Man resting on top of a mountain after a panic attack
(Photo: Getty Images)

How to Calm Down from a Panic Attack

Yogi Bryan explains what you can try anytime your anxiety becomes overwhelming

Man resting on top of a mountain after a panic attack
Getty Images
Yogi Bryan

from Yoga Journal

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I was in Savasana, the last pose of yoga class, when it hit me. My heart started racing like the beat of a heavy metal drummer. Bum bump bum bump bum bump.

I felt like there wasn’t enough air in this world for me to breathe. I wanted to cry out loudly. I wanted to leave. But I didn’t because I’m the social media dude who makes fun of yoga. I create comedy videos and memes about students leaving Savasana (Corpse Pose) early.

Lying on my mat, soaked with sweat, I wondered, is this karma? Is the Universe teaching me a lesson? Am I about to die? This is where they’ll find my body, I thought. Here in a yoga studio, dead in Savasana. How many memes would be made of me? “Yogi Bryan Dead at 40 Mastering Corpse Pose.”

I can’t leave, I told myself. I can’t freak out. I can’t be a meme.

How to Calm Down from a Panic Attack

I’ve dealt with anxiety since I was a kid. My family used to tell me, “Stop worrying, you’ll get an ulcer.” Then I’d worry even more because I was thinking about getting an ulcer.

I didn’t know what “stop worrying” meant or looked like. How? How do I not worry? How do I stop these spiraling thoughts?

Thankfully, I have coping strategies that I didn’t know when I was younger. Some I’ve learned through direct experience in meditation, breathwork, and yoga. I once watched a video on YouTube by meditation master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in which he explained that he, too, had panic attacks when he was a child. Even when he was meditating. His father told him to welcome the panic like a friend.

I recall thinking, “What? Are you kidding me? I need to make friends with my anxiety?”

But when he tried this, he found making friends with panic made his meditations bearable. Eventually he would use panic as support to his meditation practice just like having a friend sit next to him to meditate. He became such good friends with his panic, something bittersweet happened. After becoming his constant companion and his teacher, panic said goodbye and left.

That teaching became the foundation of how I cope with my panic attacks. I learned that we are so much more powerful than our feelings. It’s just panic, it’s just anxiety, it’s just feelings.

That day in class, the terror eventually went away. It always does.

But sometimes, we need more than a single technique. Below is my five-step method for coping with panic attacks.

My 5-Step Strategy for How to Calm Down from a Panic Attack

Step 1: Acknowledge Your Panic

This is the “make friends” part. Feelings want to be acknowledged. Feelings want to be seen. Sometimes that is all your feelings need before they go away. Make friends with your panic or your anger or whatever you are struggling with.

In recent years, when anxiety arrives in my day, I welcome it. “Hey anxiety, I see you.” Just say hi and welcome it in like you’re welcoming a good friend.

Step 2. Focus on Your Surroundings

Describe an object in your surroundings to yourself. For example, “I am looking at this picture. This picture is of my dog in a wooden frame.” Keep describing the object to yourself, speaking out loud, for a minute or two. This helps bring your attention back to the present moment.

Step 3: Breathe

Panic has a distinct breathing pattern. You start to hold your breath and your body intuitively goes into fight-or-flight. Your body wants to relax, so give it enough oxygen and allow it to do so.

With your mouth closed, breathe in for a 4 count, hold your breath for 2 counts, and then exhale out your mouth on a 6 count. Longer exhalations literally and physiologically cause your nervous system to stop the fight-or-flight response. As your inhalations lengthen, your body will relax more.

Step 4: Smile

Yes, smile. Your body is essentially your subconscious mind. What you do with your body affects your mind. Smile even if you don’t want to smile. Fake a smile if you have to. And then hold that smile for 2 minutes. Notice your feelings start to change even if you’re fake smiling.

Use your body as a tool and remember to have fun.

Step 5: Talk to Yourself

Affirmations are positive statements made in the present moment. What you say to yourself is very important. By saying an affirmation, it will allow your spiraling anxious thoughts to calm down.

Here are some examples of affirmations you could say to yourself:

“I will remain calm and steady.”

“I am safe, secure, and relaxing more and more.”

“I am stronger than I think.”

“I am feeling calmer and calmer.”

A Meditation to Help You Calm Down from a Panic Attack

After reading these steps, you probably feel more relaxed than you were before. Your body wants to relax. Yes, it does. Relaxation is its natural state, so let your body do what it intuitively wants to do.

I created a meditation for panic attack relief. When you’re ready, find a comfortable place and allow my voice and music to relax you even more. Use this meditation whenever you are experiencing a panic attack or anxiety. (The music contains binaural beats with 528hz, so it’s best experienced with headphones or earbuds for maximum relaxation.)

You got this! You are stronger than you think.

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About our contributor

Yogi Bryan is a certified hypnotherapist, Neuro Linguistic Programmer (NLP), E-RYT 200-hour yoga instructor, and Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider (YACEP). His Relax with Yogi Bryan Meditations podcast has more than 2 million plays. Bryan’s mission is to share his practice of yoga and meditation so people can develop a healthy body and a peaceful mind. 

Lead Photo: Getty Images