Advice: How do I stop having panic attacks?

Thabiso (25 years)

I am doing my second year in Law at Wits and lately I have been suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. I have always been a high achiever but my heart is no longer in Law. I have to do it because everyone in my family is a lawyer and my parents had already decided that it would be my career path since I was child. How do I stop these attacks and get back to my old self again? Is there any medication I can take?

Christa de Vries: Dear Thabiso

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Christa F. De Vries

You are trying to live up to others’ unrealistic expectations of you, while you are struggling to get into the driving seat of your life yourself. Although you could be a good and successful lawyer one day, you might also feel that you would not have reached a goal set for yourself by yourself.

The fact that you currently suffer anxiety could be the result of many things running together, but it would not be a surprise if it would be directly linked to the stress caused by the demands from your family who you say want you to uphold the ‘family career’ of lawyer, in conjunction with the high demands of the law degree course itself, that eventually add up to you experiencing feelings of low control and in many respects, also some helplessness.

Although you can consider medical help in terms of medication, it is rather the root of the problem that you will have to address in order to really avoid the panicking. The panic attacks stemming from the anxiety are neuro-psychological ways in which your psyche and body react to the specific stressors threatening you. In counselling you can learn to understand how this works and how to deal more effectively with the red lights of signs and triggers that provoke the attacks.

The panic attacks stemming from the anxiety are neuro-psychological ways in which your psyche and body react to the specific stressors threatening you.

If you knew what you really wanted from life, especially in terms of a suitable career choice, and you would know your physical and intellectual abilities, it would be in your interest to work on enhancing your self-esteem so that you could approach your family in an assertive, loving way to discuss your different views in a constructive manner. Walking around with the psychological load of disabling self-talk embedded in negative thinking and low self-esteem could rob you from a quality life – not only in your future career, but also in the present.

A well-qualified life coach, clinical social worker or psychologist could assist you to develop the necessary skills to adopt an assertive view and approach to life, especially in the choices that you have to make. However, developing the necessary emotional and constructive communication skills, are equally essential. You want your family to understand you, your needs and your choices in life, and simultaneously maintain their respect for you.

You therefore have to communicate to them within this same framework of reference. It is always better to discuss this matter with your family rather sooner than later, not only to prevent unnecessary costs regarding a course that you possibly are not going to complete, but also to utilise time in your life much more constructively and effectively, should you make that career change now.

Christa F. De Vries is a Clinical and Forensic Social Worker and Clinical Hypno-Therapist. She has extensive experience and has worked in South Africa and the United Kingdom. She runs psycho-education groups at a Johannesburg hospital and also has her own private practice. She is the author of ‘Ripples on a Global Pond” – Coping with Change when You or Your Family Emigrate.

Tel: 0817522121 Email:

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