Chicago Health | Homepage
Know Your Panic

Know Your Panic

Understanding how to control the way you lose it

By Nancy Maes

When Richard Harper’s* oldest daughter flew off to college with her mother for her freshman year in the fall of 2013, he was left to make the nine-hour drive to campus to deliver her belongings. On the road, he could feel the stress building. The muscles in his neck and shoulders grew tighter and tighter, and he couldn’t stop tapping his fingers. The tension was more than in his muscles, however. Despite the close relationship he and his daughter shared, his mind raced with irrational thoughts that their close relationship would change forever—that without her living in the house, they would hardly ever, or never, interact with each other. At age 49, with a career at an investment bank, Harper was having a panic attack.

The symptoms didn’t let up. “I was a mess [throughout] the fall,” he recalls. “I avoided driving on the highway because the panic I felt when I was driving down to my daughter’s college was stuck in my memory and kept coming back. I’ve got a recovery background, and I’ve been sober for 23 years, so I knew there wasn’t anything wrong physically but that it was mental.”

Harper’s physician suggested he attend classes for people suffering from panic attacks given by Bethany Price, PhD, a clinical psychologist with NorthShore University HealthSystem.

“The physiological arousal that happens during a panic attack would be quite normal if you were in a situation that was truly life threatening,” Price says. “But in a panic attack, people overreact to a trigger that is not dangerous, and it sets off a false alarm, and that higher anxiety causes neurochemical changes that can be scary.”

The many symptoms of a panic attack include nausea, abdominal cramping, dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate and chest pains. The physical changes are so frightening that people experiencing them sometimes go to the emergency room because they think they are dying. People who have panic attacks may live in constant fear of having another one.

“They tend to anticipate it happening again, so they then may tend to avoid the situation that triggered it,” Price says.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about six million American adults suffer from panic disorder each year. Although statistics show that more women than men experience the attacks, Price points out that these are diagnosed cases and that women are more likely than men to come forward and seek treatment. She says, however, that she personally treats about as many men as women with panic attacks.

During the six classes that meet once a week, Price discusses the fearful thoughts that bring on panic attacks and the physiological symptoms they create. She teaches relaxation and coping strategies to “outsmart the false-alarm system” and ways to restructure thinking so that it is more realistic. At the end of the session, patients are individually armed with strategies to control their fears so they can confront their triggers.

“Every time they go into that feared event and feel a panic attack coming on, they can bring it down on their own, and eventually it will just stop,” Price says.

Price points out that the classes are not group-therapy sessions, although patients are free to discuss their personal experiences. Nevertheless Harper says, “I want to emphasize the dynamic of sharing. It was an enormous benefit to unlocking the paranoia about these attacks to realize that there are a lot of normal people [who] go through this.”

Now, just over a year since the first attack, Harper is driving on the highway again. “I realized I had to battle the problem head-on,” he says. “Deep breathing really helps—it helps to slow down and think to myself that I have the ability to pull over at an exit and sit there and collect my thoughts and not get caught up in the momentum of the stress and anxiety.”

“I thought my relationship with my daughter was completely shut off, but it wasn’t. In fact, we’re probably closer than we’ve ever been before.”

*Name changed at the request of the source.

Previous Image
Next Image

info heading

info content

Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2015 print edition

Similar Articles

Healing Society’s Soul

Healing Society’s Soul

Physicians sound the alarm for treating gun violence as a public health epidemic By Katie Scarlett Brandt Photo

Integrative Cancer Treatment

Integrative Cancer Treatment

From nutritional therapy to off-label drugs, holistic approaches help patients heal By Kathleen Vyn In this age

Shoot for the Moon

Shoot for the Moon

Cancer initiative spurs research—and already advancements are happening By Laura Drucker In the 1960s, America channeled its

A  Family  Affair

A Family Affair

Battling pediatric cancer By Katie Scarlett Brandt Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo started a tradition in

Cancer Survivorship

Cancer Survivorship

When treatment ends, the healing begins By Julie A. Jacob After Carolyn Nugent was diagnosed with stage

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

June 2017
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
May 28, 2017 May 29, 2017 May 30, 2017 May 31, 2017 June 1, 2017 June 2, 2017 June 3, 2017
June 4, 2017 June 5, 2017 June 6, 2017 June 7, 2017 June 8, 2017 June 9, 2017 June 10, 2017
June 11, 2017 June 12, 2017 June 13, 2017 June 14, 2017 June 15, 2017 June 16, 2017 June 17, 2017
June 18, 2017 June 19, 2017 June 20, 2017 June 21, 2017 June 22, 2017 June 23, 2017 June 24, 2017
June 25, 2017 June 26, 2017 June 27, 2017 June 28, 2017 June 29, 2017 June 30, 2017 July 1, 2017

Recent Comments

Fund a Cure Night | The Griffith Family Foundation

Fund a Cure Night | The Griffith Family Foundation

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE
Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE

Archives