Are you suffering from PTSD?

When people see the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), many associate this with the armed forces or war veterans. PTSD was indeed first recognised in soldiers returning from war, but today the condition can be diagnosed in anyone who has experienced trauma.

When someone experiences a traumatic event in their lives, such as a sudden death in the family, or while witnessing a serious accident, they will often feel numb or they may find disruption to their sleep patterns. These symptoms are usually referred to as ‘acute stress reaction’. Most people will find these symptoms disappear after several weeks. However, when symptoms last longer than a month, PTSD could be the problem.

GPs often categorise PTSD as mild, moderate or severe, depending on the symptoms and how they are impacting a person’s life. Regardless of the category of PTSD, it is important to recognise when someone is suffering from the condition, so that they can seek help.

It is really important to remember that any traumatic event can cause PTSD. Different people will react differently when faced with trauma in their lives. Some people have very high thresholds while others will experience symptoms soon after the event.

Typical events that trigger PTSD

Traumatic events in life are unfortunately all too common. The sudden death of a family member or a close friend can be extremely disturbing. However, so too can other events that come along. A car accident for example can sometimes bring on delayed reactions, called delayed-onset PTSD. Witnessing a serious accident or a crime can also be a trigger.

One of my recent clients worked for a construction company. He was at work one day, working at height with a colleague on a scaffold. His colleague reached over the handrail, which failed, and he fell 40ft to the ground. My client rushed down to help his chum, who had suffered serious head injuries. My client came to see me four months after the accident because he was experiencing flashbacks and nightmares. He definitely had PTSD.

Witnessing a crime can also be traumatic for many people. In fact, it doesn’t necessarily have to be witnessed to become a problem. Many people who have their property broken into and personal items stolen suffer PTSD symptoms. Fear of living in the property or, in very serious cases, fear of going outside are often experienced by victims of crime.

Common symptoms

One of the most common symptoms of PTSD is when someone relives aspects of the event. Flashbacks and the feeling that the event is happening again can be very disturbing. Nausea and trembling while recalling the event are important signs that something is wrong.

Feeling on edge is another symptom that should not be ignored, especially when there are feelings of panic when reminded of the event. Hypervigilence is common too, which is often described as a ‘constant state of alertness’. This is often accompanied by being jumpy or easily startled.

Another serious symptom that can follow traumatic events is the feeling of being unsafe. Many people think they can’t trust anyone anymore, while others feel that the world has become unsafe or unhealthy. Blaming themselves for what happened is another very common symptom, which, if left untreated, can be very harmful.

Complex PTSD

If someone experiences PTSD symptoms while also suffering from associated issues, such as anxiety, depression or self-harm, their condition may be classed as ‘complex’. Although not a definitive list, complex PTSD can be caused by; ongoing domestic violence or abuse, childhood abuse, being a prisoner of war, repeatedly witnessing trauma or violence, neglect or abandonment.

People who suffer trauma at an early age can sometimes experience complex PTSD in later life, particularly if the trauma lasted over a long period of time or if the child was harmed by someone close to them.

Complex PTSD needs careful and planned treatment and therapy, possibly for many months and even years.

Therapies for PTSD

Trauma-focussed cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT) is a very important treatment for PTSD. Adapted from CBT, this type of therapy was developed 25 years ago to help children recover from early trauma. Essentially, the technique aims to help those who have suffered from trauma to learn to recognise their symptoms and to learn coping strategies.

There are three distinct phases of treatment with TF-CBT. The first phase, known as stabilisation, involves teaching the client about trauma; what it is and how it affects us. Relaxation techniques is an important part of this phase too.

The second phase is to recreate the trauma, through a trauma narrative. This is done while allowing the client to explore their feelings and emotions during the recreation. Many think this is a negative thing but recalling the event while thinking about emotions can be extremely positive. Talking through the event is a really powerful way to help a person.

Finally, phase three consolidates the lessons learned from the first two phases, while continuing to build coping skills.

A short questionnaire to help diagnose PTSD

Proper diagnosis of PTSD can only be carried out by a trained and experienced therapist or doctor. However, there is a useful set of questions to help assess whether PTSD might be an issue.

Take the simple test to find out if you are suffering from the symptoms of PTSD.

I would love to hear if anyone has tried trauma-focussed CBT as a therapy.

 

 

 

If you change nothing, nothing will change!

I thought it might be nice to reflect on the success I have just had with one of my clients. Obviously, I can’t use her real name and I can’t share her details, so for now I will call her Julie.

I had a wonderful Skype meeting with her last week. She was excited and talked non-stop for the first ten minutes. You see, Julie had just received her first royalty payment for a book she has written. I won’t share with you the amount she received, suffice to say it was the equivalent of six months income for the average UK and US employee!

What makes this story more poignant is that Julie almost ended her own life two years ago. She experienced a really bad run of luck and it all got too much for her. Her doctor prescribed antidepressants and he recommended she see a counsellor. That’s where I came into her story.

In need of a life coach

Actually, Julie didn’t need a counsellor, she needed a life coach. Sure, her mental health wasn’t all it could have been and there were some issues that were troubling her, but the root of Julie’s problems was centered around her feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and lack of confidence in her abilities. Julie wanted to change her life, she wanted to get out of the rut and drudgery of her daily grind, but she didn’t know how. No amount of antidepressants or other medications would have helped Julie to make changes in her life.

Julie was a very creative person. She loved to paint, draw, take photographs and she really loved to write fiction. However, her lack of self-confidence was always the stumbling block. When I first met Julie she showed me a wonderful portfolio of pencil drawings she had done. But each time she pulled out a drawing for me to look at she would say stuff like “this one isn’t very good” or “I don’t like the sky in this one”. After looking at ten pictures I stopped her and asked if she could find one she really liked. She couldn’t bring herself to say any of her work was ‘good’.

I won’t go into detail about why Julie lacked self-confidence. There was a whole load of reasons. Sometimes, the wrong thing to do is to look back for reasons. Sometimes it is better to look to the future and forget the past. Some people need psychoanalysis before they can move on to greater things in their lives, but some people just need to look at the ‘here and now’. It is always a dilemma that I have when working with new clients; do I go for the treatment that is based on analysis or do I go for life coaching techniques. With Julie, I decided life coaching was the answer.

What is life coaching?

Let me pause for a second to explain a little more about life coaching.

Life coaching is a means of helping people, usually a person, tap into their true potential and to realise their aspirations and dreams. I like to use the analogy with tennis. Suppose you wanted to take up tennis as a new sport. You could read a book on the subject, you could watch numerous YouTube videos, and you could talk to other players about the sport. However, none of those things will get you playing tennis. So, you decide to buy a racket, some balls, and find a wall to practice against. You might pick up the basics through self-teaching, but you will almost certainly pick up bad habits too. You might find progress is very slow and you may become demoralised and give up.

You might find a tennis coach. He will teach you the basics, then, as you progress, he will teach you more advanced techniques. Perhaps you will get into competitions and your coach will support you through your matches, helping you to analyse your opponents strengths and weaknesses. Your coach will set you goals and objectives and he will work with you to help achieve those. He will pick you up and dust you off when you fall down and he will encourage you. He will almost certainly push your boundaries, but in a safe and encouraging way. Together you will win. But the one thing he will not do is to play your matches for you. YOU will do that yourself. YOU will learn, YOU will play, YOU will win.

Life coaches have the ability to help you shed light on difficult situations. They will do many things, such as setting regular goals and targets, looking at the big picture so that you can look at the detail, have regular check-ins, motivate, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and, most importantly, help you to work smart rather than work hard.

I read an interesting piece about life coaching in a recent edition of the Public Management magazine. The author reflected on a recent study that showed training alone increases productivity in companies by about 22% while training combined with coaching increases productivity by over 80%.

Life coaching is incredibly popular now. Why? Well, it is simple really. More and more people are getting tired of what they ‘should’ do and are ready to do something special and meaningful with their lives. The problem is, most people can’t seem to see a way to reorient their life. A life coach has a vast toolkit that can be used to help reset and move forward.

Back to Julie

Julie wanted to change but her self-doubt held her back. For years she didn’t change. The desire was there but she couldn’t see a way to make a breakthrough. Her self-esteem was rock bottom, her mental wellbeing was in need of help, and her belief that she was a valuable person was almost non-existent. There was one positive thing about Julie that I recognised immediately – she wanted to change. In fact, her desire to change was as strong as I have seen in anyone before.

I started work with visualization techniques. Between us, Julie and I pictured success. Julie didn’t want to be a millionaire, she didn’t want fancy cars or exotic holidays, she just wanted a life that was fulfilling. So, we pictured it together. Through a combination of relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis, Julie was able to start ‘seeing’ her new life. A good start.

After you see what the future might look like, the next stage is to plan how to get there. It really is like a journey. If you want to arrive at your destination, you need to travel. So, together Julie and I planned her journey. We looked at her strengths and weaknesses. We looked at the things she could do now, and we looked at subjects she was passionate about. We came up with a plan. Julie would write a book. She had been scribbling away for years but she never thought her idea would fly. Well, it was time to give it wings.

Life coaches need to check-in regularly, so that was exactly what I did with Julie. I checked on her progress, I motivated, I listened to her when she was down and struggling and I picked her up again. Her strength grew each week. We developed ways to help her build self-confidence and we laughed when my ideas went horribly wrong (yes, life coaches get it wrong sometimes!).

Finally, it was judgement day. Julie had sent her work to a literary agent. To her surprise and delight, the agent emailed and asked to meet for a discussion. I spent two hours with Julie before her meeting with the agent. We had coffee and we walked in a local park. I needed to build her confidence to an all-time high so that she would go into her meeting and wow that agent. And she did.

Beaming from cheek to cheek, Julie emerged from her meeting triumphant. Her agent agreed to get a deal for her. And the rest, as they say, is history. Julie is writing her second book.

The one thing I want you to take away from Julie’s story is this. I, as the life coach, didn’t write her book – Julie wrote it. Julie came up with the ideas for the book, Julie constructed all the characters, Julie spent days, weeks and months writing, and Julie closed the deal with the agent – not me. All I did was to take a person who needed direction and work with her to help her find the answer. Life coaching is wonderful.

I really hope you enhoyed my piece on life coaching.

I have a new podcast series on life coaching coming out very soon. Keep in touch.

http://www.ahelpinghand.biz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stress or pressure – is there a difference?

Stress or pressure

We often hear people talking about being under “stress”. Tight deadlines at work, colleagues who can be a little tetchy, and that damned IT system playing up again can all result in people complaining and saying ‘I’m stressed out today’. Well, generally speaking, they are not ‘stressed’. Actually, they are under “pressure”.

There is an important difference between pressure and stress. Someone who is suffering from stress will certainly know about it, because they will have needed help to sort themselves out. But more on that later. Firstly, let’s talk about ‘pressure’.

Pressure is good for us. Pressure helps the body to prepare for the ‘flight or fight’ response. Our brain wants to keep us safe so whenever it senses danger it releases chemicals into the body. I refer to this as ‘pressure events’ that trigger a response.

What is a pressure event? Well, it is anything that the brain detects as danger, or put another way, something that the brain detects as abnormal. Imagine sitting quietly at lunchtime, sitting in a comfy chair while enjoying a sandwich from Marks & Spencer. Someone creeps up behind you and shouts BOO. Almost immediately your brain will respond. You heart rate will go up, your arteries will dilate a little, your breathing will increase and your pupils will dilate too. All of this will happen in less than one second. Your brain has sensed danger and has put you on a state of readiness to react. But, you are not under stress. You are under pressure.

Brain and body arousal

Without getting too scientific, the following sequence of events follow a pressure event. The pre-frontal cortex of the brain senses something is abnormal. An immediate response is made through the Hypothalamus Pituitary and Adrenal System (the HPA axis). A special hormone is released, called the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).

The pituitary gland comes into action at this stage and it releases adrenocorticotropic-releasing homones (ACTH) into the blood system. ACTH acts on the adrenal cortex and tells it to release cortisol. The adrenal system then releases adrenalin into the blood system, while insulin is produced in the pancreas to convert some glucose into glycogen, just in case the body needs a blast of energy.

And all of this happens because someone said BOO!

The point I am making here is that the brain will react to pressure. Sometimes, pressure is because of an external event or sometimes it is simply because we think something. When we get angry at a person the brain sees this as a pressure event and, again, releases all those chemicals.

Pressure on a daily basis is good for us. It tests the central nervous system and it gives it a good workout. We might experience over 100 pressure events every day. Think about it. The driver who cut us up this morning, the coffee machine that delivered a latte instead of an Americano and the MD who failed to read the report that you spent last night preparing. These are all pressure events. And, they are good for us. Well, maybe not the MD one – that is just downright annoying!

Crossing the line

Now then, I want to explain something that I call ‘crossing the line’. Imagine a line drawn in the sand. The line is just out of reach of the tide. Imagine placing a brand-new ipad on the sand just above the line, on the dry side. You sit back and watch the tide come in. You know that it will ebb and flow as it gets nearer and nearer to the line, but you know that the usual tide never quite reaches the line in the sand, so your ipad is quite safe.

One day, an unusual event occurs. The tide comes and goes as usual but you start to worry because the ebb and flow is getting faster. Something is wrong today. Suddenly, a vast tide comes up, crosses the line and drenches your brand-new ipad. It is damaged beyond repair.

The line in the sand is analogous to pressure events. When pressure bobs about inside our brains it can come and go nicely, without causing too much harm. However, when pressure events start to come more frequently, and pile on top of one another, there comes a point when the line is crossed. That is the stage when pressure changes to stress.

With most people, crossing the line is a major and serious stage. Most people will never be able to get back below the line again, not without proper help. Their symptoms will continue to manifest as irritability, sleep disturbance, eating disorders, compulsive behaviour and a whole load of other things.

Antidepressants and therapy

Crossing the line is when normal everyday pressure turns into a serious medical condition. At this stage, a person will be in much need of help. It is far from impossible to get back to normal again, but it will take time and patience. Depression is a very common symptom at this stage. A person suffering from stress should visit their GP, who will more than likely prescribe medication, often antidepressants. One of the most common types of antidepressant are the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). These help to sort out the chemical imbalances in the brain.

Why does a chemical imbalance occur in an otherwise healthy brain? Well, the answer is simple really. Remember the story about BOO? All those chemicals that are released each time we have a reaction to a pressure event need to disperse. If pressure is under control and we are not subjected to too much pressure, the flood of chemicals can fairly easily dissipate and be converted into chemicals that can pass out of the body. However, when these chemicals reach an amount that overwhelms the brain and body, the balance within the brain can be disturbed. We need medication at this stage to sort out the imbalance.

Something very important though is that medication on its own is not always enough. Medication will definitely treat the symptoms but they rarely fix the cause. Cause and symptoms is something that I will mention a lot in further posts and podcasts. Suffice to say for now is that symptoms will always appear because something is wrong. The cause of the problem needs to be fixed and this is where counselling and therapy come in. Hypnotherapy is an excellent technique for delving into the brain to access the cause of the problem. Find the cause and the symptom will disappear.

Check out my podcasts on http://www.ahelpinghand.biz

 

 

Improve life by controlling your mind

There are many things in life that are beyond our control. World events, radical views of other people, and political decisions are some of the things that can infuriate us, causing us to have anxiety, fears and even hatred.

Often, our lives can seem out of control. Sometimes we can feel trapped in a life that is dull and boring. A recent survey concluded that more than 70% of people are in jobs they don’t like, but they can’t leave because they need the income.

In all this haze of things that can upset us, there is one thing that we can take responsibility for, and that is our own state of mind. People can control us but they cannot control our minds. And we can change our state of mind for the better. We can learn to live a life that is wonderful, even if we can’t control external influences.

How?

Transform your mind

Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. It is a way of learning to accept the life we lead in a way that fulfils us. It is a way to achieve happiness, greater physical health, and better mental wellbeing.

In this series on meditation, I am going to explore the subject in detail. I will be looking at the scientific background to meditation and I am also going to look at the various forms of mediation that are used by religious and non-religious groups around the world. Most importantly, I am going to teach the subject so that you can learn the basics. This post is a shorter version of my first podcast on the subject; Mediation Part One.

So, let’s make a start. What is meditation?

Well, it is a practice that is rooted in ancient history and it is a topic of modern science. Over the last ten years there has been an increased awareness about the subject, with many scholars, psychologists and neuroscientists carrying out research into the benefits of regular practice.

The brain is full of beta waves

If you were to hook up your brain to an electroencephalogram (EEG) during meditation you would find that your brain beta waves decrease. Beta waves dominate our normal waking state of consciousness. Beta waves are seen when we are alert, when we are problem solving and focused on a task. These waves show that the brain is active.

When we meditate, our beta waves slow down. Researchers have found that practicing meditation for 20 minutes every day, and slowing down our beta waves during this time, can have a significant effect on our mental and physical health. During meditation, the brain is able to make new neuro pathways that connect the left and right hemispheres. Scientists believe that the formation of these pathways helps to trigger healing in the body and help to reduce anxiety and mental distress.

During meditation, brain waves slow down to much lower frequency waves. When the brain changes to low frequency waves the level of neurotransmitters and endorphins in our brain increases and it is well-known that lower frequency brain waves increase the amount of serotonin, an important chemical that alters our mood. Many meditators say they reach a ‘natural high’ at the end of their session. This is usually because the level of endorphins that make us ‘happy’ increase during meditation.

Endorphins boost our cognitive ability and our ability to concentrate. They help improve our memory and our ability to learn new things.

Different waves for different things

The subject of brain waves is complicated. We have different brain waves, each of which produce different things that the brain needs. Why do we sleep? Well, during sleep our brains enter different states of activity and brain wave frequency. Chemicals are released at specific frequencies, and the balance of these chemicals is essential for mental wellbeing.

Regular meditators experience ‘extreme bliss’. This is usually achieved when brain waves slow right down to much lower frequencies; the delta brainwave. It is impossible for people to experience delta states when they are awake, it is only when we enter into deep meditation that we experience this state of consciousness.

Delta waves is known to have a profound effect on the physical body. This is when the body can really heal itself. The pituitary gland is instructed to release human growth hormones to help repair and to rejuvenate muscle and tissue. Delta waves are associated with deeper connection into the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is where we have all the answers to life, but it is hard to reach. Only for a few minutes during sleep do our conscious and subconscious minds connect. However, during the delta state, our conscious and subconscious minds are connected and it can reveal many interesting things.

Have you ever had a “gut feel” about something? Of course you have. Where did it come from, that gut feeling. Well, it probably came from the subconscious mind. As you cultivate your delta brainwaves, your intuition will increase, bringing with it an unbelievable ability to trust your gut instincts.

Many people believe the delta brainwave is the bridge between higher planes of reality. Spiritual gurus believe it is while in the delta state of mind that they connect with life’s universal energy. This is where you can learn to tap into the forces that govern our existence.

Meditation is good for us

From a scientific point of view, then, meditation is good for us. It certainly can do no harm. The key is to do it regularly, twenty minutes every day is a great starting point. As you become good at it, your brain will go quickly into delta state, and it is during this state that the real benefits of meditation will occur.

For a longer explanation of the science behind meditation, listen to my first podcast on this series; Meditation Part One.

In part two I will look at some of the western philosophies of meditation.

http://www.ahelpinghand.biz

Brain super foods

The brain is a chemical factory

The brain is a chemical factory. It makes special messengers called neurotransmitters, which regulate our mood, emotions, and mental well-being. Neurotransmitters relay messages from one neuron to another, and from one part of the brain to another part.

Neurotransmitters are either excitatory, causing a neuron to send a signal, or inhibitory, preventing a signal from being sent. The excitatory system speeds things up, and gets things moving, while the inhibitory system helps slow things down or stops signals from continuing.

If levels of excitatory neurotransmitters in our brain gets too high, you can feel out of control, overexcited, racy, or anxious. If inhibitory neurotransmitter levels get too high, important signals may be stopped, which can lead to symptoms of depression, fatigue, or compulsive behaviours.

Imbalances in our brains can cause an endless list of health challenges, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, insomnia, memory problems, irritable bowel syndrome, hormone dysfunction, migraine, and even early death.

What affects the balance of brain chemicals

Well, many things.

Prolonged periods of stress can seriously deplete the levels of these chemicals. We are all different though; some people can absorb vast amounts of pressure yet remain unaffected while other people will suffer imbalances after only mild pressure.

Poor diet is another factor. Neurotransmitters are made in the brain from proteins and certain vitamins and minerals. If nutrition is poor, and there isn’t enough of these materials around, an imbalance can develop.

Genetic factors can play a part too. People with a family history of mental illness are more at risk from suffering similar conditions.

Toxic substances like heavy metals, pesticides and some prescription medication can cause permanent damage to brain cells.

Hormone changes are a known cause of low levels of certain brain chemicals.

A myth about antidepressants

Once symptoms emerge, correcting imbalances in the brain is not as simple as taking a few pills.

Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, are needed by brain cells to help them communicate properly with adjacent cells. Most antidepressants are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which stop serotonin being reabsorbed into cells. This is a good thing because if serotonin is not reabsorbed it becomes available to do more work.

Now for the bad news. Antidepressants such as SSRIs do not “make’ serotonin. If there is a shortage of this chemical in the brain, no amount of antidepressants will do any good. Antidepressants will only work if the raw ingredients are present.

What are the raw materials?

An amino acid that has been proven to increase the level of serotonin in the brain is 5-hydroxytryptophan. L-theanine is another important material because it regulates the secretion of serotonin and dopamine, while l-tyrosine is a building block of neurotransmitters. Calcium citrate, folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin C are used to convert 5-hydrotryptophan to serotonin.

Although it is possible to get all of the above chemicals from over-the-counter supplements, there isn’t really any need because all of these are in abundance in certain foods. Two foods in particular are classed as brain super foods; avocado and extra virgin olive oil.

Avocado is one of the healthiest brain super foods on the go. The fruit is packed with monosaturated fats (the good type of fat), vitamins K, C and B, and folate. Research has concluded that this food can keep chemicals in the brain in perfect balance, helping prevent strokes and improving cognitive function.

Real extra virgin olive oil is truly a brain food. Thanks to the powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols, which are found in the oil, including this in your diet can greatly improve learning and memory. It has even been proven to reduce age-related brain disease.

The benefits of keeping the brain healthy are obvious. By increasing the amount of these foods in your diet, brain cells can work properly and, more importantly, can work in perfect balance.

Check out my latest podcasts on http://www.ahelpinghand.biz