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  • Writer's pictureSarah Dresser

The 5 Step Process to Calm Anxiety and Panic Attacks

If you have experienced an anxiety attack you will know how overwhelming it can feel, debilitating even, as if there is nothing you can do. But you can regain control. In this blog article I lay out a simple but powerful five step process that you can do just about anywhere to help end a panic attack and calm anxiety. Let's begin the journey together as I show you how to return to calm in a few easy steps.

The 5 Step Process: How to Calm Anxiety and End Panic Attacks

Step 1. Take Control of Your External Environment

Take control of your surroundings by finding a quiet room or a calm outdoor spot where you can be alone.

When anxiety takes over, any stimulus in the outside world has an amplified effect. Sound merges into a storm of voices, colours are blinding, and you may feel completely disconnected from your body or at the other extreme, as if every single nerve is firing, creating sensory overload. So the first step is to reduce the stimulus.

"Anxiety can feel like it is happening to you but you still have choices. You can still make changes. Take the first step by choosing your environment"

Once you have moved to a quieter space, take a moment to close the door behind you to minimize any noise or stimulus. Turn off any devices you do not need in this moment or set them to "do not disturb" mode. This step sets the foundation for your anxiety relief practice.

Step 2. Focus on Your Immediate Physical Needs

Now, gauge your energy level and decide whether you want to sit, stand, or lie down. If standing, you can continue to walk or pace. Ensure the floor is clear.

"Respect your body's signals and do what feels right for you. Do something simple like open a window to cool the room or get a glass of water to sip."

When a panic attack takes over, thoughts become scrambled and you may feel disconnected from your body. By shifting your attention to your physical state of being, you can start to notice your body signals again.

Now, do something simple like open a window or get a glass of water to cool down. By tuning in to your body's needs, you start to honour your own well-being.

Step 3. Change Your Breathing Pattern

Free up your hands and place them on your lower belly. The breath is a powerful tool for calming an overactive mind.

As I say again and again in my work, the mind influences the body as the body influences the mind. In fact, mind-body is one, as I mention in this blog article on health.

With hands on your belly, notice if you can feel a slight movement in your hands by expanding your chest and then your lower belly as you breathe in. This gives you a physical cue to show you how to deepen the breath.

As you breathe more deeply do so without force and remember to breathe steadily. A sharp and sudden in-breath, as if gasping for air, stimulates the sympathetic (stress) network in your nervous system, whereas maintaining a steady flow of air helps activate your parasympathetic (relaxation) response.

"As you breathe, remember to take deep and also soft, slow breaths. Sharp and sudden in-breaths activate the stress response. Aim to keep the flow of air smooth to activate the relaxation response."

As you keep your breathing steady, slow and deep, you send a signal to your body to begin to relax. Pause between in-breath and out-breath if comfortable for you, as this too will amplify the relaxation signals of your nervous system. Aim to make the length of the out-breath longer than your in-breath.

Counting the seconds of each breath works for some and it can shift focus away from the scramble of thoughts.

Step 4. Connect With Your Senses

Engage your senses to bring yourself into the present moment. Take the following steps, engaging each sense one at a time:

Inner sensations

As you are already slowing down the breath, now engage with your breath more and take time to really feel your breath. Sense the flow of air through your body.

As anxiety can amplify a sense of disconnect from your body, follow the path of your breath from your nose, down your throat, to your lungs, and feel it fill your lower belly. This will help you to both reconnect to your body and also give you back a sense of self-control.


Now that you sense your breath, also listen to the sounds of your breath.

Shifting your focus to just one sound, and a sound that you yourself control, helps to narrow focus and reduce any sensory overwhelm during a panic attack.

Notice how the sound is clearer as you start to breathe in through your nose, and how the sound fades as the air moves down your airways and into your lungs. Exhale with a sigh to support the relaxation process. Allow your jaw to loosen as you breathe out.

Keep this focus for a few rounds of breathing.


As you may still have your hands on your lower abdomen, use this contact to engage with your sense of touch. Notice the texture of the material and the gentle friction of your fingertips as you move your fingers.

Through touch, you can ground your body and anchor your mind in the present.

Now, focus on the sensations of movement, as you feel the rise and fall with each breath. Feel your fingers spread slightly on each in-breath, and come closer together as you breathe out.

Also notice if you can slow the rhythm of your breath even more (always respecting what is comfortable for you).


Take a moment to look around the space or room around you. Find one specific object in your view. Trace the outline of the object slowly with your eyes.

By focusing on just one object, you train your mind to stop jumping from thought to thought.

By paying attention to your environment, you again reconnect to the present moment and to your immediate surroundings.


Now describe the object you noticed either out loud or in your mind, starting with the name of the object as well as any other details such as colours, shape and the purpose of the object.

As anxiety can seem to steal our ability to express ourselves, you can reclaim your power of speech by starting with a straightforward description.

Step 5. Perform a Body Scan

Perform a gentle body scan to release tension from head to toe. Start at the top of your head, noticing any sensations, and slowly move down your body.

Typical areas where we carry tension are the forehead, neck, shoulders, hands, and lower back. Remember to never push yourself into discomfort. Respect your limits.

Body movements to calm anxiety and ground during a panic attack

Choose only the exercises that feel comfortable for you to do. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Raise your eyebrows and furrow your brow and then relax your forehead;

  2. Move your head slowly in "yes" then "no" movements;

  3. Tip left ear towards the left shoulder, then right ear towards right shoulder;

  4. Lift and squeeze your shoulders up towards your ears and release them with a deep sigh;

  5. Shift your weight from one foot to the other to ground your body.

  6. Shake out your arms and wiggle your fingers slowly;

Ensure every movement is slow and intentional to continue to slow down body and mind.

Final Thoughts

Remember, anxiety does not define you, it is something you experience at some point in time but it is not your identity nor a permanent part of you. While panic attacks can be debilitating, you do have the power to calm your mind and body again. And I am here to support you.

Practice these techniques regularly to be able to perform them automatically when you need them.

Take one breath at a time, and one step at a time.

And while anxiety may come and go, may your self-kindness always be with you. Practice this short self-compassion meditation daily to develop unconditional kindness for yourself.

I hope this read has proven helpful. I have more work to help you overcome anxiety and panic attacks in my Youtube playlist here, all available at no cost.

About Sarah Dresser, Clinical Hypnotherapist

My name is Sarah Dresser from Unlock Your Life, and I quit a 17-year corporate career in IT (Information Technology) to retrain and start my career over again.

I am a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and I am passionate about providing low-cost and no-cost support for all.

Sarah Dresser, Clinical Hypnotherapist

You can access over 200 hypnosis, meditations and affirmations sessions on my YouTube channel here. You can now download all my work as MP3s from the Unlock Your Life MP3 store. And you can also get all MP3s you purchase in your very own private podcast feed. Learn more here about how to get your own Unlock Your Life private podcast feed.

If you have benefitted from my work, please donate to support me here on Paypal or through Donorbox. Donations do help sustain my work and allow me to continue to give to all.

As always, I am here to support you on your journey, Sarah

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