Who put the ‘Pan’ in ‘Panic’?

Posted On June 27, 2019


The concept of panic disorder has a very peculiar history. The earliest roots of panic can be found in Greek mythology1. The ‘pan’ in ‘panic’ refers to the Greek god Pan, the god of shepherds and of wild places.

Pan is an interesting character – depicted as having the wooly hindquarters and horns of a goat.

As with many Greek gods, Pan was a multi-purpose and complicated figure, an irritable, flute-playing faun associated with fertility and spring. However, Pan also had a nasty habit of appearing suddenly out of nowhere, terrifying Greek countrymen who were roaming the forests.  The experience of terror caused from Pan’s appearance and shrieking call was thus referred to as ‘panic’.  To avoid encountering Pan, Greeks would avoid trips through the forest on their way to the agora, or open market. This practice gave rise to the term agoraphobia, which literally means  ‘fear of the market’ .  Even going back thousands of years, panic and agoraphobia were linked diagnostically, as they continue to be today.

While Pan is most associated with creating irrational fear among ordinary folk roaming the wilds, he is also credited with helping the Athenians win the battle of Marathon by terrifying the attacking Persian army.  Who knew panic could actually be helpful?

The description of what a panic attack feels like has been amazingly consistent across the millennia, and includes physiological symptoms such as dizziness and rapid heartbeat coupled with an intense fear that at times is difficult to explain.

In our next blog, we’ll talk about the concept of panic as representing a faulty bodily alarm system,  and how Freespira addresses the root cause of panic attacks.

References:

  1. Nardi AE, Freire, RCR, The Panic Disorder Concept: A Historical Perspective, in Panic Disorder: Neurobiological and Treatment Aspects, 2016, Springer International Publishing, Switzerland.
From time to time, Palo Alto Health Sciences (Freespira) will share articles that discuss breathing techniques for panic attacks and other anxiety-related conditions that may not be consistent with the science-based and clinically-proven method behind Freespira. In such cases, we share the article for general informational purposes only, without any endorsement or recommendation.