What happens in the brain during a panic attack?
Last Updated: 09/25/2018 at 3:27am
Tara Davis, Doctorate in Counselling Psychology
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Everyone has what is called a parasympathetic nervous system and a sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is what makes you feel hungry or tired. the sympathetic nervous system is what helps you survive traumatic encounters. During a panic response, your sympathetic nervous system is triggered. Impulses called action potentials originating in the amygdala travel down to the adrenal glands in your kidneys. The adrenal glands then produce norepinephrine and epinephrine (called adrenaline and noradrenalin in the UK). These drugs, collectively known as "adrenaline" in laymen's terms cause your heart to pump faster and harder, and blood vessels to constrict. Blood away from your extremities and toward your internal organs. Endorphins--organically produced endogenous opiods--bind to the opiod receptors in your brain, giving you a "rush" and dulling your sensation of pain. Cortisol begins to flow into your tissues and organs, suppressing your immune system, preparing your body and mind for an immediate threat or incoming attack. All of these changes are part of our primate evolution. they equip us to fight odd predatory animals, or run for our lives. They help us carry on if we are mortally injured. However, when the "fight or flight" response is repeated every day, it contributes to bodily weakness, exhaustion, and decline.
I feel like I'm spiraling out of control. A hundred thoughts flood my brain at once and I just want to make it all stop.
In the middle of the brain, there's a region called the amygdala, which is made up of compact neuron clusters (a bunch of 'receptors' & 'receivers'.) The amygdala is basically the center for aggressive emotions. It's the area that receives the most signals when you feel anxious, feared, threatened or panicked. When you have a panic attack, that little area almost "over-reacts" or "exaggerates" as a defense mechanism. It sends off signals to your body (you get physical symptoms & high anxiety) to give you a warning that you need to calm down or your symptoms could get worse.
In general, the sympathetic nervous system gets fired up. Normally, the parasympathetic nervous system will then work to calm you down, but during a panic attack, this system fails for some reason or another. Some specific areas of the brain have been identified as becoming hyperactive during a panic attack: the amygdala (fear centre of the brain), and parts of the midbrain (responsible for our pain experience). For more information, check out this article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-happens-in-the-brain-when-we-experience/
No one truly knows what happens during a panic attack, although there are a couple theories about the subject. One of the theories is that the periaqueductal gray, which regulates defense mechanisms like running or freezing, starts to perceive the situation in a more extreme manner than appropriate.
Well, as far as I know it's the rush of chemicals where it should be slow and steady. Causing the heart to race with the rush of chemicals then feeling anxious and nauseated, light headed, lack of breath and so on. As an example, it's like people in the city. Let's say the people are the chemicals and they're all walking steadily, happily, it's all okay and everyone's happy. Then one starts panicking and racing around in circles, then so do all the others. That's where the rush comes from
A sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying
The amygdala, the brain's center for aggressive-type emotions, is heavily stimulated. When the amygdala is stimulated, emotions take control and are overwhelming. Therefore, it's difficult to think rationally in the midst of a panic attack. The brain perceives that it's in danger, so adrenaline is released into the body. The fight-or-flight response is triggered, and the physiological body is gripped with fear, causing shaking, sweating, and shallow breathing.
Neurotransmitters in your brain become unbalanced and can no longer balance the communication between your body and brain. Therefore your natural flight or fight mechanism of your brain shuts off temporarily. This causes an adrenaline release mechanism to become disrupted. When that happens an adrenaline surge can occur causing a panic attack.
Recently researchers have identified certain regions of the brain that become hyperactive during a panic attack. These regions include the amygdala, which is the fear center of the brain, and parts of the midbrain that control a range of functions, including our experience of pain. They found activity in an area of the midbrain called the periaqueductal gray, a region that provokes the body’s defensive responses, such as freezing or running. Dean Mobbs, the lead author on a study, wrote: “When our defense mechanisms malfunction, this may result in an overexaggeration of the threat, leading to increased anxiety and, in extreme cases, panic.”
I know for me it feels like my brain just freezes up. It's the basic fight or flight response, as if a bear is running towards me, but minus the bear.
The sympathetic nervous system kicks in, activating your "fight or flight" response. Your heart rate increases, you start breathing heavily, and you get all sweaty. This is a NORMAL response that happens when a person feels anxious. The best thing to do is recognize when these are happening and try to calm yourself down with breathing exercises, talking yourself out of it, etc.
The center of the brain that is responsible for emotions tends to overreact during a panic attack, causing the flood of seemingly uncontrollable emotions, increased heart rate, perspiration, and respiratory upset. Basically, the brain releases too many signals at one time, overwhelming the body and causing panic attacks.
The brain goes into fight or flight response. The same things that happen to your brain when you are in danger happen during a panic attack.
I couldn't tell you exactly, but what happens is that it gets convinced that you are in danger. So it reacts by preparing you to have a flight response. Your head gets light because your blood is directed towards your extremities to help you run. You heart starts beating faster and you hyperventilate because that what they'd do while running. You can even dissociate because your brain wants to protect you from reality. That's "why" it happens. Your brain gets convinced that you're in danger when you're not.
The physiology of a panic attack is the obvious signs that you get during a panic attack. The brain has an important role during a panic attack but lots of research is still being conducted. Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear - when this happens the nervous system begins to release energy to prepare the body for action. Then the nervous system provides a stabilizer to bring you to a calmer state. Research has found that certain areas of the brain are linked with panic attacks such as the amygdala which is the fear center of the brain. The brain releases Adrenalin into the blood stream which causes the body to feel stressed.
When having a panic attack, the brain usually turns off reality and all you can worry about at the moment is your fear
The amygdala, the part of your brain that's associated with fear, malfunctions during a panic attack, triggering feelings of extreme anxiety.
The prefrontal region of the brain is most often the area that is connected with anxiety, among other things. Research has shown that the amygdala that consists of a cluster of nerves and is associated heavily with fear and aggression may activate and cause panic attacks due to abnormal activity.
You think you're losing control and that you're in a nightmare. But you're awake so it's like you're living the nightmare.
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