Welcome to Psychology Through the Internet

Hi and welcome to my psychology blog.

Psychology Through the Internet is for anyone dealing with problems like anxiety, depression, confidence, anger, relationships,  or children’s behaviour. That’s most people I guess.

The site has articles on all sorts of psychology topics written in an easy to digest way. Some articles are about the way we think and react, with others and with ourselves. The articles cover common psychological problems, like depression, anxiety, stress, and relationship issues, as well as suggesting strategies and therapies for dealing with these. There’s quite a lot of information on children’s behaviour and relationships. I also touch on aging and immigrating, the impact of diet on the mind, and how to improve sleep.

If you are interested in a particular topic, click one of the category links at the top of the page, or do a search in the SEARCH BOX.

Please send me an email or comment if you have any ideas about other articles you and others might find psychologically helpful and interesting.

I value your feedback and your stories, but please forgive me if I don’t respond quickly to your comments. If you would like to communicate with me speedily or non-publicly, my direct email address is Lorri@lorricraig.com.

 

I offer psychological therapy / counselling/counseling sessions in person for those who live near Brighton and Hove, UK, and online from anywhere on the planet via Skype.  Please email me at lorri@lorricraig.com or call or text me on +44 745 666227 if you want to find out more.

I really hope that you find the site helpful. I look forward to interacting with you.

Warm wishes

Lorri  Craig
Psychologist

PANIC ATTACKS REALLY SUCK!

PART 1: WHAT ARE PANIC ATTACKS?

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you’ve probably spent a lot of time and energy since worrying about when and where you are going to have another one. That’s because panic attacks are pretty horrible experiences on so many levels.

Firstly they are incredibly uncomfortable physically. Symptoms vary a bit, but typically they start with a flutter in the belly or heart, ora  woozy movement in the stomach, which can make you, the sufferer, feel sick. Then your heart starts racing and thumping wildly in your chest. You start breathing hard and fast, and feel like you are suffocating from lack of air, so you breathe harder. You might have the urge to vomit or go to the toilet. You might feel dizzy, and, if upright, sometimes fall onto the floor [which can hurt]. If the attack continues for a long time, parts of your body might start to feel numb or cramped, and your fingers might even curl up uncontrollably into a claw shape. As I said: incredibly physically uncomfortable.

As well as the physical discomfort, there’s the intense emotional fear that accompanies panic attacks. The sensation can be overwhelming. Many liken the experience to feeling like they are about to die. Majorly scary.

What’s worse is the panic attacks often come out of the blue; with no obvious situation or event triggering them. And sufferers often worry that they might have a serious physical condition, or worse still, a mental illness… that they might be going mad.

Then there’s the social embarrassment. It’s bad enough going through all this, but having people watch while you pant and panic can feel devastating, particularly if you’re exposed in a setting where you might feel judged, such as a workplace, or school, or party, or bus, or restaurant… anywhere in public really.

For all these reasons, people who have suffered a panic attack can get very very anxious about having a similar experience, so they obsess about them, and go out of their way to avoid public situations.

Does this sound familiar? If you have been through this, or if you care about someone who has been through this, know that you are not alone. There are literally millions of people like you who have experienced one or more panic attacks, or who love someone who has experienced a panic attack.

So why do panic attacks happen?

A panic attack is triggered by the primitive part of the brain that, amongst other things, reacts to danger and tells the body to get ready for action. This part of the brain automatically sends chemicals into the blood stream that make the heart beat faster, the lungs work harder and the senses go into red alert.

It’s a survival mechanism in the right context. If, for instance, you were being attacked by a wild animal in the jungle, it would be great to have your senses go into hyper-alert, and have extra oxygen pumped to your muscles, so that you could quickly escape, or so that you could fight back with super strength. This is called the fight or flight response. It looks after us appropriately in those sorts of dangerous situations.

Not so when the fear response is caused by something you can’t run away from or fight, such as a gradual accumulation of stress, or a triggered traumatic memory, or, indeed, fear of having another panic attack. These sorts of situations can trigger the body’s fight or flight response, along with the accompanying heavy breathing and pounding heart. But when there’s nowhere to run and nothing to fight, all that extra pumping and breathing can cause distress and, very importantly, can put the carbon dioxide [CO2] and oxygen [O2] levels out of balance in your blood stream.

That chemical imbalance is what makes you feel dizzy and tingly and breathless. It can cause a tight feeling in the body, and even lead to the clawed fingers mentioned earlier.

PART 2: HOW CAN PANIC ATTACKS BE CONTROLLED?

The irony is that, even though you feel like you don’t have enough oxygen and need to breathe in more, you actually need to breathe in less. Slowing down your breath, taking in less oxygen and breathing out more CO2 will correct the chemical imbalance, and quickly restore your body back to normal. None of the physical symptoms of panic are permanent. The worst that can happen is that, in your body’s attempt to stop you breathing too much [hyperventilating], it might make you become faint and pass out for a second. Your body is then able to take over and slow your breathing.

Slowing down your breath when you are conscious and feel like you’re suffocating is not easy. But with a simple strategy, it can be done.

If you feel a panic attack coming on you should first try to remind yourself what’s actually happening – that you are not going mad, you are not seriously ill, and that it’s not dangerous, so you’re not about to die [as long as you’re not balanced on a tight rope at the time]. Then remind yourself that you have enough oxygen in your body, and you need to get rid of some of the used up air [CO2] from your body to correct the imbalance.

Breathing into a paper bag can help you to reduce your intake of oxygen and correct the balance [so it’s not just a myth].  But, whether or not you have a paper bag handy, there’s a simple counting technique that is really effective.

Breathe in slowly  while counting to 2 or 3 or 4 [the number’s not important]; hold it in for a second; then breath out as completely as you can to twice the count of the in-breath [4 or 6 or 8]; then hold it out for a second or two, and repeat the process. The idea is that you slow down the rate of your breathing, breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in, and think about counting, rather than focusing on how uncomfortable and scary your experience is. This corrects the O2 CO2 balance and focussing on breathing out completely tricks your brain into thinking that the danger is past; like when you ‘Phew’ with relief.

If you are with someone who is having a panic attack the best thing you can do to help them is stay calm and supportive. Then, without lecturing or patronising, let them know that they are having a panic attack and that it’s not dangerous. Let them know that, contrary to their instinct, they need to breathe in less, and breathe out more. Then help them breathe to a 1:2 in:out ratio. If you can easily find a paper bag for them to breathe into, that would help, but it’s not crucial, and you should be careful of paper printed with toxic ink.

So that’s it.  If you are a sufferer, it’s not a bad idea to have a practice session with a support person. Do a bit of panting to bring the first symptoms on, then practice the breath count. In my experience, once a panic attack suffer is confident that he or she can control an attack, their confidence increase significantly and they are able to begin getting back to a normal life.

Remember, tell yourself you are going to be fine, and count your breath, keeping the outbreath twice as long as the in, and you’ll be on your way to freedom from panic.

Lorri Craig,  Psychologist

For more information about treating anxiety and panic attacks without drugs go to:

http://www.AnxietyTreatmentWithoutDrugs.com

KIDS! What to Do When Your Child Won’t Listen

child not listening

Most parents would agree, a child who won’t listen can be incredibly frustrating, particularly when you are trying to teach them right from wrong. How can they learn to behave if they won’t listen?

When parents complain to me that their children ‘never listen’, my usual response is a slightly cheeky, ‘Well then, stop talking so much.’ Having someone lecture at you can be very annoying, whether you are a child or an adult, so kids learn to turn off their ears and brains in response, or, worse, they defiantly rebel.

Why Questions

In amongst the lecturing, the frustrated parent commonly asks, ‘Why?’ “Why did you throw that rock?” “Why did you put peas up your nose?” “Why did you jump up and down on the bed until it broke?” “Don’t just shrug. Look at me! Why aren’t you listening to me?!”

I have a why question. Why do so many adults feel compelled to ask children why questions? Be honest, when was the last time you knew the answer to your own why questions after doing something silly? “Why did you have that extra drink last night?” “Why did you buy those expensive shoes that hurt?”  The only honest answer would be, “Well, it seemed a good idea at the time,” or, “Because I wanted to,” or, “I don’t know.” Unfortunately, such honest responses are not likely to appease an angry parent in full-on lecturing mode.

Children Are Not Little Adults

Tom Phelan, author of ‘123 Magic’, stressed that children should not be treated as ‘little adults’; because they are not: they’re kids. A young child is not likely to have great philosophical realisations about good versus evil by being talked at and reasoned with. What they are more likely to do is stop listening and think about something more pleasant, like that new toy they want for Christmas.

They might, if well trained in escape tactics, appease you with an eyes-down, submissive nod, perhaps accompanied by a mumbled apology, and of course, when prompted, promise to never do it again. But more often than not, unless they have an unusually strong urge to please you, they won’t really mean any of it. They are simply trying to cope in that moment. After all, they’re kids.

Lecturing and reasoning with your child as if he is a little adult on your level reduces your power and status in the child’s view. At times the lecturing might create a quietly angry child who will retaliate later, or take their anger out on a younger child. At other times the lectured child might react angrily towards you. They are only responding as they feel a little adult should.

The Angrier You Get…

As a parent it can feel really frustrating to hear your little darling argue back disrespectfully rather than offering the meek apology you’re hoping for. This frustration might lead to an increase the loudness and tone your voice. Then, because your child tends to mimic you, and because you are giving them focused attention for their retaliation, and because your anger has, in their world, given them more justification for being angry, the child gets angrier at you. Then you get angrier in response, and so it goes on. This is called escalation, and it is very common in families.

Be a Calm Assertive Pack Leader

I believe one of the greatest contemporary human psychology experts is dog behaviour expert, Cesar Millan, star of TV’s ‘The Dog Whisperer’. Millan does not believe in reasoning with canines. Instead he stresses to his adult human clients that they can train their out-of-control dogs by becoming strong ‘pack leaders’, and exuding ‘calm, assertive energy’. If a pack leader is calm, confident and assertive, his pack will feel confident that he is looking after them and protecting them from harm, so they feel relaxed, secure and well-adjusted. The pack doesn’t have to challenge the pack-leader’s authority and they don’t feel threatened by the outside world, as long as the pack leader stays relaxed.

‘Calm, assertive energy’ is Milan’s constant mantra; a mantra that I have been encouraging parents of humans to take on for many years.

If you believe that you, as a parent or parents, should own the role of leader in your family [solo as a single parent, or in partnership with another parent in two parent families], and you can get into the calm, assertive mode of a good pack leader and set clear limits for your children, they will automatically feel calmer and more secure, and be much easier to manage.
Millan teaches that a pack leader in the dog world does not talk in response to their charge lings’ misdemeanours. Nor does he react aggressively. He simply corrects the unwanted behaviour, calmly and assertively, then lets the issue go. He doesn’t harp on and on, he doesn’t try to reason, he doesn’t get angry, and he and definitely doesn’t give the unwanted behaviour too much attention. Dogs are so smart.

Human are also social pack animals, and human children thrive on solid adult leadership, and clear boundaries and consequences delivered in a calm, assertive manner. It helps them feel like the world is predictable and simple, and this helps them feel secure. The internalisation and development of adult values comes later.

Calm Clear Consequences

So, when your child is doing something wrong, try not to lecture, or ask why, or get angry in response. Instead, focus on exuding calm assertive energy, and quickly and firmly correct the behaviour, then get back to life. Mild misbehaviour can be corrected by a firm look, or a calm assertive, ‘Hey, that’s enough’, with a moderate to deep voice. More serious misdemeanours can be corrected with clear simple consequences. Thomas Phelan talks about using counting with simple time out consequences his 123 MAGIC series of books and videos. I will talk more about the Phelan system, along with ways to deal with the more out of control child, in separate training articles and video blogs.

It is important to always stay aware of your own emotional response and avoid reverting to anger or fearful submission. Assertive parenting is neither. Assertive parenting is relaxed but strong posture, calm body language, moderate voice tone and loudness, and clear, calm eye-contact. It is brief and to-the-point and very matter-of fact. It is the language expression of a powerful leader who knows she is in charge, so doesn’t have to try too hard.

So, in a nutshell, the keys to managing your child’s behaviour are:

*Remember your child is a child, not an adult
*Project calm and assertive leader energy
*Do not lecture or try to reason with your child
*Don’t ask ‘Why?’ questions
*Do not get angry or argue
*Do not give your child too much attention for not listening or misbehaving
*Stick to clear consistent consequences

And, most importantly, try to lighten up and have some fun with your children. They aren’t children for long, and one day you’ll wish you had.

Good luck with this challenge. I welcome any feedback, questions, or ideas.

Lorri Craig,
Psychologist

Please leave questions or comments in the COMMENTS box below, or email me at Lorri@lorricraig.com. I will try to respond as quickly as possible. For more parenting tips, and for links to Tom Phelan’s brilliant parent training DVDs, check out my parenting site www.ChildTrainingSecrets.com.

SLEEPING TIPS: How to Get to Sleep

The end of another sleepless night

You have just started to drift off into a hard earned slumber when you hear a strange sound. Your mind instantly goes into hyper-alert mode. Your heart beats faster. Your internal voice goes through a range of ‘what’s that?’ possibilities, and you strain to hear other clues that might lead to the answer. By now you are wide awake and the land of sleep is far away.

The Awake Cycle

Worry and sleep don’t marry well. Anxious thoughts create stimulating hormones and these put you instantly into hyper-alert mode. Your body wants you stay alert and take action to save yourself from danger, not sleep.

Even once you’ve established the benign source of a noise, such as the neighbour’s cat on the roof, it’s too late. Your fear might then turn into anger, again not good for sleep. Anger at being disturbed. Anger at the cat. Anger at the neighbour. Anger at yourself for being so easily triggered. Anger about lying there bored and awake. Anger also produces stimulating hormones, so creates a highly wakeful state.

And of course, once you have stayed awake for a while, the anger turns back to anxiety. Anxiety about not being able to get to sleep.  Anxiety that you won’t function well the following day. That might trigger worried thoughts of work and other responsiblities, and then to worried thoughts of … everything. By then sleep feels impossible.

A Simple Solution

But don’t despair. There are simple techniques that can help. The trick is to break the awake cycle and get your mind off the stimulating thoughts that create worry and anger, then lull your mind to sleep.

The next time you are finding it difficult to get to sleep, start by taking a few deep breaths into your whole body. As you release each breath completely, try to let go of any tension in your body.

Next, let your breath return to normal, or even better, go into ‘sleep breath mode’. If you have ever watched a sleeping child, you would have noticed that their breathing pattern is quite a shallow breath, with the out-breath released quite quickly, and a gap between the in and out. Try to simulate this, without trying too hard. If you feel any tension or difficulty, allow your breath do what it wants.

Count Your Breath

Now notice your stomach rising and falling gently with each breath. Then, and this is the important part, begin counting each out-breath as it leaves your body, backwards from 199 to 100. It sometimes helps to imagine the breath leaving through your navel in the form of each number. Once you reach 100, start again from 199.

If counting backwards requires too much thinking or creates stress, try counting forwards from 100 to 199. If your mind drifts off and you lose track, gently bring it back to the counting, starting roughly from the last number you remember saying.

Most people find that this strategy works before they reach the end of the first round. The counting helps you switch your mind away from anxious thoughts and allows your brain to switch off. Focusing on the out-breath is an important part of the process too. We naturally let go our breath when danger has passed, so focussing on the out-breath helps calm your mind.

Be Gentle With Yourself

It’s important to remember that, even a few rounds of counting won’t add up to much time-wise. And, even if you never drift off, the meditative nature of counting your breath allows your mind and body to rest and repair in a way that is almost as good as sleep.

It is very important that you do not become self critical or annoyed or concerned if the process is taking longer than you hoped. Remember, it is almost as good as sleep. So relax and try to stay focused on your breath and the counting.

If You Need Some More Help

I am more than happy to answer any direct questions via the COMMENTS box on this site, and I would love your feedback.  If you believe your sleep difficulties are due to anxiety and panic, go to www.anxietytreatmentwithoutdrugs.com for information and strategies.

Until then, sweet dreams.

Lorri Craig, Psychologist

FUSSY EATERS: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR CHILD WON’T EAT

Children are rarely fussy when it comes to junk food.
Children are rarely fussy when it comes to junk food.

A fussy eater is every parent’s nightmare. Feeding children is one of the basic responsibilities of being a parent, so when a child refuses to eat well, parents naturally feel worried and frustrated.

The more anxious and frustrated a parent becomes over a child’s refusal to eat certain foods,  the harder they try to get the child to eat.  Normally this starts with gentle encouragement, then firmer direction.

For some children that’s okay if it’s not overdone. But many children react to being forced to eat something they don’t like by objecting and refusing. Parents don’t like to be disobeyed,  and are concerned that their child gets enough nutrition to ward off illness and develop healthily. They love their child, and that’s their job.

So the parents get more frustrated and angry, and the child reacts by becoming more upset and stubborn. This is not the most conducive of environments for appetite stimulation, so the targeted food becomes less and less appealing as the tension mounts.

The Appetite Cycle

Donald Winnicott, a famous expert in early parent child relationships, did a little study with mothers and babies in his clinic in the 1930s. When the baby was sitting on the mother’s knee, Winnicott put a shiny object on the table in front of them. He noticed that the child looked at the object for quite a while, then started salivating, then picked the object up and put it in his mouth. This was the normal and natural series of events.  Children have an instinctive desire to taste and feel things with their mouths.

But what was really interesting was that, if the mother [at Winnicott’s request] picked up the object straight away and tried to put it in the baby’s mouth before the baby had time to observe and desire it, the baby would usually reject the object.

What this illustrates is that we humans need to be able to develop our appetite for foods. When a child is forced to eat something that she hasn’t had the opportunity to desire, she is likely to not want it. If the parent continues to force the child to eat and the child gets upset, she will associate that food with the uncomfortable experience, and dislike it more. So the negative cycle deepens.

Negative Attention

And how is all that parent focus affecting the child’s behaviour? Well, even though the child does not consciously enjoy or want the angry, nagging, worried attention of her parents, attention is attention. We know that intense attention from adults usually encourages the behaviours it is focused on, so when the parent freaks out over the child’s fussy eating, it can actually make things worse.

On top of that, it is common for fussy eaters to be labelled as such in the family. So the child who overhears himself being described as a ‘terrible eater’, or someone who ‘only eats bread and cheese’ now has a label, an identity. He doesn’t want to give away his identity in a hurry, so he becomes fussier and fussier, and more and more rigid.

So what should parents do?

The key is to not make a fuss and try to force your child to eat. Instead, try to relax and trust that they will be OK. Try to give less attention to the fussy child for not eating outside their rigid staple foods, and more attention when they experiment with other foods, even if it’s just a taste.  Children are suckers for praise and encouragement, and they will usually prefer positive, warm attention, over anger and stress.


Perhaps you could put a small quantity of some untried or disliked in the past foods on a separate plate behind your child’s plate, and allow them to try them if they choose, without getting stressed and angry if they refuse. Resist the temptation to remind them to eat the new foods. If they don’t try them, just take the plate away calmly, without comment.

Alternatives to cooked vegetables

Think outside the box. If they dislike cooked vegetables, offer them raw vegetables. Kids are often fussy about textures, so allow them to find textures they like. Most kids like raw carrots, so you could make carrot sticks, or just wash a carrot and put that on a plate. Many children enjoy munching away like a bunny. Try a little peanut butter, almond butter, or cream cheese in a stick of celery. Fruits are a great aternative to vegetables too. Fresh raw fruit,  low-sugar fruity deserts, and sundried fruits are all good.

Kids Love Games

You could try turning the situation into a fun game. For instance, you could tell them the ‘Rules of the Game’, is that they don’t have to eat any of the new foods, but for every piece they eat, they will get a counter, or a stamp or a tick on a chart, and once they have, say, five ticks, they can ‘WIN’ one of a selection of items. The number of ticks required could increase each week or month as they get better at it, like going up a level in a computer game.

Free Rewards are Best

Now at this stage many parents fall in the trap of promising expensive gifts or time consuming outings. But big rewards are not necessary. Most children respond well to free fun stuff, like hand made ‘vouchers’ offering 15 minutes playing cards with Dad, or 15 minutes playing ball with Mum. Just remember to make them do-able and follow through with the promises.

As well as ticks and rewards, give the child lots of praise and attention for every piece of new food they eat at first, then every second or third time, and gradually give praise now and then. Remember to incorporate the successfully tried foods on to the child’s plate once they have tried and liked them. Maybe an additional reward could be given for that step.

You could get everyone in the family in on giving praise and attention, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, but be careful to make it age appropriate, and not embarrassing for your child.

Medical Advice Can Help You Relax

If you are really worried about your child’s weight, growth and health, get advice from a doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian, if only to alleviate your anxiety. But again, be careful what you or they say in front of your child. It might be sensible to have a separate appointment or telephone appointment without your child first to discuss your concerns.

Powerful Positive Labels

Finally, remember to change your labels for your child. Instead of being somebody who is ‘fussy’ and ‘never eats anything’, start referring to your child as being  ‘really brave with food now’, and ‘getting really good at trying new foods as she’s getting older’.

All of this should gradually shift the problem and change your fussy child into an adventurous connoisseur. You might even have to start hiding the caviar and sauteed snails.


I hope this helps. Let me know what you think and how you went by leaving a comment in the box. I’d love to hear from you. For more parenting tips and strategies for dealing with children’s challenging behaviour, go to my special site for parents: CHILD TRAINING SECRETS.

Happy parenting.

Lorri Craig

Psychologist, MAPS