STEM

The scientific processes behind anxiety disorders

By MELANIE URIBE

There are six major anxiety disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Phobia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Panic Disorder. Each disorder is separated into smaller subsections and affect every individual in different magnitudes. The most common factor each of these disorders share is panic attacks.

Panic attacks are not limited to panic disorders; therefore, experiencing a panic attack does not always mean a panic disorder is present. Approximately 11% of the population of the United States will endure a panic attack in a given year. Panic disorders, however, are reported by only 1.7% of the population. A panic attack can indicate underlying psychological issues or recent adversity. It is also important to note that panic attacks differ from anxiety attacks. An anxiety attack stems from the anticipation of future events or potential outcomes and comes progressively and gradually, whereas a panic attack is unforeseen and sudden.

Panic attacks are defined as a moment of utter fear and perceived a threat, whether or not there actually is one. The derivation is usually a trigger or a built up amount of stress or worry. However, they can also be random. Panic attacks can happen to anyone, but they are most commonly reported by those with additional behavioral issues, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although there is treatment, there is no exact cure.

During a panic attack, the sympathetic nervous system activates the adrenal gland, which releases the hormone epinephrine. Doing this increases blood pressure, suppresses the immune system, and prepares the mind for a danger that may not even exist beyond the victim’s brain. Everyone reacts to panic attacks differently, but the victim most commonly will endure hyperventilation, shaking, nausea, dissociation, and or sweating. If hyperventilation occurs, the carbon dioxide levels in the victim’s lungs drop, resulting in an alteration of the blood’s pH. Blood sugar is then redirected from the brain to major muscles of the body, causing the prefrontal cortex to drain activity. To recover, the parasympathetic nervous system activates acetylcholine to stabilize the body back to homeostasis. The duration of this process is around ten minutes but varies depending on the victim’s familiarity with panic attacks. Regardless, it could last seconds or hours.

Globally, one in thirteen people suffer from an anxiety disorder to the extent that it impacts their daily life. Because of this, it is essential to be kind whenever there is a chance to be.

All information was acquired from The Nation Institute of Mental Health, the Depression and Anxiety Association of America, and Psychology Today. Further information and research can be found there.

Categories: STEM

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