“Panic is highly treatable – 90% recover fully”
Panic Attacks are frightening and unpleasant, but not in any sense dangerous. Panic attacks are reactions that occur out of context.
During a panic attack, your body goes through the same physical processes as it would if you were in real danger. The difference, of course, is that although you feel you are in danger, you really aren’t. the average length of a panic attack is 4 – 6 minutes.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group launched a nation-wide media awareness campaign to make people aware that panic disorder is a real illness and treatment is easily available. 4% of the population suffer from panic disorder. Peter from Siyabuswa called SADAG 11 years ago needing help for severe panic associated particularly with taxis. His fear and panic almost caused him to lose his job.
He now runs a highly successful Support Group for fellow panic sufferers in Siyabuswa. “I would not have got through this if it wasn’t for SADAG. I have gained confidence in myself and have learned how to cope. I won’t let panic get the better of me.”
This “awareness” of the perceived danger may cause all sorts of feelings, such as dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, confusion, lack of control, unreality, shaking and trembling, and sweaty palms. That you may have panic attacks without knowing why only makes the situation much more frightening.
Zane Wilson founded the South African Depression and Anxiety Group 12 years ago to help people get support for their panic, and to educate sufferers about the disorder. “Panic attacks are truly terrifying and when I was diagnosed there was nowhere to turn for support and guidance. That is why I started the Group – panic sufferers need support and understanding – they are not going mad and they are not going to die.”
Although the thoughts and feelings of anxiety and panic are all too real, the brain has tricked you into thinking that you are somehow in danger — when actually you are not. Part of effective therapy includes changing thought patterns. Another part of therapy is to relax the mind so anxiety and panic can’t take hold.
SADAG has an active referral list of psychologists, psychiatrists, free brochures and handouts as well as nation-wide support group numbers that may help sufferers and their families understand the illness and its treatment. SADAG’s lines – 011 783 1474/6 or 0860 103 645– are open 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm. Dr Colinde Linda, a renowned Johannesburg-based CBT therapist who specialises in panic disorder, says, “Panic is highly treatable – 90% recover fully”.
First Aid for Panic:
o Take a “time out” and slow down. Slow your breathing, slow your racing thoughts.
o Focus on the present, concentrate on an object around you – notice every detail: what does it look like, what does it smell like, what does it feel like…
o Count backwards from 20.
o Take a deep breath and hold it as long as you can.
o Remind yourself that panic attacks always end. ALWAYS.
o Stretch your body – head to toe.
o Remind yourself that panic attacks are not dangerous.
o If there is somewhere you can walk, take a walk. Talk to someone if there’s somebody around.
o Recall a time you handled a similar situation well or think about a time when you felt positive.
o Get angry. Vow not to let panic win. You deserve better.