What to do During a Panic Attack: 10 Tools for Calming Anxiety

I was eating French toast in a diner across from a friend when my tongue started tingling. It was just at the edges at first, but a minute later it started going numb. Then my lips started going numb. My mind started racing, “Maybe I’m having an allergic reaction to the French toast… Maybe there’s nuts in this! Wait, I'm not allergic to nuts... But what if I am allergic to nuts and don’t know it?! Maybe my throat is about to close up, and I’m gonna die!” My heart started pounding, and I was having trouble focusing. The room started to feel far away. For a second, I tuned back in to realize my friend was still telling me some story about her dog. Couldn’t she see that I was about to die right in front of her?!

Why do panic attacks happen?

That was the beginning of my first panic attack. Panic typically begins with an uncomfortable body sensation associated with anxiety, such as tingling, dizziness, feeling light-headed, shortness of breath, or heart racing. It becomes a panic attack when you interpret the sensation as a sign of danger, such as, “I’m probably having a heart attack!,” or “I think I might be dying!” Your body reacts to these thoughts with more anxious feelings… which causes even more anxious thoughts… until it spirals out of control. Eventually, you may develop a fear of the panic attacks themselves. Then when you notice the same body sensation, you think, “Oh no! Not another panic attack!” And your body reacts to that thought with increased anxious feelings, and your thoughts and feelings reinforce each other once again in a downward spiral.