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Employee Assistance Program Newsletter

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Volume 13, Number 2

Panic Strikes - Don't Panic

Ray was driving home from the office when the first strange spell hit. It came out of the blue. He was dizzy, confused. "I'm losing control of my mind," he thought.

Once home, he did not tell Nicole. He did not want to worry her. He also feared that, if she knew of his "mental problem," she might begin to think more seriously about leaving him.

In the next few days, Ray had two more spells, both were in the office and one was very severe. Terrified, he closed his office door, hid himself away until it was time to leave. By the time he got home he was exhausted.

Avoidance

The next morning, afraid to return to work, where he had the severe attack, he watched the kitchen clock relentlessly sweep the time away. With each second, he felt more pressure to leave for work. Then he phoned and mumbled, "I won't be coming in." He felt a surge of relief, thinking, "I won't have to face it again until Monday."

Soon, however, he worried, "I'm letting down everyone at the office." His head spun. "I'll have to explain my absence" and he crawled back into bed.

False Worry

The more he worried, the worse his attacks got.  "If I go to the doctor, she'll say I'm mentally ill."  After several days, Ray finally had no choice but to tell Nicole what was happening, "I'm losing control." 

A Call for Help

Nicole remembered that there was an Employee Assistance Program available through her work. She found the 1-800 number. " It says it's confidential," she pointed out... But Ray refused to call.

However, awakened at 3 a.m. by a severe spell, he got up and called. On the phone, he was reassured that he might be suffering from panic attacks and nothing more serious. He gave permission for a counsellor in his city to call him to schedule a face to face appointment.

Learning the Facts

In the counsellor's office the following Tuesday, he learned that feeling as though you are losing control of your mind is, in fact, a frequent symptom of panic.

Panic attacks happen when the body's natural alarm reaction to a life-threatening situation is triggered in the absence of a real external danger. The Fight-or-Flight system kicks in. With no concrete threat, the extra energy has no clear direction, so confusion reigns. Ray also learned that panic attacks strike 6-12% of the population yearly. Other possible symptoms include rapid heart beat, rapid breathing, chest pain, fear of a stroke, difficulty swallowing, or intense fear.

Many Tools

The counsellor gave Ray literature, encouraged him to see his physician, and said that regular exercise helps. During his next appointment with the counsellor, Ray reported that his doctor said he is healthy and said that the problem is panic. "But the feelings are so powerful it still seems just like I'm losing my mind.  I still don't see it."

Can it Be 'Just' Panic?

At his next session, Ray told the counsellor, "but the feelings are so powerful it still seems just like I'm losing my mind. I still don't see it as Panic." To let Ray "see" that it was panic, the counsellor showed him ways to be more in control of the attacks. The counsellor explained that the fear of having panic attacks was making them worse. If Ray calmed himself, the attacks would be less severe and their frequency would diminish.

The counsellor helped him learn several relaxation techniques. When the next panic attack occurred, Ray used the relaxation techniques.

Recovery Is Possible

Ray saw how he had been "awfulizing" during attacks, such as telling himself, "I'm losing it, I'm going crazy!" Ray agreed that, in the next attack, he'd try to reassure himself with new ideas, such as "I'm not losing it. I've gotten through every previous panic attack, and I'll get through this one."

Through relaxation skills, exercise, self-reassurance, and other methods, Ray's panic decreased. He regained a sense of control. After several months, he was able to anticipate the possibility of eventually never having another attack. "But I'll be OK if I do," he smiled.

Note: All characters are fictitious composites from actual situations.
Published with the permission of Mariner & Mariner Counselling, Halifax.

For a confidential consultation, 24 hours a day: call EAS at 1-800-268-7708, or for TDD at 1-800-567-5803.