How To Handle Panic During Self-Defense Classes (Or Just Life)

Use these tips to help you if you begin to panic during class.
Danae Hudson
February 11, 2023
How To Handle Panic During Self-Defense Classes (Or Just Life)

As we step further and further away from COVID and the pandemic, I’ve seen both in myself and others around me how frayed our nerves have become. If you recognize that in yourself, please know you aren’t alone. As I’ve worked with more and more women, I’ve looked for ways to help them find relief from panic. And to be honest - I’ve needed it for myself as well. If you’re a gym owner, these are tips you can use to help people who are having panic attacks in your space. If you’re looking to try a new activity that you fear might induce panic, these things can help you find your way back to calm. 

Ground yourself as best you can

Hold something heavy, like a weight. Play with a fidget. Look at and feel your feet on the floor. Use the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique (5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste). Use something like Calm Strips

I have found through therapy, one of the best things I can do when I start to panic is find a way to bring myself back into my body and into the room. 

Ice pack to the back of the neck

The longer I’ve taught women who have experienced or are experiencing trauma, the more I’ve noticed that as they speak about something that is anxiety-producing, they touch the back of their necks. 

At the base of our spines, around the same place that I noticed them touching, starts the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in your body and is part of your parasympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of calming you down. 

One of my students who is a physician mentioned once that placing an ice pack to the back of the neck helps activate the vagus nerve in turn telling your body that it’s okay to calm down. And I can tell you from personal experience - this works! One of the things that we can work on in Krav Maga is standing your ground. This is a technique that we rarely use because it involves someone yelling or screaming in your face, but for some students, it’s something that they hope to become comfortable with. Even though the person screaming in my face is my best friend, I could still feel my anxiety rising and my body start to shake. After he gave me a hug, I grabbed an ice pack and sat with it for a moment. After a minute or two, I felt significantly calmer - something that I hadn’t experienced before after this type of training.

Now at our gym, we use more ice packs to help women find calm after feeling stressed than we do for physical injuries.

Long breaths, not deep breaths

Oftentimes, we tell people to take a deep breath to focus themselves and to calm their anxiety. I often felt my heart rate spike when these things happened, but I realized recently that what I started feeling after deep breathing felt like a panic attack. So I decided to do some research to see why this was happening. Turns out, we should be saying that people take long breaths, not deep breaths. Taking deep breaths will actually cause you to hyperventilate. But that doesn’t mean that breath work doesn’t work. Think about doing something closer to 2 breaths in and 4 breaths out at a slow and even pace.

In my students who have anxiety or panic disorders, one of the things we also work on is understanding the difference between panic and physical exertion. At times, our bodies can’t tell the difference. Using the slow breathing technique can help here as well.

These techniques have served us well at Valley Self-Defense. If you have any other tips or tricks that you use to help you calm yourself in public, please feel free to email us at so that we can test them out!

If we say that exercise helps our mental health, we can't disconnect our feelings from it. This is why owner and instructor Danae Hudson cries on the mat during Krav Maga.

The body keeps the score when it comes to trauma. Krav Maga and self-defense has helped our instructor Danae when it comes to anxiety.

Krav Maga near me? There is! If you're looking for a Krav Maga class near you, Valley Self-Defense is a proud member of the International Krav Maga Federation with schools located across the United States. To find a school near you, visit the IKMF USA website.

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