Understanding Anxiety and Clark’s Panic Model

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural human emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. While anxiety can be a normal response to stress, it can become overwhelming and interfere with daily activities for some individuals.

How Common is Anxiety, and What are its Consequences?

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions, affecting millions of people worldwide. The consequences of untreated anxiety can be far-reaching, impacting relationships, work performance, and overall quality of life. It can lead to physical health issues such as sleep disturbances, heart problems, and a weakened immune system.

Clark’s Panic Model Explained

Clark’s Panic Model offers a cognitive perspective on understanding panic attacks, a common manifestation of anxiety disorders. This model suggests that panic attacks are not random but are triggered by a misinterpretation of bodily sensations. For instance, a person might interpret a slight increase in heart rate as a sign of an impending heart attack. This misinterpretation leads to a cycle of fear and physical symptoms that culminate in a panic attack.

What are Maladaptive Beliefs in Anxiety According to Clark’s Model?

  1. Catastrophic Misinterpretation: Believing that physical symptoms are a sign of imminent danger, e.g., “My rapid heartbeat means I’m about to have a heart attack.”
  2. Overestimation of Threat: Assuming the worst-case scenario is likely to happen, e.g., “Feeling dizzy means I will faint in public and embarrass myself.”
  3. Underestimation of Coping Ability: Doubting one’s ability to handle anxiety symptoms, e.g., “I can’t manage these panic symptoms; I’m going to lose control.”

What are Adaptive Beliefs that Can Counter Anxiety?

  1. Accurate Interpretation of Symptoms: Understanding bodily sensations as non-threatening, e.g., “A rapid heartbeat during anxiety is uncomfortable but not dangerous.”
  2. Realistic Assessment of Threat: Recognizing that worst-case scenarios are unlikely, e.g., “Feeling dizzy is unpleasant, but it doesn’t mean I will definitely faint.”
  3. Confidence in Coping: Trusting in one’s ability to manage symptoms, e.g., “I have strategies to cope with panic symptoms; I can get through this.”

How Do These Beliefs Lead to Changes in Behavior?

  • Maladaptive Thinking: A person who believes their panic symptoms signal a heart attack might avoid exercise, exacerbating anxiety and physical health issues.
  • Adaptive Thinking: Conversely, someone who understands their symptoms as non-threatening might use relaxation techniques during a panic attack, reducing its intensity and duration.


Understanding anxiety through the lens of Clark’s Panic Model provides valuable insights into how maladaptive beliefs can fuel anxiety and panic attacks. By fostering adaptive beliefs, individuals can break the cycle of anxiety, leading to improved coping and a better quality of life.