Panic attacks can happen to any lawyer – and quite possibly at the worst possible moment.
When they do occur, it’s important to know what’s going on and what should be done.
One in five lawyers report have “severe anxiety” on occasion, according to the 2016 ABA Report on Well-Being in the Legal Profession. This 2020 survey found that 64 percent of lawyers self-reported anxiety.
Not all anxiety manifests in a panic attack. In lay terms, a panic attack is an overwhelming wave of fear that is powerful and physical. Sometimes the cause is identifiable (ex: before a court hearing or important meeting) but other times it just strikes.
From the Mayo Clinic: “A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.”
Persistent and recurrent panic attacks can lead to a diagnosis of panic disorder.
“Someone experiencing a panic attack may feel their heart beating at a faster-than-normal rate and have trouble catching their breath,” says this CNN News report. “Lightheadedness and tingles in extremities are common, too. But the throughline is always fear that feels suffocating, even if that fear doesn’t match one’s circumstances.”
Experts say the symptoms of a panic attack can match those of encountering a rattlesnake.
This CNN News article includes accounts of professionals who have been struck by panic attacks while onscreen, onstage and reading news on live television.
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Signs and Symptoms of a Panic Attack
Following is from the Mayo Clinic:
- Sense of impending doom or danger
- Fear of loss of control or death
- Rapid, pounding heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal cramping
- Chest pain
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Feeling of unreality or detachment
“One of the worst things about panic attacks is the intense fear that you'll have another one. You may fear having panic attacks so much that you avoid certain situations where they may occur.”
When to See a Doctor
From the Mayo Clinic: “If you have panic attack symptoms, seek medical help as soon as possible. Panic attacks, while intensely uncomfortable, are not dangerous. But panic attacks are hard to manage on your own, and they may get worse without treatment.
Panic attack symptoms can also resemble symptoms of other serious health problems, such as a heart attack, so it’s important to get evaluated by your primary care provider if you aren't sure what’s causing your symptoms.”
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