About RTÉ Television
The Afternoon Show
The Afternoon ShowRTÉ One, Weekdays, 4.00pm

Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Monday, 15 February 2010

. About 1 in 10 people experience a panic attack at some stage in their lives. REF:-

. Many celebrities recently have spoke about suffering panic attacks, from well known broadcaster Joe Duffy, to Hollywood Celebs Nicole Kidman and Kim Basinger & Winona Ryder.

. Panic attacks are often triggered by stress, which is an issue for many families who find themselves struggling with finances or employment.

Prof. Paul Fearon, St. Patricks Hospital

Doodle Kennelly


What is it?

Anxiety and phobias affect about one in every ten people at some point in their lives. Anxiety is the normal human feeling of fear that we all experience when faced with threatening or difficult situations. It can help us to avoid dangerous situations, making us alert and giving us the motivation to deal with problems. But, if these feelings of anxiety are too strong, it can stop us from doing the things we want to.

When does it become a problem?

When it becomes pervasive (ie there most or all of the time) and intereferes with your day to day life and functioning. The symptoms can affect both your body and your mind, as follows:

. Mind: feeling worried all the time, tiredness, being irritable, sleeping badly and not being able to concentrate.
. Body: racing heartbeat, sweating, muscle tension and pains, shaking, breathing heavily, dizziness, faintness, indigestion and diarrhoea.

Does anxiety lead to panic attacks?

They are related, and can co-exist. One does not always neessarily lead to the other.

What is a panic attack?

. A sudden and overwhelming sense of fear and loss of control.
. You breathe quickly, feel your heart pounding, sweat, and may feel that you are going to die.
. You get out of the situation as quickly as you can.

What causes anxiety and panic disorder?

. Genes: Some of us seem to be born more anxious than others - research suggests that these problems can be inherited through our genes. However, even someone who is not naturally anxious can get anxious under enough pressure.
. Circumstances: Sometimes it is obvious what is making you anxious. When the problem disappears, so does the anxiety. However, some circumstances are so threatening - like car crashes, train crashes or fires - that the anxiety goes on long after the event. You can feel nervous and anxious for months or years after the event, even if you were physically unharmed. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder.
. Drugs: Street drugs like amphetamines, LSD or ecstasy can all make you anxious - for some people, the caffeine in coffee is enough.
. Life experience: Bad experiences in the past, big changes in life in the present - pregnancy, changing job, becoming unemployed or moving house.

What does it mean for the sufferer?

Both anxiety and panic attacks can by acutely unpleasant and can interfere with day to day functioning. Some people can become afraid to go outside for fear of having an attack etc.

Does it go through stages of reoccurrence?

Yes, it can recur, like any other mental health or medical disorder.

How to stop them from happening?

Self-help: You can learn relaxation techniques through groups or professionals or teach yourself with books, CDs and DVDs. Regular practice will help you to do these easily so that they you can use them in a crisis. Self-help books and DVDs based on cognitive therapy can also help.

Talking it through: You may not want to talk to family members about your phobia or feelings of anxiety - but it can help. Try a friend or relative whom you trust and you respect, and who is a good listener. They may have had the same problem themselves, or know someone else who has.

Self-help groups: Talking with people with similar problems can be easier because they understand what you are going through. They may be able to suggest ways of coping. These groups may focus on anxieties and phobias, or on other problems, for example, women's groups, bereaved parents groups, survivors of abuse groups.

Psychotherapy: this is a more intensive talking treatment which can help you to understand and control your anxieties. The treatment can take place in groups or individually and is usually weekly for several weeks or months. It is generally a form of cognitive behavioural therapy.


Tranquillizers: These are the valium-type medicines, the benzodiazepines (like most sleeping tablets). They are very effective, but are quite addictive, even after using for four weeks. They should be taken for periods of 2 weeks or less.

Antidepressants: work well in anxiety. However they usually take two to four weeks to work and some can cause nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth and constipation. See our main leaflet on antidepressants for more information.

Beta blockers: (usually used to treat high blood pressure) can be used in low doses to control the physical shaking of anxiety.

For more information contact St. Patricks University Hospital Support & Information line number (01-2493333)
Or Contact AWARE on 1890 303 302

Fact File:

About 1 in 10 people experience a panic attack at some stage in their lives