Webb Therapy Uncategorized Anxiety, Anxiety Attacks, and Prolonged Anxiety

Anxiety, Anxiety Attacks, and Prolonged Anxiety

I want to preface this post by stating that the concepts and suggestions I’ve made below are my own thoughts, opinions, and suggestions based on my own experience working in the mental health sector and lived experience. There may also be numerous grammatical and logical errors. I know that you’re intuitive enough to understand what I’m attempting to describe and explain. Therefore, there will be no references section at the end. This is merely an expression of thoughts, a stream of consciousness (William James coined the term Stream of Consciousness).

Episodic, acute, and chronic anxiety can be miserable and debilitating. Individuals living with anxiety have generally experimented with many techniques to cope with anxiety symptoms, and they have often been practicing these techniques for months, years, or decades. Anxiety is life changing. Current treatment can be efficacious at reducing the intensity or frequency of symptoms for the vast majority of people living with anxiety, but only at best. I, myself, have tried the deep breathing technique commonly advised by mental health professionals, and it can be about as useful as taking a sugar pill. There is credible science that supports deep breathing exercises can improve symptoms and recovery rates for stress, anxiety and depression levels – but what about for an anxiety attack or a panic attack or intense chronic symptoms of anxiety?

Sometimes nothing is effective enough for immediate relief. It is my contention that building a relationship with a trained psychiatrist, specialised in this domain, is an essential first step. Your treating specialist(s) will need to have extensive experience and a comprehensive understanding of the debilitating impacts of anxiety, anxiety attacks, and/or panic attacks. I recommend psychiatry because you will need someone who can prescribe short-term medication, schedule 4 or greater, to alleviate the pain rapidly. All symptoms a person may experience from any condition in the anxiety family present a risk for searching for any immediate relief. This is true for you or me or anyone. Without prompt and effective medical care readily available, many people who do not have a plan for managing anxiety will potentially search for an unhealthy substitute to acquire relief.

These substitutes are often unhelpful long term but effective short term. We all know what they are: alcohol and other drugs, sexual promiscuity or sex addiction, love addiction, gambling, excessive or unhealthy eating habits, self-injury, addictive forms of gaming, impulse spending, co-dependent or dependent behaviours on people, people pleasing, running away (avoiding reality), raging, reckless driving and other criminal behaviour, and relying on pharmaceuticals (legally prescribes or otherwise) that will have long-term unhealthy side effects. People know how to “doctor shop”, and although this area of medicine is becoming much more regulated, it still occurs. Unfortunately, there are people who do require certain types of legal drugs, in a timely manner, to find relief as a means of not engaging in any of the previously mentioned behaviours.

Some people may not have much faith in the field of psychiatry or psychology – HOWEVER – you may find yourself in a situation one day where you will need a doctor who knows your history to increase the likelihood of prescribing medication to treat anxiety when you need it most. This medication usually has addictive properties. An ethical psychiatrist will usually be unwilling to prescribe more than a single repeat of potentially addictive medication to treat their patients. This is standard, regulated medical practice in Australia.

Anyone working in the drug and alcohol sector or has regular contact with a person living with anxiety, or any form of addiction, will know that patients – people – are not being seen in a timely manner top treat anxiety before the patient starts looking elsewhere. Even once the patient has accessed some type of medical care, the length of care is not long enough for the patient to be “well enough” after discharge or ending their hourly session, to be on their own in the community safely without becoming vulnerable to their condition in a short time and looking for more relief to ease their pain and improve their well-being.

If a person or a patient cannot depend on the medical system in the way they need to feel safe and well, they will almost certainly begin to lose faith and trust in health professionals, and ‘the system’. This perpetuates their internalised stigma being reinforced, yet again.

I am not saying the patient doesn’t have a significant responsibly of their own to make valuable choices outside of medical treatment. I quote what someone once said to me, “You may not have asked for this disease, but it becomes our responsibility to stay well”. That is our duty as the person living with a health issue of any kind. There are things we certainly must do (or not do) to stay as healthy as possible. The help make not be there in a timely manner the next time we need immediate help.

It can take weeks or more to enter a detox facility. It can take months to enter a rehabilitation facility. It can take months for an available appointment to open with a psychiatrist. It becomes our responsibility to know that even when we’re feeling well and back to “normal”, we must continue those relationships with medication professionals. It becomes our responsibility to try alternative medicines if that’s something you’re interested in. Let’s face it, psychiatrists cease their practice, our professional relationship has reached it’s potential for adequate, loving care, or we want to try something new.

Start the process of finding a reliable, qualified, and credible psychiatrist today. I would recommend finding a counselling psychologist or other mental health professional that you have a productive and friendly working relationship with – and if you want to practice Buddhism, or acupuncture, or hypnotherapy, or any other complementary and alternative medicine – do it. If you want to connect with God – do it. If you want to see a naturopath – do it. Whatever it is, this may very well be a lifelong journey for you. Based on my own experience, don’t stop because you think you’re “all better now”. The previously mentioned professions or treatment options or lifestyle choices can be extremely expensive, but I would encourage you to save for it, find less expensive options. Sitting in church is free, or listening to an online guru can be the price or maintaining your mobile service bill.

I once knew of a fellow peer in treatment alongside me who said he saved money for years to travel overseas to have a procedure not available in Australia at the time for this purpose. He wanted blood transfusions and heat therapy for chronic pain that didn’t doctors could not determine had physiological origins. The peer was sure it had to, and medical investigations in Australia come up negative. The peer explained the theory behind blood transfusions and heat therapy – he believed – were supposed to improve his blood circulation and blood flow to treat the chronic pain he’d been living with for years after a workplace accident. Even this procedure overseas proved ineffective in mitigating his chronic pain. So, next he tried the wim hof method. He changed is diet. He exercised differently. He tried hypnotherapy. Finally, he turned psychology to treat stress and process childhood trauma. He was being treated for this a private facility where I was a patient at that time. I lost contact with him after I ended my own treatment episode. I don’t know if he’s still living with chronic pain or not.

The following are some very basic and well-known strategies in the Western world of psychology that you can begin to practice today, and then practice every day after that too – even for 5-20 minutes:

– learning about anxiety – your specific “causes” and the conditions more generally

– mindfulness

– relaxation techniques

– correct breathing techniques

– dietary adjustments

– exercise

– learning to be assertive

– building self-esteem

– cognitive therapy

– exposure therapy

– structured problem solving

– support groups

My firm believe is this:

Strong, healthy, quality relationships are essential to treating anxiety and other psychological illnesses. This about your life today: are you lonely (romantically or otherwise), are you a stressed individual, do you regularly feel like you job is stressful or unfulfilling, do you feel sad a lot, are you feeling pointless a lot, or feeling helpless a lot, feeling shame a lot, getting angry a lot over considerably minor things? etc. etc. etc. I would strongly encourage talking to a professional and begin exploring what options you have available to you.

Try, explore, play with a few methods of treatment. However, this must take a priority in your life. It must balance will all the many other obligations and responsibilities people encounter daily.

Type alternative medications or approaches to psychology. There are so many. It can be fun to try out a few when your finances permit. Even planning a holiday every 3-6 months is taking care of your well-being.

Many blessings friends.

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Unhelpful Cognitions (thoughts) and DistortionsUnhelpful Cognitions (thoughts) and Distortions

Unhelpful Cognitions

Mental Filter: This thinking style involves a “filtering in” and “filtering out” process – a sort of “tunnel vision”, focusing on only one part of a situation and ignoring the rest. Usually this means looking at the negative parts of a situation and forgetting the positive parts, and the whole picture is coloured by what may be a single negative detail.

Jumping to Conclusions: We jump to conclusions when we assume that we know what someone else is thinking (mind reading) and when we make predictions about what is going to happen in the future (predictive thinking).

Mind reading: Is a habitual thinking pattern characterized by expecting others to know what you’re thinking without having to tell them or expecting to know what others are thinking without them telling you. This is very common, and most people can identify. Oftentimes, when we are telling someone a story about an interaction, we’ve had with someone else, we will make mind reading assumptions without actually having fact or evidence e.g., “They haven’t phoned me in two weeks so they must be angry with me for cancelling on them last week.”

Personalisation: This involves blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong or could go wrong, even when you may only be partly responsible or not responsible at all. You might be taking 100% responsibility for the occurrence of external events. It can also involve blaming someone else for something for which they have no responsibility. This can often occur when setting a boundary with someone and you take responsibility for their guilt or anger.

Catastrophising: Catastrophising occurs when we “blow things out of proportion” and we view the situation as terrible, awful, dreadful, and horrible, even though the reality is that the problem itself may be quite small.

Black & White Thinking: Also known as splitting, dichotomous thinking, and all-or-nothing thinking, involves seeing only one side or the other (the positives or the negatives, for example). You are either wrong or right, good or bad and so on. There are no in-betweens or shades of grey.

Should-ing and Must-ing: Sometimes by saying “I should…” or “I must…” you can put unreasonable demands or pressure on yourself and others. Although these statements are not always unhelpful (e.g., “I should not get drunk and drive home”), they can sometimes create unrealistic expectations.

Should-ing and must-ing can be a psychological distortion because it can “deny reality” e.g., I shouldn’t have had so much to drink last night. This is helpful in the sense that it communicates to us that we have exceeded our boundaries, however, saying “shouldn’t” about a past situation can be futile because it cannot be changed.

Overgeneralisation: When we overgeneralise, we take one instance in the past or present, and impose it on all current or future situations. If we say, “You always…” or “Everyone…”, or “I never…” then we are probably overgeneralising.

Labelling: We label ourselves and others when we make global statements based on behaviour in specific situations. We might use this label even though there are many more examples that are not consistent with that label. Labelling is a cognitive distortion whereby we take one characteristic of a person/group/situation and apply it to the whole person/group/situation. Example: “Because I failed a test, I am a failure” or “Because she is frequently late to work, she is irresponsible”.

Emotional Reasoning: This thinking style involves basing your view of situations or yourself on the way you are feeling. For example, the only evidence that something bad is going to happen is that you feel like something bad is going to happen. Emotions and feelings are real however they are not necessarily indicative of objective truth or fact.

Magnification and Minimisation: In this thinking style, you magnify the positive attributes of other people and minimise your own positive attributes. Also known as the binocular effect on thinking. Often it means that you enlarge (magnify) the positive attributes of other people and shrink (minimise) your own attributes, just like looking at the world through either end of the same pair of binoculars.

(CCI, 2008)

Inattentional Blindness: What else are we missing?Inattentional Blindness: What else are we missing?

Inattentional Blindness is the failure to notice an unexpected object in a visual display.

Cognitive Psychology is an approach to understanding human cognition by observing behaviour of people performing cognitive tasks. It is concerned with the internal processes involved in making sense of our environment, and deciding what behaviour to be appropriate. These processes include attention, perception, learning, memory, language, problem-solving, reasoning, and thinking.

Re-write: Distract!

The most famous experiment that shows evidence for inattentional blindness is the Simons and Chabris (1999) experiment where an audience or viewer watches a group of people pass a ball to one another wearing either black or white, and a woman dressed as a gorilla enters the frame for 9 seconds, then walks off. Results reported that 50% of the observers did not notice the gorilla enter the frame. In all honesty, when I saw the video for the first time at university, I did not see the gorilla enter the frame either.

In reality, we are often aware of changes in our visual environment because we detect motion cues accompanying the change. This information suggests that our ability to detect visual changes is not only due to the detection of movement. An obvious explanation of the gorilla experiment findings is that the visual representations we form in our mind are sparse and incomplete because they depend on our limited attentional focus. Simons and Rensick (2005) point out that there are other explanations, such as: detailed and complete representations may exist initially but may either decay rapidly or be overwritten by a subsequent stimulus. It needs to be said that in the gorilla experiment, the observers are instructed to count how many times the ball passes, so really, our attention is deliberately compromised. The real-life implications of inattentional blindness reveals the role of selective attention in human perception. Inattentional blindness represents a consequence of this critical process that allows us to remain focused on important aspects of our world without distraction from seemingly irrelevant objects and events.

Being present, in the moment (mindfulness) can help aid our attention. Distractions such as using our mobile phones, advertising material, other people, “multi-tasking” and internal emotional states all contribute to our lack of focus and attention. Think of a magician’s ability to manipulate their audiences attention in order to prevent them from seeing how a trick is performed. There are also safety implications, as you would know … if you’ve been paying attention, haha.

Just food for thought, my readers, and friends 🙂

The stages of change modelThe stages of change model

‘The stages of change model’ was developed by Prochaska and DiClemente. Heard of them? It informs the development of brief and ongoing intervention strategies by providing a framework for what interventions/strategies are useful for particular individuals. Practitioners need an understanding of which ‘stage of change’ a person is in so that the most appropriate strategy for the individual client is selected.

There are five common stages within the Stages of Change model and a 6th known as “relapse”:

1. In the precontemplation stage, the person is either unaware of a problem that needs to be addressed OR aware of it but unwilling to change the problematic behaviour [or a behaviour they want to change. It does not always have to be labelled as “problematic”].

2. This is followed by a contemplation stage, characterized by ambivalence regarding the problem behaviour and in which the advantages and disadvantages of the behaviour, and of changing it, are evaluated, leading in many cases to decision-making.

3. In the preparation stage, a resolution to change is made, accompanied by a commitment to a plan of action. It is not uncommon for an individual to return to the contemplation stage or stay in the preparation stage for a while, for many reasons.

4. This plan is executed in the action stage, in which the individual engages in activities designed to bring change about and in coping with difficulties that arise.

5. If successful action is sustained, the person moves to the maintenance stage, in which an effort is made to consolidate the changes that have been made. Once these changes have been integrated into the lifestyle, the individual exits from the stages of change.

6. Relapse, however, is common, and it may take several journeys around the cycle of change, known as “recycling”, before change becomes permanent i.e., a lifestyle change; a sustainable change.

(Adapted from Heather & Honekopp, 2017)