As with most mental health conditions, research suggests that there are a number of factors that can increase an individual’s susceptibility to struggling with panic attacks, and the impact of these factors can differ from person to person.
At Priory, our panic attack treatment experts can help you to identify the underlying causes and triggers for your panic attacks, empower you to develop healthy coping strategies for the future, and take steps towards a full and sustainable recovery.
Genetics has been found to play an important role in determining the likelihood of a person experiencing panic attacks. Research suggests that having a first degree relative such as a parent or sibling who suffers from panic attacks, makes it more likely that you will also develop panic attacks at some point in your life. Other causes of panic attacks can be broken down into psychological, pharmacological (relating to the uses and effects of drugs) and environmental factors.
Psychological causes of panic attacks may include:
- Chronic stress
- An existing mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Phobias - people may experience panic attacks as a direct result of exposure to a phobic object or situation
- Lack of assertiveness - a growing body of evidence supports the idea that those who suffer from panic attacks engage in a passive style of communication or interactions with others
- Low self-esteem
Pharmacological causes of panic attacks may include:
- Alcohol, drugs or medication withdrawal
- Medication side effects
- Excessive caffeine intake
Environmental causes of panic attacks may include:
- Chronic physical illnesses such as cancer
- Experiencing a significant personal loss, including bereavement, or the breakdown of a relationship with a romantic partner
- Significant life changes such as losing a job, becoming a parent, and moving house
- ‘Maintaining’ behaviour such as avoiding panic-provoking situations or environments, anxious/negative self-talk, dysfunctional beliefs, and withheld feelings
This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Oluwagbenga Odeyemi (MBBS, MPH, MRCPsych) in August 2021.