Nothing could cure Clemency Burton-Hill's panic attacks ... until she set aside a little time each day to listen to her favourite classical music and everything changed
It started with Bach. A suite called The Well-Tempered Clavier, to be precise. I began to notice that, whenever I took the rare luxury of stopping, pressing play and actively listening to this 300-year-old piano music, the thoughts scrambling madly around in my head would subside. My heart would stop racing and my breathing would deepen.
I branched out - cello suites, cantatas - and felt somehow equalised, internal equilibrium restored. What was this minor sonic miracle? How could the simple act of listening to a piece of music have such a positive effect? And what, I wondered, if I were to turn it into a positive daily ritual?
I delved deeper: instead of a mindless Instagram scroll hole on the way home from work, keyboard works by Liszt and Scriabin; soulful instrumental pieces by the contemporary composer Max Richter; sublime Renaissance choral works that were more than just spiritually nourishing. Classical music, it turned out, would become my salvation.
It was early in 2015 that my panic attacks began. I would be standing on a Tube platform and suddenly everything would start to feel wrong. Despite freezing temperatures outside, down here it would feel like a furnace.
I'd yank off my coat, frantically unwind my scarf. All around me commuters would be engaged in the usual rush-hour transaction of forcing themselves on to the carriage. Caught in the middle of that scrum, I'd be immobilised, seemingly unable to breathe. It was terrifying. This sort of thing should not have been happening to me. I'm a born and bred Londoner. I'm also a grown woman, a wife, a mother, a functional 30-something in apparent control of my life. Extracting the most out of every minute of every day is my standard M.O.
Obviously, the Tube at rush-hour does not bother me (unless, of course, we're talking about someone standing on the left of the escalator): nothing holds me back. My life has always been lived, like so many of us, at a certain frenetic pace and with unrelenting expectations about what it means to be a human being in the greatest city on earth.
So what was going on? I put it down to the chronic sleep deprivation of parenthood, tech overuse, and always-on freelancer burnout. I tried to ignore stress-inducing headlines and reminded myself that people everywhere were battling situations far harder than mine.
But then the going got tougher. Over the next year, I suffered three traumatic miscarriages and lost a beloved parent. I felt like I was in a sinister game of a Whac-A-Mole: every time I raised my head, something else would slam me back down.
You'd never have known it from my Instagram or Twitter feeds, of course, because we are all complicit in the great digital game of curating and semaphoring perfection.
As I spun out behind screens, however, an increasing number of well-intentioned friends suggested I take up meditation and, sigh, mindfulness.
Oh, mindfulness. I have no doubt about the power of mindfulness meditation if you are the sort of person who can actually make it work. I, it turns out, am definitively not that person.
My abject failure to get mindful, even after shelling out for a specialist course and various apps, teas and colouring books, only left me feeling even more stressed and depressed.
All this time, I was neglecting what had always been in the background. I have played the violin since childhood and music has long been a central part of my life. I'm a radio presenter who hosts a daily breakfast music programme on BBC Radio 3; a TV presenter who works on shows such as BBC Young Musician of the Year and The Proms.
My life, supposedly, was "filled" with music. And, yet, in the relentless roller-coaster of a freelance career that encompasses journalism, writing books, producing documentaries and hosting live events, not to mention family, friends and parenthood, I was - I am - a classic millennial time pauper. How often did I actually give myself the time and space to really listen? Answer: never.
But I shouldn't have been surprised by music's restorative effects. The science speaks for itself. Classical music has been proven, again and again, to have the capacity to rewire our brains.
And in our age of tech overload there is increasing research to suggest that in never detaching mentally from our inboxes, apps and social media, we are losing a crucial part of what it means to be human: that which requires us to stop, reflect and let our minds wander.
Such music, increasingly marginalised in our culture despite being accessible to anyone with an internet connection, can help us do precisely this.Throw together the words "luxury" and "classical music" and what is likely to spring to mind is people in black tie drinking Champagne in a gilded opera house.
But the true luxury of what it means to have a life containing this kind of music has taken on new meaning for me.
It has nothing to do with being "posh", or fancy concert halls.
It's about the gift of taking time, just a few minutes out of each day, to press play - whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever you're doing - and get lost.
I promise that you will never feel so found.
- Year of Wonder: Classical Music for Every Day by Clemency Burton-Hill is published by Headline Home, priced £20