Anxiety and Panic

Many individuals find their lives very troubled and disrupted because of experiencing panic attacks that are abrupt, unpredictable, and seemingly random.

What is a
panic attack?

A Panic Attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that can reach a peak within minutes.  This abrupt surge can originate from either a calm state or an anxious state.

Agoraphobia is often, but not always, associated with Panic Attacks.  Agoraphobia is an abnormal fear of being helpless in a situation from which escape may be very difficult or even embarrassing.  At its worse, Agoraphobia typically manifests with the person’s strict and unwavering avoidance of open or public places.

What triggers
a panic attack?

There is usually not one specific event or life experience that triggers the first panic attack.  In fact, very little is known about any one component that causes or triggers the onset of the first panic attack.  Research does suggest that the onset of the first panic attack is associated with the individual having a life experience where their sense of personal confidence and empowerment is undermined and severely challenged, thus causing great personal doubt.  However, this experience could occur prior to the first panic attack by weeks or even months.

Often, once panic attacks have occurred several times, the individual will develop a persistent concern or worry about having additional panic attacks in the future.  As a defense against further suffering, and to avoid future panic attacks, the individual will begin avoiding any and all circumstances associated with past panic episodes.   Hence, is the beginning of serious social withdrawal.

Also, to be a true and valid panic disorder, the panic disturbance cannot be caused by the physiological effects of a chemical substance or to some other medical condition.

Examples of Triggering Events

  • Failing at a Career or Being Terminated from an Important Job
  • Being Passed Up for a Promotion
  • Being Disowned by a Loved One
  • Spouse Filing for Divorce or a Romantic Break-Up
  • Finding One's Spouse Having an Extra-Marital Affair
  • Losing Something of Substantial Value, e.g. Savings, Investments, etc
  • Flunking Out of School
  • Filing for Bankruptcy
  • Being Diagnosed with a Serious or Life Threatening Medical Condition
  • Doing Something for Which You are Ashamed

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

  • Palpitations, Pounding Heart, or Accelerated Heart Rate
  • Excessive Perspiration or Sweating
  • Trembling or Shaking
  • Sensations of Smothering or Shortness of Breath
  • Feelings of Choking
  • Chest Pain or Discomfort
  • Nausea or Abdominal Distress
  • Feeling Dizzy, Unsteady, Physically Imbalanced, Light-Headed, or Faint
  • Chills or Heat Sensations
  • Paresthesias (Numbness or Tingling Sensations)
  • Derealization (Feeling of Unreality)
  • Depersonalization (Being Detached from One's Sense of Self)
  • Fear of Losing Control or "Going Crazy"
  • Fear of Dying
  • Self-Defeating Thoughts Prior to and/or During the Panic Attack

If you experience four (4) or more of the symptoms from this list, you most likely could benefit from professional intervention to address and resolve your suffering.

Panic attacks occur uniformly and are found in all age groups, socioeconomic classes,  white collar as well as blue collar workers, males equal to females, all income levels, all races, and all levels of education.


The identification of Self-Defeating Thoughts that the patient is having prior to and during the onset of the panic attack episode is a primary area of emphasis in the treatment process.  With the assistance of Dr. Boyd, the patient is encouraged to ponder and personally challenge their actual level of belief and commitment related to their own particular self-defeating thoughts.  In other words, as therapy progresses, the patient gradually develops less faith and belief in their self-defeating thoughts and these self-defeating thoughts eventually lose their legitimacy in the mind of the patient, until they no longer have any negative emotional impact.

Examples of

  • "I can't survive another panic attack"
  • "I'm a failure"
  • "I'm useless to my family"
  • "I'm weak and being a baby"
  • "I'm unlovable"
  • "I will never acquire another job"
  • "I will never find a partner who will love me as I am"
  • "I will never be able to regain what I've lost"

Additional Treatment Considerations

Another component of the treatment involves Dr. Boyd assisting the patient in expanding his or her zone of comfort by increasing the distance in which they will go away from their residence and also the frequency and length of time in which they will venture out.  This also includes whether they travel with someone or ultimately, by themselves independently.

The patient is also encouraged and coached about engaging socially with other people more frequently, as well as progressively and gradually expanding the number of those associates.

In addition, an action plan is formulated and discussed as to what the patient should expect and how they should respond, in the event that they experience a panic attack either at home or while out in a public place.  The actual length of time that typically elapses during the panic attack episode is identified, reviewed, and discussed, and is considered to be an important part of the treatment process as well.

Why SteppingStone?

SteppingStone Retreat For Enhanced Living offers a specific treatment approach actually designed for the effective treatment of Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia.  This treatment model was created and developed by David Burns, M.D. of Stanford University.  Dr. Burns is the author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, a book which stayed on the New York Times best seller list for many years.

Dr. Boyd participated in didactic as well as supervised training with Dr. David Burns to learn how to effectively use his treatment model and implement the specific techniques designed to successfully treat and eliminate the suffering caused by this clinical syndrome.  The length of treatment typically consists of 10 – 12 weekly (or twice per week) sessions of one-hour, in which the treatment duration is approximately three months.

In conclusion, if you or someone that you care about is experiencing any of these symptoms, issues, or concerns, please consider contacting SteppingStone Retreat for Enhanced Living for a brief consultation in order to determine if our services are something that you would like to initiate and pursue.  We look forward to receiving notification from you and starting your treatment soon.