Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Overcome Panic Attacks and Anxiety

Anxiety disorders range from moderate to severe and may manifest in various ways, including panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, persistent worrying, dwelling on the past, or a phobia that incapacitates you. The encouraging news is that you don't have to accept a life of worry and dread.

Key takeaways:
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    CBT is a highly researched and effective therapy that helps people change faulty thinking and perceptions in ways that benefit their behavior and emotions.
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    Faulty and disordered ways of thinking contribute to psychological issues.
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    Psychological issues stem in part from ingrained/learned patterns of problem behaviors.
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    People can unlearn old behaviors and develop more efficient coping mechanisms that alleviate symptoms and enhance their potential for success in life.
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    Anyone considering CBT should seek the advice of a certified specialist. A doctor may be able to refer you to local CBT experts.

Treatment is available, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) offers you the skills and teaches you how to utilize them to overcome anxiety.

Panic attack vs anxiety – what's the difference?

Anxiety is not the same as a panic attack. Anxiety is the pervasive sense that something horrible will happen. However, panic attacks occur here and now, which is why they seem so real.

If you've ever had a full-blown panic attack, you know it's a very frightening experience. You might have experienced the following horrifying physiological sensations and thoughts:

  • This is fatal and I am going to die.
  • I must be going mad.
  • I will never be able to cope with this.
  • I need to get to a hospital.

This is because your brain's emergency system is activated when an attack occurs, warning you that you are in imminent danger. However, this is essentially a so-called short-circuiting psychological reaction and, fortunately, not a life-threatening occurrence. A panic attack is a single episode of overwhelming anxiety that typically peaks within 10 to 12 minutes and occurs in the absence of a serious threat. Because panic entails an intuitive sense of present or impending danger, the brain activates our fight-or-flight instincts. These are the biological systems that have evolved through time to assist humans in escaping potentially fatal circumstances.

Negative automatic thoughts

Negative automatic thoughts (NATS) are a crucial concept in CBT. These are random thoughts that enter the mind uninvited. Automatic thoughts are unconscious in the sense that they appear without our knowledge.

As a result, NATs cause self-doubt, sadness, anxiety, hostility, impatience, and depression. For example, they induce the following mindsets:

  • They are consistently negative — "I never succeed at anything"
  • They make one feel inferior — "I'm such a failure"
  • They are self-sabotaging —"If I do that, I am certain to fail, so why bother?"
  • Believing that the thoughts are credible — it appears that thinking negatively about yourself is more realistic than thinking positively.
  • One's thoughts are distorted — although they seem reasonable, they are likely to be misleading.

How CBT specialist can help

The therapist's goal is to teach people how to become their own therapists. Through in-session and "homework" activities, clients receive help to learn how to build coping skills so that they can learn to change their own bad thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

"Cognitive" is a scientific term for anything associated with thinking. Therefore, CBT focuses on the effect thinking has on emotions and behavior. This type of therapy is effective because negative thoughts often result in negative emotions and lead to poor decision-making.

This approach is effective because CBT involves modifying or changing thoughts to help people deal with everyday challenges better.

Additionally, CBT therapists focus on the person's present situation rather than the events that led to their troubles. Of course, a certain amount of knowledge regarding one's past is necessary, but the emphasis is mainly on developing more efficient coping mechanisms for life. For example:

The client and therapist work together to set treatment goals and monitor the client's progress as they move toward their goals.

The therapist will help to identify negative perceptions or distortions that are affecting behavior.

Homework is fundamental to the process. Therefore, therapy only works if the skills learned are used in the real world.

The primary emphasis of CBT is on behavioral change in the here and now.

CBT treatment goals

The essential fact to keep in mind is that panic attacks are not life-threatening. They are very treatable. The goal of CBT is to examine the facts or reality (rational) of a situation and then practice remembering the facts when faced with a cascade of negative automatic thoughts (irrational) to reduce anxiety and cope healthily. We want to stop the snowball effect that happens when people have many negative thoughts, avoid doing things and feel bad.

Consider the student with a phobia of public speaking as an example. For instance, they are required to present a paper in class. However, as they begin to draft their speech, they are plagued by negative thoughts and doubts about their abilities. These thoughts get so bad that they close the laptop and do nothing but write the paper. They begin to delay completion, putting things off until the last minute. This results in their being unprepared for class or attempting to skip it completely.

The thought cascade

Cognitive behavioral therapy refers to the stream of negative ideas as the thought cascade. It is normal, when nervous, for a person to have a thought that leads to a more distressing thought. However, this can leads to an even more disturbing thought, and so on, until it becomes uncontrollable. This domino effect of automatic negative thinking is prevalent.

When the student in our example gets these thoughts, the tension escalates, and the desire to avoid the speech grows with the subsequent negative outcomes for their career.

What CBT teaches?

According to a wide range of studies, CBT is the most effective treatment for anxiety disorders. Unlike anxiety medication, CBT can help people:

  • Tackle the underlying issues that are causing you distress.
  • Address dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors.
  • Create more effective coping and problem-solving skills.
  • Develop and practice relaxation skills.

Examples of CBT activities

It's important to examine the evidence of a stressful situation using techniques to understand and answer these important questions:

  • How probable is it that anything negative will occur?
  • How terrible would it be if that occurred?
  • What would I do if this were to occur?
  • How could I manage?

The Examining Thoughts Worksheet is a tool that assists with organizing collected information at the outset. Writing down facts concerning an idea enables the person to view things more objectively and to retain information that is difficult to recall while stressed.

As your level of awareness increases, you will be able to recall the evidence without this sort of help in the course of your regular activities.

Other abilities you will acquire while working with a CBT therapist include the following:

  • Problem-solving and personal acceptance.
  • Self effectiveness.
  • Self-esteem.
  • Objective setting and assertiveness.
  • Time management effectiveness.
  • Mindfulness/relaxation.

This article only touches on a small part of what happens during CBT therapy. However, the good news is that you can learn how to deal with anxiety and panic attacks in a manageable way. If you are committed to developing your awareness and are willing to change your thoughts and behavior, you can lessen the severity and number of your panic attacks over time.

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