child looking anxious

Dear Dr. Expert,

Last week, I went to a movie with my friends when all of the sudden, out of the blue, I felt completely terrified! My heart was beating so fast – I was sure everyone could hear it! I felt dizzy and I couldn’t catch my breath. I thought I was going to die! It was just terrible – I ended up crying by myself in the bathroom. Eventually it went away. Now I’m terrified this is going to happen again. What happened to me?

Panicked in Penticton

Dr. Expert: Dear Panicked in Penticton,

It sounds like you were having a panic attack. Panic attacks are sudden rushes of intense fear. It’s our body trying to prepare us for danger. However, sometimes our bodies react this way when there isn’t any real danger (like what happened to you). The physical feelings we experience can feel really scary, like we are standing on the edge of a cliff, when in reality we are sitting in a chair in a movie theatre! It’s important that you know that although these sensations are not pleasant, they are not dangerous. They will typically last for 15 minutes or less, even though sometimes it feels longer. Also, nobody except for you (or those very close to you) can tell you are having one. The fear of these panic sensations can really take over your life. The best way to deal with them is to face them head on. If you purposely bring on these sensations over and over again, you will quickly learn that nothing bad will happens and these sensations won’t be so scary anymore. Try running on the spot to make your heart race, spinning in your chair to get dizzy, blowing quickly in and out through a straw to feel out of breath- anything to bring on these symptoms. While doing these exercises, tell yourself that although it doesn’t feel good, these sensations are not dangerous, and they will go away! Facing these feelings can be hard to do on your own, so recruit a family member or friend. To get more ideas about how to deal with panic click here. (takes you to panic section of adult section). Good luck.