“Ask Dr. Neuman”

Advice Column

Hello Dr.,My father died last month

by | Oct 24, 2014 | Ask Dr Neuman

Q: Hello Dr.,My father died last month, and I am still struggling to come to terms with it. Before his death, he had strokes and several other medical problems that left him bed bound and requiring round the clock care. For the past 4 years he was home, and I was his primary caregiver. Because of his condition, I thought I was prepared for his death, but I am really having a hard time. To make matters worse, I have begun having panic attacks, especially while sitting in traffic in the car. I don’t understand why, as I have not had panic attacks in the past. I’m not sure how to cope with them, as I can not simply stop driving. While sitting at a stop light, for some reason I start worrying that I might pass out, then my heart starts beating rapidly and I start feeling a bit light headed, which makes my anxiety worse. Do you have any suggestions, tips or techniques that might help me get over this?
– Steve C.


The  important thing to keep in mind is that the panic attack cannot hurt you. It will not cause you to lose control of yourself and do something dangerous–like drive off a bridge–or something embarrassing, such as screaming or falling to the ground. The only embarrassing thing phobics ever do is to leave the situation peremptorily. If you continue driving–or doing whatever you do when you are having a panic attack–you will  not become phobic. Otherwise, you will stop driving and eventually stop doing other things or  going to other places. Some people become housebound. There are a variety of tools you can use to distract yourself during the attack. I give a list of them in my book, “Fighting Fear” (also published as “Rising Above Fear.”

I think the connection between your panic attacks and grieving is likely to be a coincidence.
– Dr. Neuman


It is natural to connect life events to the development of emotional symptoms. Certainly, grief follows a profound loss such as yours. But the development of a panic disorder is not particularly associated with grief. It comes on suddenly with no discoverable cause. The condition is sometimes associated with a depression, in which case treatment starts with the antidepressants. Otherwise behavioral treatments have shown to be effective with this condition. They are usually summed to the term “cognitive-behavioral treatment.” I give an account of treatment–and recommendations–in my book “Rising Above Fear.”
- Dr. Neuman