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Don’t worry, get attention training

Programs designed to alter a habitual focus on potential threats show promise in treating two common anxiety ailments

By
1:22pm, February 18, 2009

For those who constantly worry about imagined catastrophes or freak out around others, here’s an attention-grabber. A few brief training sessions offer as much anxiety relief as psychotherapy or medication, at least for four months, two new studies find.

Attention training helps subjects practice how not to focus on threatening words or on photos of threatening faces. Administered by psychologist Nader Amir of San Diego State University and his colleagues, brief sessions  enabled a majority of patients diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder to achieve remission. The disorder, estimated to affect 6.8 million U.S. adults, involves constant, exaggerated worries about impending disasters regarding health, money or other issues.

A similar form of attention guidance, directed by psychologist Norman Schmidt of Florida State University in Tallahassee, provided marked relief for many patients diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. About 15 million U.S. adult

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