Focus on Panic and Anxiety

We are about to begin a read-along webinar series on ‘Release Your Worries,’ and you will have the chance to ask questions. Join us on Tuesday 19th March at 8pm. Register at

We all experience anxiety, as it is a normal emotion, related to fear. It is often about something that might happen in the future, and may be described as a feeling of impending danger. Anxiety is actually there to protect us, so that we can respond to danger when needed. We all know what the ‘fight-flight’ response feels like, with racing heart, muscle tension and sweating. This response to threat stems from cave-person times, to enable us to fight the threat or run away.

Anxiety can become a problem when it is persistent and severe, or interfering with our daily lives. We might experience generalized anxiety and find ourselves worrying about many things consistently, or we might experience more acute episodes of panic, with heart palpitations, breathlessness, sweating, nausea or light headedness. In fact, 14.4% of Australian adults will experience significant anxiety over one year, and 1.4-2.9% will experience recurrent panic episodes.

Let’s focus on panic, as it can involve unexpected and intense fear. When talking with a client about panic, we find out more about the panic attacks and the person’s background, and we do some tests to rule out medical causes of the symptoms. We also check whether the panic attacks are leading to disability, and in particular avoidance of doing usual activities. For example, if a person has a panic attack in the car, then they might avoid driving the car, or if they have one at the shops, they may not want to go to those shops again for fear of having another one.

It is also important to find out the underlying fears in panic, as some people worry that the physical symptoms are signs of illness, or that they might pass out, or even die. Some people worry about how other people are going to react when they have a panic attack, and that they might not be supportive. The first thing that can help is information, as it can relieve fear. You can then understand what is happening in your body and mind, and myths such as, “I’m going to lose it,” can be debunked.

There are a range of psychological treatments that can be helpful, including working with thoughts that are not helpful, and relaxation and breathing techniques. In particular, abdominal or slow breathing is helpful. An example follows:

  • Stop what you are doing, sit down if you can and breathe in and out slowly. Take medium breaths (not deep or shallow breaths), breathing down to your abdomen. Breathe in a 6-second cycle, that is, breathe in to the count of three, and then out for the count of three: in, two, three; out, two, three.

Some people find carrying a written card in their purse/wallet useful, with words such as; “I know this is panic and I know what to do, breathe slowly and relax, it will pass and I will be fine.” If you need some assistance, see your GP and they may suggest that you see a psychologist or counsellor. Looking after your general lifestyle (nutrition, exercise, sleep), doing yoga or tai chi, and thinking kindly about yourself can also assist.

There are some helpful resources, including:

  • “Release Your Worries, A guide to letting go of stress and anxiety,” by C Howell and M Murphy, published by Exisle in 2011.
  • Centre for Clinical Interventions ( provides a wide variety of mental health information and resources.
  • Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression (CRUfAD) has a wide range of information and resources.

Contact Dr Cate

If you would like to speak with me, please contact me via phone, email or the website.

I look forward to talking with you about mental health and wellbeing education, coaching, speaking or writing.


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