What Is A Panic Attack? Blogtober – Day 22

First thing’s first – what is a panic attack? The HSE say that a panic attack is ‘a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety.’ That definitely sounds unpleasant but if you’ve never experienced a panic attack, it can be difficult to imagine what that actually feels like. If I have a loved one who would like to understand I ask them to imagine the thing they truly fear the most in the world and then imagine how they would feel if that thing were to actually happen. Now imagine feeling that level of intense fear and anxiety totally out of the blue. Imagining it is obviously not entirely the same thing but it goes some way towards helping them understand. (I just want to point out that I don’t go around asking people to think of the thing that scares them the most because that’s not nice, please don’t do that! However, if a loved one specifically asks then I’ll broach it.)

There are a ton of symptoms that come with panic attacks and different people experience different ones. Symptoms can include:

  • A racing heart, a pounding heart or palpitations
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling short of breath or as though you can’t get enough oxygen
  • Hyperventilating (breathing too fast which speeds up heart rate)
  • A sensation of choking
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • A fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • A fear of dying

Given the symptoms, it’s not surprising that many people think they are having a hear attack but it’s important to know that a panic attack will not kill you.

Panic itself is a good thing, it’s kept us alive for years. The ‘fight or flight’ response alerts us to potential danger and allows us to act in an appropriate manner. However, problems arise when this response is switched on when there’s no need, when there is no danger. It’s almost like a house or car alarm going off without reason.

There isn’t a definite answer as to why panic attacks occur*. Some people have specific triggers that they can easily identify such as particularly stressful events (losing a job, death of a loved one, etc) or major life changes (graduating college/uni, having a baby, getting married, etc). Panic attacks can also present with other illnesses. For example, a person with social anxiety disorder may have a panic attack before they’re due to give a presentation. Those who have experienced a panic attack may be so fearful and anxious about having another one that they develop panic disorder.

So, what can you do if you have a panic attack?

  • Try to remember that the panic attack can’t hurt you. It is no doubt unpleasant and frightening but you will be okay.
  • If you are hyperventilating try to focus on slowing your breathing. Breathe in for 4, hold for 1, breathe out for 4.
  • Try to focus on something other than the panic attack. Pick an object nearby and notice everything about it. Describe it to yourself in as much detail as possible. Sometimes drawing your attention away from the panic attack can stop it.
  • If your surroundings aren’t what triggered the panic attack pay attention to them. Do your best to ground yourself wherever you are. For example – I’m safe, I’m sitting at home, there’s nothing here that will hurt me, the tv is on, I can hear the clock, I can hear the birds outside, I know this place, I’m safe.
  • If your surroundings are causing your panic attack try closing your eyes (if it’s safe to do so!). Sometimes reducing stimuli can stop a panic attack.

If you’re experiencing panic attacks speak to your healthcare provider. There’s no need to be embarrassed about having panic attacks. Around 2.4 million Americans experience panic disorder in a given year** so you’re not alone and it’s likely that your doctor will be familiar with them. There are medications that can be used to help treat chronic panic attacks (panic disorder) as well as a number or therapies such as CBT or DBT so don’t feel like you’ll be stuck having them forever.

I lived with panic disorder for almost ten years. When it was at it’s worst I had several panic attacks every single day. It was so bad for me because initially I didn’t know what was happening and I didn’t have help. However, once I did have support and I was able to educate myself I found that the panic attacks subsided. I haven’t had one in almost five years but if I was to have one, I’d know how to deal with it. It can get better, there is hope.

Lastly, remember to be kind to yourself. Panic attacks are truly exhausting so give yourself a break! Take time to recover. If you are a loved one of someone who experiences panic attacks, keep in mind that they’ll probably be emotionally and physically drained after experiencing a panic attack, they may also be fearful of having another so do your best to let them know you’re there to support them.

*https://www.psycom.net/what-does-a-panic-attack-feel-like/

**http://www.fearclinic.ufl.edu/PanicDisorders.html

Need help or advice? Click here for a list of support charities and organisations.

Bucket List – Blogtober Day 21

I’ve never given much serious thought to a bucket list but I’ve come to appreciate the art of goal setting and that’s really what a bucket list is – a list of things you want to achieve in your life time. There are tons of mundane things I’d like to do but I don’t think they’re particularly interesting so I’m leaving most of them out!

Side of stage/backstage/day off hangs – I’ve been lucky enough to meet a couple of artists but it’s been in passing or a quick 30 second meet and greet after a show which I find a little awkward. I’d LOVE to spend a day with one of my favourite bands or artists. I’d happily follow them around to see what they get up to in the little down time they have and get an insider look at what goes in to touring. I doubt this one will ever happen but a girl can dream, right?

crowd at concert

Stand Up Paddle Boarding – This looks like great craic! I’ve a dodgy hip and I can’t swim but sure, be grand!

Mental Health/Youth Work – A more personal one. Years ago I knew I wanted to work with young people and mental health but I tried to force myself into doing something, anything, else because nobody thought I could achieve a career in mental health. Needless to say, none of those other things worked out. They were interesting but I wasn’t passionate about any of them, they weren’t ‘me’. There came a point where I had to say f*** everyone else, I have to do what I want. I created this blog, I began studying mental health and now I’m on my way!

three young people

See Twenty One Pilots perform Trees live – I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve watched videos of this being performed live. There’s something about this song that gets me every time. It’s definitely one of my favourite Twenty One Pilots songs. I’m so relieved that they’ve kept it as the show closer on the Bandito Tour! I’ll get to experience this for myself when they perform in Dublin next March.

Learn to play just one song on ANY instrument! – I’ve had drums, a keyboard and I have a guitar sitting here but I’ve never learned to play a full song on any of them 😂 I just want to master one song!

person playing guitar

See a movie in the Stella Theatre – The Stella Theatre, located in Rathmines, opened in 1923. It was closed for around ten years but last year the Press Up Group bought, restored and reopened it. I haven’t seen it in person yet but judging from the pictures, it’s kept the 20’s glamour which I adore. I love that so many original features have been restored, it keeps a little of that history alive. It looks like a very luxurious cinema experience with armchairs in place of regular cinema seating and a hot food menu which will be brought right to your seat. I’m hoping for a birthday trip here and a cocktail or two in The Stella Cocktail Club located on the upper level where the ballroom used to be.

Learn to drive – I put this off for a really long time because I was so anxious about it but I think I need to get around to it…

Road trip through California – Years ago I watched a documentary on Mulholland’s Aqueduct and it kicked off an obsession with California. I should probably learn to drive first though 😂

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Visit Vancouver and Toronto – A trip to Canada has been on the agenda for years now. I’d love to be able to spend enough time there to do the touristy things but then just experience day to day living. I think you really get a feel for a place when you check out where the locals hang!

That’s it for now, I’ll update as I think of more things!

 

What’s on your bucket list? Share with me below! 

Meet Dobby – Blogtober Day 20

If you’ve been reading my blog or following my socials for a while you’ll know that I have a dog that I absolutely adore. If you’re new, meet Dobby!

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Growing up we always had dogs but they usually came and went with my sister as she moved in and out of our family home. I really wanted a pet of my own but for years my parents always said no. Eight years ago they finally changed their minds.

Dobby is from our local Dogs Trust Rehoming Centre. The dogs there come from Local Authority pounds, private surrenders or sometimes they are puppies born there. When we arrived at Dogs Trust we were shown around by a lovely staff member and asked to fill out a short questionnaire about our household to help match us to a suitable dog. These were straightforward questions to see if we had any other pets or small children, if we had time and experience to train a dog, etc. We fully intended to take home a trained adult dog but there weren’t any there that matched us on that particular day. We said we’d come back in a few weeks and were set to leave when someone asked about seeing some puppies that had recently been born. Obviously we had to see them! What kind of monster says no to seeing puppies?!

I’m not sure how many were in the litter but there seemed to be a lot of them. They were all gathered in one massive sleepy pile, very cute! Staff told us that they were likely Collie X’s but they weren’t positive. They all had that classic black and white Collie look…except for one. One little guy stood out from the rest. He was tan and white and much smaller than the other puppies. We hadn’t planned on getting a puppy but we totally fell in love with him and knew we could train him. None of the pups were ready to go home right away so we had to wait a while before we could get our hands on him!

Dobby
The day he came home – so tiny!

Once he was big enough we were allowed to take him home but not before a home check and training session from Dogs Trust to make sure we were well prepared. Dogs Trust took care of his vaccinations, provided us with a lead and collar and enough food to keep him going for a little while along with a wealth of information and reassurance that we could call them with any questions. They even neutered him once he was old enough! They provided all of that and all they asked for in return was a donation and a loving home from Dobby (who they had originally named Professor X!).

Dobby puppy
Look at those giant ears…he grew in to them eventually!

The past eight years have been great. Pets really do bring so much joy. Dobby has a lovely temperament, he’s very sweet and funny. He’s patient with the kids, he loves his sleep, he’s incredibly nosy, he doesn’t like to be left in the dark on his own and he’ll do anything for a piece of cheese. He’s always in the window, ready to greet us when we get home, he’s content to sit with me if I’m not feeling so good and he’s a great companion when it comes to going for a walk. Everyone who meets him seems to love him (even those who claim they aren’t ‘dog people’!).

Dobby nose
Boop

Dobby makes me laugh, he provides company, he keeps me going. Recently Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick tweeted ‘Animals don’t judge us, they love us unconditionally. They give us so much. Here’s to all the animals that are our companions in light and dark.’ I couldn’t agree more.

Do you have any pets? Share a picture of them, tell me about them! 

5 Tips For Stress Reduction -Blogtober Day 19

Mental Health Ireland describe stress as ‘A feeling of being under abnormal pressure…caused by anything from an increased workload, to an argument with a family member, to financial worries.’

It’s something we’re all familiar with and we all cope with to varying degrees. Below are some ways to help reduce that stress and hopefully begin to feel a little better.

Exercise: We all know we should be getting daily exercise anyway but many of us don’t. Personally speaking, when I’m feeling down/unwell/stressed exercise is one of the first things to go out the window and that really shouldn’t be the case! If, like me, you struggle to stay motivated try to make your exercise something you actually enjoy doing – yoga, cycling, dancing, walking the dog, team sports, a group class, swimming…the options are endless! Figure out what works for you and your situation.

man running up steps

Write things down: If you can’t get something off your mind don’t just ruminate on it, get it out of your head. Sometimes you don’t want to share your stresses with a loved one but you still want to get them out. Try keeping a journal, write and write and write until all of those thoughts are out on a piece of paper. I find it much easier to organise myself and find clarity when I can see my thoughts written out in front of me. Maybe that could work for you too? Or even consider writing down all the things that are bothering you and then ripping up the piece of paper – it can be a nice little ‘f*** you!’ to whatever has been bothering you!

person writing

Laugh – There’s a reason people take part in those somewhat bizzare laughter yoga sessions! It’s been claimed that laughter reduces stress, boosts the immune system and even relieves pain. Why not give laughter therapy a go? Watch your favourite comedies, go to a show, do something fun with a friend (bonus points for spending time with a loved one!). Or maybe even check out that laughter yoga!

two women laughing

Spend time with others: Being part of a social circle can help foster a sense of belonging. Social support should never be underestimated, having someone you trust to turn to during difficult times can be invaluable. Most of us would be familiar with the old saying ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. Often, it’s true but even just spending time friends or family can help you feel better, even if you don’t share. So, grab some friends and go for a pint, get a coffee, go to the cinema or have a night in – whatever suits!

group of friends

Change: If your stress is caused by your lifestyle consider making some changes. Would being more organised help? Could you delegate some duties at home or at work? Do you need to learn to say no sometimes? Do you need to find a way to get more sleep or downtime? Could your diet do with an overhaul? Maybe you need to change a few things. If it’s something really pressing obviously deal with that first, otherwise, start small. You’ll be more likely to stick to changes you make if you take your time and change in small steps. And remember, counselling isn’t just for those experiencing a mental health difficulty like depression or bipolar disorder. It can be for anyone who needs it so if you’re feeling overwhelmed consider some professional help.

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How have you reduced stress in your life? Share your tips below! 

A Conversation With My Social Anxiety – Blogtober Day 18

2:am, in bed.

Steph: I’m so tired

Anxiety: But there are so many mistakes that we haven’t thought about yet.

Steph: No, I’m going asleep.

Anxiety: Hey, you know that presentation you’ve got to do in five weeks?

Steph: ….yeah?

Anxiety: You’re going to be terrible at it. You’ll definitely mess it up. Everyone else is going to think you’re so stupid, they’re going to laugh at you.

Steph: You don’t know that, it’ll probably be fine.

Anxiety: Will it though?

Steph: ffs

Anxiety: …

Anxiety: …

Anxiety: Remember last week when you tried to pay for that jumper and you gave them the wrong amount? HA! What kind of eejit does that?! Bet they thought you were an idiot, they probably had a good laugh about you with their mates!

Steph: It was just a mistake. Anyone could make that mistake.

Anxiety: Could they though?

Steph: ….maybe.

Anxiety: Don’t forget that you’ve to make that phone call tomorrow.

Steph: Why do you have to bring this up now? I just want to sleep.

Anxiety: Bet your voice will shake and you’ll forget what you’re supposed to say.

Steph: If I’m nervous I’ll just write down the main points before I make the call.

Anxiety: Who does that?! A script to make a phone call – really? How sad is that? You won’t be able to do it, just like you won’t be able to do the presentation. You can’t even pay for something in a shop without fucking it up! Even children can do that right. You fail at everything. It’s who you are – a failure. What have you got to show for yourself after 26 years? Not a lot! Everyone else is doing great, they graduated college or they’ve got full time jobs. They’re having a great time, it’s all over Facebook and Instagram. You can’t even order a drink on a night out and don’t get me started on how you act around new people or Ian’s friends! I bet they all make fun of you behind your back, they must hate you…

Steph: You’re right.

 

Please know that I’m well now but these were the kind of thoughts I would have every single day. Living with an anxiety disorder is so exhausting. Imagine fighting with your mind every day, that’s what it feels like. Some days (or weeks or months) you don’t win, anxiety does and you believe those thoughts, you start to accept that false narrative as truth. It’s a struggle to turn that inner conversation around, a struggle that most people don’t see. It takes time, practice and persistence, sometimes it take professional help but it is possible.

Also, please know that my boyfriend’s friends are sound people and it’s unlikely that they make fun of me behind my back and the people I go to college with are a lovely, supportive bunch!

 

Talk Therapy – Benefits and Misconceptions – Blogtober Day 16

Note: this post is discussing private psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or counselling, rather than therapy accessed through public healthcare such as the HSE or NHS.

According to a study conducted by the University of California – Los Angeles verbalising our emotions makes our negative feelings such as sadness, anger and pain less intense. Furthermore, putting our feelings into words – talking to a therapist or friend helps us to feel better.

Talk therapy is especially useful for those experiencing a mental health difficulty such as an anxiety disorder or depression. A therapist provides a confidential, safe space to explore your thoughts and feelings. They can be a sounding board, someone to guide you through difficult feelings and someone to offer a different perspective, one that you might not consider on your own.

Therapy is also helpful for anyone struggling to manage emotions and stressors, even the ones that aren’t life altering or traumatic. It can help an individual establish and maintain better emotional wellness.

Counselling is generally confidential*, so there’s little fear of having a therapist tell the world about the difficulties you are experiencing. Therapists/counsellors must adhere to a code of ethics which protects both themselves and the client, some of the things usually outlined in this is the client’s right to respect & dignity, confidentiality, competency & continued education/supervision and professional responsibility.**

There are some misconceptions about this kind of therapy –

  • A therapist won’t magically ‘fix’ all of your problems for you but they will facilitate conversation to help you navigate your own way through them while offering support and a listening ear.
  • Therapy is not lying on a couch or some strange Freudian dream, it will likely involve both parties having a conversation while sitting opposite each other.
  • Therapy is not for ‘crazy’ people. All sorts of people attend talk therapy for a whole host of reasons. Mental ill health/a diagnosed mental health condition, a major life transition, relationship difficulties, grief and difficulty coping with every day stress are just some of the reasons people seek the help of a professional therapist.
  • Therapy is a waste of money when you could just speak to your friends or family. True, you could speak to your friends or family and it definitely is important to have supportive relationships with people you can trust. However, a therapist has training and experience that loved ones don’t and they are a neutral party capable of making objective observations because their relationship with you is not clouded by emotion.

When looking for a therapist/counsellor you should always seek someone who is fully qualified. In Ireland, most qualified counsellors are accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. The IACP provide a directory of professionals on their website where you can search by location, see what each therapist specialises in and access their contact details.

*A counsellor/therapist may break confidentiality when required to do so by law or when they believe that a client may cause harm to themselves or others.

**To view the IACP Code of Ethics click here.

Need advice or help? Click here for a list of charities and organisations who could help. Alternatively, click ‘directory of professionals’ above to access a list of therapists in Ireland.