Posts Tagged ‘Health’


Breathe (Photo credit: sausyn)

hyperventilating is a major part of a panic attack that can make us feel light-headed, detached from the world and weak.  It is terrifying and this is how the cycle starts because you become afraid of the panic attack which in itself creates anxiety.

I have been a sufferer of panic attacks for many years and when things are bad can have up to five or six a day.  However, in between panic attacks or when I am feeling stressed, I can feel dizzy and light-headed anyway which make me feel anxious.  It isn’t a panic attack but if a panic attack is ten on a scale of one to ten, this is an eight or nine and this can last all day.

What I discovered was that I was shallow breathing all the time, not quite enough to hyperventilate but enough add to my anxiety.  I also discovered that I had been doing it for so long that my body thought it was normal.  I had to learn to breathe normally again.

Read most literature and they will tell you 15 minutes of deep relaxation a day is beneficial, but because the thought of focussing on my breath made me anxious, this seemed an impossible task.  I hate the feeling of deep relaxation – it frightens me.  As soon as I focus on my breathing it no longer feel natural then I get fixated that I’m not breathing enough or a breathing too much.  So I started by simply trying to breathe to a count of seven and out to a count of seven ten times.  At first I could only count to four and only do that three times before I got anxious.  I didn’t much like the feeling of breathing in so deeply – it made me feel full, I’d almost say it actually hurt – but I did it every day and slowly built up to ten times in a row.  By now I was less scared of it and ventured into other relaxation like deep muscle relaxation and also some yoga.

I didn’t get very far with those but I found quite quickly that simple spending three or four minutes a day on purposefully breathing deeply made a difference.  I was less dizzy and light-headed and I did have less panic attacks.

When I began to feel better, although I kept running, I stopped practicing breathing – I never meant to but suddenly life got in the way (I could actually go places).  The last week or so have been difficult for me and I have begun to feel dizzy and light-headed again.  This post is to remind me and hopefully some of you that a little bit of practice can make a difference.

I am going to find three or four minutes a day simply to breathe.

I would love to hear if you have similar experiences to mine.

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56/365 morning run

Exercise really does help.  It is not going to cure you, it is not going to make all the difficult and horrible thoughts that go with anxiety go away, it will not even make any of the symptoms go away completely.  But what it does do is make you feel better for a few moments a day and can make some of the symptoms of a panic attack easier to deal with.

The science bit is that regular exercise speeds up your metabolism which means your body uses things up quicker.  So with a faster metabolism, when adrenaline is released during a panic attack, the body should be able to get rid of it quicker therefore reducing the length and strength of the attack.  Exercise also releases extra endorphins which make you feel happier.  If you are severely depressed it is not going to make you see sunshine all the tim,e but it does make you feel better enough to see hope so you can tackle some of the symptoms in other ways.  In my experience the better you feel the stronger this effect is so once you start keep going.

From a personal perspective what exercise does is give me a sense of achievement.  When I struggled to leave the house, going for a 25 minute run meant I had actually got out of the house.  Running for me is ideal because I can go at any time, it is free, it only takes up the time to run (I don’t have to get anywhere) and I don’t have to be with other people to do it.

I’m sure that if you are reading this and are struggling so much with anxiety that you can’t leave the house very much you are thinking this task seems impossible but here are my tips for getting some exercise:

Whilst I will focus mainly on running, the exercise doesn’t have to be this.  If leaving the house is too much try a work out at home by walking or running up the stairs.  You could also do a dvd – I did a bit or Zumba when I really couldn’t face going out.  As long as you sustain the exercise for at least 25 minutes each time.

Choose a route that is close to home.  When I first started I running I would literally run around the block twice so I was never a few minutes walk from home.  As you feel better you may want to extend the distance from home.  If it is easier for you, ask someone to go with you – the exercise will benefit them too!

Choose a time to suit you.  I used to go early in the morning when it was dark.  Partly because I had no time in the day as I was looking after my son but also because there was no one around to see me.  It also meant I did not have all day to talk myself out of it.  I always take my dog at these times so it is safer.

If you don’t like the sound of your breathing or don’t want to think too much, listen to music.  This means you can’t hear yourself as much.  I have a playlist I use especially which I know all the words to so I can sing along in my head then I don’t have to think.

It doesn’t matter how fast you go.  Some days I am really slow because I don’t really want to go or am already feeling anxious.  This is okay.  You are not in training for a big race; you are doing this for you, so as long as you are slightly out of breath it doesn’t matter.  If you are running for the first time you may want to try 1 minute walk 1 minute run and keep repeating.

You need to Exercise 5 to 6 times a week, doing something that gets you out of breathto feel the effects of exercise on anxiety.  I always did a bit of running but to overcome the anxiety of running itself, I made sure I did it almost every day.  Otherwise I would put it off and when I was really anxious (when I probably needed it the most) I didn’t go at all.

Starting a regular exercise programme is not easy, you have to fit it in and be brave enough to commit but it is worth it.  When you know you can’t go on like this any more this is an easy way to begin recovery today.  For me running has had the most accumulative effect on my anxiety and it is something I can continue to do and sometimes I even enjoy it now.  There are still day when I don’t feel like going.  If I feel a bit anxious my brain says “don’t go incase there is something wrong with you and you make it worse”.  It is at these times that I stay close to home and don’t go very fast but I make sure I go because deep down I know this is when I need it the most.  98% of the time I feel better after the run anyway.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone reading.  Please leave a message if you have any questions or tips of your own.

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The feet of a tightrope walker.

The feet of a tightrope walker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 10 weeks ago I started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with some trepidation (how far were they going to push me?), with some relief (I had been waiting for a long time), but mainly with an expectation that this had to work because I knew I couldn’t continue down the ever narrowing path that I had got myself on.  Now that it’s over, has it worked?

Certainly, I am no longer avoiding things: I do the food shopping, I drive to and from work, I have had my haircut at a hairdressers, I have even driven on the motorway (something I haven’t done for 10 years).  I experience less panic attacks, and the ones I do experience are shorter and less intense.  From outside it has definitely worked.  In the first two sessions the therapist had me hyperventilating to prove that it wouldn’t hurt me, that I was bringing on the worst of the symptoms myself.  Then we started doing things I didn’t do – she took me to Tesco and on the train.  I had homework every week:  I had to welcome panic attacks without any safety behaviours (see if they were as bad as I thought), I had to not avoid things, I had to record everything down in diaries.  I responded very quickly and I have got my life back.

Yet the underlying anxiety I have hasn’t gone:   I still have knots in my stomach that tell me I have something to fear, or feelings of guilt over… I don’t know.  I still feel tired from the daily effort of coping with anxiety.  I still cannot have a panic attack without some safety behaviours; even though I fight it, there is something in me that doesn’t believe 100% that my panic attacks won’t send me mad or hurt me.  I still have to actively avoid avoiding things rather than just go about my daily life.

From the point of view of my therapist I am a complete success as I am in charge of my anxiety now.  “You were never trying to get rid of the anxiety symptoms, just look at them differently,” was how she reassured me at our last session.  However, from my point of view I feel I am stood on a tightrope and it wouldn’t take much to lose my balance and find myself falling back into avoidance behaviours and round the clock anxiety.  At the moment it takes a lot of energy and guts to keep walking along the tightrope because there is part of me that wants to jump off – in some ways it would be easier.

Despite this, I am going to try my hardest to stay on the tightrope and continue to walk along it albeit slowly because what CBT has done, I believe, is kick-start a recovery.  It has not been a miracle cure I so wanted it to be, but it has given me enough knowledge of my condition to shrink it slightly.  It is now up to me to continue to shrink it further because actually I would like to get rid of the symptoms of anxiety.  Will I always be susceptible to anxiety? Probably.  Will I always have to work this hard at it?  Hopefully not.  Has it worked?  It’s too soon to say.  Would I recommend CBT to others?  Definitely.

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Ireland (Photo credit: Trent Strohm)

Recently I took a trip to Ireland with my family to visit some of my husband’s relatives, and throughout our stay there were numerous enquiries about people’s general health, ongoing health issues and recent operations.  Yet how my battle with anxiety was going was never mentioned.  Not because they weren’t interested or didn’t care, but because they didn’t know.  There was plenty of opportunity to bring it up, and in fact no reason that they didn’t know already  – irish people love to know everything they can about everyone – I’m sure they have asked after me during several phone conversations.  Yet I nor anyone else refered to it, even though every night I filled out a panic diary as part of the CBT I’m having, and had to battle daily with some sort of anxiety.  It wasn’t until I was on the ferry back that I wondered why? Why am I ashamed? Why is it such a taboo?When someone has a physical condition, people naturally sympathise, even if they haven’t had that condition, everyone has been in pain or felt sick.  But, the same could be said for anxiety; everyone has felt nervous at some point.  So why do I think that people won’t understand?  Maybe that’s the problem: because everyone has felt anxiety at some point, they think they do know how it feels and it’s not that bad.  Also, for most people, there is generally a reason for it which makes it more manageable – again, it’s not that bad.  So I’d have to explain why this is different, worse, debilitating, to people who didn’t really get it. Would they even believe me? For the most part I can hide how I am feeling inside or I can make a reasonable excuse to leave so people don’t see me at my worst.   Would them knowing make the anxiety worse?  If they knew,would feel I was under constant surveillance for signs of anxiety?  Would I simply regret telling them?Of course the answer to these last questions is no.  In other areas of my life, such as work, I have needed to be very open and generally it has helped.  They may not have understood but then they don’t need to offer some support.  Actually, I have found that more people than I thought do really understand as by opening up they have confided that they also suffer from panic attacks and anxiety and I have felt able to support them.  I have one friend who is have CBT the same time as me; a fact I would never know if I hadn’t confided in how I was feeling.  It is said that anxiety of one kind or another will affect one in three people at some point in their life, so by opening up and sharing stories with the people we know we can raise awareness of this taboo subject and help each other in the process.

Next time I go to Ireland I’m just going to mention it – see what happens.

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