Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Vs. Relaxation Therapy in Treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Vs. Relaxation Therapy in Treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder


by: Angela Escobar

The question of which type of therapy works best for those suffering from anxiety has been the topic of several clinical studies over the past decades.  Both therapies have proven effective in clinical trials, but each one has a “different theoretical approach” (Siev & Chambless, 2007, p. 514). 

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

The Cognitive Model basically puts forth that an individual will feel anxious when confronted with a situation (or thing) that he or she perceives as a major threat, dangerous, and/or even catastrophic in nature.  In reality, this stimulus (or stimuli) is actually pretty benign, but the physiological effects that the individual experiences internally make him or her believe that he/she is actually in true danger (Siev & Chambless, 2007).  These reactions cause an exaggerated sense of threat, which increases the level of fear, and so on, causing the individual to spiral into a cycle of increasing anxiety (Siev & Chambless, 2007).  Sometimes the anxiety levels get so high and out of control that it develops into an anxiety or panic attack.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy which aims at reshaping the way you think, remolding your attitude, perspective, and outlook, which ultimately results in a change in the way you feel.  There are several CBT techniques that your therapist may use as part of your treatment plan, but here are a few that I found very useful by Dr. Alice Boyes:

Pleasant Activity Scheduling- Doing activities that produce higher levels of positive emotions in your daily life will help make your thinking less negative, narrow, rigid, and self-focused.

Self-Monitoring Your Thoughts- Thought records tend to help change beliefs on a logical level.


What is Relaxation Therapy?

There are several types of relaxation therapies that your therapist may incorporate into your treatment plan, but I have listed two of the most popular techniques below:

Muscle Relaxation Techniques are a great way to learn how to relax areas of your body when anxiety and tension are on the rise.  Muscle Relaxation Therapy is proven to be more effective in those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder over those with Panic Disorder (Siev & Chambless, 2007).  Even if you do have panic attacks, learning these muscle relaxation techniques will help to alleviate anxiety, stress, and tension, and should be practiced daily. 

How To Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

Breathing Techniques have also shown to be effective in reducing anxiety.  In clinical trials, this technique has also been proven to be more effective in those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder over those with Panic Disorder (Siev & Chambless, 2007), but should still be practiced by anyone who is experiencing tension and anxiety.  People with anxiety tend to take in more shallow, quicker breaths, causing the CO2 levels to drop.  This decrease in CO2 is what makes us feel dizzy, faint, and light-headed.  Deep breathing assists in regulating CO2 levels in your blood so that it is at a more stable, higher level. 

How To Do Deep Breathing Exercises

Try a few Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques along with a few Relaxation Therapy techniques daily to help alleviate your anxiety, tension, and stress.  Remember, there are several techniques that you can try.  Find a few that work best for you and that you feel the most comfortable engaging in.  Take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to practice these techniques.  Five minutes here, five minutes there.  You can do your breathing exercises and/or muscle relaxation exercises while watching T.V., at your desk at work, in class, or at bedtime.  Once you begin to feel better, you will find it is worth the time and effort.

How do you cope with your anxiety and/or panic attacks?  Let us know:


Newman, M. G., & Borkovec, T. D. (1995). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. The Clinical Psychologist, 48(4), 5-7. Retrieved from:

Siev, J., & Chambless, D. L. (2007). Specificity of treatment effects: Cognitive therapy and relaxation for generalized anxiety and panic disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol.75(No.4), 513–522. DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.75.4.513

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