When panic sets in

Panic attacks usually don’t come with a warning. It slowly sneaks itself up on you and then you get lost in it. So many things are happening to you at the same time, you lose focus and it becomes overwhelming within seconds. According to James Gross, a panic attack is defined as a sudden episode of terrifying bodily symptoms such as labored breathing, choking, dizziness, tingling hands and feet, sweating, trembling, heart palpitations, and chest pain.

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The Scream (1893) by Edvard Munch vividly illustrates the overwhelming anxiety associated with panic attacks. Munch himself is thought to have suffered from bipolar disorder.

 

Anna’s experience with panic attack.

Anna encountered her first panic attack during her A ‘level’s first examination. She is a studious girl who had prepared well in hopes of achieving a position among the top ten. The night before the exam she found it difficult to sleep. The stress of the examination kept her twisting and turning in her bed sleepless. The next morning as she sat down to do her exam, she found it hard to breath. She could not see properly and she felt like her head was spinning. Her heart was racing at the same time she was sweating. She held on to her desk for dear life. She was unaware of what was going on around her. Finally when the episode passed she was left shaken and exhausted.

She had her next episode after two weeks and since then she has been in fear of getting a panic attack. She has been avoiding her friends and refusing to go out since the attacks have become frequent. She did not want to leave the house since she did not want to have an attack in public. She has slowly isolated herself due to the fear of the panic attacks that crawls up on her. 

 

Panic attacks are frightening in itself, it is also fear-provoking, even the mere thought of having a panic attack can be appalling. As a result of this, people who suffer from panic attacks are more prone to develop agoraphobia. They fear having an attack especially in public places where it could be embarrassing or having an attack while doing something completely normal like driving a car. Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations in which help may not be available or it could become embarrassing for the person.

Here are some tips that can help a person through a panic attack

  • Simple breathing exercise – take a deep breath and hold. The breath should be deep and reach your lungs. Count to ten and slowly breathe out. Do this until you feel your breathing is under control.
  • Take a walk outside – if you find yourself having a panic attack inside a room full of people, stepping outside and taking a breath of fresh air would help. Slow walking with focused breathing will give some ease.
  • Stay present in the ‘here and now’- Focus on what you were doing while you were having the panic attack. Focus on the sensations; the fabric of your clothing, the heaviness of your shoes etc. Return to your rational mind and allow yourself to think clearly.
  • Expose yourself to panic symptoms- After experiencing a panic attack, some people develop a fear of panic attack themselves. Mimic the symptoms you experience while you have a panic attack and do them in your own control. Realize that you are in no danger and that no harm will come to you.

Your panic attacks can be stopped in their tracks; in fact, they want to be. Your body doesn’t want to waste needless energy. Use these techniques and get help, before long, you’ll have your first experience of stopping a panic attack before it even gets started. And that will be a very, very nice feeling indeed.

-Fathimath Maisha

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‘Learned helplessness’.. It’s just a matter of ABC!

“When we encounter ADVERSITY, we react by thinking about it. Our thoughts rapidly congeal into BELIEFS. These beliefs may become so habitual we don’t even realize we have them unless we stop to focus on them. And they don’t just sit there idly; they have CONSEQUENCES. The beliefs are the direct cause of what we feel and what we do next. They can spell the difference between dejection and giving up, on the one hand, and well-being and constructive action on the other. The first step is to see the connection between adversity, belief, and consequence. The second step is to see how the ABCs operate every day in your own life.”

-Martin Seligman

Learned helplessness is when a person believes that they have no control over a situation. So, they think about avoiding failure rather than wanting to succeed. American psychologist Martin Seligman (1965) discovered learnt helplessness while studying the behavior of dogs. In his experiment, Seligman would ring a bell during which the dog would receive an electric shock. After a number of times, the dog would react to the shock even before it happened. Later, the dog was put into a large crate that was divided down the middle with a low fence. The floor on one side of the fence was electrified but, not the other. When the dog received the electric shock he expected it to jump over to the non-shocking side of the fence instead, the dog laid down. From the first part of the experiment, the dog had ‘learned’ that there was nothing it could do to escape the shock hence, it gave up. Seligman termed this condition as “learned helplessness”. The dog could have jumped to the other side of the crate and escaped the shock but it learned otherwise.

This kind of behavior pattern has been noted in humans while being exposed to punishments or discomforts in life. The way people view negative events that happen to them has an impact on whether they feel helpless or not.

Untitle.jpgLearned helplessness is a condition in which one thinks that they have no control over their life and suffer from a sense of powerlessness caused by a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. As humans we do this to ourselves because the fear of failing is so high that we do not even want to try and at some point we start justifying it. “I cannot do this”, “It is my fault”, “I deserve this”, “It will always be like this”, “This is my life” are some of the most commonly used justifications.

There are a number of things we can do to overcome learned helplessness.

  • Re-phrase your self-beliefs – For example, if you believe you want to do something but it is harder than you thought, instead of thinking “It’s hard therefore, I cannot do this and I should give up”, you should re-phrase your belief and think “Ok, it is harder than I thought but I still want to do this” or “I want to this and so there has to be a way. If this is hard what other option could I try? ”.
  • Understand the difference between choosing and acting – Choosing to do something and acting upon something are two different things. You have to act on a choice you make in order for it to be successful. For example,

– leaving your house means picking your bags and moving into another house not telling others that you are looking for a new house.

– throwing a party means organizing the place and sending out invites not asking others for a preferred date or location.

  • Most importantly stop justifying, stop thinking about it and start acting on it.

Learned helplessness makes a person believe that they are powerless and leads them to make poor choices that worsen the situation, eventually leading to depression. It leads them to believe that any negative event that occurs in their life is beyond their control and so, they stop trying to change it. Even when prevented with an opportunity to escape they do not take any action.

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There is only one way to understand learned helplessness. You should know that whatever you learn can be unlearned. You can change your thoughts and perceptions to gain confidence and power. You should always believe that you are in control and if someone else is trying to control you, then you should DO SOMETHING to stop them and regain power. You won’t be able to change an entire situation at a time but you can take small steps towards accomplishing it.

Learned helplessness can be reversed by being optimistic. Thinking in a more positive way helps to open your mind to the possibility that things will get better. What once seemed impossible could become easy to do with just a little effort. In any situation just tell yourself “I know how to handle this and I am going to do something about it”. Seligman said that “the drive to resist compulsion is more important than sex, food or water. The drive for competence or to resist compulsion is a drive to avoid helplessness”.

Therefore, it is just a matter of getting your ABC’s right. When you encounter ADVERSITY, you should believe that it is temporary and you have the power to change it. This BELIEF will lead to desirable outcomes (i.e. positive CONSEQUENCES) that give you the energy to act upon the situation.

Controlling your mind is like magic, if you know the trick you could achieve anything in life.

-Abinisha Viswalingam

“I am sorry” – The art of apologizing

“I am sorry”. For some of us these three words are the hardest words to come out with. When you have wronged someone, hurt their feelings, it becomes hard to ask for forgiveness. It is important to identify when you have to apologize to someone and how to do it. According to the study, published Tuesday (April 12) in the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, it was found that the more elements the apology contained, the more effective it was rated. They found that six things increase the effectiveness of an apology: an expression of regret, an explanation of what went wrong, an acknowledgement of responsibility, a declaration of repentance, an offer of repair and a forgiveness. Here are some tips that can help you with the process of apologizing including the relevant elements.

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  • Take a moment and think for yourself. See how you feel about it. Do you feel you wronged the other person? Is an apology necessary? Would saying sorry make you feel different? Are you ready to apologize?
  • Give the other person some time. Sometimes trying to fix thing in the heat of the moment may do more harm than good.
  • If you are finding it hard to express how you feel verbally, then write. Put it in words on paper. When you do this it gives you time to reflect and process what you are putting across.
  • When you are wording your apology, it is essential to let the person at the receiving end know that you clearly understand what went wrong. To begin with you can address the issue and take responsibility for your actions.
  • Explain how you felt and why your reactions came out the way it did. This helps the other person to view it differently and understand the situation better. Also describing what you could have done differently would help future incidents.
  • Be genuine when you speak. Show you feel bad for how things have turned out. Convince the other person that you genuinely feel terrible and that you want to amend things. You can also ask if there is anything you can do from your side to make things better. As Gilbert K. Chesterton said “A stiff apology is a second insult… The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.”
  • After the apology you and the person receiving the apology should feel relieved and good about yourselves. Something that was broken is now in the process of healing.

“In this life, when you deny someone an apology, you will remember it at a time you beg forgiveness.”– Toba Beta

-Fathimath Maisha

 

 

 

 

Picture Perfect?

Katie Joy Crawford has struggled with depression and anxiety for over a decade. A talented lifestyle photographer by profession, Ms. Crawford has showcased her struggle with mental illnesses in a series of photographs as part of her senior thesis exhibition at the Louisiana State University (LSU). The project named, ‘My Anxious Heart’ portrays how emotionally and physically traumatizing it is to live with a mental illness.

The twelve photos, each accompanied by a caption shows how constant a mental disorder can be in the life of a mentally ill person. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Crawford said that, “It’s not always terrifying, it’s not always strong and it’s not always intense, but it’s always close by.”

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  1. Drenched

A glass of water isn’t heavy. It’s almost mindless when you have to pick one up. But what if you couldn’t empty it or set it down? What if you had to support its weight for days … months … years? The weight doesn’t change, but the burden does. At a certain point, you can’t remember how light it used to seem. Sometimes it takes everything in you to pretend it isn’t there. And sometimes, you just have to let it fall.

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  1. Exhausted

I was scared of sleeping. I felt the most raw panic in complete darkness. Actually, complete darkness wasn’t scary. It was that little bit of light that would cast a shadow — a terrifying shadow.

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  1. Overwhelmed

My head is filling with helium. Focus is fading. Such a small decision to make. Such an easy question to answer. My mind isn’t letting me. It’s like a thousand circuits are all crossing at once.

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  1. Suffocated

They keep telling me to breathe. I can feel my chest moving up and down. Up and down. Up and down. But why does it feel like I’m suffocating? I hold my hand under my nose, making sure there is air. I still can’t breathe.

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  1. Numbed

Numb feeling. How oxymoronic. How fitting. Can you actually feel numb? Or is it the inability to feel? Am i so used to being numb that I’ve equated it to an actual feeling?

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  1. Fogged

A captive of my own mind. The instigator of my own thoughts. The more i think, the worse it gets. The less i think, the worse it gets. Breathe. Just breathe. Drift. It’ll ease soon.

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  1. Consumed

It’s strange — in the pit of your stomach. It’s like when you’re swimming and you want to put your feet down but the water is deeper than you thought. You can’t touch the bottom and your heart skips a beat.

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  1. Cracked

Cuts so deep it’s like they’re never going to heal. Pain so real, it’s almost unbearable. I’ve become this … this cut, this wound. All i know is this same pain; sharp breath, empty eyes, shaky hands. If it’s so painful, why let it continue? Unless … maybe it’s all that you know.

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  1. Existed

I’m afraid to live and I’m afraid to die. What a way to exist.

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  1. Overprotected

No matter how much i resist, it’ll always be right here desperate to hold me, cover me, break down with me. Each day i fight it, “you’re not good for me and you never will be”. But there it is waiting for me when I wake up and eager to hold me as i sleep. It takes my breath away. It leaves me speechless.

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  1. Trapped

You were created for me and by me. You were created for my seclusion. You were created by venomous defense. You are made of fear and lies. Fear of unrequited promises and losing trust so seldom given. You’ve been forming my entire life. Stronger and stronger.

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  1. Panicked

Depression is when you can’t feel at all. Anxiety is when you feel too much. Having both is a constant war within your own mind. Having both means never winning.

Katie Crawford’s photographs are a subjective guide for those who are not aware of the struggles faced by an individual suffering from a major mental illness. It is an arena for those suffering from the same or similar illnesses to connect and express their personal struggle and begin their own tedious process of healing. Katie Crawford said, ‘Trying to explain a mental illness to someone who’s never experienced it is like trying to explain color to a blind person’

One objective Katie wanted to achieve through her project was to reach the masses; she wanted to give a voice and a hand to hold to all the people out there who suffer from a mental illness. Mental illnesses can be isolating on their own, people don’t have to feel like they are alone just because they have a mental illness.

-Maleeha Saeed

 

Stress, Sex and Relationships

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In today’s era people are too busy with their lives filled out with goals and targets drawn out with dreams of being successful which are full of stress. However in this journey people sometimes become too focused and forget that all these are done to live out a happily ever after!

Firstly, do you know what stress is? Well, it is the bodily way of responding to any kind of demand/threat which causes pressure. A little bit of stress can be good. It can give the ability to perform under pressure while motivating to do an individual his/her best. But beyond your comfort zone, stress stops being helpful and can cause major damage to your mind and body. When stress becomes overwhelming, irrational and chronic, it can damage your health, mood, quality of life and relationships!

 

Does Stress cause Sexual Dysfunction? Yes it does!

Sexual activity is under the control of the autonomic or involuntary nervous system and we have no conscious control over it. Whenever a man is aroused, nerve impulses cause blood vessels in the penis to dilate, allowing a steady flow of blood into the spongy tissue. At the same time, a circular muscle called a sphincter constricts to prevent blood from flowing back. When stressed, blood vessels don’t dilate fully and the sphincter fails to constrict, which contributes to erectile dysfunction.

Sex is known as an effective way to relieve stress. However, being in stress can affect your mood and will impact the sexual performance. When it comes to males, performance is a huge deal due to their masculine nature. The following is a common scenario plays over and over again but not understood by people.

You’ve had a bad, stressful day in office and to feel better you try to make love to your partner. But when your mind is not in play, instead its fixated on the day you had, you may be unable to get an erection and you force yourself to perform and end up failing. The next time you try to make love, you will be recapped by the previous failure and become stressed and anxious which will result in failure yet again. More you try, the more you fail due to increased stress and anxiety of failing. Repetition of this can result in erectile dysfunction, hence you tend to avoid sexual intimacy. In order to avoid sexual intimacy you stay late in office or just go to a bar and go home late. Due to this avoidance behavior, and you not being sexually aroused by her, your partner might come to the conclusion that you are no longer interested in her or that you may have an affair. This first creates physical distance and afterwards, emotional distance. And in any instance you are involved with another woman sexually and when you are not concerned about making her sexually satisfied, you possibly may perform well due to the lack of stress and anxiety you have. This can cause you to conclude that, “Nothing is wrong with me, whatever it is, it’s something to do with her”. It is very important to understand this, since for millions of men, erectile dysfunction is nothing more than a stress response.STRESS-SEX-LIBIDO.jpg

 

During stress, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. The results of having elevated cortisol levels can be an increase in sugar and blood pressure levels, and a decrease in libido. In the state of stress, we may feel agitated and aggressive towards others and this can be due to our bodies’ natural reaction of being in “fight” mode. This can be a helpful reaction in many scenarios such as self-defence, but in certain situations, it can negatively affect relationships.

A common scenario is how one can be aggressive towards the partner after having a bad day at office. Your partner can respond to this situation by fighting back or through “flight”. In “Flight” mode you or your partner stonewalls (ignores each other) which will only create distance between the two. In such instance women’s libido decreases more since majority of them do not prefer sexual intimacy when they don’t feel closer to their partner.

Making love to your partner plays a huge role in a relationship. It bonds and connects two people in ways that few other things can. It’s beyond the mind and body. There is a deep energetic connection that bonds two people when they make love. You feel soften towards your partner and feel closer after making love. Sexual problems can be one of the greatest sources of stress a couple experiences. There’s no doubt that many good marriages have broken up because couples didn’t realize the extent to which stress can affect sex.

In many cases, simply recognizing stress as a contributing factor or the cause of sexual problems is enough to bring about recovery through relaxation techniques, behavioural modification, Family/Couple Therapy. However, ignoring the problem and not taking steps to eliminate it can lead to anger, emotional disorders, depression, physical illness, and permanent loss of intimacy.

– Mershya Doray

The status of mental health in Sri Lanka

Everybody is well aware that the current status of mental health in Sri Lanka is quite alarming. But how bad is it exactly?

Current society is very keen on making a change for betterment. Individuals are concerned and motivated to change society’s rigorous old- age beliefs into more flexible and accommodating mind frames. Nevertheless, the area of mental health is still largely ignored among the masses here in Sri Lanka. Because of the complexity of mental health conditions and the stigma associated with them, the need for people to make a change in the area of mental health in Sri Lanka has to be prioritized and the urgency with which this issue needs to be addressed is very important. Considering that the existing mental health act enacted was in the 1800’s, Sri Lanka is yet in the Stone Age in this regard.

One out of every five persons in Sri Lanka is reported to be mentally ill (Mendis, 2010). Despite this, the only option available for a mentally ill individual, in need of government funding, is the National Institute of Mental Health in Angoda. However, due to the lack of mental health facilities and professionals only about 20% receive treatment.

 Research conducted by the World Health Organization also reveal some very startling facts. There are only 3 mental health professionals per 100,000 people in Sri Lanka (including psychologists, psychiatrists, medical doctors not specialized in psychiatry, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and other health workers). It is apparent that Sri Lanka does not only lack awareness, and Institutions for mental health treatment, but also falls short of capacity building in the field.

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The current situation in Sri Lanka is improving but at a very slow pace. For example, the number of trained psychologists has risen from 18 to 32 psychologists in a span of five years and an increasing number are getting trained in the mental health professions. Societal stigma and labeling is gradually decreasing due to numerous awareness campaigns.

If you or your loved are ever in need of professional psychological help, institutions like the CIRP Life Centre, Sahanaya and Simithrayo are very good options that you should consider.

-Maleeha Saeed