After listening to clients describing panic attacks over the years I can understand how the anticipation of having another one can generate an overall sense of panic by itself.
When experiencing a panic attack the body goes through a series of symptoms that can be difficult to manage and all seem to be happening at once and with short notice. Most people will report feeling breathless, nauseated and restless. The intensity of the panic attacks and the length can vary but they are all equally scary and most people feel fear and uncertainty long after the panic attack ended.
It is not uncommon that when experiencing their first panic attack the person will call an ambulance or go to the emergency department of a hospital. The symptoms of a panic attack can be similar to the ones of a heart attack and for all intents and purposes it is good to rule out any heart conditions. But when you are finally given the diagnosis and explanation that what happened to you was a panic attack, the next question for most is trying to understand why and how it happened and if is going to happen again.
The answer to these questions are often not straight forward and the most important is to understand how to manage the anxiety that generated the panic attack.
People don’t always discuss in the open these experiences because they may feel embarrassed or they may not know how to explain it to others that never had experienced a panic attack. However at least 5% of the population will experience a panic attack at some stage so they are not so uncommon. I remember being on a flight and the passenger behind me was clearly experiencing a panic attack just before take-off. Her partner knew exactly what to do and he held her hand tight while giving her instructions of how to breathe and took her through a relaxation exercise. After a short time she calmed down and was fine for the rest of the flight.
Panic attacks come and go and are associated with stress and fear. They don’t cause death and they don’t make people ‘crazy’. The anticipation of having another panic attack and the ongoing worrying that it is going to happen anywhere and at any time can be the main factor for increasing anxiety and stress.
One of my favourite books: “Living with It” by Bev Aisbett, makes it very easy to understand panic attacks. This book describes the recipe for a panic attack better that anyone could ever do it. The book refers to panic attacks as “It”:
“Recipe for an IT”
4 truckloads of guilt
16 cups of should
4 bags of perfectionism
12 Busloads of criticism (self or outside)
10 barrels of low self-esteem
20 tonnes of negative thoughts
80 kilos of exaggeration
1 football field worth of worrying
Large pinch of sense of failure
1 period of insomnia
Combine with any of the following:
1 major life change
1 or more relationship problems
1 or more drug experience
1 prolonged period of tension
1 set of gynaecological problems/hormonal changes
1 inability to relax
1 ridiculous work load
1 unhappy childhood
1 set of sexual problems
1 family member with Panic Disorder or Anxiety Condition
1 biological predisposition
“Ingredients may vary with each individual”
Allow mixture to simmer for most of a lifetime.
After reading the above recipe you can understand how this disorder can be easily experienced by many people but the most important point is that you come to terms with the fact that you have experienced ‘it’ and that you learn to accept what happened. Accepting does not mean that you will be happy about it or that you will be doing nothing to manage it. Acceptance has to do more with becoming aware of how your body and mind responded to stress and anxiety so you can work towards reducing that stress and anxiety.
If you think about a panic attack as a quick storm with lightening and heavy rain you may find this analogy useful. The storm slowly generates in the skies but we only see it when it is happening but if we learn more about the weather and pressure and meteorology we may be able to anticipate and observe the changes as they are happening. Knowing that the storm is coming can help us to get ready or to allow it to happen without stressing because we knew that it was coming and we are carrying an umbrella. Panic attacks are often rapid and short like storms.
Learning breathing exercises and practising them when you are feeling well can help you to calm down and recover quickly after a panic attack but can also help you to reduce the anxiety that can contribute to a panic attack. Working on recognising your worries and stresses is probably a good start when trying to reduce anxiety. Identifying unhelpful thoughts and looking for alternative options to what you thought at the first time can also be a good exercise to practice. If you struggle to work this out yourself you may need to consider seeing a psychologist to help you with this work.
For more information about anxiety and panic disorder see this link http://resources.beyondblue.org.au/prism/file?token=BL/0384
We often find ourselves running around with our busy lives and without knowing our day is ending. We feel exhausted and we lie down in the couch hoping to get some relaxation before falling sleep. This seems to be repeated time and time again with some variations on the weekend and holidays. That is depending on your circumstances because you may have to work on the weekend or look after a large family or clean the entire house because it is the only time you have at home.
The struggle of ‘slowing down’ gets to each of us in one way or another and the desire to achieve some kind of relaxation and quiet time, increases every day. Sometimes, we appear to have given up and resign ourselves that this is only going to happen when we retire. Well, I am convinced that we can all work on making some changes to allow some time to slow down right now.
Firstly, I would like to clarify that the idea of ‘slowing down’ does not mean stop working or having a holidays. I rather like to think that ‘slowing down’ can be something that everyone can incorporate to their routine just by making small changes. Here are some ideas to inspire you but I am sure you will be able to make a list on your own:
I would like to recommend a beautiful book that inspired me to write this blog: “The Little Book of Slow” by Sally Wise and Paul McIntyre.
The little book of slow
These days the need to stay connected is bigger than ever and the use of technology to facilitate this is a great asset. It seems like we are around the corner to our friend in Spain and we can share everything with a relative in Canada thanks to Facebook, emails and online chats and even more exciting we don’t even need to be sitting in our computers if we just have a smart phone in our hands.
The reality is that sometimes we may forget where we are or who is around because we seemed to be lost in conversations with the world and people close to us may notice the distance even if they are just in front of us. Many marriages these days are facing the reality of having too many people in the room even when they are in a room by themselves. In a recent article by The Age http://www.theage.com.au/comment/put-down-that-phone-and-save-your-marriage-20161219-gte6j8.html the term “ phubbing” is being used as a fusion of “phone” and “snubbing” to describe how often your romantic partner is distracted by his/her smartphone.
As a recipient of this behaviour it could be quite upsetting to feel that checking the phone appears to be more interesting for your partner than having a conversation or doing something with you. Some people feel like they are competing with the partner’s phone for attention and it is not unusual for the couple to end up in an argument that started with this topic.
Unfortunately, we are not about to through our phones away any time soon so we may have to come up with some “rules” around how to use our phones better and how to place boundaries around its usage. You will need to create your own rules and having a conversation with your partner and agreed to a set of acceptable and non-acceptable ways to use the phone can be a fun exercise to do together.
Here are some ideas to start the conversation:
Some of the most challenging resolutions are the ones orientated to changing behaviours, especially if they have been quite repetitive and have become part of ourselves. After working in the field of addiction for a number of years, I have come to learn that having the willingness and motivation to make a change is only the start for a successful change.
I believe that most humans want to improve their lives and achieve happiness but this is not always an easy road and sometimes it appears that everything we do is orientated to achieve the opposite. For instance think about how many times you have decided on doing something that you think will improve your life, like eating healthier or starting some physical activity but somehow along the way you stop or reduce the frequency or dedication you initially had when you started this goal. This does not mean that you stop wanting to achieve this change but things happened and they become an obstacle or sometimes an excuse to continue working on that goal. Imagine if on the top of it you have an addiction that is dragging you in the opposite direction to what you know you need to do to feel better, this will make it 10 times more difficult to achieve.
Addictions can be consuming and debilitating and willingness and motivation can be transformed into despair and frustration. I would like to share this article published in The Age on 31/12/2016 http://www.theage.com.au/national/the-summer-i--spent-new-years-eve-in-drug-detox-20161222-gtgrns.html The author describes her struggles with addictions as she is trying to help herself with appropriate treatment and the opposite forces she encounters as she is starting her way to recovery. This is a successful story and highlights the ongoing effort and work to get to the other end.
Whatever your New Year‘s resolutions is, it has the potential to change your life in a positive way. Remember that you need to want it first but if it is getting too hard to achieve, you may need professional help to move forward.
Motivation, Willingness, Strategies, Support (emotional and professional) and Courage make a better recipe for long lasting change.
For many of us approaching the New Year encourages reflection and wiliness to undertake some changes. It is not always easy to work out what it is that we want or need to change, here are some tips that may facilitate some positive thinking.
You can add to this list your own ideas but this can be a start for the New Year. Remember change does not have to be huge it can be small things you do every day but will make a significant impact in your life in the long term. Change always start with the way you think about yourself and what you want to achieve.
Happy New Year!