One of the first words that comes up in a discussion of panic attacks is stress. People can and do experience feelings of fear and loss of control when they find themselves in periods of unusual stress. But there is another facet to the stress idea, one that seems to lead to panic episodes more often than not.
Consider the idea of chronic stress. The word “chronic” means “continuing a long time or recurring frequently,” according to Dictionary.com. In most cases, chronic also means “having a long duration.” The word comes from the Greek term for “time.”
In medical texts and research reports long-term, consistent stress may contribute directly to panic episodes. The presence of stress over time may not be something that people notice. An individual may be undergoing small, unnoticed changes that build up to the point that they find release in a panic attack.
Psychologists and other medical experts feel that some people unconsciously create their own stress or help it build up by engaging in what one motivational speaker calls “stinking thinking.” Everyone experiences stressful situations at work, in school and in family situations. It isn’t necessary to have a high-profile job or to work in a position with very high expectations for stress to become a factor in panic disorders.
Even those who are seemingly comfortable with their work and their family setting can carry unrealistic ideas about what should happen. Expecting perfection from the everyday world is sometimes a sure way to set ourselves up for this negative thinking. If you find yourself going over details of events that have already occurred, trying to find out how it could have been better, you may be creating unnecessary stress. Engaging in this detailed thought process before an upcoming event or family gathering may also be a way of creating such stress.
Medical research and psychological studies have also shown that some individuals are prone to panic attacks because of genetic tendency. If previous generations in a family have shown signs of “nerves” and extreme anxiety, a person may find that stressful situations might be the trigger for such episodes.
Doctors and psychiatrists have found that another family connection may contribute to adult panic attacks and the more long-term panic disorder. Aside from the physical causes involved in genetics, a child or young adult may be sensitive to stressful or uncomfortable situations because of exposure during early life. As an adult, the individual may develop feelings of panic in similar situations. These situations then may trigger the escape response or a reaction in which the individual withdraws from human contact.
Whether the causes are thought to be genetics, childhood experiences or levels of stress, these situations have one thing in common. Anxiety is natural in many situations. Our bodies are made to respond in a particular way when we feel we are in danger or believe that we are in a situation that could be threatening.
Everyone experiences a faster heart rate, breathing changes, even mild perspiration in some cases. The difference in panic attacks might be a matter of degree. If we view the situation as extremely threatening this might add to the physical changes the body goes through. Responding with extreme behavior only compounds the issue.