“Sometimes I feel like I am going to die or go crazy or run away! - what is happening to me?”
You may be suffering from anxiety or panic disorder. The worst part of a panic attack is the horrible feelings which you have. No one has ever died or gone crazy because of a panic attack.
“I am afraid of certain places and things, I also feel dizzy and can hardly breathe - what should I do?”
It is quite common for people to be afraid of places where they have had a panic attack. In some cases, people don’t want to go into places (for example, shopping centres, or on public transport) if they have had a panic attack there, because they think they may have another attack there. The important thing is to try not to avoid these places. Rather “take on” these places when they are less busy (e.g. when there are less people, or the traffic is not so bad), or ask a friend to go with you until you think you can cope on your own.
“What are the other symptoms of panic?”
People experience different symptoms when they have a panic attack, however some symptoms are very common: a feeling of terror, racing heart, dizziness, difficulty breathing, tingeling or numb hands, flushes, chills and chest pains.
“Will I recover?”
With the right treatment, panic disorder is certainly something, which most people recover from. All it requires is the right treatment.
“What sort of treatment should I be getting?”
There are really three important kinds of treatment. The first is for you to understand as much as you can about panic. In this way, you know what is happening, and it becomes less scary. Secondly, there are medications, which can really help you. Some of the antidepressant medications have proved to be very effective in treating panic. Often people are given mild tranquilizers in the early part of treatment to help them with the anxiety. Lastly, a certain type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is used to treat panic. What this does is to teach people techniques to cope with the anxiety and panic, like breathing or relaxation exercises and ways to stop the panic from getting too bad.
“How long does treatment last?”
In terms of medication, people usually need to take the tablets for at least 1 year. Often people stay on low doses of medication for the rest of their lives. This will not hurt you.
“Why do I have this?”
There are many reasons why people may have panic attacks / panic disorder. Firstly, there is a lot of research to show that it runs in families. Secondly, it may have to do with the chemicals in your brain (that is why medication is needed). Thirdly, people often start with panic attacks after they have been under a long period of stress or had a big shock.
“Will the feelings ever go away?”
Although it may seem that the feelings of panic go on forever, they usually only last from 4 to 6 minutes, after which they usually start to go away. It takes up so much energy to have a panic attack, that your body may feel exhausted for sometime afterwards.
“Is there anything which makes the attacks worse?”
Definitely - too much caffeine often brings panic attacks on. Other than coffee, lots of health tonics, colas, and cold & flu medication have caffeine - try to avoid these. Local anaesthetics at your dentist and certain asthma medication, appetite suppressants and some malaria medications also bring on panic attacks - these are things to be very careful of. Please ask your chemist for his advice and help.
“Where can I get help?”
The Depression and Anxiety Support Group offer telephone counseling on (011) 783 1474 / 6 or 884-1797. They send out information and run regional support groups, where you can meet other people with these feelings and talk about your problems. They can also refer you to good doctors, psychologists and social workers in your area.