Anxiety and Panic

Everyone feels anxious at times. Challenges such as workplace pressures, public speaking, highly demanding schedules or writing an exam can lead to a sense of worry, even fear. Your heart may beat faster. Your palms may get sweaty. Your mind may race. These sensations, while distinctly uncomfortable, are normal, and helpful in that they supply you with an extra boost of energy to help you get the job done.

But sometimes anxiety may go out of control, giving you an overwhelming sense of dread and fear for no apparent reason. This kind of anxiety can disrupt your life, interfering with your relationships with family, friends and colleagues.

Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health problems, affecting children as well as adults. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 10 people suffer from anxiety, often, related to more than one issue. All too often, anxiety disorders are mistaken for mental weakness or instability, and the resulting social stigma can discourage people from seeking help. 

It is common for an anxiety disorder to be accompanied by depression, eating disorders or substance abuse.


Anxiety can be a general feeling of worry or an attack of feeling panicky, a fear of a certain situation or a response to a traumatic experience.

Generalized anxiety is ongoing worry or fear, out of proportion to what you would expect, that isn't related to a particular event or situation - for instance, constantly worrying about the health of a child who is perfectly healthy.

Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include muscle tension, trembling, shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, irritability, loss of sleep and not being able to concentrate.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety in which you have certain thoughts or ideas over and over or do certain things, such as washing your hands for fear of infection, over and over.

Panic Attacks

Suppose one day you're getting out of your car and about to go to work. Suddenly your chest feels tight. Your heart races. You begin to feel dizzy and think you might faint. You start to choke. You feel as if you are going to die. Likely, you have had a panic attack.

A panic attack is a feeling of fear or anxiety that comes on suddenly, is overwhelming, appears to be uncontrollable, and is often triggered by a past or present source of anxiety. It is usually accompanied by palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, and trembling. When you avoid situations that you fear may cause a panic attack, you can develop phobias, like agoraphobia, which is a fear of going out.

Panic attacks last about five to 30 minutes and may include all or any of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling like you are going to choke
  • Chest pressure
  • Pounding heart
  • Racing pulse
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating 
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Sense of unreality or dreamlike sensations
  • Fear of losing control, doing something embarrassing, going crazy, or dying
If you think you have an anxiety disorder, the first person you should see is your family doctor to rule out other physical factors. Often a combination of both counselling and medication is an effective treatment for panic disorder.

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be an effective way to approach anxiety problems. The cognitive part helps you change the thinking patterns that support the fears, and the behavioural part helps you change the way you respond to anxiety-provoking situations.