Safety Behaviours

Adults with panic disorder will often change their behaviour to feel safer and try to prevent future panic attacks. Examples include:

  • Carrying items such as medication, water or a cell phone that the individual believes will ensure their safety
  • Having a companion (e.g. a family member or friend) accompany them places
  • Avoiding physical activities (e.g. exercising, sex) that might trigger panic-like feelings
  • Avoiding certain foods (e.g. spicy dishes) or beverages (e.g. caffeine, alcohol) because they might trigger panic-like symptoms
  • Seeking reassurance from others that they are “okay or normal,” “healthy,” or, “safe.”
  • Sitting near exits or bathrooms
  • Using distraction to avoid feeling anxious or thinking about the panic attacks (e.g. always keeping busy or eliminating free-time)

At first appearance this may make good sense to the individual struggling with panic attacks. After all, if the panic attacks feel unpleasant and the individual believes the sensations are dangerous, seeking safety and trying to prevent a future attack makes sense. However, engaging in a safety behaviour/s becomes a problem when the individual learns that their panic sensations are not dangerous, and that in fact trying to avoid them only makes them worse and more likely to happen. As a result, individuals can follow the Facing Your Fears: Exposure tool to learn how to gradually drop and eliminate their safety behaviours one at a time, for good.