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Does CBT for Panic Disorders and Panic Attacks Actually Work?

Written by Dr. Anjali Talcherkar

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Curbing panic attacks and managing panic disorders is a common challenge, but Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) offers hope. This therapy helps by reshaping the negative thoughts and behaviors that fuel panic attacks. By working with a therapist, individuals can learn coping skills and relaxation techniques to confront and overcome their fears. But does it work? Well, research suggests that cognitive-behavioral therapy is highly effective in reducing the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. It empowers individuals to recognize and challenge their anxious thoughts, replacing them with more realistic and manageable ones. Through gradual exposure to feared situations, patients gradually build confidence in handling panic-inducing triggers. Overall, while CBT requires effort and commitment, many find it to be a transformative and empowering approach to the treatment of panic disorders and regaining control over their lives.   

What Is a Panic Disorder? 

Panic disorder is a mental health condition marked by recurring and unexpected panic attacks, which are intense episodes of fear and discomfort. It can affect anyone, regardless of age or background, although it often first appears in late adolescence or early adulthood. While panic disorder may occur alongside other mental health conditions like depression or generalized anxiety disorder, it’s distinct in its focus on sudden, intense bursts of anxiety. 

Factors contributing to panic disorder development include genetics, brain chemistry, and life experiences. In the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual for mental disorders, criteria for panic disorder include experiencing recurrent panic attacks and persistent worry about future attacks or their consequences. 

Symptoms of panic attacks can be frightening and overwhelming, often including: 

  • Heart palpitations or racing heart 
  • Sweating or chills 
  • Trembling or shaking 
  • Shortness of breath or feeling smothered 
  • Chest pain or discomfort 
  • Nausea or abdominal distress 
  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint 
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy 
  • Fear of dying 
  • Numbness or tingling sensations 

Panic attacks typically reach their peak within minutes and can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. They can occur unexpectedly or in response to specific triggers, such as being in crowded places or feeling trapped. Effective therapy for panic disorder often involves cognitive-behavioral techniques aimed at understanding and managing the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to panic attacks. 

Does Panic Disorder Cause Panic Attacks?     

Panic disorder can cause panic attacks. These intense bursts of fear and anxiety can happen due to a combination of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, and life experiences. While panic attacks are a hallmark symptom of panic disorder, they can also occur in people who don’t have the disorder. These attacks might happen in response to stress, trauma, or specific triggers like crowded places or public speaking. Even though panic attacks can be frightening and overwhelming, they’re not typically life-threatening. It’s essential to remember that experiencing occasional panic attacks doesn’t necessarily mean someone has panic disorder. However, if panic attacks become frequent or interfere with daily life, it may be a sign to seek help from a mental health professional. Through therapy and coping strategies, like CBT for panic attacks, individuals can learn to manage panic attack symptoms and reduce their impact on daily life.  

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CBT for Panic Disorders: Safe and Effective Treatment 

CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is a safe and effective treatment for panic disorders. In CBT, therapists help people understand how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected. By identifying and challenging negative thought patterns, individuals can learn new ways of thinking and reacting to situations. This helps them gain control over their anxiety and panic symptoms. 

During CBT sessions, therapists teach specific techniques to manage panic attacks, such as relaxation exercises, breathing techniques, and exposure therapy. The process of CBT for panic disorders usually involves weekly sessions with a therapist. Together, the therapist and individual work on identifying triggers for panic attacks and developing coping strategies. Homework assignments may be given to practice new skills outside of therapy sessions. 

CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is a proven and reliable treatment for panic disorders, offering a safe and effective way to manage symptoms. This therapy helps individuals understand how their thoughts, feelings, and actions influence their panic attacks. By recognizing and challenging negative thought patterns, CBT helps reshape unhealthy beliefs and behaviors. 

The process of CBT involves regular sessions with a trained therapist, typically lasting around an hour each. Together, the therapist and individual explore triggers for panic attacks and develop personalized strategies for managing symptoms. Homework assignments may be assigned to practice new skills between sessions. 

Overall, CBT provides individuals with practical tools to manage their panic symptoms and regain control over their lives. With consistent practice and guidance from a therapist, many people find significant relief from panic attacks and experience long-term improvement in their mental health. 

What Other Treatments Help with Anxiety?     

In addition to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), several other treatments are effective for managing anxiety. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines can help alleviate symptoms of panic disorder and anxiety disorders. However, they are usually used in conjunction with therapy for optimal results. Other therapeutic approaches include: 

These therapies focus on helping individuals confront their fears, develop coping mechanisms, and cultivate a mindful awareness of their thoughts and feelings. 

Moreover, lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and stress management techniques can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms. Engaging in activities like yoga, meditation, and relaxation exercises can promote emotional well-being and provide additional support in managing anxiety.    

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Panic Disorder Treatment at Footprints to Recovery Mental Health  

At Footprints to Recovery Mental Health (FTR MH), panic disorder treatment focuses on personalized care tailored to each individual’s needs. Our experienced team employs a combination of therapies and medications to address panic disorder. 

Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and benzodiazepines may be prescribed to alleviate panic symptoms and manage anxiety. Therapies offered at FTR MH may include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to panic attacks. Exposure therapy may also be utilized to gradually expose individuals to feared situations or sensations, reducing anxiety over time.  

Mindfulness-based interventions and relaxation techniques can also be incorporated to help individuals develop coping skills and manage stress more effectively. By combining medication management with evidence-based therapies, FTR MH provides comprehensive care to support individuals in overcoming panic disorder and reclaiming their lives. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with panic attacks and/or panic disorder, FTR is here to help. Contact us today for more information on our mental health programs.   

To learn more about how we can help you or someone you know recover from mental illness, please contact us today. Our dedicated team is ready to assist you 24/7 at 888-956-3085.

Anjali Talcherkar
Medically Reviewed by David Szarka
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