Fight-Flight Response

Goal

To be able to understand how panic attacks work

How Panic Attacks Work

How Panic Attacks WorkPanic attacks occur as a result of sensing a threat or danger, experiencing uncontrollable worry, or feeling anxious about the possibility of experiencing a panic attack. When we are aroused, such as by a stressful situation, our autonomic nervous system kicks in and prompts either a fight or flight response-meaning we become combative towards the situation or to try to flee it. These situations that are associated with a heightened state of arousal commonly stem from perceiving an imminent threat or danger. For example, you may fear death, social ridicule, or loss of control. The flight response typically occurs in individuals experiencing a panic attack. The response itself is not necessarily problematic since it serves to protect the individual being aroused. The sensations that often accompany the fight or flight response, however, can be problematic.

Panic attack symptoms often include a racing heart, dizziness, shakiness, and sweating. There are less noticeable symptoms too, however, that require self-awareness to identify. Reflect on what you feel, think, and do when you are anxious and in a state of panic. Examples include feeling anxious, thinking that you might pass out, feeling afraid, being lightheaded, and thinking that the panic attack will never stop. The interaction between feelings, thoughts, and actions creates a cycle and can prolong the panic attack. It is more beneficial to address factors that maintain the panic attacks than to address the factors that contribute to panic attacks occurring in the first place.

Next Step

Learn more about the fight-flight response by watching the following brief video.

Panic attack symptoms include which of the following:

Panic attacks occur as a result of all of the following EXCEPT:

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