Can Stress Cause Panic Attacks?

Those who have experience with extreme anxiety, panic attacks or the social-setting malady known as agoraphobia will say that stress can indeed cause panic attacks. We all experience stress in our lives. It’s a part of living. But the way we react to stress differs greatly from one person to the next.

The way we react to stress can mean the difference between just accepting it and moving along or giving it a chance to be a life-changing event (in a negative way). Biologists believe, however, that stress, when handled correctly, can be a “neutral” or even a positive experience.

Keep in mind that stress is caused by both external factors – other people, family demands, work demands – and internal factors – general health, deficiency in some necessary vitamins, minerals or other body chemicals. We may be able to reduce the stress level for ourselves with conscious techniques such as steady, deep breathing, focusing on a specific enjoyable task or even visualizing places and objects that relax us. (Maybe there really is a happy place!)

Panic attacks are both physical and mental. Our bodies undergo definite changes just before an episode and during the attack. But we may also make the panic attack worse by dwelling on the attack episode itself, anticipating it with fear rather than concentrating on something else. Research has shown that we will react to stress differently if we have certain nutritional deficiencies and don’t get sufficient sleep.

It has long been known that all animals have to have some stress-related changes in their bodies to remain healthy and survive. Scientists know that the species that adapted well to the stress of everyday life are the species that survive and thrive. Human beings seem to be at the top of the list when it comes to discussions of living with and adapting to stress. With this in mind, we might ask why some people have so much difficulty with stress and it leads to serious panic episodes.

During a panic attack, many people experience an increased heart rate, breathing difficulty, dizziness and very strong feelings of fear or doom. For them, a situation might be intolerable when to others it is mildly stressful. Some of this can be attributed to the physical nature of the individual. Perhaps the “nerves are frayed” due to lack of sleep, poor nutrition, tobacco or alcohol use and other reasons.

Maybe the individual who suffers a true panic attack in a stressful situation does so because he or she has been in a similar situation too many times. The brain and the body can only take so much stress and over-stimulation.

It may be up to us to learn how to recognize stressful situations in the making and use various techniques such as deep breathing or visualization to stop the coming episode in its tracks. One of the basic steps many people take, in combination with proper medication, is changing their thought process as much as possible by focusing on something else. Even a short walk outside to get stimuli from other locations can make the difference.

Written by Lucas Beaumont

Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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