Managing Panic Attacks

One step that helps lots of people get a handle on their panic attacks is to learn and practice relaxation strategies. Here are three different types of relaxation strategies you can try.

First, try changing your breathing patterns. Stress often causes us to breathe shallowly. Unfortunately, breathing shallowly can actually prolong stress by depleting your oxygen supply and increasing muscle tension. This can lead to headaches, nervousness and a lowered threshold to panic attacks. To overcome this, practice monitoring your breathing and noticing when it becomes shallow or rapid. When this happens, take a minute to slow down, get comfortable, and breathe deeply. Begin this process by slowly but forcefully blowing all of the air out of your lungs, deep-down into your belly. This allows you to slowly and effortlessly "refill" your lungs with fresh air. Try breathing in through your nose and focusing on filling the bottom of your lungs first before filling the top. As you breathe in, your abdomen should rise slowly; and, as you breathe out, it should fall slowly. Gradually breathe more deeply and more slowly until you reach a comfortable plateau.

A second technique is to scan your entire body, tensing and relaxing all your muscles. Begin by sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Focus on your feet and notice any muscle tension in your feet or toes. Tense your feet muscles by curling your toes like you're trying to dig into the carpet. Tense the muscles for a five-count, then allow them to go limp and release all the tension. It helps to exhale deeply and think the word "relax" at the moment you release the tension. After relaxing your feet, move up to your calves, tense and release. To your thighs, tense and release, and so on. Try to move through all of the following muscle groups: your feet, calves, thighs, "glutes," abdomen, lower back, chest, upper back, neck and shoulders, and finally, facial muscles. To tense up your facial muscles, squint hard and press your lips together (think Clint Eastwood), then just let your face go slack and expressionless. When you've completely covered your entire body, your muscles should feel warm and relaxed.

Finally, try taking a "mental vacation." No, not a trip to a rehabilitation clinic-just an imaginary visualization of a peaceful place. Mental imagery can be a great way of creating peaceful feelings. Start by imagining a peaceful, serene setting. Perhaps this will be some place you've gone before where you felt totally calm and relaxed. Or maybe it can be a fantasy place with all the ingredients to help you relax and unwind. Once you've imagined this fantasy place, take a "sensory inventory" by asking yourself: "What do I see that's peaceful or beautiful?" "What do I hear that's soothing?" "What do I smell that reminds me of pleasant, peaceful feelings?" "What do I feel on my skin (is it warm, cool, breezy, still?)" and "What do I taste?" For example, someone who loves the beach might think about seeing a beautiful sunset over the water, hearing the waves gently lapping at the shore or the seagulls peacefully calling, smelling the scent of suntan oil, feeling the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze, and tasting the salty air...

Imagining each of these sensations in detail actually helps to create the same peaceful feelings in your body that you'd experience if you were actually at the beach.

By themselves, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and mental imagery can be very powerful. When you put them all together, you've got a combination that can melt away your physical tension and anxious thoughts and replace them with peace and relaxation.

There are myriad articles seeking to provide assistance to law students and to caring individuals who wish to help those students with mental health, substance abuse, stress and related issues. The link to several articles and other resources that have resonated with readers over the years are provided here.


Free Apps for Relaxation

Healthy Ways to Cope With Stress

Exercise to relieve tension, improve your mood, and release endorphins

Practice relaxation techniques. Try meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or muscle relaxation. Whenever you feel tense, slowly breathe in calmness and breathe out tension for a few minutes.

  • Be easy on yourself.
  • Make sleep a priority.
  • Find a quiet and peaceful place and go there - in person or in your head.
  • Keep a journal - or even just a list - and write out what is stressing or worrying you.
  • Talk to a close friend or family member about your stress.
  • Become aware of your own reactions to stress.
  • Let go of negative, discouraging self-talk. Avoid the "snowball" effect of dwelling on the negative. Learn from past "mistakes" and move forward
  • Practice positive, encouraging self-statements. Train your brain for positivity
  • Focus on your good qualities and accomplishments.
  • Develop assertive behaviors
  • Think about what has brought you joy in the past - hobbies/things you have always wanted to try. Recognize that there may be time constraints with school, so plan accordingly, rather than over scheduling and becoming more anxious that you don't have time. Example: you always wanted to go hiking but are not ready to commit too much time early-on? Start by reading up on the hike, and maybe start walking to build up endurance. Plan ahead for a day trip after mid-terms or finals.
  • Maintain a daily balanced diet.
  • Change worry into action. Focus on the next step.
  • Learn to use your time wisely.
  • When studying for an exam, study in short blocks, and stay focused. Take frequent, short breaks.
  • Make a weekly schedule and try to follow it.
  • Set realistic goals. Take one step at a time.
  • Avoid unnecessary competition.
  • Recognize and accept your limits. Remember that everyone is unique and different. NOTE: Be aware of the danger of using drugs such as Adderall that have not been prescribed to you.
  • Practice Stress Hardiness


Healthy Ways to Cope With Anxiety

  • Reach out to others. Spend time with friends or loved ones, and share your fears, feelings, or uncertainties.
  • Express your feelings. Do not keep your emotions bottled up. Find a way to experience them that is comfortable for you - talk to someone (friend, family member, counselor, religious leader, professor, etc.), write in a journal, go to a support group.
  • Focus upon a realistic assessment of your personal situation, without magnifying your concerns. Remember Ellis's 12 irrational thoughts.
  • Try to stay organized. Keep a planner so that you know when papers and exams are approaching. Make sure to plan time for yourself away from work, class, and studying.
  • Cut down on alcohol and caffeine. These can increase symptoms of anxiety.
  • Take care of your body. Try to eat nutritious meals, get exercise, and get enough sleep.
  • Identify and minimize stressors. Learn what situations or events cause you the most stress, and how to cope with them. Realize that life can be difficult, and that it is not so much a matter of what events have occurred, but what meaning we give to those events. We cannot eliminate stressful events, but we can learn to contain them.
  • Learn stress management and relaxation techniques. Try yoga or meditation to help you focus on being calm. Experiment with muscle relaxation exercises, deep breathing, and mental or guided imagery.
  • Challenge the critical voice in your head. Anxiety can make you feel like you are not normal or that you are a failure. You may find yourself believing that other people are able to manage their stress or are not as scared as you, or that you are a bad student or person because you cannot handle all of your responsibilities. Realize that these thoughts are coming from the anxiety - not you. Also remember that the way others look often does not show how they really feel.



Behavior, thoughts, and reactions can make all the difference in helping to reduce the stress you are temporarily feeling. Be aware of what makes you happy and what makes you stressed and plan accordingly.

  • Breathe, yes just focus on your breathing and feel the results (*Breathing Exercise:courtesy
  • Meditate: close your eyes, envision a special place, where you feel safe, comfortable…slowly inhale, then slowly exhale, concentrate on the rhythm of your breathing
  • Visit a friend’s pet or pet store and pet a pet
  • Bring a plant into your apartment or try a pet rock
  • Watch a sitcom that makes you laugh or Netflix series…yes you can watch tv and enjoy a break
  • Tap back into what you liked to do – drawing, painting …Perhaps it is fixing things, your bike, car…etc...
  • Try practicing “mindfulness” for a few minutes… go out sit or walk, feel the sensation of a breeze…
  • Try this mindfulness Meditation
  • Write down all your stressors on paper
  • Make a list of things to look forward to doing
  • Have a chat with friend/family
  • Go for a walk
  • Take a hot shower or bath
  • Exercise
  • Take a yoga class, check out youtube for a yoga video or tai chi
  • Take a look at:
  • Dance like crazy to music
  • Revisit an old hobby
  • Take time for yourself “day off” or a part of the day, an hour, that is your time

Life feels easier as you relax…all feels so much more doable