COPING WITH ANXIETY

Some tips for helping cope with anxiety:

  • Avoid caffeine – it acts as a stimulant and revs up your nervous system increasing your anxiety.
  • Try relaxation techniques. They may not all work for you, but there are many choices out there and you may just find one that really works. Try meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises to help lower your anxiety.
  • Try visualization – like relaxation techniques, visualization can help lower your stress levels. Picture yourself confronting your fears, and handling stressful situations calmly.
  • Ask for help when you need it. Talk to your doctor. There are many different treatments that may reduce your anxiety.
  • Change your attitude. If you can change the way you think about things, they may not seem so bad.

Controlling your anxiety is possible.  Try a variety of coping techniques.  While one may not work for you, another just might do the trick!

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TRIGGER STACKING

As a dog trainer, I sometimes see things that can be applied to people as well as dogs. Last night I worked with a wonderful little beagle who gets so excited she can barely function.  When she’s worked up, she barks constantly and won’t stop.  It’s very frustrating to the owners, as you can imagine.

When the owners drove up, this dog was in the back of the car, and she was very excited over going for a ride. They took her out and she immediately spotted several other dogs and their owners.  That also excited her.  As there were many other dogs that had been on the grounds that day, she was able to scent them, and that further excited her.  And, finally, when we took her to the exercise pen to stretch her legs, she spotted a fat rabbit nibbling the grass on the far side of the fence.  She immediately went into hound behavior, baying at the rabbit and frantically looking for a way to get under the fence to get it.  She was so excited, it was impossible to calm her down.  She was a victim of trigger stacking.

Each one of those events made her excited and nervous. Added together, they created a situation where she became out of control.  Unfortunately, I did not recognize what was happening until after the fact, but at least I was able to identify what was really going on: she wasn’t a bad little dog, just one that observed everything going on around her and was stimulated by it.  Her response was undesirable: barking, non-stop, but she wasn’t “just misbehaving.”

I think trigger stacking happens to humans quite often, and we also may not recognize what’s happening. We’re driving and someone runs a stop sign in front of us.  It scares us and makes our hearts race.  Then we get home and the kids are running around the yard, screaming as they play.  We go inside and the dog bolts out the door and runs away.  Finally we sit down to relax a few minutes and the neighbor comes over banging on the door with a complaint.  That may be the point where we lose it.  They are little things, but they build on one another until you’re feeling frantic.  It’s a perfect time for your PTSD triggers to go off too.

So, how can we respond to trigger stacking to stop the process? Recognizing what’s happening is the first step.  When you start to feel that first racing of your heart, take a time out.  Slow down and let yourself process what’s happening.  Are you in danger now?  No.  Can you afford to pull over for a few minutes at the local park and let yourself calm down?  If you can, it may break the sequence before it goes further.  At each step, recognize that things may be out of control, but there is no actual danger at the moment.

Staying healthy means recognizing when we have multiple issues that are having a negative impact on us. Don’t let your triggers build up until you go over the edge and lose it entirely.  Stop, evaluate the danger you’re really in, and then go on knowing you are in control.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD SLEEP – Part 2

A good night’s sleep can make such a difference in your life! For those of us with sleep difficulties, it may take some effort to ensure a good night’s sleep.  According to a study by the Institute of Medicine, 50 to 70 million adults in the United States have a sleep or wakefulness disorder.  Many of us often don’t get enough sleep: the average adult needs 7 to 8 hours each night.  Some people can get by with less, and some people require more, but 7 to 8 hours will usually let you make it through the next day without feeling like a zombie.

It can help if you can tell whether you’re sleepy or tired. While they may seem like the same thing, they aren’t.  If you’ sleepy, you’ll find yourself fighting to stay awake.  If you’re tired, you may feel fatigued, but you will still be fairly alert.  If you feel drowsy during the day, you probably didn’t get enough sleep the night before.

If your sleep problems last more than a month, you should talk to your doctor. You may be tested to see if you have a contributing condition such as arthritis, acid reflux or even depression.  Or, you may find the medications you’re taking affect your sleep.  In that case, your doctor may suggest alternative drugs that will won’t disrupt your sleep as much.

The problem with not getting enough sleep is that it is linked to the development of a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. While you might question how sleep difficulties can contribute to obesity, consider that those of us who are up at night often eat out of frustration to compensate for being awake!

Some tips to help you sleep better include:

  • Make sure your bed is comfortable and provides adequate support.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleeping, not for reading, watching television, or listening to music.
  • Do not eat large meals before bed.
  • Do not exercise before bed.
  • It may help to journal what you’re thinking before going to bed if you are plagued with racing thoughts when you lie down.
  • Limit the alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine you use as you near bedtime.
  • Try taking a warm bath, meditate, or listen to calm music before going to bed.

Getting a good night’s sleep is important and it makes a huge difference in the quality of day you’ll have. A little bit of effort can make a big difference in sleeping soundly.  Sweet dreams!

GENERAL ANXIETY DISORDER

While it’s normal for all of us to feel anxious at times, when that anxiety becomes excessive, it can have a tremendous impact on our lives. Generalized Anxiety Disorder feel anxious for months at a time and display other symptoms of he disorder. Other symptoms include:

  • Restlessness or excessive alertness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Tension
  • Sleep disorders

Panic attacks may be one way the disorder manifests itself. These are sudden periods of intense fear. Physical symptoms may include pounding heart, sweating, trembling or shaking, sensations of shortness of breath, and feelings of impending doom.

If the anxiety is connected to social contacts, then social anxiety disorder is the cause. Social anxiety disorder symptoms include:

  • Feeling anxious around other people and difficulty talking to them
  • Feeling self-conscious in front of others
  • Fear of being humiliated, embarrassed, or rejected, or fearful of offending others
  • Fear of being judged
  • Avoiding other people
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends
  • Blushing, sweating, or trembling around other people

Anxiety disorders are generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both.

LEARNING ABOUT COMMUNITY RESOURCES

I’m all in favor of utilizing whatever community resources are available in the fight to cope with PTSD.  Too often, we either can’t afford, or we aren’t willing to tap into resources that might be helpful. One of my favorite sites is: www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/index.asp.   The attraction is that it is a self-help site where you can work on your problems at your own pace.  There are modules on anger management, anxiety, hypervigilance, and many other topics related to PTSD that will help you assess where you are and where you want to be.  The nice thing is that so many of these sites are anonymous and free!  You can’t get much better than that for a treatment option!

There are other options too, such as the National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov/.  And, don’t be afraid to check out local counseling centers or talk with your doctor about antidepressant medications and other medications used to treat the disorder.

There are a lot of resources out there to help if you’re struggling with PTSD.  Don’t be afraid to try them.  It’s important to find the resource that will help you move forward.   If one doesn’t work for you, don’t give up.  Try another, and another, if it’s necessary.  Coping with your PTSD means taking control of your life again.  Don’t let PTSD manage you!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Holidays can be very difficult for some veterans.  It’s nice to think of the holidays as being a time of peaceful music, beautiful lights and friendly smiles, but it is often anything but that.  Sometimes it can be hard to find anything to be happy about and peace on earth may seem like a pipe dream.  The holidays may mean extra people in the home when the relatives come, or traveling to the homes of others and then trying to fit in and not let the noise and stress make you crazy.

Please understand that PTSD often causes excessive noise and activity.  When this goes on around a veteran it can heighten anxiety and lead to blow ups and temper flares.  By recognizing the problem, you can work with it.  Try to keep the pace easy and the atmosphere peaceful.  Soft, gentle holiday music can promote a calm, soothing environment.  If family and friends will be arriving, try to plan to have a quiet room where the veteran can go to unwind.  If travel is necessary, look for ways to provide comfort to the vet: seat him or her by the door on the plane, if possible, or bring along a book or magazine of interest.

Above all, understand that this is a stressful time for veterans for a variety of reasons, and try to be forgiving.  After all, isn’t that what the season is all about?