PanicMechanic App Can Track Panic Attack Triggers


Panic attacks start suddenly, and nobody knows why. However, a new study reveals that individuals can now track their moods to identify panic attack triggers.

A team of researchers at the University of Vermont led by Dr Ellen W. McGinnis investigated the onset of panic attacks. They developed a smartphone app called PanicMechanic and used it for their investigation. This app was evaluated in a pilot study previously as well. The users can activate the app when their panic attack starts and collect their heart data. Furthermore, the app allows logging any anxiety triggers and also talks users through panic attacks by sending encouraging messages.

McGinnis and his co-authors Dr Ryan McGinnis and Dr Chris Danforth said,

In our last study, we heard from participants that although using our app PanicMechanic felt helpful in managing their panic symptoms, they also had a hard time remembering to open an app when they started having an attack,

The aim of the new study is to identify predictors of panic attacks with the idea of helping people prepare for the attack. So, they can intervene in an effective way and prevent them in the future completely.

The team recruited 87 adults who suffer from panic attacks regularly across the US. Research participants were asked to give their Apple watch data and complete a survey for one month. They did so every day and whenever they had a panic attack, they used the PanicMechanic app.

McGinnis explained,

Since we had the aim of identifying why panic attacks are triggered, we really needed to follow people where they were experiencing panic attacks in their everyday lives,

So every day for a month, we know if they had a panic attack, and what kinds of behaviours they engaged in (like having caffeine, exercising, or having an argument with someone).

People are impacted by unavoidable factors around the world and it’s not only individual factors causing panic attacks. Therefore, the team ingeniously took those into account as well.

McGinnis said,

The Hedonometer is this very cool tool that some of our colleagues (Drs Chris Danforth and Peter Dodds) developed as an estimate of societal mood, by assessing the valence of words people are using on Twitter that day,

We pulled this data into our study, to provide a measure of what is going on in the world and how those events are impacting people in the community.

Does the PanicMechanic app give accurate results?

The results showed that 95% of participants identified their panic attacks with hindsight. The common triggers comprised of physical health and family conflicts. However, surprisingly, these are not the factors associated with panic attacks typically.


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