Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for Panic Disorder
At the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Silicon Valley in San Jose, we offer cognitive behavior therapy for panic disorder and other problems accompanied by panic attacks such as agoraphobia. Our approach is practical, goal-oriented, compassionate, and scientifically-based while focusing on your individual needs. If you think you may be experiencing panic disorder, you can learn more about our treatment approach for panic disorder below.
What is Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder is the fear of having a panic attack. Panic attacks involve a sense of terror and intense bodily sensations such as a racing heart, feeling weak, faint, or dizzy, tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers, feeling sweaty or having chills, chest pains, breathing difficulties and a sense of loss of control. During a panic attack, you may feel like something bad is happening to you such as a heart attack or suffocation.
Panic attacks seem to come out of nowhere but they are often triggered by a sensitivity to bodily sensations that are misinterpreted to be something dangerous. You might not be aware that this process is happening because it can happen so quickly. On the other hand, if you are very sensitive to your own bodily sensations, you may notice when your heart skips a beat and mistakingly fear that you are having a heart attack. It’s common for people with panic attacks to end up the a hospital’s emergency room, only to find out they had a panic attack. Panic disorder develops when you start to fear having another panic attack. Agoraphobia develops when you start avoiding going to certain places due to fear of having a panic attack.
Panic attacks may occur with other problems such as phobias and social anxiety. The key to differentiating whether a panic attack is part of panic disorder is to understand what you are fearing. If your core fear is having another panic attack and you are restricting your life in some way, then you probably have panic disorder. If your core fear is of social judgment and being evaluated negatively by others, then it’s probably social anxiety. If you only have panic attacks in the presence of a specific object like a dog or a spider, then it’s likely to be a phobia.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
- “Racing” heart
- Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
- Sense of terror, or impending doom or death
- Feeling sweaty or having chills
- Chest pains
- Breathing difficulties
- Feeling a loss of control
How is Panic Disorder Treated?
Therapy for panic disorder involves a thorough assessment to guide treatment planning; development of a hierarchy of situations you avoid; psychoeducation about anxiety, panic and agoraphobia; cognitive restructuring; exposures in the office to feared bodily sensations; exposures outside the office for avoided situations; identification and reduction of safety behaviors; and extensive homework and self-directed exposures in between therapy sessions. A safety behavior is something you do that may reduce anxiety in the short run but is not helpful in the long run. Examples include drinking alcohol, asking for reassurance, avoiding places where you had a panic attack in the past or leaving a situation as you start to feel anxious.
The major components of CBT for panic disorder include:
Education about Anxiety and Panic: Cognitive behavior therapy for panic attacks begins with education about anxiety, such as the “flight or fight” response, how your “anxiety system” works, how anxiety is functional and when it is a false alarm, and how the bodily sensations related to anxiety and panic are not dangerous.
Breathing Retraining: During a panic attack, you may be breathing too fast or tensing your chest. This can result in a feeling of panic, light headedness and dizziness. Cognitive behavior therapy for panic attacks will teach you how to breathe more deeply and slowly and how to establish a normal breathing rhythm.
Cognitive Restructuring: We will help you identify and change the negative thinking traps that can lead to panic attacks. For example, cognitive behavior therapy for panic attacks will teach you to stop misinterpreting your panic-related bodily sensations as catastrophic or dangerous. You’ll learn that panic-related bodily sensations may be uncomfortable but they are unlikely to result in your negative predications, like having a heart attack or fainting.
Core Beliefs Related To Anxiety: Cognitive behavior therapy for panic attacks will also focus on changing the underlying beliefs that are maintaining your fear of anxiety and panic. Examples of core beliefs that might be maintaining anxiety and panic include” “I will lose control,” “The world is a dangerous place,” and “I am vulnerable and can’t cope with anxiety.”
Exposure Therapy For Panic Attacks: This is the most important element in the treatment for panic attacks.There are two types of exposures we will focus on:
- Exposure to Feared Bodily Sensations: We can elicit the symptoms of a panic attack in the session. This will help you to learn that you can tolerate uncomfortable bodily sensations and that your bodily sensations are not dangerous. In session, you will learn that the symptoms quickly decrease in intensity as you learn to tolerate them without avoidance or safety behaviors.
- Exposure to Situations that Elicit Panic Sensations: You will create a hierarchy of situations that lead to panic attacks or situations you avoid due to fear of having a panic attack. We’ll put the items in order of how much anxiety they cause you, from the least to most anxiety provoking. Then you’ll gradually expose yourself to these situations and stay in the situations long enough to experience habituation, which will allow you to feel the anxiety rise and fall with time if you don’t escape. Through this, you will learn that you can tolerate anxiety and that it rarely leads to disastrous results.
How To Get Help for Panic Disorder
The Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Silicon Valley offers therapy and counseling for panic disorder. We are located in Saratoga on the border of San Jose and Saratoga just 1/2 mile from Highway 85. With our convenient location near highway 85, we serve the Silicon Valley communities of San Jose, Saratoga, Mountain View, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Cupertino and Campbell, CA. Call us at (408) 384-8404 to get help for panic disorder.