Health conditions

Anxiety and panic

Many people who have experienced a traumatic incident or incidents can develop anxiety problems. These problems can be related to specific situations, for example going to the supermarket, or may be generalised to any and all situations.

Anxiety symptoms may include a rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, sweating palms, and rapid or shallow breathing. People may experience chest pain, confusion or nausea.

Anxiety symptoms do not mean you are going crazy. We all feel anxiety in particular situations, for example public speaking. Anxiety is a physiological response to a fear-provoking situation. The body gets ready to fight or flee. However, chronic anxiety can cause difficulties in everyday life for people.

People often experience anxiety about experiencing anxiety. They worry that they will lose control or look foolish. Unless you tell them, people around you will probably not be aware that you experience anxiety. Fearing the anxiety reaction gives it more power over you than it deserves.

Dealing with your anxious feelings
  • Try to see why a particular situation makes you anxious. For example, going out at night may make someone anxious if they were assaulted while out at night.
  • Discuss the anxiety symptom with a trusted friend or counsellor.
  • If anxiety symptoms are having a serious and continued impact on your life, you may want to consider speaking to a doctor or other health professional.
  • Putting pressure on yourself to deal with anxiety ‘right now’ is not a great idea. It makes anxious feelings worse. Try instead to give yourself permission to have these feelings wherever you are. Find a quiet place, go to the bathroom or go outside. Do whatever makes you comfortable.
  • If you are going to be in a stressful situation and fear panicking, it may help to visualise yourself going through the experience calmly before it actually occurs.
  • Rating your level of anxiety in a given situation may help you feel like you have some control over it and help you to monitor any improvements.
If you are panicking
  • Take deep breaths from the diaphragm. You can lie down and watch your tummy move up and down to practice these deep breaths. Breathing into a paper bag may also be useful if you are hyperventilating. It helps the breathing to return to a normal depth and pace. Try to stay focused on your breathing by counting the breaths or just thinking ’breathe in, breathe out’.
  • Try visualisations or positive self-talk. For example, try telling yourself you are safe.
  • Try using herbal remedies such as lavender essential oil or other calming combinations to help you relax.
  • Everyone is different and you need to find what will work for you. Try a few different things. Don’t give up!

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit healthdirect (external site) or call 1800 022 222
  • Mental Health Emergency Response Line (MHERL)
    Metro: 1300 555 788
    Peel: 1800 676 822
  • RuralLink
    Rural and remote areas: 1800 552 002

Sexual Assault Resource Centre

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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