Where do Panic Attacks (PA) come from?

Where do panic attacks come from? Why and how do they appear? PAs can have different reasons. 

“Nothing special happened during that time… well, I got into an accident, but I wasn’t hurt” – a young man is saying. He has been experiencing pain in his heart, and unexplainable panic attacks ever since that accident when the car he was driving caught on fire and burnt down. He managed to get out and was not hurt. The car belonged to his employer, and they filed a lawsuit against him hoping to recover the cost of the car, that he simply doesn’t have the money to pay. Panic attacks – was the diagnosis from the doctors. But the young man is certain that he cannot have “such nonsense”. The doctors simply “don’t want” to treat him properly. 

Abigale experience pain in her stomach for some time. Soon, as any person who takes care of their health, she visited a gastroenterologist. After the initial exam, the doctor declared that she most probably has cancer, and pointed out that she should have come sooner. He looked at her and said that he is not certain that an operation will help, but… they should try. He sent her to the Center of Oncology for additional consultations. Abigale doesn’t remember those days. She was in a state of shock. After undergoing many painful and expensive procedures in the Center, Abigale learned that she does not have cancer. What she had was a simple gastritis. But a week later, Abigale experienced her first panic attack. 

Wanda is 28 years old. She visited a psychologist because suddenly, she started to “forget” how to breathe. She would start suffocating, her heart beating fast and trying to jump out of the chest. She experienced strong fear that she could die – right here, right now. The psychologist asked her how long she had been having these symptoms – she said a couple of months. Following this thread, they started talking about what happened about two months ago, and what in general is happening in Wanda’s life. She said that everything is going well. She had been in a relationship with the person she loves for 4 years. Her work is fine… However, the man she loves is married and has an adult son. He is not going to divorce his wife. She works in his business – he pays her salary. But she quickly added – everything is fine! Two months ago, she asked him about having a child – he gave her a firm “No”. He is “done playing these games”. Wanda also decided that she doesn’t need children. Many people don’t have children, right? She looked at her psychologist as if asking for affirmation. “I just asked him for no reason… I don’t need any piece of paper, and it seems that I don’t want children either…” All in all – everything is fine! But the next night she had her first panic attack. 

All the cases are different, but they have a common thread. All these people experience a psychological conflict that originated from deeply hidden complex emotions and from the person’s inability to understand and accept something that is happening to them. 

The young man from the first story is a simple guy. He is not used to paying attention to “various feelings”. However, the feelings are still there, even if he is not aware of them. Let’s see: first, his life was in danger during the accident. Then, his employer started blaming him and trying to make him a “scapegoat”. Add to this a lawsuit and a prospect of owing a lot of money to the company… What is he supposed to feel after all of this? Anger, anxiety, fear, frustration – all of this would appropriate in his situation. But our hero said “Everything is fine. I am a man – and feelings are for weaklings”. In the end, he chose the option for “strong men” – “I am just sick. Something with my heart. But the doctors are incompetent – they sent me to a psychiatrist. As if I am mentally ill.” 

Abigale experience a lot of stress and huge fear. After the firm but unverified statement of her negligent doctor, she spent the next two weeks in shock. She was preparing to undergo operations and to die in pain. She worried that her little son will be growing up without a mother. This fear found a way out through panic attacks. Then, other difficult symptoms joined in: she started suffocating and experiencing claustrophobia. This experience turned Abigale’s life upside down and change her in profound ways. 

Wanda’s symptoms served the role of a powerful distraction. Now, she doesn’t need to think about her flimsy relationship, she doesn’t need to think that it is a dead-end. Her body is telling her: “Look – we have real problems here! You can’t breathe, death is just around the corner. He is right – what children!” Psychosomatic problems serve as a great distraction from the uncomfortable issues that really need to be dealt with…” 

In essence, everything that is happening to the body during panic attacks is a normal, appropriate reaction to fear. But there is one very important aspect – the person is not aware of the trigger. The fear appears as if “out of the blue”, without any objective reasons. Naturally, the person starts thinking about some serious illness. They notice strong symptoms, but it doesn’t occur to them to think about their feelings or anxieties. 

In the next article, we will continue discussing panic attacks. Keep checking our newsfeed.