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Causes of Panic Disorder

Updated on August 5, 2009

Causes of Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is absolutely no fun. Coming from someone who has personally experienced many panic attacks, I can tell you that it’s one of the worst feelings you could ever imagine. For those who may not be aware of what panic attacks are (also known as anxiety attacks), it’s basically a sudden feeling of absolute fear, anxiety, loss of control, and disorientation. You can feel somewhat like you’re having an “out-of-body experience”, as if you’re detached from reality or in some kind of altered state of reality. It comes on you like an avalanche, and it’s somewhat of a “rush” (in a very negative connotation). It even produces physical symptoms such as increased heart rate (a person undergoing a panic attack can have a heart rate of up to 200 beats per minute), breaking out in a sweat, a “tingling” sensation in hands and feet, ringing ears, and shortness of breath or (conversely) hyperventilating. A person experiencing a panic attack can feel like they’re going out of control or going crazy, and they may even feel like they’re going to die. Many times panic attacks (oddly enough) can come from the fear of having another panic attack. You remember what the last one was like, and it’s almost like you feel you “barely escaped”, so it can add an undercurrent of stress and/or tension to your everyday living condition, to the point where you want to avoid any thing, person, place, or situation that could possibly bring on another panic attack. This is why a lot of psychologists believe that panic disorder is actually an offshoot of agoraphobia (fear of open spaces or public settings). One thought that often goes through the mind of a person suffering with panic disorder is the thought of being embarrassed in a social situation if they were to have a panic attack in a place where it would not be easy for them to escape the situation quietly. I remember back when I was going through a series of panic attacks, I would base my whole seating arrangements on how easy it would be for me to get in & out of a public place. I was uncomfortable sitting in the middle of a row of a movie theater or at church, because I thought about how embarrassing it might be if I had to get up and try to scoot out over a bunch of people’s legs just to deal with the panic attack in private. Sadly, many people who have been victimized by this type of anxiety disorder often end up structuring their entire lives around the negative anticipation of having another panic attack in the near future, and “being ready for it” when it comes.

Image courtesy of Microsoft Office Clip Art
Image courtesy of Microsoft Office Clip Art

As to the causes of panic disorder, many times they can come from a life experience that was tragic, traumatic, or overwhelming. Examples include the death of a loved one,   

being the victim of a violent crime such as robbery or carjacking, or any type of negative experience that left a somewhat indelible mark on a person’s subconscious. Major life changes or transitions can also be a cause of panic disorder; events such as getting married, having a baby, getting a new job, moving to a new state, getting laid off from a job, etc., can be a catalyst for panic attacks. There have been several cases of people suffering from panic disorder due to religious guilt; they may have done something that they feel God can’t forgive them for, and thus carry the weight of guilt around with them, and many times that guilt can produce a self-accusing attitude that turns them against themselves. This is the type of mental environment that can cause a panic attack or anxiety attack. Also important to mention is the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on a former serviceman’s (or servicewoman’s) mental health; PTSD can often include regularly occurring panic attacks, due to the horrors of war that a serviceman or servicewoman may have experienced. It was interesting when I started thinking about possible causes of not only panic disorder but other various phobia-related conditions such as social anxiety disorder, OCD, and the like; I was reminded of a movie I saw a long time ago called “Matchstick Men” with Nicholas Cage. In the movie, Cage’s character had a bunch of nervous “ticks”, and he had a horrible case of OCD, to the point where he would lock his doors three times in a row (lock, unlock, lock again, etc.) just to ensure that they were locked, and do other things like that to “confirm” in his mind that the thing was done. He was a con-artist by trade, and he basically lived a life where he ripped people off through various schemes. He was seeing a psychologist for his phobia issues, and the psychologist told him something that was really stunning to me when I heard it: He told Cage that the reason why he had so many phobias and issues is because he was “hiding something”, or not being true to himself, living his life as a deceiver. He told Cage that it was basically because of guilt that he had those different disorders. That was actually very profound to me, and it was one of the main reasons why I included guilt as one of the possible causes of panic disorder in this hub. I’m sure that there are more, but time nor space nor motivation allow me to delve further into them at this time; I will have to tackle another aspect of panic disorder with a subsequent hub.


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    • SteadyHubs profile image

      SteadyHubs 4 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Thanks, tamron. Yeah, panic attacks totally suck. Thank God I'm no longer experiencing them.

    • tamron profile image

      tamron 5 years ago

      I can totally relate to everything you said. I don't have them to much anymore.

      I had them panic attacks every day. I don't now but I still get panicky in crowds.

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