How To Stop a Panic Attack and Why It May Not Be Working


Those who know how to stop a panic attack in its tracks might seem superhuman to you. 

The truth is, we all have a superpower that we carry with us every second of the day: 

Our breath

We often tout breathing exercises as a magical cure for stress relief and anxiety. But if you’re breathing wrong, these exercises might not help you at all. 

FREE eBook: Self Care For Kids with Anxiety

How To Stop a Panic Attack

Before you doubt the effectiveness of breathing exercises, you should probably know about this study. 

It shows “potential for diaphragmatic breathing practice to improve cognitive performance and reduce negative subjective and physiological consequences of stress in healthy adults.”

So why do these exercises seem to fail you more often than not?

RELATED: Simple and Effective Coping Skills for Kids

Here’s Why Breathing Exercises Aren’t Working

Think of the way a baby breathes. Their stomach expands BIG like a balloon when they inhale. As they exhale, the belly “deflates” or goes back towards the spine.

Over the years, people have told us to “suck it in.” Your yoga instructor may say to you to take a deep breath IN.

This terminology is why many of us have lost our breathing superpower. It’s wrong.

Here’s how you’re supposed to breathe:

  • When you inhale, your belly should EXPAND
  • When you exhale, your belly should NARROW (or “deflate”)

⁠If you’re doing the opposite, you’re breathing wrong, and it could be why breathing exercises don’t stop your panic attacks. 

Correcting your breathing pattern is also an effective method for how to prevent a panic attack. 


How To Stop a Panic Attack in MINUTES 

You can’t catch your breath, your palms are sweating, and your limbs are shaking.

If you feel any of these symptoms right now, you may be having a panic attack. 

Start by grounding yourself. I call this the S.T.O.P. and B.O.P. for my students. 

First, let’s S.T.O.P. and get the body ready for a healthy breath.⁠

  • S=shoulders relaxed⁠
  • T=tummy soft⁠
  • O=open/close mouth to release jaw⁠
  • P=posture tall (chin back)⁠

Now we are ready to B.O.P.— or Breathe On Purpose⁠

Now that you know the proper way to breathe, try these three exercises to stop your panic attack in 5 minutes or less. 

Option #1: Count your senses


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by BE Buddy® by Stephanie Esser (@bebuddy)

You need to distract your mind. Look around you and count things you can see, smell, taste, hear, and touch.

This is called the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. For example, if you’re in a car:

  • 5 Sights: truck, street sign, tree, gas station, steering wheel
  • 4 Sounds: radio, horn, cars moving, people talking
  • 3 Touches: car fabric, window, clothing
  • 2 Smells: perfume, air freshener
  • 1 Taste: coffee (or whatever you had for breakfast)

While you do this, make sure you’re breathing through your nose (not your mouth).

Close your mouth and inhale deeply through the nose while making a big belly, like a ballon.

Make sure your shoulders and chest do not go up. Instead, concentrate on your diaphragm (your belly) expanding wide. 

Now deflate that balloon (aka your belly) by releasing all the air from your nose. 

Repeat for 5 minutes or until you feel the stress and tension settle. ⁠

Option #2: Hold your breath

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by BE Buddy® by Stephanie Esser (@bebuddy

There’s a method to this, so don’t try it just yet!

This is called the 4-2-6 Breathing Exercise.

  1. First S.T.O.P. and exhale the old air out of your lungs⁠;
  2. Now B.O.P. Inhale through your nose, making a big belly for 4 counts;
  3. Hold your breath for 2 counts⁠;
  4. Exhale as you squeeze the belly in for 6 counts⁠

Repeat as needed. Write down how you feel. 

Option #3: Lay on the ground and belly breath

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by BE Buddy® by Stephanie Esser (@bebuddy)

And when all else fails, ground yourself — literally. 

Lay your back on the ground and grab a soft object. In this video, I’m using my BE Buddy. This will help you analyze how well you’re belly breathing

  1. S.T.O.P. and try to relax. Feel the weight of your buddy or object on your stomach;
  2. Now B.O.P. Exhale all the old air out of your lungs by squeezing your belly toward the ground;
  3. Inhale as you pop the belly for 3 counts;
  4. Exhale and narrow the belly back toward the ground for 3 counts;
  5. Repeat 3 times. Try to nose breath as you do this.

This is my favorite strategy for how to stop a panic attack at night while you’re lying in bed.

It’s helpful to have a tool like the BE Buddy readily available to stop the attack in just a few minutes!

RELATED: 5 Calming Strategies for Kids

How To Prevent a Panic Attack

Learning how to prevent a panic attack isn’t going to be easy. It’s all about learning how to be in control of your mind and body. 

The best way to do that? Become aware of your breathing. Here are some resources to get you started:

What did you think of these strategies on how to stop a panic attack? Did they work?

After these exercises, write down how you feel and try it for 7 consecutive days!⁠ And remember to teach these skills to your kids so they can take them into adulthood.

Follow me on Instagram for more breathing exercises, or get a FREE consultation for breathwork healing.

MA.Ed., Certified BREATHE™ Coach, RYT200, Yoga Calm® Youth Instructor I help kids surf the waves of life, one breath at a time!