What is panic?

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, which results in worrying and being afraid.  It manifests into many physical sensations such as breathing rapidly, heart rate increasing, tension in the body and sweating.  These feelings result in the body going into “fight or flight” mode.  Click here for more information on anxiety.

Panic is a form of anxiety where your body experiences a rush of intense mental and physical symptoms.  It can come on for no reason and can feel very frightening and distressing.

Panic is the misinterpretation of the physical symptoms of anxiety.  Some of the typical physical sensations and negative thoughts include:

Physical symptoms:

  • a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath
  • sweating, hot flushes
  • nausea, dizziness, dry mouth,  urge to go toilet
  • chest pain
  • trembling, shaky limbs, numbness or pins and needles
  • a churning stomach
Negative thoughts:

  • Something bad is going to happen
  • I can’t cope
  • I’m unwell
  • I’m losing control
  • Something is wrong with me
  • I’ll embarrass myself

What are the causes of panic?


Cognitive and behavioural therapy (CBT) helps us to understand our issues by breaking them into five smaller parts – Situation, Thoughts, Emotions, Physical Sensations and Behaviour. These five parts are normally interconnected and maintain the problem.

Using this CBT model, we can explain some of the common signs of panic:

How can we help?

The physical sensations of panic can be alarming, and naturally frightening, hence why you may want to avoid them.  However, by avoiding them you avoid the evidence for the alternative belief, which is that the symptoms of panic are NOT harmful.  If you have enough evidence that panic is not damaging, you can strengthen your alternative belief about the physical alarms.

You can overcome the feeling of panic by either exposing yourself to the internal sensations and feel the physical alarm that you are afraid of, or by situational exposure and put yourself in situations which gives you the feeling of panic.

Mindset Rethink can help you to:

  • Identify and set specific and manageable goals
  • Offer you education on panic
  • Explain the CBT model to you and how it can help you with breaking the cycle for panic
  • Evaluate and challenge your negative thoughts
  • Create a list of feared situations and collaboratively plan how to do the graded exposure work
  • Collaboratively create a list of internal sensations that you experience and plan exposure tasks to the sensations
  • Promote your general healthy lifestyle



Complementary therapy techniques

The main feature of panic is the intense physical sensation, which can reinforce the negative thoughts and emotions. If you can feel the physiological symptoms without interpreting it as danger, it will help you to feel less panicky, and allow your body to relax.

Exposure to the internal sensations may help you to recognise that nothing bad happens, and understand that it is just a feeling that you are having.

Think of an internal sensation to do the exposure task on.  Set yourself a task where you feel the physical sensation for 10 seconds. As an example, focusing on getting out of breath, you may want to run up and down the stairs for 10 seconds to get your breathing faster.  After doing the task, reflect on how it has impacted on your physical state, your emotions and your thoughts.  Engage in this activity at lease once daily.  

You may want to mix the tasks that you do for each internal sensation, or increase the time spent on the task, to gather as much evidence that nothing bad happened.

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