5 BRAVE Tips for Dealing with Panic Attacks (while they happen)


Panic attacks feel terrifying while they happen. Taking control of your thoughts and behaviors can help reduce the frequency and intensity of panic symptoms, and also how much they affect your life. 

If you are having a panic attack, use the acronym BRAVE to help you memorize five great strategies for dealing with panic attacks. 

  1. Body knowledge. Learn the facts about panic. During a panic attack, your body prepares you to deal with danger (F3 fight-flight-freeze reaction is activated). If there is no danger - your body is giving you a false positive. 
  2. Realistic thinking. Try not to panic. Remember, panic is not harmful. Your body has received a false alarm - your F3 system has shifted into gear at the wrong time - the alarm stops ringing in time. Panic is harsh but harmless. Think of it like a migraine - real and uncomfortable, but not life-threatening. You can cope with a panic attack and function. 
  3. Adoption. Accept that it will take a while for your body's alarm system to go off before it settles down. Your body can no longer release adrenaline when you discover that it is a false alarm. It will take a while for your body to return to normal. Once your sympathetic nervous system revs up, it will take a while for your parasympathetic nervous system to calm down, such as slowing down a fast-moving train. 
  4. Validation. Validate your experience. Panic attacks are real and very uncomfortable. But they aren't fatal and you don't have to let them stop you. You may suffer, but you are also strong. 
  5. End. Remind yourself that panic attacks end. They don't last forever. It is not your job to “treat” the panic attack, but rather “ride the wave” of panic. Surf in it or immerse yourself. Trying to fight or end the panic usually makes it worse. 

You can deal with a panic attack. If you try the BRAVE techniques and don't see any change in a healthy direction, don't stop. These are just five tips and there is a lot more people can do to manage panic attacks. Panic is treatable. 

Disclaimer: The tips in this blog post are not a substitute for evidence-based psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy for anxiety disorders. If panic attacks cause you much distress or affect your life, see a trained doctor.