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Ask the Doc: How to take control of the panic attacks controlling you

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File Photo

Dear Dr Eddie, I am a 45 year-old manager who suffers from attacks of dizziness, blurred vision and heart palpitations.

The first panic attack occurred at work. It happened in the presence of my work colleagues, and began with feelings of weakness, nausea, and dizziness. I asked a colleague to call a doctor because I was afraid that I was having a heart attack since my father had recently died of one.

In addition to this personal loss, I was dealing with a lot of stress at work. My husband is generally supportive but hasn’t aclue what’s going on for me. Several months before the first panic attack, there were times when I had been nervous and my writing had become shaky; but apart from that, I had never experienced anything like this before.

My doctor told me that it was stress and anxiety and prescribed medication. Nevertheless, the panics continued, mostly at work, and in trapped situations. Sometimes they were unexpected or out of the blue, particularly the ones that woke me out of a deep sleep. I feel tense and anxious most of the time because I worry about having an attack.

Since my third panic attack, I have avoided being alone whenever possible. I also avoided places and situations, such as shops, crowds, mass and queues where I fear being trapped and embarrassed if I panic. I would appreciate any advice. Amy.

- Hi Amy, first of all I want to acknowledge the level of terror that you feel. Panic attacks trigger our primitive Flight, Fight & Freeze adrenaline response. This powerful hormone causes our body to respond and explains the powerful physical reactions you experience: palpitations, dizziness and blurred vision.

Panic attacks are very common. Ten per cent of people reading this article will have or will get a panic attack. The most important message I want to give to you is that of hope. Getting control of your panic attacks is achievable, moving from fear to freedom is doable.

I have treated hundreds of people with panic attacks with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and they live lives of joy.
Understanding panic attacks is key to controlling them. Avoidance keeps panic going. Recurring attacks take an emotional toll.
The memory of the intense fear you felt during the attacks negatively impact your confidence and has caused serious disruption to your everyday life. You are experiencing FEAR OF FEAR.

It’s time to take off the straitjacket of panic. You need to get CBT. I wish this was more publically available as we need rapid access appointments so that these mental /emotional health issues don’t build up. Get a referral from your GP, or check or

CBT focuses on the thinking patterns and behaviours that are sustaining or triggering the attacks.
I also recommend yoga as the breathing patterns complement the therapy and counteract hyperventilation that may come with panic.

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Remove caffeine from your diet. Practice thinking differently; is this threat a real one? Am I misreading things? I feel bad, but that doesn’t mean things really are so bad. What would I say to a friend in this situation? What would be a more helpful way of looking at things? Where’s my focus of attention?

I can cope with these feelings, I’ve got through it before. This will pass. Imagine yourself coping in a situation that you feel anxious about. See the situation through to a successful completion.

If you are organising a speaker or training for school, community, voluntary, sporting or work groups, call Dr Eddie on 087 1302899 or go to dr.eddie.murphy.psychologist

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