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Panic Attacks at the Airport

by Dr. Blumberg on July 4, 2011

The Call from the Airport

*Yesterday, I received a frantic call from one of my patients.  Dorothy was at the airport, waiting to board a flight to attend her sister’s wedding.  We had just started panicLINK training.  I had created a special audio program to help prepare her to take control of panic attacks on her flight to California.

She said in a desperate tone, “I lost my takeCONTROL training CD! What should I do?  I am thinking of canceling the flight.

The Doctor’s Exact takeCONTROL Training Phone Instructions

Doctor B: What is your greatest fear of what will happen on the flight to CA?

Dorothy: What if I lose control and go berserk…running up and down the aisles, screaming hysterically?

Doctor B: How many times have you gone berserk from a panic attack?

Dorothy: Never

Doctor B: What is the likelihood that you will go berserk this time? O%

The imagined fear of what will happen is far greater that what actually occurs in the triggering situation.

Dorothy, what is your most dreaded physical symptom?

Dorothy: Inner shakes.

Doctor B: Dorothy, you must ready yourself to feel the inner shakes on the plane without fear, knowing that no matter how intensely you shake, nothing worse will ever happen.  Be prepared to ride the shakiness and let the shakes get as strong as it wants and stay as long as it wants. This approach is the surest way to take control of panic attacks on the flight.

Should I Cancel My Travel Plans?

Never let panic attacks cause you to cancel your trip! Canceling the flight is canceling your life. If you cancel your flight in the heat of a full-blown panic attack and feel relief as you return home, what have you done? You reinforced the idea that you would have gone berserk, if you had taken the flight. You never gave yourself the opportunity to prove to yourself that the inner shakiness is a natural normal sensation of adrenaline. You validated a false idea that if you are trapped in the sky, the shakiness could reach such a high intensity that you would go berserk.  You lost the opportunity to prove to yourself that you can take control of panic attacks, no matter where you are.

Avoidance Behavior Breeds More Fear and Avoidance

As a result of your avoidance of air travel, you might start to rely on escape and avoidance strategies to control panic attacks in other trapped situations. Your anticipatory anxiety could spread to other trapped situations.   You might think “What if I have a panic attack while trapped on the highway, on a bus, in a crowded mall, at a concert…?” You begin to fear panic attacks here, there and everywhere. It could take months to undo the negative impact of one split second decision. What are the consequences of one cancelled flight? You let a panic attack control your life.  You chose escape and avoidance as your method of panic control. Now, the fear of another attack could lead you to cancel a concert, a date, a dinner engagement.

The Choice Point

The next time you feel that intense surge of adrenaline rushing over you, what will you do?

  • Run to a safe place
  • Or Stand strong and feel the feelings without fear

*This educational information should always be used in consultation with your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and review available treatments for panic disorder. References to real persons, places and events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be in any way libelous, defamatory or in any way factual.

The ideas in this blog are developed from Dr. Blumberg’s panicLINK Program.  PanicLINK is a comprehensive, twelve session, four phase, multi-media educational program on panic disorder. The material in this Blog and the panicLINK Program are copyright protected by Out of the Blue Network, LLC. No permission is granted to reproduce this blog for commercial purposes. For more information about the panicLINK Program connect at









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