4 Steps to Break An Anxiety Attack

Steps to Breaking Anxiety Attacks

Some anxiety is good for you. It’s true! Our brains are biologically wired to protect us from danger, and a healthy dose of anxiety helps to keep us safe. It also keeps us motivated and prepared, so we can perform at a high level.

Unfortunately, there are millions of people suffering with far too much anxiety. They can spend time predicting the worst, being wracked by nervousness, chronic muscle tension, among other symptoms.

It’s as though their “idle” is set too high, and they’re frequently plagued by self-doubt, fear, and panic. In some cases, it can lead to an anxiety attack or panic attack.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans struggling with anxiety or panic, the good news is that you can gain control of your symptoms. If you experience an anxiety attack or a panic attack,  simply follow this 4-step plan. It’s the same one Dr. Daniel Amen has taught to thousands of his own patients at Amen Clinics.

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If you’re one of the millions of Americans struggling with anxiety or panic, the good news is that you can gain control of your symptoms. Simply follow Dr. Amen’s 4 step panic plan.


Here are 4 steps to help you break an anxiety attack or panic attack.

Step 1: Do diaphragmatic breathing.

Often when people begin to experience anxiety, their breathing becomes shallow, rapid, and erratic. Since the brain is the most metabolically active organ in your body, any state that lowers oxygen will trigger more fear and panic.

By taking slow, deep breaths you’ll boost oxygen to your brain and start to regain control over how you feel.

One way to practice deep breathing is by learning how to breathe from your diaphragm—the area of the body that tends to get “clenched” when we’re anxious.

To practice breathing from your diaphragm, try this:

  • Lie on your back and place a small book on your belly.
  • As you slowly inhale through your nose, make the book go up. Hold your breath at the top of your inhalation for 2 seconds.
  • When you exhale, make the book go down and then hold your breath for 2 seconds before inhaling again.
  • Repeat 10 times and notice how relaxed you feel.

When you experience a panic attack in a public place, you likely won’t be able to lie down and put a book on your belly. However, if you have practiced this breathing technique at home, you’ll learn how to replicate it without the lying down or using a book.

You can do diaphragmatic breathing anywhere—on an airplane, in a crowded conference, or in your office at work.

Step 2: Don’t leave.

Unless the situation is life-threatening, do not leave, run away from, or ignore whatever is causing you the anxiety. You must face the fear or concern directly, or it will always have control over you and increase your anxiety.

For example, if you’re in a restaurant and you start feeling panicky, don’t rush out the front door. Stay where you are and do these 4 steps.

If you start getting anxiety attacks on a regular basis, you may find it beneficial to talk to a trained psychotherapist. Opening up about your anxiety and fears, especially if you’ve been exposed to trauma of any kind, can be helpful.

There are some very good types of mental health therapy that help people overcome anxiety disorder symptoms, including those brought on by traumatic or life-threatening experiences.

One such method that is often recommended to Amen Clinics patients with trauma-related anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). This non-invasive therapy helps to remove the emotional charges of traumatic memories.

Research shows that EMDR therapy can be beneficial for those who are struggling with PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

Step 3: Write down your thoughts.

Often in panicked situations, our thoughts become distorted and need to be challenged. Pay attention to the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) in your mind and write them down to see if they make sense.

The act of writing them down helps get them out of your mind. Then question those thoughts to see if they are distorted. Ask yourself if your thoughts are true. Then notice how these thoughts make you feel.

Chances are, ANTs make you feel more anxious and panicky. They may make your heart race, cause your breathing to become more shallow, or make your stomach feel like it’s tied up in knots. Take note of all these sensations.

Then challenge yourself to come up with a more realistic version of the thought. Or ask yourself if the opposite of that though is actually truer than the original thought. Look for evidence to support this new thought.

When you catch yourself in the middle of an ANT invasion, taking a logical approach to eliminating those ANTs can help you calm down.

Step 4: Supplement your brain and body.

If you’ve practiced steps 1-3, but are still suffering from too much anxiety, you may need supplements or medication to help you feel calmer. Remember that this is the last step—to be used if the first 3 aren’t effective.

Some people with severe symptoms may require some form of anxiety medication on a temporary basis. Be sure to check with your health care provider before taking any form of anti-anxiety medication and be aware of the risks.

For example, functional brain imaging with SPECT scans shows that anxiety drugs can have harmful effects on the brain when taken over time. Benzodiazepines decrease activity in the brain and increase the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Below are images of a healthy SPECT scan and a scan of someone who was hooked on benzodiazepines. In the healthy scan, there is full, even, symmetrical activity.

In the benzodiazepine scan, there are many “holes” that indicate low levels of blood flow and activity. The bumpy, scalloped appearance is similar to what is seen in SPECT scans of people who are alcoholics or who have brain toxicity.

Healthy SPECT Surface Scan

Full, even, symmetrical activity               

Benzodiazepine Image

Overall decreased activity

Some individuals do well with nutritional supplements. Calming nutraceuticals include magnesium, GABA, ashwagandha, and some of the B vitamins, especially B6. Taking these on a daily basis may have a beneficial effect.


By following these 4 simple steps, you can regain control over your panic attacks and anxiety disorders. Make it a priority to practice these steps on a regular basis, and you should notice a decrease in anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety attacks, panic attacks, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. As a therapist I seek ways to help my clients help themselves when stress occurs and a panic attack is overwhelming stress that can be come paralyzingly uncontrollable. One of the most effective tools I have used on myself, my family and my clients is Educational Kinesiology, or Brain Gym. There are 26 plus exercises that calm or balance mind body functioning in specific ways . One set of movements, PACE, is highly affective as a baseline stress management tool and can be done anywhere , anytime , and takes 3-4 minutes , providing immediate and profound results . You can see videos on YouTube by searching Brain Gym PACE Stress. I also teach this technique to teachers and therapists for such issues as text anxiety (improves memory and attention), phobias , emotionally charged situations , and anger management.

    Comment by Shoshana Shamberg — June 1, 2016 @ 2:56 AM

  2. I used to breathe into a small paper bag. It really helped me overcome my panic attacks

    Comment by Inge Fullerton — June 1, 2016 @ 10:25 AM

  3. My last 30 seconds and make me feel like I’m on my way to help. Goosebumps, feeling of doom and then coming down from it. I usually have bout 15 of these over a period of 3 days. Fortunately, I haven’t had one in two months. Fingers are crossed.

    Comment by Richard Nicoletti — June 1, 2016 @ 12:21 PM

  4. I found these 4 steps to be great advice. Step 3: writing down your thoughts seems so basic, yet a lot of people would not think of doing this step.

    Comment by Shem Isukh — June 6, 2016 @ 9:38 PM

  5. I am a psychiatric NP writing a book on anxiety. One big thing I have discovered is that Benzos make anxiety worse. Not just a little bit worse, but gravely worse. The APA and GP doctors use these extensively. The medical model supports the band-aid approach and an idea that giving people as instant a relief as they want is OK. It is not. I appreciate articles like this and want to get the word out that therapy and what is written above is effective and I have seen lives change when people stop the Benzos.

    Comment by Wendy Burnette — August 15, 2016 @ 4:04 AM

  6. My doctor recommended 250 mg of magnesium and 50 mg of B Complex and that has served me well for decades!

    Comment by Nancy — February 17, 2018 @ 1:16 PM

  7. With all due respect, you consistently miss the highly effective, immediate, non-invasive interventions for anxiety, phobias, traumatic events and related emotional dysregulation: the various techniques of Energy Psychology, being Thought Field Therapy, the Rapid Relief Process and properly applied Emotional Freedom Techniques.

    Comment by Marti MacEwan — February 18, 2018 @ 9:36 PM

  8. Shoshana i was wondering if u can help me with my stress and anxiety?
    Thank you.

    Comment by Alan Weinberg — April 3, 2018 @ 7:29 AM

  9. I want to point out from experience that these methods work for anxiety attacks. However PANIC attacks are a whole other beast, and i would never have been able to apply the above suggestions except maybe for medication…. There is a different dynamic at work that is a lot more primitive. My body would take over in those instances and i just tried to survive

    Comment by Nicky Brockman — November 20, 2019 @ 11:59 AM

  10. Do you knowif “prozac” is one that worsen anxiey. It is taken at 8AM. But the nights, 12 hours later, are very BAD. THANK YOU.

    Comment by jan pamanes — November 20, 2019 @ 12:09 PM

  11. Hey very nice website!! Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I'll bookmark your web site and take the feeds also…I am happy to find a lot of useful info here in the post, we need develop more techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

    Comment by zoritoler imol — December 1, 2023 @ 10:00 AM

  12. Does anyone know how having a parent who has alcohol and depression issues are passed on genetically to one’s children.
    Also is there any link between preteens having been given Gardisil shots and the development of pysd. Or other health issues?

    Comment by CpBronson — January 12, 2024 @ 11:42 PM

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