“When Panic Attacks Strike, You Know The Amygdala Is Involved In The Interpretations.”
Mental health professionals and scientists disagree when it comes to the extent to which psychological, biological, and environmental elements play a role in the occurrence of panic attacks, a form of anxiety. They all however agree that all these factors have a role to play.
With regards to biological factors, one of the most vital organs involved in panic attacks is the amygdala. Located deep within the brain, it is a component of the limbic system and is involved in sensations, memories, processing of fearful experiences, and emotions, all of which trigger the outward behaviours. In some people, the amygdala may be spurred by specific stimuli to work in conjunction with the reptilian brain (the most primitive section of the brain) and cause the sympathetic nervous system to act in a manner that leads to a panic attack.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals which carry data from one area of the brain to another.
They have a vital role in the passage of messages and instructions between the amygdala and the rest of the body. In the instance of amygdala and panic attacks, some signals may get misread by the amygdala and thereby activate behaviors which may seem unnecessary or incongruous with regards to an ongoing situation.
In such cases, the fight or flight response or some other kinds of extreme panic symptoms may be triggered by the amygdala (this podcast episode I made will answer your panic attack questions). During a panic attack, sufferers may experience a variety of symptoms like trembling, perspiration, thumping heart, pain in chest, breathlessness, hot flashes, chills, and nausea. The panic attack sufferer may also experience varied fears such as horror of losing control, paralyzing dread, or fear of looming death.
The symptoms of amygdala triggered panic attacks tend to be temporary and may persist for just 30 seconds to 5 minutes. However, in certain instances, panic attacks may persist for several hours. Sufferers may also experience the symptom of being afraid of the occurrence of the next panic attack.
Panic attacks are different from other kinds of anxiety with regards to their duration and that they occur in bouts. Frequent episodes of panic attacks that disrupt normal life are medically diagnosed and termed as a panic disorder. Experts do not agree as a consensus about the triggers of panic attacks, but there is general belief that the short-term and extreme discomfort associated with panic conditions and anxiety is an outcome of a person’s memory of being helpless when he/she was a child or an infant.
It’s believed that the particular responses to specific stimuli by the amygdala is a learnt process and such responses in some people may occur as panic attacks. CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the best ways to retrain and teach the amygdala to change its response to varied stimuli and thus avoid the occurrence of panic attacks.