How to deal with panic attacks: emotional first aid

This is the first of a series of articles based around the theme of managing difficult emotions.


How to manage difficult emotions

Sometimes in therapy or in spiritual circles, people talk about "negative emotions" and how to deal with them or even be rid of them. I find it a lot easier to think in terms of "difficult" emotions. All emotions are just part of what makes us humans, but some seem more difficult, either because they have gone a bit out of control or because we just don't like it!

Sometimes we do need to 'be with' the difficult feeling to receive it and let it be. But there are times when we are beyond mindfulness and need to apply 'urgent first aid' to our experience so we can calm down and come back to balance and feel ourselves again.

This is particularly true with anxiety and fear. When anxiety gets out of control it can develop into having full-blown panic attacks.

Panic attacks are so overwhelming that we are not able to be 'present' anymore or have any kind of creativity. Our nervous system is stuck in a fight or flight response, where all we can do is try to escape in some way. That primitive part of our mind thinks that there are real mortal dangers trying to get to us. Panic attacks are so horrible physically and emotionally and can leave people exhausted and afraid of going through it again.  

At that stage, we need to calm the system down and do something that helps us to come back to the room, and come back to our senses, so we can see things more clearly again, feel grounded and be able to be ourselves.

Thankfully, there are some 'first aid' tools that can be practised very safely at home. Those techniques help regulate the nervous system (switching on the 'rest and restore' function) and are very effective for quick relief. 

Once you have practised these techniques at home a few times, they can also be used in a situation where a panic attack has been triggered or before it develops fully.

The square breathing technique

Practised regularly, this technique will help create more stability and safety in the system.

The very basic implementation of this technique is to inhale and exhale in equal proportions.

  • Step one: Inhale and take a deep breath for four seconds. (Count up to four while inhaling.)
  • Step two: Hold your breath for four secs. (Count up to four while holding.)
  • Step three: Exhale completely for four secs. (Count up to four.)
  • Step four: Hold your breath for four secs. (Count up to four.)
  • Pick a spot on a wall or surface in front of you and trace the square in your mind as you do this.
  • Repeat the process five to six times.

The 54321 countdown method

If you start to feel anxiety creeping up and you are losing your grasp, sit quietly. Look around you and notice:

  • Five things you can see: Your hands, the sky, a plant on your colleague’s desk...
  • Four things you can physically feel: Your feet on the ground, a ball, your friend’s hand...
  • Three things you can hear: The wind blowing, children’s laughter, your breath...
  • Two things you can smell: Fresh-cut grass, coffee, soap...
  • One thing you can taste: A mint, gum, the fresh air...

These techniques are meant as 'first aid' techniques, but obviously, the best thing is to address anxiety and our anxiety-driven habits so that we do not get to the point of needing to apply first aid.

So, if you suffer regularly with anxiety, panic attacks or dark thoughts, I would recommend is to start a course of hypnotherapy to get to the root of the anxiety and build your capacity to deal with it. Embodied solution-focused hypnotherapy will help rebalance your nervous system and help you gain the understanding of your anxiety that you need in order to take control of it.

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

Share this article with a friend
Monmouth NP25 & Bristol BS6
Written by Stephanie Betschart, Hypnotherapy for Anxiety & Depression Chepstow, Bri Monmouth
Monmouth NP25 & Bristol BS6

My name is Stephanie Betschart and I can work in partnership with you to facilitate the changes that you need to be yourself in an embodied way.
I have been working as a hypnotherapist since 2008 (15 years) and am still amazed at how effective hypnotherapy is at using the mind-body connection to facilitate healing, positive change and wellbeing .

Show comments

Find a hypnotherapist dealing with Anxiety

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals