Although anxiety is a part of our everyday lives, one-fourth of all Americans are dealing with a more persistent issue termed Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety disorder is marked by not only having these feelings of worry and dread but experiencing them at a level where they interfere with daily functioning and sometimes resulting in feelings of panic.
People dealing with Panic Disorder experience a sudden attack of overwhelming anxiety coupled with physical reactions including: sweating, dizziness, rapid heart rate, increased breathing, chest pains, and a tingling in their extremities. People often fear they are having a heart attack or are about to die. Often people rearrange their lives due to a fear of having a panic attack in public or not being able to leave a situation when a panic attack occurs. Panic Attacks can lead to phobias such as Agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house) because of this fear. Specific Phobias are intense fears of a specific thing or situation. Common phobia include: fear of elevators, enclosed spaces, open spaces, heights, germs, fear of flying and fear of leaving ones home. When faced with the fearful situation or item people with a specific phobis often experience a panic attack.
Significant research has proven cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to be the most effective treatment for panic attacks and panic disorder. In numerous studies, CBT has far outperformed all other psychological treatments, including anti-anxiety medication. Scientific studies have consistently found that CBT is more effective at reducing symptoms, the treatment is briefer in duration, and the results last longer for more people, than traditional talk therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for panic attacks and panic disorder lasts about twelve sessions for most people, with most people reporting improvement after the first few sessions. Some people respond more quickly, needing fewer sessions, while others need more than twelve sessions due to other complicating factors such as depression or OCD.
Cognitive behavior treatment for panic attacks and panic disorder usually involves some combination of the following interventions:
- Relaxation Training: can be helpful in beginning stages of treatment for panic. Often people have become increasingly anxious over time, so much so that their bodies are overwrought with muscle tension, making them even more susceptible to additional anxiety. Usually relaxation training involves relaxation breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, ways of decreasing physiological anxious arousal. This then helps to reduce future vulnerability to anxiety.
- Cognitive Restructuring: is a method of becoming more aware of anxiety-provoking thought patterns, and replacing them with more balanced, less anxious thinking. By reducing the intensity of your reactions to panic symptoms and feared situations, you can further reduce your anxiety, and decrease the frequency, intensity, and duration of panic symptoms.
- Mindfulness: A meditative technique borrowed from eastern traditions of meditation, mindfulness as a tool for overcoming anxiety is increasingly becoming the focus of a great deal of scientific research. In treatment for panic disorder, it is used to help teach people to experience unpleasant physical sensations without reacting negatively to them, thus short-circuiting the vicious cycle of fear and panic.
- Exposure treatment: Once people feel less anxious about future panic attacks due to using relaxation training, mindfulness, and cognitive restructuring, they are more able to confront anxiety-provoking situations. Systematic Exposure is an intervention that helps people face what they normally avoid. By purposely putting themselves in challenging situations, they defuse the fear associated with them, and no longer fear the situations in the future.
- Stress Reduction: For some people, reducing stressors can be an important part of treatment for anxiety. A combination of 1) learning to react to different situations more calmly and 2) reducing unnecessary stress, can be helpful in reducing overall anxiety and improving quality of life.
Psychoeducation, relaxation therapy, cognitive restructuring and exposure exercises proved to be extremely effective in stopping panic attacks. With the help of short-term CBT, learned how to better manage the physical symptoms of anxiety and ultimately reach your goal of being panic free.
Blessings my friends,