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What is OCDOCD SubtypesFear of Panic Attack

Fear of Panic Attack

4 min read
Jithin Vijayan, MA LPC

By Jithin Vijayan, MA LPC

Reviewed by Taylor Newendorp

Aug 26, 2022

Possibly related to:

What is Panic Attack OCD?

Panic Attack OCD involves an often debilitating fear of experiencing anxiety and panic. Since the mental, emotional, and physiological signs of anxiety and panic (mind racing, heart pounding, physical tension, emotional distress) can be quite difficult to deal with in any given moment, it is natural for many people to worry about and anticipate anxiety and panic to some degree. That anticipation, however, can lead to more anxiety as the affected individual makes continual efforts to predict, prepare for, and prevent potential episodes of anxiety and panic. 

Individuals with OCD who experience these obsessive fears of panic attacks may or may not experience actual episodes of panic. However, they can end up focusing obsessively on such a possibility and exhibit compulsions like rumination, excessive checking for signs of activation or distress that they believe could lead to a potential episode of panic, and avoidance of stressful or anxiety-provoking stimuli. 

Such strong reactions may inadvertently reinforce the idea that any panic attack will be devastating and unrecoverable, when that may not necessarily be the case. They can also lead individuals to doubt their ability to handle stressful or anxiety-provoking situations in healthy ways, relying instead on compulsive methods of avoiding potentially stressful situations, which can interfere dramatically with daily life.

Panic Attack OCD – Common Obsessions

  • What if I’m experiencing a panic attack or about to experience one?
  • What if this situation makes me stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, and leads to a panic attack?
  • What if I get a panic attack in front of other people?
  • What if I have a panic attack and never recover?
  • What is happening to me?
  • Why am I going through this?
  • How can I know if I’m going to panic?

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Common Triggers

People with panic attack fears in OCD may be triggered by stressful, anxiety-provoking, or potentially overwhelming situations as they worry that such situations could lead to a debilitating panic attack. They may also overthink any mental, emotional, or physiological signs of activation or distress and believe that they are indicative of an imminent panic attack. They may also be hyper aware of any physical sensations they fear might be a sign of a panic attack.  

Common triggers for people with OCD fear of panic attacks include:

  • Stressful or anxiety provoking situations
  • Internal signs of anxiety, activation or distress (mind racing, heart pounding, sweating)
  • Being around others in distress
  • Situations, locations, or media related to previous panic attacks 

How can I tell if it’s OCD and not anxiety, panic disorder, or something else?

Individuals with this theme of OCD struggle with a debilitating fear of experiencing panic attacks. This leads to frequent and intense intrusive thoughts relating to the possibility of experiencing panic attacks, as well as compulsive rumination, checking and avoidance of potentially anxiety provoking stimuli. 

If someone is experiencing both obsessive doubts, worries, or memories related to panic attacks, coupled with compulsive behaviors like avoidance, reassurance-seeking, internal checking, or even substance use, they may be suffering from OCD—even if they also suffer from an anxiety or panic disorder.

Common Compulsions

When people with obsessions related to panicking experience intrusive thoughts, feelings, or sensations that cause distress, they are likely to engage in compulsive behaviors like rumination, excessive checking for internal signs of anxiety, activation, or distress, and avoidance of anxiety-provoking stimuli.They may also seek reassurance from others about their ability to handle potentially challenging situations and about whether any signs of discomfort or distress are really indicative of a panic attack. They might find themselves excessively researching signs of panic attacks online, as well.

Common compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with Panic Attack OCD include:

  • Rumination
  • Rationalization and self-reassurance
  • Seeking reassurance from others
  • Excessive checking for internal signs of anxiety, activation, or distress
  • Avoidance of anxiety provoking stimuli
  • Researching signs/symptoms of panic attacks

How to treat fear of panic attack OCD

As with any obsessive-compulsive cycle in OCD, fear of having a panic attack can be debilitating for people who struggle with it—but it is highly treatable. Through Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, you can learn to discern between intrusive ideas or worries about experiencing a panic attack and the actual signs of experiencing one. You will also build confidence in your ability to work through and react to stressful or anxiety-provoking situations in healthy ways, rather than through compulsions that may only reinforce your fears.
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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp, M.A., LCPC, has specialized in the treatment of OCD since 2011. He is a former clinical supervisor for The Center for Anxiety and OCD at AMITA Behavioral Health Hospital in Illinois, and is currently the Regional Clinical Director for NOCD.

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