Various forms of panic attacks and anxiety conspire with clinical depression in various ways. The panic attacks and anxiety issues can be primary and causing a secondary condition of clinical depression. But it can also go the other way: The clinical depression can be the primary condition that turns the ignition key for panic attacks and anxiety. In this article we are going to briefly consider this strange relationship in which depression cozies up to panic attacks and anxiety, as well as the way panic attacks and anxiety invite depression to move in just to share rent. Who pays the burdensome rent? You do, if you have both anxiety and depression taking up residence in your life.
Panic Attacks and Anxiety are Cut From the Same Cloth
Sometimes a client will be describing to me an ongoing experience of stress and I will mention the word anxiety. “Oh, no,” she replies. “Not anxiety.” I have a puzzled look on my face. She goes on, “It’s more like worry.” Then I am reminded that many people don’t like to think of themselves as having anxiety.
Anxiety is a physical response in which a particular branch of our nervous system is activated to prepare the body for defensive action (fight or flight). Brief anxiety is something we all experience frequently as a part of normal life. If your boss hands you an urgent new assignment minutes before you were to leave work early for an appointment, you feel something. It’s probably not panic attacks and anxiety. But it’s anxiety, however small.
Anxiety can come in the form of mild stress, caution, worry, concern, a startle response, and….an anxiety attack. It’s a matter of degree. Normal anxiety seems to fit well with the situation. If you work on the 10th floor of an office building and the fire alarm begins sounding, it’s normal to feel a rush of anxiety. But panic attacks and anxiety for weeks following the event can be a real pain, besides being unnecessary.
So panic attacks are a form of anxiety. Panic attacks become dysfunctional when your whole body shutters with anxiety and there is no apparent danger. You may know all too well that being ambushed by panic attacks and anxiety “out of the blue” is most undesirable.
How Panic Attacks and Anxiety Lead to Depression
A chicken is not an egg. Chickens can walk around and even fly. Eggs can do neither. So, which came first?
Likewise, anxiety and depression are not the same at all. Anxiety ramps our bodies up for defensive action, while depression slows (depresses) the systems of the body. In particular, the brain has a kind of fog, not to mention the sadness. This is why it’s so hard to feel “with it” when we are depressed. It seems that our brains have been designed to slide into depression when subjected to anxiety and stress over a long period of time. Depression loves chronic stress in the way that eggs love chickens because they provide just the right environment in which to incubate and ultimately hatch.
So, people with frequent panic attacks and anxiety will almost always become depressed because the brain eventually says, “I’m not made to handle all this adrenalin (anxiety) without a break, so I’m shutting things down (depression). Frequent, ongoing panic attacks push the brain chemistry into depression. Chronic anxiety makes depression appear in your crystal ball: it’s coming.
The Vicious Cycle Begins: How Depression Sows the Seeds for Panic Attacks and Anxiety
It’s almost a cruel joke of brain chemistry, that depression can also lead to panic attacks and anxiety. This is because panic attacks and anxiety seem to thrive when we are not thriving. The key mechanism here is our the sense of vulnerability. Depression over many days plants in us a sense of vulnerability that just happens to be the soil that panic attacks and anxiety love.
Panic Attacks, and Anxiety Resources to Take Back Your Life
If panic attacks and anxiety are constantly hounding you, what kind of help do you need to reclaim your enjoyment of life? You certainly don’t need to be told to “just get over it.” Instead, you need a tried and true method for systematically overcoming your panic attacks and anxiety, one step at a time.
Therapy May Not be Necessary
What about therapy? You may need therapy and it’s a good idea to have at least one session of evaluation by a competent psychologist to make sure your situation lends itself to self help. A professional evaluation of the “league” of panic attacks and anxiety that you are in can save you unnecessary discouragement.
On the other hand, a good self help program may be all you need. For many people starting with something at home can help them begin to make progress and even eliminate panic attacks entirely. The point here is that a self study program at home may help you determine if you need therapy or not.
Either way, you need a program that can give you the tools and perspective to deflate panic attacks and anxiety one twinge at a time…so that you make progress without becoming overwhelmed in the process. For many people the end of panic attacks means that the prison cell door of depression opens wide and they obtain a double benefit: no more panic attacks and anxiety as well as relief from depression.
Panic Away Review
Recently, I have reviewed one of the most popular self help programs for breaking free from panic attacks and anxiety including generalized anxiety. The name of the program is Panic Away. It was developed by a man who suffered from relentless panic attacks and anxiety himself. Though he is not a mental health professional, I found the program content to be very solid and practical. It is also affordable for most people. I like it because it is consistent with what we know about panic attacks from anxiety research. I collected my findings and put my analysis of the Panic Away program in a 30 minute audio review that you can access here. It’s included in the free SILVER membership to StepsforChange.com.