Causes of Anxiety Attacks or Panic Attacks

What are the possible causes of anxiety attacks or panic attacks?

Although anxiety attacks do not always have a highly specified trigger or cause, there are certain things that tend to induce an anxious response in individuals prone to these attacks.

The effects of a panic attack vary between individuals, but aside from a predisposition to anxiety attacks, there are a few things that are known to elicit anxiety attacks.

According to In a Page: Signs and Symptoms, there are a few organic causes to which causes of anxiety attacks / panic attacks can be attributed. Some conditions that may lead to the development of anxiety attacks are: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, depression,

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obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic or acute stress disorder.

Contributory Factors

Additionally, there are a few conditions which may contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder as a secondary illness, namely Parkinson’s disease, certain adrenal issues, as well as certain cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological and endocrine issues. Cancer can also cause an anxiety disorder.

In addition, medications have been known to cause panic disorders, particularly brochiodilators, steroids, antidepressants, and antihypertensives. Substance use can also cause episodes of extreme anxiety.

Although alcohol, cannabis, and a wide variety of other drugs are known to produce such a reaction, stimulants such as caffeine and cocaine are particularly notorious for their role in the development of anxiety disorders.

In a way, the abovementioned factors can be considered indirect causes of anxiety attacks or panic attacks.

Situational Triggers

Certain situations are known to induce panic attacks in at-risk individuals, and these can be considered the more immediate causes of anxiety attacks. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, some things that people who suffer from panic attacks tend to avoid are:

  • Being far away from home

  • Going anywhere without the company of a "safe" person

  • Physical exertion (because of the belief that it could trigger a panic attack)

  • Places where escape is not readily available (e.g. restaurants, theaters, stores, public transportation)

  • Driving

  • Places where it would be embarrassing to have a panic attack, such as a social gathering

  • Eating or drinking anything that could provoke panic (such as alcohol, caffeine, or certain foods or medications)

These things are generally avoided by those suffering from agoraphobia (a condition that is thought to develop as the result of panic attacks, whereby a person avoids all things that are thought to be difficult or embarrassing). Even so, these are situations that tend to provoke anxiety in those prone to fear and worry, and can provoke panic attacks in those who are sensitive to each thing for various reasons.

As self-talk and self-help are generally emphasized with increased enthusiasm with regard to anxiety disorders, there are a number of things one can do to oneself to trigger panic attacks; these, too, can be considered causes of anxiety attacks.

The choice to eat poorly or drink excessive caffeine can cause increased anxiety, as can a lack of exercise. Perfectionism, poor self-esteem, and negative self-talk (i.e. asking oneself "what if...") can also trigger attacks.

Holding in feelings and putting too much pressure on oneself or others is also problematic. When one is in an anxious state, failure to concentrate on breathing and calm oneself down is also a poor way to cope with anxious feelings.


Anxiety is provoked by many different things, and the causes of anxiety attacks tend to be quite dependent upon an individual’s personal triggers and dispositions. Whether caused by specific environmental triggers or a physical etiology, there are a variety of treatments available so that individuals that experience these terrifying episodes do not have to suffer.

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