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Choosing a Therapist

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

Choosing a therapist can be a daunting task.  Here are a few points to remember.

It is important to choose a therapist who is a good match for you.  This is a very personal decision.  Even the most professionally respected therapist in the world will not  be a good match for everyone.  Remember that different people work together in different ways.  You should feel comfortable with the style of your therapist.  Sometimes it takes a few “tries” to find a good match.  It is OK to shop around until you find the right therapist for you.

Feel free to interview a prospective therapist, asking questions about their style of therapy and training, fee structure, cancellation policy, insurance reimbursement, how long they have been in practice, and if they are familiar working with the kinds of issues you want to work on in therapy.

Expect and demand ethical practices, including issues of confidentiality.  Be sure to ask about the therapist’s license.  While not all therapists are required to have licenses by all states, and while licensure is no guarantee of quality, it is useful for you to know that a person receiving a state license has met the requirements for education and training mandated by your state.

Some Questions To Ask Yourself When Choosing a Therapist:

  1. Is the therapist warm and accepting?
  2. Does the therapist have a sense of humor?
  3. Is the therapist willing to challenge you when necessary?
  4. Does the therapist seem emotionally healthy and seem to feel at ease?  (in other words, does not seem anxious, arrogant or depressed)
  5. Does the therapist accept and encourage the idea that clients are entitled to shop around for a therapist before they commit?
  6. Does the therapist accept the idea that consultation or second opinions may be helpful in the course of therapy?
  7. Does the therapist let you explain your problems without prematurely trying to fit you into a preconceived box?
  8. Does the therapist have more than one clinical orientation and can fit their approach to your specific problems?
  9. Does the therapist present you with clear office policies, including the limits of confidentiality, client’s rights, etc?
  10. Does the therapist seem flexible in many ways but still able to maintain clear boundaries?
  11. Does the therapist communicate well with parents when treating children and adolescents?
  12. Does the therapist seem to be able to balance the need to respect an adolescents privacy while keeping the parents informed?
  13. Is the therapist flexible about who can be a part of therapy? (at times, it is helpful to bring your friend/partner, child or parent with you to therapy)
  14. Does the therapist conduct regular evaluations of progress in therapy, including the discussion of  treatment plans?
  15. Does the therapist listen to your assessment of what is helpful and what is not during the course of therapy?

Remember that therapy, in the hands of a skilled therapist, is a powerful and life changing experience.  It has been shown to be effective for a variety of illnesses and problems.  If you need therapy and work as an active participant in your own treatment, you can expect it will be well worth the time and money you invest.

See my Reading Recommendations

How to Build A Support System?

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

Isolation is a major cause of depression in adults. As we move into adult responsibilities: work, parenting, marriages, we tend to let our relationships fade into the background. You may not be exposed to groups of people in your daily life like when you were younger. Many of us have jobs that are isolating.

The trend to work remotely has increased our isolation. In the ever increasing tasks of “adulting,” self-care often takes a back seat. Self-care includes Physical, Psychological, Emotional, Spiritual, Personal and Professional tasks. A healthy support system plays a role in all of these categories of self-care.

A support system is made up of individual people who provide support, respect, and care.

These are people who are in your corner. They do not judge you or ridicule you. They provide feedback that is genuine and in your best interest. Their support is not self-serving. They have a positive impact on your personal goals. These people may be close friends, relatives, or simply acquaintances. You may talk to them frequently or just occasionally.

Sometimes your support system includes people in your community.  Any interaction that is friendly and positive leaves you feeling happier. Frequent enough contact with that clerk, barista, or gym mate, is the foundation of building a network.  Any social connection can have a positive influence on your life. Being connected with others is vitally important to your happiness, self-esteem and ability to cope in difficult times. It also has a positive impact on self-acceptance and emotional health.

Most of us recognize the importance of this but it can be hard to build a network of supportive people, and stay connected to the support system we already have. Life is busy. It’s easy to find reasons why NOT to get together or call or email or even text. The excuse list is long:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I don’t know what to say.
  • ​It’s been so long since I’ve talked to them.
  • ​It will be awkward.
  • ​They’re probably too busy.
  • I don’t want to intrude on their life.

We all need people. I’m often asked how to overcome this list and build a support network?

Let's start by make a list of who is already in your corner.

Who do you already have in your life? Make a list of ALL the people you currently interact with. This should include family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Think of your home, your work, your community, your church, your gym, your children’s school, your local Starbucks, any activity you do in your life that you are around people. You can also include professionals such as counselors, teachers, mentors, and clergy.

Go through this list and put a star next to each person who is supportive. Write next to their name what makes them supportive. Answer the following questions.

  • Do I feel respected by this person?
  • ​Do I trust this person?
  • ​Does this person bring out my best qualities?
  • ​Does this person allow me to feel good about myself?
  • ​Do I leave interactions feeling positive?

Make a point to contact these people and ask how they are doing.

How do I Build my Network?

You may find that your list is much smaller than you’d like. If this is the case, what is standing in the way of you building a support network? You may decide that seeing a counselor or talking with another professional advisor such as clergy or personal coach can help you develop your capacity to connect with others in a safe and supportive environment.

You might need help to identify the roadblocks you have created that keep you from connecting in meaningful ways with other people. A few examples of roadblocks include, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, depression, misguided life priorities, disorganization in your life, or difficulty asking for and accepting help from others.

Support systems are only effective if you use them.

Let’s work through the following roadblock example, "I dont like to rely on others." It’s hard for many of us to ask for help. Consider the following questions if this is an obstacle for you in using your support system.

  • When do I ask for help?
  • In what situations have I asked for help in the past?
  • ​When I ask for help, what am I feeling?
  • ​What do I think will happen?
  • Do I have negative or positive expectations?

Identify one situation you are dealing with in your life right now that you are overwhelmed with. Look through the list of supporters you made in this exercise, pick one person you can ask for assistance…and ASK.

Your support system should be just that, supportive. If you find that certain people tend to take much more than they give, if you feel drained after each interaction, this isn’t considered supportive. In relationships there is an ebb and flow to support. Each person takes turns being the supporter as life happens.

However, if this support isn’t balanced it may be time to set healthy boundaries for yourself -See my article: Setting Emotional Boundaries in Relationships

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I've created a helpful e-book:

Boundaries in Relationships 

that covers topics such as:

  • Do I Have Weak Boundaries?
  • Setting Emotional Boundaries in Relationships
  • What Makes a Healthy Relationship?
  • What Leads to Someone Becoming Emotionally Abusive?
  • Tools to Respond to Difficult People
  • How to Build a Support System
Stephanie Camins

What Is Resiliency?

A 12 Step Plan to Increase your Own Resilience When Life becomes Overwhelming

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

Resilience is referred to often in emotional wellness circles but typically without adequately describing the importance of having or attaining this quality. Any challenging life circumstance that creates a flood of emotion and a perceived loss of control can challenge our ability to cope. Resilience is the human ability to rebuild or come back from difficult situations.

reslience 1

We all cope in some way to extraordinary life events. The positive psychology movement has long focused on the skills people use to navigate major life events. Sometimes negative events such as loss and sometimes positive events such as marriage or a promotion can challenge our ability to cope.

What’s the point of this movement? Why is this important?

The answer lies in the extraordinary number of people who cope in self-destructive ways, ruining relationships and sabotaging anything good in their lives.

Resilience theory states that we all have the ability to cultivate these positive characteristics and traits. Building resilience is a skill set involving thoughts, behaviors and actions which can be learned. It is an important component of PTSD Recovery, as well as, recovering from depression and anxiety. With these skills in place you not only manage the distress caused by PTSD or other major life events, but also inoculate yourself from the adverse effects of negative life events in the future.

Resilient People Display the Ability to:

resilience 2
  • set and move toward realistic goals
  • ​have an ability to look long term
  • accept change as part of life
  • ​engage in active decision making
  • ​engage in self-discovery
  • ​communicate and problem solve
  • actively learn new things
  • ​have an optimistic outlook
  • ​have a realistic perspective of themselves and the world around them
  • ​accept and manage the presence of strong feelings
  • be flexible
  • ​have a positive view of self
  • ​actively engage in self-care
  • build connections with others

As you begin your journey down this road to resilience, focus on your own strengths. Remember what has worked well for you in the past. Who did you reach out to? What activities did you incorporate to reduce stress and anxiety? How have you overcome obstacles in the past? What gave you hope and purpose? Use the list below to develop and execute your own personal plan. The Road Map to Resilience is a task list to increase resiliency. Take your time focusing on each step. It will be helpful as you move through this process to create a journal to keep track of your emotions, thoughts and the actions you take.

Road Map to Resilience – A 12 Step Plan

reslilience 3
  1. Develop Caring and supportive relationships that are filled with love, trust, encouragement and reassurance.
  2. Manage your feelings You will feel strong emotions. Give yourself space to feel them. You can regulate emotions by focusing on positive emotions, such as, hope, courage, and happiness and decreasing the focus on negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, and resentment. To decrease these uncomfortable emotions, it’s important to remember to give yourself permission to feel these feelings, get support when needed and then shift your focus. Denying feelings only intensifies your reaction. Feel and release is a good rule of thumb here.
  3. Build on your strengths Remember to celebrate small achievements.
  4. Have positive expectations and expect things to turn out for the best. Visualize what you want rather than focusing on a negative outlook. Reframe negatives to positives, look for the silver lining in situations, others and yourself. Difficult life events happen. What lessons can you learn from adversity? How can you help others in a similar circumstance?
  5. Practice positive self-talk rather than engaging in self-sabotaging thoughts.
  6. Engage in activities which increase self-confidence including hobbies, personal development and work projects. Do what you love, what you’re good at and take action daily.
  7. ​Increase positive physical behaviors such as exercise, healthy eating, and good sleep habits. Develop regular routines.
  8. Create meaning and purpose
  9. Set SMART goals to increase and enhance your sense of self-control, mastery and competence, break tasks down to achievable parts, prepare and plan for setbacks, commit to hard work. Identify one thing you can accomplish today in the direction of your goal.
  10. Be flexible Create a list of alternative thoughts, feelings and actions by looking at things from different or opposing perspectives. You may need to shift your goals or direction in your life as a result of events that arise in life. Focus on the road in front of you, and adapt.
  11. Create a social support system Seek and accept help, access community resources, volunteer in your community, work toward positive communication and problem solving with those around you, actively engage in a social network, share your feelings with someone you trust.
  12. Forgive others and yourself

Following this road map, you will be able to identify not only your own personal map but also what your roadblocks are. This process involves deep emotional work and may require the assistance of a professional counselor. Life is a journey! Embrace your strengths!

See my Reading Recommendations

Can PTSD Be Cured?

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

Chronic PTSD results from prolonged exposure to traumatic events and an inability to manage the symptoms of PTSD. PTSD does not get better with time alone and medication has shown limited positive impact on resolving trauma.

  • A traumatic event is unchangeable.
  • The event can be large or small.
  • ​It can be one incident or many incidents.
  • ​It can happen at any point in your life.
  • It can happen to you or a loved one.
  • ​Trauma forms an imprint on the brain.
  • You can’t change the trauma but you can change the impact of trauma in your life.

So what does all this mean to you? Is there hope for a “normal” life and healthy relationships? The answer is a resounding YES.

Living with PTSD involves managing a number of symptoms including, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and memories, nightmares, irrational thought processes, hyper-reactivity, hyper-vigilance, and avoidance of any triggers such as persons, places, or things. Further information is available in the article PTSD Criteria.

Although the trauma has happened in the past, the disruptive physical, emotional and cognitive consequences are happening in the present. You may find yourself experiencing a fear of your own feelings due to an inability to regulate emotions. This side effect of trauma leads to either shutting your feelings down and becoming numb in the face of strong emotions or becoming hyper-aroused and physically overwhelmed by them. The expression of complex PTSD symptoms becomes automatic and can include intense emotional reactions, numbness, and distorted belief systems. The goal in trauma treatment is to regain a balance between your rational brain (the pre-frontal cortex) and your emotional brain (the amygdala).

Why Does Trauma Cause so Much Disruption in Our Lives?

Can ptsd be Cured?

When you cross your threshold for emotional tolerance, the frontal cortex “shuts down” and the amygdala “takes over”. The frontal cortex acts as your brains CEO. It is in charge of managing your thinking, memory, concentration, planning, execution, all those functions we identify as “human”. Trauma hijacks your frontal cortex by over-activating your emotional center, the amygdala. When this happens you have difficulty with memory, verbal communication, problem solving, concentration, attention, reasoning, planning, goal achievement, amongst many other functions. This affects our lives tremendously at work, in relationships and in our personal development. It can have a global effect on our ability to stay present and function in our lives.

All this said, we have a number of very effective strategies to manage and resolve the symptoms of PTSD. The tasks for recovery are aimed at reducing the over-activity of the emotional, fight or flight center of the brain and allowing the thinking center or CEO to come back online.

To manage your PTSD symptoms, you must learn to employ coping skills such as mindfulness, emotional regulation, stress management, grounding skills, self-care, social scaffolding, and body awareness.  This will result in being able to remain calm, focused and grounded consistently, engage in the present, and establish strong connections with people in your life.

What is Emotional Regulation?

Emotional regulation activities such as mindfulness techniques help you come back to the present when your brain shuts down. These coping skills increase your ability to self-soothe and regulate emotions. Mindfulness exercises focus on the here and now in the present moment, encouraging awareness and acceptance of the present reality. It serves to deactivate the amygdala, the “fight of flight” center of the brain by increasing our ability to regulate emotions. Mentally rehearsing self- soothing activities allows our brains to form new neural pathways allowing the prefrontal cortex to “come back online”. Practicing mindfulness calms the sympathetic nervous system and decreases the activity of the amygdala. Remember, the prefrontal cortex acts as our CEO and is in charge of problem solving, planning, attention, emotional regulation, and reasoning. Rehearsing positive coping techniques regularly, increases your ability to experience feelings without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down. This ensures that you can be in charge of your body and mind again.

PTSD and Relationships

PTSD Cured?

Unresolved trauma impedes your ability to fully open yourself emotionally to another. Intimate relationships are intense emotional experiences. They are supposed to be! Loving another person increases your vulnerability. It can be hard for a person experiencing symptoms of PTSD to regulate the intense emotional responses they have to another. Emotional regulation is greatly affected by PTSD. It is important to involve significant others as allies to your healing. Family members and friends can be great co-facilitators to healing. They can support your courage, provide physical and emotional safety, practice coping skills with you, and encourage you to focus on self-care during this process.

Trauma Counseling

Body centered treatments such as EMDR, yoga therapy, sensorimotor psychotherapy, are widely used by mental health professionals in the treatment of trauma. Other strategies such as mindfulness training, stress inoculation training, cognitive behavioral therapy, and narrative therapies have also shown significant positive results in managing the symptoms of PTSD. Enter your email and receive access to a workshop, “Change your Story, Change Your Life”, which will walk you through an important strategy to overcome your trauma and reestablish a sense of purpose. Also refer to the article, “What is Resilience?” and learn more about resilience factors that we can build to improve our responses to stressful life events.

See my Reading Recommendations

Resolutions or Life Goals 2017?

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

2016 is now in the history books and 2017 in well under way! - It's a great time to reflect on what we have accomplished in the last year and what we want to achieve in the coming year. I know many people are put off by the idea of New Year’s resolutions. The notion that you will “resolve” to make some giant life change, a change you’ve resolved to make for years, can seem like a set up for failure. Countless times I’ve heard from the very people who come to me for help getting their lives back on track, “I don’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions.” To this I reply, how do you propose to get your life back on track without setting goals. The New Year is a perfect time to reflect on self-development and create an effective plan for achievement in the next year.

Time to Plan Your Personal Goals

As those around me know, I’m an avid “New Year’s Resolutioner”. I’ve been writing and tracking my resolutions since 2009. I have 8 years of resolutions I keep in my daily planner. They are a reminder of where I was, where I am now and where I’d like to go next. I use this annual exercise to plan my personal goals for the coming year. I write them down and sometimes share them with others. This helps hold me personally accountable for my own achievements. When writing these resolutions or goals it’s important to keep in mind goal setting activities, and use a goal planner to guide you toward higher achievement over the coming year.

Common resolutions include wellness, emotional health, personal financial planning, weight loss motivation, exercise motivation, better health, self-acceptance, achieve fitness, have a positive attitude, or simply improve yourself. Good New Year’s resolutions are simple and measurable. The main reason goals fail is that they are ill defined, too vague, and have no way to measure success. The best New Year’s resolutions or life goals for 2017 as we will call them are clearly defined, broken down into achievable tasks, and have a measured outcome for success.

You will find all sorts of articles and strategies on making effective New Year’s resolutions this month. This has worked best for me and I encourage you to follow my simple system to define and measure your progress toward achieving your goals this year. I divide my goals into four categories:

  • Better health
  • Work goals
  • Relationship resolutions
  • Personal financial planning

I’ve always used these same four categories as they seem to cover all the growth areas I like to focus on. For each category, I write simple, measurable activities I can achieve and check off throughout the year. Small actionable items are achievable steps to a larger goal. Experiencing the success of accomplishing these tasks increases your energy and motivation to work toward your bigger goal. For example, under better health you may want to include a wellness plan. To make this specific you will elaborate tasks to accomplish wellness such as exercise 3 times per week, participate in four races this year, or follow clean eating recipes 4 times per week. For relationship resolutions you may include, game night once a week with the family, Sunday dinner and movie, or meeting a friend for coffee once a month. The key here is a small task that can be accomplished in short time frames with a defined frequency. Use this recipe for each category.

How to Get Motivated?

A challenge in achieving New Year’s resolutions is maintaining motivation over the span of a year. Once you’ve established clearly defined, measurable, actionable goals the question becomes, how to motivate yourself for the long haul. Plan for periods of no motivation. Experiencing episodic lack of motivation is to be expected. With well-defined goals, both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is inherent. As you achieve each small success, you will increase your own self-empowerment and you will begin to get positive feedback from those around you who will notice the changes you are accomplishing. Happy New Year! and Happy New You!

See my Reading Recommendations

PTSD Criteria

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, occurs in approximately 8.7% of the population over their lifetimes according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5. PTSD can have social, occupational, interpersonal, developmental, physical and economic consequences. It is more prevalent among females due to the increased risk females have to exposure of traumatic events. It is estimated that 68 million women will be victimized in their lifetimes according to research presented in Meichenbaum’s PTSD: Ways to Bolster Resilience.

PTSD criteria

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a set of symptoms arising from exposure to a traumatic or stressful event. The distress that follows this exposure varies from individual to individual. You can develop PTSD from emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, violence or exposure to violence, assault, war, natural disasters, and accidents among other life threatening or perceived life threatening events. Symptoms usually start in the first few months after the traumatic incident but onset can be longer.

Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD symptoms are generally recurrent, involuntary and intrusive. PTSD flashbacks can be experienced as temporarily losing touch with your present surroundings when triggered by some reminder of the traumatic event. You may experience distressing dreams that replay the event. Also, intense physiological responses or hyper-vigilance occur when experiencing any sensory trigger related to the event.

What is PTSD?

Chronic PTSD

Chronic PTSD also includes the persistent avoidance of similar memories, thoughts or reminders associated with the event, as well as a disruption in memory around the trauma. An increase in negative thoughts about yourself or others, or a persistent negative emotional state begins after exposure to trauma. Negative emotional states include anxiety, guilt, anger, shame and grief. For some survivors, changes in reactivity can begin after the event such as angry outbursts, reckless behavior or problems with concentration and sleep. Chronic PTSD or exposure to traumatic events significantly decreases a person’s ability to regulate emotional states and maintain stable interpersonal relationships.

Living with PTSD

Living with PTSD can feel uncertain and out of control at times. Sensory, emotional, physiological and cognitive aspects of your being are affected. Flashbacks can be very brief or last days. The trigger can be known or of unknown origin. Victims of trauma often blame themselves or others for the event and begin to have persistent negative thoughts and feelings. Symptoms can increase unexpectedly when exposed to reminders of trauma.

Trauma therapy with a qualified psychotherapist will help you to understand how trauma is affecting your day to day life, and move you toward PTSD recovery. For more information on trauma counseling and coping with PTSD, join my newsletter to be notified when the next article, Can PTSD Be Cured? is published.

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Can Depression Be Cured ?

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

What is Depression?

Depression is a persistently low mood which includes feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, lack of joy in activities, decreased motivation in addition to changes in sleeping patterns and appetite. See the article Why Am I Depressed for more on the depression checklist.  Can depression be cured? This is a common question that I am faced with so I put together a few steps that can help you find the answer.

can depression be cured?

What to Do About Depression

Treating depression is a three pronged strategy focusing on thoughts, feelings and actions.

Strategy 1:  Change Your Thinking

Change your thinking.  You’re brain forms entrenched pathways based on those thoughts you engage in repeatedly.  As a result, if you are constantly thinking depressed thoughts, your brain becomes better and faster at this pathway. It’s harder to access a wellness plan when your brain is in the habit of thinking negatively. The goal is to form a new thinking habit that is positive, solution focused and driven to a productive purpose. To reverse the negative thinking process, focus on recalling happy memories and proud moments. This is easier said than done. The following techniques can help you to get started.

Use the Broken Record Technique to form a new, happier thought pathway. Write down your positive thoughts, your purpose driven goal statements and recall and repeat them whenever you find yourself thinking low thoughts or find yourself in a low mood. List and honor your strengths. The goal is to increase the frequency in which you are thinking positively. Remember the times you aren’t or weren’t depressed. Write down what is different in these moments. Recall and repeat them often.

Identify and correct distorted thinking patterns which reinforce the negative thought pathway. This includes your self-defeating beliefs. Use the Detective Technique to refute these beliefs. What is the evidence these thoughts are true and what is an alternative explanation for these thoughts. How often are you misinterpreting situations due to a negative lens? If you look at the same situation with positive lenses what alternative thoughts can you identify? Is there another way of looking at the situation? If your best friend was struggling with this same situation, what would you advise them to do?

See “How to Control Anxiety - 10 Tools for Managing Stress” for additional strategies.

depression in women

Strategy 2: Accept Your Feelings

Accepting all feelings as they happen, even the negative ones will help prevent overreacting to low moods or dissatisfaction. You are less likely to get stuck in a negative feeling state if you accept that “right now, I feel sad, but it will pass.” Feelings are fluid states, consequently feelings ebb and flow. They are inherently not a permanent state. Coming from a place of acceptance prevents you from falling into a negative thought loop while repeating your self-defeating tapes. The more you think about a depressive circumstance or event, the more you will sink into depression.

Strategy 3:  Increase Positive Actions

Set measurable goals. The goal to "be happier" seems smart,  but it can backfire and add to the depression and feelings of helplessness simply because it is not a well-defined goal. What specific measurable steps can you plan to increase feelings of happiness? Goal creation can be self-defeating if you become overly focused on unattainable goals. Developing smart goals is a skill that once learned will provide a steady direction while propelling you toward a life purpose you define and work toward every day.

Develop an Action Plan. Identify healthy lifestyle choices you can make and track them in a wellness journal. This should include physical activity, social activity, a sleep routine along with a work schedule. Your work schedule includes time for professional activity and work on your personal goal development.

Treating depression without medication can be effective when you consistently engage in a wellness plan which includes assessing environmental factors. This includes lifestyle choices, stressors, sleep routines along with physical activity routines which contribute to low or anxious moods. Practice the strategies for combating negative thinking patterns. Develop realistic, achievable goals which focus on purpose. Build your resources and practice your wellness plan daily.  

In conclusion, the road out of depression involves changing how we think, our goals, our relationships, our environments and our physical wellness through sleep, diet, and exercise. Getting over depression requires the daily practice of wellness not just a plan to reduce symptoms. Counseling services provided by a qualified psychotherapist are often necessary to implement these strategies. Most noteworthy, depression can involve serious thoughts of harming oneself and suicide. If you have any of these serious symptoms of depression, contact a mental health professional immediately.

Why am I Depressed?

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

I think I have depression is a sentiment expressed by nearly 35 million American adults. Why am I depressWhy am I Depresseded? is often the followup thought that may never really get expressed or vocalized. Approximately one in five of us will struggle with depression at some point in our lives. Symptoms of depression in women are identified at the rate of 33 percent as compared to 27 percent of men. The increasing demands on our time and energy have a direct impact on our susceptibility to low moods. Our busy lifestyles have decreased the amount of sleep we get, decreased the amount of physical activity we get, decreased the amount of sunlight we get, and decreased our availability to connect in meaningful relationships. Chronic dissatisfaction and lack of defined purpose have developed in part from the pressures of a cultural focus on performance and achievement. Environmental factors such poverty, hunger, abuse, violence and instability increase the symptoms of chronic depression.

Depression Hurts

Depression hurts you and your loved ones. A person’s perspective which is unrealistic, overly focused on negatives, highly self-critical or highly anxious contribute to the effects of depression and affect your relationship with yourself and those around you. Depressed people tend to exhibit self-defeating patterns of thinking and behavior. When we become fixated on unattainable goals, we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment. You may be impacted by lifestyle choices, environmental stressors, negative family or social situations, physical illness, hormone changes such as menopause depression and post-partum depression, or a negative personality type. The more you understand about the causes of your depression the better you can learn to combat depression and move toward a happier state of being.

What is Depression?

Symptoms of depression vary somewhat by individual and typically include persistent low mood, feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness, lacking joy in activities, changes in sleep patterns, changes in appetite, difficulty focusing, isolation, irritability, self-destructive thoughts, agitation, low libido, low energy, excessive guilt and negative attitude. Physical signs of depression can include an increase in headaches, stomach problems, weight loss or gain, and chronic aches and pains. If you recognize yourself in some of these symptoms you may be wondering how to diagnose depression. This depression checklist is used by counselors to diagnose levels of clinically significant depression along with assessing the degree to which these symptoms disrupt your daily functioning.

What to do About Depression?

How you react and cope with negative mood states is directly correlated to depression. Learning to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices into your routine, change negative thought patterns, connect in meaningful relationships and work toward a positive purpose in your life will reduce your depression significantly. Increasing your support network will help you to learn and maintain healthy ways of coping with the ever increasing demands of life. This support network can include friends, family, clergy, doctors and counselors. Your physician may help you with an appropriate medication protocol if your symptoms are severe and unremitting. A psychotherapist or counselor can help you identify your level of depression as well as aid in a plan to climb out of the depression. Depression can be very serious, sometimes involving suicidal thoughts. In this case seek professional help immediately. For more information on treating depression stay tuned for my next article, “Can Depression Be Cured?” If you’d like to be notified by e-mail when this article is posted, sign up for the e-mail newsletter on the homepage of this website.

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What is a Panic Attack?

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

“I’m going to die.”what is a panic attack definition

“I’m going insane.”

“I’m losing control.”

“I won’t be able to get out of here.”

“People will think I’m crazy.”

Over 4 million people in the U.S. experience these thoughts accompanied by a litany of physical symptoms. A panic attack is a sudden, unexpected surge in adrenaline which occurs in the absence of any apparent danger. Our built in fight or flight response is activated for no obvious reason. People who tend to have panic attacks are typically hypersensitive to physical fluctuations in their body. How you perceive these physical symptoms determines your level of anxiety. If you assign catastrophic thoughts like those listed above, you are much more likely to trigger the fight or flight adrenaline release.

what is a panic attack brain

Common Physical Symptoms of a Panic Attack:

  • Rapid or heavy heartbeat
  • Shakiness
  • Tightness in chest
  • Feeling faint
  • Blurred vision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Fluttery or sinking feeling in your stomach

What Causes a panic attack?

What causes a panic attack? Looking at these physical symptoms, it’s understandable that you may associate catastrophic thoughts to what is happening. It is this intense fear which drives the anxiety scale over the panic threshold. Your first thought may not be, is this a panic attack or a heart attack? You may simply focus on the body sensation of panic attack chest pain and assume heart attack. Many people end up in the emergency room during an initial panic attack, convinced something terrible happening to them. You know you are in no apparent external danger therefore something must be internally wrong. When we turn these catastrophic thoughts inwards it’s like fanning a flame. Each catastrophic thought adds more fuel which increases adrenaline which increases physical symptoms which increases catastrophic thoughts and now you are in a full blown panic attack.

Recognizing the signs of a panic attack at the first stages is crucial. Keeping a panic attack log will help you identify what leads up to a full blown attack. A tool box of coping strategies is also important to stop a panic attack at any level of the anxiety scale from 0 (calm) to 10 (major panic attack). More information on how to overcome panic attacks and how to prevent panic attacks is provided in the article “How to Control Panic Attacks.”

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Symptoms of a Panic Attack

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

Symptoms of a Panic attack

Panic attacks affect over 5% of the population.  They are extremely frightening and uncomfortable. The symptoms of a panic attack can be intense and unexplainable, occurring at a moment’s notice without any apparent trigger.  Our natural fight or flight response has been tripped unnecessarily causing intense physical symptoms and accompanying catastrophic thoughts.

Panic Attack Symptoms

The following is a list of physical symptoms which can occur during a panic attack:

  1. Rapid heartbeat
  2. Sweatiness
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Shaky all over
  5. Hyperventilation
  6. Tightness in chest
  7. Dizzy of lightheaded
  8. Blurred vision
  9. Fluttering or sinking feeling in the stomach
  10. Unable to think straight
  11. Feeling of floating away or becoming detached

These symptoms occur in absence of any danger.  You can have panic attacks while sleeping causing you to wake up in a state of intense distress.   Panic attacks at night and panic attacks while driving are not uncommon, you can be anywhere when they occur. Because these body sensations happen in absence of any apparent danger you attribute them to some unknown internal cause which creates the second set of symptoms – catastrophic thoughts.  “I’m going to die. I’m going insane. I’m losing control.  People will think I’m crazy.  Something terrible will happen.”

Signs of a panic attack happen in a progression that begins with an initiating circumstance which is often unknown to you.  Your body then experiences a slight increase in one or more of the physical symptoms listed above.  Next, you begin to focus intensely on this symptom.  This is the preliminary point at which a panic attack begins. Interpreting the physical symptom in a fearful or catastrophic way will trigger a physiological response known as “fight of flight” and now you are experiencing moderate panic.  If you continue in this vicious cycle, focusing on the physical symptom and assigning corresponding catastrophic thoughts you have a full scale level 10 panic attack.

When panic attacks, implementing coping strategies can reduce the duration and intensity of the attack.  With regular practice in using tools to manage the symptoms of severe anxiety you will successfully learn how to overcome panic attacks.  For further information on coping strategies read the  related articles:  “How to Control Panic Attacks” and “How to Control Anxiety – A Tool Box For Managing Stress.

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How to Control Panic Attacks

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

When panic attacks, it takes coHow to control panic attacksntrol of your body and mind. Signs of a panic attack include rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, sweaty palms, dizziness, tightness in the chest, and a sinking feeling in your stomach accompanied with thoughts such as, “I’m going to die, I’m losing it, I’m going to pass out, I won’t be able to breathe.” Panic attacks can come from out of nowhere or may progress in phases from mild symptoms to moderate to full blown. A psychotherapist as part of anxiety counseling will measure panic on an anxiety scale with zero (0) being calm and up to ten (10) being a major panic attack. Keeping a record of your panic attacks will help you identify your own initial warning signs as you begin the learning process of how to control panic attacks.

Panic Attack Journal

A Panic Attack Journal includes the date, time, duration, and intensity of your panic attack. The intensity scale is zero (0,) no symptoms to five (5), early panic symptoms, to ten (10) a major panic attack. Also include in your journal your stress level prior to the panic attack, what kind of mood you were in, how rested were you, what your consumption of caffeine or sugar was, what negative or irrational thoughts were circling in your mind, and who you were with. Include a list of alternative explanations for your physical symptoms that are not catastrophic or irrational. Now that you have your own panic attack diagram, you can implement coping strategies to prevent or counteract panic.

Stop Panic Attacks

You may be able to stop a panic attacks once they’ve started by following a simple plan using coping strategies designed to calm the body and mind. Fighting panic can make the symptoms worse. Focus on letting the wave of panic pass through you as your body reabsorbs the adrenaline burst.
1. Practice taking slow deep breaths –breathe in for 7 seconds, hold for two seconds and exhale for 7 seconds.
2. Repeat positive statements – This will pass, this anxiety won’t hurt me, I can handle this.
3. Engage in physical activity – take a walk, do yoga stretches.
4. Focus on the present – What do I see, hear, taste, touch and feel.
5. Use easy distraction techniques – count backwards from 100, sing a song, snap a rubber band on your wrist, eat a snack, drink a glass of water.
How to prevent panic attacks from occurring at all involves managing stress and anxiety in your life on a regular basis following a program of relaxation techniques, exercise, and healthy eating as well as learning to acknowledge and express your feelings in healthy ways. See the article “How to Control Anxiety – A Tool Box for Stress Management” for further information.

Natural Remedies for Panic Attacks

Natural remedies are classified as any coping strategies you use which do not involve medication. With severe panic attacks that are debilitating and prevent you from leaving your home or being able to function in your life, it may be necessary to consult with your doctor to review a medication protocol in addition to anxiety counseling from a qualified psychotherapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT anxiety counseling is the standard form of therapy used in counseling services for the treatment of panic attacks. Panic attacks can be treated successfully in a step by step model returning you to a healthy, happy lifestyle.

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