for January, 2018

What is the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack?

Posted on January 28, 2018 in Uncategorized -

Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

Feelings of anxiety are normal and a natural human response to high risk or intense situations. However, some people experience higher levels of anxiety that is unmanageable and interferes with daily life. If this is the case, professional help may be required to manage symptoms.

You may have heard people who suffer from anxiety, talk about having anxiety attacks? So, what exactly is an anxiety attack and how does it differ from a panic attack?

Many people who suffer from anxiety experience physical symptoms like nausea and a racing heart, with thoughts that are distracting, interfering with the task at hand. However, what differentiates physical symptoms of anxiety, commonly referred to as ‘anxiety attack’ and a full-blown panic attack, is the duration and intensity of the symptoms. Panic attacks are intensely unpleasant with sufferers often submitting themselves to hospital in fear of a heart attack or other life-threatening emergencies. A person having a panic attack may report periods of intense fear in which 4 or more of the following anxiety symptoms develop abruptly and reach a peak within 10 minutes.

o Palpitations, pounding heart
o Sweating
o Trembling or shaking
o Shortness of breath or smothering
o Feeling of choking
o Chest pain or discomfort
o Nausea or abdominal distress
o Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
o Feelings of unreality or detachment
o Fear of losing control or going crazy
o Fear of dying
o Numbness or tingling sensations
o Chills or hot flushes

People who present with panic attacks may appear as composed, competent individuals with fulfilling lives however, beneath the surface they are enduring extreme discomfort and are often struggling to uphold daily life. Fear of a repeat occurrence is common with people avoiding trigger situations that may cause another panic attack. Unfortunately, avoidance behaviour exacerbates the problem and inhibits the person’s lifestyle choices and social freedom. Tackling the problem front on and accepting the need for professional help really is the best way forward. Psychologists work with the cognitive and behavioural features of the condition in an attempt to deal with the triggers of physiological reactions. By addressing the underlying cognitive features, the cycle of anxiety is frequently broken, and the person is able to learn skills to better manage high anxiety and enjoy a free and fulfilling life.

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Feeling seriously unmotivated? Might be time for a mental health check…

Posted on January 19, 2018 in Uncategorized -

Writes, Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

Feeling unmotivated at the start of the year is a pretty normal feeling, especially when you had settled nicely into the relaxing pace of holiday season. Reality can bite even more than your sunburn when you walk back through the office door for the start of another working year. This is normal and to be expected, but if your motivation levels don’t return after a week or so and you are feeling persistently down and out, take some time to assess the cause for the way you are feeling. There are a number of reasons for lack of motivation, one of them is depression.

If you are finding that your level of motivation is directly related to how low your mood is, you might be experiencing depression. And as much as you might feel like sitting around doing nothing, this will only feed the beast. The best thing to do, as challenging as it may seem, is to get out of bed, get dressed and start the day. Set some small but reasonable goals and be kind to yourself in the process of achieving them. Over time, your motivation will grow and the small tasks that seem overwhelming will become easier, leaving you room to tackle more significant tasks. Some other suggestions for improving motivation levels when experiencing depression include:

1.     Feed the positive and let go of the negative

Changing the way, you think about yourself, others and the world, to embrace a more positive outlook, will help you become more self-confident and motivated person. Recognizing when negative thoughts are entering your mind and knowing how to deflect them is an art worth learning. If you struggle with negative thoughts, psychologists and mental health professionals can teach the practice, known as managing negative self-talk.

2. Get regular exercise

Research the world over preaches the benefits of daily exercising for improving both physical and mental health. It will also help improve self-confidence and provides the opportunity to socialize. Most smart phones have a health app (a little red heart) that count your daily steps, this is a great way to motivate you to achieve your daily activity goals whilst holding you accountable when you’ve been in training for the couch surfing pro series.

3. Enlist the support of friends

Isolating yourself is definitely NOT the best medicine, despite how you might be feeling. Socialising with friends and letting them know how you are feeling will mean you are giving yourself the best support network to get over this slump and back on a more positive trajectory.

4. Reward yourself for defeating each small goal

It’s important to cut yourself some slack when overcoming a personal challenge like depression and rewarding yourself, even for the small feats, is a good place to start. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend, you will end up liking yourself more than you thought you ever would.

 5. Plan something to look forward to

Whether it be a mini-break a shopping spree or an overseas adventure, having something to look forward to, will go a long way in improving your motivation. Long term goals help you reach your short-term goals and get through the 9-5, in whatever form that may be.

6. Work on your sleep health

 Getting adequate sleep can be difficult if you are feeling depressed but changing the way you think about sleep will help to change your behaviour towards sleep. For more advice on sleep, visit this page.

7. Get professional help

Getting professional help, should not be your last resort, your doctor and psychologist can form part of a helpful support network. If you feel your lack of motivation is affecting your daily life and you have seen no improvement in your mood, speak to your GP about a mental health plan.

If you like this article, you might also like: More than the back to work blues


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Tips on managing ongoing resistance to school

Posted on January 12, 2018 in Uncategorized -

By Clinical Psychologist, Danielle Corbett

“I’m too tired to go to school, I won’t learn anything anyway”

“I’ve got a really bad headache and I can’t concentrate, you don’t know how bad it is, you’re not me!”

“It’s only sports today, I might as well stay home”

“My stomach hurts, I can’t eat breakfast, maybe I shouldn’t go to school”

“I’ve got assignments to catch up on, I can get more done at home”

If you have heard these phrases more than once, you may have a potential school refuser on your hands.

Understanding School Refusal in older children and adolescents

School refusal is when a child refuses to go to school on a regular basis or has problems staying in school.

Recognising the Symptoms

Children with school refusal frequently complain of unexpected physical symptoms before it is time to leave for school or may repeatedly ask to go to the sick room at school. If the child is allowed to stay at home, the symptoms disappear until the next morning. In some cases the child may refuse to leave the house or be unable to leave the car once at school. Common physical symptoms include headaches, stomachaches, nausea, and diarrhea. Parents should also look out for sleep problems and tantrums.

Early warning signs that parents should look out for include:  frequent complaints about attending school, absences on significant days (tests, carnivals), frequent requests to go home during the school day, excessive worrying about a parent when at school, frequent requests to go to the sick room because of physical complaints, and crying about wanting to go home.

Reasons for School Refusal

The reasons for school refusal can vary, however school refusal tends to be about avoiding something unpleasant.

School Refusal = Fear/Anxiety + Avoidance

Sometimes, resistance to attending school is a blip on the radar. Such resistance is common after a legitimate period of illness creating difficulty getting back to school. The young person may be anxious about all the work they have missed. It this scenario, it’s really important not to prolong time at home. Parents can take control by contacting the teacher and negotiating a back to school plan. Similarly, young people can experience blips of anxiety after holidays, especially the long summer break. Other stressors or illnesses within the family can cause school refusal as can academic problems, difficulty with a teacher, changing schools or transitioning to high school.

Reasons requiring further assessment include:

Separation Anxiety: where the child fears that harm will come to their parent while they are at school.

Performance Anxiety: where the child fears taking tests, giving a speech, athletic/swimming carnival, physical education class, or even answering a question in class. Kids with anxiety about performance fear being embarrassed in front of their peers.

Social Anxiety: some students worry about interactions with peers and/or teachers.

Bullying: children want to avoid school because of the real threat of physical and/or emotional harm.

Tips for Parents for managing School Refusal

School refusal tends to be very stressful for parents as they battle their child’s anxiety about attending school. It can be exhausting to face the daily battle and many parents understandably allow the child to stay at home and do their school work, unknowingly making it more difficult to return the next day. Parents have more control than they think and can try the following in order to assist their children. Make a plan to be clear, calm, and consistent.

Send a clear message about school attendance

It should be clear to the young person that the parental expectation is that they attend school all day, every day. Parents can display this by saying: We will do whatever we need to do in order to get you to school; we cannot allow you to stay at home. You have five minutes to get ready for school.

Try not to take your child’s anxiety and respond to it

Sometimes parents can inadvertently get stuck in a battle with the young person’s anxiety. For example parents may ask if their child is going to school today, they may try and reassure that there’s nothing to worry about. Parents may become frustrated and say things like, why are you doing this you’re upsetting everyone, or we don’t know what to do if you won’t go. Responding to your child’s anxiety just makes it more likely that the child will engage in the same problem behaviours in the future. It can sometimes be helpful to identify for your child that their feelings are controlling their behaviour. You can say, “Your feelings are controlling you at the moment, but they cannot control me”.

Manage the morning routine

Try to ensure that your child knows what is expected of them in the morning and keep the routing consistent to eliminate extra last minute stress.

Ignore problem behaviour

If you are sure that the child is well enough to go to school, and then ignore complaints about sickness. Make sure that the child has seen your GP to eliminate any physical cause for their distress. Treat headaches and stomach aches with paracetamol and send the child to school. Plan to ignore any crying or begging.

Model Confidence

Show the child through your behaviour that going to school is something that you can manage, and so can your child.

Communicate with the school

Talk to your child’s teacher and guidance officer, and enlist support to make sure that your child has the assistance they need to negotiate the school day. This united plan is also important for the child to feel confident that they can tackle their fears.

Escort to school

I find that once school refusal has become a problem, a really useful step is to have the parents take the young person to school every day. We all tend to lead busy lives, but this short term commitment from parents can lead to huge gains and is really worth the juggle. Importantly, don’t stay at school or allow calls and texts during the day. You want to model confidence.

Encourage anxiety management

You can encourage your child to be well rested, with adequate nutrition on board. Exercise is a great stress buster so a morning walk, run, swim, shooting hoops etc can be useful. You can encourage your child to take deep, slow breaths. Some like to imagine peaceful scenes and some like to listen to music. Distraction is another great way to manage anxiety so that your child’s attention is not focused of their worries. Have your child doing things they enjoy to keep their minds busy.

The reasons for school refusal are varied. The longer a young person is able to avoid school, the more difficult it can become to treat so it’s really important to identify and intervene early.  A Clinical Psychologist can help to identify the reasons for school refusal and develop a plan for returning to school with the family and school.

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More than just the back to work blues

Posted on January 10, 2018 in Uncategorized -

By Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist

I was sitting with my little boy the other day and out of nowhere, with real anguish on his face, he said, “I don’t WANT the holidays to end!” He needed a little hug and some reassurance, so I kept my thoughts to myself. I didn’t either!

And I think we all know that feeling. Going back to work after the weekend can be hard enough. We even have a medical name for it…Mondayitis! But returning to work in the New Year can be a very difficult transition for many of us. We’ve settled into holiday mode: spending quality time with family and friends, enjoying late breakfasts, relaxing at the beach and afternoon picnics. Suddenly reality hits – it’s time to go back to work.

For many Australians, returning to work can be a bit of a downer, and it can provoke a case of the ‘return-to-work blues’. This is a really common experience and we can forgive ourselves for going through a little bit of the blues. And should pass within a YEAR or so…umm, actually, within a week people usually find themselves back into the swing of things!

Here are some helpful ways to make this transition a little bit easier.

  • Cut yourself some slack. Ease back into your first week with slightly shorter hours and a less demanding workload, where possible. Be kind to yourself. Imagine your own kids and the way they find going back to school hard, and support yourself a little bit like you might support them.
  • Take time to plan and set goals for the year, both personal and work. This is a real opportunity to stop and think about what you want this year to be like. I’m not really referring to New Year resolutions. More just giving yourself a chance to think about your goals and identifying what you want to get out of the year.
  • Look after your health – exercise regularly, eat well, Look after your sleep and drink lots of water. This is a new beginning, and there is a bit of a long road ahead, so getting into routines and habits early with balanced lifestyle can help to sustain the work ahead and make it more enjoyable.
  • Make a plan for the weekend, something to look forward to. In fact, have a think about other recreation or holiday plans for the coming months. Having little things to look forward to along the way can be very helpful.

For some people, this time of year can be very difficult and a simple case of return-to-work blues can develop into a very real case of anxiety and depression.

So how do you recognise when the return-to-work blues have become something more serious and what can you do about it?

  • Most people will experience low mood at some point in their lives. However, if you are feeling down most of the day nearly every day and/or have lost interest in the things you used to enjoy, you should discuss this with your GP.
  • Take note of any physical changes such as loss of appetite, weight loss/gain and increased/decreased sleep.
  • Are you becoming more withdrawn, turning down social invitations and no longer getting enjoyment from things?
  • Talking to people about your concerns and getting support from a trusted work colleague can offer a different perspective, reduce isolation and help you connect with the right people to help you best manage the situation.

For more information on our team of Clinical Psychologists who can help you reach your true potential for 2018, click here

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