Overcoming anxiety and panic attacks: The power of EMDR and NLP

As a therapist specialising in anxiety, panic attacks and trauma, I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound impact these conditions can have on individuals. Anxiety and panic attacks can be debilitating, often leading to a cycle of fear and avoidance that disrupts daily life. 


For many, these symptoms are compounded by past traumatic experiences, resulting in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, there is hope. 

Through therapeutic interventions such as eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), clients can break free from the grip of their symptoms and move forward to live full, meaningful lives.

Understanding anxiety and panic attacks

Anxiety is a natural response to stress, but when it becomes chronic, it can interfere with one’s ability to function. It manifests in various ways, including excessive worry, restlessness, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Panic attacks, on the other hand, are sudden episodes of intense fear that trigger severe physical reactions when there is no real danger. Symptoms can include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and an overwhelming sense of impending doom.

For those with a history of trauma, these experiences can be even more intense. Traumatic events can leave deep psychological scars, and the brain may continue to respond as if the danger is ever-present. This is where PTSD comes into play. PTSD is characterised by intrusive memories, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic event. These symptoms can persist for months or even years after the event, significantly impairing one's ability to lead a normal life.

The role of EMDR in treating trauma

EMDR is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. It is based on the idea that traumatic memories are not processed in the same way as ordinary memories. Instead, they become stuck in the brain, causing the individual to re-experience the trauma as if it were happening in the present.

During an EMDR session, the therapist guides the client through a structured process that involves recalling the traumatic event while simultaneously focusing on bilateral stimulation, such as side-to-side eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones. This dual focus helps the brain reprocess the traumatic memories, reducing their emotional charge and allowing them to be stored in a more adaptive way.

Clients often report a significant decrease in the intensity of their symptoms after just a few sessions. EMDR not only helps to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories but also promotes the development of new, healthier perspectives and coping mechanisms.

Harnessing the power of NLP

NLP is another powerful tool in the therapeutic arsenal for treating anxiety and panic attacks. It is based on the premise that our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are interconnected and that by changing the way we think, we can change the way we feel and behave.

NLP techniques focus on identifying and altering the patterns of thinking and behaviour that contribute to anxiety and panic. For example, a common NLP technique is reframing, which involves changing the context or meaning of a negative thought to transform its emotional impact. If a client believes that they are incapable of handling stress, an NLP practitioner might help them reframe this belief by highlighting past successes and strengths, thereby building confidence and resilience.

Another effective NLP technique is anchoring, where a positive emotional state is linked to a specific physical trigger, such as pressing a thumb and forefinger together. This can help clients access feelings of calm and control during moments of anxiety or panic.

The transformative power of therapy

The combination of EMDR and NLP provides a comprehensive approach to treating anxiety, panic attacks, and trauma. EMDR addresses the root cause by reprocessing traumatic memories, while NLP equips clients with practical tools to manage their symptoms and reshape their thinking patterns.

Through therapy, clients learn to understand their triggers, develop healthier coping strategies, and regain control over their lives. They are empowered to confront their fears, heal from their past, and embrace a future free from the limitations imposed by anxiety and trauma.

The journey to recovery is unique for each individual, but with the right support, it is entirely possible. As a therapist, I am continually inspired by the resilience and strength of my clients. Seeing them transform from a state of fear and helplessness to one of confidence and empowerment is a testament to the effectiveness of EMDR and NLP.

How can I use this at home?

One quick and effective technique that individuals can use at home to manage anxiety and panic attacks is called "The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise." This exercise helps bring a person back to the present moment by engaging their senses. It is a simple yet powerful method to reduce anxiety and prevent panic attacks. Here’s how it works:

The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise

  • 5 things you can see: Look around and name five things you can see. These can be anything in your immediate environment, such as a pen, a spot on the ceiling, a tree outside the window or a pattern on the carpet.
  • 4 things you can touch: Focus on four things you can physically touch. Notice the texture and feel of each item. It could be the chair you’re sitting on, the fabric of your clothes, your own hands or an object like a book or a pillow.
  • 3 things you can hear: Listen carefully and identify three sounds you can hear. These might be distant traffic, a ticking clock, birds chirping or even your own breathing.
  • 2 things you can smell: Identify two different smells. If you can’t find any distinctive smells in your immediate environment, you can recall familiar scents like fresh-cut grass or your favourite perfume.
  • 1 thing you can taste: Focus on one thing you can taste. This could be the taste of a mint, a piece of gum or even just the taste in your mouth. If you don’t notice any taste, think about your favourite food or drink.

Additional tips:

  • Deep breathing: While doing this exercise, take slow, deep breaths. Inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. This helps calm the nervous system.
  • Repeat as needed: This exercise can be repeated as often as necessary until you feel more grounded and in control.

The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise works by shifting your focus away from anxiety and panic to your physical surroundings and the present moment. It engages multiple senses, which can interrupt the cycle of anxious thoughts and bring you back to a state of calm.

Practical application:

  • During a panic attack: Use this technique to help break the cycle of panic and bring your attention to the present.
  • Daily routine: Incorporate this exercise into your daily routine as a preventive measure against anxiety.
  • On-the-go: This exercise can be done anywhere and anytime, making it a versatile tool for managing anxiety.

By practising this grounding technique regularly, individuals can build a stronger connection to the present moment and develop a useful coping strategy to manage anxiety and prevent panic attacks. This simple yet effective method can be a valuable addition to one’s self-care toolkit.

Anxiety and panic attacks, especially those rooted in past trauma, can be overwhelming. However, with therapies like EMDR and NLP, individuals can process their traumatic experiences, change their thought patterns and develop the skills needed to live fulfilling lives. Therapy offers a pathway to healing, enabling clients to move forward with hope and resilience.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Guildford GU5 & GU2
Guildford GU5 & GU2

Donna Morgan is a highly experienced Humanistic Mental Health Therapist with 26 years of practice. Her passion for helping individuals with their mental health has driven her to develop a compassionate and holistic approach to therapy. Donna firmly believes in treating each client as a unique individual and providing them with personalised support.

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