Ania Wysocka is the founder of Rootd, a tool for conquering panic attacks and anxiety that blends a guided process for both immediate and long term relief. Rootd is available to download through a Gympass membership. Explore our variety of plan options and find one to fit your unique lifestyle.
Lessons learned by the female founder of the #1 app for panic attack & anxiety relief
My first ever panic attack came out of nowhere during my final year of university. At the time I didn’t know how to stop a panic attack. I didn’t even really know what a panic attack was – I thought they were just something that happened to people who were too stressed out.
My panic attacks were isolating, terrifying, and confusing. I was living on student loans, on a different continent than my family, and I had no family doctor. All the solutions I could find were either too expensive, inaccessible, or seemed like they had been designed 30 years ago.
Now I know how to stop a panic attack. But it took years of struggle, endless personal research, trial and error, and lengthy conversations with mental health professionals. It was a challenging, often-lonely journey managing and overcoming my anxiety.
What is a panic attack?
Anxiety is the state of apprehension and fear experienced when anticipating a real or imagined threat, event, or situation. Though it’s probably hard to believe, anxiety is a completely natural and built-in human mechanism that protects us.
Think back to our ancestors who had daily threats to their survival… they needed to be able to get moving quick – to fight or flight – and a rush of anxiety achieved exactly that.
Anxiety has a place in today’s society too. Ever feel a rush of ice flow through your veins when startled? This type of anxiety can be helpful.
The problem begins when we feel intense anxiety in a situation where there is no real threat or danger. Panic attacks cause our minds and bodies to respond in the form of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions.
What does a panic attack feel like?
Trouble breathing, cold sweats, blurred vision, feelings of claustrophobia, nausea, and losing control are only a few of the panic attack symptoms that can manifest themselves in just a few spiraling seconds.
Feeling those sensations out of the blue (especially when experiencing a panic attack for the first time) knocks everything we thought we knew about stress out of the window.
Panic attacks leave us questioning our own senses, feeling exhausted, confused, and obsessively anticipating their next strike.
There are millions of people around the world who struggle with panic attacks every day
Even worse – limited accessibility of resources, embarrassment, and stigma cause over half of those suffering with panic attacks to never seek treatment.
The way you understand panic attacks when they first strike can have a huge impact on your healing process. Understanding anxiety and panic attacks helps remove fear and confusion and is vital to a swift recovery. Once I understood this, I knew I wanted to help others avoid my same struggle, and this inspired me to create the Rootd app for anxiety and panic attacks.
The techniques and information in the award-winning Rootd app have now helped over 800,000 people in over 150 countries learn how to stop a panic attack. The goal is to make this support as accessible as possible, which is why it’s a mobile app available in your pocket or on your wrist any time, place, or reason you need anxiety support, and why I’m so happy Rootd is part of the Gympass platform.
Given everything I’ve learned about how to stop a panic attack from personal experience, from best practices in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and from tons of conversations with mental health professionals, these are 6 of my go-to techniques for stopping a panic attack as soon as it happens:
6 Effective ways to stop a panic attack
1 – Deep breathing
Deep breathing has been shown to provide relief from panic attacks, pain, high blood pressure, stress, general anxiety, depression, headaches, and other discomforts.
When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises. On the other hand, with shallow breathing the lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air, and that can make you feel anxious.
If you think you’re an inverted breather, don’t worry. Many people (not just those that struggle with anxiety) develop inverted breathing habits during their lives. The exciting thing is that you can adjust your body and mind back to deep breathing within a relatively short period of time.
You can practice deep breathing to soothe anxiety, or stop a panic attack, in only a few minutes. This can be done with the help of a resource such as the Breathr tool in the Rootd app, or you can do it on your own. Here are some tips to think about while practicing deep breathing:
- Begin by sitting cross legged or with your feet hip-width apart.
- Keep your spine straight while relaxing your neck
- Take care not to hunch your shoulders
- As you inhale, pretend you are proving just how bloated your stomach can get
- Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth, making sure your exhales are longer than your inhales
If you are feeling really tense, start off with just a couple minutes of practice before working your way, over time, to at least ten minutes daily. If you’re using deep breathing to stop a panic attack, keep going until the panic attack is over, or for however long it feels helpful.
2 – Calming affirmations
Having calming affirmations that you can quickly read or listen to can be a very helpful way to stop a panic attack. To have these affirmations ready when you need them, you could make yourself some flashcards, create a special audio playlist on your phone, or use an app like Rootd.
Hearing or reading positive affirmations such as: “You do not experience panic attacks 24/7. This will end, just like the rest of them”, “You are not going crazy or losing control”, and “You’ve survived every panic attack you’ve had to date” can feel very calming during a panic attack, and help bring the attack to a quicker end.
3 – See, smell, hear
This can be a simple yet effective technique that draws attention to your senses and away from the anxiety of the panic attack. I like to do this as a 3, 2, 1 countdown, but you can pick whatever numbers or patterns feel most effective for you. To stop a panic attack with this grounding technique I simply try to identify:
- 3 things I can see
- 2 things I can smell, and
- 1 thing I can hear
4 – Guided visualization
Because people suffering with anxiety and panic attacks deal with racing and fearful thoughts, practicing mindfulness can be particularly difficult. But on the plus side, this also means that the benefits can be even more significant when we get it right!
Guided visualization is similar to meditation, but more actively helps you through the process, for example by guiding you step-by-step to scan your body to identify and ease areas of discomfort. Guided visualization can be a great way to stop a panic attack, and the Rootd app has many to choose from.
5 – Call a friendly voice
Sometimes it’s nice to hear a friendly voice. Panic attacks can feel very isolating – but being willing to accept and request the help others want to provide us can be very helpful for stopping panic attacks and managing anxiety.
This friendly voice could be your counsellor, a family member, a best friend, or other loved one. Having their number easily accessible can be a big help too, so that you don’t have to worry about fumbling with your phone in the middle of a panic attack. This is why Rootd has a button to call your emergency contact built into the app.
6 – Radical acceptance
Radical acceptance is a technique that encourages us to accept and face the sensations of a panic attack head-on, with the aim of replacing our fear with confidence and a sense of control.
The concept of radical acceptance is a core feature of the Rootd app and it has long been a trusted technique across different schools of thought, from early meditation to modern day counseling. Radical acceptance is based on the notion that suffering comes not directly from pain, but from one’s attachment to the pain.
Because panic attacks can be so terrifying, it’s natural that we try to outrun the sensations. But in reality, resisting can in some cases create even more discomfort and more tension. Instead, when we no longer provide any fear to fuel the panic, it can disappear.
Understanding panic attacks is a great first step
Once we understand what goes on in our body and mind during a panic attack, we’ll learn to realize that we’re capable of handling them. The more you understand what’s going on, the more you may be able to reduce the fear of a panic attack.
Talk to your doctor, speak with a counselor, do your own research, and use a resource like Rootd that has a full series of lessons on understanding anxiety & panic attacks.
And because there are medical conditions that mimic the symptoms of a panic attack, having a medical assessment may be beneficial before trying out the techniques mentioned above.
You got this
One of the worst things about panic attacks is the dreadful fear that you’ll have another one. That’s why becoming familiar with how to stop a panic attack, and what panic attacks and anxiety actually are, is so important. With the 6 techniques described here, and the help of an accessible resource like Rootd, anyone can learn to manage and overcome the fear, anxiety, and impact of panic attacks.
Remember, you are not alone, and you got this!
Learn more about how to stop a panic attack
I hope these techniques can help you as they’ve helped me, and I definitely recommend continuing to learn more about panic attacks and anxiety as one of the most helpful next steps.
There are many amazing places to continue gaining this knowledge, and the Rootd app is designed to be an always-accessible option. Rootd offers panic attack & anxiety management and relief tools in your pocket (or on your wrist). The app is female led, award-winning, scientifically validated, has been featured in Women’s Health, The New York Times, Healthline, and more, and we’re very proud to say Rootd is available to all Gympass members.