Panic Attacks and the “Fear of the Fear”

Panic attacks can be truly terrifying experiences, and can often occur without warning.

There is a sudden and extreme burst of anxiety that can result in breathing difficulties, nausea, dizziness and in some cases even a momentary loss of consciousness.

Once someone has experienced a panic attack, the fear that they may have another can begin to take over, and they may start to avoid certain places or situations in order to prevent a repeat. This is what psychologists call the “fear of the fear”.

The momentary comfort that the sufferer then derives from not being exposed to the distress of an attack then serves to reinforce the avoidant behaviour. This then strengthens the decision to become even more avoidant, eventually leading to only one place becoming ‘safe’, usually the home. By the time that the condition has deteriorated to this extent, the sufferer has developed agoraphobia, and may require extensive therapy to become well again.

By using a SUDS scale (‘Subjective Units of Distress’) such as the one below, the client can learn to understand the scale of their response, and begin to regain control in a managed and deliberate way. The client can place their response to their feelings on this scale, and use it determine how different situations can bring about different intensities of feeling.

Example of a SUDS Scale:

0: The absence of any distress. I am feeling calm and totally relaxed.
1: Neutral feeling or I feel just OK, but not as relaxed as I could be.
2: I feel a mild irritation. First awareness of tension or vague stress.
3: There is an increased discomfort, unpleasant, but in control.
4: Noticeable discomfort or distress, perhaps agitation, but it is still tolerable.
5: Discomfort is very apparent, but I can stand it.
6: Discomfort worsens and affects my life.
7: Discomfort is severe and emotional pain interferes with life.
8: Discomfort increases and it is in my thoughts constantly.
9: Discomfort is nearly intolerable.
10: Discomfort is extreme and the worst imaginable. I feel panicky and overwhelmed.

It is possible to learn to control fear and panic. Please call 0800 246 1838 for a free consultation if you experience panic attacks or if feel you may be developing unhealthy avoidance behaviour.