Does hypnotherapy work for panic attacks?

If you have experienced a panic attack, you will know that it is one of the most unsettling, scary ordeals to go through.

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First, there is the terrifying feeling in your chest. Your heart pounds like you have never felt before. You think it must be a heart attack, and you’re pretty sure someone needs to call for an ambulance immediately. Not only can you feel your heart bashing against your rib cage, but you can hear it in your ears too. Additionally, you might hear a shrill ringing in your ears and feel like your head needs to explode.

Some people dissociate and experience a floating sensation, watching the whole thing unfold, there but not there. You’re probably sweating and shaking too, and parts of your body might go numb. Your vision is blurry, and you feel dizzy – as though you’re going to faint any minute. You’re probably struggling to breathe, and you genuinely think this is the end.  

During a panic attack, it feels like there is no way out. You’ve sunk to the bottom of the pool, and you can’t get back to the top. A horrendously suffocating feeling you cannot escape. 

Thankfully, by using hypnotherapy for panic attacks, there is a way out. A way to manage and regain some control over these horrible moments.

Hypnosis for panic attacks

When I work with people using hypnotherapy for panic attacks, I take a three-pronged approach. The first step is to speak about what happens internally during a panic attack. When you thoroughly understand why you feel your heart pounding the way you do, it becomes easier to accept the feeling when it happens. The second is to explore your life, your early life – are there reasons for the panic attacks? Your life currently, is there something going on for you that you need support to get through, or do you need to change some things? The third is to use hypnosis to calm the body, create calming triggers for the future, and to learn self-hypnosis/meditation so you can bring mindfulness into your life going forward.

This combination of approaches in panic attack hypnotherapy will help reduce the number of panic attacks you experience, manage them when you experience them, and for some people eliminate them completely.


Panicking about panic attacks

One of the biggest problems associated with panic attacks is the fear of having a panic attack. I work with many people who come to me for different reasons, such as fear of flying. When we explore the presenting fear, it turns out there is no fear of flying, but a fear of a panic attack whilst on an aeroplane with no escape. This fear is sometimes so strong, it even affects people with little likelihood of experiencing a panic attack.

In this situation, much of the hypnotherapy panic attack work focuses on confidence in your ability to manage a panic attack. Mindfulness is a great tool for this. In addition to the meditation practise needed for a truly mindful way of living, you will understand how to accept and allow – without panic – any feelings that come into your mind or body. You will find yourself a much calmer person, as you have no need for fear or unease about any natural human experience.

What can I do myself?

For many people, a panic attack happens suddenly without warning. However, if you do get any feelings of unease that you know might ascend into a panic attack, here are tricks you can use to abate the symptoms quickly and easily.

  1. Your exhale is the part of your respiratory system that slows your heartbeat. The inhale speeds it up. So, when you have a steady rhythmical breathing pattern, your heartbeat is also steady and rhythmical. If you feel your heart start to race as it does during a panic attack, you can use your breath to slow it down. Try to keep your inhale the same length as your last inhale, and your exhale the same length as your last exhale, but make your exhales longer than your inhales. Some people like to count, for example, breathe in for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11. Other people like to imagine breathing around a rectangle, breathing in on the short sides and out on the long.
  2. The optimal way to breathe is down into your abdomen (put your hand on your belly button and it should rise). However, many of us have learnt to breathe into our chests (put your hand on your chest and see if it rises). When you have a panic attack, your muscles will tighten, and you will find it hard to breathe into your chest. This makes the experience even more frightening, as you feel the struggle to breathe. As you continue to breathe with a longer exhale, put your hand on your navel and the other on your chest. Make sure it is always the navel hand that rises and falls, rather than the chest.
  3. When your body moves into a panic state, your reptilian brain takes more control than your human brain. The depth of this depends on the depth of the fear state. A simple, effective way to reengage your human thinking brain is to use your senses. The five senses tool will help you do this. First note and say five things that you can see, then touch four different things, listen for three different sounds, search for two different smells, and finally use your sense of taste to taste one thing.
  4. Some people always keep an emergency bag with them. A little pouch that you can stuff in any bag you take out or leave in your car. It includes some small textured items, such as small pieces of fabric, a crystal, or stone. Something smelly, for example, a lavender bag or essential oils. If you have anything that can play music you find relaxing, you can put this in too. Finally, a foodstuff that doesn’t go off for a long while, such as a small box of raisins or some nuts. You might like to include personal touches – for example, positive affirmation cards that remind you the panic attack will pass soon.   

If you'd like to explore how hypnotherapy can help you work through panic attacks, you can reach out to me or another qualified professional on Hypnotherapy Directory.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Farnham, Surrey, GU9
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Written by Juliet Hollingsworth, MSc
Farnham, Surrey, GU9

Juliet is a trauma-informed therapist. Her passion is helping people reach their potential through a combination of hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and transpersonal psychology. Juliet works online and face to face with clients across the world. (DHP Clinical Hypnotherapy & Psychotherapy. MSc Consciousness, Spirituality & Transpersonal psychology.)

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