Everyone feels at least slightly anxious from time to time; for example, before a job interview, on a first date, or just before receiving some exam results. A little bit of anxiety or stress can actually be helpful for us in some situations (e.g. during a performance or competitive sport) because it helps us focus on the task at hand and do the best job possible. However, sometimes anxiety can get out of hand and progress to be quite severe and pervasive such that you may feel it is running your life. 

What is anxiety?

As well as feeling apprehensive and worried (possibly without knowing why), if you are anxious you are likely to experience at least some of the following physical symptoms:


  • Tense muscles 

  • Trembling 

  • Churning stomach/ Butterflies 

  • Increased awareness of your heart beating 

  • Chest tightness 

  • Headaches 

  • Nausea 

  • Sweaty palms


Anxiety can range from quite mild (a few of these symptoms such that it feels a bit uncomfortable, but manageable) to very severe (all of these symptoms and more, such that you feel out of control and debilitated).


Panic Attacks

Research tells us that 1 in 10 people have experienced a panic attack in the last 12 months. For some of those people it only occurs a couple of times, but for others, the panic attacks keep happening and are very distressing.


A panic attack feels pretty terrible. It is when you experience a lot of physical anxiety symptoms all at once and feel utterly panicked. Someone may experience all or some of the following symptoms:


  • Shortness of breath/hyperventilation 

  • Increased heart rate 

  • Chest tightness 

  • Dizziness 

  • Nausea 

  • Butterflies in the stomach 

  • Feelings of disorientation or things not seeming quite real 

  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes 

  • Trembling or shaking 

  • An urge to go to the toilet 

  • A strong desire to run or escape 

  • Worry that you are having a heart attack, going crazy, or going to die


Most people have a very strong feeling that something terrible is going wrong with their body and/or mind during a panic attack. Because of the chest pain, many people worry they are having a heart attack. [In fact, Emergency Departments see numerous people who are scared they are having a heart attack, but are actually experiencing a panic attack. Even though most people feel or think it is dangerous, this does not make it true. Out of all the millions of panic attacks that have occurred in the world, there are no documented cases of someone dying or having a heart attack or going instantly crazy. Panic attacks are not dangerous and will eventually finish. They just feel pretty awful in the meantime.


Treatment for panic attacks and anxiety disorders

The good news is that there is an effective, non-drug treatment for panic attacks and anxiety in general. This treatment is known as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), and is provided by clinical psychologists. CBT provides you with numerous strategies to control panic attacks such that they are no longer as threatening. Many people undertaking this treatment overcome panic attacks altogether. CBT is widely used to treat anxiety disorders, and has been repeatedly proven to be extremely effective for panic attacks. It is a relatively short-term treatment approach (approximately 1-3 months), however the specific format and duration of the treatment will depend on your individual needs.


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The information on this website is designed for general interest only, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for seeking personalised, professional advice.