Tag Archives: mental health awareness

How to Live with Panic Attacks

I’ve suffered panic attacks since I was very young
and it’s taken society a long time to understand them.
How do you deal with panic and acute anxiety?

How to live with Panic Attacks - The Last Krystallos

I wrote a status the other day, on FB, which described a burgeoning panic attack . Sometimes someone’s description can be an ideal opportunity to learn about panic and how it affects our lives.

Panic attacks are violent, and often out of character, reactions to stress and anxiety, sometimes they’re triggered and sometimes they appear out of the blue and for no reason at all. It’s a fear response that our bodies exaggerate when it’s unnecessary.

The physical symptoms can be so bad people can believe they’re having a heart attack. Your heart races, your breathing becomes shallow, you feel faint, shaky, sweaty, fearful, anxious, dizzy, light-headed, sick and nauseous. You can get cramps, abdominal pain, chest pain, and you can become totally dissociative or disconnected. Things around you become unreal.

Your flight, fight, or freeze response kicks in and – boom – you’re in the middle of a panic attack. They can last anywhere from five minutes to up to an hour. The residue from the attack can last all day, or all week, and it can trigger further attacks. You might only have one every now and then or they can be regular.

Learning to live with them or with someone who suffers from them can be difficult, but as always with mental health issues – education, understanding, and compassion are crucial. Once you have discovered the best way to deal with them life can return to something similar to normal.

Meg turned the tables to comfort her mother, something she was becoming far too familiar with. - Beneath the Old Oak - Lisa Shambrook

Excerpt from Beneath the Old Oak © Lisa Shambrook

In Beneath the Old Oak I cover anxiety, depression, and panic. Meg suffers chronic anxiety and at only fourteen she has to deal with the erratic behaviour of her mother – which includes panic attacks and disturbing moods.  

In this excerpt Meg is reluctantly out shoe shopping with her mother and a brewing panic attack (you’ll notice cues for her rising panic like shredding the receipt in her fingers as she waits, how hot she feels, her impatience, and tears):

““Excuse me?” Meg’s mum waved the black trainer at the sales-boy over the child’s head. “Could we please try these in a four?”

He nodded, adding the trainer to his teetering pile of boxes. As he disappeared Mum glared at the whining child as his mother tried to prise the football boot from his grasp. Mum glanced at her watch and pulled an old receipt out of her pocket. She stared in the direction of the stockroom and began tearing the receipt into thin strips.

Meg sidled up to her mother as the boy’s mum finally wrested the boot from him, returned it to the shelf and dragged him away, his complaints still echoing. Mum ignored her daughter’s grin. “He’s going to be a real brat one day. Ah, here are yours.”

Meg noted the single trainer in the sale-boy’s hand. “I’m sorry,” he said, “only got these in a three and then a seven, sold out.”

“That’s a vast difference in sizes, no others in stock? This is a shoe shop isn’t it?” The receipt in Mum’s hand turned into confetti.

“It’s okay Mum. I like these too…” Meg grabbed two random trainers off the wall. “Can I try these instead? Size four.”

He nodded and disappeared.

“It’s hot in here.” Mum unbuttoned her coat.

“Mum…” Meg gently tugged her elbow.

“What?” Mum sounded annoyed then realised two lads were trying to get past. She stepped back and knocked into a tall pile of shoe-boxes. Meg just managed to grab the top one as it toppled and stopped the rest from slipping. “And there’s no space!”

“Mum, why don’t you sit down?”

“That’s for people trying on shoes. How long is he going to be? I told you it would be busy.”

Meg hoped he would be quick.

He returned with two boxes. “These are a five, haven’t got a four, but these are fours.”

Meg took the boxes. “I’ll try them, thanks.”

Another customer grabbed the sales-boy as Meg tried the trainers.

“So?” asked her mother.

“Too big, they’re slipping.” Meg handed her the trainers.

“Stupid boxes…” Mum groaned as she tried to fit the bulky shoes into the tight box.

“Here, like this.” Meg replaced them and slipped her feet into the other pair.

“The right size?”

“Maybe…”

“Try walking in them.”

“I am.” Meg walked up and down the narrow path through mountains of boxes and footwear. Meg frowned, deciding whether to choose a pair she didn’t like just to get Mum out of the shop. “No, they’re pinching my little toes.” She was the one who’d be stuck wearing them.

Mum sighed. “Okay.”

“Let’s leave it, come back another day?” suggested Meg.

“No, you need trainers, we’re getting trainers.”

Meg’s sigh matched her mother’s as she pulled off the shoes. She left her mum to pack them away and moved, in her socked feet, back to the display. Not a moment later she heard a frustrated grunt and a trainer flew past her ear. It rebounded on the wall and knocked three shoes to the ground. Meg ducked and twirled round. Her mother stood, red-faced and furious.

“Damn shoe boxes!” she cried. “Nothing fits in them!”

Shocked, Meg picked up the offending shoe, moved back to her mum and put her hand on her arm. Her mother flipped her hand away. “Just leave them and I’ll do it. It’s fine!” Meg knelt and put the shoes in the box. She glanced up at Mum. Fire flashed and irritation simmered and she was oblivious to the stares from other customers.

“And it’s too hot! We come in wearing coats, because it’s winter, why do they make it so hot?” Mum trembled, her fists clenching and unclenching at her side.

Meg barely zipped up her own boots before ushering her mother out of the store.

“But you need shoes!”

“Not this much!” Meg shook her head. “Dad can drop me down later.”

She took her mum’s arm and led her to the car.

“I’ve let you down! I’m useless. I promised I’d never let you down…” wailed Mum.

“It doesn’t matter,” insisted Meg.

“It does! I promised I’d never let you down, because my mum always let me down!” Within moments Mum’s aggressive stance switched to the frustration of a child, and tears streamed down her cheeks. Meg, on the other hand, turned the tables to comfort her mother, something she was becoming far too familiar with.”

Panic attacks can often be misconstrued for aggression, shyness, anxiety, arrogance, and much more. Meg learns to deal with her mother’s panic as her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. It’s difficult to live with panic and with someone else who suffers from a panic disorder.

Green Castle Woods Old Oak Nov 2016 - lisa shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

I know I’ve often felt guilty for having a panic disorder as it’s not something you want your children to have to deal with. The above scenario at the shoe shop is one my children can relate to. I can easily tell you that shopping for shoes is one of my least favourite activities I ever had to do with my children. Shoes are expensive, they wear out fast, feet grow too fast, and children are both indecisive and picky. My youngest, in particular, would um and ah, and be unable to choose a suitable shoe. It’s a stressful enough activity for a parent with social inhibitions let alone with three children in tow.

We arrived at Clarks, the final shoe shop in town, as a last resort, due to their expensive shoes and how busy they always were. The ‘take a ticket’ queue system in a stuffy, upstairs shop was challenging enough, as were the price tickets. Finally, after waiting for what seemed like forever we were trying on shoes. I had an on sale shoe in mind, my child did not… and I felt my body prickle and electricity charged the air. I knew what was happening and my priority was to make a sale and get out of the shop as soon as possible.

The shoe we wanted was not the exact shoe size for which the assistant had measured my child, half a size bigger, but cheap and on sale. When I said we’d buy them anyway she gave me one of those patronising looks that stoke the fires of hell in those it’s aimed at. Panic surged, I shook, I sweated, my vision blurred, and I knew tears were stinging. At the cash desk she primly told me that unless I bought insoles too then if I got home and decided to return the wrong size shoes they’d be unable to take them back.

I had no intention of either buying insoles or taking them back. But that statement to someone in the throes of a panic attack was too much. I burst into tears. Not just one or two, but floods – and noisy too. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t speak, and I couldn’t move. I knew the whole shop was staring at me. I knew my children were scared and probably embarrassed, but nothing would stop. I threw money at the till and ran with the shoes, my children hurrying after me in shock.

I don’t think I ever went back.

Meg kept her head down - everywhere - Beneath the Old Oak - Lisa Shambrook

Excerpt from Beneath the Old Oak © Lisa Shambrook

Symptoms of panic attacks are sometimes difficult to hide. My family all know if one is brewing. I get agitated, lost, I shake, and I attack myself – biting my nails or pulling at my skin, scratching, or digging fingernails in deep. When you’ve experienced them you recognise them. I know them in my daughters too.

There are ways to stave off a panic attack, but you have to learn what works for you, and you have to be in a situation to do what you need to. I have to remove myself physically and fast. I also use Calm Harm a phone app with a breathing exercise on it that helps to bring my breathing back down and in time. I carry a stim to hold and ground myself with – an acorn cup. You can meditate, or use Mindfulness. I can be held close, but only by family, if anyone else tries that they’ll be physically attacked. I can be talked down, again usually only by family.

I also take medication. Propranolol, a beta blocker, works for me. It slows down my heart rate and biologically removes the panic from my system.

What works for you?

My Facebook status described a panic attack as it rose and it helped people to understand what happens when an attack hits. I took a tablet and this one faded away.

Facebook status describing a panic attack © Lisa Shambrook

Facebook status describing a panic attack © Lisa Shambrook

If you suffer, know that there are many of us who deal with this on a daily basis,
you are not alone.

Do you live with someone who suffers from a Panic Disorder,
how do you and they cope?

What works best for you?

These pages from the Mental Health charity Mind are very insightful if you need help with understanding and coping with Panic Attacks. Please go and visit your GP if you need help. Counselling and medication are available.

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Beneath_the_Old_Oak_L_Shambrook_WEBMeg’s mother is having a breakdown, and Meg can’t cope. Seeking to escape bullies and overwhelming anxiety, she discovers an old oak tree whose revelations begin to change her life.

Beneath the Old Oak is published by BHC Press and is a novel that will completely move you.

“A brave book that tackles serious issues for a younger audience in a mature and sensitive way.” —LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Beneath the Old Oak is now available in eBook and paperback (choose your format) at:
Amazon UKAmazon US, and your local Amazon. Barnes and NobleWaterstonesGoogle PlayKoboiTunes, and other online outlets.

 

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 – Stressed Out

Mental Health Awareness Week is this week 14th – 20th May
This year’s chosen theme via the Mental Health Foundation is
Stress and how we’re coping.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 – Stressed Out - The Last Krystallos

Stress is generally our reaction to being placed under pressure, and how we cope when control is either out of our hands or maybe we are losing control of a situation.

Mental Health Foundation - Stress - The Last Krystallos

© Caitlin Shambrook

I recently blogged about control issues, so if losing control is what puts you under stress, take a look.

Stress is like fog. You might be watching it looming in the distance, or you might wake up to it, or it might descend without any notice.

If you can see it looming it may be easier to cope with, you may have time to prepare or make plans that could help allay the stressful situation.

If you wake to it, like fog on an autumn morning, you may find yourself having to deal with stress without any warning.

If it suddenly descends it can often feel like you’re drowning and out of control.

Misty Meadow - Mental Health Awareness - Stress - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Everyone suffers stress to some level. Some people deal with stress easily, some relish it and work better under pressure, some struggle hugely and then it can affect their mental health adversely. We’re all different and no reaction is the right or wrong one.

I don’t deal well with stress as it exacerbates and intensifies my anxiety and panic disorder. It will affect my IBS and cause nausea, stomach aches, upsets, and pain. People can suffer other physical symptoms too such as headaches, tiredness, insomnia, chest pain, sweat, clenched jaw, and a higher risk of colds and infections. Symptoms that affect your mental health can include irritability, panic, depression, exhaustion, self-harm, and anxiety.

If stress is affecting your life then take whatever steps you can to reduce it by removing the cause if you can. This isn’t always possible, in which case you need as much support and understanding as you can get, but if it is at all possible then take action.

Misty... Move away from the box... the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Stress often induces the Fight, Flight or Freeze reaction, and these are physical responses. When you know your response you can learn to deal with your reaction. My instinct is always flight. Stress causes anxiety which leads to panic and finally a panic attack. A panic attack will either lead to flight or self-harm with me.

Just the other day I was at the Dr’s surgery and had to wait, after my GP visit, to see the nurse. I was there early and the waiting room was almost empty, but as I waited for an hour the number of patients grew and the room filled up. The noise level rose, babies, children, coughing, crackling chests, and lots of people. I don’t deal well with crowds, and finally people sat either side of me and I tried to ignore everything. I was prepared with a book, and I kept my head down reading, but it got to the point when my anxiety swelled, panic began to bubble beneath the surface, tingling in my veins. The receptionist assured me I’d be seen within five minutes, and she was lovely, but it was too late. I had no control over the panic attack that had brewed. I sat back down, trying to convince myself that five minutes was nothing, I could make that, but as tears welled there was no stopping the onslaught of full blown panic attack and I ran. With the help of CalmHarm, an app I’ve been using on my phone, I calmed down within a few minutes, enough to return and get called into the nurse. Once with her I dissolved and she talked me through the panic attack.

Pen y bont Elan Valley - Mental Health Awareness - Stress - the last krystallo

© Lisa Shambrook

There are many ways to deal with stress and you have to learn what works for you:

Stay positive, do all you can to keep positivity in your life.

Try meditation, breathing exercises (CalmHarm has helped me greatly with using breathing to stop a self-harm urge or panic attack), relaxation techniques, mindfulness and many other CBT cognitive behavioural therapies.

Ecotherapy (that’s a new name for nature!) go on walks and spend time in nature.

Keep a Mood Diary see what triggers or causes your stress.

Develop a strong support network, family and friends can be there for you when you need them.

Be honest, especially with your employer, teachers, friends, and family. In general people will want to help and support you.

Good sleep and exercise can be very beneficial. If stress is causing insomnia see your GP for help.

Accept there are some things you won’t be able to change, but help might still be available. (At the Dr’s surgery I had to wait my turn to see the nurse, but she explained that I could in future ask to wait in a quiet room if I’m feeling too anxious.)

Eat well and stay healthy.

Know your limits. Sometimes you need to say ‘No’.

Try not to rely on drugs if you can, but also know what drugs do work for you. (I am currently taking Propranolol and it’s working wonders for me. I am waiting for counselling, but while I’m not coping drugs are the right thing for me.) Anxiety medication or antidepressants, or sleeping aids can work and help reduce stress.

Rain - Mental Health Awareness - Stress - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Life is full of stress – that’s not something we can change, but how we deal with it will define us and help us to cope. Learning coping skills and ways to deal with stress will enhance our lives. Perhaps the best thing we can do to help alleviate stress is to help those around us to feel support and love, and if we are in a position of authority – as an employer for instance – then compassion and understanding will help improve relationships. Respect, compassion, and support will work wonders.

How do you cope with stress?

Focus on ‘small wins’ don’t chase big achievements.
Do the little things and use it as a springboard
whatever you can do be proud of it! – Mind

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 – Surviving or Thriving?

This week 8th – 14th May is Mental Health Awareness Week,
and this year the Mental Health Foundation have chosen the theme:
Surviving or Thriving?

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 - Surviving or Thriving - The Last Krystallos

It’s a thin line.

Two thirds of people in the UK say they have experienced a mental health problem, with women, young people, and those who live alone affected most. The survey, completed by The Mental Health Foundation in 2017, also discovered that those over the age of 55 cope best with taking steps to make their lives better, 85% of the unemployed have experienced mental health issues, and that 3 out of 4 low income families suffer compared to 6 in 10 in the highest income positions.

4 in 10 people live with depression and over a quarter of the population experience panic attacks.

Out of 2,290 people surveyed, sadly, only 13% reported a high level of good mental health.

Mental Health Awareness - the last krystallos -happiness-and-melancholy-virginia-woolf

© Lisa Shambrook

With poor mental health in such a vast amount of the population you could ask why?

The reasons are huge and we may not even understand or know some of them. Social, financial, political, familial, religious, and medical reasons abound, let alone the mental and emotional reasons that we are working with or haven’t even discovered yet.  Our modern diet, pollution, smoking, drinking, drugs, lack of exercise – all of these may add to or cause mental health issues.

The survey concludes that ‘the collective mental health of our nation is deteriorating,’ and warns thatthe barometer of success of any nation is the health and wellbeing of its people.’ We have a long way to go, and we need to support each other to become a healthier nation.

Mental Health Awareness - rain - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Perhaps the most important thing when asking the question Survive or Thrive? is to discover what we can do to help, to support those who live with mental and emotional health issues. We can help those around us thrive, despite the conditions they live with.

I’ve blogged about many Mental Health Issues, so feel free to browse to find information if you wish. Depression, Anxiety, Self-Harm, Highly Sensitive People, Misophonia, Running Away, and I’ve written a post on How to Keep Calm and Carry On – offering advice on coping with Stress.

Like I’ve mentioned in my This is What Anxiety Feels Like post, some people have circumstantial or situational mental health issues, and thankfully, most of these issues pass in time and as situations change, but others live with constant and life-long conditions.

Mental Health Awareness - dog - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

How do you support those you know with challenging conditions?

Accept – a mental health condition is as legitimate as a broken bone, you wouldn’t ask someone with a broken arm to prove it, or to pull themselves together and get on with it. Be accepting and validate us with compassion and empathy.

Listen – Be there when we need you. Be attentive and intuitive, we may not always be able to tell you when we need you. Many mental health conditions, like anxiety and/or depression, often take away self-confidence and make us very insecure, and we often don’t ask for help when we need it. Offer your ear, sometimes we need to talk. Talking can be very cathartic. If you can help or encourage us to get counselling, you can help us make big steps forward.

Support – even when we shy away, or get prickly, or reject you, we still need you. Your support and love is often what helps us hold it together when things are tough. Your support is imperative because professional help can be very hard to get, and requires long periods on waiting lists for six or ten sessions of counselling. Trying to get help can be demoralising and very often we give up. We are waiting for the government to invest in mental health care and for the stigma to be erased. We need support.

Learn – educate yourself about the mental illness that your loved one is living with. It will benefit everyone. Understanding a condition helps you live with it and offer the right support.

Don’t Judge – never tell someone with a mental illness that it’s all in their head, or that they’re work-shy, or that it doesn’t exist. Don’t ever tell them that they should be glad they haven’t got *insert cancer or other physical disease*. Many mental illnesses have very physical symptoms. Educate yourself. Please, also, don’t tell them that it could be worse. It probably couldn’t to them and we all deal with our problems in different ways and on different levels. This one goes along with acceptance, but is even more important, as sometimes those with metal health issues can be living on a knife edge and your judgement or criticism could push them over the edge.

Be lenient – make allowances (but never be patronising). Like I said many conditions have very debilitating physical symptoms like exhaustion (mental exhaustion creates physical exhaustion), tremors, headaches, racing heart rate and palpitations, physical pain, nausea, inability to breathe, and more. Our medication can also cause many side effects. Emotional responses can be just as hard to cope with for those living with these conditions. When we can do something, we’ll do it, but sometimes we just can’t.

Mental Health Awareness - first aid - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

The stigma attached to mental health is slowly fading and we can all do our bit to fight and eradicate it. We even have Royals, William, Kate, and Harry spearheading the #HeadsTogether campaign to end the stigma around mental health.

Let’s work together to support each other, not only to survive, but to thrive!

Mental Health Awareness - cat - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook