Dr Handicap - panic attacks

Panic attacks can be one of the scariest things for a person to experience. If you’re one of the six million people who have been diagnosed with panic disorder, you know how terrifying a panic attack can be. Panic attacks can manifest as sudden, intense surges of immense fear, panic, or anxiety. They can have both emotional and physical symptoms (such as shaking, sweating, nausea, fast heart rate, trouble breathing, etc.). In some cases, people can experience chest pains and feelings of detachment from reality, which can lead them to think they’re having a heart attack or are actually dying. Some people might notice these symptoms slowly cropping up, while others find their panic attacks hit them quickly and out of nowhere.

If you suffer from panic attacks, you might be searching for anything to help stop them in their tracks. You might also wonder, “Can emotional support animals help panic attacks?” The answer is yes! ESAS and panic attacks go hand in hand – an emotional support animal can help reduce symptoms of anxiety. If you’re also asking yourself, “Can ESAs prevent panic attacks?” it’s possible they can. An ESA’s calming presence might be enough to help push away anxious thoughts and feelings before you go into a full panic. Keep reading for 10 suggestions for stopping a panic attack.

1. Use your ESA to help calm you

If you want to stop a panic attack with an ESA, there are a few things you can try, including just petting or sitting with your animal. Their peaceful spirit may help you start to feel a little more relaxed (especially if you try to match your breathing with theirs). People have also reported that holding their ESAs in their lap or having them lay across their whole body can create a reduction in symptoms. A number of different animals would work to help create a calm feeling within you, but the most effective would probably be dogs or cats, since they definitely won’t mind cuddling with you.

Dr Handicap - woman with black cat
If you’re wondering “Can emotional support animals help panic attacks?”, the answer is yes!

2. Try the 5 senses strategy

The 5 senses strategy is a great thing to try if you have trouble remembering calming methods while you’re actually in a panicked state. All you have to do is name and focus on:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

This can help you become more present, reminding you of your surroundings and the fact that you’re safe.

3. Get grounded

Becoming more mindful of your body can help you feel less out of control. Notice how your feet feel on the floor, the feeling of your body on the couch, the sound of the clock ticking, etc. to help ground you. You can also try reducing stimuli (like by going into a quiet room) to help lessen the overwhelm you’re feeling.

4. Practice deep breathing

It can be hard to remember to breathe properly when you’re in a panic attack (since your tendency can be to hyperventilate), but it’s always a good idea to focus on taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth to slow down your breathing. You can also try breathing in for a count of four, holding for one second, and then breathing out for a count of four. This can be like sending an alert to your system that you’re safe.

5. Use an app on your phone

There are a bunch of apps you can download on your phone to help during a panic attack. Test out meditation or anxiety-focused apps before you’re actually in a panicked state so that you’ll know ahead of time what might feel the most helpful to you during a panic attack.

6. Talk with a friend or family member

Just talking with another person can help reassure you that you’re safe and that you’re going to be okay. They can serve as reminders that the world isn’t actually ending. Being open and honest about the emotions you’re experiencing can end up helping you feel less alone. Even talking to your ESA can make you feel less isolated in your anxious state.

Dr Handicap - man sitting in corner
Panic attacks can feel isolating, but talking with a friend or family member can help you deal with them.

7. Find an object to focus on

If your symptoms are really intense, try simply focusing on one object. Spot something in the room with you and then consciously take note of everything about it. In your head (or out loud), you can describe the color, shape, and any other interesting aspects of the object to help give your brain something else for you to focus on (besides feeling scared).

8. Use imagery to offer peace

Think of the most relaxing place in the world (it can be somewhere you’ve been or someplace in your imagination) and picture yourself there. Think of how all five of your senses would be reacting if you were really there: for example, smelling the ocean air, hearing the rolling waves, and so forth. As long as the imagined place is calm and relaxing, you can start to feel less panicked.

9. Find ways to soothe yourself

There are a number of different soothing things that can help bring your system back to a comfortable place. This could be doing things like using calming essential oils, lighting candles, listening to music, taking a bath, or lying down for a nap. Keep a list with you at all times of the things that normally relax you so you can turn to it when you’re having a panic attack.

10. Use prescribed medications

If your psychiatrist has prescribed medication to help with anxiety symptoms, it can be helpful to take these during a panic attack to help get you back to a calmer physiological and emotional state. Just make sure to only take them as prescribed.

You can try any (or all) of these suggestions to help stop a panic attack after it starts. Remember that emotional support animals and panic attacks can coexist – don’t forget to use the calming, loving presence of your ESA to help alleviate your anxiety symptoms when you’re experiencing a panic attack.