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The Three-Component Model

The science of anxiety can be complex.  Luckily, there is a model we use in CBT to help us keep our bearings.


Most anxiety problems consist of three components:

  • Feelings:  Research suggests that feelings are anxiety’s core — the part that presidents share with penguins.  There are two subtypes of anxious feelings.
    • Emotion: keyed-up apprehension or dread
    • Physical sensations: e.g., muscle tension and dizziness*
  • Thoughts: Thoughts also play a major role in anxiety issues.  Two thinking errors are especially important: overestimating the chances of bad things happening and underestimating our ability to cope with it.
  • Behavior:  Behavior transforms anxiety into anxiety problems, and avoidance is the behavior that drives this transformation.


The three components work together in a coordinated dance.  Anxious feelings lead to anxious thoughts.  Anxious thoughts lead to anxious feelings.  And avoidant behavior acts as the glue, holding the problem together.


Three Component Model



*Panic attacks involve other physical sensations, such as shortness of breath, accelerated heart rate, sweating, shaking, and chest pain.



Dylan M. Kollman, PhD