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What is “Panic Disorder” & Does CBT Therapy Help With Panic Attacks?

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that is typified by extreme episodes of fear that appear to come out of the blue and often include physical symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, rapid heartbeat and abdominal distress. According to data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, Panic Disorder affects 2.7% of the population. According to the data, females (3.8%) experience panic disorder at a higher rate than males (1.6%). Research states that an estimated 4.7% of adults will experience panic disorder at some point in their life. Panic attacks usually begin during the teen years or in early adulthood, although not all young people who have panic attacks will develop panic disorder. 2.3% of teens ages 13 to 18 have experienced panic disorder and all 2.3% were found to be severely impaired by panic. 36% of individuals with panic disorder will go on to develop agoraphobia.

The physiological symptoms we feel during a panic attack are the effect of the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which evolved to help us face dangerous situations. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, we experience biological changes such as an increase in hear rate, rapid, shallow breathing, sweating, and blood vessel dilation. These physiological changes are meant to help us get ready to face a threat by fighting, fleeing or freezing. In an actual dangerous situation, intense fear can help us to stay safe. Unfortunately our sympathetic nervous system can get activated just by imagining a threat. When we get caught up in our scary thoughts and imagined threats, our biological readiness that prepares us to face danger makes us feel like we are actually in danger when in fact we are safe. Individuals with panic disorder, misinterpret the physical changes in the body as dangerous and threatening. For example, the individual may think that their rapid breath is evidence that they will pass out, which makes them even more anxious and makes their breath even more rapid. The vividly imagined possibility of passing out further activates the sympathetic nervous system, which then makes the breath even more rapid until the individual is absolutely convinced that he is going to die, which leads to more and more panic and fear.

A great deal of research has shown that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment for panic disorder and panic attacks. In many research studies, treatment with CBT was found to be a great deal more effective than all other psychological treatments, including anti-anxiety medication. Study after study has proven that CBT is more effective, briefer in duration and has longer lasting results than traditional talk therapy. At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, we specialize in the treatment of anxiety disorders (Panic Disorder, Phobia, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) using only treatments that science and research support.


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