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Keywords:

  • anxiety disorder;
  • cognitive behavior therapy;
  • panic disorder;
  • psychotherapy;
  • safety behavior

Aim

In-situation safety behaviors play an important role in the maintenance of anxiety because they prevent patients from experiencing unambiguous disconfirmation of their unrealistic beliefs about feared catastrophes. Strategies for identifying particular safety behaviors, however, have not been sufficiently investigated. The aims of the present study were to (i) develop a comprehensive list of safety behaviors seen in panic disorder and to examine their frequency; and (ii) correlate the safety behaviors with panic attack symptoms, agoraphobic situations and treatment response.

Methods

The subjects consisted of 46 consecutive patients who participated in group cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) for panic disorder. All the patients completed a Safety Behavior List that was developed based on experiences with panic disorder patients.

Results

Carrying medications, distracting attention, carrying a plastic bottle, and drinking water were reported by more than half of the patients. The strongest correlations between panic symptoms and safety behaviors were found between symptoms of derealization and listening to music with headphones, paresthesia and pushing a cart while shopping, and nausea and squatting down. The strongest association between agoraphobic situations and safety behaviors was found between the fear of taking a bus or a train alone and moving around. Staying still predicted response to the CBT program, while concentrating on something predicted lack of response.

Conclusion

An approximate guideline has been developed for identifying safety behaviors among patients with panic disorder and should help clinicians use CBT more effectively for these patients.