Tips how to overcome panic attacks

you_revolution17 jan2015

Do you sometimes feel like you are:

  • losing control?
  • about to faint?
  • having a heart attack?

or at it’s worst a sense that you are going to die?

The symptoms of a panic attack can be very frightening and distressing.

 

According to the NHS definition:

“Symptoms tend to occur suddenly, without warning and often for no apparent reason.

As well as overwhelming feelings of anxiety, a panic attack can also cause a variety of other symptoms, including:

 

  • a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • hot flushes
  • chills
  • shortness of breath
  • a choking sensation
  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • numbness or pins and needles
  • dry mouth
  • a need to go to the toilet
  • ringing in your ears
  • a feeling of dread or a fear of dying
  • a churning stomach
  • a tingling sensation in your fingers
  • shivering
  • shaking

The physical symptoms of a panic attack are unpleasant, and they can also be accompanied by thoughts of fear and terror.

 

For this reason, people with panic disorder start to fear the next attack, which creates a cycle of living in ‘fear of fear’ and adds to the sense of panic.

Sometimes, the symptoms of a panic attack can be so intense they can make you feel like you’re having a heart attack.

 

However, it’s important to be aware that symptoms such as a racing heartbeat and shortness of breath won’t result in you having a heart attack. Although panic attacks can often be frightening, they don’t cause any physical harm. People who have had panic disorder for some time usually learn to recognise this ‘heart attack sensation’ and become more aware of how to control their symptoms.

Most panic attacks last for five to 20 minutes. Some attacks have been reported to have lasted up to an hour. However, it’s likely that in these cases one attack occurred straight after another or high levels of anxiety were felt after the first attack.”

Do you know why this happens?

 

It’s a phenomenon called “negativity bias,” a name coined by Psychologists, describing our human tendency to be much more likely to be influenced by and to recall negative experiences, instead of neutral or positive experiences.

So the good news is that panic attacks, anxiety and automatic negative thoughts are not wholly your fault it’s just the way your brain is wired and you can take steps to address this.

So instead of giving yourself a hard time, firstly, be kind and compassionate, reassuring yourself that you’re pretty normal and not alone in this very common dilemma.

 

Man and clouds jpg

Here’s some Neuroscience research:

  • We recall negative feedback more than we remember praise.
  • Unpleasant events tend to be more memorable than pleasant ones.
  • The brain is programmed to be vigilant and wary.
  • The brain reacts more strongly to negative stimuli than to positive stimuli.
  • Studies indicate that there’s a greater flow in electrical activity in the brain when we visualise a negative image such as a dead cat than when we witness something positive like a glass of prosecco or yummy lemon cheesecake.

How can Neuroscience and a knowledge of the brain help with panic attacks?

 

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Neuroscience is the study of how the nervous system develops, its structure, and what it does. Neuroscientists focus primarily on the brain and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions

Neuroscience is an increasingly wide ranging subject. Perhaps because the brain is one of the most complex structures in the known universe:

  • intricate enough to coordinate the fingers of a classical violinist
  • or logical enough to introduce the laws and theories of gravity.

Now let’s take a brief glimpse at the brain

 

The right hemisphere is generally associated with creativity, communicating emotion, analysis of nonverbal information and the control of the left side of the body, temporal and spatial relationships.

Whereas, the left hemisphere is usually identified with logic abilities, casual relationships, sequential thinking, controlling the right side of the body and producing/understanding language and complexities.

The limbic system sometimes referred to as the “emotional brain” is usually considered as composed of the following:

cingulate gyrus, hypothalamus, hippocampus, thalamus and amygdala.

It is the site of: emotional states and behaviour; the bridge between the conscious and subconscious brain and short term memory/ information storage, especially short term recognition of facts, objects, people etc.

The amygdala, the brain’s alarm system is located in the limbic system. Its key function is to call you to attention, and in an emergency, to mobilise or shut-down your body and mind so that you’ll survive.

Sadly though, this alarm rings automatically and unnecessarily often incorrectly informing you that you are experiencing a flight or fight situation when the actual reality is that you are not and the alarm is just being over cautious.

When our amygdala misinterprets a bodily sensation such as sinking stomach to be a message of despair and pessimism, it has exactly the wrong result, reducing rather than enhancing our attention and alertness.

That’s why panic attacks, anxiety, frustration, anger and other chronic stress reactions can occasionally, or for some people frequently, escalate into huge problems. Put simply, we’re not using our amygdala as effectively as it was intended.

 

 

monkey jpg

 

How can you tame your amygdala then?

 

Having studied this topic for many years now, by far the most comprehensive, informative book about neuroscience and the emotional brain I have read so far is the Chimp Paradox by Dr Stephen Peters.

As Coach of the Great Britain Cycling Team, and many business leaders, Peters developed a highly successful mind management programme using the term “Chimp Brain” as its premise.

The Chimp Brain

 

Peters asserts that “Chimp Brain” is an emotional part of our brain designed by evolution to support our survival.

Specifically, it is the area of the brain which activates the fight-or-flight response, hyperarousal, hypervigilance or the acute stress response, physiological reactions that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event or threat to our survival.

As it is fundamently concerned with two main instincts:

(1) survival and (ii) procreation

for example: sexual reproduction, hunger, thirst and protection of our territory.

The “Chimp” automatically jumps to opinions in the absence of concrete facts and may be paranoid, periodically resulting in catastrophic and irrational behaviour. For example when you are experiencing a panic attack the chimp often jumps to the wrong conclusion that you are having a heart attack or are going to die.

According to Dr Peters, the Chimp works on impressions, perceptions and interpretations, not facts and responds up to fives times faster than our rational brain.

Two other terms are also used by Peters, the Human Brain and the Computer.

The Human Brain

 

This Peters describes as the rational part of the brain highly effective at considering all the available facts and evidence and subsequently reaching careful and deliberate conclusions using cognition. It’s also where our highest values of humanity reside and it works five times more slowly than the chimp.

The Computer

 

A storage centre of retained experiences jammed full of automatic habits and responses, some positive, some negative. Above all though, when processing what is happening to us, both our Human and Chimp refer to the computer to seek associations and similar experiences. The Computer operates twenty times faster than our Human and four times faster than the Chimp.

You’re probably asking yourself right now how does all this relate to panic attacks then?

Peters argues that before taking any action, we firstly need to recognise these three powerful structures are continually operating in our mind. Furthermore, if we do not acknowledge this we will be perpetually running to catch up with ourselves.

This reminds of the mindfulness approach

 

Though we can’t stop our thoughts, feelings or physical sensations, we can take charge of what happens next. We can consciously step back, pause, breathe and choose to observe our panic attacks or negative thoughts rather than responding to them immediately.

Here’s some tips to help you regulate and tame the Chimp and as a result handle panic attacks more effectively:

 

1.Acknowledge that we as Human beings developed a negativity bias, that is, we evolved to notice and respond more forcibly to the negative, since that helped our ancestors to stay alive. Thousands and thousands of years ago, it was more important for cavemen to escape negative situations than it was to approach opportunity.

In other words, our ancestors wouldn’t even have stopped to analyse the situation. As soon as they noticed the slight rustle, like animals of prey, our ancestors would have simply fled for their lifes.

2.As it’s your “Chimp” it will respond sometimes when you are angry, stressed or perceive any kind of threat, physical or psychological, and it moves much more quickly than the Human part of your brain so is likely embarrass you with its responses. It might shout and rage, be rude and angry or violent.

3.Observe Chimp-like responses, these are easy to spot, they are responses which when you reflect later aren’t ones you’re proud of. They are likely the ones that if you had your time again you’d do differently, or they are the responses that you might, with the benefit of hindsight, think you need to apologise for.

4.Be aware that everyone has a Chimp and managing it is an everyday challenge, when we’re tired or stressed our Chimp becomes more difficult to control and can overwhelm us more easily. Observe other people’s responses, you can see Chimp behaviour everywhere.

5.Having become aware of your Chimp, you can work on taming it and rather than ignoring the Chimp’s instinctive and rapid reaction, just allow it to have its say. Then, consciously step back, pause, breathe and allow yourself more thinking time to work out a better, more considered Human response.

6.We can use the Computer part of our brain, our automated habits, to put in responses faster than the Chimp can react. This takes time and practice, but if we make a conscious effort to put in a different response to the impulsive Chimp one, we can develop what Peters calls an Autopilot, which is a script or response that overrides the unhelpful Chimp response before it can be enacted.

This rather reminds me of one Mindfulness tip I offer clients:

 

When you experience a panic attack, negative thought, feeling or physical sensation, breathe, pause, step back then ask yourself the following question:

 

“what do I know?”

“I know that if I tense my body my panic attacks will increase so I will try to be more calm and relaxed and say to myself it’s OK we’ll get through this”

“I know that if I allow my negative thoughts or panic attack bodily sensations to take over it is not healthy for me and will leave me feeling more stressed and anxious.”

“I also know that though I can’t stop my thoughts, feelings or physical sensations, I can change what happens next, such as, consciously deciding to stop myself from catastrophising or getting too attached to my thoughts.”

“I know that it is highly unlikely that I will experience a heart or die.”

“I know that thoughts aren’t facts”

Following your attempts at implementing the above strategy, record on a piece of paper the process of what happens when you try this technique and the automatic negative thoughts that stop you from supporting yourself.

To conclude

 

Understanding how your brain became so vigilant and wary, and so easily hijacked by alarm, is the first step toward gaining more control over that ancient circuitry.

Then, by bringing mindful awareness to how your brain reacts to feeling threatened, you can stimulate and therefore build up the neural substrates of a mind that has more calm, wisdom and sense of inner strength.

A mind that sees real threats more clearly, acts more effectively in dealing with them, and is less rattled or distracted by exaggerated, manageable, or false alarms.

CBT Blue Monday and how this and Mindfulness can help you….

CBT Bristol Blue Monday for anxiety, stress and other issues
CBT Blue Monday and how this and Mindfulness can help you….

CBT Blue Monday: a bit of background first then some Blue Monday CBT and Mindfulness tips

Aren’t Januarys tough sometimes? what with post Christmas blues and cold dark nights?

Back by popular demand, this video I created for my coaching business, You Revolution, shows how mindfulness can help you with Blue Monday.

CBT can also help you on Blue Monday.

Both Mindfulness and CBT can help you to reduce stress, panic attacks, anxiety, negative thinking patterns, sleeping difficulties and burnout.

Feeling anxious, stressed, overwhelmed or depressed because of dark nights and too much rainfall?

Dreading the arrival of your credit card bill this month?

Want to simply curl up in bed beneath your duvet and hibernate for the whole of January?

Feeling disappointed that your New Year Resolution, detox or weight loss programmes aren’t going as well as you had anticipated?

Then you may have fallen victim to the Blue Monday trap.

Following extensive research findings, the third Monday of January, supposedly the most depressing day of the year, has been awarded the gloomy title due to a combination of post-Christmas blues, cold dark nights and the arrival of unpaid credit card bills.

Even though I, Karen Deeming, am doing my dream job, Blue Monday is still always tough

However, what helps me cheer myself up on Blue Monday and get through the day are my daily CBT and mindfulness practices

Also: doing nice things for other people or simply remembering that I have roof over my head, have the pleasure of three good meals a day and I don’t have the misfortune of living in a war zone.

Mindfulness is a technique for reducing stress, exhaustion, high blood pressure, panics, anxiety, and negative thinking patterns which has been widely approved by the international medical community.

It teaches greater awareness of our thoughts, feelings and sensations through simple techniques like visualisation, meditation and gentle movement.

Let me give you a recent, real life example of how mindfulness helps:

Despite a prediction of heavy rain in Somerset, I decided to take out my rickety vintage bicycle “Flo” for an impromptu cycle ride to the local farm shop.

The cycle route from Pilton to Pylle is no stranger to me but today it was a strikingly different experience because I had decided to attempt mindful cycling. In other words, I adopted a small steps approach, focusing on the here and now and the journey rather than a speedy arrival at my destination.

How stunning I chuckled to myself as I was greeted by the distant view of Glastonbury Tor. I even encountered the delightful sound of a trickling stream for the first time too. Slightly distracted by these delicious in the moment experiences, I cycled through an unexpected knee deep, muddy puddle resulting in a near trench foot endangerment.

Fortunately, I escaped lightly and though my socks were thoroughly soaked, a brief recollection of a relentless flooded tent experience at the Glastonbury Festival in 1996 encouraged me to soldier on. What also helped me manage this somewhat unattractive incident, were the charming duo of immaculate cocker spaniels grinning at me from the rear window of a delapidated jeep ahead.

How can CBT also help you on Blue Monday:

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is an evidence-based, collaborative, solution-focussed form of counselling/therapy approved by the NHS.

CBT is a way of talking about:

how you think about yourself, the world and other people

how what you do affects your thoughts and feelings.

When does CBT help?

CBT has been shown to help with many different types of problems. These include: anxiety, depression, insomnia, panic, phobias (including agoraphobia and social phobia), stress, bulimia, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and psychosis.

CBT may also help if you have difficulties with anger, a low opinion of yourself or physical health problems, like pain or fatigue.

Read more about CBT benefits here

The application of CBT and mindfulness together with my conscious intention to zoom in on the abundance of delightful landscape instead of focusing on the scarcity of sunshine resulted in a highly pleasurable experience.

Moreover though it was forecast to train at 11am it didn’t actually rain until 11.10am when I was safely home and dry nestled up to the cat on the kitchen sofa.

Over to you

If after reading this blog you are still struggling to motivate yourself on Blue Monday or indeed anytime in 2019, why not take this one small step today by booking a CBT session or by signing up to one of my mindfulness one day or eight week courses where you can meet like minded people and achieve life changing results!!

If you have decided to consider CBT, and are not quite ready yet to make contact or to arrange your first session:

Read more about CBT benefits here

My Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) specialisms include though are not limited to:

  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • low self esteem and shyness
  • anger, anxiety, pain and stress management

Click here for details about my CBT qualifications, experience and accreditations.

See my Client Testimonials here.

You can book your appointment here or you can contact me on 07950 751352 or by emailing: info@karendeeming.com.

My Bristol CBT Practice address is: 14 Orchard Street, Bristol BS1 5EH.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – how can it help you?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) - how can it help you?

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is an evidence-based, collaborative, solution-focussed form of counselling/therapy approved by the NHS.

It is a way of talking about:

  • how you think about yourself, the world and other people
  • how what you do affects your thoughts and feelings.

CBT can help you to change how you think (‘Cognitive’) and what you do (‘Behaviour’).

These changes can help you to feel better. Unlike some of the other talking treatments, CBT focuses on the ‘here and now’ problems and difficulties. Instead of focusing on the causes of your distress or symptoms in the past, CBT looks for ways to improve your state of mind now.

When does CBT help?

CBT has been shown to help with many different types of problems. These include: anxiety, depression, insomnia, panic, phobias (including agoraphobia and social phobia), stress, bulimia, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and psychosis.

CBT may also help if you have difficulties with anger, a low opinion of yourself or physical health problems, like pain or fatigue.

How does CBT work?

CBT can help you to make sense of overwhelming problems by breaking them down into smaller parts. This makes it easier to see how they are connected and how they affect you.

These parts are:

A Situation – a problem, event or difficult situation.

From this can follow:

Thoughts
Emotions
Physical feelings
Actions

Each of these areas can affect the others. How you think about a problem can affect how you feel physically and emotionally.

There are helpful and unhelpful ways of reacting to most situations, depending on how you think about it. The way you think can be helpful – or unhelpful.

What’s most helpful is to approach issues with a more positive CBT mindset.

An example using CBT techniques:

The Situation
You’ve had a bad day, feel fed up, so go out shopping. As you walk down the road, someone you know walks by and, apparently, ignores you. This starts a cascade of:

Thoughts:
Unhelpful: He/she ignored me – they don’t like me

Helpful: He/she looks a bit wrapped up in themselves – I wonder if there’s something wrong?

Emotional Feelings:
Unhelpful: Feelings Low, sad and rejected

Helpful: Concerned for the other person, positive

Physical:
Unhelpful: Stomach cramps, low energy, feel sick

Helpful: None – feel comfortable

Action:
Unhelpful: Go home and avoid them

Helpful: Get in touch to make sure they’re OK

The same situation has led to two very different results, depending on how you thought about the situation and:

whether you used another helpful CBT technique: “thoughts aren’t facts”.

How you think has affected how you felt and what you did. In the example in the left hand column, you’ve jumped to a conclusion without very much evidence for it – and this matters, because it’s led to:
having a number of uncomfortable feelings behaving in a way that makes you feel worse.

If you go home feeling depressed, you’ll probably brood on what has happened and feel worse. If you get in touch with the other person, there’s a good chance you’ll feel better about yourself.

If you avoid the other person, you won’t be able to correct any misunderstandings about what they think of you – and you will probably feel worse.

This ‘vicious circle’ can make you feel worse. It can even create new situations that make you feel worse. You can start to believe quite unrealistic (and unpleasant) things about yourself. This happens because, when we are distressed, we are more likely to jump to conclusions and to interpret things in extreme and unhelpful ways.

CBT can help you to break this vicious circle of altered thinking, feelings and behaviour.

When you see the parts of the sequence clearly, you can change them – and so change the way you feel. CBT aims to get you to a point where you can ‘do it yourself’, and work out your own ways of tackling these problems.

What does CBT involve?

The sessions:

You can do CBT individually or with a group of people, or even a self-help book or computer programme.

In England and Wales, two computer-based programmes have been approved for use by the NHS. Fear Fighter is for people with phobias or panic attacks; Beating the Blues is for people with mild to moderate depression.

If you have individual CBT therapy:

You will usually meet with a CBT therapist for between 5 and 20, weekly, or fortnightly sessions. Each session will last 50 minutes.

In the first 2-4 sessions, the CBT therapist will check that you can use this sort of treatment and you will check that you feel comfortable with it.

The CBT therapist will also ask you questions about your past life and background.

Although CBT concentrates on the here and now, at times you may need to talk about the past to understand how it is affecting you now.

You decide what you want to deal with in the short, medium and long term. You and the CBT therapist will usually start by agreeing on what to discuss that day.

How effective is CBT?

CBT is one of the most effective treatments for conditions where anxiety or depression is the main problem.

It is the most effective psychological treatment for moderate and severe depression.

CBT is as effective as antidepressants for many types of depression.

If you have decided to consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and are not quite ready yet to make contact or to arrange your first session:

By clicking on the links below you can find out more about:

My Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) specialisms include though are not limited to:

  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • low self esteem and shyness
  • anger, anxiety, pain and stress management

Click here for details about my CBT qualifications, experience and accreditations.

See my Client Testimonials here.

You can book your appointment here or you can contact me on 07950 751352 or by emailing: info@karendeeming.com.

My Bristol CBT Practice address is: 14 Orchard Street, Bristol BS1 5EH.