Dealing with panic attacks

By Dr. Stephanie Saulnier, Clinical Psychologist

Image credit: Vitalik Radko

As an early career professional your cup is very full. You are on a steep learning curve, trying to keep up with the pressure and demands of a new job. The physical impacts of stress might be mounting but rather than listen to your body, you may have swept it under the rug and kept going, fearful of dealing with your inner stuff. It could be business as usual because you just don’t have the time. This melting pot of stress, fatigue, pressure and any other life stressor you are managing outside of work, puts you in a high risk position for a panic attack.

Panic attacks usually feel like they come out of the blue and cause an eruption of intense emotions that make people feel as though they are going to die, have a heart attack or go crazy. They are often accompanied with difficulty breathing, feeling hot, dizziness, uncontrollable crying, shaking and a feeling that some strange force has hijacked your body for a brief time. They make you feel totally out of control and terrified.

Although we know a lot about panic attacks and how to manage them, unfortunately many people feel shame and fear about having experienced a panic attack and never tell anyone. Their self confidence can be left in tatters, after just one attack. They suffer alone, terrified that they will have another one and fearful that if people find out, it will harm their career. They worry that they may be considered not appropriate or strong enough to cope with their job. When someone fears something so deeply, it can start to change their behaviours. They might begin to avoid places or people, and withdraw from anywhere they fear having another panic attack. This can ultimately derail careers and start to impact a person’s quality of life.

If you have ever had a panic attack, you are not alone. One in 3 people will experience a panic attack at some point during their lifetime. The average age of onset is 24 and women are twice as likely than men to have one. Many people experience one or two but some people develop a significant fear of them happening again and go on to experience more.

Panic attacks are not caused because you are weak, they are not caused by you being “not good enough” at your job or being inadequate in any way, and they are not caused by something wrong with your body or mind, that doctors just can’t find yet. Although they make you feel like you are going to die, they are not dangerous. It is possible to manage them and get your life back.

The first step after having a panic attack is to see your local doctor and have a thorough check for any medical reasons that may have triggered it. Following that, seek a qualified Psychologist who can help you understand what may have triggered your attack. They will also provide crucial information about why they occur, strategies you can use to manage future attacks and reverse the cycle of avoidance that you feel compelled to engage in.

I am a Clinical Psychologist who is currently developing a new online program to help people manage panic attacks quickly and confidentially, to help you regain your confidence and get you back on track again. If you have panic attacks, I would love to have a confidential 15 minute chat with you about your experience to ensure that my program will meet the exact needs of someone in your position. In return, I would be happy to spend some time answering any questions you may have about panic attacks. Please email me at if you would like any further information or would like to schedule a call.