Causes of anxiety attacks can vary according to the person affected by them. I write this article from a position of personal knowledge, as I suffered a break-down in August 2010, which is now over 2 years ago. However, it is only now that I can identify the factors that led up to that event and the contributory root causes of the early stages of anxiety.
If you do suffer from anxiety and are wondering – or concerned – at what those root causes could be, read on to see if you identify with any of the issues I have outlined. You may just be able to figure out what they are and prevent a full-on anxiety attack. I must stress, however, how important it is to see your doctor in the first instance.
When my break-down happened, I was diagnosed as having experienced an intense panic attack. However, there is fundamentally no difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack, but in terms of semantics, anxiety feeds the panic.
It doesn’t matter what it is called, some people just prefer one name over the other. Anxiety, though is often used to describe a less overwhelming, longer-lasting feeling of worry, while ‘panic’ is seen as something that is very intense, immediate and short-term in nature. But believe me, when an attack occurs it certainly is very intense and the name used to describe it is somewhat irrelevant.
Causes of attacks are very closely related to levels of stress. It is important to note that anxiety or panic attacks are not abnormal in themselves. They are a built-in survival mechanism, which has evolved to ensure the continuation of the human race. Otherwise known as ‘Fight or Flight’, the muscles tense, the heart beats faster, breathing becomes more rapid – but deeper and sweating occurs. Animals also possess this mechanism of survival, if they didn’t animal species that we see today would have died out many years ago.
Attacks, however, in our modern society are usually an inappropriately strong reaction to a stressful situation. I have read in other articles that panic or anxiety attacks tend to run in families. This may or may not be the case and some have argued that the condition is genetic. However, in my own case, I know that this is not true because my family’s medical history has been investigated and I have undergone neurological tests. I am now in my mid-fifties and both my parents have long since passed, and so far it has been found that my fathers’ youngest brother used to suffer with his ‘nerves’, as they used to call it (there were seven in my fathers’ family, my father was child number four and his youngest brother was child number seven).
I also know that my father and his male siblings were active during World War Two. In terms of stressful situations, nothing can really beat being shot at or dodging shells and grenades! In that sense, I think my uncle was probably suffering from – what is called today – delayed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although I think it was sometime in the ‘60’s or ‘70’s that he was diagnosed as suffering with his ‘nerves’, it is still being discovered today that there are no hard-and-fast rules or time limits as to if or when PTSD strikes ex-soldiers. Or how long the symptoms last (my uncle died in 2003 and up to then, he still suffered with ‘nerves’).
It may also be possible that fearful attitudes toward the world could be passed onto children by being around parents who feel the same way. Whether there are any genetic family links or the transmission of fearful attitudes from parents to child, it is important to remember that it is not your fault and not your parents’ fault either. Even if there are genetic links, that doesn’t mean that it is inevitable for one to be affected. However, from what I now know, if anxiety or panic seems to be more prevalent, the first course of action should be to get help.
There are also a number of self-help techniques that can be used to prevent attacks, such as meditation or breathing deeply and slowly, deliberately holding the breath for a few seconds on inhale and exhale. Other articles I have read advocate the avoidance of the contributory causes of anxiety attacks however, this strategy is somewhat false as it does not get to the root of the problem in the first place.
I have personally had a number of problems that I have successfully overcome during the last two and a half years, through a combination of professional therapy sessions and self-help techniques. But, the one problem that has remained stubbornly persistent for the last eighteen months or so is the fear of crowds and crowded places. Rest assured that you are reading an article from someone that is actively practicing what he preaches.
Possible Contributory Causes of Anxiety/Panic Attacks
The loss of a loved one, moving home or a new job can trigger anxiety. Pressure at work or a promotion that requires the taking-on of extra responsibilities can be the trigger. Being unhappy or uncertain in an existing job are also triggers, as is a period of unemployment. While it may not be possible to avoid these situations, it helps just to know that stress plays a major part and if identified at an early stage, professional and/or self-help can focus on reducing it.
Medications and Substances
Some medications, including Ritalin, SSRI anti-depressants, and even some antibiotics can cause panic attacks in some people. Caffeine, alcohol and some recreational drugs can also cause attacks.
Again, seek medical advice. Don’t just suddenly stop as this can trigger anxiety and/or panic. The consumption of tranquilizers, such as benzodiazepine or alcohol needs to be scaled-down slowly, with advice from a doctor.
If attacks appear to be triggered by certain normal life situations (such as being in a crowd, which is my stubborn problem), and you withdraw from normal human activities to avoid those situations, (which I have also tried). General ‘fear of life’ will actually increase and this makes attacks more likely to occur.
This point is important to note, as it is natural to want to avoid the situation that triggers the attack in the first place. After all, the evolutionary survival mechanism is actually working as it should, but, the root cause I still have to figure out is why it perceives these situations to be so threatening.
However, I know from my own therapy, that avoidance can risk the development of attacks in situations that did not cause anxiety previously. There is also a risk of becoming your own jailor and prisoner, as the world you inhabit slowly becomes more and more restricted until attacks start happening for no clear reason, even if you stay indoors at home 24/7.
Avoiding certain situations will also send a message to the subconscious mind, which will in turn lead it to believe that those situations are a major threat and must always be avoided as they will definitely cause panic attacks. The belief itself becomes more ingrained until attacks actually occur each and every time and also possibly just thinking about it.
Another example is if a panic attack occurs on a bus and the individual decides to avoid buses because of the fear of another attack, the mind will be programmed to associate buses with panic attacks. The individual will then probably start to have an attack every time a bus comes near.
The bus example above could have been a train or a taxi, the point is that it was not the bus that was responsible for the attack it is just where it occurred.
The bottom line is to seek help in the first instance. Ideally some assistance or training to work through the issues, it is important not to hesitate in looking for a therapist or self-help program. Act as early as possible to find the root cause so that it can be treated.