How to Reduce the Severity of a Panic Attack by Breathing

The Exhale
November 26, 2021
5 min read

If you’ve had a panic attack before, then you’ll be familiar with at least a few of these symptoms:

  • Sweats and Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Racing Heart
  • Loss of Control

One in four Americans will likely experience a panic attack at some point in their lifetime. Panic attacks are sudden, intense feelings of terror when there is no apparent reason to feel as such and are usually out of proportion to the danger you may be feeling. In many cases, panic attacks are an emotional response to trauma.

Biologically speaking, panic attacks emerge from our parasympathetic nervous system as it engages with the body to assess and escape danger. This is more commonly known as a “flight or fight response.” When engaged incorrectly, the resulting sensations of faintness, heart palpitations, and sweats become characteristic indicators of a panic attack.

In today’s blog, we’ll be exploring the details of panic attacks and the breathing techniques you can use that have been proven to effectively subdue the intensity of the panic attack as it occurs.

Read on!

How to Know You’re Having a Panic Attack

Panic attacks have a wide variety of symptoms, but there are still plenty of consistencies in the experiences people have described. These are:

  • Feelings of nausea, numbness, tingling, a racing heart rate, shaking, sudden sweating, chest pain, and feeling as though you’re about to faint.
  • Mentally, this can manifest as feeling like you’re dying from a heart attack or stroke or feel like you’re choking.
  • Often coupled with sensations of being detached from reality or dissociation.
  • Commonly experienced as a loss of control of one’s emotions and physical body.

Breathing Through an Episode

Thankfully, there is a simple breathing technique that can be used to reign in a panic attack and help your body override the parasympathetic nervous system.

This technique is especially helpful as it can be performed sitting, standing, or lying down and can be done just about anywhere as long as you know you have a bit of time to focus more inwardly.

The technique is as follows:

  • Take a slow, deep breath through your nose before exhaling through your mouth
  • Close your eyes as you inhale again
  • Repeat this process five more times, keeping your eyes closed as you inhale and exhale.
  • Inhale through your nose again but does this for seven seconds.
  • Hold your breath for three seconds.
  • Exhale for seven seconds.
  • Repeat this process of inhaling and exhaling for seven seconds and holding for three seconds ten more times.

As a modified version of the 4-7-8 technique, this exercise is designed to engage your body in a process that actively lowers the symptoms of chronic stress and relaxes the body. For example, when we feel stressed or panicked, we often breathe in short, shallow bursts. This technique takes control of breathing forces the body to calm down as it engages deep breathing.

For more information regarding how to manage your breathing for a more effective lifestyle, visit our other blogs here at The Exhale to get the latest tips and tricks. For free guided breathing exercises that you can take anywhere, try out the Breathwrk app here.

And remember: Breathe Better, Live Better.


The Exhale