A teenager is with his mom. He is using CBT for panic attacks.

How CBT Can Help You Manage Panic Attacks

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people with panic attacks address their underlying thoughts and behaviors. Learn more about CBT for panic attacks here.


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How CBT treats panic attacks

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can effectively help people cope with panic attacks by addressing the underlying thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their experiences. During CBT sessions, a therapist will work with the person to identify and challenge negative thought patterns that often trigger panic attacks, an anxiety disorder. By learning to recognize and reframe these thoughts, the person can gain a better understanding of their anxiety and develop healthier coping strategies. Additionally, CBT can involve exposure techniques to gradually face situations or environments that provoke panic, allowing the person to build resilience and reduce their fear response and physical symptoms over time. Through this process, people can learn to manage panic attacks and regain a sense of control over their lives.

Skills taught in CBT for panic attacks

Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring focuses on identifying and challenging irrational thoughts that contribute to the onset of panic attacks. People are taught to recognize cognitive distortions, such as catastrophic thinking, and to replace them with more realistic and balanced thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation

This skill involves cultivating present-moment awareness and acceptance of one’s thoughts and bodily sensations. People are guided in practicing mindfulness meditation to help them become more attuned to their emotions and address panic-related fears with greater composure.

Breathing techniques

This skill teaches people how to regulate their breathing during panic attacks by employing diaphragmatic breathing and paced breathing exercises. They are instructed to practice these techniques regularly to bolster their ability to manage anxiety symptoms and prevent panic attacks.

Progressive muscle relaxation

This skill entails learning to systematically tense and release muscle groups to alleviate physical tension and anxiety. Relaxation techniques help people practice progressive muscle relaxation to reduce the physical symptoms associated with panic attacks and promote relaxation.

Assertiveness training

This skill involves honing one’s communication and interpersonal skills to express needs and boundaries effectively. People are encouraged to assert themselves in challenging situations, bolstering their self-confidence and reducing the likelihood of panic attacks in response to social stressors.

Problem-solving skills

This skill focuses on teaching people how to identify and address the underlying stressors and triggers of their panic attacks. They are guided through a systematic problem-solving process to develop practical solutions and coping strategies for managing life stressors more effectively.

Benefits of CBT for panic attacks

Many people have experienced long-term benefits from CBT treatment in managing their panic attacks. With the support of a therapist, people learn coping strategies and develop new thought patterns to reduce the frequency and intensity of their panic attacks. Over time, these skills become ingrained and help people to manage their anxiety disorder and stress levels better. Through CBT treatment, people are able to gain a deeper understanding of their triggers and develop tools to face their fears and regain a sense of control in their lives.

How quickly does CBT work for panic attacks? 

For some people, CBT can work quickly for managing panic attacks. People who participate in CBT sessions may begin to see improvements in their symptoms within a few weeks. By learning new coping skills and changing negative thought patterns, people can start to feel more in control of their panic attacks and experience less severe panic symptoms. It’s important for people to actively engage in the therapy and practice the techniques they learn in order to see the full benefits of CBT for panic attacks.

Coping skills for panic attacks

Deep breathing

Deep breathing involves taking slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. This can help to calm the body’s physical sensations that arise during panic attacks, such as rapid heart rate and hyperventilation.

Mindfulness and grounding techniques

Mindfulness and grounding techniques help a person to stay present and focused on the here and now rather than getting caught up in anxious thoughts or worries. This can involve techniques such as focusing on the sensation of touch or breathing exercises.

Seeking support from a trusted person

Talking to a trusted person about the panic attack can provide emotional support and reassurance. Having someone to lean on during a panic attack can help to reduce feelings of isolation and fear.

Other types of treatment for panic attacks

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)

This therapy focuses on increasing awareness of the present moment and practicing nonjudgmental acceptance of one’s thoughts and emotions. By developing these skills, people can learn to manage their panic attacks more effectively.

Exposure therapy

This type of therapy involves gradually exposing people to the situations or triggers that cause their panic attacks in a controlled and safe environment. Over time, repeated exposure can help reduce the fear and anxiety associated with these triggers.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

DBT helps people develop skills for managing intense emotions, such as those experienced during panic attacks. This therapy focuses on mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness to improve overall emotional well-being. DBT treatment for panic attacks can be applied in groups or individual therapy.

Art therapy

This creative therapy allows people to express and process their feelings in a nonverbal way. Through various art forms, individuals can explore and release the emotions and stress that contribute to their panic attacks.

Yoga and meditation

These holistic practices can help people manage their panic attacks by promoting relaxation, stress reduction, and increased self-awareness. Incorporating deep breathing, gentle movement, mindfulness techniques, yoga, and meditation can relieve panic symptoms.

IOP for panic attacks

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is used to treat panic attacks when a person needs more intensive therapy than traditional outpatient therapy but does not require the level of care provided in a hospital or residential treatment setting. IOP typically involves a combination of therapy sessions and group counseling to help individuals learn coping skills, manage their symptoms, and prevent future panic attacks. This approach allows people to continue their daily responsibilities while receiving the support and treatment they need to address their panic attacks effectively.

Treatment for panic attacks at Charlie Health 

If a young person in your life is struggling with panic attacks, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health offers a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with complex mental health conditions, including panic attacks. Our expert clinicians incorporate CBT into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic treatment, managing panic attacks is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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