Mindfulness: Learning to Observe Without Judging

As I was saying a couple of posts ago – mindfulness is about learning to be fully present in the moment.

Tall order, I know. Hey – it’s a skill. You know how you develop skills? Through practice.

One of the things that often keeps us from being fully in the present is a tendency to constantly critique what we’re doing and how we’re doing it: chances are, whatever you do, there’s a little voice in the back of your head. Let’s call it The Critic. When you’re trying to do something, The Critic may offer up all sorts of unhelpful commentary:

“Seriously? What’s taking you so long? Do you realize how many other things you need to get done today? You’re already running late! You’ll never get it all finished at this rate – so you’ll have to do some of it tomorrow. You’re already late for tomorrow – you’ve just ruined the whole week!!!”

The Critic quickly fills up your head with unpleasant thoughts coming at you a mile a minute; when you’re drowning inside your own head, it’s hard to focus on what you’re actually trying to do. Your brain is spending a great deal of time and energy bullying you and slowing you down.

So – one important step toward mindfulness is learning to silence The Critic.

How do you do that?

You remind yourself that The Critic doesn’t help you get things done; it just fills your head up with negativity and worry, and slows you down and distracts you.

Start by just trying to notice The Critic when it starts coming at you. When you get good at doing this, you might be shocked at how it criticizes your every move.

Then, once you get good at noticing that it’s happening – start responding. Basically, every time you hear The Critic inside your head – tell it to go pound salt, and tell yourself to go back to paying attention to what you’re doing.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Yeah – well, simple and easy are two very different things – and this will take lots of practice.

Then, mindfulness is basically paying attention to what you’re doing as you’re doing it, without The Critic commenting on your every move.

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Please feel free to share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted.  The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Relaxation: How to Actually *DO* It

UPDATE: This post was originally published in 2014. Since then, I have had the privilege to learn much more about the struggle of establishing calm from my patients with severe PTSD. If this post you read the post below and find that it doesn’t seem to apply to you, please try this one, as it might be more relevant.

In previous posts, I’ve talked about relaxation; how important it is; what to do; and how doing it regularly can help manage your symptoms.

Basically, if you’ve been a reader of this blog for a while, then you’ve heard that relaxation is good for you so often that you almost think it’s low in fat and full of fibre.

What I haven’t covered enough is the HOWhow do you actually relax, when you’re so wound up that you can’t relax?

Obviously, if you could just calm down when you wanted to, then you would just do so. And then you’d be fine, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

The problem is, for too many people with severe and chronic PTSD – you can’t relax just because you’d like to.

You might have tried the relaxation exercises I posted earlier; chances are, here’s how it went:

  1. You got distracted pretty much immediately;
  2. Once you got distracted, a little voice in the back of your head said, “Seriously??? It’s been like, half a second. Not even a whole second, and I’m already distracted. Well, that’s useless. I can’t do this. I’m NOT relaxed – I’m even more stressed out than I was before I started trying to relax, because now I’m ticked off that I can’t even relax for half a second. I’m done with this, all it’s doing is making me feel like a failure.”

Look – relaxation is about learning to get to a state of calm. And when your threat-response system is going off all the time, getting to a state of calm is – at first – just about impossible.

When you first start trying to relax, expect to lose your focus almost immediately: don’t be disappointed when this happens – relaxation is NOT about seeing how long you can go without getting distracted; the goal is to try going back to it when you do lose your focus, and trying again.

At first, you’re going to feel like you’re falling off the horse as soon as you try to get back on. That’s normal; the trick is to resist the temptation to get sucked into frustration about it, and go back to try again.

What you’re watching for is a feeling of restlessness, a sense of “get me out of here” – when that pops up, that’s enough for now. You don’t want to keep pushing past that feeling (that’s trying to trap yourself in a relaxed state, and that’s counterproductive).

Eventually, if you keep working at it, that half a second will turn into a whole second, then two, then five, and then even more.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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PTSD and the science behind why you can’t just “get over it”

This question comes up a lot. If it’s something you ask yourself, please read this. If other people ask you why you aren’t over it yet – please share this with them, and maybe it will help them to understand.

Trauma memories aren’t like other memories – they don’t fade over time. Every time you think of them, they feel like they just happened yesterday (or worse – like they’re happening now).

Here’s why, in a nutshell:

Think of your brain as having two main parts:

Part 1 is your “Thinking Brain”. The thinking Brain is smart, rational and fact-based. We’re conscious of the thoughts it comes up with. It plans, organizes, and problem-solves.

When it stores a memory, it’s like a librarian – it organizes by theme and date. So, its memories of your senior year of high school might include the music you liked that year; the person you had a crush on; the part-time job you worked; and, oh dear, that goofy haircut you had that was so stylish back then. Remembering these memories feels like you’re looking through an old photo album – there’s a distinct sense of “me-now” remembering what happened to “me-then”.

Part 2 is your “Threat-Response Brain”. We’ve talked about this one before, here, here, and here; it’s not smart, it’s not rational, and you’re not consciously aware of what it thinks.

Your Threat-Response Brain stores memory very differently – and it does so on purpose.

Pretend you touched a hot stove once, as a small child; you burned your hand and cried.

To be good at predicting future threats, your Threat-Response Brain needs to know that “hot things hurt“. Time and context don’t matter: you don’t want a Threat Brain that thinks “Yeah, I hurt myself on a hot stove – but it was Grandma’s old gas stove, back when I was a kid, and she was cooking breakfast; I’m an adult now, in my house, making dinner, and my stove is electric, so let’s try touching it, because maybe it’ll feel good.”

Yeah – that really wouldn’t help much, now would it?

The way the Threat-Response Brain works is: “Every time I see/hear/smell something that reminds me of the time I got hurt, there might be danger.” The threat brain also generalizes to similar threats – so, if you hurt yourself by touching a hot stove, you don’t need to also touch a hot iron, and stick your hand in a campfire – your threat brain learns that hot = pain.

This is why memories of trauma stay fresh and vivid in your mind, even years or decades later: they are kept in a different part of your brain than other memories. The point of the Threat-Response Brain is to protect you – so it makes sure you remember danger as if it had just happened.

So – how do you cope with this stuff, when it gets triggered? You use grounding skills. Remind yourself that feeling triggered means that your Threat-Response Brain is reacting to a memory – it doesn’t mean that you’re in danger now. Tell yourself, “my threat-response brain is reacting right now because this looks/smells/sounds similar to my trauma – but that was years ago, and I’m here now, and that’s not happening anymore.” This helps you refocus on the here-and-now.

To fine-tune your Threat-Response Brain’s reactions, there are no quick and easy tricks I can teach you in a blog post – but, there are specific therapies out there (EMDR or cognitive processing for example) that can help with that.

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Please feel free to share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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UNmindfulness, or “the art of furiously doing”

Hello again!

Last post, I was talking about mindfulness, and promising to explain what it’s all about.

Mindfulness is basically the opposite of what you might be doing now: When your threat-response reflex is constantly stuck in overdrive, all that adrenaline running through your body makes everything feel like a crisis, and makes you feel like you’re always in a mad rush. So, as a result – you might be constantly, furiously, doing.

“Furiously doing” can take on a number of forms – some people are workaholics. Some others become very focused on keeping their house clean; some get addicted to gambling, pornography, you name it. You may be so wound up that you find it difficult to finish what you start, especially boring tedious things – your constant adrenaline rush makes it hard to slow down enough to focus on those things for long. It might be that even when you aren’t running around, your mind will still be going a hundred miles a minute: by “furiously doing”, I mean being unable to just be.

When you’re good at furiously doing, you might enjoy how efficient or productive it makes you feel. You might find yourself impatient with people who can’t keep up with your pace; it might feel like those people are getting in the way of your mission.

However, you also might notice that the list of things that need doing never gets any smaller, and you don’t get much satisfaction from getting them done – you just feel like a hamster on a wheel, running mainly for the sake of running.

One really key thing to understand about how PTSD works is – you’re not really furiously doing to get things done. You’re actually furiously doing, because you’re so wound up that you can’t not furiously do.

When you function like this, your loved ones might feel like the things you’re doing always seem to be more important than spending time with them; they might think that they don’t matter enough to you, and they might blame themselves. It’s hard for them to understand why you can’t just take some time for them. When you try to force yourself to slow down, you might come across as irritated. They might ask why you’re angry, and you might wonder why they have to take so long to do the smallest things.

Mindfulness is about learning to just be: to become fully engaged in the here and now, to be 100% in this moment.

Learning mindfulness will take a lot of hard work – but, it’s important to have the choice to shut off the autopilot sometimes, and feel like you’re actually engaged in living your life.

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Please feel free to share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Military Training vs. Mindfulness

I’d like to start on a new topic today: mindfulness. It’s going to take a few posts to talk about it, because there’s a fair bit to say.

If you haven’t heard of it before, I think you’ll like it. Mindfulness is a way to let go of the self-criticism, shame and guilt that often contributes to keeping us stuck in misery.

Mindfuless is so awesome, I could almost say it’s nutritious and delicious, and I’d only be exaggerating a little.

Not only that, but mindfulness is… the exact opposite of everything you have learned in your entire military career, EVER.

So, wrapping your head around it is going to feel a bit like learning to live on an alien planet.

In the military, you learn to push yourself to your limits, and then to push yourself some more. If that doesn’t work, then the answer is to push yourself even harder – never yield, never, ever give up.

Now – I’m not pointing this out to in any way disrespect military culture – your perseverance is something that I respect and admire. I understand that, in your line of work, expecting yourself to succeed against impossible odds is necessary.

Here’s the thing, though: when dealing with your mental health, that dogged determination can contribute to grinding you deeper into your misery.

It’s like this: maybe you went through some stuff, and it rattled you, and you just can’t shake it. But, you might believe that failure is unacceptable, and you feel like a failure that you can’t shake it. You also might believe that the way to success is to push yourself harder (because that’s what life in the military taught you).

The thing is – when you’re depressed, overwhelmed, stressed out, not sleeping well, having nightmares and panic attacks – then pushing yourself harder, and expecting yourself to suck it up and soldier on doesn’t magically make your issues go away. In fact, it often does just the opposite – it might make you feel worse.

In your training and your work in the military, pushing yourself harder is often your best tool. In your mental health, it’s your worst enemy.

So – this is why we’re going to learn about mindfulness. Mindfulness is about noticing our own experience without judging it; no shame, no guilt, no self-criticism, just a “here’s where I’m at now”.

NO, it doesn’t magically solve all of your problems in an instant – but, it gives you a chance to stop being your own worst enemy. And once you stop putting all of your energy into beating up on yourself, well, then it actually becomes a lot easier to cope.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Larry M. Jaipaul, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Relaxation to Control Panic: What You’re Doing Wrong

So – we’ve been talking about panic – where it comes from, and some basic fears and facts.

You may have read those posts, tried some of the strategies, and concluded that they don’t work.

If that’s the case – let me assure you that they do work; let’s just tweak how and when you use them.

Let’s put anxiety on a scale of 0 to 10. 0 means you’re so relaxed that you’re barely conscious; 10 is a full-blown panic attack.

If you’re living with PTSD, then chances are, you never actually get all the way down to 0; your best day is a 5. Your average day is more like a 7.

That means that on an average day, you’re already over two-thirds of the way to panic. (Yes, this is precisely why I keep carrying on about relaxation – because if you do some sort of relaxation exercise regularly, it will help to bring down that average. Even if you get your average down to a 6, you’ve already given yourself a little extra breathing room).

So – on a typical day, even something small is enough to get your anxiety to start creeping up.

You feel the familiar tell-tale signs – your heart starts beating a little quicker. Your muscles start to tense up. You feel a little more nervous.

And what do you do? Well, if you’re like most of the patients that I work with, you do your best to ignore it.

It’s kind of like a really annoying neighbour. The kind who talks your ear off about nothing, boring you to tears. If that guy is knocking on your door, you might decide to sit really quietly, pretend you aren’t home, and hope he goes away.

Well – it might work with your neighbour. But with anxiety? Here’s what your head is doing while you’re trying to ignore anxiety:

“Uh oh… I know that feeling… Oh crap, are we gonna do this again? CRAP. I really, really don’t want this to happen again. Please, please, please, not this nonsense again….”

Yeah. Just reading that makes you feel a little nervous right? Stop. Breathe. You’re okay.

The point is – thinking that way makes you feel completely helpless, and that makes the panic worse. So, while you’re busy trying to ignore your panic – it just builds and builds. And then, when you get to a 9.5 out of 10 – then you think: “Oh, crap. It’s coming. Quick – what was I supposed to do? Breathe, and tell myself some reassuring stuff? How did that go again?”

Folks – by the time you get to 9.5, trying to remember what you’re supposed to do to relax is a lot like trying to hold back Niagara Falls with a paperclip. It’s not going to do much to help you out at that point.

Your timing’s off. You’re doing the right things, at the wrong time.

Here’s how to tweak it to get more control: the moment you start to feel your anxiety inching up – right when you start to get the urge to try to ignore it – that is when you need to remind yourself that you are not helpless. Now is your chance to be proactive and take control. Yes this will be unpleasant – but it can’t hurt you, and the more you focus on taking control, the more you’ll be successful in making this kind of thing shorter and less frequent.

…And when you start your slow, deep breathing, keep breathing – your panic will make you want to give up after just a few seconds and go, “It’s not working, it’s not working!!! I can’t do this!”

Hey – it’s not working yet, okay? It works. Keep doing it. Give it at least ten minutes of good, focused, slow, deep breaths. It’ll work. And with practice, it’ll get easier.

MC Charb 1

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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“Why do I push people away when I need them the most?”

The title of this post is a question that was sent to me a little while ago; it comes up often enough, and seems to be something that a lot of people can relate to.

When we’re at our loneliest and most vulnerable – precisely when we need support the most – often seems to be exactly the time when we work the hardest to push people away. It doesn’t seem to make any sense, and we often kick ourselves for acting this way.

There’s actually some important reasons why we tend to act this way.

One is reflex: when we feel hurt and vulnerable, our defenses go up. When that happens, it’s harder to trust and let people in.

Two is history, especially childhood: When we’ve been hurt, our antennas go up and we find it a lot harder to trust; so the more lonely we feel, the more vulnerable we feel. When we feel vulnerable, our instinct is to not trust because we’re afraid of being hurt again. It’s a vicious cycle – we feel alone, so we feel vulnerable, so we push people away,  which makes us feel alone, which makes us feel vulnerable, which makes us push people away…

Three is culture, especially if you’re from a military background: you’re used to being tough and doing your best to act even tougher. Trying to let your guard down to let someone else actually look after you makes you feel… Vulnerable. You don’t want anyone to see you when you’re hurting, so even though you really need them to be there for you, you push them away.

The trick to breaking the pattern is:

One, understand that your reflex is making you feel less trusting – it’s colouring your outlook, and making you more crusty and prickly than you normally would be. So, know that the reason you’re pushing people away is because you really need them.

Two, realize that you got hurt back then, and this is now. It’s important to remind yourself that not everyone is like the person/people who hurt you; it will take work to slowly allow yourself to let people in.

UPDATE: Since it was published, this post has been one of the most read on this blog, and many readers have asked me to write more on the topic. Here’s a link to part 2 on this topic; here is part 3.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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Panic Attacks: Fears and Facts

As we discussed in the last post – panic attacks feel awful. Once you’ve had one, the last thing you ever want is to have another.

Unfortunately – when you start to worry about having another panic attack, you get more anxious and tense, and that puts you at higher risk of having more.

One of the reasons that people get so concerned, is that they worry about what could happen when they panic. The three biggest fears are:

–          What if I pass out?

–          What if I go crazy?

–          What if I get a heart attack and die?

It’s important and potentially helpful to know that a panic attack can’t cause any of these things.

When you have a panic attack, your breathing gets quick and shallow, which makes you feel dizzy; this can make you feel like you’re going to pass out. But – during panic, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure goes up. You can’t pass out when your blood pressure goes up – to pass out, your blood pressure needs to drop. So, nothing to fear behind door #1.

Going “crazy” means losing your grip on reality. In a panic attack, you’re painfully aware of every detail of the reality of what’s happening to you. No danger there – you’re not going to lose your marbles from a panic attack.

Fear of having a heart attack and dying is often the biggest fear that goes with panic attacks. Look – panic feels so awful, it’s understandable to think that you must be dying. It’s pretty common for people having panic attacks to end up in the emergency room, thinking it’s a heart attack. So – let’s go through this, step by step.

–          Panic feels awful, but is not dangerous. It cannot kill you, as bad as it feels to go through it.

–          If you’re having a panic attack, using deep breathing and relaxation strategies can make you feel better in a few minutes. If it’s a heart attack, relaxation and deep breathing won’t make a difference. (Yes, this is another reason why I keep carrying on about the importance of relaxation – if you never do it, it’s hard to know how while you’re in the middle of a panic attack…)

–          Panic almost always starts with quick shallow breathing (hyperventilating). With a heart attack, you don’t hyperventilate.

–          Your body might feel tingly all over with panic. With a heart attack, this is more focused, in your left arm.

–          Chest pain is different: panic comes with a sharp pain that comes and goes. Heart attack comes with a constant, crushing pain that feels like an elephant is sitting in the middle of your chest.

If you’re not sure what’s happening to you, by all means go to the emergency room; but, if your ticker’s been checked out and is in good shape, and you know that what you’re having is panic attacks, then learning the facts about panic, and using self-talk to remind yourself of this stuff while you’re dealing with a panic attack, becomes an important tool in helping yourself to make them go away faster, happen less often, and eventually, get rid of them.

MCC7

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Panic Attacks: Where They Come From, What They Are

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope your holidays went well. Before you put them behind you, take a quick inventory: what helped you get through the holidays this year, and what didn’t? Taking a few minutes to review this will help you do even better next year.

Now that the holidays are behind us, let’s switch gears, and talk about panic attacks.

There’s a lot to say about panic, so – if at the end of this post you have more questions than answers – hang tight. I’ll cover more in the next post. And the one after that.

If you have PTSD, chances are pretty good that you also have panic attacks. Panic attacks and PTSD are caused by the same reflexhttp://drdee.ca/2013/05/31/ptsd-the-role-of-reflex-part-1-how-reflex-works/. When it senses a threat, your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tense up, you get a shot of adrenalin and you deal with the threat. And then when the threat’s over, if this reflex is working properly, your adrenal glands stop pumping adrenalin into your bloodstream, and you get to feel calm again.

Like PTSD, panic attacks happen when the “off” switch on your threat-response reflex breaks down. Reflex starts to misfire, basically. The triggers for panic attacks aren’t always obvious; often, panic attacks might seem like they’re happening for no reason at all.

A panic attack is one of the most intensely unpleasant things that can happen to you.

I’m going to describe what a panic attack feels like. If you get a lot of panic attacks and they are easily triggered, take a moment now to remind yourself that you’re not in danger; look around the room, take a few slow, deep breaths.

When you’re having a panic attack, you might feel like you can’t breathe; your heart starts pounding like it wants to jump out of your chest; your chest feels like it’s going to explode; you’re shaking, sweating, tingling, numb, hot or cold; you feel dizzy, light-headed or faint; you feel like you’re choking and like you’re going to throw up. It might feel like it’s not real, and you might be (understandably) scared and thinking you’re going to die or go crazy.

Look – I’d love to write a whole book right now, in this blog post, to explain all the biology of how and why they happen, and how you’re going to beat them. That’s going to take a few more posts on my part, and a lot of practice on your part (and hopefully, some real help, because a blog is not a substitute for actual therapy. And if you’re dealing with panic, then I’d really like you to go get some therapy).

What I need you to know for right now, is that panic attacks are not dangerous. Panic can’t make you go crazy, it can’t make you have a heart attack, and it can’t make you die. It is totally, completely awful to deal with. It feels like an eternity, but it usually lasts somewhere between 10-20 minutes for most people. And then it’s over, and you’re exhausted but in no danger.

That’s important information to keep in mind. Because when you have panic attacks, you end up spending a lot of time dreading the next panic attack. So – work on reminding yourself that panic attacks can’t actually hurt you, even if they feel really awful. That’s the first step to taking back your life.

MCC9

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Holidays, Part 3: Why is it so hard at this time of year?

So – how’s everybody doing?

Look folks – there’s a million reasons that this time of year is so hard on people. But in a nutshell, here’s how it works: the rest of the year, you may be struggling. You may have PTSD, or depression, or a disability or chronic pain. Even if you don’t, you might have financial worries, or your marriage might be teetering on the brink, or you may be estranged from your family. Hey – your life might be like a country song, and you may have checked off everything on this list and then some…

But, the rest of the year, it’s easier to see that other people’s lives aren’t perfect either, even if it feels like they aren’t struggling anywhere near as much as you are.

Then – along come The Holidays. Christmas carols start playing nonstop on the radio, and suddenly – it seems like all these other people start getting happy and excited about the holidays. It feels like overnight, the whole world took a magic happy pill or something.

It feels like everyone but *YOU* got the happy pill; they’re all suddenly excited about the holidays, and you’re still feeling exactly as awful as you were before.  Only now, seeing how happy everyone else seems just makes you feel all the more alone. It was easier to blend in and mask your misery somehow when everyone else was just “okay”; when they’re this happy, it might make you feel like you just stick out like a sore thumb. And it all just reminds you of how much you’re hurting.

…And that, in a nutshell, is why this time of year is so hard on people who are struggling to begin with.

So – what do you do about it?

First – and most importantly – realize that this feeling, like you’re all  alone and no one else understands how you’re feeling – that’s part of how depression messes with your head. The fact is – $11 billion was spent on antidepressants last year, and they were the most frequently dispensed medication.

Folks – that’s a whole lot of people who don’t feel happy, and they all feel worse at this time of the year.

You are far from alone. But, depression makes you feel alone. It makes you feel lonely; but, it also makes you want to crawl under a rock and be all alone.

So, coping is a gentle balance – it involves not pushing yourself to do too much, but also not feeding the depression monster by giving in and just crawling under a rock.

There’s no quick, easy fixes – especially at this time of year. But, it’s a seasonal thing, so it’s especially important that you don’t stop doing things that were working for you before, and reach out for help when you need it.

Murray Chappell_1350

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Murray Chappell, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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