Breathing in a Panic

Perhaps the most common advice given to a person having a panic attack is to ‘breathe’ but unfortunately, when you are in the midst of panic, this is perhaps the hardest thing to do. Breathing is something we only ever think about when we can’t do it, and for this reason, very few of us know how to make ourselves breathe deliberately! Below are three breathing exercises which I find helpful when I’m in the middle of a panic attack, they are also useful for helping someone else whose struggling to breathe as you can talk them through the process and help to keep the calm.

Breathe out more then you breathe in

Think back to your breathing at other times of your life. When you are surprised or shocked by something (for example a massive spider) you may find that you take a large inhale or gasp echoing your fear. In contrast, when you are relaxed or relieved you often exhale, flopping down on the sofa or breathing a sigh of relief. These practices can be implemented during a panic attack. If you can concentrate on breathing out for twice as long as you breathe in then you can often help yourself calm down much sooner. At first this can seem counterproductive as the natural response to the thought “I can’t breathe” is to inhale as much oxygen as possible – but trust me – this is a much better option.

Square Breathing

This is quite a common breathing exercise and you may well have heard of this one before. Square breathing requires you to visualise or view a square (for example a plug socket or floor tile) and concentrate on it as you breathe. The idea is that you picture the four sides of a square and match your breathing accordingly… it looks a bit like this:

Square breathing

Breathe through your Nose. 

Personally this is my least favourite of the three exercises I’ve listed here. However, I’ve heard from many people who regularly use this technique so I’ve decided to include it here for you to try. This exercise is again intended to prevent hyperventilation by slowing your breathing down. Simply close your mouth and focus entirely on breathing out of your nose, imaging your breath traveling in and out of your lungs until you feel you can breathe regularly again.

Its important to remember that even if you don’t always manage to successfully employ these techniques your panic attack will eventually pass. Just keep reminding yourself that this is just PANIC and no matter how scared you may feel, you are in no immediate danger. Try and relax into your panic and wait for it to end. There is more advice on coping with a panic attack here.

Does anyone have any other breathing techniques they would suggest? Have you tried any of these before?




10 thoughts on “Breathing in a Panic

  1. I learned from a guided meditation to breathe in through my nose, but exhale more deeply through my mouth (so breathe in 3 seconds but out for 4 seconds), and visualise the toxicity leaving your body as you exhale. It’s surprisingly calming!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What I do is count how long I take to breathe in and out and lengthen it by one count each time until I’ve calmed down. I think a lot of people have their methods so honestly just do what works for you. Stay strong 💞

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve only had a panic attack once in my life and it was terrifying so I completely feel for you. I have a friend who experiences them a little more regularly though so will pass this post along and keep these tips in mind. C xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never tried alternating nostril breathing before but I will definitely give it a try – I think it may take a bit of practice though! Thank you for your comment, I hope you are well xx


  4. I *hate* when people tell me to “just breathe” when I’m having a panic attack… I even had a mental health nurse in the ER tell me that once… That said, breathing (when I can actually think) does help, though the only thing that I do is the square method, though I usually do it along to the beat of a song! Right now my go-to song is Comeback Kid (by The Band Perry), it’s the perfect speed for breathing!


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