The Chaos Train

An article by Eliza Burdon.

I had a client recently (Eliza) who started to talk about the experience of panic as a seemingly uncontrollable journey. I liked that idea very much and we started to call it The Chaos Train. I asked her to write an article about it as it seemed such a useful idea.

The train stops at stations on its journey to the hub. Along the way it picks up passengers and freight, (burdens to take to the hub) as each hub is reached the burdens are delivered and the result of them expressed. In the case of this particular Chaos Train they are panic, anxiety and sadness.

I think the fascinating insight Eliza had was that it all felt really chaotic and out of control. Of course it feels like that because it is panic but it is not as chaotic as it feels. The train has to stop at the stations on the way to the hub and pick up burdens otherwise there is nothing to take to the hub and nothing to be expressed. By making choices and deliberately not stopping at the stations on the route Eliza places a structure on her sense of chaos. She fights the darkness and despair and she makes a journey she wants to make not the default journey her Chaos Train may make if left to its own devices. Here is Eliza’s article.

The Chaos Train

All aboard the Chaos Train, final destination Anxiety. All change for Sadness and Depression.

Living in a continuous state of anxiety is chaotic. Panic is predictably unpredictable. We seem to have no idea of when it will strike and yet somehow it is always a certainty that it will. When the panic finally loosens its grip on us, whether that means a panic attack has passed or a stressful phase has ended, we can’t find a reason for it happening in the first place. Our minds will tell us there is no reason, leading us to simply “accept” how chaotic and unpredictable our anxiety is. We lose faith in our bodies and lose sight of how we’re ever going to get better because we can’t ever establish a reason for our behaviours.


As you pass through the stations you pick up baggage.

As you pass through the stations you pick up baggage.

The truth is it’s not all that chaotic. Anxiety and the resulting sadness and depression comes as the final culmination of a series of bad behaviours and disordered thinking. The chaos we feel we’re living in is a symptom of our anxiety taking hold of our lives, and accepting that it is that way allows it to act up if and when it pleases. Last time you did this was a Friday and today is a Tuesday? Here’s a panic attack for you. Last time you were here you wore red and now you’re wearing blue? Panic attack for you. Nothing seems all that different? Have a panic attack anyway. Your anxious mind can sense any difference in a situation, and all the chaotic steps you’ve taken to allow anxiety into your life add together to produce what feels like a very unpredictable fear response to just about anything. Yet, in reality, it is entirely predictable, it’s going to happen because you’ve accepted the idea that it’s out of your own control.

The Chaos Train is the journey you take to those major hubs, Anxiety and Depression. At each stop on the way you collect more and more behaviours and beliefs that lead to full blown anxiety disorders and predictably unpredictable panic. Each one is an essential element, they work together to seize control of your mind and create chaos.

It looks a little like this, though each persons individual stops may differ.

Other stops could include inflexibility, a lack of willingness to try things out of your comfort zone or things which are not part of your usual routine will lead to anxiety and panic. Similarly being concerned that other people will judge you. Catastrophising is a major cause of both anxiety and sadness. Catastrophising means allowing your thoughts to run away from you, and believing in only the worst case scenarios. This could be that you won’t be able to cope and you’ll have a panic attack, or that you’ll never get better.

It’s simple to build up to the “Hubs”, a series of faulty thoughts and feelings of being out of control leads to panic fairly quickly. On the other hand, breaking it back down isn’t quite so easy. It’s a slow moving train back to where you started. The best way to approach it is to break it down, cutting one station out at a time. For example, if you can combat catastrophising, you’re less likely to believe in the worst case scenario becoming a reality. With a little more faith, seeing events more realistically instead of living in a fantasy world where everything goes wrong, you would be opened up to a whole new level of freedom. In the same way, combating each station on the Chaos Train journey one step at a time, picking up a little less baggage at each stop, your anxiety would have so much less control over you, and in that, the chaos would dissolve.

Share Button

Concerned about having a panic attack while driving?

November 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Panic Attacks


I’ve received two letters recently from visitors concerning having a panic attack while driving. With permission I’m sharing their stories on this page. And I’ve put together some tips and advice which I hope will help those of you having similar experiences.

Dear Dr Purves

I’ve been driving for about seven years and until a couple of months ago I’d have described myself as a confident driver. I was driving up to visit my in-laws with my husband when I experienced a panic attack on the motorway and had to pull over. I couldn’t face driving any further so my husband, who has only just passed his test had to drive the rest of the way in the dark and rain.

I wonder if the fact I’ve been under a lot of pressure had anything to do with it. I’m currently taking my masters and our exams were just about to start. The trip to our in-laws was bad timing as I already felt stressed out from cramming for the tests. Then the weather was bad. It was dark and I was tired and traffic alerts kept coming over the radio with news of accident after accident and it just all felt too much.

I’m worried this will happen again and want to know what I should do if it does. I’m especially worried about being on my own and not being able to go on. At the moment I’m only happy to drive if someone’s with me.

Many thanks


Dear Dr Purves

My father died suddenly three months ago and I’ve not been handling it that well. I’ve been commuting to Guildford for Law School and staying awake from my family in the week. Last week on the drive back to Law School I felt this overwhelming need to get out of the car. I can’t explain it other than I just had to get out. I was in a queue of traffic and for two pins I’d have abandoned the car. I just about held on and pulled off the road as soon as I could. I’m not sure if this was some kind of panic attack but I’d welcome some advice.



Panic attack while driving: Driving is stressful

Let’s start at the beginning. Driving is stressful, full stop. Have you ever got out of the car and realised that your shoulders feel stiff and achy? Often we tense up without realising it.

Driving takes a lot of concentration and becomes even more stressful in bad weather and at night when your vision is impaired. So all these feelings are normal. In fact you need a certain amount of stress to make sure you’re concentrating.

What both Louise and Ray have in common is that they were both dealing with stressful situations outside of driving which compounded the pressure of driving.


Panic attack while driving: Common behaviours

Louise’s fear about driving on her own following a panic attack while driving is fairly common. Other behaviours which people who’ve experienced panic attacks in the car sometimes exhibit are avoiding motorways and avoiding driving in rush hour while driving.

Panic attack while driving: So what do you do about them?

In both of these cases the fear is of having a panic attack while driving. So what Ray and Louise need to deal with is their panic attacks.

There are things you can do when you’re driving which can help. Try playing your favourite music, something that you can sing-a-long to or listen to an audiobook. This will help distract you from panicking.

You may find that you feel short of breath during a panic attack. If so, learning how to control your breathing can give you control over your panic attacks. There’s a useful video demonstrating Yoga Breathing that you can watch on the Preventing Panic Attacks page.

These techniques may help but they won’t fix your panic attacks on their own.

Panic attack while driving: Dealing with panic attacks

Ultimately, if you’re having a panic attack while driving you need to deal with panic attacks and what’s causing them.

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT Therapy) is an excellent way to treat panic attacks. It’s a talking therapy which helps you identify the thoughts that are triggering your attacks. Learn more about how to overcome panic attacks with CBT.

Return from Panic attack while driving to Home


Related articles

What is CBT therapy?

What is a panic attack?

Preventing panic attacks

How to overcome panic attacks

Panic attacks in children

Panic attacks and menopause

Medications for panic attacks


Share Button

Preventing Panic Attacks

September 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Panic Attacks

Active Self Help for Depression, Anxiety and Stress

Welcome to preventing panic attacks. This is just one article in a collection of panic attack resources which I hope you will find useful when dealing with panic. The current list of resources can be found at the end of the page.

preventing panic attacks

Preventing Panic Attacks: What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is the sudden onset of anxiety that makes you feel out of control. You may experience shortness of breath, shaking, a racing heart, upset stomach, nausea, numbness or tingling in your hands and fingers, sense of impending doom, sweating or chest pain. Learn more.

Preventing Panic Attacks: Learn about panic attacks

Reading about panic attacks and learning what’s happening to your body can stop you from worrying when you feel the first symptoms of a panic attack. It can help you to feel more in control because you understand that the symptoms are normal and that nothing awful is going to happen to you. For some this can completely take the wind out of the sails of panic attacks.

Preventing Panic Attacks: Relaxation

If you want to prevent panic attacks take a look at the amount of stress you have in your life. If you are suffering from regular attacks you may find that you’re generally quite stressed and anxious. Identify areas in your life which are causing you stress and anxiety and work out ways of decreasing stress. Are there tasks you can delegate? Are you pushing yourself too hard? Do all those things have to be done today? Could you leave something until tomorrow and with the  extra time have a bath or read a book?

Preventing Panic Attacks

Preventing Panic Attacks: Breathing

If you feel short of breath or unable to catch your breath when you’re having a panic attack you will benefit from yoga breathing.

Stephanie felt unable to get enough oxygen when she had panic attacks which made her panic even more which made her breathing even worse. It was a vicious cycle. A friend recommended yoga breathing to Stephanie and once she’d mastered this she no longer feared having a panic attack as she knew she would know how to control her breathing. Taking the fear away  helped her prevent future panic attacks.

This video is a good demonstration of yoga breathing.


Preventing Panic Attacks: A different focus

Get busy. Find something to occupy your mind and take your focus of panic attacks.

Lamar was suffering with panic attacks and general anxiety when he enrolled to study Business and IT at college. He was so busy studying and his head was so focused on his course that he found his anxiety levels dropped as he had less time to think about panicking and thus suffered few panic attacks.

Nikola started making scrap books. She found having an actual task to focus on  took her attention off her physical symptoms which helped her breathing to return to normal and her body to stop shaking.

Preventing Panic Attacks: Diet

Certain foods can trigger panic attacks in certain people. Just as certain foods can reduce stress levels.

If you’re prone to panic attacks experiment with reducing your caffeine, alcohol and sugar intake. Although caffeine can cause panic attacks some people find it beneficial if they’re suffering with generalised anxiety so see what works for you.

You might not feel like eating healthily but healthy eating can be helpful. Include foods rich in magnesium and B vitamins in your diet. Bananas, blueberries, almonds, seaweed and chocolate are all good for anxiety.

Preventing panic attacks

Preventing Panic Attacks: Hypnotherapy

Josie booked a holiday to New York and from that moment she began to worry about the flight. She kept thinking about what could go wrong with the plane. Josie had been on many flights before this sudden fear arose. Before her trip to New York she was due to fly to France for work which was just two hours. Josie thought she could manage it but as soon as she stepped on to the plane she began to experience shortness of breath, shaking and heart palpitations.

The air hostess could see that Josie was in distress and did her best to comfort her. She recommended that Josie listen to Paul McKenna’s Fear of Flying CD as she knew a number of passengers who’d found it helpful.

When Josie got back to the UK she bought the CD and listened to it regularly at home in preparation of her flight to New York. After listening to it for the first time she already felt a little better. By the time Josie was due to go to New York she was feeling much more confident.

After Josie had been in the plane for a few hours she began to feel a little bit uneasy and her breathing was slightly irregular. She recognised her feelings of anxiety and immediately put on her Paul McKenna CD. After listening to the track she felt perfectly relaxed again.

Preventing Panic Attacks: CBT Therapy

CBT Therapy can cure and prevent panic attacks. It’s a talking therapy that helps you to identify and change thoughts which are triggering your panic attacks. Learn more about overcoming panic attacks with CBT therapy.

Return from How to preventing panic attacks to Home

Related articles

Share Button