Handling Stress and Anxiety: Panic Attacks

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


“What’s wrong with me?” Tillie wondered. She’d undergone a thorough checkup, but the doctor could find no medical reason for what was happening to her. “If nothing’s wrong with me, then what in the world is causing these awful episodes? I can’t breathe and it feels like my heart is going to burst through my chest!”


You’re feeling fine, minding your own business, when suddenly out of the blue you’re gripped by an overwhelming sense of intense fear – you feel dizzy, your chest tightens, and you have trouble catching your breath. Your heart races, you shake, tingle, feel nauseous, and break into a cold sweat. Sounds like a heart attack, right?

Wrong! As surprising as it sounds, what has just been described is a panic attack. Panic attacks are often unpredictable, suddenly occurring, brief periods of intense fear associated with a variety of frightening physical symptoms. Many panic attack sufferers rush to the emergency room, convinced they have had a heart attack or a stroke.

Many people who have panic attacks cling to the false idea that they are really suffering from an undiagnosed (usually catastrophic) medical illness. The symptoms we described above (and many other negative sensations that accompany panic attacks) lead people to remain convinced that they are going crazy, or are about to drop dead. The first step is to persuade them that these terrifying thoughts are completely incorrect, and that their sensory discomforts are in keeping with the diagnosis of panic disorder.

As terrifying as it is, panic is actually a readily treatable condition that often responds to specific psychological therapy and only occasionally requires medicine. Indeed, numerous studies have shown that panic attacks can be rapidly and effectively treated by specific psychological methods.

If you have or someone you care about has panic attacks, don’t suffer needlessly.

• Seek help by contacting your family doctor or a qualified mental health professional.

• Learn corrective breathing and relaxation. 

• Learn to re-label the physical sensations of the panic as manageable and nonthreatening instead of catastrophic.

• Learn to reduce panic symptoms by intentionally triggering them in controlled situations.

If untreated, panic attacks often get worse and can lead to a condition known as “agoraphobia” (literally “fear of the marketplace”), an emotionally crippling anxiety that results in ever-increasing patterns of avoidance and confinement.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on friendlysuggestions.com.


Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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1 comment for “Handling Stress and Anxiety: Panic Attacks

  1. November 17, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    top notch blog post, i actually absolutely really like this fabulous website, persist in this

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