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What are the Physical Effects?

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  The chemicals responsible for the panic attack symptoms we feel can be grouped into two groups, the hormones produced by the brain and the stress chemicals produced by the adrenal gland.

The first group to consider is the hormone group. These hormones are the brains way of commanding the body to take specific actions.

Fight or Flight Response Function of the of the Brain Produced Hormones:

  1. Increase in the blood pressure to supply blood efficiently and increase in the heart rate to supply more blood quickly (the initial panic attack symptoms; palpitations)
  2. Swap the blood supply from less important parts of the body to the more vital organs
  3. Increase the rate of breathing to get more oxygen (the hyperventilation panic attack symptoms)
  4. Start muscle and liver glycogen breakdown to get more glucose (i.e, energy – leading to one of the panic attack symptoms we often get; that of feeling [what I can only describe as] wired!)
  5. Increased use of non carbohydrate’s to produce glucose

The overall function of this hormonal secretion, as you can see above, is to increase oxygen supply and provide a rich glucose energy source. This is the fuel muscles require, if expected to perform at peak efficiency, whilst either fleeing or fighting.

The hormones also act on the limbic system; the brains emotion centre. This is where the feeling of anxiety, depression and despair come from, familiar panic attack symptoms for all of us!

The next thing the hormones do is work on the short term memory centre of the brain; the frontal lobe. Remember the derealisation part of the panic attack symptoms section?

Perhaps the main life preserving feature of these hormones is their action on the hippocampus area of the brain; this is where long term memory is processed. From an evolutionary perspective it’s important that lessons are learned, so that if something is dangerous, you don’t forget it! This is the cause of the frequent sleepless nights in the future, reliving the experience, and reinforcing its power on the subconscious at each occurrence.

Fight or Flight Response Function of the of the Adrenal Produced Hormones:

The second group; the 'Adrenal Produced Stress Hormones' also have important functions.

Adrenalin stimulates the heart to increase its rate of contraction, resulting in greater amounts of blood being pumped.

Adrenalin also causes blood vessels to contract resulting in more efficient delivery of blood to the body.

The action of the adrenal hormones on the lungs causes them to increase their rate of expiration, in order to get more oxygen, to supply the needs of the increased flow of blood.

The hormone cortisol is an immunosuppressant which helps us get that quick burst of energy and also increases our pain threshold. It also helps the bodies systems stay in balance; a process known as homeostasis.

A side effect of the persistently high cortisol levels encountered with anxiety and regular panic attack symptoms is a disruption of the entire immune system, which can lead to an increase in allergic reactions, one of the panic attack symptoms side effects that many people encounter, but don’t connect with the panic attack symptoms they have been experiencing.


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