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What if My Panic Attacks Won’t Stop?

If you get a panic attack, it usually lasts 20 to 30 minutes, hitting its peak at about 10 minutes in. So what’s going on if it seems to you like your panic attack just won’t end?

To figure out the possible reasons it feels this way, it helps to understand what’s happening during a panic attack. When you have one, it triggers your “fight or flight” response, which is how your body reacts when your physical safety is threatened. You get a rush of adrenaline that amps you up so you can make a split-second decision to run or fight.

This response isn’t meant to last very long and soon burns itself out. That’s why panic attacks that last as long as an hour aren’t very common.

What’s the story with a panic attack that seems to go on and on? If that’s happening to you, it’s likely one of three things:

  • Waves of panic attacks
  • Aftereffects of a single panic attack
  • Another health condition

Waves of Panic Attacks

If you have panic attack symptoms for an hour or more, you may really be having a wave of panic attacks, one after another. There’s actually a period of recovery between them, though you may not notice it. The overall effect feels like you’re being hit with one never-ending attack.

It’s rare that this happens, though. The fight or flight response is so draining, it’s hard to set it off.

A more likely possibility is that you had a single panic attack that leaves you feeling generally anxious, tired, and frayed. While panic attacks can be scary, they’re not dangerous. But the fear they may cause you can be more unsettling than the attack itself. That’s especially true if you’ve never had one before. When it’s your first episode, you may think you’re having a stroke or a heart attack.

How do you tell if it’s a panic attack or high anxiety? It’s tricky. It helps to talk to your doctor, but a closer look at your symptoms often can give you some clues.

A true panic attack tends to have clear, intense, physical symptoms — a pounding heart, shortness of breath, and so on.

Anxiety can give you some of these, but they tend to be milder. Instead, you’ll have more mental symptoms like a racing mind, lots of worries you can’t stop, and a hard time focusing. You might also feel restless and have a hard time sleeping.

Another Health Condition

The condition that most closely mirrors a longer panic attack is generalized anxiety disorder. This is where you have a hard time controlling your worry, and you struggle to keep your anxiety in check.

But one of the challenges with panic attacks, long or short, is that the same symptoms happen with a wide range of other health conditions.

lergic reactions and heart and lung diseases. And if you have a tendency to panic, some health problems — like low blood sugarasthma, or an overactive thyroid — can trigger a full-blown panic attack.

Keep in mind that typically, people mistake a panic attack for another health condition, not the other way around. Just because you’re having a long panic attack, it doesn’t mean you have something else going on. But it’s worth checking it out with your doctor.

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Stress Symptoms

Stress affects us all. You may notice symptoms of stress when disciplining your kids, during busy times at work, when managing your finances, or when coping with a challenging relationship. Stress is everywhere. And while a little stress is OK — some stress is actually beneficial — too much stress can wear you down and make you sick, both mentally and physically.

The first step to controlling stress is to know the symptoms of stress. But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think. Most of us are so used to being stressed, we often don’t know we are stressed until we are at the breaking point.

What Is Stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations — whether they’re real or perceived. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight,” or the stress response. During stress response, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. You’ve gotten ready to act. It is how you protect yourself.

Stress means different things to different people. What causes stress in one person may be of little concern to another. Some people are better able to handle stress than others. And, not all stress is bad. In small doses, stress can help you accomplish tasks and prevent you from getting hurt. For example, stress is what gets you to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting the car in front of you. That’s a good thing.

Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress. But, we are not equipped to handle long-term, chronic stress without ill consequences.

What Are the Symptoms of Stress?

Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune. But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions. So it is important to discuss them with your doctor. You may experience any of the following symptoms of stress

Emotional symptoms of stress include:

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
  • Avoiding others

Physical symptoms of stress include:

Cognitive symptoms of stress include:

  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side

Behavioral symptoms of stress include:

  • Changes in appetite — either not eating or eating too much
  • Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
  • Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing

What Are the Consequences of Long-Term Stress?

A little stress every now and then is not something to be concerned about. Ongoing, chronic stress, however, can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including:

Help Is Available for Stress

Stress is a part of life. What matters most is how you handle it. The best thing you can do to prevent stress overload and the health consequences that come with it is to know your stress symptoms.

If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed by stress, talk to your doctor. Many symptoms of stress can also be signs of other health problems. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and rule out other conditions. If stress is to blame, your doctor can recommend a therapist or counselor to help you better handle your stress.

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Do I have panic disorder?

Panic is a natural response to a stressful situation, and it’s a feeling we all experience sometimes. However, just as there is a difference between feeling anxious and having a diagnosis of anxiety, there is a difference between panicking and suffering from panic attacks, or panic disorder.

Let’s look at some familiar scenarios that make us feel stressed. Maybe we think we’ve lost our car keys, or we arrive on the platform just in time to see our train heading off. In that moment, we don’t know what to do, and so we start to panic.

Then, we find the keys in a different jacket pocket to usual, or realise that there’s another train in ten minutes. Panic over, as they say.

But imagine that this intense, panicky feeling happens with no warning or a tangible trigger. This isn’t simply panicking: this is a panic attack.

Without a specific cause, it’s also a lot harder to come out of this panicky feeling, and this can also lead to feelings of anxiety that another attack could happen at any moment.

Frequent panic attacks can be a sign of panic disorder, which is a form of anxiety. We’ll take a closer look at panic attacks and panic disorder, and how they can be treated.

What are the symptoms of a panic attack?

Panic attacks have sudden and intense physical symptoms. The typical attack lasts between five and 20 minutes, although they can go on for longer than this. They certainly feel longer.

People having panic attacks often experience some of the following sensations:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Shakiness, or wobbly legs
  • Change in temperature (feeling suddenly hot or cold)
  • Starting to sweat
  • Feeling sick
  • Feeling faint, dizzy or lightheaded
  • Abdominal or chest pain
  • Feeling somehow disconnected from your own body
  • Struggling to breathe, sometimes described as a choking sensation

These sudden sensations often make the individual worry that they’re going to pass out, have a heart attack, or even die.

Panic attacks can be really frightening while you’re experiencing one, and you can be left feeling very shaken. However, please remember that a panic attack won’t cause you any physical harm.

But, if you’re suddenly getting these attacks, it’s worth having them checked out by your GP just in case they’re symptoms of another condition (the NHS website gives the example that a racing heart beat could also mean you have low blood pressure).

Do panic attacks mean I have panic disorder?

What’s the difference between a panic attack and panic disorder? Simply, it’s the frequency of the panic attacks. If you are experiencing recurring attacks, with no apparent cause, then it’s likely your doctor will diagnose panic disorder.

Panic disorder is a form of anxiety. Like other anxiety disorders, panic is a natural fear response that’s somehow become exaggerated, and one that our minds have lost the ability to control.

Sometimes, a diagnosis of panic disorder runs alongside another phobia (your panic attacks can be triggered by claustrophobia, for example).

A real sign of panic disorder can be how debilitating the fear of an attack becomes. People who experience regular panic attacks begin to constantly fear the next attack, which of course, leads to a mentally unhealthy cycle of intense anxiety.

However, there are plenty of ways to manage and treat panic disorder. The first step is recognising that these panicky feelings are becoming out of control.

What are the treatments for panic disorder?

Like other anxiety disorders, panic disorder is often treated with talking therapies, prescription medication, or a blend of both. Therapies include solution focused therapy (which is what I offer at Great Minds Clinic) and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).

There are also support groups that can help with everyday management of panic attacks, and there are lots of self-help techniques you can try.

Medication could be a type of anti-depressant called an SSRI, or an anti-anxiety medication prescribed by your GP. These can take a few weeks to start working, so it’s good to combine them with other techniques.

Self-help for panic attacks can include breathing and grounding techniques, exercise and good self-care. No Panic provides online support, including members-only group chats and events.

How can solution focused hypnotherapy help me manage panic attacks?

Panic attacks are a natural response to fear or stress that have become out of control. Solution focused hypnotherapy helps your brain make sense of these sensations again.

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Panic Disorder: How To Manage With a Panic Disorder

Everyone experiences feelings of fear, dread, anxiety, or panic at certain times of their lives. It’s a natural response to dangerous situations. 

However, some people have these same feelings at any time for seemingly no reason at all. These intense emotional circumstances are often referred to as panic attacks

A panic disorder is an anxiety disorder marked by repeated panic attacks and constant worrying about future attacks. 

In this article, we’ll be talking about panic attacks and panic disorder, what they both look like, when you should seek help, and some helpful tips for coping. 

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

Panic attacks typically begin suddenly. While they can sometimes be triggered by an event, they often occur without any warning and for no apparent reason. 

While panic attacks can differ from person to person, most last anywhere from a few minutes to as long as half an hour.

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sense of impending danger
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Sweating

Panic disorder is characterized by a vicious cycle of experiencing these panic attacks followed by intense worry and anxiety about having another panic attack, which can in turn trigger a panic attack. Because of this, panic disorder may involve avoiding certain situations where a panic attack took place as that person may fear it will happen again.

When your body experiences a panic attack, your body is experiencing physical symptoms similar to as if your body was in a “flight or fight” stress response, even though a dangerous situation may not be present. Because of that, many people feel extremely fatigued or exhausted after their panic attack is over.

Panic Attack vs. Heart Attack

Panic attacks are scary, and many people even think they are having a life-threatening heart attack due to the severity of their panic attack. However, it’s important to understand the differences between the two conditions so you can seek proper medical care if need be.

Although the symptoms can feel the same, they are different — heart attacks are caused by heart conditions. Panic attacks generally subside and diminish in severity over time, ending within 20 minutes or so. Heart attacks often continue and tend to worsen over time.

If you ever have any doubts about whether you are experiencing a panic attack or a heart attack, it is best to seek medical attention.

What To Do During a Panic Attack

Frequent panic attacks are not good for your overall health. They can affect your ability to engage in your daily life, lead you to avoid certain situations, develop specific phobias, and even cause physical problems such as chronic high blood pressure or heart problems.

Left untreated, panic attacks can take a toll on you both mentally and physically, so it’s important to seek help if you’re experiencing frequent panic attacks. In the meantime, here are some immediate coping techniques that may be able to help. 

Deep Breathing

One of the symptoms of panic attacks is rapid breathing. Not only can this increase your feelings of fear, but it can also have a direct relationship with rapid heart rate.

If you’re able to control your breathing, you’re less likely to feel frightened by the symptoms of your attack. Not to mention, controlling your breathing may be able to bring your heart rate back to a normal rhythm, which can make you feel more calm and relaxed.

Focus on taking deep breaths through your mouth, holding the air for a count of four. Then, hold it for a second, and release for another count of four. Continue doing this until you can get your breathing and heart rate to a normal, healthy pace.

Grounding Techniques

Grounding is an effective way to calm yourself down during a panic attack. Since panic attacks can often cause a sense of detachment from reality, grounding methods try to focus your attention on tangible, physical objects to distract you from the panic attack at hand. The goal is to make you feel like you have more control over the situation.

A popular method is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. When you begin experiencing a panic attack, try to identify:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can feel
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

Taste can be difficult, so just try imagining your favorite food instead. This method helps you identify elements in the world around you, forcing you to focus on all of these things rather than your burst of panic. This technique can also help you gain control of your breathing while also slowing down your heart rate.

Remember That It Will Pass

As scary as panic attacks can be, it can be helpful to remind yourself that the feelings will subside. It is not a permanent sensation, and it won’t cause you any physical harm when it’s all over.

The symptoms of a panic attack can peak within minutes of onset. However, the symptoms will start to gradually subside after that. 

It’s also helpful to acknowledge the fact that you’re having a panic attack. By doing this, you are reminding yourself that there is no real danger present. 

How To Prevent Panic Attacks

While there is no way to prevent a panic attack before it occurs, there are ways that you can try to manage your panic attacks and panic disorder to decrease their frequency or severity.

Psychotherapy

A type of therapy that is especially useful for treating panic disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This scientifically-proven treatment teaches you new ways to cope with the symptoms of a panic attack. 

CBT teaches you skills like relaxation, deep-breathing, and mindfulness that help you with the physical symptoms of panic. CBT also teaches you different ways to change the way you think when you’re anxious or in the midst of a panic attack. 

For example, you would learn skills like cognitive restructuring, reality testing, and ways to decrease catastrophizing. CBT will likely be able to diminish the severity of your panic attacks when they arise.

Medication

Many people who have panic attacks seek medication that offers immediate symptom relief, such as Xanax. However, antidepressants are a safer, more effective form of long-term treatment. 

Antidepressant medications are commonly prescribed to help people with panic disorder because they can decrease the frequency and severity of panic attacks. 

Two types of antidepressants have shown to be especially effective: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). Studies found that 61% of patients were panic-free after 6 to 12 weeks of treatment with these types of medications.

In Summary

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by recurrent panic attacks combined with an intense fear and worry of future panic attacks. This intense fear can affect their day to day function, such as causing them to avoid certain scenarios that may induce a panic attack. 

Panic attacks often include a combination of both physical and mental symptoms, such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, feelings of impending doom, feelings of being trapped, lightheadedness, and fast breathing. They are extremely uncomfortable and often resemble heart attacks, making them stressful when they arise.

There are ways to cope with panic attacks when they occur, including deep breathing exercises and grounding techniques to give yourself a sense of control over the current situation. Additionally, it’s helpful to acknowledge your panic attack to remind yourself that there is no real danger present.

While there’s no way to prevent panic attacks from occurring, you can manage your panic disorder with therapy and medication

Brightside can help with both of these things from the comfort of your own home — you can speak with licensed therapists and psychiatric providers who can provide consults and even send your medication right to your front door in qualified states. 

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Maintaining Mental Illness

When managing serious mental illness (SMI), the recovery journey can be long and challenging. It often requires creative and prolonged efforts to build and maintain a full life, but many people do reach recovery. In fact, up to 65% of people living with SMI experience partial to full recovery over time.

The term “recovery” refers to the process of learning how to minimize the symptoms associated with SMI. Note that recovery does not mean symptoms stop entirely or that deficit disappear.

Ultimately, recovery is not synonymous with “cured.” Rather, it means reaching a place where you can pursue a safe, dignified and meaningful life.

The cornerstones of recovery are self-determination, treatment, engagement with family and friends, work and hope. Loved ones play a critical role in a person’s recovery, especially when well-intentioned caregivers listen to and respect their loved one’s goals. Additionally, the guidance of competent, experienced and compassionate mental health practitioners can also be invaluable.

While recovery may look different for different people, several basic strategies can serve anyone looking to manage their illness. These basics may help you reach recovery more quickly and easily.

Maintaining Hope
Recovery is rarely achieved in the absence of hope. Its power cannot be overestimated.

You must always try to maintain hope despite the challenges (including loss, stigma, discrimination) you face.

Hope doesn’t have to come solely from internal strength; it can come from caregivers, friends, peers, people outside of a mental health context, and even animals or faith. Feeling supported, accepted and loved as a person of value and worth can foster and nurture hope.

Practising Self-Determination
Recovery has to be pursued; it does not simply occur in response to medication or other treatments. That is why it is so important to make your own decisions and actively use treatment, services, supports or other resources.

For example, preparing a Psychiatric Advance Directive, which states your treatment preferences in the event of a mental health crisis, can allow you to retain control over care even if you become impaired.

As with any illness, you may have to self-advocate to ensure everyone in your care team respects your right to have a say in your care.

Do not give up on your dreams. Identifying your life pursuits, such as living, working, learning and participating fully in the community, is an important recovery goal. After establishing these objectives, you can work with your providers and caregivers to make those goals a part of your care plan.

Starting Now
You should not delay the pursuit of recovery in the hopes that your symptoms will go away on their own. Progress typically occurs through a series of small steps, which may involve considerable effort, patience and persistence over time.

These accomplishments become possible and noticeable if you set and achieve realistic and short-term, if not immediate, personal goals.

Small, incremental steps can build on each other, positioning you to address more ambitious goals further down the line. Celebrating achievements, no matter how seemingly mundane, is an important part of the recovery process.

Finding the Right Care
Finding caring, trusting, supportive relationships with a practitioner is critical for recovery.

Practitioners should encourage and support your hopes, interests, assets, talents, energies, efforts and goals.

To achieve these, you should discuss calculated risk-taking with your practitioner. A calculated risk is a carefully considered decision that could be beneficial but includes some degree of risk. For example, deciding to change your treatment plan or medication regimen.

Care should be person-centred and you should hold an active role in your care. Accordingly, practitioners should engage your participation using a strengths-based approach. This approach, known as shared decision-making, is evidence-based and has been shown to improve outcomes.

Care should also be grounded in your “life context,” which acknowledges, builds on and appreciates your unique history, experiences, situations, developmental trajectory and aspirations.

Care plans should be based on individualized, culturally sensitive, holistic and multidisciplinary considerations and developed in collaboration with you and your supporters each step of the way. Your care should focus on helping you live the life you want and choose.

Gathering Information on Community Factors
Practitioners should have adequate knowledge of community factors that may impact care, including opportunities, resources and potential barriers. These may relate to access to employment opportunities as well as employment disincentives that are built into programs for access to affordable housing and medical care.

If practitioners cannot offer you guidance on these subjects, they should at least be able to share resources and provide referrals to people who can.

Coping with Stigma
Stigma is widespread, even among friends and family and within the mental health care system, including from practitioners themselves. The detrimental impact of stigma can be greater than that of the illness itself. Thus, you may need to develop coping strategies to manage stigma, particularly if you are experiencing self-stigma.

You might consider discussing how you are impacted by insensitive statements with those who use them. You could also consider limiting interaction, if possible, with people who may continue to stigmatize you.

Talking to peers can also be helpful to process the way stigma affects you.

Engaging with Peer Support
Peer support can be invaluable. People living with a similar condition can help you normalize SMI, address loneliness and isolation, and offer acceptance and support.

They also can provide insights based on their own struggles and achievements, and they can help take away some of the uncertainty of living with SMI by helping you understand what to expect. They can offer hope as a mentor who is a living example of the reality of recovery.

The recovery journey is never easy, but it is always worth it. When a person with SMI reaches recovery, they often regain their self-love, self-worth and self-esteem.

Recovery can then free a person from stigma, shame and embarrassment. Perhaps most importantly, it can stop them from defining themselves merely by their illness.

Some people with SMI have to recognize that the greatest barrier to reaching recovery may be their own mindset. People who refuse to take back control of their lives (including their care) and refuse to take responsibility for their illness will find it more difficult to reach recovery.

It is a great tragedy that so many never reach recovery because it is possible for so many more.

Ultimately, we all need more visible and promoted examples of everyday people living in recovery.

The promise of eliminating stigma does offer hope, but recovery offers so much more.

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Others can be useful, listen to them

I never felt as alone when I had bad panic attacks. When your brain suddenly goes nuts and you feel like you can’t control anything within yourself and outside anymore,

Your ears have this tendency to shut themselves down automatically to what anyone else could be saying.

You just focus on how feel, on how bad you feel, and on how you are probably going to die in the next few minutes.

In reality, things don’t always have to be like that. With time, I learned that when other people

I knew were around me, I could count on them, and I was certainly not alone.

Of course, what we are going through when a Panic Attack comes out is usually very hard, sometimes even impossible to understand for someone who has never experienced it.

However, that is far from meaning they cannot help us.

Personally, I have always been shy when it comes to talking about my Anxiety condition.

I have always seen it as something I should hide, someone I was ashamed of because I didn’t know how to control it.

I didn’t realize that, by talking about it to others, I could find a way out. I could pace myself during the worst attacks.

My father was the one who really started to help.

I didn’t have to say anything to him, and in that regard, I was very lucky, he just looked at me and knew what to do.

Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t work from the first time, and the beginning was rough.

When I was having a crisis, it was hard for him to understand why I was acting like that, ignoring him and everything else.

He didn’t get that I couldn’t actually control myself.

However, once he got the extent of what I was going through, everything changed. He was there to make me feel safe, to pace me up, to make me come out of the panic attack.

How? Well, through a very simple process, that can be applied to everyone. I’m sure you probably heard that a hundred times already, but it all comes to one thing: breathing.

During my worst panic attacks, my father used to take me outside, in a quiet place and had me lie down.

I always felt like I was about to die like I couldn’t breathe anymore, and I was screaming.

To reassure me, he used to say that everything was alright, that I was in my normal environment, that nothing had changed. It was just a panic attack.

Now, that is a key thing you have to keep in mind.

When you get those symptoms, repeat to yourself that it is only a panic attack, that it is not dangerous and that nothing will happen to you.

If someone is with you at that moment, have them say that to you too.

Then, he made me focus on my breathing. Only that.

Focus on the movements of your chest going up and down.

If you are not alone and experience focusing all by yourself, ask this person to say out loud ‘breathe in, breathe out.

Feel the air coming in and out of your body, and put all your thoughts on that. This will have two effects.

First, it will take your mind off the panic attack itself and will prevent you to work yourself up into an even worse state. Unconsciously, without even realizing it, you will be calming down.

Second, controlling the rhythm of your breathing, will regulate your oxygen flux and also bring the attack to an end.

A good way to start on the way to eradicates those nasty panics…!

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How a Simple Morning Routine Helped Me Heal from PTSD and Grief

In an eighteen-month window, I had a landslide of firsts that I would not wish on my worst enemy.

I ended my first long-term relationship with someone I deeply cared for but did not love.

She had borderline personality disorder, and I was not mentally strong enough nor mature enough to be what she needed in a partner. Within five minutes of me saying our relationship was over, she slit her wrist as we sat there in bed.

This was the beginning of it all.

Drug overdoses, online personal attacks, physically beating me, calling and texting sixty-plus times a day, coming to my work, breaking into my home to steal and trash the place, and general emotional abuse followed over the next ten months.

Day after day, week after week, month after month.

My heart started racing, and my breathing spiked every time my phone went off, and I mean EVERY time.

I woke each morning to multiple alerts that someone had tried to hack my social media and bank accounts and people I barely knew messaging me saying, “Hey, don’t know if you saw this, but your ex is…”

In the midst of this, my parents called a family meeting, and that’s when they told us that dad’s doctor thought he might be showing the first signs of Parkinson’s disease.

I didn’t know at the time what this news would mean long-term for him and us as a family, but I soon found out.

Dad slowly started deteriorating mentally and physically.

Within a year, he had aged twenty years and wasn’t able to be left alone.

The man I had once known to be the picture of health and courage was gone.

I, too, was changing for the worse.

Happiness was a feeling I couldn’t relate to anymore. I was constantly in a state of duress, from twitching fingers to a tightness in my chest. The most notable change in my life was the constant breaking down as I would shower in the morning.

After I woke, I would kneel, resting my head on my shoulders and cry, in fear for what the day ahead had in store and disbelief that my life had come to this.

Even as I huddled there under the warm stream of water, I would feel my eyes shifting back and forth, a mile a minute, it seemed. The effects of my anxiety, depression, and PTSD were touching all areas of my body.

I did not know what to do.

I couldn’t believe my life had turned out like this.

How could this be happening to me?

But the scariest thought that came to mind, as I knelt in the shower each morning, was how do I stop this?

No one had taught this in school.

I remember staring at my ceiling one afternoon (as I often did, not having any desire to do anything that I once loved or cared about) and saying to myself, “If I don’t take action, I’ll be like this till I’m fifty.”

And this was the truth; I knew it wasn’t going to go away without consistent work to better myself.

Over the following weeks to months, I started working on my morning routine, something that had never been part of my life before this. Most mornings had me showering and getting dressed as I scrolled through the gram, looking at negative posts, adding more unhealthy thoughts to my already full mind.

It was a slow process.

Most days I only lasted five minutes before I gave up and went back to bed, but slowly, over time, with two steps forward then five steps back, I created a routine that felt comfortable and achievable each day.

The routine went like this:

  • Wake up at the same time each day, no matter weekday or weekend.
  • Hop into the shower right away and finish off the last thirty seconds with a full blast of cold water.
  • Make my bed after I get changed.
  • Make a glass of hot lemon water.
  • Sit and drink the lemon water in silence as I look out the window.
  • Finish the time on the chair by saying five things that I am grateful for, no matter how small—”I am grateful for this tree outside my window.”
  • Put on a pot of coffee.
  • Write in my journal as the coffee brews, exploring how I am feeling at the moment or how I felt yesterday and why.

Not until I had my coffee in my hand, around forty-five minutes after waking up, would I get my phone and flick it open to see what I had missed overnight.

I had created a morning routine that put me ahead of everything else going on in life.

There were no sudden jolts of unease or stress from outside sources like a text message, email, or social media post. 

I was in control of my life for at least forty-five minutes every morning.

I would use that confidence to extend those positive vibes further and further into my days.

At first, they didn’t last very long, but over time I was able to look at the clock and see mid-day was here, and I hadn’t given up on being productive.

My morning routine saved me. It gave me the confidence to add other tools to my mental health toolbox.

I started eating healthier foods, working out more often, reading in bed instead of watching TV, and going to therapy. All of these things aided me in battling my mental health struggles.

I’ve learned that sometimes, when our challenges feel daunting and unbeatable, we need to think big and act small, taking it one day at a time, or one morning at a time, or one breath at a time.

Sometimes one small positive choice can have a massive ripple effect and change everything—especially when it enables us to tune out the noise of the world and reconnect with ourselves.

Life will always be chaotic; if we want calm in our lives we have to consciously choose to create it.

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Food for the soul : walking

I have always loved walking. I am not able to really explain why, but the simple act of walking, of putting one foot in front of another and thus creating a movement of motion, has always made me feel good, giving me a sense of freedom. I remember that summer especially, when I decided to go for a week long hike on the way to Santiago, in Spain. My bag was a little bit too heavy, and my feet were hurting me, but I felt like I was liberated.

For me, it has always been easier to talk while walking. On that trip, I was alone with a friend, and our adventure, our sharing of something only us could see, made communication much easier.

My anxious mind started to soothe. Walking along the sea shore, and the mountain, and the eucalyptus forests calmed me down.

I was focused on my goal for each day ; I had to reach that town, or this village, and it was the biggest thing on my mind – maybe sharing a little bit of space with the food breaks ! Every day, I could say that I had achieved something, I had accomplished the aim I had set for myself in the morning.

It may sound trivial, but it is actually quite important. Having something to be satisfied of – even proud of if I may say – at the end of each day is crucial to boost your self-esteem and feel better about yourself.

Personally, it makes me feel like I am worthy of something, that I can still accomplish things in my life.

It’s all in the little things, as the saying goes. Even if I am at home all day with nothing in particular to do, I now try to go out and take a little stroll.

If anything, I have managed to get myself out of the house for a few minutes, to get dressed and make myself look acceptable for the outside world. This simple gesture makes me feel like my day was not completely wasted and keeps me from losing grip completely.

 Being outside, looking at life going by, the animals, the people, the sea, has some kind of magical relaxing effect. I stop thinking about how miserable I may feel, or how anxious I am. I start acknowleging the world can be pleasant.

I close my eyes and I soak the sun in, or I feel the cold wind on my face, and somehow I feel  rejuvenated.

Almost like a new beginning. 

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Women and the lack of confidence

For days now, I have been reading that scientific evidence shows that women are less self-assured than men, women lack confidence compared to men, and that hinders their performances on the way to success. In a word, women, because of their natural lack of confidence, would be less successful than men. Is this true? And if so, how can this be possible? Finally, maybe most importantly, what can we do about it?

Today, in the United States, women earn more college degrees than men do. The same trend can be observed in Europe. Several studies, conducted by organisms such as Goldman Sachs and Columbia University, have shown that companies employing large numbers of women out perform their competitors.

And women resources are not scarce, as they make half of the world’s workforce. Still, women remain largely absent from the higher positions, and most of the world’s influent companies are still men.

The world of politics is still largely dominated by men. Furthermore, women still earn less money than men on average. Why is that so? To some, confidence would be the key.

When you ask powerful women how they made it to where they are today, the answer is usually the same: “I got lucky”, “I was just at the right place at the right time”. Others, like Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, sometimes feel like they should not even be where they are: “There are still days I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am”. As bizarre as it may sound, it appears that there is a confidence gap separating the sexes.

Women tend to underestimate themselves more, and doubt more of their abilities to succeed than men. The main problem here being that success depends as much on competences than on confidence. In reality, women perform on average as well as men do. In that regard, women would just be partly refraining themselves from making it to the top.

When it comes to scientific facts, it appears that men and women do not display significant enough differences in the brain that could explain such a confidence gap.

However, studies have shown that women tend to activate their amygdalae quicker and more easily than men – amygdalae are sometimes described as the brain’s primitive fear centers. Furthermore, the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the rain helping recognize errors and weigh options, is larger in women.

As a consequence, women are more likely to recognize and respond to threat. In addition, it appears that higher levels of testosterone can be linked to a greater taste for risk taking – testosterone levels are 10 times higher in men than women. Winning yields even more testosterone and keeps the cycle going. Yet, these physical features are not enough to explain the confidence gap existing between men and women.

Our environments have a lot to do with our futures as well. As early as primary school, girls are rewarded for being ‘good girls’, to have good grades and behave properly, not to be energetic or pushy. Young girls usually have longer attention spans and more advanced verbal skills than boys, allowing them to earn better grades.

This tends to lead to situations where girls are being rewarded for being perfect, and that is what they will be looking for later in life. However, it also leads to situations where girls learn to avoid taking risks and making mistakes.

The problem being that many psychologists believe that risk taking and failure are an important part of confidence-building. Boys, on the contrary, by being scolded more, learn to fail and in the process, build up their levels of confidence.

When girls switch the playground for an office desk, they do not realize immediately that the rules haves changed. While they look forward to being rewarded for their perfect work and their flawless manners, the actual reward actually comes from something different. The realization of this often hits their confidence a little bit more.

The other consequence is that, let us be honest, women are not expected to behave assertively and might be badly considered for doing so. The problem is stuck on both sides.

Yet, the fact that the only thing holding women back is their level of confidence and self-esteem has been heavily criticized. Indeed, some argue that if women lack self-esteem it is only because the way society is built is making them so, and even when they are confident, women are all but helped to progress.

Take as an example the recent Paycheck Fairness Act, which was defeated by Republicans arguing that women actually prefer lower-paying jobs. In toy stores, engineering and electronics is only made for boys, while girls have to stick with Barbie’s dream house and horse. I have read that “women’s lack of confidence could actually just be a keen understanding of just how little American society values them”.

To make women feel more self-confident, the first thing to be changed would then be society and the value given to women and what they do. We need to truly start valuing self-assured women instead of calling them ‘bitchy’ or ‘bossy’. This is the way to success.

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Bad Apples on the Family Tree

The news that a child in the family is autistic is most often met with a number of reactions. While all family members, even extended, would be supportive in an ideal world, the sad truth is that many are disgusted or disappointed.

Does a family member scold the autistic child often? Does he or she look at your autistic child unfairly? Does this family member insist on treating your autistic child the same way he or she treats all the other children in your family, even when it is inappropriate? These are signs that this relative is not receptive to either your autistic child or the situation. This may often be the case when discovering a child is autistic, so as a parent, be aware and prepared for this to happen.

Often, unreceptive relatives simply do not understand what autism is or what it means for your child and your immediate family. Though many see autism as a mental retardation, many autistic children and adults are highly intelligent; they are just unable to communicate this in the same ways that others would.

Try explaining what autism means to this family member, and have him or her spend some time with you and your autistic child. Allow them to see the effects of autism and the methods you can use to cope.

If the family member continues to be unsupportive or refuses your explanation, ask why this family member is so unreceptive to the situation. Are they scared of hurting the child? Are they worried about the added responsibility when spending time with the child? Perhaps they feel guilty or are embarrassed.

If you can pinpoint why a family member is unreceptive, you can better address the issue and hopefully help him or her overcome their original perceptions.

Perhaps no amount of talking or spending time together will help this family member overcome their prejudice. If this person has stubbornly made up his or her mind, you will never be able to show him or her how beautiful your son or daughter is-autism and all.

If this is the case, eliminating this person from your life may be difficult, but it will also rid you and your child of this family member’s negative energy and personality. In this developing situation, you need the best positive support available.

 Remember that other family members have been supportive; that your children are adjusting well and are a source of strength for you. Strengthen your support network by participating in parent support groups for autistic children. And remember that you can surround yourself with those who do accept and love your child-family or not.

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