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November 2001
Learning to Chill

By Boris Pisman


I manage the Integral Yoga Institute in New York City and work as a therapist at the Anxiety and Phobia Treatment Center at White Plains Hospital, as well as in a private practice. My work as a therapist mostly consists of working with people who suffer from panic attacks, phobias and social anxiety. In general, I work with a lot of anxious people on a short-term basis.

Since the World Trade Center tragedy, I have not seen a tremendous increase in clientele. Still, a few people have come to see me with panic attacks and anxieties resulting from the disaster. One person had a panic attack while taking a subway, being afraid of another terrorist attack—this time in the subway. Usually, this type of panic attack is easily identified and treated, but people should not wait too long to address it. When not addressed, the attacks may continue and a person will begin to avoid the places where they occur, and this may eventually develop into agoraphobia. Avoiding the scary places is the worst coping technique one can develop to deal with their anxieties.

A woman came to see me because, since the WTC tragedy, she cannot be at home after sundown and has to sleep at her friend’s house. People who have begun to have intrusive and unwanted memories, nightmares, depression, experience a lack of appetite, nervousness and irritability may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD typically appear within a few weeks of the trauma, but on rare occasions there can be a long gap between the triggering event and the beginning of PTSD. Treatment consists of allowing a person to talk and tell her story about the traumatic event and go back to the time when it occurred to help her re-experience her feelings and state of mind when the event happened; then encouraging her to integrate the experience into the present moment. Also, encouraging her to reduce her avoidance of the places associated with the traumatic event will help to change underlying thought patterns and rebuild confidence. This could take some time, but if it is a relatively recent event, it does not have to take too long. A lot of people who are afflicted with anxieties due to the current events have been slightly predisposed to anxiety in the past. This type of behavior therapy (gradually exposing people to the feared situation) is one of the best and most long-lasting methods of treatment for anxiety disorders.

Since I have been studying and teaching yoga for the last 14 years, I combine cognitive/behavior therapy with yoga therapy. For example, such yogic teachings as diaphragmatic breathing and deep relaxation deal directly with anxiety symptoms and allow the client to experience relief from shortness of breath and muscle tension. In addition, combining short-term medication therapy with a cognitive/behavior/yoga therapy can be the best and fastest treatment in cases of severe anxiety.

Boris Pisman is a professional member of the Anxiety Disorder Association of America and the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation. He recommends that people research anxiety disorders as much as possible on the Internet and in bookstores, and take their recovery into their own hands. He can be reached via Integral Yoga at (212) 929-0586 ext. 23, or at 917-270-5391.


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