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Mind, Body and Soul: Understanding the Root Cause of Panic Disorders

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The identifiers of panic attacks are better understood today than ever before. From difficulty breathing to increased heart rate and a paralysing feeling of terror, a panic attack is no pleasant experience. And while lots of research is being carried out to identify what causes these attacks, the exact cause is still a subject of debate. What's known is that major life events (or other stressful transitions) can increase the likelihood of an attack. Furthermore, the quickness within which such attacks happen further complicates the movement towards solving these attacks.

The debate raging on is whether a panic disorder is caused by the body or the mind. The body argument is based on a specific biological factor triggering such attacks. On the other hand, the mind factor is based on stressful events or thoughts as being the main causative agent. And finally, the soul factor is based on history and a little bit of superstition.

Is there a biological cause of panic disorder?

Research over the years has revealed a genetic connection to panic disorders. If you have a family member that suffers from frequent attacks, you may be at higher risk of experiencing one yourself. But in-depth knowledge of a genetic connection stops here. It's not yet known exactly how the hereditary effect happens or how likely you are to inherit the condition from a family member. Furthermore, no ethnic group is more likely to contract panic disorders than another.

Research is focused on finding a biological indicator of panic attacks. Perhaps there's a specific organ, tissue, or receptor that malfunctions to cause this reaction. If there is, it hasn't been identified yet.  

Is it all in the mind?

The argument for panic disorders being caused by the mind is currently stronger. There are many triggers associated with stress, previous experiences and life events. For example, one is more likely to experience a panic attack if they encounter a fearful situation, a significant event such as marriage or bearing a child or coming across a phobia. Triggers related to the mind are far more common than any other triggers, but the question that lingers is 'exactly what happens during this process?'

While an exact cause isn't clear, the consequences of panic attacks are widespread. They may cause you to develop phobias of specific items or experiences, depression from recurrent attacks or even substance abuse to deal with emotional changes.

Is it a combination of both?

Because an exact causative agent isn't known, therapy for panic disorder follows a holistic approach. This means that therapists focus on both physical and mental causes so that patients are able to minimise the number of attacks and associated long-term effects. 

Contact an anxiety counselling service to learn more.