By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Experiencing a panic attack can be scary. While panic attacks vary among individuals, attacks tend to share similar symptoms.

People feel as if they have zero control over their bodies. Their hearts pound, they feel dizzy or faint, and they suffer from an intense sense of nervousness. They become short of breath, start to sweat, shake or feel uncomfortable in general. Many people report thinking they’re “going crazy.” People may also mistake the symptoms of a panic attack for those of a heart attack.

Panic attacks are fairly common. Some people experience panic attacks on a regular basis and are diagnosed with panic disorder. Roughly six million Americans experience panic disorder every year.

But there are ways you can prevent a panic attack from escalating or minimize attacks in general. Below, John Tsilimparis, MFT, director of the Anxiety and Panic Disorder Center of Los Angeles, shares the anti-anxiety techniques he uses with his clients.

He suggests that readers “ground themselves in something that feels tangible,” such as running your fingers along your keys or grabbing the doorframe.

For example, many people have thoughts such as, “I’m going crazy,” “I’m going to die” or “everyone will leave me,” Tsilimparis notes. Writing these negative thoughts down on paper helps your mind switch “from victim to observer.” It gets people outside their minds, he said.

After recording their thoughts, Tsilimparis has clients “write up more rational and grounded statements,” such as “that phobic thought is just part of my panic attack” or “I have a loving family.”

In 15 years of treating people with panic disorder, Tsilimparis has never known anyone to faint, become incapacitated, go psychotic or die from a panic attack. As he said, there’s a lot of catastrophic thinking that typically never occurs.

Read more about the anatomy of an attack.

In fact, a recent study analyzing 40 randomized clinical trials of 3,000 people with various medical conditions found that people who exercised regularly experienced a 20 percent reduction in their anxiety symptoms compared to non-exercisers.

General Practices to Help with Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can be debilitating and cause a lot of distress, but they’re very treatable, Tsilimparis says. “If you begin to look at your anxiety like you would diabetes or another condition, you start to get better quicker,” he asserts. “Understand that you have a condition and not a weakness.”

Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective for treating panic attacks. If a person experiences regular and intense panic attacks that impair daily life, medication also can help.

Making lifestyle changes is critical. That includes getting enough sleep, minimizing stress, being active, cutting down on caffeine (not just in coffee, but in other caffeine-packed foods, such as chocolate, tea and soda) and avoiding alcohol and drugs. For example, once alcohol’s sedating effects wear off, “the panic usually comes back much stronger because your defenses are done,” Tsilimparis says.

Finally, don’t isolate yourself. People with panic attacks may feel ashamed, keep to themselves and avoid seeking help. Again, anxiety is not a weakness, and having social support is vital to your getting better.