What causes a Panic Attack?



The most important aspect of the disorder to know at this point is that research indicates that Panic Attacks appear to be correlated with an imbalance of chemical messengers in the brain. The imbalance of these messengers sets the stage for Panic Attacks to occur. It has been extrapolated that an event, which is stressful to the individual, can trigger or worsen this condition. For example, an anticipated job termination could trigger a Panic Attack. Ongoing research continues to study the chemistry of the brain.

While much research is currently revealing more about the brain’s activities in Panic Disorder everyday and my book has the latest information, here is the concise version:

A region of the brain called the locus ceruleus, which regulates alertness, attention, and anxiety, appears to be overactive during episodes of Panic. The fight-or-flight response is coordinated and regulated by the locus ceruleus. When the locus ceruleus is very active, the heart rate accelerates, blood pressure increases, pupils dilate, and large amounts of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released into the blood. This series of physiological changes is the basis behind the miserable symptoms we know so well.

Understanding the physical aspects of this disorder is important to all of us. It takes the mystery out of some of the process and helps us to understand our opponent. Basically, in Panic Disorder, our body keeps readying for a serious fight or a quick exit when no real threat exists. We keep preparing to meet an all-powerful enemy, when we’re really running late for a meeting! Obviously, all this revving up and gearing up for real danger when it doesn’t exist is exhausting and leads to a cycle of revving up for small blips on our screens or nothing at all. A pattern emerges where we become sensitized to otherwise meaningless events in our lives. Over time, other areas of our being become involved, such as our thoughts and feelings.

In response to the above-mentioned physiological aspects of Panic Disorder, we tend to develop a cognitive component where we engage in negative thought patterns, which are destructive, painful, and exacerbate the problem. We start to doubt that we’ll be able to deliver the goods before we’ve been asked to deliver. We wonder if we should even plan a trip, because we might experience Panic on the plane. We start to fear the future event, and then we start to fear the fear. We then start to worry about being afraid. Our thoughts become our enemies. Before we ever give ourselves a chance to experience it, we tell ourselves that we’re terrified of a situation. Disgusted with ourselves due to our thoughts, we begin to think negatively about our future and ourselves. We start to spiral out of control...

As the intensity of our negative experiences deepens, we begin to suffer from diminished self-esteem and to doubt ourselves. We doubt our ability to handle this disorder; we doubt our ability to feel normal ever again; and perhaps, we wonder what we are doing wrong to bring on these attacks. We look around us, and we wonder why others blithely get on jets, deliver speeches, or smile through the grocery shopping. We wonder what separates us from them. We wonder why we are so different. We wonder how long we can stand this unbearable pain. We begin to feel panicky, depressed, and perhaps disgusted with ourselves. We start to feel paralyzed. Of course, this is all perfectly understandable considering the symptoms that we are experiencing. It’s also a perfect blueprint for disaster. Take heart, this is how we feel in the throes of Panic.

Recovery is real and this can all be a memory.