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How Can We Breathe Through a Panic Attack?

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Panic attacks are painful, debilitating, incapacitating waves of intense fear, often accompanied by feelings of sadness, shame and other forms of emotional pain. They can be so severe that they can feel like a heart attack, causing physical pain in our chests and other parts of our bodies, along with accelerated heartrates and breathing. We can struggle to take full breaths, which causes us even more panic. We can feel so much distress, so much desperation, that we think suicide is our only option to find relief from our pain. When we’re in the middle of a panic attack, we often can’t see our way out of it. It feels like it will last forever. We can feel like we’re losing our minds, going crazy, or having a nervous breakdown. We feel like it’s impossible to calm ourselves down or to find stability, balance or hope. How can we help ourselves get through a panic attack?

The first thing we want to do is breathe. Focus on slowing your breath as much as possible. When we’re in a heightened state of distress, it can feel impossible to do anything about our panic, much less practice breathing exercises, but let’s try. First, focus on your breath. It is rushed and shallow? Slow it down and take deep breaths. Now start counting as you breathe. A very helpful, calming breathing exercise is 1:2 breathing, where we make our exhale twice as long as our inhale. Breathe in and count to 4, for example, and then breathe out, counting to 8. This helps to neutralize and balance our oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, naturally bringing our anxiety and panic down.

Another breathing exercise is alternate nostril breathing. Breathe in through your right nostril, holding the left nostril closed with your finger. Pause, then close your right nostril and breathe out through your left nostril. Pause, then breathe in through your left nostril, pause again, then breathe out through your right nostril. Repeat this pattern, which allows us to balance the two hemispheres of the brain, slow our heartrate and calm ourselves down.

Our recovery programs include many experiential modalities including traditional therapy, conscious connected breathwork, equine therapy, somatic experiencing, art in healing, grief therapy, mindfulness and other forms of therapy. Call 855-483-7800 today for more information.