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Fight, flight or freeze.

Stress — admin @ 12:48 pm

Here at Counselling Connections we love the opportunity to take a coffee break and have a few minutes to chat and check with each other how things are going. Today there was only one topic of conversation because this morning’s was the coffee break that nearly never happened. This is because the trip up the street for takeaway coffee nearly ended badly when our intrepid volunteer distractedly stepped off the pavement onto the road without first checking to see if there was any traffic coming. And there was. A large cement truck was trundling along and gave a loud blast of its deep and ominous horn. Well, our coffee volunteer displayed nimbleness and slight of foot not seen in years and hastily jumped to safety.
This fright and its after effects were the subject of the coffee break chat when he got safely back to the office with the coffees. We got to talking about those well known responses to stress; the fight or flight response. Fight or flight is a natural response to an environmental treat. Our bodies are adapted to give us every chance of escape when faced with danger. We evolved to respond to threats which initially were real dangers in our environment and which nowadays with modern lifestyles can be more subtle and psychological. Whereas a stress response in the body leaves us with a good chance of escaping a danger which we can outrun or face down it is not always helpful with the more modern threats which we experience.
The fight or flight response is a natural physiological reaction. It places our bodies in a state of hyperarousal with changes in the heart, lungs, stomach and muscles. It influences the bladder and bowels as well as hearing and sight. Modern studies of this response have added a third choice also, which is to freeze. The freeze response is something which we can all observe in nature documentaries when an animal facing a threat either hides or plays dead in the hope of escaping the danger. In the freeze response a bleat or attempt to call out to mother would give away the animal’s hiding place so a loss of voice is part of the body’s reaction. This is true too in the case of humans caught in a freeze response to danger and can cause distress afterwards when someone recalling the event struggles with why they didn’t call out or scream. Unfortunately the silence is part of the natural response in the hope that we won’t provoke the aggressor and risk making the situation worse.
This also brings up the aspect of recall. There are a couple of points to say about this. Firstly our experience of our senses, our perception, plays like a cinema screen in our heads and our reactions are to these perceptions. When we try to recall an event our memory plays in the same way like a cinema in our head. We are capable of having a similar physiological reaction to a memory of an event as to the original event itself. That is why we are very careful with recalling an event in therapy. It is important to take things slowly and concentrate on the safely of the therapeutic environment.
Our bodies can react with the stress response to a phone call, to a demand from a boss or a loved one or to a traffic jam. We may feel an inclination to get angry or aggressive. More subtle modern stressors can be financial worry, relationships and loss or bereavement. A threat to our job security or a pending move whether that is a career move or moving house can be stresses that can create a build up in our bodies. There are ways to learn how to manage and control these stressors. One of the ways an animal discharges a stress build up is by shaking and we sometimes experience shaking after a sudden shock. Getting some exercise like for example a brisk walk can also bring about the discharge of a build up of stress.
Sometimes people live with high levels of stress because of ever present dangers in their environment. This can be because of an unsafe family situation and may continue for years. This constant or chronic stress can leave a person in a prolonged state of hyperarousal which can then be difficult to turn off after they have moved on to a safer place. Time and understanding and working with your body are techniques which can help towards reducing these over time.
So, we see lots of different kinds of stress presenting in our bodies. There are many different causes some sudden and dramatic, some less so and some prolonged over time. There are different techniques to successfully manage and control these responses in our bodies. They are natural reactions designed to help us and by getting an understanding of them and learning to control them we can learn to cope well with the different situations and challenges that we face in life.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Anxious Times

Anxiety and Panic Attacks — admin @ 7:46 pm

Here at Counselling Connections we have been noticing that there’s a lot of anxiety about lately. It seems to be spreading like wildfire, fuelled by thoughts about the Economy, the Government and the state of the country. This has a ripple effect as we all know on personal circumstances like unemployment, financial difficulties and worries about the uncertainty of one’s future. This is turn can generate huge anxiety and can impact heavily on us and our relationships.
In an internet café in Drogheda yesterday I listened as a fellow customer conveyed her view of the current political situation. In summary it was her view that we are all doomed …. I was in good form, my mood lightened by the bright wintery sunshine, a crisp cold day. But as if without warning I started to feel anxiety creep up on me, feeling the impact of what she was saying and wondering if I should feel more concerned about these things…. Her anxiety about her future and that of this country was beginning to find a home with me…I decided at that point to make my exit and leave her with her Anxiety. I wasn’t going to take it on. I walked outside the shop and felt the cool air on my face reconnecting with the good feeling the bright winter sun had facilitated prior to entering the shop.
Anxiety can affect the way we think, feel and behave. It can also have a very physical impact on our body. The above example shows how our thoughts, feelings and behaviours all interact within a matter of minutes. It also shows how we have the power to monitor and control our thoughts. Cognitive (Thinking) Behavioural Therapy is a type of counselling that helps you to do this.
My thought as the woman in the cafe was speaking was “maybe I should be more worried….maybe she’s right…” This led me to start feeling anxious. I quickly made a decision not to give this thought fuel by taking it a step further. Instead I saw it as her anxiety and left it with her, which led to a positive behaviour of leaving the shop and feeling the good feelings I had felt earlier.
Anxiety is something we all experience from time to time. It is important to understand it is a normal response to any threat to our person. Being slightly nervous can help us to perform better or can help us to deal with danger. The body reacts to a threat by producing adrenaline, a hormone which prepares us for ‘fight or flight’ e.g. if you feel you are being followed on a dark evening in a lonely street, it is normal for you to feel your heart beating faster and your breathing becoming faster. These symptoms are caused by the adrenaline and is your body’s way of preparing, in the event that you need to run. When the emergency is over and you are safely in your car/ home or you realise it wasn’t someone following you, you experience relief but may feel shaken. This is a true reaction of your body; it is not imagined and is a direct result of adrenaline production.
Although it is normal to feel anxious when threatened or under pressure, some people feel anxious quite a lot of the time when they are not really under threat. Although the feelings anxiety produces are unpleasant, they are not dangerous. Anxiety can become a problem when it is severe and prolonged and when it interferes with what we want to do in our daily lives. In anxiety it is usual that a vicious circle is maintained between thinking and feeling (including bodily responses) and behaviour. The type of thinking fuelling your anxiety can be very immediate and even transient. You may not even be aware of those thoughts as you are so used to them. These thoughts are referred to as negative, automatic thoughts and the aim would be to identify what they are, so that you can challenge what truth they hold. The aim is to become good at hi jacking those thoughts before they take hold of you and send you spiralling into anxiety.
It is common for people who suffer from anxiety to avoid situations that make them feel anxious. This can become very problematic as the more you avoid something, the more difficult it will seem to overcome, which in turn will make you more anxious. It is necessary therefore, to keep trying to do things even if they make you feel anxious so that you can prove to yourself that nothing disastrous will happen. Continuing to practice this will eventually allay your anxiety.
There are many reasons for people to feel anxious in the times we live in. Stressful life events like coping with a death, separation/ divorce, losing a job, family problems and financial stress are all understandably worrying. Taking control starts with recognising what’s going on in your mind and body and follows through with taking positive steps to manage this anxiety. In this way anxiety can be seen as a normal response to life changing events but one that does not take over your life.

The stigma of depression.

Depression — admin @ 1:49 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this morning we sat for a while to talk about Depression Awareness Week. We would like to add our name to the campaign which this year aims to raise awareness in particular of the stigma surrounding depression. There is no doubt that there has been a stigma associated with depression which holds that a permanent mark of shame is attached to the illness. It seems that the perception is that there is no cure or recovery from depression. We are glad to be able to confirm that this is not the case.
Depression can be a surprisingly debilitating illness. The physical manifestations of depression can take a sufferer by surprise. A cluster of symptoms around loss of interest can leave a person feeling physically unable to carry out some basic tasks which normally would be carried out without much thought. We can lose interest in food and in tastes and textures which we had previously enjoyed. We can lose interest in sex or in our loved ones. We can lose interest also in our occupation and in whatever hobbies normally keep us entertained. Sometimes in depression we can improve these things by setting simple short term goals and trying to complete some tasks even though our normal interest or drive might be absent.
There are different kinds of depression and it could be argued that no two people experience depression in precisely the same way. Our early lives are particularly important in our development and the hopes and dreams we hold to in childhood and adolescence create our adult expectations. If these are not realised we can be left with a feeling of dissatisfaction with life which can over time become depression. Some of us experience traumatic events which result in feelings of shame and guilt which can lead to depression. For others, the causes of depression are more subtle and it can be very lonely and confusing to feel low without really understanding why. It is important, whatever the cause, to be able to talk to someone about it.
Talking about depression can be difficult for lots of reasons and the fear of the stigma is definitely a consideration which might put people off. If that is the case we would encourage you to make contact with a good counsellor or psychotherapist who will listen to you in a respectful and understanding way. It can be helpful in the first instance to talk with a loved one or a trusted friend and it is not unusual to ask someone to make an appointment for counselling for you if you don’t feel you can take the first step yourself. It is also not unusual for someone to come to see us and to say simply that they don’t know what is wrong or where to begin talking about it. We can help you take things from there.
Brave people are coming forward all the time now to reveal that they had at one time or other suffered with depression. Some have experienced hospitalisation, drug therapy or ECT. These events are a difficult part of what some people go through as part of their way out of depression. These can all be put in the past and people can and do get better and live full and complete lives after depression. We welcome the public awareness programme for depression and we would encourage anybody who feels they may be suffering from it in one form or another to talk to someone about it.
Counselling Connections.

Making room for Change…

Psychotherapy — admin @ 3:14 pm

It’s January 6th, that time of year again when the Christmas decorations come down. For some there is a sadness that the holiday period is over and a dread of going back to work. For others there’s an urgency to get the decorations down and a desire to get back to routine. Most of us get fed up of the clutter of decorations, it’s more difficult to clean up and there’s a healthy sense of moving on with the New Year.
Now imagine that clutter all year round, every day. Imagine if you had retained all the material things you ever owned, never thrown anything out…think of all you would have accumulated, those things you no longer need but have held on to. It would surely result in many a ‘rubbish’ room where the door was closed over and the room no longer habitable. The attic would be top heavy with things, every cupboard full, every room cluttered, hardly leaving room to live and breathe. Would your current home hold it all? It’s doubtful.
If you’ve ever hired a skip and cleared your house you will understand how therapeutic it can be. Clearing out leaves more room in the house for furniture to be rearranged and even the introduction of new pieces that will enhance your everyday living, if you choose well. And there is an associated contentment that helps free life up for a while.
This analogy can be used to describe the mind, where we store all of our life experiences. The conscious part of our mind can be compared to the rooms that we consciously use in our everyday lives. We know them, we think about them. The unconscious can be compared to the attic or the basement where past memories and experiences are stored. There’s lot we shove up into the attic because we just need to get rid of it, we don’t have the time or energy to sort it first. Unfortunately it’s still there, still needs to be dealt with. Eventually it will come tumbling down.
Now imagine how cluttered your mind is if you have never looked at what its carrying, never stopped to empty out what is no longer of use to you, sorting through and letting go of negative clutter. Like the house, the mind becomes clogged, with no room for new experiences. Like the house, it too, will cease to have the capacity to hold everything and will eventually only manage to barely function. Freeing up your mind from things that bother you and the ‘stuff’ that keeps resurfacing, no matter how hard you try to ignore it, is like the house clutter. It will still be there until you decide to sort it for once and for all.
This doesn’t mean everything changes. Like the furniture and ornaments, there will be some good pieces that you treasure and want to hold onto. Sometimes, quite naturally, we are afraid to even think of changing things, in case it all falls apart. The awful reality may be that you are barely holding it together anyway. Change is always slow and often subtle. There doesn’t have to be a big ‘showdown’ where everything about you changes overnight. Like the hamster on the wheel that just keeps spinning around, we get into a rut. The hamster uses all his energy to keep doing what he’s doing, never lifting his head but he’s going nowhere. All he manages to do is exhaust himself. If only he could pause and get off the wheel he would notice that the door to the cage and to freedom has been open all along. He just didn’t notice it because he was so busy keeping going, for fear he would fall off. Similarly for us, often due to pressures and constraints of life, we don’t notice that there is actually a way out of the rut, a way to effect change in our lives.

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