How to Stop Panic Attacks at Night

Written by Reid Wilson, PhD


Panic attacks can be incredibly overwhelming and disruptive, especially when they occur at night. The experience of waking up in the middle of the night, gasping for breath, feeling intense fear or dread, and experiencing physical symptoms can be terrifying. While medication is often prescribed to manage panic attacks, there are several natural strategies that can help you alleviate the symptoms and regain control. In this blog, we will explore five effective self-help techniques to stop panic attacks at night without relying on medication.

1. Deep Breathing and Mindful Relaxation

One of the most immediate and accessible methods to counter panic attacks is deep breathing. When anxiety strikes, our breathing tends to become shallow and rapid, exacerbating the symptoms. Practicing deep breathing exercises helps regulate the breath and activates the body’s relaxation response. Inhale deeply through your nose, hold the breath for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Focus on the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves your body, gradually allowing your body and mind to relax.

2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a technique that involves systematically tensing and releasing different muscle groups in the body. By sequentially tensing and relaxing each muscle group, you can release built-up tension and promote a sense of calmness. Start from your toes and work your way up to your head, tensing each muscle group for a few seconds before releasing it completely. This exercise not only promotes physical relaxation but also helps divert your attention from the panic attack.

3. Visualization and Guided Imagery

Visualization and guided imagery can be powerful tools to calm your mind during a panic attack. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a peaceful and serene place, such as a beautiful beach or a tranquil forest. Visualize the sights, sounds, and smells of this imaginary place, immersing yourself in its tranquility. You can also listen to pre-recorded guided imagery sessions that specifically target panic and anxiety. Engaging your senses in a calming visualization can redirect your focus away from the panic attack and promote a sense of tranquility.

4. Grounding Techniques

During a panic attack, it’s common to feel detached from reality and overwhelmed by fear. Grounding techniques help anchor you to the present moment, providing a sense of stability and safety. Engage your senses by touching or holding onto an object with a distinct texture, focusing on the sensation it provides. Additionally, describe your surroundings aloud, acknowledging specific details to shift your attention away from the panic attack. Another helpful technique is to stamp your feet firmly on the ground, feeling the connection and stability it offers.

5. Establish a Bedtime Routine

Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can help to reduce the occurrence of panic attacks at night. Prioritize quality sleep by creating a soothing environment in your bedroom. Avoid stimulating activities or screens before bed and opt for calming rituals like reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation exercises. Engaging in a regular sleep schedule and creating a peaceful atmosphere promotes better sleep hygiene, potentially reducing the likelihood of panic attacks disrupting your nights.

Remember, these techniques require practice and patience, but with consistent effort, you can regain a sense of calm and enjoy restful nights. If your panic attacks persist or worsen, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for further guidance and support.

Please also check out our complete guide to stopping panic attacks.

About the Author

Dr. Reid Wilson

REID WILSON, Ph.D. has spent his entire 30-year career in the field of self-help for
anxiety disorders and OCD. He is Director of the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center and is an international expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders, with books translated into nine languages. In 2014 he was honored with the highest award given by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and he was presented the 2019 Service Award by the International OCD Foundation. 

To learn more about Dr. Wilson, click here.

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