The Empathic Blog

Diving Deeper Into Topics that Motivate and Inspire

Posted by Lindsay Melka on February 13, 2017

Managing a Panic Attack

Should I Avoid Thinking About my Panic Attack?

 

Is it possible to manage a panic attack? Yes, but maybe not the way you think. If you’ve never suffered the terrible experience of a panic attack you may think trying to not think about it is the answer. This can typically lead to a worsening of symptoms, making one’s anxiety even stronger. So what do you do?

First of all, how do you even know if you’re having a panic attack? I’d bet most people who’ve experienced them would say “how could you not!?”

The hallmark of a panic attack or panic disorder is the experience of sudden and sometimes repeated bouts of extreme fear that last several minutes or more. It can feel like an eternity, although most don’t last more than ten minutes. They can, however, keep happening; making it feel like the panic has completely taken control. The attacks are characterized by heightened feelings of terror, disaster or losing control, even when there is no immediate threat.

Scientifically speaking, a panic disorder is a psychiatric condition characterized by repeated and sudden attacks of intense fear and anxiety. Many people suffering a panic attack describe their experiences in similar ways. Typical symptoms include:

  • Pounding Heart
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or Shaking
  • Feeling Faint
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear that one is having a heart attack

While researchers have not determined a specific cause of panic disorder, many doctors believe it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In addition to biological factors, researchers are also investigating how stress may play a role. It is not uncommon for a major life event, even a pleasant one, to trigger a panic attack. Events like birth of a child, planning a wedding, job stress, buying a new house, changing jobs, an accident, divorce or death of a loved one may cause one to have an attack-even if they have never experienced one before. While some people can identify their triggers for a panic attack, they often, unfortunately, come on suddenly. One of the biggest sources of panic is fear of having another one!

 

So what can you do if you feel you are experiencing a panic attack?

 

As with most mental health issues, panic disorder is typically treated by psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both. If one is unable to get outside resources quickly, there are coping skills you can practice and utilize on your own should you find yourself unable to calm yourself down. These are in no particular order and some may work better than others. Find what works best for you.

  • Acknowledge that you are having a panic attack. Just acknowledge it. Sometimes it is helpful to talk to yourself in a calming manner. “I’m fine. I’m experiencing a panic attack. I am not in danger”.
  • To take step 1 a little further, acknowledge that you are safe. Remind yourself of this.
  • Practice inhaling from your diaphragm and exhaling through your nose. This will help slow your breath and your heart rate.
  • Hold ice. This can divert your attention away from the panic attack.
  • Smell soothing scents. Lavender and Bergamot are known to be calming.
  • Go for a run. Jump in place. Anything that gets your heart rate up. This can create a healthy association to your elevated heart.
  • Remind yourself that this will pass. Feelings are not facts. Anxiety will diminish in time.
  • Look up “Yoga, legs up the wall pose”. This pose supports blood flow in the chest and stomach, helping to reduce your heart rate.
  • Walk outside
  • Engage in conversation. Distract yourself. Participating in a conversation makes it more difficult to focus on the panic.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Download a mindfulness meditation, or better yet find one free on YouTube.
  • Engage your five senses. Find 5 things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
  • Again, breathe.

If you find yourself continuing to struggle with panic attacks, know that you are not alone. Millions of people suffer from them every day. More importantly, millions of people get through them every day. Practicing coping skills, receiving psychotherapy and or taking medication can drastically reduce or completely end your struggle with panic attacks. Find out what works best for you. If you’ve found methods that have helped get you through panic attacks, methods that I have not mentioned here, I’d love to hear about them! Please feel free to share your comments in the space below.


Lindsay Melka LPC Empathic Counseling and Therapy Denver

Lindsay Melka, LPC

Empathic Counseling and Therapy


If you connected with this post and would like to speak with me please call 720-295-5490 or contact me here.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Lindsay Melka on January 17, 2017

Giving and Receiving Validation Improves our Relationships

What is Validation?

Giving and Receiving Improves Validation, Empathic Counseling and Therapy Denver COWhy is it important to feel validated? Working as a therapist one often hears “I just want to feel validated”. What does it mean not to feel validated? How does validation not only impact our relationships, but our self-worth as well? Why should we validate others?

Let’s start with a simple explanation of the meaning of validation. It is not that you agree with the other person. It’s not that you don’t share your own point of view. Simply put, validation is when you’ve listened and acknowledged what the other person has to say.

Most people feel better having a difficult or emotionally charged conversation when they feel heard. Just being listened to can feel really good. Without validation, people feel unheard, so they work extra hard to convince you of the importance of their needs. We’ve all experienced at some time or another that feeling of desperation to be heard. We may get loud, pouty, or angry. Our heart rate starts to rise and our ability to hear gets cloudy.

To effectively communicate, you must start with the assumption that both you and the other person have equally valid needs. Most of the time, they are not the same needs, but both needs are valid. No one is wrong and no one is right. It is an equal playing field and is not about winning or losing. It is about being and feeling heard.

 

Validating Others

 

Validation is about finding the piece of truth in another person’s perspective or situation. It is about looking for even a morsel of fact. Validation means that you acknowledge that a person’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors have causes and are therefore understandable. More importantly, validation is not validating something that is invalid, and it does not infer that you are agreeing with the other person. People seem to get tripped up by this the most. The whole idea of being interpersonally effective has nothing to do with giving in and letting someone else be right for the sake of having a peaceful conversation. Again, it is about being heard or showing someone else that they are being heard. Each person is entitled to want and feel what they do. Neither person has more power. You each just have different-yet sensible and legitimate experiences and desires.

 

How can we validate one another?

 

1. The first thing we can do is practice active listening. This starts with just paying attention to what the other person is saying. Look interested, listen, observe. Nod your head, make eye contact. Focus on what the other person may be feeling, experiencing. Sometimes even a slight look of concern or a smile can let the other person know you are there, you are present.

2. Reflect back on what you heard or observed, making sure you actually understood what the other person is saying. Make sure not to be critical or judgmental in your tone. And definitely don’t be sarcastic! It’s important to mention that people often struggle with reflecting back without sounding like they’re just parroting the other person. This can come across as condescending and rude.

3. Try to notice what the other person is feeling or thinking. What does their body language look like? Remember, even if you don’t approve of the other person’s behavior, you can try to see where they’re coming from. Chances are, you know this person enough to get an idea of why their argument makes sense to them.

4. Be sensitive to what the person is not saying. Don’t try to read their mind. Really pay attention to them.

5. Acknowledge the validity of what they are saying. Make it a point to see that the other person’s thoughts, actions or feelings are valid given the current reality and facts.

6. Show that you are equals. Again, you are no better and no worse.

 

Why do we need to validate one another? Why is it so important?

 

It improves our relationships by showing that we care and want our healthy relationships to continue. It evens out the paying field. And surprisingly and more importantly…when we listen and validate, it makes us feel better about ourselves. There is a feeling of maturity and relief that can come with listening without interruption. Letting someone share their thoughts and feelings without the need to butt in can teach us a lot about ourselves and our communication patterns. It teaches us how to be present and promotes the practice of being mindful. It makes us closer and can help heal wounded relationships.

No one likes to feel invalidated because it hurts. It’s a lose lose for both parties. Although it may feel like a win for one, in the long run, it only creates more distance. Successful relationships are those where both partners feel comfortable sharing who they are and what they believe in. When you learn how to validate one another, you can begin to create safety and trust and develop an even deeper kind of intimacy.


 

Lindsay Melka LPC Empathic Counseling and Therapy Denver

Lindsay Melka, LPC

Empathic Counseling and Therapy

 


If you connected with this post and would like to speak with me please call 720-295-5490 or contact me here.

 

 

Posted by Lindsay Melka on January 5, 2017

Breaking Free from a Depressed and or Anxious cycle

 

How do you get things done when you’re feeling depressed, anxious or unmotivated? It’s hard enough for folks who don’t struggle with the depression or anxiety! If you’ve been in counseling before or not, I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve heard someone, maybe even your mom or spouse tell you “Just get up and do something. You’ll feel better”. Yes, this is typically said with good intent, but it does’t always help and sometimes, it can even make us feel worse. Most people know that getting up and exercising or doing some chores just DOING ANYTHING will probably make them feel better, but it’s… just..too…hard.

 

There are Solutions

There are tools that can get us back on our feet and out of our rut but it takes will and it takes effort. Let’s talk about what the hardest part of using these tools are first-you know, get it out of the way. So here it goes: you have to be willing to feel some discomfort in order to feel some relief. That’s it.

 

Let me explain

Example: You want to stay in bed because the thought of getting out of bed is so incredibly anxiety provoking that you avoid the anxiety by staying in bed. Your basically relying on your mood to make decisions for you. You’re what is called being “mood dependent”. You rely on your mood for guidance and chances are if you’re depressed your mood is telling you to do the opposite of what you should do.

Your behavior does not need to be guided by your mood. That’s pretty great news if you think about it!  Just because your mind is telling you you’re sad, does not mean that you have to stay sad and engage in activities (or non-activities really) that are contributing to your sadness.

So What Do You Do?

You practice mood independence. This is where the discomfort piece I mentioned earlier comes in. When you don’t want to get out of bed, you can. There is a choice here. You can and should do the opposite of what your crappy mood is telling you to do. That’s the trick. The more you’re  willing to be uncomfortable and do the healthy things you’ve been avoiding, the sooner you’ll pull yourself out of your rut. If you wake up tomorrow and you don’t want to get out of bed but you do, and you do something meaningful, responsible, healthy etc. you WILL feel better. Chances are you’ll have more hope that you’ll be able to do this again the next day and the next day so on and so forth. Some days it won’t be so easy and you’ll want to pull the covers over your head and avoid the day. And that’s okay. This stuff takes work. The idea is a simple one but it is certainly not easy.

 

You Do Not Have to Act According to How You Feel

You can not want to walk the dog and do it anyway. You can laugh with a friend when you’re sad. Your behavior can be totally different than your mood. Eventually your mood follows and gets used to living life with peace and enjoyment again.

 

One More Tool (my favorite) 

Just imagine how you’ll feel after you do the very thing you’re avoiding. Is it worth feeling really uncomfortable if it means you’ll get to feel better? It’s worth a try.


Lindsay Melka LPC Empathic Counseling and Therapy Denver

Lindsay Melka, LPC

Empathic Counseling and Therapy


If you connected with this post and would like to speak with me please call 720-295-5490 or contact me here.

 

 

Posted by Lindsay Melka on December 21, 2016

ACT vs. CBT What is the Difference?

For those more savvy, self-help accepting, curious potential psychotherapy clients out there, I’ve created a brief description of the differences of two of the more common types of therapy being used by clinicians these days. I don’t expect most people to know the differences between therapeutic techniques, but surprisingly, I’m finding more and more people are knowledgeable about this stuff and are genuinely interested in how this works. This is a good thing as you should know what kind of evidenced-based treatment your therapist is providing to you anyway! Below I have included a general explanation of both CBT and ACT and how they are both similar and different in treating something like depression.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is a psychosocial intervention that is the most widely used evidenced based practice for treating mental disorders. CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs and attitudes). The underlying concept behind CBT is that our thoughts and feelings play a fundamental role in our behavior.

CBT is generally short-term and focused on helping clients deal with a very specific problem. During the course of treatment, people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior. Many people begin to identify “core beliefs” that have dictated their emotions and behaviors for years. CBT teaches individuals to notice thoughts that are contributing to their suffering. i.e. “I will always be lazy and I will always be depressed”.

Example of CBT works:  An individual  reports that he/she is “hopeless that things will get better”. CBT would help the individual  identify the thought distortion and help them discover thoughts that are realistic and effective in helping them feel better. i.e  “I do not always feel depressed. There are times when I enjoy my life”.  Noticing and shifting one’s thinking affects one’s emotions which affects one’s behavior.

Further explanation from above example: When the individual  applies a more optimistic (and realistic) thought, their emotion changes (more hopeful) and their behavior changes (get out of bed and takes a walk).

The goal of cognitive behavior therapy is to teach patients that while they cannot control every aspect of the world around them, they can take control of how they interpret and deal with things in their environment.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT, pronounced “act”)

ACT is a form of psychotherapy commonly described as a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. It is an empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance, mindfulness strategies, commitment and behavior-change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility.

ACT differs from CBT in that rather than trying to teach people how to better control their thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories and other private events, ACT teaches them to just notice, accept and embrace their private events.

ACT is a powerful tool that can reduce suffering by helping one observe thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to change them. ACT also emphasizes behaving in ways consistent with valued goals and life direction.

Example of how ACT works: One would develop acceptance around depression and learn how to develop a relationship with it rather than avoid it (what ACT refers to “experiential avoidance”).  The basic premise of ACT with depression is that while emotional pain hurts, it is the struggle with pain that causes suffering.

ACT is proven to be effective in treating not only depression but also addiction and anxiety. ACT doesn’t attempt to improve or alleviate symptoms, but rather aims to help the person stop obsessing over his or her symptoms, create new lifestyle patterns, and make healthier choices. It encourages being fully conscious in the present moment and maintaining or changing behavior based on what the moment involves.


Lindsay Melka LPC Empathic Counseling and Therapy Denver

Lindsay Melka, LPC

Empathic Counseling and Therapy


If you connected with this post and would like to speak with me please call 720-295-5490 or contact me here.

Posted by Lindsay Melka on December 12, 2016

Families and Addiction

 

Help for Families and Individuals of Those Struggling with Addiction

I’m going to share a snippet of something I wrote for my website before I decided to change my website completely (it’s a long story). I have worked in addiction treatment for quite some time and have had the opportunity to speak with many worried mothers, wives, husbands, fathers, children you name it. They are undoubtedly panicked, terrified and sometimes pretty clueless about what it is they are supposed to do-and rightfully so. Unfortunately, there is no detailed manuscript for what to do with an addicted loved one, but there is PLENTY of useful material for families, family education programs, support groups and therapists out there that can help get you through such difficult times.

Every time I speak with families I have to remind myself of the pain and fear they are experiencing as a result of the unknown, sometimes fatal disease of addiction. I admit, it can be frustrating when you don’t have all the answers and you can’t explain why their loved one just won’t be “cured”. Parents, especially, can not understand what the hell is going through their kids minds. Why is their desire to get sober not as urgent as everyone else in their life believes it is?!!  Unfortunately, this is not how it works.

As a therapist who has struggled with addiction myself, I know how badly your family wants to see you get better. And I so wish that was all it took. I remember my sponsor 10 years ago telling me “you’re mom would take a bullet for you if it meant you’d get better”. That was one of the harder things to hear, but it was true.

Steps to Take for Yourself

I can tell you now, as a successful, happy and sober therapist, sobriety for your loved one can happen, but most of it, a lot of it actually, is in their hands. Most recovering individuals will tell you that looking back, it was their most excruciating feelings and experiences that made them finally willing to seek help and most importantly want sobriety.  So what do you do in the meantime?

Well first of all I want to make it very clear that you can wholeheartedly love your child and hate their addiction at the same time. They are two very different things. Some addicted individuals need super tough tough love-you know no money, no car, no place to come home and do laundry. Others need a different kind of support. Where are they in their recovery process? Do they want to get sober? Are they just kind of struggling? Will they need inpatient? A therapist can help you navigate your way through some of these unknown and presumably obsessive questions that you’ve had running through your mind over and over again.

Self Care

I can not stress enough how it important it is to TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF through this process. You will be in a much better position to make rational decisions and will in turn feel good about not neglecting your own needs. You see, when you neglect your own life, AKA are codependent and or an enabler, you are helping no one. So, take a look at the information I provided below and see if it may be beneficial for you to seek some guidance. Anything helps!

Here we go-

It may be time to seek help when:

You feel ashamed of talking about the addiction and and don’t know who to talk to

You’re scared of the substance user finding out and acting out

Your family member continues to use despite your concerns

You’ve experienced family issues that you believe may have contributed to the addiction

Your physical, mental and spiritual health have been compromised

The effects of addiction aren’t limited to the substance abuser. If someone’s addiction has negatively impacted your life, it may be time to seek help. By engaging in treatment focused on the family, you can make a difference in the life of the addict while improving your own well-being. Studies show that family therapy predicts higher levels of success, greater engagement and increased continuing care participation.

Benefits of family therapy include:

Helping addict seek assistance for their own problem

Helping families understand enabling behaviors vs. supportive behaviors

Increased sense of personal serenity

Addressing codependent behavior that may be hindering recovery

Learning how to practice self care when feeling powerless over actions of addict

Assisting the substance abuser to gain awareness of their own needs and behaviors

Supporting yourself and your loved ones through the recovery process

It’s important to understand that therapy can provide support for family members but also improve their loved one’s health as well. Recovery for everyone is possible. I’ve seen it happen many times. It may not work the first time, but the possibility of being free from the storm of addiction can happen. It can difficult to ask for help, but it definitely can’t hurt.


Lindsay Melka LPC Empathic Counseling and Therapy Denver

Lindsay Melka, LPC

Empathic Counseling and Therapy


If you connected with this post and would like to speak with me please call 720-295-5490 or contact me here.