Dr. Ellen McGinnis, a clinical psychologist at the University of Vermont, suffered from panic attacks in graduate school after having a medical issue with her lungs.

“That’s what started it for me,” she said. “But then once I knew they were panic attacks I continued to have them because it was that worry of what’s happening to my body.” 

To help others suffering the same discomfort, she created a app, PanicMechanic, with her husband, Ryan. The app prompts users to place a finger on the phone’s video camera to measure the body’s panic response. A series fo screens ask relaed questions, such as how much sleep and exercise you’ve had, what you ate, what your anxiety level is, and if you’ve consumed drugs or alcohol.

The screens provide data on behaviors and triggers associated with the attack that could be avoided in the future.

“So you’re able to see my heart rate is going up right now and contextualizing that makes sense because I am feeling very anxious,” Dr. McGinnis said. “Watching it and tracking it and noticing that it’s happening to your body actually helps decrease it.”

Students at UVM are helping with the app. Sarah Horrigan said she uses the app. 

“I honestly feel like it reduced the amount of time i was in my panic attack and it made me feel like there was an end to it,” Horrigan said. 

Horrigan said the app helps her understand why she’s having a panic attack.

“I sometimes get overwhelmed and it just hits me all at once, and then I go into a little bit of a panic attack,” Horrigan said. 

Skylar Bagdon is a student helping with the app. He hasn’t experienced a panic attack but many of his friends have. 

“What gets really scary is the uncertainty of it,” Bagdon said. “I can say though my own experience even though it’s not panic attack specific, my own experiences with mental health, that sometimes it’s the uncertainty of it that is really destabilizing.”