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Panic may Lead to Serious Mental Health Problems in Adolescents

ty and panic – the role of “anxiety sensitivity” or the general tendency to respond with fear or anxiety to normal bodily sensations. They limited study participation to psychologically healthy adolescents to eliminate the impact of factors related to existing mental illnesses. They also used a more sophisticated assessment process than had been used in previous studies. That is, to elicit a panic-type experience, researchers guided each volunteer through a three-minute breathing challenge, a laboratory procedure that has proven safe with adolescents. This was done with 123 adolescent participants, and the adolescents or their parents had the option to withdraw at any time. None did.

The researchers found that those adolescents who were further along in puberty and high in anxiety sensitivity were more afraid of the bodily sensations elicited by the breathing challenge. For those low in anxiety sensitivity, there was little relationship between their maturity and anxious responding to the breathing challenge.

Their data, in conjunction with earlier studies, “suggest that elevations in anxiety sensitivity may potentiate panic-relevant learning that occurs during the course of puberty,” the researchers wrote.

In light of theories about the development of panic disorder, the researchers added that adolescents who tend to respond anxiously to bodily sensations may “perceive the bodily events that occur during puberty as personally threatening” and thus “learn to fear bodily sensations, thereby setting the stage for panic development.” This learning process might be even more likely to occur when bodily experiences related to puberty happen unexpectedly.

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