Panic is only a false alarm

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Dr. Aaron Beck and Dr. Gary Emery, in their book Anxiety Disorders and Phobias (1985), talk about the evolutionary reason for “false alarms”:

“It has been said that “evolution favors anxious genes.”  It is better to have “false positives” (false alarms) than “false negatives” (which miss the danger) in an ambiguous situation.   One false negative – and you are eliminated from the gene pool.”

Dr. David Barlow and Dr. Jerome Cerny explain further in Psychological Treatment of Panic (1988),  pages 31-32:

"To almost all observers, beginning with Darwin (1872), the alarm of fear has been responsible in large part for the survival of the species.  Those individual organisms capable of becoming quickly alarmed, with the accompanying mobilization of the body for fight or flight, survived and won the day, while those not so inclined perished....

"When confronted with an immediate threat to our well-being which, quite fortunately, is experienced very seldom these days, we share this reaction with our ancestors who lived in caves.  It has been demonstrated again and again that our physical capacities to perform necessary actions are greatly enhanced during fear when our objective is clear.  Our objective, of course, is fight or flight.  But what if there is no objective?  No cue?  No threat?  Under these circumstances, the reaction is a false alarm and it is not surprising that it is a devastating experience...."

They go on to talk about what precipitates false alarms:  

"A remarkably consistent observation of biological and psychological clinicians and investigators for a number of years has been the extremely high evidence of negative life events preceding the first panic attack in patients later presenting with panic disorder...."

 

Is panic disorder genetic?

 


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