Relieve Uncertainty and Panic Disorder with Mindfulness

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Panic gains momentum from the energy we put into fighting it, and the fact is, we don’t always need to fight it. Life happens to you and me as it happens to all people, whether we are ready for it or not, and all we really need to do is be open to experiencing it one moment at a time.” – Krista Lester


Anxiety and fear happen in everyone and under normal conditions are coped with adaptively and effectively and do not continue beyond the eliciting conditions. But, in a large number of people the anxiety is non-specific and overwhelming. Anxiety Disorders are the most common psychological problem. In the U.S., they affect over 40 million adults, 18% of the population, with women accounting for 60% of sufferers They typically include feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness, problems sleeping, cold or sweaty hands and/or feet, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, an inability to be still and calm, dry mouth, and numbness or tingling in the hands or feet.


A subset of people with anxiety disorders are diagnosed with Panic Disorder. These are sudden attacks of fear and nervousness, as well as physical symptoms such as difficulty breathing, pounding heart or chest pain, intense feeling of dread, shortness of breath, sensation of choking or smothering, dizziness or feeling faint, trembling or shaking, sweating, nausea or stomachache, tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes, chills or hot flashes, and a fear that they are losing control or are about to die. A common additional symptom of panic disorder is the persistent fear of having future panic attacks. The fear of these attacks can cause the person to avoid places and situations where an attack has occurred or where they believe an attack may occur. Needless to say patients are miserable, their quality of life is low, and their ability to carry on a normal life disrupted.


There are a number of treatments for Panic Disorder including psychotherapy, relaxation training, and medication. Recently it’s been demonstrated that panic disorder can be treated with mindfulness practice. In particular, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been shown to be particularly effective. It is not known, however, the exact mechanism of action of MBCT effects on Panic Disorder. In today’s Research News article “Impact of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy on Intolerance of Uncertainty in Patients with Panic Disorder.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Kim and colleagues investigate whether an intolerance of uncertainty may be a key factor in Panic Disorder and the response to MBCT. Intolerance of uncertainty is defined as a “dispositional characteristic that results from a set of negative beliefs about uncertainty and its implications, and involves the tendency to react negatively on an emotional, cognitive, and behavioral level to uncertain situations and events.”


Kim and colleagues recruited patients suffering with Panic Disorder and treated them with an 8-week program of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). They measured Panic Disorder intensity, depression, and intolerance of uncertainty both before and after treatment. They found that MBCT produced significant decreases in all measures, with patients having significantly lower levels of Panic Disorder intensity, depression, and intolerance of uncertainty after treatment. They also found that before treatment, the higher the level of intolerance of uncertainty, the greater the intensity of Panic Disorder and the higher the level of depression. In addition, the greater the reduction in intolerance of uncertainty produced by MBCT, the greater the reduction in Panic Disorder intensity. The significant association between intolerance of uncertainty and Panic Disorder intensity was present even after the pre-treatment level of Panic Disorder intensity and Depression were accounted for.


These results suggest that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is an effective treatment for Panic Disorder. They further suggest that the effectiveness of MBCT is at least in part due to it reducing the intolerance of uncertainty that is characteristic of Panic Disorder patients. Mindfulness training in general and MBCT in particular increase attention to what is transpiring in the present moment and decrease thinking about the future. Since intolerance of uncertainty is a worry about future events, it would seem reasonable that MBCT would reduce it. Since intolerance of uncertainty is clearly related to Panic Disorder, its reduction should reduce Panic Disorder.


It should be noted that the study did not contain a control (comparison) condition. So, it cannot be concluded that MBCT was responsible for the improvements. It is possible that a placebo effect or spontaneous remissions were responsible. Regardless, the results are suggestive that MBCT is a safe and effective intervention for the relief of Panic Disorder, depression, and intolerance of uncertainty. So, relieve uncertainty and panic disorder with mindfulness.


“mindfulness takes ‘thinker’ out of thought, and teaches us to step back and observe our minds and our thoughts. Mindfulness is learning to see exactly what is happening. It ‘disengages’ our ‘automatic pilot’ and gives us the necessary space to see cause and effect as it happens in ‘real’ time. Cause: thought. Effect: panic and/or anxiety.” – Bronwyn Fox


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Study Summary

Kim, M. K., Lee, K. S., Kim, B., Choi, T. K., & Lee, S.-H. (2016). Impact of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy on Intolerance of Uncertainty in Patients with Panic Disorder. Psychiatry Investigation, 13(2), 196–202.



Objective: Intolerance of uncertainty (IU) is a transdiagnostic construct in various anxiety and depressive disorders. However, the relationship between IU and panic symptom severity is not yet fully understood. We examined the relationship between IU, panic, and depressive symptoms during mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in patients with panic disorder.

Methods: We screened 83 patients with panic disorder and subsequently enrolled 69 of them in the present study. Patients participating in MBCT for panic disorder were evaluated at baseline and at 8 weeks using the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale (IUS), Panic Disorder Severity Scale-Self Report (PDSS-SR), and Beck Depression Inventory (BDI).

Results: There was a significant decrease in scores on the IUS (p<0.001), PDSS (p<0.001), and BDI (p<0.001) following MBCT for panic disorder. Pre-treatment IUS scores significantly correlated with pre-treatment PDSS (p=0.003) and BDI (p=0.003) scores. We also found a significant association between the reduction in IU and PDSS after controlling for the reduction in the BDI score (p<0.001).

Conclusion: IU may play a critical role in the diagnosis and treatment of panic disorder. MBCT is effective in lowering IU in patients with panic disorder.