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Panic During the Holidays

worried womanIt’s not uncommon for people with anxiety disorders to have episodes of panic. A panic attack is defined as a period of time when a person experiences intense discomfort or fear. Along with that feeling, there is a biological response such as a pounding heart, trembling, dizziness, sweating, nausea, trouble breathing, or chills.

People who have panic attacks frequently describe their experiences as horrible. Some say that they felt like they were dying; others say they thought they were going crazy; some say that they worried about losing control of themselves; still others report that they felt like they were outside of their bodies. It is quite understandable that, after experiencing a panic attack, people want to avoid another one.

But, it’s that attempt to avoid panic that actually makes panic grow. When people with panic avoid going places that might be associated with their panic attacks, they experience relief. Feeling relief for avoiding something makes it more difficult to either imagine or actually go to those places. As panic grows, more and more places are avoided.

The holiday season can be tough on those who experience panic attacks. People with panic often fear going out in crowded places or driving on busy roads. Yet, crowds and traffic can be rather hard to avoid during the holidays. Here’s an example of how one panic attack can become a major issue during the holiday season.

Jamie is shopping for Christmas presents for her kids early in the morning on black Friday. The mall is packed with people. Jamie tries to get to the counter to buy a toy car for her son when a man walks right in front of her. He rudely pushes her aside and Jamie almost falls down. Jamie feels a flush of anger and her face gets hot. She’s about to say something to the man when he abruptly leaves the store. Suddenly, Jamie can’t catch her breath. She’s feeling faint and nauseous. A tremendous feeling of dread overwhelms her. She puts down the toy and staggers out of the store. She finds a seat in the middle of the mall and fumbles for her cell phone in her purse. She calls her best friend, “I can’t breathe,” she says, “help me.”

Her friend calls 911 and Jamie is rushed to the hospital. After many hours in the ER, she feels better. The doctor tells her she must have become overheated and stressed out by the holiday crowds. He can’t find anything wrong with her. He tells Jamie to rest and drink lots of fluids.

After an uneventful week, Jamie decides to return to the mall to start her Christmas shopping. But the minute she decides, her stomach starts to churn, her heart pounds, and she begins to sweat. Frightened, she calls her friend to ask her for a ride to the urgent care center. She’s sure that she must be very sick to feel this bad. The urgent care center is packed with people. Jamie and her friend wait almost two hours. Again, the doctor says that everything checks out. He encourages Jamie to get more rest and drink lots of water.

Instead of going to the mall again, Jamie orders all of her gifts online. Jamie may be in the early stages of developing a panic disorder. Her initial bout was likely caused by a combination of stress, crowding, anger, and fear. Panic starts small and grows. If Jamie keeps on avoiding what is causing her distress, her fears will only grow. Tune in later to read about the treatment of panic disorders.

Worried woman photo available from Shutterstock.

Panic During the Holidays

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. Dr. Smith is a widely published author of articles and books to the profession and the public, including: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2E), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Her website is:

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APA Reference
Smith, L. (2011). Panic During the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Dec 2011
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