How to stop panic attacks: a short guide

Panic attacks are a common anxiety disorder characterised by sudden episodes of fear and trembling, shortness of breath, and a feeling of impending doom. While panic attacks can be debilitating, there are many effective techniques that you can use to treat them. In this article, we will discuss some of the most commonly used CBT techniques for treating panic attacks.


What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear and anxiety that can last from a few minutes up to several hours. They often occur in response to a triggering event, such as a stressful work deadline, an unfamiliar situation you feel you can't leave, or being confronted with something that we perceive as threatening.

Panic attacks tend to be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as heart racing, sweating, trembling, and a sense of detachment from reality. They can also lead to feelings of panic and dread, which can interfere with everyday life.

While panic attacks can be very debilitating and cause significant distress, they are treatable and can be managed through cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of psychotherapy that helps individuals learn how to manage their thoughts and emotions in order to reduce their symptoms.

What causes a panic attack?

When someone has a panic attack, the body goes into fight or flight mode. This is an evolutionary mechanism that is designed to protect us from threats, and allow us to confront or run away from a perceived threat.

When the fight or flight response is activated, this causes the heart rate to increase, blood pressure to rise, and the person's breathing to become fast and shallow. These reactions are due to the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in response to the fear or stress that is causing the panic attack.

How to stop panic attacks using CBT techniques

If you're experiencing panic attacks, it's important to find a way to alleviate them from happening regularly. Thankfully, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you do just that. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing your thoughts and behaviours as the root cause of your anxiety problems. Here are some CBT techniques that can help you stop panic attacks from happening:

1. Recognise the warning signs of a panic attack. Pay attention to what's triggering your anxiety and look for patterns in your symptoms. This will help you understand why panic attacks happen and how to avoid them in the future.

2. Develop coping mechanisms for when a panic attack hits. Having a plan in place allows you to stay calm and reassure yourself that the attack will eventually pass. Some common coping mechanisms include pacing yourself, breathing exercises, or visualisation exercises.

3. Talk to someone about your anxiety problems. Talking openly about your fears and experiences can be very helpful in overcoming them. It can also help relieve stress and keep you motivated during treatment.

4. Take 10 deep breaths. Focusing on your breathing and exhaling for longer than you breathe in will activate the calming pathway in your nervous system. This will support you in reducing the hyperventilation, increased heart rate and trembling you may be experiencing when panicking.

5. Remember that panic attacks are your body's way of protecting you. Although the feelings can be intense and uncomfortable, they are not going to harm or kill you.


Panic attacks can be a debilitating experience, both mentally and physically. If you're looking for ways to stop panic attacks from happening in the first place, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is a great starting point.

CBT involves teaching you how to identify the things that trigger your panic attack and then focusing on replacing those thoughts with more positive ones. This technique can be difficult at first, but with practice it becomes easier and eventually more effective at preventing panic attacks from occurring.

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

Share this article with a friend
Birmingham, West Midlands, B15
Written by Michael Swift, Integrative Psychotherapist | BSc(Hon), MSc, MBACP
Birmingham, West Midlands, B15

Michael is a Senior Integrative Psychotherapist specialising in the treatment of Anxiety Disorders, OCD, Long-Term Health and Mental Health Conditions. He has over 10 years of experience working in private healthcare organisations and holds advanced dual qualifications in both talking therapies and Health Psychology.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Panic attacks

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals