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Panic Disorder

December 14, 2021

I Need Someone

Losing my mind

My throat tightens. I can’t get any air. I try to breathe. I try to gulp down whatever I can. All that does is make my heart pound faster and faster. I leap from my seat by the classroom door. Race to the student bathroom. Slam the lime-green stall door. Lock it. 

I didn’t know it was coming. I never know when it’s coming. 

Tears pour out of me. I rock back and forth on the toilet seat. The class is probably laughing at me. My breathing and heart get ever faster. Race away. Leave me behind. Make it go away. Someone make it go away! 

I clutch my chest with one hand. Wipe my sweaty forehead with the other. Tremble with the realization that I am going to die here. Alone. In a lime-green bathroom stall at Riverside High.  

What is it

Although an occasional panic attack may be a common response to a stressful situation, having repeated and unexpected panic attacks, especially out of the blue, is not. That is panic disorder. 

Not only is panic disorder characterized by successive attacks, but it also results in constant worrying about having attacks and thinking that something horrible is going to happen. Panic disorder usually starts in late adolescence and affects all genders, but women more often than men. Attacks come on suddenly and intensely and within minutes, you are in the middle of one. An attack usually lasts about ten minutes, though it may feel like forever, before the physical sensations start to subside. 

How do I know? 

  • Physical signs: Faintness or dizziness, chest pain, tightening throat, shortness of breath, racing heart, sweating, chills, hot flashes, trembling, nausea, feeling of detachment or being outside your body, numbness, feel like you’re having a heart attack or choking.
  • Emotional signs: Drained, frightened, helpless, anxious, angry, embarrassed, feeling of doom and/or loss of control, irrational fears.
  • Behavioural signs: avoiding people, places and activities that you think will set off another panic attack, skipping school, placing yourself in easy-to-escape locations in case of emergency, unable to manage day-to-day tasks without fear.

Panic disorder by the numbers: 

What would put me at risk for panic disorder?

  • overwhelming stress
  • constant worry about an upcoming stressful situation
  • family history
  • traumatic past events 
  • big changes in your life 
  • misusing stimulants

What’s the big deal? 

You may develop: 

What should I do? 

  • See your doctor, who may conduct specific tests
  • Speak to a professional about psychotherapy and/or medication. 
  • Join a support group. 
  • Download a phone app specifically designed for panic attack management. 
  • Try muscle relaxation and breathing techniques and yoga. 
  • Get plenty of exercise to reduce stress and anxiety. 
  • Reduce or stop caffeine intake, smoking, drugs and alcohol. 
  • When an attack is coming: 
    • Remind yourself that you can get through this.
    • Find a quiet place and put your head between your knees. 
    • Take long deep breaths.
    • Speak to a close contact to help you through. 

Cultural strategy: Some Indigenous cultures believe that drumming can reduce stress and anxiety, release tension, boost the immune system, and take the drummer to a meditative state. Because percussion provides a steady rhythm, it can help bring down your heart and breathing rate to match the beat.

Need help right now? 

Kids Help Phone

Youth Space

Mind Your Mind


For more information:

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Anxiety Canada


Canadian Psychological Association