Anxiety is one of the most fundamental emotions shared by all species of animals. When confronted with danger, the fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system is triggered so that we are prepared to react and protect ourselves. Without anxiety and its physiological manifestations, such as hypersensitivity to environment and enhanced blood supply to leg muscles, the likelihood of harm or disaster in threatening situations would undoubtedly dramatically increase. A moderate amount of anxiety also has the result of prompting individuals to prepare for certain events, such as exams and presentations, that clearly benefit from this action.
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by "brief episodes of intense fear accompanied by multiple physical symptoms (such as heart palpitations and dizziness) that occur repeatedly and unexpectedly in the absence of any external threat." Unlike fear, there is seemingly no reason or input that causes such an episode. It feels almost like an internal earthquake, something over which you have no warning and feel no control, an event that destabilizes the foundation of what you consider within the borders of normal expectation. After an initial panic attack, individuals often become incredibly fearful about the possibility of another attack. The degree to which this affects subsequent behavior and lifestyle can be extremely drastic and potentially debilitating. Whether it is a daily transformation or a more anxious reaction to the next time one feels dizzy, panic attacks have a lasting impact on the thoughts and actions of the individuals who experience them.
There are a variety of explanations for the cause of panic disorder which increasingly define it as a physiological condition, rather than a purely psychological one as was previously believed. Several theories exist that attempt to discuss the causes of panic disorder in terms of biochemical imbalances. One proposed explanation links levels of the monoamine neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) to the neurology of anxiety. Individuals with panic disorder may produce insufficient amounts of serotonin that “results in a high level of anxious behavior, (and) a low level of norepinephrine (that) results in a hyperactive alarm system and sensitization to novel stimuli. Similarly, gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) is another neurotransmitter that may play a role in panic disorder. GABA is present in 80% of the nerve cell connections in the brain, and "works by limiting the nerve cell activity in areas of the brain associated with anxiety." Researchers also support the notion of a genetic component to evidence for a biologically based mechanism for panic disorder. "Studies show anxiety disorders in general are five times as common in identical twins as nonidentical twins," demonstrating the likelihood of a hereditary predisposition towards the condition. These and...