Understanding panic attacks

Photo by Flick user Michael Clesle

Photo by Flick user Michael Clesle

Panic attacks first occur unexpectedly and with no obvious reason. Researchers from Brown University say that stressful events are associated with the onset of panic attacks in the vast majority of cases.
The specific causes of panic attacks remain unknown but researchers agree that it is a combination of environmental and biological factors.
Stress is not simply a case of cause and effect. There are many factors that influence when and for how long the fight or flight response is triggered and how harmful can be the impact of stress upon us.
Such factors include:

  • how we perceive an event (our thinking style, emotional coping style, beliefs, personality traits)
  • duration of the stressor (stressful event), many stressors one after the other, unpredictability of the stressor, degree of control over the stressor
  • self-support skills and social support
  • medical conditions (e.g. mitral valve prolapsed, hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia), diet, exercise, substance use (e.g. caffeine, drugs, alcohol…), medication withdrawal, highly sensitive nervous system

Stress and major life events

Stress is often connected with major life events and transitions in a person’s life like a divorce or job loss. Panic attacks may also be the result of a gradual and steady build up of stress over a long period. Many studies reveal that months preceding the first panic attack the person had been going through a period of stress or trauma. An accumulation of stressful events together with an emotional processing style that avoids dealing with the events and painful feelings in a healthy way will create a fruitful ground for anxiety and panic attacks.
Here are some common stresses:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Illness, operation, disability of a loved one
  • Marriage/relationship problems: separation, divorce proceedings, arguments, fights, violent or critical partner, affairs…
  • Children: having a baby, miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, illness…
  • Family: having to look after an ageing parent, over-control from parents in your life…
  • Moving away from home (familiar surroundings), starting a new job/studies, moving to another home/city/country
  • Your own physical health : surgery, illness, disability
  • Accidents/disasters: car accident, seeing others being hurt
  • Work: too much stress at work, deadlines, pressure to perform, bad atmosphere at work, boredom, long hours without breaks, many responsibilities, retirement…
  • Financial worries: debts, business failure, mortgage/loans problems
  • Substance use (10% of panic attacks are set off by drug use such as cannabis)
  • Separation experiences: leaving home, separating with partner, moving away from family and friends
  • Feeling trapped in an unhappy relationship/marriage, a stressful job, having to live in an unpleasant co-habitation with partner/ roommates/ family
  • Losing control of important aspects of your life such as your job, social life
  • Being controlled by a parent or a partner

Almost any of these stresses may be enough to set the scene for panic, as the pressure can be building up for months or years; often it is a combination of some issues that will bring the overload.
The warning signs of stress are there from the beginning: high levels of tension, irritability, poor sleep and concentration, feeling anxious, weak immune system, psychosomatic symptoms.  Many people face successive stressful life events, so how come not all people who experience stressful events get panic attacks or anxiety related problems?

Panic attacks and Emotional processing style

How we cope with emotions plays an important role in the development of anxiety and panic attacks. Life events and stressful events will always evoke pleasant and unpleasant feelings. A lot of people tend to run away from unpleasant and painful emotions, it’s their way of handling emotions: avoidance of expressing and/or processing feelings. Signs of unprocessed emotion appear in the form of nightmares, intrusive thoughts, tension and anxiousness.
Someone who doesn’t understand, dislikes, avoids and/or suppresses unpleasant emotional experiences will be more prone to anxiety. This emotional processing style is present probably years before the first panic attack and ultimately it is this style that makes the person vulnerable to anxiety and having panic attacks.

We keep our immune system in shape with a good diet, exercise, proper sleep and rest, but what do we do for our emotional health, how do we ensure our “emotional immune system” is working properly?
A healthy emotional processing style involves giving space, valuing and expressing feelings, even painful feelings. The lack of ability to process distress and painful emotions allows tension levels to stay high for long periods of time.
Psychotherapy can be a great source of support to deal with anxiety and panic attacks by teaching breathing and relaxation techniques. What I consider the greatest gift of therapy is developing self-awareness, self acceptance and an emotionally healthy processing style, dealing with our own darkness, building a healthier ground and self-support skills so we can thrive and lead meaningful lives.

 

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Panic attacks or how the “fight or flight” response can hijack your life

Photo by Flickr user Alessandra {khumana.tumblr.com}

Photo by Flickr user Alessandra {khumana.tumblr.com}

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a brief but intense episode of extreme fear and anxiety that something terrible is about to happen. The physical symptoms of a panic attack are connected with the body going into a “fight or flight” mode. While the attacks themselves are not dangerous, the person experiencing a panic attack feels like being under great danger due to the intense physical reactions and fearful thoughts. Panic attacks are characterized by the intense fear of disaster, losing control, dying, fainting, even if there is no actual threat.

The signs of a panic attack occur suddenly and usually reach their peak within 10 minutes, they rarely last more than an hour.
Here is a list of physical and psychological signs that may occur during a panic attack:

  • Shortness of breath, hyperventilation
  • Heart palpitations, racing heart
  • Chest pain , discomfort
  • Trembling, shaking
  • Choking feeling, inability to swallow
  • Feeling unreal, detached from your surroundings
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Feeling dizzy, weak, about to faint
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy

Fight of Flight response

Panic attacks occur when our body responds to a perceived threat which triggers the sympathetic nervous system leading to the “fight of flight” response.
This essential for human survival automatic alarm-system dates from our primitive days and helps us to respond appropriately to a threatening situation.
Our bodies are designed to combat short-term stress by responding to an actual danger or challenge with a flood of complex hormonal reactions including the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol hormones into the bloodstream. Our biochemistry, physiology and psychology is altered in order to give us extra strength and speed to deal with the threat (e.g. our muscles are tensed and ready for action).

Even though today we are not facing the same physical threats as our ancestors (becoming a lion’s meal…), there are many situations where fear is useful and the fight or flight response can save our life. Imagine what would happen if this automatic response would not work while you cross against a red light on a busy junction with cars coming from all sides?

Modern life stress and false alarm

Modern living is far more complex than it was even 100 years ago. Many stressors are psychological in origin and they are chronic, lasting from days to years.
In our fast-paced and pressured lifestyles our brain cannot distinguish between the stress resulting from a car accident, having relationship problems or facing a hostile work environment. It will react to all with the same fight or flight response which is triggered into action by fear.
Stress whether it is caused by external events or internal thought processes, actual or imagined danger, can have a catastrophic effect on the brain and the body.
Our bodies are equipped to handle short-term stress when a fast reaction is needed. The fight or flight survival response is designed to be triggered occasionally not constantly.

The chronic stress that resolves from many stressful events (financial problems, health issues, relationship problems, work troubles…) along with an emotional coping style that prevents their resolution can bring people to an intense state of anxiety, panic, depression, burnout and living in a state of constant distress. This has detrimental effects on our physical and mental health, our relationships and quality of life.

As the fight or flight response is an automatic alarm that is not controlled consciously, panic attacks can come out of the blue, for no obvious reason. While a single panic attack may last a few minutes, the effects of it leave a traumatic imprint which brings even more fear and anxiety for a future panic attack and the vicious cycle of stress and panic attacks continues…

by a.christidou Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Κρίση: καταστροφή ή ευκαιρία για αλλαγή;

cherry blossom tree

«Η πραγματικότητα δεν είναι όπως θα με συνέφερε εμένα να είναι.

Δεν είναι όπως θα έπρεπε να είναι.

Δεν είναι όπως μου είπαν ότι θα είναι.

Δεν είναι όπως ήταν.

Δεν είναι όπως θα είναι αύριο.

Η πραγματικότητα γύρω μου είναι όπως είναι».

[ απόσπασμα από κείμενο του Αργεντινού Χόρχε Μπουκάι, ψυχίατρου, ψυχοθεραπευτή Γκεστάλτ και συγγραφέα].

Η έναρξη της οικονομικής κρίσης στην Ελλάδα και σε άλλες Ευρωπαϊκές χώρες αποτέλεσε ένα καταστροφικό γεγονός που οδήγησε σε επιδείνωση της ψυχικής υγείας εκατομμύρια ανθρώπων. Η συνεχόμενη ύφεση, η οικονομική δυσχέρεια και η ανεργία ή η απειλή αυτής, έχουν αφήσει έντονα τα σημάδια τους στους Ευρωπαίους με αύξηση του άγχους, της κατάθλιψης, της αυπνίας, των αυτοκτονιών, της κατανάλωσης αλκοόλ και άλλων ουσιών καθώς και πλήθος σωματικών συμπτωμάτων και αρρωστιών.

Τι σημαίνει όμως κρίση;

Κρίση είναι μια συνθήκη διαταραχής της ομοιόστασης του ατόμου, όπου το άτομο βιώνει ένα γεγονός ή μια κατάσταση ως αφόρητα δύσκολη, χάνει την ψυχική του ισορροπία και δεν μπορεί να ανταπεξέλθει χρησιμοποιώντας τους υπάρχοντες μηχανισμούς επίλυσης προβλημάτων και τα συστήματα στήριξης του. Η συναισθηματική αστάθεια και η αποδιοργάνωση είναι τα κύρια χαρακτηριστικά της κρίσης που είναι συνήθως περιορισμένης χρονικής διάρκειας και δύσκολη στο να επιλυθεί.

Τι είδους κρίση μπορεί να βιώσει κάποιος;

Η κρίση ορίζεται και βιώνεται ως απώλεια, μπορεί να είναι οικονομική, κοινωνική, υπαρξιακή, συναισθηματική, καταστροφή από ανθρώπινα αίτια ή φυσικά φαινόμενα.
Παραδείγματα κρίσης είναι η οικονομική καταστροφή, το διαζύγιο, η απώλεια της υγείας, ο θάνατος αγαπημένου προσώπου, η συνταξιοδότηση, η μετανάστευση…
Η αντίδραση στην κρίση αποτελεί μια φυσιολογική αντίδραση σε μια μη φυσιολογική κατάσταση.

Φυσιολογικές αντιδράσεις στην κρίση
Σωματικό επίπεδο:
έλλειψη ενέργειας, εξάντληση, αναπνευστικές δυσκολίες, γαστρεντερικές διαταραχές, πονοκέφαλοι, σφίξιμο στο στήθος, διαταραχές ύπνου…
Συναισθηματικό επίπεδο: θυμός, θλίψη, φόβος, απογοήτευση, απελπισία, μοναξιά, αίσθηση ανημποριάς, ευερεθιστηκότητα, αρνητική διάθεση…
Γνωστικό επίπεδο: αρνητικές σκέψεις,σύγχυση, άρνηση, αδυναμία αυτοσυγκέντρωσης, δυσκολία στη λήψη αποφάσεων…
Συμπεριφορικό επίπεδο: κοινωνική απομόνωση, διαταραχές στη διατροφή, καβγάδες, υπερδραστηριότητα ή πλήρης αδράνεια…

Τι μας βοηθάει να αντιμετωπίσουμε την κρίση

Η περίοδος της οικονομικής ύφεσης μας έχει επηρεάσει σε συλλογικό επίπεδο, είναι όντως δύσκολοι καιροί, και επιπλέον ο καθένας μας αντιμετωπίζει σε ατομικό επίπεδο αδιέξοδο και επώδυνες καταστάσεις στη ζωή του. Πάντα θα υπάρχει κάποιο γεγονός ή κατάσταση που θα μας αγχώνει ή στεναχωρεί. Αν εστιάζουμε μόνο στη «δυσκολία» θα στερούμε από τον εαυτό μας τη δυνατότητα να χαρούμε και να σταθούμε απέναντι στη ζωή με τον τρόπο που μας εκφράζει.

Ο τρόπος που διαχειριζόμαστε την οποιαδήπωτε κρίση (οικονομική, κοινωνική, προσωπική…) έγκειται στη δεξιότητα μας για προσαρμογή σε νέα δεδομένα και στην αλλαγή (emotional resilience).  Αυτό δε σημαίνει πως θα αποφύγουμε να νιώσουμε επώδυνα συναισθήματα, αλλά ότι θα τα διαχειριστούμε δημιουργικά με υγιή για εμάς τρόπο. Δε γεννιόμαστε με αυτήν τη δεξιότητα, την αναπτύσσουμε σταδιακά μέσα από τις εμπειρίες μας, τις στηρικτικές σχέσεις, την κουλτούρα μας και ένα θετικό τρόπο σκέψης. Συχνά χρειάζεται να αφιερώσουμε λίγο χρόνο για να φροντίσουμε τον εαυτό μας και να απευθυνθούμε σε έναν ειδικό της ψυχικής υγείας που θα μας στηρίξει να καλλιεργήσουμε τη δεξιότητα να διαχειριζόμαστε δύσκολες καταστάσεις, να επαναπροσδιορίσουμε τις προτεραιότητες μας, να βασιζόμαστε στις δυνάμεις μας, να είμαστε λειτουργικοί και να προχωρούμε μπροστά.

Παίρνω τη ζωή μου στα χέρια μου

Το παρελθόν έφυγε, το αύριο δεν έχει έρθει. Το μόνο που μένει είναι το εδώ και τώρα, το παρόν, η πραγματικότητα μου είναι έτσι όπως είναι. Έχω να  την δω, να την αποδεχτώ και να επιλέξω πως θα προχωρήσω. Η αλλαγή θα έρθει μόνο μέσα από την επίγνωση και την αποδοχή της παρούσας κατάστασης. Πως είναι τα πράγματα γύρω μου; Τι ανάγκες έχω; Τι συναισθήματα; Ποιες αξίες είναι σημαντικές για εμένα; Ποια είναι τα δυνατά μου σημεία και ποιοι οι περιορισμοί μου; Που βρίσκω στήριξη;
Ένα γεγονός που για κάποιον είναι αδιέξοδο για κάποιον άλλον ίσως είναι πρόκληση. Υπάρχουν μεταβατικές περίοδοι που «χάνουμε» τη γνώριμη σταθερότητα μας για να ξαναβρούμε μια καινούργια ισορροπία και μέσα απο αυτή τη διαδικασία εξελισσόμαστε και ωριμάζουμε. Όταν ταλαιπωρούμαστε και υποφέρουμε σε μια κατάσταση είναι ίσως σημάδι ότι χρειάζεται να αναζητήσουμε ένα καινούργιο και πιο κατάλληλο για εμάς δρόμο.
Μια κρίση μπορεί να είναι λόγος για απαισιοδοξία, άγχος, κατάθλιψη, απομόνωση και μπορεί να είναι και μια ευκαιρία για προσωπική αυτογνωσία και ανάπτυξη, και αναθεώρηση του συστήματος αξιών μας. Ας την εκμεταλλευτούμε θετικά!

δημοσιεύτηκε στις 20/04/2014, http://www.greeksinbelgium.be/?p=7001

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Getting the homesickness blues part 3

Photo by Flickr user Helga Weber

Photo by Flickr user Helga Weber

In the third and last part of these series of articles exploring homesickness, I will continue giving suggestions about how to deal with homesickness and also offer some tips on taking care of your physical and emotional health.

Laugh, Stay calm & Be positive!

Humour, remaining calm and a positive mental attitude can help you dealing with unpleasant situations that often trigger homesickness.
There are many situations where you may feel frustrated and overwhelmed: you are trying to ask for information in the city hall and no one speaks a language you understand, you are late for work because your train was cancelled, someone stole your bike, you received a bill that was wrongfully addressed to you…etc.
Whatever the situation breath in and out, stay calm, think positive and laugh about it! You would be surprised by the results.

Travel!

Booking a trip to visit home, or a vacation trip (even a weekend getaway) can be a great way to recharge your batteries and have fun. It works miracles! If your homeland is too far away, the tickets are expensive, or you can only leave your work/ studies for the weekend, just take a one or two short trip to recharge yourself. Make sure you don’t overdo it, visiting home too often may eventually make you feel even more homesick.

Talk!

Talking about being homesick with your partner, family, friends, co-workers, roommates, a therapist or someone you can confide in will comfort you and make your transition easier. Sharing with your loved ones via skype or even over the phone, rather than repressing your feelings will definitely give you some relief. They may not know what to do, but it will give them an idea of what you are going through.

However, it is essential to build a support network in the place where you live now, to have people that care for you and will stand by you in times of trouble. While it is helpful to talk with people back home, it is essential to make new friends in your new surroundings.

Keep in mind that your friends and family may have good intentions but may not be able to help you process and deal with your feelings adequately. In such times, ask someone outside the situation with professional knowledge on matters of emotional health, such as a counsellor or a psychotherapist, for support to improve your emotional well-being.

Stay healthy!

If you want to be healthy you need to take care of both your physical and your emotional health. Your body responds to the way you think, feel and act (mind/body connection). When you feel sad, anxious or frustrated your body reflects your emotional state by showing you that something is not right with physical symptoms.

Poor emotional health affects the body

Poor emotional health can weaken the body’s immune system thus making you vulnerable to colds, infections and other health issues especially during or after difficult and stressful times. When your emotional well-being is out of balance you may not eat nutritious food, feel like exercising and neglect yourself.
You may also try to numb the painful feelings by finding comfort in alcohol, food, shopping, tobacco, drugs and other coping strategies that give you a temporary relief. Talk to your friends and family about how you feel and what you are going through.

Give your body some TLC

A simple way to take care of your physical health and also brighten up your mood a little bit is exercise. When you are overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings about home, go for a brisk walk in the park or a run, work out at home or join a gym, bike, go for yoga, pilates, aerobic, martial arts…whatever method you choose to give your body some TLC and improve your physical fitness is great.

Exercise helps in the release of endorphins that give a natural boost to your mood. It increases self-confidence and may help with symptoms of mild anxiety and depression, it improves your sleep and lowers your stress levels. Exercise and you will feel better.

Remember that unhealthy coping strategies such as alcohol or drugs, a poor diet, little physical activity, a sedentary lifestyle, having poor coping skills and poor emotional resilience will lead to physical illness and distress.

Invest in your physical & emotional health

People who have good emotional health have learned healthy ways to cope with challenging stressful situations. They are aware of their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, they feel good with themselves, have a positive view of life, don’t sweat about the small stuff and solve their problems appropriately. They are able to support themselves (be self-sufficient) and also seek support from the environment (friends, family, therapist…) when it is necessary.

People with good physical health eat regular nutritious meals, exercise frequently, get enough sleep and don’t abuse alcohol, drugs or other addictive “comfort” resources.
Invest in your physical and emotional health, take the time and energy to care for both your mind and body. I believe people can find a balance, learn specific skills to improve the quality of their daily life and their relationships, and make positive steps towards a fulfilling life. If only they choose to…

A chance to grow

Singing the homesick blues is a common reality among us expats. Don’t look at it simply as a battle to overcome. See it also as a chance to grow and make lasting changes in your life. There are people, places or things you miss from home that are dear to you and worth remembering, but at the same time be open to great experiences and the amazing people you can meet in your new surroundings.

Remember that you are the master of your own life, you are responsible for your choices and the quality of your life. If you realise in a few years that your new location doesn’t work for you, go somewhere else. Life is too short and unpredictable not to live it exactly as you please!

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Getting the homesickness blues part 2

Photo by Flickr user Helga  Weber

Photo by Flickr user Helga Weber

This is the second part of an article exploring homesickness. In the first part I wrote about the experience of feeling homesick (how, when, what, why), the various effects and symptoms and my personal insight. In the second and third parts respectively, I will give more explicit suggestions and guidelines about dealing with homesickness which are based on my experience as an expat and a therapist.

Finding a balance between your life back home and your new life is essential. Homesickness can become a chance and a challenge to grow, to build something new, to find new meaning, to develop new support resources.

Each person experiences and deals with homesickness differently. How you adapt to new surroundings depends upon your emotional resilience (ability to adapt to stressful situations) and how well you are able to support yourself and utilize the support of your environment.
When your emotional resilience is not developed enough, you may find yourself lying in bed, depressed and at total war with your surroundings, resisting change and hating every minute of it, and above all feeling stuck and desperate like there is no alternative. When you are not able to fully support yourself and ask for support, you might withdraw from any friends or acquaintances, lose interest in your new social life, get more isolated, stop taking care of yourself and despite of all your suffering you might be reluctant to seek support.
If homesickness persists and starts to interfere with your daily life, it is a sign that perhaps something needs to change. If you want to improve the way you cope with homesickness and stressful situations, a first step of supporting and taking care of yourself is to seek professional help from a therapist.

How to embrace homesickness
Here are my suggestions and tips to support you in embracing homesickness and not letting it get the best of you.

Accept!

All expats at some point will feel homesick, it is normal as you adjust to your new location. Controlling or denying your feelings of homesickness will only make the situation worse. You might feel even more isolated and alone. Give space and time to yourself to accept feeling homesick, it is a very common experience among adult expats and even more among children expats. There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of, when you become aware and accept homesickness, you can choose the necessary steps to deal with it more appropriately.

Reframe!

Of course you miss home, probably it is a great place with people who love and support you. Living in a new place will not necessarily be better than home, it is just different. Surely there will be stuff you don’t understand or agree with in your new surroundings. Also, seeing the new place as an idealized dream place where everything is peachy and should work like a clock will not get you anywhere. Accept the things you like and don’t like both in the new location and home. Stop comparing, it sucks the life out of you! Remember why you moved there in the first place. Find what is meaningful for you in your new surroundings. Is it exciting professional opportunities, better quality of life, a good university, the experience of living abroad, your partner? Reframe the way you see things.

Belong!

Put yourself out there and create a support network in your new surroundings. Making new friends is essential not to feel isolated. Get involved with people at work or where you study, in your neighbourhood, in church, anywhere where you can meet people in your everyday life.
Socialize with other expats and local people. Try finding other people from your country, check if there are shops, restaurants or meeting clubs where your fellow countrymen hang out.
Most likely you will get a lot of support from your countrymen and other expats who can give you advice, are going or have gone through the same experiences, understand how you feel and what you miss from home. You actually might end up having a few good friends. Become engaged in activities with others, it will give you a sense of belonging as well. Invest learning the language of the new country, even if it is just some basic words. The more you speak the language the more integrated you will feel.

Communicate!

Keep contact with your family and friends at home. There are so many ways to keep in touch: phone, email, facebook (social media in general), postal mail (for the last of the romantics), chat and my personal favorite Skype. It is nice to communicate with your loved ones at home but don’t overdo it! If you spend several hours each day locked in your house using skype, then you miss all the wonderful opportunities to build something in the new location.

Create familiarity!

Start building familiarity around you. Home is not just a physical space but also an emotional one. Make sure you have brought from your country some photos, your favorite books and cds, food or other objects to create “a home away from home”. Make your new home yours by decorating it according to your taste to feel cozy and comfortable. Your house is your sanctuary, it doesn’t matter in which country it is, it is your space. If you don’t invest the energy to make your space a place you look forward to live, it will feel temporary and it will make you feel homesick even more. Follow TV programs or the news from your country via internet or satellite TV. Find products from your country and invite your new friends for dinner cooking your country’s cuisine.
Establish routines to feel a sense of familiarity. A part of our identity lies in the things we do in our daily life: working, going to the gym, hobbies, going out, meeting friends…Simple things that we are used to doing, without which we may feel a little lost. Continue your existing routines, traditions and hobbies in your new location. Start doing (or redoing) anything that makes you feel grounded, safe and happy.

Explore!

Be a tourist and explore your surroundings even if you live there for years. Invest in learning about the local culture, visit the sites and attractions that your new location is famous for. Get tips from locals about places to visit or check on the web about places “off the beaten path”. Commit to visit one new place each week, try local cuisine and immerse yourself in the local culture. Make your own little discoveries whether it is finding the best coffee in town or where to repair your bike.

In the third and last part of these series of articles exploring homesickness, I will continue giving suggestions about how to deal with homesickness and also some tips about taking care of your physical and emotional health. Stay tuned!

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Getting the homesick blues part 1

homesick 1

Ever had one of these days where you miss being understood or speaking your own language? Knowing how things work and how to deal with arising problems? Missing your family or close friends? Having negative thoughts about your new surroundings and comparing to how “wonderful” life was back home?  Struggling to adjust to a new reality and culture? Lacking motivation and interest? Wanting desperately to return home? Feeling depressed and alienated?

Sounds familiar? Being homesick is a longing for home or familiarity; a state of being that includes cognitive processes, complicated emotions and has even physical symptoms. Adjusting to a new environment, culture, language, work and/or study and new expectations is a challenge for almost all expats.

People like comfort and safety. Home is nice, even when it is not! Move away from your familiar surroundings and you will soon realize how many things you will miss. Homesickness is not only an overwhelming desire to go back, it is mostly about everything you left behind.

Van Tilburg, Vingerhoets & Van Heck define homesickness as “the commonly experienced state of distress among those who have left their house and home and find themselves in a new and unfamiliar environment”. Homesickness can manifest itself in various ways and it affects pretty much each person who makes the bold step of moving away from home or familiar surroundings. Whether it is a volunteer relocation as in the case of tourists, expatriates, migrant workers and students, or a forced relocation as in the case of forced migrants (think of people from crisis struck or poor countries) and refugees, whatever our story is and where we come from, we all get the homesick blues.

The effects and symptoms of homesickness on a cognitive, behavioural and emotional level are numerous affecting our daily life, our productivity and the relationship with our self and others:
Cognitive level:  constant thinking about home, negative thoughts about the new place, a tendency to idealize home, pessimistic thoughts, inadequacy and failure thoughts.
Behavioural level: changes in sleeping and eating patterns, poor concentration and focus, withdrawal and isolation, take refuge in comfort “resources” (alcohol, tobacco, drugs, shopping…) lack of control, tearfulness.
Emotional level: sadness, anxiety, loneliness, irritability, anger, jealousy, shame, feeling overwhelmed, insecurity, lack of motivation, mood swings, pain, poor self-confidence.

Physical level: researchers link homesickness to poor physical health: a prolonged period of experiencing homesickness –which is a big stressor- will weaken the immune system making you prone to a variety of physical symptoms (headache, cold, diarrhea, muscular tension…).
Functioning level: feeling homesick for a long time can lead to depression and issues regarding mental focus and memory, poor performance of tasks and lower productivity; that may result in losing your job or becoming unable to follow your studies.

In the beginning…
When you move abroad, you tend to deal with the challenges and stresses that accompany the relocation while armed with enthusiasm and optimism. You bear the obstacles and the difficulties with hope and patience. You may be excited and in awe of the new world that you are about to encounter. Adjusting seems to be going fine in terms of language, food, culture, new schedule, work or study, networking and making friends and then suddenly you feel homesick and wondering what is going on.

Reality bites
Once basic necessities and practicalities are covered, the excitement of the new country starts to wear off and your patience with all the problems, the unfamiliar situations and the cultural differences wears off as well, reality bites. You are still the same person living in a new place and dealing with the same issues and challenges but now you feel that something is missing, something doesn’t feel right.

Long-term expats are not immune either
Homesickness is not experienced only in the first months of relocation, it is very common among long-term expats. As an expat who has spent the last 11 years “away from home” I have moments where I miss my family, my friends and a bunch of things I love about my country. My clients have shared similar experiences with me and it is something common among most expats.

Homesickness explained
When our basic needs –often associated with home, family, friends, familiarity- such as support, love and security are not fulfilled within our new environment, we long for them and we long for home. Usually we feel homesick when things are difficult and in times of trouble, when in a bad mood or sick, during holiday season and various celebrations (Christmas, birthdays..), coming back from vacation…

Choose how you deal with it!
Being homesick is very okay, no one is immune to homesickness. What matters and makes a big difference is how you choose to deal with it: what coping skills and emotional resilience you have developed and what may still needs to be developed, what support resources you have available and which ones you are able to use. It is important to be aware of feeling homesick and not try to make it go away or pretend it is not there. It won’t work for the long run, I guarantee you that.
Give yourself time and space to accept where you are and how you feel, homesickness can also be an invitation to fruitful changes in your life. Be responsible and mature enough to seek support when you need it and invest in your personal development through therapy to develop coping skills and emotional resiliency.

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IamExpat collaboration

iamexpat

Dear friends,

I wanted to let you know about my collaboration as a regular contributor with the IamExpat website. I will be writing about all things expats and psychotherapy-)
For April 2013 my articles will be published on the 10th, the 18th and the 25th.
Check my page in IamExpat for an overview of my articles: http://www.iamexpat.nl/community/contributors/AnastasiaChristidou
You can also find these articles here in my blog under the category iamexpat.

Please READ, SHARE, LIKE, LEAVE A COMMENT, I would love to hear some feedback from you-))

love and bliss
Anastasia

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Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.)

parents training
• Would you like to improve your parenting skills?
• Are you having trouble communicating with your children?
• Are you looking for an alternative to your current parenting style?

P.E.T. is a specialized, evidence-based program designed to help you discover how improved communication can save you time, stress and energy by understanding what you and your children really need and solve problems more easily.
Many people believe parenting comes naturally but everyone faces difficulties at some point or another – from babies who won’t sleep at night and toddlers who throw tantrums, to unruly teenagers. Parenting can be complicated because every child is unique. Parents are often blamed but rarely trained on how to raise responsible and caring children.
Using P.E.T. will have immediate results: less fighting, fewer tantrums and lies, no need for punishment. Whether you have a toddler striking out for independence or a teenager who has already started rebelling, you will find P.E.T. a compassionate, effective way to instill responsibility and create a nurturing family environment in which your child will thrive.

P.E.T. CAN TEACH YOU HOW TO:
• Listen so children will feel understood (Active Listening)
• Talk so children will understand you (I-Messages)
• Resolve conflict in 6 steps (The No-Lose method)
• Avoid blocks in communication (Communication Roadblocks)
• Deal creatively with conflicts of values

P.E.T. History
Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) is the most researched, practical skills model for raising respectful, loving and responsible children of all ages. The P.E.T. program was created in 1962 by award winning psychologist and three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Thomas Gordon. P.E.T. is backed by over 50 years of research and is delivered in over 40 countries today. A major revision of the P.E.T. program was completed in 2006 with up-to-date examples, new content and much more.
Enroll in P.E.T and learn the skills and the strategies for effective parenting.

Course Structure/Duration
PET is an exciting 10-week course delivered as 10 three-hour sessions (with a break). Participants will learn and practice communication skills through: formal teaching, reading, exercises, group and individual practice and discussion. Participants are encouraged to learn throughout the course by practicing their skills at home.

Course Fees
250€ per person or 400€ per parenting couple inclusive course material. Each participant receives a workbook and the book “Parent Effectiveness Training- The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children” by Dr. Thomas Gordon.

For more information contact me on info@anastasiachristidou.com

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Emotions and physical health: what neuropeptides have to do with it?

Emotional state

Neuropeptides (nerve proteins) are chemicals that regulate almost all life processes of our cells and also the way all cells communicate with each other.  Peptides are tiny pieces of protein that are produced in the brain and throughout the whole body e.g. endorphins (our happy hormones), serotonin (our feel-good chemical), vasopressin (regulates blood pressure) and insulin (regulates metabolism and sugar). The discovery of neuropeptides opened the way to connect the processes of body and mind; “the chemicals that are running our body and our brain are the same chemicals that are involved in emotion” (C.Pert).

Our thoughts, our daily mood or emotional state have a big influence to our physical health. When we have a specific feeling, thought or drive, it affects our nervous system by using neuropeptides who carry the messages back and forth between mind and body. Neuropeptides –who link perception in the brain to the body and emotions- are constantly changing their configuration, reflecting changes in our emotional state throughout the day.
When our mental and emotional state is out of balance, neuropeptides will make physical symptoms to appear in the body.

Each emotion is associated with a particular neuropeptide, so if we have a tendency to experience a particular emotion, our cellular structure will be modified to accommodate more of the neuropeptide associated with that emotion.
Imagine what happens when you experience fear and anxiety on an everyday basis:
Stress makes the body react with a “fight-or-flight” response, releasing cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline that prepare systems throughout the body to deal with the danger. Stress hormones act by mobilizing energy from storage to muscles, increasing heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate and shutting down metabolic processes such as digestion, reproduction, growth and immunity.
If the body stays in this alerted state too long, the chemicals (hormones, neuropeptides..) cause physical damage to several systems: everything from high blood pressure to problems with immune system, heart, memory, digestion, mood…

Our body is becoming stronger or weaker depending on our mental and emotional state. The body responds favorably to health-enhancing chemicals which have a tonic effect on all organs, releases brain endorphins and the muscles are relaxed.                     Health-enhancing chemicals are pleasant emotions, moods, thoughts, attitudes like hope, love, laughter, optimism, empathy, acceptance, joy, humour, inspiration, confidence etc.
Health-degrading emotions, moods, thoughts and attitudes like shame, guilt, apathy, fear, hate or anger release chemicals that deteriorate the immune system and other systems in the body, and also cause damage in various organs.

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid experiencing or expressing painful or unpleasant emotions -the so-called negative. All emotions are valid, they have their function and purpose e.g. anger can provide you the energy to defend yourself when someone has crossed your boundaries or it can motivate you to challenge interpersonal and social injustices.              It is all about KEEPING A BALANCE and let emotions work for you and not against you.
Any prolonged negative emotional and mental state will make areas in your body more prone to illness.
The interesting thing is that when physical symptoms appear, it means that you have been in that state for some time already or you may even no longer be in that state of being anymore.

Emotions play also a significant role in fulfilling your needs. If you ignore or you are not aware of your needs, or you suppress your emotions, your subconscious mind will find another way to pass you the message that something’s wrong: by alerting you with physical symptoms.                                           You need to find ways to express whatever emotions you feel. Candace Pert (who studies influences upon health at a neurochemical level) said that “repressing  emotions can only be causative of disease” because failure to find effective ways to express negative emotions causes you to “stew in your own juices” day  after day, and this chronic immersion in  negativity is what appears to produce harmful influences on health.
Again it is all about body and mind (psyche and soma) working together as a balanced and healthy WHOLE.

KEYPOINT: There is a strong link between emotional and mental states and the neurochemical changes they produce in the body. Emotions can have positive or negative effects on the body. A prolonged negative mental state (suppressing emotions and needs or experiencing only painful emotions) will appear in the form of physical symptoms or illness.     You might wanna try to find healthy and creative ways of expressing your emotions, keep an upbeat frame of mind when dealing with daily problems, support yourself and ask for support to cope creatively with stress and painful emotions. Make sure that your daily emotional state supports your health instead of working against it!

 

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Six problems of human communication

communication problems

1. Words are imprecise vehicles of communication
Often what we experience do not fit into words and sentences very well, we are not able to say precisely what we mean. Words have different meaning for different people.

2. Guessing the meaning of the speaker’s “code”
People often code their messages so their real meaning is masked. When we are ambivalent about expressing ourselves (a part of us wants to be known and another to be hidden) we speak obscurely. We can also code our messages without trying, after all we have been training from early childhood to express ourselves indirectly (e.g. kids ask questions in bedtime when they just want company).
Decoding is always guesswork. We can hear a person’s words, we can observe his actions but we can only conclude what the words/actions mean. A person’s behavior is observable (phenomenology), a person’s thoughts are not directly observable (only clues are her words and actions), feelings are even more concealed.

HOW  MEANTHOW  SENTHOW RECEIVED
Speaker’s thoughts and feelings: private, known only to the speaker)Speaker’s actions/words: often imprecise/masked expressions of his thoughts/feelings or attempts at concealmentListener’s interpretation of the meaning behind the speaker’s actions/words: private, known only to the listener

Figure 1. The inexactness of the communication process

3. The presenting topic may not be the major issue
Each person conceals much of himself from others. Everyone travels incognito to some degree. This can result in the speaker talking about one topic while avoiding to speak about something more important or simply she doesn’t come directly to the point.

4. The speaker may be blind to her emotions of blinded by them.
Our culture teaches people to repress their feelings. On the one hand people are often unaware of their emotions (blind to our emotions) and on the other hand feelings come out with such intensity that they control us (blinded by our emotions) and we can behave in destructive for us/others ways.
Our emotions help shape our values. They are a fundamental part of our motivation and help determine our direction and purpose in life. Emotions provide us with needed clues for solving our problems and also relate to others. Reflective responses help children and adults become aware of their inner world of emotion e.g.“it looks as though you are very angry”.
When a person has a chance to talk about intense feelings to an empathic listener, the likelihood of acting irrationally/destructively on those feelings is diminished.

5. Many listeners are easily distracted
The listener begins to listen the speaker with interest, the listener’s mind might get bored with the slow pace of conversation and take a mental vacation while the speaker is talking and still get the message. She checks back with the speaker from time to time and makes appropriate remarks but spends most of the time with her own thoughts.

6. Filters distort what the listener hears
Everyone has few emotional filters that block or distort messages sent to us. Modern people have to develop a self-protective mechanism to defend themselves from the constant acoustical bombardment of 21st century living. The mechanism protects us and also keeps us away from many things.
Filters also develop when parents, teachers or other adults…may have coupled words e.g. hospital, death, immigrant, cop, anger, work, money, marriage…with pleasant or unpleasant feelings. When such conditioning takes place the child reacts to the words emotionally.
Our expectations of others constitute another set of filters through which we listen. A person’s self-image may distort the reception of the speaker’s thoughts and feelings. Someone with low self-esteem may expect criticism from others and read that meaning into the most innocent statements.

KEYPOINT!! Since it ‘s so difficult for people to say precisely what is on their minds and in their hearts and since it ‘s so hard to listen without distraction or distortion to what others are saying, we need to check for accuracy in our conversations. To do this, the effective listener frequently reflects back the essence of what he has heard as a check that his understanding match the speaker’s meanings.

 

 

 

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