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Telephone: (954) 227-2700

Fax: (954) 227-2704

Linda Berlin, Psy.D.


Psychological Associates

Boca Raton


7000 W. Palmetto Park Road

Suite 407

Boca Raton, FL 33433

Telephone: (561) 347-0997

Fax: (561) 347-0996


Statistics on Anxiety

Prevalence statistics about Anxiety Panic disorder: The following statistics relate to the prevalence of Anxiety Panic disorder:

Prevalence of Anxiety disorder: Anxiety disorder strikes between 3 and 6 million Americans, and is twice as common in women as in men.

Incidence Rate: approx 1 in 58 or 1.70% or 4.6 million people in US annually.

Lifetime risk for Panic disorder: 3 million Americans; 1.6% adults

SOURCE: National Institute for Mental Health









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Anxiety and Panic Attacks

By: Lawrence Burstein, Ph.D.

What is a Panic Attack and Panic Disorder?

Panic attacks are episodes of sudden, intense fear or discomfort. People who have panic attacks typically experience such symptoms as:

  •         Shortness of breath or smothering
  •         Heart palpitations or racing or pounding heart
  •         Chest pain or discomfort
  •         Trembling or shaking
  •         Feeling of choking
  •         Sweating
  •         Dizziness, unsteadiness, lightheadedness or faintness
  •         Hot or cold flashes
  •         Nausea or abdominal distress
  •         Feelings of unreality or detachment
  •         Fears of dying
  •         Fears of going crazy or losing control

A person is said to have a panic disorder when they have had one or more panic attacks and they also have persistent anxiety or worry about the recurrence of panic attacks, or their consequences, or they experience life changes as a result of the attacks. While panic attacks don’t really have consequences, many people believe that they will die, be harmed, go crazy, or have some other effect from these attacks. Life changes can mean refusing to enter particular situations because of a belief that a panic attack will occur there. A major characteristic of panic disorder is that some of the panic attacks must be unexpected. That is, the panic attack appears to come from out of the blue.

Why Do They Occur?

The causes of panic attacks are not completely understood, but there are several things we do know. First, while there are some rare physical conditions that can cause symptoms that resemble panic attacks, panic attacks are not the result of a biological disease. There is also no evidence that panic attacks are caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain.

It is possible that some people are genetically more vulnerable than others to panic attacks. Some people may have a tendency to experience emotions more strongly than others. Some people may be more likely to have panic symptoms than others, but not be prone to experiencing emotions in general more strongly than others. In any case, being more prone to panic attacks does not mean they are inevitable or that the person cannot learn to control them.

Psychological factors are also important in panic attacks. People with panic attacks tend to have certain beliefs that lead them be especially afraid of physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, a racing heart, etc. Typically, these people believe that common harmless physical symptoms are signs of harmful conditions such as heart disease or that they are going to lose control of their mind. However, while these beliefs may increase the likelihood of a person experiencing panic attacks, they do not make them inevitable either. In addition, people can learn to think differently and offset this vulnerability.

Stress can be a factor in panic attacks as well. Many people have their first panic attacks during times of stress. Stress tends to increase our level of tension, both psychologically and physically, which can lead to panic. Stress is more likely to lead to panic in those people who have biological and/or psychological vulnerabilities to panic attacks. However, as panic attacks tend to take on a negative self-maintaining cycle of their own, stress is rarely the reason that panic attacks persist.

How Common are Panic Attacks?

Somewhere between 12 and 20 million people in the United States suffer with panic attacks at some time. This represents 5% to 8% of the population. In addition, about 30% of the population reports having had a panic attack during the past year. There is no correlation between race, social status, educational level, age, sex or any other cultural factor and the presence of panic attacks. That is, anyone can get them.

Unhelpful Ways of Coping With Panic Attacks

Some methods of coping with panic attacks may help people to cope, but do nothing to prevent future panic attacks. Some methods people use to control panic attacks can be dangerous. The most common unhelpful ways people cope with panic attacks are avoidance, distractions, superstitious objects, and alcohol.

Avoidance is when a person hesitates or refuses to enter a situation or perform activities because he or she believes something bad would happen. Sometimes a person tries to avoid so many situations that they refuse to leave their homes. This is referred to as agoraphobia.

Many people try to get through panic attacks by distracting themselves. Just about anything can be used as a distraction. Common distractions include listening to music, reading, watching television, etc. While distractions can help a person get through a panic attack, they do nothing to prevent them from happening again. Further, they can reduce the person’s incentive to learn more effective techniques.

Superstitious objects are things people believe will make them feel better or safer. It may be a food, smelling salts, keys, or any other object the person associates with safety. However, like distractions, superstitious objects can become a crutch that does nothing to prevent panic attacks.

One of the most dangerous coping strategies people employ to control panic attacks is alcohol. While alcohol may work at first, the person tends to need more and more over time and it often leads to addiction. Further, the anxiety-reducing effects of alcohol tend to reduce as the person uses more alcohol and depression tends to increase.

What are Helpful Ways to Cope with Panic Attacks?

Psychotherapy and medication are healthier ways of coping with panic attacks. One of themost effective means of dealing with panic attacks is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can teach a person what panic attacks are as well as techniques to control the thoughts, beliefs, and physical symptoms that accompany them.

In addition, Dr. Burstein and Dr.Linda Berlin have been using a specific cognitive behavioral program for the treatment of panic attacks. This program was devised by Dr. David Barlow, Ph.D. who is one of the leading researchers in the world of anxiety and panic disorders. Dr. Barlow heads the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University in Massachussetts.

Dr. Barlow’s program is extraordinarily powerful and effective and has been the treatment of choice at Linda Berlin, Psy.D. and Psychological Associates. It consists of an approximately 16 week commitment by the patient to the program. The program includes significant education regarding what is going on inside one’s body during a panic attack,  and  teaches the patient to change their understanding of how they think before, during and after a panic attack. For more information on Dr. Barlow’s program click here.

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Dr. Burstein is a cognitive-behavioral therapist who has developed many specific programs to help sufferers of panic attacks relieve their symptoms.  If you would like more information about Dr. Burstein click here or, if you need more information about Panic Disorders, you can reach Dr. Lawrence Burstein at (954) 227-2700.

To learn more on Anxiety & Panic Attacks, read Dr. Linda Berlin's article on The Treatment of Panic Attacks.


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