The Physiology Behind Crippling Panic Attacks

In a disquieting Ted-Ed lesson written by educator Cindy J. Aaronson and animated by Aim Creative Studios, narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott explains the physiology behind crippling panic attacks, how the fear of a repeated panic attack can often lead to further attacks and what can be done to minimize anxiety.

At its core, a panic attack is an overreaction to the body’s normal physiological response to the perception of danger. This response starts with the amygdala, the brain region involved in processing fear. When the amygdala perceives danger, it stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline prompts an increase in the heart and breathing rate to get blood and oxygen to the muscles of the arms and legs. This also sends oxygen to the brain, making it more alert and responsive.