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Panic disorder

Panic disorder is the term used to describe when panic attacks are recurrent and disabling. Panic disorder can be characterised by: • The presence of recurring and unexpected (‘out of the blue’) panic attacks. • Worrying for at least a month after having a panic attack that you will have another one. •W  orrying about the implications or consequences of a panic attack (such as thinking that the panic attack is a sign of an undiagnosed medical problem). For example, some people have repeated medical tests due to these worries and, despite reassurance, still have fears of being unwell. •S  ignificant changes in behaviour that relate to the panic attacks (such as avoiding activities like exercise because it increases the heart rate).

What causes panic disorder?

There is no one cause for panic disorder, but rather, a number of factors, including: • Family history – People with panic disorder tend to have a family history of anxiety disorders or depressive illness and some studies suggest a genetic component. • Biological factors – Some medical conditions (cardiac arrhythmias, hyperthyroidism, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and irritable bowel syndrome) are associated with panic disorder. • Negative experiences – Extremely stressful life experiences such as childhood sexual abuse, redundancy or bereavement, have been linked to panic attacks as well as periods of ongoing, unrelenting stress.

Symptoms of a panic attack • Heightened vigilance for danger and physical symptoms. • Anxious and irrational thinking. • A strong feeling of dread, danger or foreboding. • Fear of going mad, losing control or dying. • Feeling lightheaded and dizzy. • Tingling and chills, particularly in the arms and hands. • Trembling, shaking or sweating. • Hot flushes. • Accelerated heart rate. • A feeling of constriction in the chest. • Breathing difficulties, including shortness of breath. • Nausea or abdominal distress. • Tense muscles. • Dry mouth.


• Feelings of unreality and detachment from the environment.

how to help yourself • Avoid ‘self-talk’ that focuses your attention on your symptoms – don’t tell yourself ‘Stop panicking!’ or ‘Relax!’. • Remind yourself that the symptoms of a panic attack are uncomfortable, but not life threatening.

Professional help

Always seek medical advice if you are not sure whether your symptoms, or another person’s symptoms, indicate a panic attack. In an emergency, call 000 for an ambulance. It is important to see your doctor for a check-up to make sure that any recurring physical panic-like symptoms are not due to illnesses, including diabetes, asthma, inner ear complaints, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), cardiac (heart) complaints, post-partum (after childbirth) hyperthyroiditis. If the physical anxiety symptoms are caused by physical illnesses, proper treatment for these illnesses should stop the panic-like symptoms from recurring. If the panic attacks are due to anxiety, treatment options can include medications, psychotherapy, including cognitive behaviour therapy, biofeedback therapy, stress management techniques, proper breathing techniques, relaxation techniques, learning problem-solving skills, lifestyle adjustments, such as attention to diet, exercise and sleep.

Where to get help

• Consult your doctor or medical health professional. • The Australian Institute of Psychology can help you find a psychologist in your area. Go to • Beyond Blue have help available 24 hours a day. Call 1300 22 4636 or go to to chat online.

• Reassure yourself that you’ve felt these feelings before and nothing bad happened to you. • Focus your attention on something outside your own body and symptoms. For example, distract yourself by counting backwards in threes from 100, recall the words from a favourite song or concentrate on the sights and sounds around you. • Fleeing from the situation will only reinforce the perception that your panic attacks are unbearable. If you sit and allow the symptoms to pass, you gain confidence in your ability to cope. 45

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Slim magazine 2015  

Elle Macpherson is our stunning cover girl. Slim Magazine is designed for everyone who wants to reach or maintain a healthy body weight. Thi...