Causes of anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, are not fully known.
There is no evidence that a specific gene is responsible for panic attacks. Genetics will determine the color of your eyes with certainty, but panic does not work the same way. Currently we believe that a vulnerability to panic can be inherited, and that if you engage in certain behaviors ( for example, avoidance) that vulnerability is exploited.
Many people with panic have appear to have a genetic predispostion to it.
5- 8 percent of the population has panic disorder, while 15-20 percent of first-degree relatives may develop panic disorder. If you have panic disorder, it is very likely you have a relative who does too.
Stress influences the likelihood of the onset of panic disorder. If you are stressed, you are more likely to feel threatened, to have reduced coping skills and to be prone to fear, in general, that can fuel your panic attacks to the point where they become a panic disorder.
When we are under stress, we are less likely to have intentional responses to anxiety. That is we are more likily to default to our fight or flight reflexes, and less likely to think about the best way to respond to things.
Panic has it's origins in fight or flight, so there is a strong connection between stress and panic.
Unlike some other conditions influenced by stress ( for example, depression), panic attacks are more likely to continue even where there is no stress. Why? Because the way you think and act about your panic makes it bigger and stronger. Also, you each time you respond to something in a certain way, you lay down the biological tracks and pathways for that behavior to occur again.
Remember that changing your thoughts feelings and behaviors can help you with anxiety and depression? Panic is the same. If you change the way you think, feel, and act about your panic, you get better.
Reacting with Fear
Many people who have panic attacks express fear of the physical symptoms they experience. For example, people are fearful that they will faint, throw up, have a heart attack, or otherwise be out of control and go crazy. These beliefs become a part of the panic chain, and increase the likelihood that you will have panic in the future. A person who has had a mild panic attack who does not respond in this manner with the same thoughts, may never go on to develop panic disorder.
People also will frequently report moving around because of an inability to bear panic attacks. Guess what? That makes it much worse. When you move around you are revving up your body in a way that will exacerbate your panic.
Your physical symptoms can't hurt you as you will learn in these pages. It's the way you think about and react to your physical symptoms that makes you sicker. Panic attacks are a physiological reaction to fear when there is no real threat present. Understanding that can help you to react to your symptoms in a way that does not exacerbate the panic.
Learn about panic:
Medical conditions will often contribute to panic. Panic, has a strong physiological component in that a physical sensation can often trigger it. For this reason, certain medical conditions can exacerbate the likelihood that you will have panic disorder.
Are all of these really causes of anxiety attacks?
Yes..........and no. These kinds of situations can mimic the physiological sensations that you previously experienced during panic attacks. What people tend to do is avoid these things once they make the association. Remember avoidance is not good. It always serves to perpetuate and reinforce anxiety. Always!! In fact, treatment for panic may consist of exposing clients to these things and tolerating the physical symptoms. Which, remember, cannot hurt you!!
From Treatments That Work: Mastery of your Anxiety and Panic Workbook. David Barlow and Michelle Craske.Oxford University Press
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