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Category Archives: wellbeing

What is a Panic Attack, and How Can You Treat It?

Panic attack response depicted in 'get me out of here' slogan and red button symbolising panic and alarm

A panic attack can make you feel trapped and afraid. Learn how to cope with panic attacks below.

In 2013, people in the UK experienced 8.2 million cases of anxiety; whilst anxiety is upsetting and debilitating in itself, a panic attack sees this anxiety come to a head. Panic attacks are an intense and sudden onset of anxiety, lasting minutes at a time and leaving the sufferer debilitated. Many celebrities, including presenter Fearne Cotton, are now speaking out about their experience of having a panic attack.

But how do you know what a panic attack symptom is, and how can you cope with an attack?

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

You may feel as though you’re having a heart attack – that’s because a lot of the physical symptoms are similar to those of people experiencing a cardiac arrest. If you later realise what you actually went through was a panic attack, don’t be embarrassed by the confusion. Whilst panic attacks aren’t life-threatening, your body reacts as though you’re in a life-and-death situation. That ‘fight or flight’ mode has been activated, and you feel threatened.

Key symptoms include:

  • · Feeling dizzy, faint, shaky or light-headed
  • · A racing pulse, possibly with chest pain
  • · Difficulty breathing
  • · Tightness in your throat
  • · Nausea
  • · Sweating and feeling very hot, or the opposite: feeling too cold
  • · Sudden terror and dread
  • · Numbness or tingling in your hands and fingers
  • · Feeling detached from reality, or as if you are floating

What to Do if You Have a Panic Attack

Most panic attacks last from five to ten minutes, though some can be longer. Once you’ve had a panic attack, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have another one, but it does increase the likelihood.

If your panic attack happens in a large public space, such as a shopping mall or a concert venue, be reassured that many staff are now trained to deal with these kinds of incidents. Should you be somewhere on your own, or with someone who doesn’t know how to help, you can still get through it.

  • · Firstly, you need to regulate your breathing, which will help to lower your heart rate. Breathing exercises don’t have to be complicated: breathe in through your nose, then breathe out slower and longer through your mouth.
  • · Try to draw breath from your diaphragm, as shallow breathing isn’t helpful here. Imagine the breath going down into your chest.
  • · Repeat a short phrase or mantra to remind yourself this will pass – for example: ‘I’m not in danger, I am having a panic attack’, or ‘The slower I breathe, the calmer I feel’.
  • · Try to focus on the sensations around you, as long as they’re not triggering: what can you hear? What can you smell? Can you feel the chair you’re sitting on?
  • · Alternatively, focus on an object you can see. Zone out on everything else but that object; this practice is called ‘grounding’ and should help you refocus, rather than leaving your mind racing as fast as your pulse.
  • · Release muscle tension you might be carrying, like hunched shoulders or clenched fists. Do a ‘body scan’ and work your way around your body, imagining the tension in each part easing.
  • · Once a panic attack has subsided (and it will, even though it doesn’t seem possible at the time), you will probably feel drained and upset – this is normal. Get plenty of rest where possible, and don’t throw yourself head-first into a hectic routine.
  • · Caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes can all worsen panic attacks, so try to avoid them. Instead, stay hydrated and eat regularly to avoid low blood sugar levels.

How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack

  • · Stay as calm as possible and try to take charge of the situation – talk in a calm voice and don’t dismiss the person as overreacting or attention-seeking.
  • · Help them focus on their breathing, taking slow and deep breaths together: in through the nose, out through the mouth, as mentioned above.
  • · Follow the other panic attack tips previously listed, and don’t worry if something doesn’t calm them down. Different people respond in different ways. The main thing is to find what does work to take away that panic – maybe a mantra with breathing exercises, or a body scan with breathing exercises – and guide them through it.
  • · It may help if they close their eyes as they breathe. If crowds and noise are definitely making things worse during the attack, gently move with them to a quieter area, but otherwise try to ride out the attack where you are.
  • · Remind them the attack will be over soon, and it is nothing to feel bad about. Tell them everything will be okay.
  • · Encourage someone who has regular or prolonged panic attacks to seek professional help, especially if they start regulating their behaviour to try and combat the panic (for example, they stop using public transport because they worry about having a panic attack whilst on the bus or the train).

Therapy for Panic Attacks

A therapist would look for the underlying cause of panic attacks by exploring possible triggers and associated memories with the patient. Reliving those memories will be distressing, but talking to a psychologist means you are in a safe and confidential space where you can develop strategies to deal with the difficult emotions and thoughts that come hand in hand with the panic and anxiety. You may be asked to keep a panic diary, logging your symptoms and potential triggers.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help with panic disorders, where someone has repeated panic attacks and may end up avoiding certain places or situations to try and cope. Through CBT, you can learn to overcome your fears and regain control.

You may find it also helps to get peer support from other people living with panic attacks, through charities like No Panic or Anxiety UK, but therapeutic intervention and, if a doctor suggests it, medication, is also worth exploring for panic disorders.

Written by guest contributor Vikram Das for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

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Why is Happiness Fleeting?

At the weekend, I was listening to James Rhodes’s brilliant new album, ‘Fire on all sides’ – what a masterpiece. To say he has talent is the understatement of the decade.  Almost at the same time, I saw his recent BBC Breakfast interview, which you can watch below, where he discusses happiness and what it means to pursue feeling happy.

Rhodes makes some interesting observations about the state of happiness, but this one statement in particular resonates:  ‘We are not meant to be happy all the time’.  Actually, his thoughts fit like a glove with major schools of spiritual wellbeing, ancient myths and archetypal psychology: Heraclitus to Graves, to Bly and Samuels, to name a few.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Rhodes says more on the pursuit of happiness; his view is that we are not meant to be happy all the time and that the pursuit of happiness at all costs is causing us pain. Wise words indeed.

Ancient wisdom tells us that ‘happiness is a fleeting state, not an arrival at a destination’. What, then, if we think about it in different terms ? How about ‘happiness comes and goes’, just like the tides?

At best, happiness is a fleeting emotion: a sensation to be enjoyed while it is here, however short the visit.  Sadness, happiness’ ugly twin, has the same fleeting visiting pattern. When sadness visits, we have to endure despite wanting rid of it. Jung aptly named sadness  ‘nigredo’, or dark night of the soul. Sadness is a fleeting emotion, too; just like other feelings, it will pass.

More often, sadness teaches – it enables us to grow spiritually and emotionally. How would we appreciate or even know happiness if sadness didn’t exist? If happiness were the permanent condition, or even much wrestled for a sense of balance, where would meaning be found? How would the green shoots of personal growth burst forth?

Carl Jung quote happiness and sadness balance

Jung famously wrote that ‘the word “happy” would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness’. What do you think?

Understanding Sadness in Relation to Happiness

A permanent state of bliss could be likened to the Sisyphus myth (where Sisyphus must roll a stone up a hill, only for it to roll back down again every time he succeeds). It would be meaningless and eventually boring. Could too much happiness be no more than an ecstatic death sentence? It takes a bit of thought to consider sadness from this standpoint.

Self-help books certainly do have their rightful place, but the pursuit of happiness per se is both illogical and a fallacy. Depression, too, at times is a necessary position, and it has a purpose. We can’t always be happy, just as we can’t be continually sad. James Rhodes is making a wise observation that happiness and sadness are part of a continuum. They can be normalized as part of the experience of living.

Severe or prolonged depression is a different matter. It is not normal sadness at all. These symptoms are not part of normal sadness:

  • To really want to kill yourself
  • To not have the energy to wash or wear clean clothes
  • To want to scratch, burn or harm yourself
  • To not be able to think clearly
  • To not be able to make simple decisions

These depression symptoms need expert psychological or psychiatric help. These symptoms are not a progression of normal sadness, but a sign that help is needed.

However, if your sad feelings are fleeting, and part of a normal life with its ups and downs, rather than clinical depression, it’s important to put them in perspective, and Rhodes’ words can help with that process.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).

 

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Black Friday and the Psychology of What We Buy

Shopping spree in brown bags with new clothing and electrical items bought in the shops

Do you need these new purchases, or were you lured by marketing campaigns like Black Friday, and clever displays?

24th November has long been called ‘Black Friday’ in the USA as a day for panic-buying Christmas shoppers but, for the last few years, it’s also been embraced by the UK.

You might remember seeing pictures in the papers of people fighting over wide-screen TV sets in British supermarkets, or queuing outside stores in the early hours to ensure they will be first in line for those Black Friday deals. We even have ‘Cyber Monday’, held the following Monday as an internet-only day of shopping deals, to add to the frenzy.

In the run-up to Black Friday, it’s important to look at the psychological drivers behind the things we buy. What makes us pick up that product that we didn’t know we needed until we walked into the shop, or until we clicked on a certain link online? And how can we be sure we truly want to buy it, whether as a Christmas present or at any other time of the year?

Black Friday: The Ultimate Special Offer, or a FOMO Trigger?

We live in a materialistic society: it’s a fact. Every day, we are bombarded with the new face cream that will change our lives, or the upgraded gadget that’s better than the one we currently own. The one-day deals of Black Friday, in particular, trigger FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out) for consumers.

If we feel we’re missing out by not buying, especially if we could theoretically save money with a time-limited special offer, we are putting immense pressure on ourselves to get out our wallets at a certain time, whether or not we can truly afford to spend money.

There’s a lot of social pressure surrounding this: the one-upmanship and the desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ (or, indeed the Kardashians, who will happily buy a new car or house at the drop of a hat).

Children are also susceptible to the lure of new and trendy products, as they try to fit in with their peers, and become champions of ‘pester power’ when you take them shopping. A US-based study by brand building expert Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandchild, found that parents spent 29% more when they shopped with their children – food for thought if you’re on a tight budget, or your house is already full of must-have items.

Shop open sign on retail outlet with goods in background to illustrate sales tactics by retailers including on Black Friday

Sounds, lighting and smells – not to mention the Black Friday discount deals they’re advertising – can all be used by retailers to attract customers.

Psychological Tricks Retailers Use

When you walk into a shop, retailers know how to get your interest. They invest in technology like eye scanners to test where shoppers look. Goods placed just by the entrance, or next to the tills, encourage spontaneous ‘add to basket’ moments.

Music and shopping have been interlinked by psychologists and marketers since the 1970s. More recent studies have shown that low music is better for shoppers, whilst Christmas music in shops can, unsurprisingly, invoke nostalgia. Add some spectacular window displays, in-store experiences and even scents pumped through the space, and you’ve got yourself a captive audience.

But who is the most susceptible to retailers’ tactics? The BBC’s Big Money Test from 2011-2013 found that certain types of emotional behaviour leave you more likely to impulse buy. Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Open University, worked on the survey, and wrote that ‘people who were high on impulsive buying behaviour tended to be people who had poor strategies for managing their emotions and were more sensitive to the highs and lows of positive and negative emotion. In other words, it seems likely that, for many people, impulsive shopping acts as a substitute for more effective ways of managing their emotions.’

The ‘Social Proof’ Concept

‘Social proof’ is big business for retailers: the idea that your friends, family or your fellow shoppers have already bought and loved a particular product, therefore it must be good. What’s more, you don’t have to know the people who have bought a product already. A car salesman might casually mention his sister has the same car you’re considering, and she loves it. An idea has been planted: this car must be a sound investment.

Online retailers are very savvy with social proof, too; think of the alerts on a travel website telling you ten people are looking at the same hotel right now, and that five people have booked it in the last hour. Meanwhile, all kinds of products and services, from books and clothes to plumbing work, carry online consumer reviews. If all those reviews are graded as four or five stars, it’s unsurprising you’ll feel more reassured in choosing a particular option.

When you’re faced with glowing reviews, it’s important to remember we all have individual tastes. What works for one person may not work for you. Your gut instinct is still important, so don’t ignore it.

Sale sign in big red letters with lighting, surrounded by red shoes in a range of styles

That one word to get your attention as you walk past the shop… dare you go in?

How to Think Clearly When Shopping

When you’re being pushed towards a product, stop and think:

  • Do you actually need it – will it make a difference to your life?
  • If you’re buying clothing, how many items in your wardrobe can you wear it with?
  • When the next version of the product is launched, will you still use this one?
  • Is there a cheaper or more sensible alternative – for example, if you’re buying a DVD, could you borrow it from your local library, borrow from a friend, or stream it online instead?
  • If the item is reduced, would you have paid full price for it in theory?
  • Would you have bought it without the brand name attached?
  • Are you buying it to cheer yourself up, as a distraction, or to mask other emotions? If so, is there another way to deal with your feelings, such as reading a book, having a bath, or arranging a therapy session?

Armed with these questions, you should feel better equipped to navigate the shops and make informed decisions, whether on Black Friday or during the rest of the year.

Written by a guest contributor for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).

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Disclosing a Mental Health Issue at Work: When and How to Do It

Disclosing a mental health issue in a meeting with two women talking across a table to another woman in smart business clothing

Are you worried about being judged by your employers if you talk about mental health? Don’t panic – read on for advice.

With one in four people likely to suffer a mental health problem in their lifetime, it’s never been more important to know about disclosing a mental health issue when you live with a diagnosis that affects you day-to-day.

Whether you’re job hunting and worried about discrimination, or you’re employed but struggling to cope, this is what you need to know about mental health in the workplace and the ins and outs of disclosure.

Disclosing a Mental Health Issue: Guidance from British Law

The Equality Act (2010) protects you from discrimination for nine characteristics, including age, race and sex. Disability is another characteristic, but many people don’t realise ongoing mental health problems that significantly affect your day-to-day life actually count as a disability. This means you cannot be discriminated in the workplace for having a mental health problem, unless an employer can prove a lawful justification for their actions – for example, if other workers’ health and safety is at risk.

The exact wording from the Equality Act refers to ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, adverse, and long-term effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. In the case of mental health, this would mean a condition that’s affected you (or likely to affect you) for 12 months, either ongoing or recurring. It also applies to conditions that affected you in the past, so you are protected even if you haven’t had an episode of depression, bipolar, or another mental health condition.

Your employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the workplace to help manage your condition; these might include a change to your working hours, having a quiet room to go to when you need some time alone, not needing to ‘hot desk’ (find a desk at random rather than be allocated a set space) or changing some of your responsibilities. Shaw Trust, which helps disadvantaged people into work and training, has some useful online resources and face-to-face employability services.

Support in the Workplace

You may need support from occupational health, which an employer can refer you to, or you might choose to get support outside the workplace. It can be tricky to find talking therapy that fits around your working hours, but do outline any concerns to your therapist and they will try their best to find an appointment time to suit you, perhaps an early morning or evening slot, or a lunchtime session. Depending on your job structure, you may be able to work flexibly around an appointment in working hours, or perhaps work from home on the day of your regular appointment.

It can be more difficult to feel supported in a smaller workplace, where there is no Human Resources department. As an employee within a small team, you may also feel more overstretched and find it harder to speak out about your condition, for fear of increasing other people’s workloads or stress levels. However, all employers must abide by the law, and they still have a duty to make some of those ‘reasonable adjustments’, which will vary according to your needs, where possible.

If your employer can’t afford to make the kind of adjustments needed, you may be entitled to funding from the government’s Access to Work scheme. This might involve help with transport, or access to a support worker. Local and national charities can also offer advice. If you’re in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has a list of resources that could help you. Should you be caring for someone with long-term mental health issues, don’t forget you are also protected against discrimination by association. Mind has a useful resource on the types of discrimination here.

Colleagues at work with laptops facing each other

If you don’t want to share your health issues with colleagues, you don’t always have to.

Your Right to Privacy When Disclosing a Mental Health Issue

Some people don’t want to disclose their mental health condition and, if it doesn’t put health and safety at risk to non-disclose, you can choose not to inform your employer. However, this may make things harder if you do need to make changes in the workplace down the line.

When you’re applying for most jobs, you don’t need to disclose any health conditions, mental or physical, unless you want to. Certain public-sector jobs, such as being a teacher or a doctor, have different regulations, and you would need to disclose in these cases. It’s also important to inform the DVLA if any medication for mental health issues is affecting your ability to drive, whether or not driving is a necessary part of your job.

The majority of companies should only ask for health disclosures after a job offer has been made, but – aside from exempt professions, such as teaching, mentioned above – you are still not legally bound to reveal your diagnosis. Once you have disclosed, your employer should still respect your privacy, so if you only want your manager and the HR team to know about your diagnosis, it shouldn’t be discussed with other members of staff.

Written by guest contributor Vikram Das for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).

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Easy Back to School Tips

Back to school scene with desk, apple, blackboard and books. Typical school picture.

Back to school, with a new term ahead.

The back to school routine can be a little stressful for some children. Change is often positive, but it is a journey into the unknown. Anxiety reduces in all of us when new things or places become familiar, so the feeling of butterflies in the tummy at the beginning of term is a good example of being confronted with change.

Children are starting new classes with a little-known teacher, new desks, different lockers, etc. The map they had in their head no longer works. They need a little bit of time to create a new mental map of how things work.

It’s trickier when it’s a new school and it is all a little different, but the basics of reducing the anxiety remain the same. These easy tips for ‘back to school’ time will help kick-start a great new term.

Eight Back to School Tips for Parents

  1. Talk to your children about the new term. What are their hopes? How do they see the term ahead? Their concerns will also pop out at this time. Talk about the funny things you remember about first days at school and how you coped. Be positive – Being positive is contagious.
  2. If it is a new school – do a few practice runs so that the journey and lay out of the building is familiar. This might be on foot, on the bus or the train.
  3. Have a few earlier nights during the run up to the new term. It won’t be quite so hard to get them up this way.
  4. Make sure the uniform and all kit is ready, involve the children in the school preparation so they feel in control.
  5. On the afternoon of the first day of term do something they enjoy however simple. This will continue the feeling of summer fun for a while and ease in the transition back to school.
  6. Ask them about their day – what went well and perhaps in cases when it didn’t go so well, what could your child do to make it feel better tomorrow?
  7. Be prepared that your child may be a little grumpier or quieter than normal. This is expected as she or he comes to adjusts to the new routine.
  8. On the first day back, don’t forget a special breakfast and take some photos (younger children love this yearly ritual.)

Going back to school produces very mild anxiety for most children. However, new term anxiety will reduce by talking things through and getting things ready in good time before school starts.

More information about managing the return to school when your child has special needs or autism is available on this site.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

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Rare Disease and Not Being Heard by Your GP

Facing ignorant GP described using Ignorance sign on white wall

Are you struggling to explain your illness to your GP?

Living with a rare illness is a struggle, but dealing with an ignorant GP increases that struggle.

Those feelings of not being listened to increase the isolation, ramp up the stress and contribute to disease progression.

I do not use the term ‘ignorant’ as an insult, rather I chose it to reflect the true meaning of the word. Ignorant means ‘destitute of knowledge’: in this case, a GP who doesn’t know what it means to live with your rare illness day in, day out, and doesn’t know how debilitating its symptoms can be.

Rare Diseases and GP Treatment

A GP’s case load normally consists of the everyday ailments of living, plus a few rarer ones.  GPs are not trained to know about the rare diseases that patients present with, and this is where the problems can start.

Trying to inform your GP about your rare disease and the tests you currently need is often akin to tip-toeing through a volcanic minefield. Why is this? It’s rather simple. The majority of GPs have been conditioned to believe they know most things about our health. Repeated consultations with grateful patients reinforce this belief.

GP’s can occasionally become omnipotent. Faced with a patient who knows more than them about a certain condition (as we rarities must do in order to survive) can be threatening to their self-perception. They do not like to feel small, and may immediately and unconsciously deflect or project on to us.

When this happens, the patient comes away feeling a hypochondriac, or a time-waster. The patient shuffles away feeling awful and the normal power inequality is restored. What has just happened is rarely questioned, except perhaps in a therapist’s room.

How to Assert Yourself With Your GP

It can be very helpful to take a second when you feel talked down to and patronised. This is your moment to regroup and have another go. Remember these three simple steps – you could even write them down and read them before your consultation.

1. Hold your ground.

2. Repeat your requests slowly and clearly, in a non-defensive tone.

3. Remain measured and stay in adult mode.

Your GP will feel less threatened and reduce the superior tone. He or she will have no choice but to operate in ‘adult mode’ as well. This normally produces a win-win situation. You, I and our families lose when we walk away feeling stupid.

It is also critically important to research as much as you are able to, and make sure your information is correct, to help yourself. Fortunately, there are many great blogs available online, where people with a rare illness have described the same symptoms and GP frustrations as you. Try typing the name of your illness, plus the word ‘blog’, into a search engine: for example, ‘chronic fatigue syndrome + blog’.

Lastly, I recommend getting a book on assertion if it is hard for you to stay in control in difficult situations; alternatively, you can find some great internet resources on how to be more assertive in general.

Written by a guest blogger for Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).

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Walking Towards a Better Mood – New Research

Walking in front of a brick wall that says 'good' in a mural - suggesting walking is good for you

Walking towards a better mood.

It’s official: walking off a negative mood, and seeing quick results no matter what your speed, is possible.

A team of researchers at Iowa State University have confirmed that walking can blast away a negative mood. Better still, it does not need to be a fast aerobic stroll. Astonishingly, a 12-minute walk at speeds of just 3mph will raise a bad mood.

A study involving 400 undergraduates at Iowa State University and published in the Journal Of New Emotion has confirmed this amazing fact.

Surprisingly, the researchers also found that the walk location was unimportant. Forget the thought of the beautiful Sussex downs in autumn hues.  Participants who merely walked around an urban, drab and featureless university concourse (not to shame those at Iowa – many campuses aren’t easy on the eye) were just as likely to report an improvement in mood as those who had walked in beautiful surroundings.

Even students who walked on a treadmill for 12 minutes reported an increased mood. In contrast, those who sat at the end of the treadmill waiting for their friends felt worse than when they entered the gym.

Walking Off a Bad Mood: Why You Should Try It

Jeffrey Miller, study author and assistant professor at Saint Xavier University, said: “There seems to be something about that brisk, purposeful walk that is really good for you.”

The study increases the previously held view that even a short walk can be a valuable counter-measure in a difficult situation. So, what are you waiting for? You could take some of the heat out of that imminent meeting with the boss. It is certainly worth a try.

These findings also add weight to the already well-known physical benefits of walking.  Previous research has concluded that regular walking can slow dementia progression, prevent osteoarthritis, lower overall cancer risk and help in weight and blood pressure maintenance.

Try walking the next time you feel stress or worry clouding your thoughts: no matter the location, the walk itself could make a tangible difference to your mood.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

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Chronic illness has secrets

Chronic illness has secrets

Chronic illness has secrets

Chronic illness has secrets

Chronic illness has secrets.  These secrets often don’t get aired by the daylight. Most people with a chronic illness or rare disease struggle with daily life. Those struggles are usually hidden from the world.  Popular psychology says that a positive attitude helps matters. It is true, being optimistic does help many things.  Let us be honest though. The British bull dog spirit often falls way short of helping those with chronic illness cope their new imposed reality.  At times the maxim can be simply patronising.

The secrets of chronic or rare disease

1. People with chronic illness are always trying to adjust to uncertainty about or change in their physical state. The sword of Damocles that hangs with an unknown prognosis causes anxiety. Individuals are often unable to talk about these fears. They are scared of being labelled moaners or  hypochondriacs.

2. Sufferers of chronic illness feel very alone.  This is also true in rare disease. The medical profession frequently does not understand their condition because it is so rare. The lack of knowledge by professionals about a rare disease usually results in the person researching all they can about their illness.  This is not a fixation but an attempt to maintain some control, a control that may even save their life. An awareness that there is a likelihood that you will have to advocate for yourself when vulnerable during a crisis in order to get correct treatment is scary.

3. People with chronic illness often try to micro manage life.  These real fears about a health emergency can make the person stop doing normal things.  This attempt to reduce the possibility of crisis can lead to further shrinking of life and a growing feeling of personal isolation.

4. Sufferers know that there is absolutely no certainty that the task or activity they did easily today will be able to be repeated tomorrow. The body is in charge and it can be mean abuser of the spirit.

5. People with chronic illness often feel angry, guilty or sad. This is because their hopeful plans made weeks in advance may need to be cancelled at the last moment because of a surge in symptoms. This weakens the individual’s support network further as ‘friends’ often don’t get it. Unwell people begin to be seen as unreliable rather than ill.

6. They may not get the support they need because they look  good on the outside when there is an invisible but major inferno going on inside.

If you are battling a chronic illness or rare disease.  It’s a pretty smart idea to give yourself a gentle pat on the back. Remember you are not alone, that you are a fighter.  Lastly, know that there are many others there in solidarity with you.

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Terror Attacks – Helping Kids Cope

Worried about terror attacks and the effects on children's mental health - upset child in profile

Is your child worried and upset by the recent terror attacks?

It is every parent’s nightmare: despite your best attempts, somehow your 6-year-old daughter has learnt of recent terror attacks.

She is scared and tearful. She asks you if she or you are going to be hurt by bad people. She tells you there are some ‘mean’ people who want to hurt others.

You don’t want her  innocence to be lost so soon; at the same time, you do want to be truthful. This is a scenario that every parent fears. It is also, sadly, one we are having to deal with more frequently. What is the best way of handling it? How does a parent explain terror attacks?

The most important thing, which most adults forget, is: a child who has a secure relationship with their parents already has a fortress of containment. This is the best possible starting point for tackling the unpalatable. You can reduce the fear of terror attacks through everyday parenting.

Parents view terror and trauma from an adult perspective, through adult eyes. We recognise the ugliness of horror and atrocity. Small children have not yet developed this depth of understanding, thank goodness. Their innocence is also a protection. Unless Children are directly affected by trauma, they don’t recognise it in quite the same way as adults, unless we teach them through our own fear. It’s really important that your children do not see your fear, your rage or your feelings of powerlessness in response to a terror attack. If a child knows their parents are scared, they will be too.

Explaining terror attacks to your children: Eight things to consider

  1. For children, a secure and containing relationship with a parent, or another attachment figure, is the most important safety feature that protects them from acute fear.
  2.  Explain that there are a few bad people in the world who want to cause harm but that there are many more good people. Fictional characters can often be used as good examples for younger children.  They are often powerful archetypes of strength and character that children can easily relate to.
  3. Tell them the good people in the world outnumber the bad. Point out all the people who your child knows who help others in different ways. These people could be friends, family members, teachers, doctors etc.…
  4. Tell them that they have no need to worry, as Mum, Dad, Nanny, or another attachment figure, will always keep them safe. Explain to them that it is the parents’ job to protect them from the few bad people in the world.
  5. Never provide more information than needed about a horrific situation. Use factual language, but avoid the over use of descriptive phrases and pronouns.  It’s correct to say ‘Some people were hurt’, rather than ‘Some people had their arms and legs smashed or crushed’.
  6. Always answer their questions truthfully, in a basic age-appropriate manner.
  7. Try to find a positive balancing thought to your child’s concern. In the case of the events in Nice, a balancing thought would be: a) The good and brave people who stepped in to help, or b) The doctors who are working round the clock to make the injured better.
  8. The focus here is to help the child balance their nebulous fear of bad people posing a threat in the world, with concrete evidence of the certainty of many better people in the world. This will help a child to form a mental representation of safely, particularly a young child, where the ability to engage in abstract thinking is not yet developed.

If your child does want to engage with the news, they may find it useful to look at the BBC’s Newsround, aimed at children aged 6-13; find an interview with Newsround’s deputy editor, Kirsti Adair, here.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard Chartered Consultant Psychologist. 

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How a Personal Review of the Year Can Promote Self-Growth

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With New Year’s Eve fresh in our minds, this is the perfect time to take a pause, sip a glass of wine and complete a personal year review. Be honest: how did last year go? What went well? What didn’t?

A personal review is a powerful tool; the fact that it remains private means that it’s possible to be brutally honest with yourself. Gaining an awareness into your deeper processes and motivation is an essential step towards self-fulfilment, and perhaps even self-actualisation. The questions listed below may help you to identify key strengths that can be built upon, and they will allow you to target the things you want to improve.

Of course, if you’re coming to read this post in January, or indeed later in the year, that doesn’t mean you can’t do a review. Your year could be April to April, or whatever 12-month time-span you find works best. It could even be like the academic year, from September to July.

Questions From Your Personal Review of the Year

What was the best thing that happened this year? What made it so good?

Which was my greatest accomplishment? Why?

What was my biggest failure and what did failure teach me?

How can I use the learning from past failures to ensure future success?

What word, phrase or theme describes my year?

What aspect of the past year was the most challenging?

What strengths did the challenge illuminate?

What weaknesses were made visible?

What are the three things I am most grateful for?

What brought me the most joy?

What do I need to do more of to feel happier, self-fulfilled or at peace?

It can be useful to complete your personal review questions slowly and with thought, and to periodically revisit your responses.  Your personal review doesn’t carry the threat of  entering special measures your response is negative.  Instead, a negative response should be seen as a potential gift: a chance to see what can be improved upon.  After all, it’s only through heightened awareness that change can be achieved.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

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