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How does anxiety become a panic attack?

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Anxiety is a normal and sometimes even helpful response to stress or danger. It prepares us to respond to potential threats and helps us stay alert and focused. However, for some people, anxiety can spiral out of control and lead to a panic attack. Panic attacks can be incredibly distressing and can interfere with daily life. In this blog, we'll explore how anxiety can spiral into a panic attack and what can be done to prevent it.


anxiety to panic attack

What is anxiety?


Anxiety is a feeling of worry, fear, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. It is a natural response to stress and can be helpful in some situations. For example, feeling anxious before an exam may help you study harder and perform better. However, when anxiety becomes excessive and uncontrollable, it can lead to a panic attack.


What is a panic attack?


A panic attack is a sudden and intense feeling of fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes. Symptoms of a panic attack can include:


  • Racing heartbeat or palpitations

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Shortness of breath or feeling like you can't breathe

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Nausea or abdominal distress

  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint

  • Numbness or tingling sensations

  • Chills or hot flashes

  • Fear of losing control or going crazy

  • Fear of dying


Panic attacks can be triggered by a variety of things, including stress, anxiety, caffeine, medications, or a medical condition.


How does anxiety spiral into a panic attack?


Anxiety can spiral into a panic attack when the body's natural "fight or flight" response becomes activated in response to a perceived threat. This response is designed to help us respond to danger by releasing adrenaline and other hormones that increase heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. However, when there is no actual threat, these physical symptoms can be distressing and lead to further anxiety.


For example, let's say you are giving a presentation at work and you start to feel anxious. Your heart rate increases, your palms get sweaty, and you start to feel a little lightheaded. These physical symptoms of anxiety can be distressing, which can further increase anxiety. As anxiety continues to build, it can reach a point where it triggers a full-blown panic attack.


Once a panic attack is triggered, the symptoms can quickly escalate and become even more intense. This can lead to a cycle of fear and anxiety that can be difficult to break. Even after the panic attack subsides, the fear of having another one can lead to further anxiety, which can increase the risk of future panic attacks.


What can be done to prevent panic attacks?


Preventing panic attacks starts with managing anxiety. There are several strategies that can be effective in reducing anxiety, including:


  • Deep breathing exercises

  • Progressive muscle relaxation

  • Mindfulness meditation

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

  • Exposure therapy


It's important to seek help if you are struggling with anxiety or panic attacks. A mental health professional can help you develop a personalized treatment plan that is tailored to your specific needs and circumstances.


In conclusion, anxiety can spiral into a panic attack when the body's natural "fight or flight" response becomes activated in response to a perceived threat. This can lead to a cycle of fear and anxiety that can be difficult to break. However, there are effective strategies for managing anxiety and preventing panic attacks. If you are struggling with anxiety or panic attacks, it's important to seek help from a mental health professional.


How does John Corbett’s CBT work for panic attacks?


CBT for panic attacks focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety. The goal of CBT is to help individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to anxiety, and to learn new coping strategies to manage anxiety and prevent panic attacks.


The first step in CBT for panic attacks is to identify negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety. These may include catastrophic thinking, in which individuals imagine the worst possible outcomes, or overgeneralization, in which individuals assume that one negative experience will lead to a pattern of negative experiences. Once these negative thought patterns have been identified, the therapist will work with the individual to challenge them and replace them with more positive and realistic thoughts.


In addition to changing negative thought patterns, CBT for panic attacks also involves developing new coping strategies to manage anxiety. These strategies may include relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, or exposure therapy, in which individuals gradually confront situations that trigger anxiety.


Finally, CBT for panic attacks may also involve behavioral interventions, such as goal setting and problem-solving. These interventions can help individuals develop new ways of thinking and behaving that are more adaptive and less likely to contribute to anxiety.


What are the benefits of CBT for panic attacks?


CBT is a highly effective treatment for panic attacks and other anxiety disorders. Studies have shown that CBT is as effective as medication for the treatment of panic attacks, and that its effects are longer-lasting. CBT also has the advantage of being a non-invasive treatment, without the potential side effects of medication.


In addition, CBT is a relatively short-term treatment, with most individuals experiencing significant improvements within 12-20 sessions. CBT also provides individuals with a set of skills and coping strategies that they can use in the future to manage anxiety and prevent panic attacks.


In conclusion, CBT is a highly effective treatment for panic attacks and other anxiety disorders. CBT works by changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety, and by developing new coping strategies to manage anxiety and prevent panic attacks. If you are struggling with panic attacks, talk to John. With the right treatment and support, it is possible to overcome panic attacks and reclaim your life.




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