What are the leading causes of panic attacks?
Have you ever experienced a sudden increase in your heart rate, an uncomfortable sensation in your stomach, chest pain, sweat, shortness of breath, and an overwhelming sense of dread that seems to come from nowhere? These could be indicators of panic attacks. While a single panic attack might not pose a direct threat to one’s life, recurring episodes can significantly impact overall wellness. They may lead to panic disorder, a specific type of anxiety disorder. Given the unpredictable nature of these bouts of irrational fear, it’s common for individuals to wonder, “What are the main causes of panic attacks?” Generally speaking, the causes for panic attacks can range from mental health disorders like depression and anxiety to extended periods of stress, abrupt social and environmental shifts, and activities that induce intense physical responses, such as vigorous exercise or consumption of energy drinks, among others.
If you’re grappling with panic attacks, we at Integrative Healthcare are here to support you. Our TMS therapy services significantly alleviate depression, a primary trigger for panic attacks. We also address anxiety issues that heighten an individual’s risk of developing a panic disorder. In the U.S., TMS therapy has received FDA clearance for its use in stimulating brain regions associated with major depression and other conditions. Moreover, TMS is being utilized in Europe to treat anxiety.
In this blog, we aim to explore the causes of panic attacks, clarify their definition, and provide comprehensive guidance on managing these episodes.
Defining Panic Attacks
The National Institute of Mental Health found that approximately 4.7% of the U.S. population over the age of 18 experience panic attacks at some point in their lives. Sudden and intense episodes of fear characterize these attacks, which can trigger physical disturbances, causing uneasiness and instability even though there is no real danger present.
Research from Cambridge University indicates that panic disorder tends to be more common in adult women and people with previous mental health disorders like depression. Despite the immense challenge of enduring a panic attack, it’s crucial to note that these episodes do not threaten one’s life. Nevertheless, they can negatively impact the quality of life, job performance, and the ability to carry out daily tasks.
Even though depression and anxiety disorders are separate conditions, individuals experiencing depression tend to grapple with significant anxiety, one of the primary causes of panic attacks. Heightened stress can frequently trigger episodes of irrational fear, leading to the development of panic disorder. During these episodes, individuals may experience an intense sense of losing control, fear of having a heart attack, or even dying.
Physically, panic attack symptoms are tremors, nausea, rapid heartbeat, tingling in the extremities, shortness of breath, and chest tightness, among others. The frequency and timing of these attacks can vary significantly; some individuals may suffer several episodes a day, while others may only experience them a few times a year. Panic attacks usually last about 10 minutes, come and go suddenly, and dissipate within 30 minutes. However, they can leave lingering effects.
Exploring the 5 Causes of Panic Attacks
Ongoing research is attempting to pinpoint the exact causes of panic attacks or panic disorders. However, researchers have identified several triggers as potential contributors to these episodes:
- Heredity: Research indicates that anxiety and depression, both of which have hereditary solid links, can be potent causes for panic attacks, suggesting that panic disorder may be an inherited condition. This theory stems from observed connections between specific brain regions and biological processes pivotal in fear and anxiety responses. However, it remains unclear why certain family members develop the disorder while others do not.
- Stress: Numerous stressors, such as traumatic events (the death of a loved one, financial worries, and fear of public speaking), can provoke panic attacks.
- Social and Environmental Factors: Sudden environmental changes, like earthquake or tsunami warnings, and social factors, such as isolation, can also trigger panic attacks.
- Depression and Anxiety: As mentioned above, many people diagnosed with depression also suffer from intense anxiety. Anxiety generally encompasses feelings of worry and fear, with panic representing one of its most extreme forms. Neglecting to treat depression and anxiety disorders can heighten the risk of panic attacks, particularly if these feelings of anxiety and fear escalate uncontrollably.
- Neural and Biological Connections: A study by the National Library of Medicine linked panic attacks to the brain’s inability to accurately relay messages between the prefrontal cortex (responsible for logic and reasoning) and the amygdala (involved in emotion regulation). During a panic attack, the amygdala becomes hyperactive while the prefrontal cortex responds passively, causing an unwarranted spiral into panic.
6 Coping Mechanisms for Panic Attacks
Panic attack symptoms can often resemble those associated with heart issues, making it crucial to visit the emergency room if you experience chest pain and shortness of breath to rule out any potential heart problems. However, if you’ve previously experienced panic attacks and recognize these symptoms as part of an episode, you may be wondering about effective coping mechanisms for panic attacks. The following suggestions intend to help you alleviate the situation and provide guidance on how to stop a panic attack:
- Self-affirmation: Talking to yourself during a panic attack can be an effective coping strategy. Remind yourself that you’ve successfully managed such episodes in the past and that, despite feeling intense fear, your life is not in imminent danger.
- Reach Out: If you’re experiencing a panic episode, consider contacting a trusted individual; this could be a friend or family member with whom you feel comfortable sharing your feelings. Articulating your emotions and thoughts can aid in stabilizing your mental state.
- Seek Professional Help: Frequent panic attacks can significantly disrupt your overall well-being and daily activities. If you find yourself frequently experiencing these episodes, it’s advisable to seek professional help. Methods such as TMS therapy can provide valuable assistance in treating depression and the risk of other mental disorders, which are frequent causes of panic attacks.
- Mindful Awareness: To diffuse a panic attack, begin by verbally acknowledging or mentally noting the objects, colors, scents, and sounds in your surroundings. This technique, often recommended by therapists, can help ground you in the present and stabilize your emotional state.
- Utilize Cooling Sensations: Sweating and feelings of heat are common during panic episodes. An effective coping mechanism for panic attacks is to hold an ice cube, splash cold water on your face, or apply a damp washcloth to your wrists, forehead, or neck. The cooling sensation can help you reconnect with the present moment and alleviate the discomfort of hot flashes.
- Controlled Breathing: Hyperventilation frequently occurs during panic attacks, potentially leading to dizziness and nausea. To counteract this, practice slow, diaphragmatic breathing, focusing on expanding your abdomen. This approach helps oxygenate the brain and engages the parasympathetic system, which promotes relaxation.
Integrative Healthcare and Panic Attacks
At Integrative Healthcare, we specialize in providing therapeutic solutions designed to enhance mental health in New Hampshire. Our innovative TMS therapies harness cutting-edge technology with magnetic fields that stimulate brain regions linked with major depression and other mental health disorders. This unique approach proves remarkably effective for individuals who have found traditional treatments and therapies lacking results. With TMS therapy, you can bypass the unpleasant side effects often associated with antidepressants. Rest assured, this FDA-approved treatment can address severe depression and related disorders, thereby reducing triggers and mitigating the causes of panic attacks.
If you’re seeking to regain control and prefer an alternative, science-backed depression treatment, please reach out to us at (855) 599-9987 or connect with us online.