New research suggests that stressful events may cause delayed increase in panic symptoms. Because the effect of stress on panic symptoms has not been studied extensively, researchers wanted to determine if people with panic problems experienced immediate increase or a gradual increase in symptoms following a stressful event. “We definitely expected the symptoms to get worse over time, but we also thought the symptoms would get worse right away,” said Ethan Moitra, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. But the findings revealed that stress does not always cause an immediate panic attack. Dr. Martin Keller, principal investigator of the research and professor of psychiatry and human behavior, warns family members and clients to watch for signs of panic over the several months following the stressful event.
“If they have the event and they are not feeling much different then maybe the vigilance on the individual’s part decreases somewhat,” Keller said. “With the knowledge we have, you may need to stay vigilant for three months or maybe longer. This is something you have to watch for.” The researchers also noticed that even if a stressful event was anticipated, such as a divorce, the panic symptoms did not increase prior to the event. The study involved data collected from over 400 adults with panic symptoms. Researchers asked various questions in order to gauge the anxiety level of the participants. The stressful life events were broken down into several different categories. The categories that appeared to have the largest effect on panic symptoms were “friends/family/household” and “work.” When stress occurred in either of these categories, as the result of an argument, job loss or other external influence, the respondents reported a steady and gradual increase in their panic symptoms for a minimum of three months following the event.
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