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Therapy for Panic Disorder

CBT for Panic Disorder

Do you sometimes have sudden attacks of anxiety and overwhelming fear that last for several minutes? People with panic disorder have frequent and unexpected panic attacks. These attacks are characterized by a sudden wave of fear or discomfort or a sense of losing control even when there is no clear danger or trigger. Not everyone who experiences a panic attack will develop panic disorder.

What are the Symptoms of Panic Disorder?

Panic attacks often include physical symptoms that might feel like a heart attack, such as trembling, tingling, or rapid heart rate. Panic attacks can occur at any time. Many people with panic disorder worry about the possibility of having another attack and may significantly change their life to avoid having another attack. Panic attacks can occur as frequently as several times a day or as rarely as a few times a year.

The term “agoraphobia” refers to a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help would be available if things go wrong. It is often, but not always, associated with panic attacks. With agoraphobia people often find their lives narrowed by their anxiety.

How Can Treatment Help?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), an evidence-based psychotherapy, is commonly used to treat panic disorder. CBT for panic disorder is a structured and short-term therapy. CBT teaches you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to the feelings that happen during or before a panic attack. The attacks can become less frequent once you learn to react differently to the physical sensations of anxiety and fear during a panic attack. With expert therapy you can learn to face your fears, overcome them, and open up your life again.

What Does CBT for Panic Disorder Consist Of?

Mindful Breathing

Your therapist will teach you breathing techniques to help you breathe when you're anxious or during a panic attack. Mindful breathing can help turn on the parasympathic nervous system, or calming response in the brain.

Cognitive Strategies

Many people with panic disorder have patterns of thinking such as "catastrophic" thinking that can trigger a panic attack. You’ll learn how to think differently in situations that can trigger panic for you. 

Exposure Therapy

You'll practice doing exercises with your therapist that help to determine whether physical sensations of anxiety might be triggers for your panic attacks. You'll also practice facing other fears that you might have in a safe and collaborative way with your therapist. Exposure therapy is a very important component of CBT for panic disorder because it helps to desensitize reponses to anxiety triggers.

For example, many people with panic disorder can be triggered by sensations of their heart racing. In CBT for panic disorder, we might do might work on exercises that will reduce sensitivity to these sensations over time. As a result, the triggers will become less frightening, and therefore less likely to trigger a panic attack. 

Reclaiming your life

Panic disorder can narrow and inhibit your life. If you're having panic attacks, it may not seem like it now, but you can thrive in your life again. This is because avoidance is a natural response to fear. With successful therapy and practicing your new skills, you can get back to your life and do the things that you want to do.