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Emotional Reasoning and Panic Disorder

Learn to Overcome Negative Thinking Patterns

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Updated October 22, 2013

Emotional reasoning is a common cognitive distortion experienced by people with panic disorder. Find out more about emotional reasoning and panic disorder and learn to overcome negative thinking patterns.

Definition

Do our thoughts control our feelings and behaviors? According to the theory of cognitive therapy, our thoughts can dictate our emotional well-being. Negative thinking patterns, known as cognitive distortions, are often a problem for people who suffer from depression and anxiety-related disorder. Emotional reasoning is one type of cognitive distortion that may be contributing to your symptoms of panic disorder.  

When overcome by this type of faulty thinking, we are interpreting our situation through our feelings. We feel anxious and then believe that we must be in danger. Emotional reasoning is a prominent distortion for people diagnosed with panic disorder, as feelings of nervousness can quickly escalate into panic. Below are a few examples of emotional reasoning and ways to reframe this common cognitive distortion.

Example

While driving home from work in rush hour traffic, Monica had a close call on the freeway. She felt nervous and her heart raced. Monica now no longer wants to drive on the freeway, believing that she will be at risk for getting into an accident.

Leon has never felt safe in planes. On his last business trip, he started to fear his upcoming flight several days in advance. Leon would look up information on the internet that would confirm his fear of flying, such as information on past issues with flights. On the day of his trip, Leon began shaking and sweating as he boarded the plane. At one point, the pilot warned that there was going to be some turbulence and requested passengers to put on their seatbelts. Leon told himself that “He knew the plane was going to crash.” Leon’s self-talk escalated as he had a panic attack.  

Rethink It

Monica may feel anxious while driving on the freeway, but that does not mean she is in danger. Monica can notice that she feels nervous, but instead of telling herself that she is in danger, she can tell herself that this feeling will pass.

Leon became so afraid, that he began to believe he was in danger. In response to his intense fear and negative self-talk, he experienced the physical symptoms of panic and anxiety. It was as if his mind told his body to prepare for danger, a process known as fight-or-flight response. Leon would have been better off reading more positive information before his flight, such as fear of flying tips. Instead of participating in negative self-talk, Leon could of worked past his fears by utilizing relaxation techniques or self-affirmations, such as “I am safe.”  

Anxiety often begins with nervous thoughts and fears or physical sensations, such as shaking and rapid heart rate. When you feel anxiety creeping up, try slowing down your thoughts and bring yourself back to more realistic perceptions. Give yourself permission to feel anxious. Then remind yourself that it is just a feeling and that is does not have to define your reality.

Sources:

Burns, D. D. “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” Avon Books: New York, 1999.

Burns, D.D. “When Panic Attacks: The New Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life” Broadway Books: New York, 2006.

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