Panic May be Delayed after Stressful Event

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.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jenna


    June 23rd, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    I could never have imagined this…But now after reading,yes,it does work that way..Because unless the stressful event is so overwhelming,it is only getting accumulated in us and when our mind is full of stress,there s an eruption..A panic attack, just like a volcano.

  • Maggie W

    Maggie W

    June 25th, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    I would guess that with a scenario like this it would be common to deal with the here and now, and them process the emotions later. You kind of go into that fight or flight process, and then feel the hurt or the pain only after the event is over. Sometimes just to preserve yourself you have to kind of go a little numb, get through it, and then go back and process the panic and the hurt at a later time. maybe that in essence is allowing us to protect ourselves a little, and get into a better frame of mind to deal with some of the consequences that we had first been able to ignore.

  • Karen James

    Karen James

    June 25th, 2011 at 3:10 PM

    I’ve seen on TV before that when a catastrophe happens, there is a small window between the actual impact and when everyone realizes the enormity of what just happened almost simultaneously. As far as I could tell, it was pretty much in minutes, not months. That’s good to know and watch out for because often by the time an event passes, it’s largely forgotten by those outside of its immediate impact within days, especially the media. Sad but true.

  • Vanessa Luis

    Vanessa Luis

    June 25th, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    Ever talk to a war veteran? They will have stories of a soldier who lost an arm or a leg and didn’t know it for a few moments until they tried to use it. I think it’s a form of adrenaline rush that keeps the mind and body from breaking down in a critical situation and going into shock.

    If those with panic symptoms don’t display the increased strain for three months, wouldn’t that then fall into the category of PTSD?

  • keith y.

    keith y.

    June 25th, 2011 at 5:27 PM

    Hold on. What kind of stressful event are we even talking about? Do we mean life-changing arguments, a natural disaster, or falling down in a public place? Practically anything can be stressful and we each have our own perspective on what is and isn’t. That would make the difference surely, as opposed to the timeframe alone.

  • Darren Buchanan

    Darren Buchanan

    June 29th, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    @keith y.-it doesn’t say exactly, but it does specifically mention divorce as a possibility.

    You’re correct in your assumption that practically anything can be stressful. In theory, any event can cause tremendous stress for an individual, especially in the superstitious. I’ve seen some customers in my retail days freak out when their bill comes to $6.66.

  • Lisa Diamond

    Lisa Diamond

    June 29th, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    Panic attacks require a certain threshold of stress to be reached, and once it’s reached, it doesn’t truly go away. A victim of child abuse who goes on to be very successful in life and make a million dollars can continue to have panic attacks decades later.

    There are no permanent “cures”, only ways to put those memories to the back of your mind IMHO.

  • P.R. Vandela

    P.R. Vandela

    July 2nd, 2011 at 7:47 PM

    No shock there that problems can crop up three months later that weren’t obvious immediately.

    I remember my great grandfather almost having a heart-attack when my dad spilled a big bowl of those decorative glass beads onto the kitchen floor. He had never had a problem with panic attacks before and this was in the 60s, five decades after the First World War. The rapid sound of the beads triggered it.

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