Q: I am 46 years old and have been suffering from panic attacks for five years. I cannot drive and haven’t been shopping for years. I get shaky legs, hot flushes, dizziness and feel that everybody is looking at me. I always make sure I know how to get out of a building in case of a panic attack. I was in an abusive relationship for six years before all this started. My partner abused me and ruined me financially by selling my belongings. I had to start over and it’s been very painful, and tiring for my children and me. I have flashbacks at work and when I panic around coworkers it is terrible. I have no social life, and my children are growing up and will soon leave home. I am in urgent need of help.
A: It is always sad to hear about violence in the home (which, by definition, is meant to be a safe place) and the affect this can have on adults and children. Panic attacks have their origin in anxiety and it seems that your anxiety is related to the abusive relationship in which you once found yourself.
Even though you are now safe, you are still living with great anxiety. It is as if your mind is having trouble believing you are no longer in danger. Abusive relationships take away the sense of safety and security, and leave people feeling vulnerable and anxious; never knowing when the next attack will come. Flashbacks can be an indication of post-traumatic stress disorder, and need to be assessed by a professional. You do need to seek help. Your general practitioner can help you to find the right person. In the meantime, there are certain things you can do to help yourself.
Keeping a “panic diary” will be useful when you go to see a counsellor or psychologist. Keep notes of situations in which panic occurred— write down the bodily sensations and negative thoughts that flashed through your mind. As you do this exercise, you will find recurring “themes.” A professional will help find a rebuttal to these negative thoughts, which will help you control your anxiety.
Learning to breathe correctly and deeply is a powerful tool in learning to control anxiety, as is muscle relaxation.
Consciously look for the blessings that surround you and focus on them.
Having a panic attack is frightening but you do not need to live with this all your life. You can overcome this problem and rebuild your confidence in yourself.