I recently finished reading Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl which explores some of the psychological explanations behind surviving something as horrific as concentration camps. I would like to use forced labor camps such as Nazi concentration camps or The Gulag to define what I refer to in the title of this question as "EXTREME distress". Being familiar with the conditions that people lived under would help with the context of my question.

The aforementioned book sparked my curiosity into how humans already suffering from a mental disorder, specifically General Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder would react in such a situation.

To give a little background:

I suffer from both General Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. In my teen years, I would say 95% of all my anxiety and panic attacks were from hypochondria. Over the years, I've tried multiple times to ween off the medicine, with a doctor's knowledge and guidance. Whenever I hit the 6-8 month mark of being completely off the medicine, I start to get noticeable anxiety again progressing to panic attacks to the point that it affects my work so I always end up back on the medicine.

Now, tying this back to an extreme situation of distress, such as being years in a concentration camp. What would happen clinically to a person, like myself as a general example, if put in such a situation? Would they fall into severe neurosis? Obviously, I couldn't be carrying around medicine in a situation like this.

Have there been any studies or research regarding something like this I can be referred to?

Thoughts: These are not necessarily questions that have to be answered directly but rather thoughts that come to mind when I think about this situation:

  • How extreme can a panic attack get, is there a limit or can it progress to something like psychosis?
  • Would such a situation like this that leads to a pure survival mode and primitive life take over the mind to the point that something like panic attacks would not have room to occur?
  • Could a chemical imbalance in the brain be changed for the better under such an extreme, mind-altering, and prolonged period of distress? Or would a condition only ever get worse?
  • Would a person suffering from the aforementioned mental conditions just completely shut down and go into a state of shock?
  • Would something behind anxiety symptoms occur in such a scenario?
  • To be blunt, is someone with a preexisting condition like above just screwed if put in a situation like this? Screwed, as in, there is no amount of mental toughness or conditioning that could prevent them from being pushed into a more severe mental state.
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Psychology.SE. +1 for an interesting question. I have removed some of the personal information regarding your mental health as it is not necessarily needed, and sometimes, too much information can create confusion. Feel free to roll my edit back if you wish. Trauma like you are talking about is a complex issue, and it will be interesting to see what comes out of answerers research. $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2022 at 5:25
  • $\begingroup$ This still sounds too much like self-help to me. Extreme stress can trigger PTSD, and I expect anyone with pre-existing mental disorders (aka high p-factor) to be more susceptible to PTSD - ie, I don't know why anxiety or panic disorders are special, unless this is a self-help question. Please provide some reference as to why you would expect these disorders to have a different result under extreme stress than any other pre-existing condition, or alternatively, remove references to your personal pre-existing conditions. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Feb 13, 2022 at 5:49
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    $\begingroup$ @ArnonWeinberg I don't have the psychology background to know if anxiety or panic disorders would be special in this case but what made me focus on them in my curiosity is that people can suffer from extreme panic attacks from living a "normal" life so I was curious if put in such an extreme situation if it would be "too much to handle" in a clinical sense that would push a person's mental state into a more severe state making them incapable of "handling" or "surviving" such a situation. How extreme can a panic attack get, is there a limit or can it progress to something like psychosis $\endgroup$
    – User089723
    Feb 13, 2022 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ I can see your point @ArnonWeinberg and I normally do call out on potential self-help questions. With this question, I took it that the personal GAD references the OP added were just for framing purposes. $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2022 at 8:42


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