How to Deal With Panic Attacks

We’re almost to the end of the semester, and with this time of the year comes plenty of stress. For some students, daily stress is only a small concern compared to anxiety. A 2015 survey from Boynton Health Services reported that 4.3 percent of students have experienced a panic attack in the past year (which shakes out to about 1,465 students). Everyone experiences anxiety in different ways, everyone has different triggers and everyone has different ways to calm themselves down. I have learned a lot from my experiences with panic attacks and anxiety, but I know that anxiety feels different to everyone so I wanted to get some other perspectives. I talked to a few members of the Gopher community about ways that they calm themselves down and what they’ve learned from their anxiety. So without further ado, here are seven different ways that that Gophers can ease their anxiety.

Identify the Problem

Okay, this one’s tricky because panic attacks sometimes seem to come out of nowhere. When I first started getting panic attacks I thought it was my asthma acting up because I couldn’t catch my breath in class. Once I realized that I was experiencing more than just shortness of breath, but that I also felt dizzy, shakey and had sweaty palms, I figured it was a little more complicated. Once I discovered that panic attacks can happen to me, I identified any circumstances that might cause anxiety, such as public speaking or trips to unfamiliar places. After finding out what causes your anxiety, it will help you prepare yourself for any future attacks.

Focus on the world around you

This technique works for anytime you need to ground yourself back to reality. Focus on one object and describe it in the greatest amount of detail you can. Feel a surface near you; is it bumpy, smooth, rough? Sometimes your surroundings can be what causes the anxiety, whether it’s sitting in a crowded lecture hall or being overwhelmed at a football game, but focusing on a small detail can help reorient yourself. These exercises can also be effective in treating insomnia or any circumstance where you feel overwhelmed.

Breathing Techniques

An article from Harvard University states that breathing is one of the simplest actions you can take to calm yourself and regain control over your body. Start by breathing in for four seconds, then out for four. Next, try taking deeper breaths, in and out for seven seconds each. Picture something opening and closing with each breath. You can read more about different breathing techniques for panic attacks here.

Talk it Out

Anxiety and panic seem to happen at the most random times, and often the reaction is over something intangible and imaginary. I interviewed several people at the University of Minnesota who struggled with anxiety and panic attacks, many of them said that one of the best ways to release their emotions is by talking to someone else and having them rationalize the situation. Other options would be to journal, or call a friend/your mom/whoever makes you feel most comfortable. You don’t need to suffer through an attack alone. Letting a friend know that you’re feeling anxious not only helps to make you feel less isolated, but also makes your friends aware if you’re struggling and need their help.


Aromatherapy has been used to cure all sorts of ailments for centuries. There are scents that help reduce overall anxiety, such as jasmine and lavender. Aromatherapy also helps with difficulties falling asleep and nausea, and it can act as a mood booster. If you find a scent that relaxes you, carry around a little bottle of lotion with the same smell or purchase a candle for your room to make your space feel more relaxing.

Get Active

By “active” I don’t necessarily mean exercising, but getting involved in an activity that makes you feel happy can help you with anxiety. These activities are for those days when you constantly feel stressed and anxious. The students I talked to all said that taking time to unwind is extremely important for their mental health. Whether that means painting, cooking, coloring, dancing around your room, going for a run or whatever it is that helps distract you for a few moments and brightens your day. Find more ideas on relaxation and fun, check out our article “The Importance of Me Time!”

Treat Yourself

Living with panic attacks and anxiety can be exhausting, especially if you have anxiety about when your next panic attack might happen. College comes with many new and scary experiences that you can spend weeks worrying about. The best thing to do is set aside something special for yourself for when you finally conquer that test or whatever might be causing you stress. Treat yourself to an extra-sweet Starbucks drink, take some time to finally watch that movie you’ve had on your Netflix list for a month, or schedule a much needed nap! Whatever the treat is, your personal victories shouldn’t go unrewarded.

Living with anxiety can be really, really difficult. That’s why it’s important to remember these few things for when you’re feeling anxious: this is only temporary, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed for wanting to seek help, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you, and finally, you’re never, ever alone.

For on-campus resources visit Boynton Health Clinics or Student Counseling Services located in Appleby Hall. The U also has an entire website dedicated to student mental health resources, including a 24-hour help line {(612) 301- 4673} and a text line (Text "UMN" to 61222).