Face Fears and Panic Attacks by Maria Dorfner

More than 3 million Americans have panic attacks.  According to womenshealth.gov it affects women twice as often as men.  The reasons are unknown.  I’m thinking maybe more women report it.  Even more people have fears you can’t even imagine.  Things like Anthrophobia, fear of flowers or Allodoxaphobia, fear of opinions or Acousticophia, fear of noise.  Someone has actually been tracking all phobias and fears since 1980.  The A to Z list of phobias will boggle your mind. http://phobialist.com/  Someone probably has a fear of fears. Or lists. Or lists of fears!

Fast forward to 2012 and you have fear of the economy, fear of losing your job,  fear of not finding another job, fear of losing your house, fear of not getting funding, fear of the shananigans going on in politics, fear of losing your health, fear of other people in your life or in the world being afraid.

It appears everyone is afraid of something.

Whenever you’re with a large group of friends and the topic of fear comes up, you’ll probably hear a wide range of fears tossed into the conversation.  One person may say, “Oh…I’m terrified of heights!” while another adds, “I can’t even look at any type of bug without hyperventilating.”  It can be fun exchanging fears.  But, it’s not fun when you’re caught in the grip of it.

After Sept. 11, I suddenly developed a fear of driving over bridges. The fear struck suddenly while ON the bridge.  Something I had done  hundreds of times before in New York suddenly seemed terrifying.  The terror would manifest itself into physical effects.

Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.
~Japanese Proverb

I thought, What the heck is happening? Heart racing.  Dizzy.  Trembling.  Sweating.  Quadruple CHECK! All I could see was my white 380SL smashing into water on my right OR concrete on my left.  Fear flooded my mind and convertible.  

Then, the fear of my fear –made me panic MORE.  

The bridge morphed into a larger than life monster.  I drove at 20 miles per hr in the center of the lane. Fortunately, drivers behind me knew something was wrong & kept a F-A-R distance behind me.   It felt like an eternity getting across it.

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.  ~Marcus Aurelius

When I finally got to the other side of the bridge, I had to pull over as I couldn’t breathe and was trembling. I nearly fell over believing I was having  a stroke or heart attack.

Turns out, it was to be my first (and last) full blown panic attack.  I recall calling my family to tell them what happened and saying, “NEVER again!! I’m donating my car to charity.”  I swore never to get inside a vehicle again, let alone go over a monster bridge. I never wanted to experience that fear, breathlessness and tension again.

Then, I remembered something Elenor Roosevelt said.

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.

~Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt with Fala
Image via Wikipedia


It took a few attempts after I said, “Never!” and “I can’t!” to anyone who suggested I drive over a bridge again.   But mind over matter won as my mobility became limited.

Drive to New York City?  Bridge.  Staten Italy?  Bridge.  Pennsylvania?  Bridge.  If I had not faced this fear back then, I would be extremely limited in my mobility.

The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.

All fears have something in common. They limit you in some way.  The person afraid of heights may avoid travelling to otherwise beautiful locations because of their fear, while the person afraid of bugs won’t enjoy a company picnic.  Most people will dig their heels in and insist there is absolutely NO WAY they can overcome their fear.  Some fears have been there since childhood.

Others develop later in life.

Some fear public speaking.

 Then, there are those that seem to develop out of nowhere. The latter are usually triggered by an emotional event, which you now associate to the fear.  A lot of people who were in New York City when September 11th happened suddenly developed fears of all sorts of things — tall buildings, elevators, stairs, enclosed places, trains — it can usually be traced back to their experience.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is closely linked to fears because the mind keeps reliving the traumatic incident through nightmares or flashbacks.

If you say, “I will never (insert fear) again” –it’s simply not true.  You CAN and WILL overcome any fear.


Here’s How to Face Your Fears and Overcome Them

The key is to expose yourself gradually to whatever it is you fear.  Gradual.   That means if you are afraid of heights, don’t  go to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Start with looking out the window of the 5th floor.  Then, the 10th floor. Bring a friend with you.  Each week, commit to raising the bar.  Breathe when you get there and realize you are safe. Smile. Laugh.  Eventually, you will go the top and feel on top of the world.  This feeling of confidence  will carry over into other areas of your life.

  1. F = Find a friend to share your fear with and have them cheer you on
  2. E = Expose yourself slowly to what you fear (Baby steps)
  3. A = Act with confidence
  4. R = Relax & breathe

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.  ~Dale Carnegie


The American Psychiatric Association’s official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) defines a panic attack as a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort, in which 4 (or more) of the following symptoms develop abruptly and reach a peak within 10 minutes:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or fast heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Chills or hot flashes

Some of these symptoms will most likely be present in a panic attack. The attacks can be so disabling that the person is unable to express to others what is happening to them. A doctor might also note various signs of panic: The person may appear terrified or shaky or be hyperventilating (deep, rapid breathing causing dizziness).


If you still need some motivation, here are some more terrific inspirational quotes to help you think about your fears differently.  Print them.  Read them daily.  Repeat them to yourself.  Change the way you think.  Your actions will follow. The first time I drove back over a bridge I remember repeating, “Fear is false evidence that appears real…false evidence that appears real” in my mind while being aware of breathing calmly.  Feed your mind courageous thoughts.

That fight or flight feeling is temporary.  It’s not based on anything real. So, don’t feed into it.  You can overcome it.

When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I must not fear.  Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Frank Herbert

I am not afraid of tomorrow, for I have seen yesterday and I love today.
William Allen White

Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.
Isa Upanishad, Hindu Scripture

Where no hope is left, is left no fear.

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.
Helen Keller

You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.
Eric Hoffer

In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
H. P. Lovecraft