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What causes Panic Attacks?

DR. ESSLIN TERRIGHENA shares on causes and triggers for panic attacks.


There is no decisive evidence on what causes panic attacks or panic disorder, but some of the factors implicated are genetics, stress, and changes in brain functioning.


It is likely that a panic attack results from our brains perceiving a threat in the environment and alerting us to this danger. This threat has been interpreted by the brain as a real threat to our survival. Our fight-flight-freeze system is activated and physiological processes are stimulated that give us the best chance of survival in face of this danger. However, often the triggers are actually benign and our lives are not truly in danger.

The brains may make an incorrect safety assessment based on various factors, including past traumatic experiences, or a general sense of stress or unsafety in our daily lives. To ensure our survival, our brains have evolved to err on the side of better safe than sorry.


Risk factors include:

  • Family history of anxiety, panic attacks, or panic disorder

  • Major life stressors, e.g. the death of a loved one

  • Major life changes, e.g. changing jobs, having a baby, getting married

  • Underlying daily stress that contributes to feeling unsafe, e.g. domestic violence, financial instability

  • Substances, such as caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol

  • Past traumatic experiences

If you or a loved one are struggling with panic attacks and want to find help, please book a consultation with Dr. Terrighena on (852) 2521 4668 or e.terrighena@mind-balance.org.


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