What Are Panic Attacks?

This video presents an introduction to panic attacks and panic disorder – a condition when recurrent panic attacks are diagnosed.

Video by Emma Hudson, Patricia Kitala, Manveer Singh, Shahriar Ameri

Copyright McMaster University 2017

Please let us know below how you liked this video and suggest additional topics for us to attempt to demystify.

For more information about panic attacks, or to get connected to resources, please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association:

Other resources:
Ontario Mental Health Hotline: 1-866-531-2600 or
Access alliance (Multicultural mental health care):

What is CBT?
CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on eliminating negative thoughts, feelings and emotions from a person’s mind. By changing a person’s pattern of thinking from negative to positive, CBT is able to reduce anxiety which is often the cause of panic attacks. It aims to make the the person aware of his/her thoughts from a different perspective, which allows them to understand why they are experiencing such emotions. By the end of a 5-10 month period, CBT hopes to bring about positive change in the client’s attitude, followed by behaviour that results in reduced anxiety and less panic attacks. (

What drug options are available?
SSRI’s and tricyclic antidepressants fall under the broad category of antidepressants, which are drugs used to treat depression and anxiety related illnesses such as panic disorders. They primarily function by affecting the brain chemistry of neurotransmitters, which act as messengers between brain cells. SSRI stands from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor and works by increasing levels of active serotonin neurotransmitters in the brain’s mood circuitry. This helps in reducing anxiety by elevating mood.
Benzodiazapines are another class of drugs used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. They are commonly referred to as tranquilizers as they act on the central nervous system by inducing sedation, muscle relaxation and lowering anxiety levels. Benzodiazaoines also affect brain chemistry by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter, GABA.

Asmundson, G., Taylor, S., & A. J. Smits, J. (2014). Panic disorder and agoraphobia: and overview and commentary on DSM-5 changes. Depression And Anxiety, 31(6), 480-486.
Elsevier Interactive Patient Education,. (2016). Panic Attacks. Elsevier Inc.
Kumar S.., & Malone D. (2008, December 16). Panic disorder. In BMJ best practice. Retrieved from
Stein M.B. (2017). Panic disorder in adults: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis. In T. W. Post (Ed.), UpToDate. Retrieved from

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