Excessive stress and anxiety can frequently lead to lawyers experiencing panic attacks. Fear…heart palpitations…terror, a sense of impending doom… dizziness…fear of fear. The words used to describe panic disorder are often frightening. In panic disorder, brief episodes of intense fear are accompanied by multiple physical symptoms that occur repeatedly and unexpectedly in the absence of any external threat. These “panic attacks.” which are the hallmark of panic disorder, are believed to occur when the brain’s normal mechanism for reacting to a threat-the so-called “fight or flight” response- becomes inappropriately aroused. Most people with panic disorder also feel anxious about the possibility of having another panic attack and avoid situations in which they believe these attacks are likely to occur. Initial panic attacks may occur when attorneys are under considerable stress, from an overload of work and pressure to bill client hours, for example, or difficulty with dictatorial superiors.
Golden Rules for Coping With Panic
1. Remember that although your feelings and symptoms are very frightening,
they are not dangerous or harmful.
2. Understand that what you are experiencing is just an exaggeration of your
bodily reactions to stress.
3. Do not fight your feelings or try to wish them away. The more you are willing
to face them, the less intense they will become.
4. Do not add to your panic by thinking about what “might” happen. If you find
yourself asking, “What if?” tell yourself “So what!”
5. STAY IN THE PRESENT. Notice what is really happening to you as opposed
to what you think “might” happen.
6. Label your fear level from zero to ten and watch it go up and down. Notice
that it does not stay at a very high level for more than a few seconds.
7. When you find yourself thinking about the fear, CHANGE YOUR “WHAT IF”
THINKING. Focus on and carry out a simple and manageable task.
8. Notice that when you stop adding frightening thoughts to your fear, it begins
9. When the fear comes, expect and accept it. Wait and give it time to pass
without running away from it.
10. Be proud of yourself for your progress thus far, and think about how good
you will feel when you succeed this time.
* Anxiety Disorders Association of America