3 Solutions to Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are NOT uncommon.

Some people experience them once or twice in a lifetime while others have them whenever they’re speaking in public or are preparing for an important phone call. In severe cases, sufferers may feel like they’re going to die.

Anxiety is defined as “fear of the unknown”, and historically, it aides in survival. It’s close relative,  fear,  prepared us to choose fight-or-flight in dangerous situations by heightening our senses and dumping the fine-tuning chemicals into our blood stream, like adrenaline and epinephrine.

Yet today, while still protecting us from genuine danger,  fear and panic somehow morphed into a bunch of barely relatable and dysfunctional afflictions:  panic disorder,  obsessive-compulsive disorder,  phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder.

As your rate of breathing accelerates, you begin to chest-breathe instead of belly breathing (breathing deeply). This causes hyperventilation, where you are blowing off too much carbon dioxide (CO2) . This leads to a rise in blood pH, which in lay-terms, means symptoms like dizziness, weakness, fainting, headache, and tingling in the hands and feet.

SOLUTIONS

1. Focus on deep breathing.

Hyperventilation brings on many sensations, like lightheadedness and tightness of the chest. By learning to tune into your breathing, and then consciously controlling it, you develop a coping skill that you can use to calm yourself down when you begin to feel anxious. If you know how to control your breathing, you are also less likely to create the very sensations that you are afraid of.

2. CO2 Normalizes blood pH.

If you are already experiencing a full-blown panic-attack, breathe into a paper bag.  It will reduce many of the extraneous symptoms of panic and help normalize your breathing by re-balancing your bloods pH.

3. Practice relaxation techniques.

The opposite of a panic-response is a relaxation-response. If you are prone to anxiety attacks,  learn and practice relaxation techniques. When practiced regularly activities such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation, you are strengthening the body’s relaxation response. It also helps you become aware of the difference between bodily sensations that are relaxed versus sensations that indicate dysfunctional tension. Make time for relaxation exercises every day!

**Note: If these techniques do not help, please see a therapist for a deeper evaluation of the causes for your panic. 

Source: The Neurobiology of Panic Attacks

Re-wiring the Brain

Counseling TidBits

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We CAN re-write our own history… 

One of the fastest ways to rewire the brain (in changing any behavior or emotion) is to stay in the present moment. When we take in a sunset, catch the scent of a spring flower, dance, or tune in to body sensations like our heart rate, breath, the tightness in our muscles, we are activating the right-brain, creating new neuro-pathways.

But what about the thoughts that keep arising? Whatever judgements/opinions you have that take you away from the present moment, I invite you to write on Byron Katie’s worksheet: the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet. That is where all fearful, or “stuck” judgments about others, the world and self belong.

Katie shares her philosophy:

So how do I come to know what is true and what really matters? I identify and question the thoughts that take my awareness away, that take “me” away from my life now and plunge…

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What Do All Addictions Have in Common?

Dopamine – the brain’s primary motivation-neurotransmitter

Any form of drug addiction involves the production of dopamine.

“Brain Design By Cogs And Gears” by MR LIGHTMANThe brain’s dopamine pathways serve as a built-in reward system. By creating sensations something akin to desire, yearning or wanting sensations, its primary purpose is to motivate us to pay attention to the activities deemed important to survival. And when we do the thing it wants us to, we feel – well… “Ahhh!” … Rewarded.

Our Survival Instincts have been on board since the beginning. I like to call this part of the brain the Beast-brain, because it acts without conscious thought. It’s the part of the brain that creates discomfort when there is a “need” – food, air, water, sleep, shelter, and sex.

The development of the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and critical judgment – tends to confuse us as to just how primal these instincts really are.  After all, we think of these things as a desire for eating, having a nice drink, taking a deep breath, getting a good nights rest, keeping warm, and bonding (sex).

But think about it – why do people sometimes drown? It’s because the need for air is so strong that we take a breath, even when we “know” we cannot. And I would never eat insects, yet if I were starving on a deserted island, my survival instincts would have me eating all kinds of odd things!

And the brain doesn’t just insist on survival. It records and archives how its needs, or “wanting’s,” were satisfied the best, creating very detailed dopamine neuropathways about these events.

Addictions and Cravings

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What scientists have finally proven is that certain chemicals, once inside the brain, can activate the mind’s dopamine pathway circuitry, virtually hijacking the mind’s perceived priorities for survival. By creating a false instinct, as strong or stronger than the true survival behaviors, experiments with rats have demonstrated that they will choose cocaine over water and food… all the way to their death!

But rats aren’t like people, you say, and of course you are right. But what scientists have found is that addictions have somehow landed in the survival-instinct part of the brain. It is the common thread in all chemical addictions – including cocaine, heroin, meth, nicotine and alcohol.

Remember that this part of the brain is pre-decision making – the Beast Brain. You can only hold your breath for so long before this part of the brain will gasp for a breath. And an addict can only resist the desire for his or her preferred chemical for so long before the beast-brain will override reason and find him or herself searching. Craving.

Drugs of abuse feel good to the user. After taking the drug for a while, the feel-good parts of the brain need to take more of the drug to get the same good feeling. Before long, the brain and body must have the drug to just feel normal. And finally, the user feels sick and awful without the drug. Addiction.

Addiction is “a permanent priorities-disorder and is a disease of the mind.” (John R. Polito,  Freedom from Nicotine – The Journey Home)

 Although this may seem harsh, there is no longer any question to its truth. He goes on to say:

“The good news is that knowledge is power, and we can grow smarter than our addiction. Full recovery is entirely do-able for all. In fact, today there are more ex-users in the U.S. than there are users.

While the first few days may feel like an emotional train wreck, each passing day the challenges grow fewer, generally less intense and shorter in duration. Recovery leads to a calm and quiet mind where addiction chatter and wanting gradually fade into rarity, where the ex-user begins going days, weeks or even months without once wanting their substance.”

If you know someone who is addicted, I hope this article has helped you understand a little better – that it’s not about bad choices, weak character, or that they simply don’t care enough. It’s more about a misunderstanding – the brain believes it needs the substance. And it’s the part of the brain that has no interest it what the person actually wants.

If you are addicted to a substance, get some help. It’s very hard to go at it alone.

Mindfulness Meditation, anxiety and Depression

A Treatment For Depression – As Effective As Talking To A Therapist?

MEDITATION
 Even though a growing body of research has demonstrated the legitimate mental and physical health benefits of meditation, some people still consider mindfulness to be merely a New Age fad rather than a serious treatment option.

Now, a new Swedish study offers more compelling evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness-based practices in treating anxiety and depression.

Researchers from Lund University found group mindfulness treatment to be as effective as individual cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in treating individuals suffering from anxiety, depression and severe stress responses — and it may be more affordable and convenient.

 The research was conducted at 16 health care centers in Southern Sweden. A total of 215 patients with anxiety, depression or severe stress reactions were randomly sorted into either a regular treatment group, in which they underwent individual CBT sessions, or underwent 10-patient group mindfulness treatment sessions. Both programs lasted for eight weeks.

Before and after the treatments, the participants were asked to fill out questionnaires to determine the severity of their anxiety and depression symptoms. Among both groups, self-reported symptoms of anxiety and depression decreased. The researchers noted that there was no statistical difference between the CBT and the mindfulness groups.

While a growing body of research has shown mindfulness treatment to be effective in managing symptoms of anxiety and depression, the new Lund research is the first to show mindfulness to be as effective as traditional forms of therapy.

Earlier this year, a review of 47 studies showed that evidence of a positive effect of mindfulness on managing anxiety, depression and pain had been proven across a number of clinical trials.

“Clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation program could have in addressing psychological stress,” the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in January.

This reduction of symptoms is likely rooted in actual changes in the brain. In 2011, Harvard researchers found that participating in an eight-week mindfulness training program created significant changes in brain areas associated with sense of self, empathy, stress and memory. MRI data revealed that meditation increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, a region associated with learning and memory, and decreased density in the amygdala, a brain region associated with fear, anxiety and stress responses.

The findings were published online last week in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Original article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/01/mindfulness-depression-an_n_6247572.html?cps=gravity_3405_5015353437465284738