How to Prevent a Panic Attack in Public

“Everybody, calm down and don’t panic.” When you hear these words, you know that something unpleasant might happen. Instead of calming down, your body automatically shifts to panic mode, and your adrenaline starts pumping.

At some point in your life, you’ll likely experience a panic attack. This is one of your body’s responses to possible threats, so it’s perfectly normal. However, having one may be a sudden and scary experience for you, more so if it happens in a public place even for only a short period. What’s more, your fear in the moment might increase your chances of developing anxiety disorders later on.

While you can never know when and where you’ll have a panic attack, you can still be in control and manage it by coming up with an action plan ahead of time. With that said, this guide will help you understand what a panic attack is, its causes and symptoms, its effects on one’s mental health, and how to prevent panic attacks.

Image from Flickr by Timothy Tsui

What Is a Panic Attack?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a panic attack is an overwhelming, intense, and sudden rush of panic, fear, and anxiety. Some people compare it to having an episode of a heart attack. It can have both emotional and physical symptoms.

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder where you experience sudden fearful attacks that trigger panic attacks. Roughly 6 million Americans suffer from panic attacks and panic disorder. In any given year, 2%-3% of Americans have panic disorders, according to data from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).


Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder where you avoid places or circumstances that could cause you to panic or feel helpless and ashamed. You can experience this whenever you’re in public transportation, in a crowded place, or in a small, enclosed space.

Some people develop both panic disorder and agoraphobia. Agoraphobia either starts in childhood or develops later in adulthood. Risk factors for it include having a panic disorder and responding to panic attacks with fear and avoidance.

Causes of Panic Disorder

A panic disorder can happen for various reasons. You could be prone to having it if you also suffer from health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), substance use disorder, an overactive thyroid (Graves’ Disease), or psychosis.

Other triggers include:

  • Taking certain medications
  • Being in social gatherings
  • Engaging in public speaking
  • Conflicts
  • Negative or distressing thoughts
  • Exposure to feared situations

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

What do panic attacks feel like? Having one usually starts without any sort of warning, and the symptoms escalate within minutes. You could experience the following:

Physical Symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shaking and trembling
  • Rapid heart rate and palpitations
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Light-headedness or feeling dizzy and unsteady
  • Other symptoms such as chills, chest pain, and numbness

Emotional Symptoms

  • Self-detachment
  • Extreme fear of losing control
  • Anxiety
  • Repetitive worrying

How to Prevent a Panic Attack in Public

The good news is that preventing a panic attack from happening is possible. You can consider some of these helpful tips to help reduce anxiety and, consequently, keep panic attacks at bay:

  • Take deep breaths.
  • Try meditation or yoga.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat healthy, balanced meals.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Get enough sleep and rest.
  • Talk to friends or family members regarding your concerns.
  • Avoid coffee, alcoholic drinks, and smoking as much as possible.
  • Seek out counseling and medical help.

When to See a Mental Health Care Professional

If your panic disorder is severe, it’s best to visit a doctor to get expert advice and proper treatment. You should have yourself checked and evaluated by a professional when you notice the following:

  • You have frequent panic attacks and you’re worried that they’ll last for long periods.
  • Your behavior changes after every attack.
  • Your anxiety and fear are already affecting your daily life.
  • Your anxiety intensifies over time.

How You Can Stop A Panic Attack

It’s undeniably difficult to deal with the intense fear of possibly having another panic attack. One way to counter this is to learn how to control your fear. You can minimize anxiety if you know how to regain control of your feelings. Here are some ways you can prevent a panic attack from happening:

Be as Calm as Possible

Remember that panic attacks tend to happen only for short periods. A typical episode intensifies within 10 minutes, and the symptoms eventually subside. No matter how apprehensive and fearful you become, those feelings will pass, so do your best to calm down as you go through the entire experience.

Seek Professional Help

You can develop a panic disorder if you have recurring and severe panic attacks. Counseling can greatly help you with such mental health issues. Therefore, you should seek medical attention if the attacks are frequent and unexpected, they negatively affect your daily life, and they can’t seem to be remedied by coping techniques.

Do Deep Breathing Exercises

A symptom of a panic attack that can add to your fear is hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is overbreathing caused by anxiety or panic. To lessen your risk of hyperventilating, take deep breaths when you feel as though you’re about to have a panic attack.

Recognize That You’re Having a Panic Attack

You should be able to differentiate a panic attack from a heart attack. If you’re aware of the symptoms of each condition, you’ll know the right steps to take in order to feel better.

Keep Your Eyes Closed

If you live in a fast-paced environment, you may easily get overwhelmed by factors that can trigger a panic attack. To lessen such stimuli, try closing your eyes for a while. By doing so, you’ll be able to block out unnecessary stimulants, calm down, and breathe properly.

Be Mindful

A panic attack can make you feel detached from reality. In contrast, practicing mindfulness grounds you in reality. But what does being mindful mean? It’s about focusing on your present situation, acknowledging your current emotional state, and meditating to relax and reduce stress. 

Here are some mindful strategies you can use:

  • Focus on physical sensations by touching your clothes or pinching yourself to know for sure that you’re awake.
  • Meditate to help manage symptoms of anxiety.

You can also go with the 5-4-3-2-1 method. This grounding technique helps redirect one’s focus away from stress. It works this way:

  • 5 objects: Look at and name 5 different objects.
  • 4 sounds: Listen to 4 different sounds and determine where each of them comes from.
  • 3 objects: Touch 3 different objects and describe their texture, shape, and usage.
  • 2 smells: Differentiate 2 distinct scents. They could be the smell of perfume, coffee, or fresh flowers.
  • 1 taste: Name 1 taste in your mouth at the moment, or buy 1 specific food and pinpoint its taste.

Image from Pixabay by BearAndBunnyPhotography

Choose a Focus Object

When you’re about to have an attack, try to focus all your energy and attention by looking at one particular object until the negative feelings within you fade away. For instance, if you’re inside your office during an attack, you can stare at your wall clock. Pay attention to its color, shape, and function.

Doing this may help reduce panic symptoms. If you have recurring panic attacks, it’s a good idea to always bring an object with you that’s small enough to be kept in your pocket. This way, you can easily take it out and focus on it whenever you start having a panic attack.

Apply Muscle Relaxation Techniques

When you’re having an attack, you may experience muscle tension. Thankfully, there are muscle relaxation techniques that can help with tension reduction.

A popular one called progressive muscle relaxation is used to manage anxiety disorders and panic attacks alike. In this technique, you hold on to the tension in a particular muscle for 5 seconds. You then let go of it and relax for 10 more seconds.

You can continue doing this until you’ve worked on all the muscles in your body. Use both deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques to prevent a panic attack from worsening.

Think Happy Thoughts

Simply thinking about things that make you happy can greatly help in managing anxiety disorders. You have to picture yourself doing something that cheers you up. Alternatively, you can imagine yourself in a place that brings you comfort and peace of mind. It’s recommended to envision a quiet, calm, and relaxing place.


It’s a proven and known fact that exercise positively impacts your physical and mental health. There are so many exercises available for you to choose from, so you can find one that’s suitable for you and your lifestyle. You can try yoga, Pilates, biking, swimming, jogging, or similar low-impact exercises. Choose whatever you like as long as you can maintain it long term.

Use a Mantra

A mantra is a word or phrase that’ll help you concentrate and give you motivation or strength. During a panic attack, see if you can repeat your internal mantra of choice to feel relaxed. The mantra should be personal to you and one that you completely believe in for this method to work.

Apply Lavender Oil

Research has shown that the use of lavender oil may reduce stress and calm symptoms of anxiety without leading to dependence and causing withdrawal symptoms. This type of oil has long been considered a means of soothing a person.

When you purchase lavender essential oil, make sure to get it from reputable pharmacies. Strictly follow all the instructions on how to use it, how to apply it to your skin, and the amount to be applied.

Of course, not everyone likes the scent of lavender. If you’re one of those people, you can choose other scents you’re comfortable with such as chamomile, lemon, or bergamot orange.

Though using essential oils are said to provide several benefits, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor and regulate their use. That’s why you have to consult your healthcare provider before turning to essential oils to reduce your feelings of anxiety.

Image from Pixabay by googlerankfaster

What Can You Do to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack?

Before anything else, if you don’t know the person, you have to introduce yourself. Afterward, ask them if it’s their first time to experience a panic attack or if they’ve had one before.

Given that the two of you are in public, you should move the individual to a quiet and comfortable place. Instruct them to take deep breaths, recall positive memories, or focus their attention on a nearby object. Let them know that panic attacks are temporary and will usually only last for a few minutes. Be friendly and gentle with your words so as not to induce further panic.

Treatment for Panic Attacks

It’s possible to treat a panic attack if the root cause is identified right away. To get to the core of the problem, you may need to undergo multiple therapy sessions. Here are some treatment options you might be introduced to:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a highly recommended therapy for panic attacks and panic disorders. The goal with this is to change your perspective when challenging situations come your way. CBT will help you find better ways to overcome those hurdles.

Peer-reviewed studies of several academic research institutions have shown that people who take advantage of exposure-based CBT develop changes in their neural pathways responsible for panic symptoms.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) focuses on individual psychotherapy. It also involves group skills training to aid in learning new skills and strategies meant to keep panic attacks under control. DBT will allow you to practice mindfulness techniques and help you tolerate distress to manage panic and anxiety.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy exposes you to a controlled environment where your panic attacks are closely monitored. You’ll be asked to execute activities that can trigger the physical symptoms of a panic attack. The goal is to keep doing them until you feel that the triggers no longer affect you.


Doctors recommend taking medication for anxiety disorders only for a short period as this may lead to drug dependence. In line with that, the benzodiazepine drug class is usually prescribed for panic disorder. It can decrease palpitations and blood pressure.

You need to be medically diagnosed by a professional to get a prescription and take the right medication. Some doctors may prescribe antidepressant drugs for long-term use such as:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Anti-anxiety drugs
  • Anti-seizure medication, which can be prescribed to help with acute anxiety and other related disorders

Seek Help to Prevent a Panic Attack

It’s impossible to predict when, where, and how hard a panic attack will hit you. Fortunately, there are several ways for you to deal with it, and treatment’s bound to be available to you.

You should consider adopting long-term strategies to reduce the occurrence of panic attacks. Examples are changing your current lifestyle into a healthier one, undergoing therapy or counseling, and learning how to effectively manage your anxieties daily. If you constantly have panic attacks, it’s time to request the guidance of a therapist or psychiatrist who can provide you with medical advice.

Counseling Now offers online mental health services in Ohio for your convenience. You can get the treatment you require in the comfort of your own home. Counseling Now understands how important it is for you to feel better, get the best help possible, and improve the quality of your life. Book an appointment now!

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