CBT & Anxiety
Do you ever feel like you’re not in control of your own body? Heart racing? Sweating? Blurry vision? IBS?
This is often know as a ‘panic attack’, and it can hit you at any time; on a crowded bus, in a lift, in a meeting, and you’re left terrified with no explanation as to what has happened in your own body and mind.
A panic attack is the body’s natural alarm system, also known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. If this response were to kick in when someone had a gun pointed to you or a dangerous animal was running towards you, these feelings of heart racing and sweating would feel normal. However the problem arises when your eyes cannot see a threat, but your body still perceives it. This can often feel confusing and terrifying.
Why is this?
If we ponder the idea of you sitting in front of a plate of your favorite food, you would feel your stomach rumbling, salvia rushing into your mouth. Now, instead of sitting in front of this food, just think about it, visualize it. You would get the same response, your tummy would rumble just the same as if the food was there in front of you. And this is a classic example of how a simple thought can set of the same physiological reactions as something physical i.e. a person standing with a gun to your head.
Panic attacks feel terrible, but are not dangerous. These feelings of panic – dread, pounding heart, shortness of breath, nausea – are normal responses to threat, however the problem arises when these are not actual threats, but perceived threats. Think of it as a fire alarm too close to a cooker, the slightest amount of smoke, i.e. threat is going to set it off, resulting in a panic attack.
How can CBT help?
CBT is effective and clinically proven for the treatment of panic attacks, panic disorder, and relative avoidance. When the ‘fight or flight’ occurs it is natural to believe you are in true danger. Fight or flight sensations can mimic symptoms of serious illness, such as a heart attack or thoughts that you are ‘going crazy’, and arise in situations that, while overwhelmingly safe, may hold a potential for risk, such as riding escalators or speaking in public. The thought (cognition) that you are in danger, even if you are in fact safe, can exert strong influence over your emotions.
CBT targets and replaces these catastrophic cognitions with more reasonable, adaptable beliefs. For example, if we replace the negative thought of ‘I am going to faint’, with ‘I am not going to faint, I am aware this is a false alarm and it will go away’, this will address and reduce your symptoms of panic.
The goal is to develop a nurturing, coaching inner voice, to stay grounded and informed of these terrifying symptoms, thus placing you back in control of your own body.
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Thank you for reading.