Panic attacks: reducing your emotional temperature

Panic attacks: taking your emotional temperature, and taking remedial action, can help.  Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash


Sometimes it’s useful to borrow a term from physiology to describe mental health.  Maybe one such term is ‘temperature’.

When we are ill, our body resets its temperature in order to fight off infection.  It causes extreme discomfort, and it’s not always the right response.  Sometimes we need to take a paracetemol, or take a bath at a different temperature, to take the pressure off our overheated system.

In a similar way, when we are anxious, our mind can increase its emotional temperature in an attempt to ward off things we are worried about.  As with physiological heat, this can also cause extreme discomfort.  And, similarly, it’s not always the right response.  For short periods of time, and with particular problems, hyper-alertness can be helpful.  But extended emotional panic can be detrimental to our health.

So, what is the equivalent of a paracetemol, or a bath, for an overheated mental system?

Perhaps responses divide into three types, physiology, perception, and thinking.


  • BREATHING – Silly as it sounds, deep, relaxed breathing works.  It provides a focus, evens out the metabolism, and dampens down the fight-or-flight response
  • RELAXING – Similarly, progressive relaxation of each part of your body works.  Again, it provides a focus, and counteracts unnecessary tension
  • EXERCISE – Exercise is an excellent reducer of emotional temperature, as it offers a channel for energy that is not destructive
  • MEDICATION – Medication can also be helpful, if taken in accordance with professional instructions

  • REDUCE OFFENSIVE STIMULI – Lowering the light, closing your eyes, reducing noise, light music, wearing a soft blanket… these are all ways of reducing physical stimuli, and giving your body big clues that it is time to rest
  • INTRODUCE PLEASANT STIMULI – In the same way, setting up pleasant, relaxing smells can help.  Your sense of smell is an ancient thing, and bypasses your conscious mind

  • AWARENESS – Simply drawing your own attention to your state of mind can help.  (It can also cause an anxious spiral, so see what works for you)
  • MEDITATION – Developing a meditation ritual can be enormously helpful.  The established routine means that, when you start the ritual, your body knows what to do, and that it is in a mentally safe place
  • FOCUS – In dangerous situations, it can help to bring your attention to a single point – for instance, in an emergency situation, you can focus on a sngle object in front of you, just to achieve some balance and stability
  • VISUALISATION – It can also help to bring your imagination to wherever you usually have felt safe and happy.  It could be a beach, or a person, or a completely imagined scenario.  Use your mind to create a safer world
  • MANTRAS – Some people find it helpful to focus on repeating a favoured phrase.  This can be spiritual, or an affirmation of some kind – really, whatever helps you be peaceful.

It may help to explain briefly why the above remedies work.  The main factors are:

  1. MIND REBALANCE (FOCUS) – Panic is an associative thing – the mind runs wild – so anything that helps bring the mind to a narrower focus tends to counteract this
  2. CHEMICAL REBALANCE – Your body produces the chemicals it thinks it needs.  Exercise, for instance, makes a request to the body for some happy hormones which genuinely make you feel better.  The same happens with hugging, sexual activity, friendly conversation, and many other positive activities
  3. ENVIRONMENT REBALANCE – If you are overstimulated, then changing your environment to a low-stimulus one can have a profound effect

When helping others get through their panic attacks, you can follow the above three main principles – focus, chemistry, environment.

  1. FOCUS – Help them focus their mind (simply talking with them will do this – that is why panicked people often crave someone to talk or listen to)
  2. CHEMISTRY – Exercising, hugging, chatting – all of these can bring out positive chemical rebalancing
  3. ENVIRONMENT – Change their surroundings to provide a soft, low-stimulus, safe place


When I get panicky, am I aware enough to take my emotional temperature?

Do I pay attention to my body, and use breathing, relaxation, exercise, and medication, as appropriate?

Do I rest my senses, reducing offensive stimuli, and bringing in calming ones?

Have I developed my meditation skills in a way that suits me?  Do I have a toolbox of mental awareness?  Have I improved my ability to focus?  Do I know what visualisations and mantras work for me?

When my friends get panicky, am I caring enough to help them reduce their emotional temperature?

Can I bring focus, good chemistry, and a pleasant environment, to those who look to me for support?