TED-Ed: "What causes panic attacks, and how can you prevent them?"

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/10/08/ted-ed-what-causes-panic-attacks-and-how-can-you-prevent-them.html


Oh. I didn’t learn very much, I’m afraid.

Briefly, fear lets you to react to threats. When fear itself triggers this reaction, the feedback can be so intense as to feel like a heart attack. There are pills that can dampen the feedback. But a better approach for some may be to train themselves to think “I am afraid. Okay, what are the actual threats? Am I at risk? Is there something I can do to reduce this risk? Let’s rationalise this before we feel more afraid”.

My objection is that science is used to baffle and impress, rather than to explain. The feedback mechanism is explained in terms of the amygdala, and a whole other lot of bits, eventually modified by the forebrain. Now that just means I have many other terms to look up. The process of developing a coping mechanism is given three letters but is not explained either. The animation showed someone breathing into a paper bag. Is this good?

What do I do if I see someone having a panic attack? I am pretty sure reading out Wiki pages on how rare fatal spider bites are will do nothing for someone who has a pathological fear of spiders and ONE ON THEIR ARM. The paper bag trick I remember.

Kurtsgesagt would have made a better job, I feel. But I don’t think this is one of their topics.


oooh, ooh! I didn’t read but is the answer hyper-ventilation? And if you can control your breathing (and better yet, do deep belly/diaphragm breathing) you can stop a panic attack?

/ask me how I know this… go ahead… :wink:


tl;dr: yeah, my post below is a form of the paper-bag trick (it’s really all about CO2 and keeping enough of it in your system. Otherwise your heart picks up the pace. And controlled breathing accomplishes that, especially when done through the nose; but mid-panic, that can be a tall order). We can think about causality and deriving psychological/spiritual strength a priori, but once you’re in it, it’s a sympathetic/para-sympathetic nervous system battle in real time.

so yeah, paper bag trick.


One of the tricks my mother was taught to deal with her panic attacks was to focus on an object and do controlled breathing exercises. She used to paint one thumbnail red with nail polish, to help her focus on it. My father had panic attacks too, and something that helped him was me simply asking him, “is this a panic attack?” Once he realized that yes, that was what was happening to him, it was easier for him to relax and breathe his way through it.

I’ve wound up having the occasional panic attack too (yay genetics?) I don’t have them very often, but when I feel one brewing inside, it helps to acknowledge it, then find something else to focus on. If that fails, I sit quietly, close my eyes, and listen to a meditation video from YouTube or an app on my tablet. (They usually include deep breathing exercises.) On good days, just a few minutes of that can derail the adrenaline reaction and help my system calm down.

I agree, it can be an incredibly difficult thing to do to sit, relax, and breathe when your body is telling you it’s time to fight or flee… but it’s possible.


The odd thing is that there is a helpful science they could have quoted…

There is evidence that Panic and Anxiety are different things with different coping mechanisms. A panic attack is a sudden a release of adrenaline, presumably for immediate fight and/or flight. Anxiety may be caused by a slow release of cortisol, to let you react to a longer termed threat. If you are worried, you might avoid panic by invoking the anxiety mechanism instead. Well, it seems reasonable to me, but I am no expert.


AFAIK (but what do I know), panic attacks and anxiety attacks are different beasts.
If a panic attack is the one where your heart beats so fast and hard that you think it will burst out of your chest any moment, then I once had one.
Interesting experience, no need to repeat it.

Two more things:

1. Kurzgesagt doesn't have a vid about this, I checked. Tons of other interesting stuff, check it out.

2. Yes, serious topic. I don't even want to try to imagine what it's like having panic attacks and/or anxiety attacks on a regular basis. Still going to post a funny and probably inaccurate vid.    
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