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4 Steps to Derail a Panic Attack

Updated: May 5, 2020

4 Step Intervention:

1. Breathe

2. Recognize

3. Focus

4. Move



1. Breathing: Out of all the physiological processes that happen when entering a heightened state, we can most directly affect the breath rate. Our diaphragm is a muscle that moves automatically so we don’t have to think about breathing, and we can chose to move it on command. When our breath rate increases and becomes shallow, we can modulate the effects of the sympathetic nervous system by slowing and deepening our breath consciously.

2. Recognize: Psychologically, being able to name or acknowledge the process that is happening makes it easier to understand and helps to lessen the emotional intensity. It gives you a starting point, and allows the space to decide to apply an intervention. Realizing or telling yourself that you are not in immediate danger will keep the cascade from escalating.

3. Focus: The increase blood flow to specific areas of the brain create a heightened awareness of movement and anything that may appear to be a threat. Your brain is trying to find a focal point, the threat. Your pupils are dilating and your vision is tunneling so you can find the fastest and safest path out. Panic can set in when you are not able to physically identify a “threat” and can increase if you can also not find a way out.

4. Move: Sympathetic activation is meant to prepare you for any movement that will help in your survival. You body is producing a spike of energy meant to take you somewhere. Releasing this energy helps calm the tension, the jitters and the mind chatter. It also helps use up the hormones that have been released in your body so you can reach a calmer state faster.



1. Breathe:

  • 5 second inhale, 7 second exhale, x3-6

  • Close your eyes while you are breathing, it helps reduce stimulation to the brain.

2. Recognize:

  • Take a quick moment to notice the symptoms. Is your heart racing? Are you sweating? Are you having obsessive thoughts?

  • Once you have recognized the symptoms, tell yourself what it is. “I am experiencing stress.” “I am experiencing anxiety.” “I am experiencing panic.”

  • Realize that the state is temporary and will end.

3. Focus:

  • Find a focal point directly in your environment, it can be a spot on the wall or an object. Start to describe the object in detail to yourself.

  • Or find a focal point, then close your eyes and try to envision it in full detail.

  • Or find a small object you can hold in your hand and focus on feeling it and seeing it in full detail in your mind’s eye.

  • Or if you are outside or with enough space, find a focus marker that you will walk or run to.

4. Move:

  • Do an activity of moderate intensity for at least 2 mins. (It takes 2 mins to psychologically affect the body.)

  • It can be anything that you enjoy doing or something you have the space for. Put on a song and dance, fast walk, go for a run, do jump rope, jump in place

Check out more interventions and self-help tips on my instagram:

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