Facebook Pixel

The Science Behind Panic Attacks: What’s Happening in Your Brain?

By HERWriter Guide
Rate This
The Science Behind a Panic Attack: What’s Going on in Your Brain? Kyrylo Ryzhov/PhotoSpin

We've all experienced moments of panic. But when panic attacks are commonplace and hampering daily life, a panic disorder may be in play.

Some panic attacks are situational. For example, a normally calm person can experience an attack due to sudden news of a death, an accident or some other trauma. Standing in front of a panel for an examination, or having to make an important presentation or speech can fill a person with panic.

But these may not be the kind of attacks that could be defined as a disorder.

For many others, panic attacks are more common, and are symptomatic of an anxiety or panic disorder. Therapy can help those with a panic disorder so that they can learn the tools to cope when the first signs of an attack occur.

It can help people to learn how to avoid situations that lead to these attacks. But regardless of why or how often, all panic attacks come down to the same science — how stress affects the body and mind.

EmpowHER describes a panic attack as part of “... a type of anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent and unpredictable bursts of terror known as panic attacks. A panic attack is accompanied by physical symptoms that may feel similar to a heart attack or other life-threatening condition.”

Other symptoms include becoming out of breath, sweating, an inability to speak or move, trembling and shaking. The terror felt can be extreme enough that a person feels they may black out or even die.

An article in Scientific American helps to uncover why.

Cognitive science lecturer Paul Li explains that “researchers have identified certain regions of the brain that become hyperactive during a panic attack. These regions include the amygdala, which is the fear center of the brain, and parts of the midbrain that control a range of functions, including our experience of pain.”

The amygdala is thought to control our fears ... and our aggression. For example, if faced with a bear in the woods, this is the area of the brain that will decide what a person will do.

Will it make the person fight, or take flight?

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Panic Disorder

Get Email Updates

Related Topics

Panic Disorder Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!