Cognitive behavioral therapy, commonly known as CBT, is a type of psychotherapy that is used to treat mental health conditions. It is based on the theory that a person’s perspective, thought process and feelings influence their behavior and actions. Most therapists consider cognitive behavioral therapy as the most useful form of psychotherapy for panic disorder and social anxiety disorder.
CBT and panic disorder
People often experience panic attacks through a combination of physical and cognitive symptoms. Some of these symptoms can be chest pain, difficulty breathing, extreme sweating and so on. The individual experiencing such symptoms perceive them as frightening. As a result, it causes maladaptive thoughts related to dying, losing control, fear of losing mental sanity and so on. This type of fear that panic attacks bring along with them can be very challenging to handle because of how deeply they impact an individual’s behavior. For instance, a person may feel extremely scared while experiencing a panic attack when they are swimming. Due to this, they may develop a habit of avoiding swimming. This is how their thoughts influence their behavior.
This kind of behavior over time can result in another condition that is commonly called agoraphobia. The fearful thoughts become intense gradually and the individual will keep on practicing avoidance behaviors that further work to reinforce his existing fears.
How can CBT help people with panic disorder?
Cognitive behavioral therapy can form certain ways to manage the symptoms of people who experience panic attacks and agoraphobia. This means that a person may not be able to instantly control their thoughts when they experience a panic attack. However, they can certainly be taught how to successfully cope with the symptoms. It results in a long-lasting change in an individual’s life.
Exposure Therapy and social anxiety disorder
Exposure therapy, a particular branch of cognitive behavioral therapy, widely use to treat different kinds of anxiety disorders. Individuals who experience social anxiety find this beneficial as a form of psychotherapy for social anxiety disorder in their healing journey. Through this process, they learn that they can expose to social situations and they can effectively handle them unlike they thought they could so far. It helps them to break a cycle of negative thoughts that influenced their behavior and resulted in social anxiety disorder.
Important techniques of CBT that help to treat panic disorder and social anxiety disorder:
- Writing and maintaining a journal: Individuals who have negative thought patterns can greatly benefit from developing a habit of writing down their thoughts, feelings and perceptions. It makes them aware of themselves and helps them to look at maladaptive thoughts from a point of evidence and rationality. If you struggle with panic attacks or social anxiety, your therapist may ask you to maintain a gratitude journal and list several things every day that you feel grateful for. You may also write daily affirmations and maintain a personal notebook or diary for panicky social situations.
- Homework activities: Your therapist may opt for different kinds of exercises and interesting activities to help you be aware of negative thinking patterns and teach you how to replace them with positive and meaningful methods of thinking.
- Recommend relaxation techniques: Individuals who experience frequent anxiety attacks teach some instrumental techniques to relax and feel a sense of tranquility. During social situations, these techniques may also lower their heart rate, help them to solve problems and handle their fears. A few examples of these techniques include meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, holding and pressing anxiety reduction toys and so on.
Therefore, through this process, CBT can help one to handle feelings of anxiety and panic without opting for avoidance behavior. During CBT, each time one faces situations that they fear or that trigger them and cause panic, they learn how to cope better with panic symptoms and anxiety-inducing stimuli.