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What causes a panic attack?

Stress is one of the major causes of panic attacks (genetics and changes in the way parts of your brain function are other causes) and recent research links multitasking to the condition.

Today, many of us have increased our stress levels because we are doing so many things at the same time. We’re cooking dinner, while doing laundry, speaking on our cell phones, texting, and juggling a myriad of things we have to do in our minds.

Subjecting our bodies to this level of stress daily is more than many of us can handle, and the result is panic, and anxiety attacks. Stress, panic, and anxiety, all cause increased levels of the hormones, cortisol, and adrenalin, to be released into the blood stream, raising our blood pressure and lowering our immunity.

Because of this, in the long term stress can put us at increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and even stroke.

According to clinical psychologist Marla Deibler, Director of the Center for Emotional Health in Philadelphia, anxiety increases with what she calls the three un’s — unpredictable, uncontrollable and unfamiliar.

She says the extent to which people feel these impacts their anxiety, for example, the less control a person has in a given situation, the more anxious they are.

According to Dr Deibler there are three levels of anxiety — worry, distress and panic. To determine your anxiety level you can take this simple test designed by Dr Deibler.

Anxiety scale test

Consider how you have been feeling in the last two weeks when answering these questions. Respond with one of the following to each question.

0= not at all, 1point=for several days, 2points=more than half the days, 3 points=nearly every day

1. How often have you been feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge?

2. How often have you not been able to stop or control your worry?

3. How often have you been worrying about many different things?

4. How often have you had trouble relaxing?

5. How often have you been so restless that it’s hard to sit still?

6. How often have you become easily annoyed or irritable?

7. How often have you felt afraid for no reason, as if something awful might happen?

Add your scores.

0-4 Points — According to Dr Deibler everyone experiences anxiety on some level. A score of 0-4 points on the quiz represents an average amount of stress that is manageable.

5-9 Points — Worry Category: According to Dr Deibler a person who worries a lot will usually have several different thoughts about many different things going through their head at the same time. This includes a lot of “what if” thinking, like “what if I lose my job”?

Dr Deibler advises getting through these times by telling yourself you cannot control what might happen, but you can be prepared with what steps to take if something bad does happen.

10-14 Points — Distress Category: Dr Deibler explained people who are in this category not only feel stress, but they also begin to feel the physiological effect of anxiety on their body. She said they might begin to notice their heart and mind racing, as well as difficulty with taking a deep breath.

15 or More Points — Panic Mode: According to Dr Deibler this is a very severe level of stress that could begin to cause trouble in your everyday life, from challenges at work to difficulty with your personal relationships. She said in extreme cases people begin to have panic attacks- brief periods of overwhelming anxiety where the person believes he/she could die or have a heart attack.

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Published May 07, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 06, 2013 at 5:06 pm)

What causes a panic attack?

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