How to Self-Soothe During a Panic Attack

Even before the diagnosis, I’ve always had coping mechanisms for my anxiety.

Yes, anxiety and panic attacks are not the same thing. However, one may spark the other.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist or similar. This blog offers ideas, tools, strategies and recommendations based on my experience with anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. I do not guarantee any results or outcomes as strategies that have worked for me may not work for you. For diagnosis and treatment of any physical and mental health condition, consult a licensed professional.

Some self-soothing techniques came about somewhat subconsciously. Others were deliberately applied. The more deliberate actions were found when I seriously researched my anxiety disorder.

I have tried a long, varied list of activities and methods.

Eventually, I adopted the techniques I found that successfully calm my mind and body.

I prefer practicing multiple self-soothing techniques. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. There’s no cure-all.
  2. It’s best to use different coping mechanisms for different situations.
  3. We should remain open to trying new methods.

In this post, I will give you a few physical and mental coping mechanisms to try.

Physical Coping Mechanisms for Anxiety

The following methods involve external stimulation to calm anxiety.

1.      Holding Thumb to Palm

This is one technique I found by chance.

When I am in a social situation, I become very aware of my hands. To alleviate the awareness, I hold them together.

One day I realized how relieving it is to hold my thumb in my palm.

How to do it:

I am right-handed, so I will hold my right thumb in my left palm. I put my right hand over my left. My right thumb rests flat against my left palm. And my left thumb rests over my right hand.

If you are left-handed, using the opposite hands will be as effective.

A demonstration of how to hold your thumb to the palm of your opposite hand

Notes:

You may need to apply light pressure through your thumb. But it should not feel as though you are gripping your hands.

It is best to hold skin-to-skin. Do not dig your nails into your palm.

Benefits:

I honestly don’t know how it works. But it is very calming.

Perhaps it is slightly grounding. The physical sensation distracts from the mental distress.

Why I like it:

Although it’s physical, others won’t notice when you use this technique. I have done this while teaching or standing in a meeting.

2.      Breathing

The perk of this technique is that it has benefits for both your body and your mind.

How to do it:

Take a deep breath through your nose for at least 4 seconds. Hold it for at least 7 seconds. And slowly exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat three times. Adjust the time to suit your body.

Notes:

During this practice, try not to inhale through your mouth.

Our nose is designed for breathing. That’s its primary purpose, and, for most of us, it’s great at it.

You may find that you are out of breath after breathing through your mouth. This is because our mouth doesn’t fill our lungs quite as well as our nose does. So our mouth can take a big breath, but it won’t reach as deep into the lungs.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Verywell Mind – 8 Deep Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

Right As Rain – This Is Why Deep Breathing Makes You Feel so Chill

Healthline – What Is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique?

Benefits:

Deep breathing opens the lungs and sends more oxygen to your body. Greater oxygen circulation improves your lungs, muscles and brain.

Also, focusing on your breathing will pull focus away from your anxious thoughts.

During the exercise, the mind concentrates on the air moving through the nose sitting in the lungs and pushing out through the mouth.

Why I like it:

Breathing exercises are lovely. As your body begins to feel better, so will your mind.

3.      Holding a cold water bottle

This is a new technique I’ve been practicing, thanks to a recommendation from a friend.

How to do it:

Grab a water bottle and cup it between your hands. The bottle does not need to be ice cold—that is much too uncomfortable for my sensitive hands. But it should be cooler than your hands.

Hold the bottle for as long as you need to.

Notes:

If you are near a body of water, you may also find just placing your palm over the water’s surface to be calming. Feeling the water lightly lap against the palm is peaceful.

And please know that I am jealous if you are near a lake. I wish I were near a lake.

You can also try holding ice, which I only just found out is currently a trend—I must be getting old for being so far out of the loop.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Medical News Today – Anxiety and hot flashes: What is the link?

Parade – TikTokkers Are Using Ice Cubes to Stop Panic Attacks—But Does This Trick Work?

Stylist – How to Calm Anxiety At Night

Benefits:

Hot flashes are one symptom of anxiety/panic attacks. In response to stress, our body releases hormones and our blood circulation increases.

Think of how relieved and refreshed you feel standing near an air conditioner. Holding the bottle provides a similar cooling effect.

The bottle also applies pressure to the palms, which provides some grounding.

Why I like it:

It’s very handy (pun intended) as I always have my support water bottle nearby. I’ve both slept and taught while holding my water bottle.

Mental Coping Mechanisms for Anxiety

These methods involve internal calming practices or talking ourselves through a panic attack.

1.      Say your reassurances and affirmations

I decided to group both reassurances and affirmations because they are similar practices. But they are not the same thing.

A reassurance is a statement (and/or action) to relieve fears and doubts.

An affirmation is a positive statement to combat negative thoughts.

Again, very similar but slightly different.

You can also think of a reassurance as supporting your reality while an affirmation supports your mentality.

Note: Try combining these phrases with the breathing exercise.

A.      Reassurances

When an external force is triggering my anxiety, I choose to fight back with a reassurance. I know how I would speak to my friends, so I have chosen to be similarly kind to myself.

How to do it:

Assess the situation to find what triggered the attack. Tell yourself that you are safe. And be specific. What are you safe from and why?

For example, let’s say you are panicking because you’re in the middle of a crowd.

“It’s okay. I’m okay. It’s normal to be scared in a crowd. I’m safe. No one here wants to hurt me.”

Repeat these sentences as often as you need. Say them aloud or in your head.

Notes:

I intentionally use multiple sentences when I reassure myself.

I like to start with a short sentence to grab my mind’s attention. I also repeat it with the change from it (the situation) to I (myself) to draw focus to me.

The rest of the statements are about my feelings, safety, and a clear reason why I am safe.

Benefits:

Learning to reassure yourself will give you a lot of power.

You will begin to understand the basis of your fear. Then once you identify it, you are better positioned to manage it.

Using the same example: I am still uncomfortable in a crowd, but I won’t avoid them. And solo adventures have become possible.

Why I like it:

Reassurances can be created on the spot.

B.       Affirmations

My affirmations flip the script when my mind forces my anxiety to panic.

How to do it:

Refer to your cache of affirmations. Choose one or two affirmations that fit the situation. Slowly speak the affirmation to yourself—aloud or in your head. Repeat it until you feel calm.

The best affirmation will depend on what triggered the attack.

Notes:

Affirmations require pre-planning and practice.

Read more: How to Create Unique Affirmations

Benefits:

Affirmations will help you to reprogram your mind.

You may begin to see yourself in a different light. And you will grow confidence in your ability to live with your anxiety and panic attacks.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Mind Tools – Using Affirmations

Happier Human – 45 Positive Affirmations for Anxiety Relief and Stress Reduction

Chopra – 7 Benefits of a Daily Affirmation Plan

Why I like it:

The more often that I use affirmations, the more I trust myself.

2.      Lists

This technique may or may not have been inspired by Dame Julie Andrews.

How to do it:

When the panic attack begins, start listing things in your mind or on paper.

Your list could be things you find comforting, the people you trust, or your tasks for the day.


“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens / Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens / Brown paper packages tied up with strings / These are a few of my favourite things”

Rodgers and Hammerstein, “The Sound of Music” (1959)

Notes:

You may speak through your list or repeat it over in your head.

If you choose to list your tasks for the day, write them down. Keep the number of tasks limited to the few most important things that must be done today. As you complete the tasks, you will get the bonus of being able to check them off.

Benefits:

Lists provide focus.

Your panic attack may want you to hyper-focus on something your mind has determined to be going wrong. By making a list, you adjust that focus. And you will take back power from your hectic mind.

Why I like it:

Lists are easy to create, and I get so much enjoyment from checkmarks.  

3.      Journaling

A lot of relief can come from unleashing your feelings and fears on the page.

How to do it:

Write in your journal or make notes on a mobile app.

You can give details about what is causing the panic attack. Or you can track your feelings and symptoms.

Benefits:

Journaling gives you the ability to release what is attacking your mind. Getting the thoughts and fears out of your head is a big relief.

It will also give you notes about what you were feeling and why. Then you can reflect on the situation at a later time.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Very Well Mind – Journal Writing as a Tool for Coping With Panic and Anxiety

Don’t Panic, Do This – THE Best Panic Attack Diary Template (Anxiety Journaling 101)

Bustle – 7 Types Of Journaling That Can Help You Manage Anxiety

Why I like it:

Putting pen to paper has always been calming to me. I feel better after I write.

How to self-soothe during a panic attack

And there you have it, seven methods to self-soothe during a panic attack.

I hope you will find a few of these suggestions helpful.

Again, some of the techniques I listed may not work for you. But I hope you will continue researching more coping strategies—even the seemingly strange ones.

Try to have a balance of mental and physical techniques.

You want to treat your symptoms, ground yourself in reality and calm your mind.

If you have any strategies to share, please leave them in the comments.