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Anxiety and panic attacks - what works?

Over the years, many of the people who have come to see me have spoken about severe anxiety - the kind that stops you from getting on with life by robbing you of sleep or self-confidence or a feeling of being in some control over everyday activities. Anxiety symptoms are wide-ranging, from numbness and feelings of disconnect to pains, chills, trembling, sweating and breathing difficulties. These symptoms can come out of the blue or be triggered by a sound or a smell. They are often accompanied by dread or terror and may result in shame, confusion or isolation. At their worst, anxiety symptoms can escalate to an emergency that looks and feels like a heart attack. It may turn out to be a non-life-threatening "panic attack" but very often, the person experiencing it thinks he is going to die.

In an article published by the Guardian this week, the author Tim Clare reviews the outcomes of a systematic year of research into treatments for his own anxiety. Having explored exercise, diet, medication, psychedelics and cold-water exposure, he mentions two things that really worked for him:

  • writing about traumatic experiences in a way that allows you to reconnect the details about the event with your feelings then and now.

  • talking honestly about how you feel

He writes: "Anxiety is, at its core, a message. It’s an ancient signal that the organism – you – is in danger. Often that signal is wrong – there is no monster under the bed, the coiled snake is just a rope – , but it longs, craves to be heard. There is something profoundly healing in being understood – in feeling that whatever you’ve been through, the emotions you carry, the reality of your fight, someone sees it, someone sees you, and they get it. Finally, the message has been delivered. Finally, you can rest."

This is what good therapy can offer.


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