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I have anxiety attacks whenever I go out!


Dear Life Coach,

I am anxious all the time now; I was down town a few weeks after the recent floods and I felt my heart racing, pounding in my chest. I thought I was going to die because I could hardly breathe. I went into a restaurant and sat down and ordered a drink hoping that it would pass. I did not say anything because I was not sure what was happening and I did not want to cause an alarm. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life that I have ever spent. As soon as it stopped, I drank the juice and hurried home. It happened on two other occasions while I was out and that was enough. I have stopped going out.{{more}} I have been living with relatives since my house got destroyed in the floods. So I have lost everything and now it seems that I have lost my life also (because this has never happened prior to the flood). What good am I if the farthest I can go is the doorway. When will this nightmare end? Please help me!

Anxious Woman (AW)

Dear AW,

You were swept away in the floods and now your heart is racing and you feel useless since you are afraid to go outside; in short, your life has ended.

Your Situation:

Given the fact that you were swept away in the flood and spared only with your life, it is clear this is likely to occur in the aftermath of a flood during the ensuing months. Some of these symptoms are as follows: panic attacks, fear of having subsequent panic attacks, failure to leave the house for fear of a panic attack, fight or flight response, feeling of choking, and fear of dying. These I will address briefly.

Panic Disorder

A panic disorder is diagnosed when an individual has experienced multiple panic attacks and over a one month period has become concerned about the possibility of having subsequent panic attacks and is unable to function as a result.

Panic Attacks:

During a panic attack the body mysteriously triggers a fight-or-flight response when there is no apparent danger. This may be due to severe stress (such as those resulting from trauma) and may also be influenced by genetics.


Agoraphobia means that the individual having experienced panic attacks has failed to leave the house for fear of subsequent panic attacks. As a result, he or she becomes housebound

Fight or Flight Response

When the individual has a sense of danger, the body becomes aroused and is ready to fight or flee in order to survive. The following are some of the physiological responses of the body during this process: racing/pounding heart, sweating, trembling/shaking, shortness of breath, feeling of choking, chest pain or discomfort, nausea or abdominal discomfort, feeling dizzy/lightheaded, fainting, de-realization (feelings of being unreal) or depersonalization (feelings of being detached from oneself), fear of losing control/going crazy, fear of dying, paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensation), chills or hot flushes. A combination of some of these symptoms at the same time constitutes a panic attack.

Feelings of Choking/Shortness of Breath/Hyperventilation

Some theorists believe that individuals begin to hyperventilate because the fear mechanism in the body has become over-activated due to trauma and as a result it becomes highly sensitive to very small triggers. You have been traumatized by the flood. Other theorists contend that tiredness can trigger sodium lactate or carbon dioxide in the brain, tricking the body into believing that it is being suffocated. As a result the brain sends signals to the respiratory system to increase breathing in order to get more oxygen, which results in hyperventilation (panic attack). A third theory is that some individuals are deficient in the neurotransmitters that regulate calmness, because when the body becomes aroused, it returns to a state of calmness naturally.

Fear of Dying

When an individual is fearful of having another panic attack, it increases the likelihood of an attack occurring. It is natural to feel a sensation of dying if one is unable to breathe.

What to Do:

Visit Your Doctor

Panic attacks may be treated with a variety of medications, including anti-depressants and anxiolytics, so visit your doctor for treatment.

See a Counsellor

Panic attacks may also be treated using a Cognitive Behavioural Approach, so find a counsellor with this training to assist you.

Reduce Stress in your Life

Set up a weekly exercise routine, get adequate sleep and nutrition, spend time with friend and relatives, and eliminate unnecessary stressors that are within your control.

Reduce Stimulants

Eliminate stimulants completely from your life: caffeine, sugars, and nicotine, as these will increase your symptoms.


Talk about your trauma incident and your feelings to relatives and friends. This will help to relieve your symptoms.

Positive Self-Talk

Keep a positive mindset generally, about yourself and all your experiences. It may be hard to conceive of, but try to find something good in your flood experience (behind every cloud there is a silver lining), and focus on that small positive, whatever it is.

AW, there are many positive but hidden meanings in the events of our lives and if we can find them a whole new world would be open to us. Try to find yours. All the best as you recover.

Life Coach


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