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Sweating Bullets

By Dr. Linda Sapadin

Imagine that you're taking a stroll in a wooded area. The trees are in bloom; the sky is clear; the cool breeze is refreshing; you're humming your favorite tune. You're doing just fine when suddenly you hear a blood curdling scream EEEEOOOOWWWW!!!!

Out of nowhere a repulsive creature has stepped into your path. His body is grotesque. His face is hairy. He's got horns on his head. You freeze in terror as its hideous face stares into yours!

Though you desperately wish to flee, you find yourself hopelessly frozen. Your heart is racing. It feels like a hammer is pounding on your chest. You can't catch your breath. You feel lightheaded. You're afraid you might faint or die right there on the spot.

Now imagine feeling this very same terror even though there's no creature in your path. Would you feel like you were going crazy? Or losing control? Would you be embarrassed by your reaction?

This is the experience of those who suffer from panic attacks. Many people keep their experience secret, not knowing what has come over them, not having the words to describe their reaction. They feel isolated believing that they're the only ones who experience such reactions. Panic attacks, however, are more common than many believe.

The word "panic" comes to us from the ancient Greeks who were said to experience overwhelming terror when they encountered Pan, their god of nature. Half man, half beast, Pan had a scream so intense, that it was believed that terrified travelers who happened upon him in the forest died from fear.

In today's world, many people are so apprehensive that they avoid being in places or situations where there is no quick or easy escape. Their life becomes increasingly restricted, as they use avoidance to manage their fears. Seeking safety above all else, they shy away from situations in which they'd be alone, with strangers, or with crowds of people. They may become phobic about traveling away from "safe areas" or attempting a new activity. Even just thinking about such events can precipitate a panic response.

Though not all panic responses are so debilitating, they can still get you sweating bullets as zero hour draws near. Students panic before a test; hosts panic before their company arrives; actors panic before the curtain rises; working people panic before an evaluation. Panic is a daily occurrence for those who have difficulty leaving the house in the morning. Anxiety mounts as they think that their house is a mess, they don't look right or they've forgotten something significant.

When family and friends notice what's going on, they often offer well-meaning advice, such as "just relax, "roll with the punches," or "chill out." Such advice is rarely effective, however. Many then seek out medical advice and are prescribed anti-anxiety mediation. If pills don't do the trick, the dose is increased or another drug is added to the mixture. If there's not much relief, patients feel more perturbed that the medication has added to their problems by making them sleepy and lethargic.

Too bad. For panic attacks should be treated with a combination of cognitive therapy (learning to change your thought patterns and internal dialogue), behavioral therapy (gradually exposing yourself to more scary situations), body therapy (learning how to control your breathing and other bodily reactions) and possible adjunct medication to help calm your body down.

If you (or someone you know) is frequently dreading the day, sweating bullets over an event or in a frenzy about the future, don't think that this is the way life needs to be. There is treatment that can help you get beyond your fears.

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at

Announcing a new book by Dr Sapadin, How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age: 6 Unique Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles

Brief description of the book:
Because procrastination is driven by strong emotions and tenacious personality traits, it's tough to change! If it were a simple matter, like "making resolutions" or "just doing it," surely mom's nagging or your teacher's scolding would have cured you of it years ago. To change an embedded habit, you need to implement skills and strategies tailored to your personality style. Since one size does not fit all, this book delivers 6 Unique Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles

So, whether you (or your favorite procrastinator) are A Perfectionist, Dreamer, Worrier, Crisis-Maker, Defier, Pleaser or a combination thereof, a valuable program in this book awaits you. In each program, you'll learn empowering thinking, speaking and action strategies, inspiring do-to exercises, creative guided imagery, and unique game plans to use technology to boost productivity rather than having it suck up your time.

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