Using S.O.S. to Deal with an Acute Panic Attack

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If you have ever had a panic attack, you probably recall that in the moment when you are gripped by anxiety, your head goes blank and the feeling overwhelms you.

Having suffered from chronic panic attacks for years, I learned that I needed a simple acronym I could recall to walk me through the steps to manage the episode, especially in the most acute stages. This acronym is aptly called S.O.S.

The S.O.S call invokes 3 simple steps to halt the tailspin of panicked thoughts:

Stop. Objectify. Self Love

1) Call out STOP in your head to signal a break in your mind, then take a deep breath in and hold for 4 seconds, before releasing over a count to 6.

2) Objectify your thoughts. This is a crucial step. Instead of allowing yourself to get washed away in the feelings of anxiety, put some distance between yourself and your anxious thought-spiral by thinking of them as an external factor; make them the 3rd party. Acknowledge and label your feelings by reminding yourself they are only there as a result of specific thoughts you are having. Identify the thought and ask yourself: Is it rational? Is your thought a fact or a fear based on assumptions?

3) Give yourself some Self Love; practice compassion towards yourself. Instead of trying to push away the feelings or berate yourself for feeling the way you do, have your own back and give yourself a break. Speak to yourself the way you would your best friend by using kind words, being patient and understanding of the difficult emotions and responses.

For example:
I am due to fly tomorrow and start feeling panicky because I am worried about the plane crashing.

Say to myself, recall S.O.S:

1) Stop: Internally call out STOP, and take a deep breath in and hold for 4 seconds before releasing slowly.

2) Objectify: “Ok, I know that I am feeling anxious because of flying tomorrow. The thought that is creating anxiety is that there will be bad turbulence, and something might happen to the plane. That is NOT A FACT but my FEAR. Turbulence does not bring down planes. My fear might feel real, but it’s just a thought, not a fact.”

3) Self-love: “It’s ok that I am feeling this way, I have been through a lot in the last few years with medical issues that have threatened my loved ones, so it’s completely understandable that I am worried about something happening. I have survived far more stressful situations, and everything always turns out ok.”

Follow up with a practice of Diaphragmatic Breathing (see article on to find calm and dispel physiological effects of the panic attack by steadying your heart rate and lowering any spikes in blood pressure.

While this is optional, you may also choose to add a mantra that resonates with your beliefs and brings you calm. Here are a few to get you going:
– This too shall pass.
– You are complete.
– Everything always happens the way it’s meant to happen.
You may also wish to visualise something you are grateful for or an event that brings you happiness.

Download PDF of this article here

About Me

Hi, I am Claudia and I am a certified executive and life coach at the inner Impact. I have a passion for working with men and women who face challenges in either their professional life or personal life, on topics ranging from anxietystress management, insecurities, self-confidence, performance and career development. 

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