The Panic Mode










Hello again, Dear Reader. This week’s topic of discussion is the panic mode. With today’s uncertainties, many of us can relate to and understand the feeling of being in panic mode. Let’s look a bit closer at this state of being.


The Panic Mode:

The panic mode is an intensification of our fears that inherently encompasses a variety of physical and emotional consequences. Reaching the panic mode typically occurs in stages, although these stages are sometimes difficult to discern. Often we are not cognizant of our bodies reactions to stress until we reach the panic mode. In fact, many will only experience the heightened sense of awareness of the panic mode. Simply put, we may find ourselves in full blown panic mode before we realize how it came to be.


I have written previously in these articles about Albert Ellis and his Rational Emotive Therapy (RET). Ellis purports that there is always a thought that precedes our emotions. When we can identify a thought trail, we can exert more control over our thoughts and feelings. Thus, we may avoid reaching the panic mode.




Panic Mode and Its Genesis:

When I write about the panic mode, I do so from my experience as adjunct faculty teaching Educational Psychology at two universities. However, I also write from my personal experience as one who has survived situations in which full blown panic mode was present. Let’s delve deeper.

When our nervous systems are confronted with stress, our brains accommodate to withstand the stress. When the stressors are intense, meaning acute, severe and traumatic, our bodies release Cortisol into the bloodstream in order to manage the trauma. As the panic mode ensues, heart rate and blood pressure begin to rise (fight or flight). The depletion of Cortisol leaves us more vulnerable to future stresses.

This depletion of Cortisol can be noted in the body. The effects of being in a constant state of fight or flight (the panic mode) can be devastating. Within about 15 minutes after the onset of of a stressful episode, Cortisol levels rise and remain elevated for hours afterwards. When Cortisol is released, it can ‘hardwire pathways’ between the Hippocampus and Amygdala. When these pathways are established, the panic mode begins and the brain readies itself for fight or flight.

Ultimately, high stress levels can damage the forebrain, according to research at UC Berkeley (2014). Stress hormones, e.g., Cortisol, can cause cells in the brain to produce white matter that can eventually change the way ‘circuits are connected’ in the brain.

Moreover, during panic mode the damage to the Amygdala also has serious consequences. The Amygdala is located in the Temporal Frontal Lobe on the Prefrontal Cortex and its function is to process our emotions. The Amygdala is responsible for detecting fear and preparing for traumatic events. It helps to create expressions of fear, aggression and defensiveness. The Amygdala also plays a part in the formation and retrieval of fear-related events. The panic mode actually has a shrinking effect! The Amygdala starts out as almond shaped, but can eventually resemble a wrinkled raisin. This ultimately leaves us more susceptible to future stress.

The physical and emotional effects of the panic mode can include a variety of maladies. When too much Cortisol floods the body on a regular basis, symptoms can include:

  • Rapid weight gain, primarily to the face, chest and abdomen
  • Flushed round face
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pains
  • Osteoporosis
  • Skin bruising
  • Muscle weakness
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Reduced problem solving skills, i.e., brain fog
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Shallow breathing
  • Low energy



Panic Mode Interventions:

 Ameliorating the effects of the panic mode on the body can problematic. A mindful approach can help to mitigate some factors involved with reaching a full blown panic mode.


By utilizing a cognitive rational approach such as RET, one can stave off panicked thoughts so that a heightened sense of anxiety can be avoided. By increasing our awareness, we can identify the beginnings of the panic mode, thereby circumventing the cycle and some of its deleterious effects.


Obviously our diet can have a profound impact on our stress levels. Certain foods can actually help to regulate Cortisol levels in the body. Some of these foods include:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Coconut oil
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Fatty fish
  • Nuts, seeds, beans
  • Seaweed
  • Black/green tea
  • Bananas
  • Pears
  • Probiotics


Additionally, supplements such as Magnesium may also help to regulate the increased Cortisol levels due to the panic mode. It is reported that the addition of Magnesium to ones diet can reduce brain fog.

Furthermore, there are ‘grounding’ techniques that can assist with the effects of the panic mode. Naming your emotions as you experience them can help trigger the rational part of the brain. Another grounding technique involves your senses and requires that you name 4 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 4 things you can smell, etc. This technique connects one with the present moment rather than thinking about past woes or future fears.

Breathing techniques are also valuable when practiced routinely. Dr. Mercola (2019) has written about a breathing technique he practices called the Buteyko Breathing Method. This is similar to pranayama, an ancient yogic technique to control breathing. The method is believed to supply your body with oxygen while removing carbon dioxide. This normalizes how we breathe. This technique is also known as 4-7-8. Breathe through the nose to a count of 4; hold your breath to a count of 7; then, slowly release the breath through the mouth to a count of 8. Four repetitions is recommended and the count need not be 4-7-8, but could be 2-4-5, depending upon how long one can comfortably hold their breath. It is the ratio that is important.

Finally, medical interventions can assist when one experiences excessive states of the panic mode. Medications that can help to regulate excessive Cortisol production include ketoconazole, mitotane and metyrapone.





The panic mode certainly has its place in our genetic code. Historically, it helped to ensure the survival of the species. However, with the multiple stressors in modern life, a prolonged state of heightened arousal can have a deleterious impact on our bodies. This is true both physically and emotionally. We can practice the use of a rational approach to mediate the panic mode such as RET. Diet changes can also be helpful in battling the negative effects of the panic state. Further, breathing techniques can aide in managing the panic brought on by our daily lives. Finally, in extreme situations pharmaceutical intervention can be used to help regulate Cortisol levels; however, other strategies discussed herein should be investigated to determine what works best for you.








Dr. Shanni Dover
I am Dr. Shanni Dover and I am honored to be here. I am a retired Ph.D. psychologist, and I worked in public and private schools for 26 years, both in Illinois and Arizona. I currently spend my days as a novice painter and poet, near a mountain range with my dogs as my alarm clock.
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