By Elaine Ryan
CBT is a recommended therapy for panic attacks
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT? Quite simply, it is how your cognition’s (your thought processes) are linked to what you feel and do.
If you experience anxiety or have had panic attacks, you will be very aware of the impact this has had on your thought processes. You may spend quite a lot of time thinking about your symptoms.
- What if there really is something wrong with me?
- What if I do have a heart attack the next time?
- What if the doctor doesn’t believe that this really is happening to me?
- What if I go mad?
- What if people see that I am anxious?
Maybe you can see a pattern forming here, in all the “what if” questions. They are almost never
- What if I get better and lead a normal life again?
- What if people think that I am doing just fine?
They are usually thoughts that will have a negative impact on you.
You may spend a lot of your time worrying about the next time you have a panic attack or feel anxiety symptoms. These thoughts are not neutral, they will have a direct impact on what you feel – you will feel afraid. Take a moment and think about it. How do you feel in your body when your thoughts are focused on the fear of panic and anxiety. You will quickly see that these thought processes have an impact on what you feel in your body.
These thoughts may be the result of having an anxious brain. Find out more.
And it works the other way around too. What you feel affects what you think.
If, out of the blue you suddenly feel your heart racing and have difficulty catching your breath, feel faint and ill, with many other possible symptoms, this will cause your mind to panic. Even when the symptoms have passed, the chances are, that your thoughts will be consumed with, “What if it happens again?”
Panic and anxiety are extremely frightening experiences and it can feel that you will never get back to your old self again. You can. CBT helps to break it all down.
So how did it all start? Again back to your thought processes. Maybe you put more pressure on yourself than was needed. Maybe you were critical or harsh with yourself. Often the way we talk to ourselves, about ourselves, inside our heads is not very nice. Even though it may seem like panic and anxiety started out of the blue. There is always a reason and CBT helps us to find it.
How? It looks at the deeply held beliefs that we hold about ourselves. Most of the time we are not aware of it, but we have fundamental belief systems that may provide the answers to why your panic and anxiety started in the first place. These are called “core beliefs.” Often we are not aware of them. If for example, you have a core belief that you are not good enough. This will affect almost everything that you do. You will not be able to take praise well in work or college or other things that you do, as in your head, “you could have done better” “it wasn’t really that good.” It will be difficult to see when you are doing just fine, which in turn, places more pressure on you. CBT helps you to understand core beliefs you may hold about yourself, and also, core beliefs that underlie your panic and anxiety.
This is the Cognitive part of CBT – there is also a behavioral
The reason that you feel all the symptoms of panic and anxiety is because you are regularly getting a stress response when you don’t need it. To be more specific, your sympathetic nervous system is getting activated. It is the repeated activation of the sympathetic nervous system, or stress response, that makes you feel the symptoms.
When we get a stress response, immediately our heart rate speeds up and we breathe faster than normal. We over breathe. We are not breathing out enough carbon dioxide which changes the make up of our body and causes many of the distressing symptoms of panic and anxiety that you are probably familiar with.
The behavioral part of CBT helps to calm your nervous system down. It teaches you symptom reduction techniques. It also teaches you how to decrease your overall levels of stress, meaning that you are less likely to feel the symptoms of panic. With practice, the symptoms go away.
Sounds too easy? Take a moment and think about this. If we are not afraid of something, we do not feel fear. Maybe you just love small puppies. If you saw one, you will not feel fear nor feel symptoms of panic in your body – as you have no need to. If you are not afraid of something you do not feel fear.
If you think about the times you feel panic and anxiety, usually there is nothing fearful happening around you. You can retrain your brain and body, so to speak, to relax again, when there is nothing around you to be afraid of.
CBT gives you the knowledge and skills to stop your panic and anxiety attacks. Armed with what CBT therapists often call “your toolkit” you will eventually overcome your panic attacks and anxiety.