Many people believe that a panic attack is a panic attack, as if there is only one type that people suffer from.  This is certainly not true.  While all the causes of panic attacks are not known, there are four major categories into which they can broken down — Thought Based, Exposure Based, Emotional Based, and Physiological Based.  These are certainly not the only causes.  For example, one of the side effects of long term drug abuse is panic attacks, but most panic attacks experienced can be broken down into one of the four causes.

The Thought Based, or Cognitive Model, cause of panic attacks holds that mentally dwelling on a distressing subject causes the anxiety that leads to an attack.  An example of this may be a woman walking to her car in a dark parking lot.  There may not actually be a threatening person there, but as the woman sees the shadows and thinks of what “could happen” she builds up the anxiety in her mind until the point that her thoughts trigger a panic attack.  The cause of these attacks is not the circumstances of the situation or a physiological imbalance, but literally the thoughts of the panic suffers own making.  Reliefs for this type of panic attack can usually be found in retraining the mind to look at situations rationally and not let negative thoughts prevail.

Exposure based panic attacks come about because the sufferer works extremely hard to avoid something they fear.  This is actually something that many people can relate to.  Fear of public speaking is one such fear that many have, actively avoid doing, and experience an uncomfortable level of anxiety when forced into the situation.  While most people will simply deal with their anxiety, some will actually experience a panic attack rather than have to face their fear.  Ironically, the cure for this type of panic attack is often taking a stand and facing the fear.  Desensitization training is helpful for this particular type of panic attack.

Another type of panic attack is called the Hidden Emotion.  People who tend to be people pleasers experience anxiety in their efforts to please people and avoid conflict.  This type of person will bury their feelings in an effort to promote harmony and in doing so will build up a resentment that remains hidden until it manifests itself in the form of a panic attack.  The quintessential “happy mom” persona is prone to panic attacks caused by hidden emotions.  In an effort make sure everyone get along they will suppress their anger and frustrations until the panic attack manifests.  This type of panic attack will usually disappear when the hidden emotions are expressed rather than repressed.

Finally, the traditional belief that panic attacks are biological is expressed through the Physiological or Biological Model.  This school of thought holds that panic attacks and feelings of anxiety are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.  It also holds that medication is the most effective treatment to prevent feelings of anxiety and panic attacks.  Unfortunately the medication will have to be taken for an extended period if not for the patient’s entire life.

With these four main causes of panic attacks, it is helpful to determine which type a person suffers from.  With all four causes, non-medical help is available.  Changes in lifestyle and behaviors can alleviate the feelings of anxiety.  Also, there are medical conditions that masquerade as panic attacks that can be helped through changes in diet in addition to the changes in lifestyle and behavior.  Determining the cause of any panic attacks experienced will take research and experimentation if the cause is not immediately obvious, but it is preferred to start with non-medication solutions before beginning to take pills for the problem.

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