Skip to main content

About this free course

Become an OU student

Download this course

Share this free course

Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them
Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2.2 The fear response

A panic attack involves someone experiencing a set of body reactions which are associated with feeling fear, only often in the apparent absence of anything to be scared of.

This set of body reactions is termed ‘the fear reaction’. In the next video Professor Roger Baker describes how this fear response might be experienced if you were suddenly threatened by someone holding a knife.

Activity 5 The body’s response to fear

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Watch the following video.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1 Professor Roger Baker discusses the fear response
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Show transcript|Hide transcript
Video 1 Professor Roger Baker discusses the fear response
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Why might having a fear reaction be a good thing do you think?

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Discussion

The fear reaction prepares the human body to respond to danger – to fight or to run away. It is an important body response for human survival!

Now watch this second video – where Professor Roger Baker explains what happens whenthe fear response is accidentally triggered in a panic attack.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2 Professor Roger Baker explains what happens when the fear response is accidentally triggered
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Show transcript|Hide transcript
Video 2 Professor Roger Baker explains what happens when the fear response is accidentally triggered
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

What is Professor Baker’s key message?

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Discussion

In this video Professor Roger Baker makes the point that the fear reaction has to be intense so that it works to get you out of danger. But he also says that the fear response is harmless even if it is very unpleasant to experience. It won’t actually kill you – it just feels like it might.

To drive home this point, have a go at the following activity.

Activity 6 Fear of fear

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Pair the right answers with the statement.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. so that it can save you in an emergency

  2. but it is designed to save you (not kill you)

  3. a fear of the fear response

  • a.The fear response feels really awful:

  • b.A key driver of panic attacks is:

  • c.The fear response is really strong:

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = c
  • 2 = a
  • 3 = b

Discussion

Because it is so scary to get the fear response out of the blue people get scared of feeling those physical feelings even though they are almost always actually harmless. And this fear of the fear response then means that people get sensitized to their own body reactions – which makes it actually more likely that a person may have another panic attack.