intervene whenever you might need to.

Want more tips and tricks for managing anxiety, stress, and panic? I’ll be sharing more here, or better yet, let’s do some work together. You don’t have to go through it on your own.


Let’s explore what’s underlying these issues for you and develop strategies to help you overcome them by using your existing resilience and strengthening your confidence. Give me a call at 954-391-5305 for your FREE consultation or visit my bio to learn more about my services!


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