This post is the second of a multipart series on panic disorder. In the first post, we discussed symptoms of panic attacks, what panic disorder is, and what makes anxiety different from panic attacks. This post, part two, focuses on factors that worsen panic attacks and cause panic disorder. Part three will review available treatments that can effectively reduce the severity and frequency of panic attacks.

Many patients often ask “why do I have panic attacks?” While the answer to this question is still unclear, the following are some theories:

Factors that Worsen Panic Attacks and Cause Panic Disorder

Those who are anxious are more likely to experience a panic attack. This is because when you are psychologically aroused and your body is physiologically heightened, your body activates the stress response (i.e., fight/flight/freeze response), which secretes stress hormones that are released to parts of the body so your body is able to deal with danger.  The more stressed, concerned, or worried you are, the stronger the stress response and similarly, the more likely a dramatic reaction in your body, which brings about physical symptoms of a panic attack.

Those who are engaged in ongoing significant worry, and whose bodies are more consistently in a heightened state, are more likely to experience panic attacks.

Factors that cause panic attacks are believed to be genetics or periods of intense stress, and perhaps the biggest factor that determines and worsens panic disorder is the very fear of having another panic attack. This seems almost counter-intuitive, or perhaps frustrating, but it is in fact one of the biggest maintenance factor of panic disorder. When you consider this further, it makes sense. If you have experienced a panic attack, you know all too well how unpleasant and frightening the experience can be. As a result, people who experience repeated panic attacks often become worried about having another panic attack. This fear may lead them to make changes in their life or to their lifestyle as a method of trying to avoid further panic attacks. When a person’s life begins to revolve around preventing a panic attack, they are impacted by panic attacks enough to warrant a panic disorder diagnosis. Additionally, when another panic attack begins, the fear of having an attack will make the experience of the panic attack that much worse.

This ultimately will reinforce the fear of having an attack, and continue to make panic attacks much worse and much more feared.

Instead of reacting to physical symptoms, and experiencing thoughts, such as “I’m losing control,” or “I can’t handle this,” responding to panic attacks with calm and clarity is very important and effective at reducing their intensity.

How This Leads to Panic Disorder

Individuals who experience panic disorder are those who have experienced at least four panic attacks in a four week period. They also worry about having another panic attack, and engage in avoidance or make behavioral changes to avoid places where they have previously had a panic attack.

We’re Here to Help

Dr. Barbash is an anxiety disorder specialist who is trained and experienced in working with panic disorder.  If you are struggling with intense anxiety or panic attacks, give us a call.  At Tampa Therapy, we are committed to providing a relaxing, healing, and non-judgmental environment to support you on your journey.  If you want things to be different, you have to change them.  Give us a call or email us today to start the process of making important changes in your life.

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