When Panic Consumes You

We live in an era of information. We have a near constant barrage of information overload. This overwhelming digital era can bring fear and mass panic just as much as it can bring enlightened education. Knowledge is power, but it is a power that has to be harnessed and used effectively. Just as some panic and fear is caused by the unknown, or a lack of information and understanding, there is also fear and panic that can be caused as a result of having too much access to information or becoming obsessive over the information obtained.

Fear is a primitive emotion and essential to the success of evolution and the survival of our species.  A healthy sense of fear serves to keep us safe from harm and guide us away from risky circumstances or poor decisions. Fear can also become our downfall. Rather than protecting us, it can ultimately be our demise. Rather than encouraging us to live a life well protected, unchecked fear, or fear in excess can encourage us to live a life of isolation, and a life covered in a blanket of inescapable fear, panic, worry, and anxiety.

How do we protect ourselves from panic when faced with fear? How do we navigate situations, circumstances, and events that invoke fear and inspire panic? We find a balance. We rectify our emotions with our logical understanding.

When you feel the familiar sense of fear and panic starting to take hold, when your mind seems to spin endlessly trying to find solutions to anxiety inducing problems that seem to be without answer or remedy, first take pause. Take a moment to first acknowledge what you are feeling. Without guilt, without shame, without hesitation, without judgement, without frustration, acknowledge what you are feeling. Think of your brain as a small child experiencing a moment a fear. The small child runs to their trusted adult and relays their fears looking for comfort. Now imagine that small child seeking comfort is pushed aside, dismissed, ignored, or told that their fears are stupid and unfounded. Will that small child feel better? Will their fears be resolved? Treat yourself with the same loving care you would that small child. “I am scared and that’s ok” “I’m worried about ….” “I feel panicked and I don’t even know why.” “I am anxious and I am having trouble calming down and unpacking my thoughts.” Identify your feelings, put them into words, give them an identity, and speak them into existence so you can then begin to address them effectively.

Once you acknowledge your feelings, accept them as being valid even if they don’t quite make logical sense. “I accept that I am feeling this way.” “I honor my emotions.” “These emotions have something to teach me.” “My mind is trying to send me a message and I am ready and open to receiving it.” Even if a small child’s fears are unfounded we would first accept that they are fearful of something. “I know you are afraid of the dark and that’s ok.” Then, after accepting their fear as valid, we move on to an appropriate solution.

First distinguish fact from fiction. Is the thing I am panicked or anxious about factual? No? Tell yourself that what you are fearing does not exist. Tell yourself that you are safe. Tell yourself that there is no reason to fear things that have not happened, things that do not exist, and things that no longer have an effect on you. If what you are fearing is factual, greet panic with calculated action. Panic is a distraction from action. Panic serves to keep us in an endless loop of anxiety induced inaction. It serves to keep us running in circles but making no real progress. Define the problem or root cause and then begin to find ways of addressing it. Step 1, step 2, step 3… and so forth. What small measures can you take to either solve the issue, or at the very least decrease its effect on you? Not all problems will have solutions that fully resolve what is causing us fear, harm, or panic. But regardless of the severity of the issue at hand there is always some small measure we can take to reduce its impact. We are in control, maybe not always to the degree we would like, but we are in control.

When we are facing a fear inducing situation take a moment to decipher an appropriate response from an exaggerated one. Are the actions you are taking excessive serving to only to amplify your fears, or are your actions appropriate serving to take ownership and control?

In our moments of fear, worry, anxiety, and panic, take a moment to reassess. Take a moment to reframe. Take a moment to recenter. Take deep calming breaths. Calm the central nervous system. Slow the breath. Slow the heart rate. Repeat to yourself a soothing phrase. “I am safe.” “I am in control.” “I am knowledgeable.” “I am not alone.” Relax in a darkened room removing unnecessary stimuli. Take a walk. Call a friend. Distract with something soothing such as music, or a book. Know when to log off, or disconnect. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the information you are consuming, know when it is time to step back and take a break.

Fear is a part of life but it is meant to be used by you for your benefit, it is not meant to be the user in control.

International Women’s Day

My sisters …. you are so loved, so strong, and so worthy.

Happy women’s day to all of my unstoppable sisters.

How many times have you been called a ‘good girl’? How many times have you been told to ‘be good’? If you are anything like me, you have been hearing words like these almost your entire life. Societally speaking, females should strive to be good, be kind, be pretty, and be pleasant. But as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once stated “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Now before we start talking about the incredible power and strength each of us empowered women harness within the very fibers of our being, let’s clarify that we don’t have to ‘go rogue’ to be taken seriously. We don’t have to abandon femininity and trample on our inherent gentleness. These things can go hand in hand. Goodness does not exclude strength, and a fierce sense of power does not negate a kind heart or a gentle soul. Respect and power go hand in hand. ‘Good girls’ can also be fierce warriors for themselves and those they love. As females, we have a gentle kind of power. Our gentleness is part of our strength and only half of our power. We have the power to soothe souls with our actions and heal hearts with our words. We are compassionate creatures with a unique ability to bring about change and understanding through dignity and grace. But our gentle nature is balanced by our fierce desire for righteousness, respect, and equality. We have a gift of great power. We have the power to create. The power to influence. And the power to defend. We will not stand idly by while a sister is wronged. We stand up for others in their time of need because we know when our time of weakness comes, we too will be supported by a sisterhood ready for battle. We demand respect but we strive to do so first with gentleness and grace rather than force and coercion. If however our gentleness and grace are disregarded, we harness that internal fire and we unleash the true potential of the fierce warrior housed within our hearts.

Be kind, be strong, be loved, be well, be you.

March Meetups and Updates

Happy March! We have our monthly meetings scheduled for women, teens, middle schoolers and youth. Our guest speaker at the women’s meetup is Risa Ganel of Together Couples Counseling. She will be speaking about the division of labor in relationships as well as talking to us about effective communication. All teens, middle schoolers, and elementary school aged children are welcome to attend our meetups where they will be able to interact with peers who are either currently struggling with mental health related issues, have family or friends who are struggling, or who have struggled in the past. All of our meeting are a space free of judgement and full of love. Dates and times can be found on our calendar of events.

We also have the bill hearing scheduled for suicide prevention in Annapolis this Wednesday. For those who wish to support please find the information under events on our Facebook Page

We are also pleased to announce the official launch of Joy Squad so please feel free to reach out if you are in need of a friend and compassionate ear to help you through a difficult moment or a troublesome day.

Working with Trauma through Sand Therapy

“We were the third house from the corner,” she said, as her finger traced a line in the sand. “These bushes were my hideout,” she added with a proud smile, pointing to a handful of plastic leaves piled up right next to the place her finger had stopped.

Moments before, I had mostly been stuck in my own head, trying just to focus and override the internal critic which I still struggle with even after two years of immersion in this remarkable approach to therapy. The ‘houses’ had been three small tin facades lying randomly in a tray of sand—candle holders I’d picked up at Ikea because they seemed like the best non-specific representations of buildings I had yet come across while searching for symbols. The plastic leaves had almost been an afterthought for my collection. Even so, her two short statements brought everything to life and instantly grabbed my full attention. Sarah[1] was deeply immersed in her sand scene and clearly re-imagining a very significant previous life experience.

Sample sand session with chosen symbols

In our work together, it had taken time to gain any sense at all of what might be underlying the severe bouts of anxiety and body tremors that had been afflicting Sarah for decades. “I told myself I was not going to let this stuff affect me,” she had said repeatedly. She reported having simply stopped thinking about these memories when she was in her late teens and seemed still at least half convinced that it was possible to prevent such significant developmental events from influencing her ongoing engagement with life.

The problem with believing anxiety can be controlled through will power is that our brains are complex and organic networks which utilize prior experience to predict potentially effective ways for engaging with the present world. Early experiences essentially become the lenses through which all future events are perceived and processed.

The power and beauty of sand therapy is that it can provide a safe medium through which traumatic events can be revisited and perceived in a new way. The child memory can be externalized, and the individual can suddenly find themselves capable of perceiving traumatic experience in a less triggering and more wholistic manner. As an observer, helplessness and terror can be balanced with awareness of strength, ingenuity and courage. Severe limits and instinctual reactions that may have once been required to protect the self from threat and to survive the trauma can be evaluated and/or changed. Self-blame, judgment and shame can be balanced with understanding, compassion, empathy and self-acceptance.

Having externalized the traumatic memories into the sand scene, they are updated with new neuronal connections so that future events which trigger synapses in these networks likewise trigger the healing and more wholistic experiences as well. The internalized terror and pain of having to hide from a raging and abusive caregiver is balanced with the awareness and pride of having had the resourcefulness and fortitude to find and maintain an effective hiding place even as a small and dependent child. In short, effective therapy does not offer a cure (we can’t overwrite or entirely eradicate our prior experience), but it can greatly expand our self-awareness and provide a tremendously healing perspective and balance to the traumatic emotional response whenever it is triggered in present life.

Sand therapy can also be used to build resilience through exploring and reliving positive experiences and provide a medium for engaging the mind’s natural creative process, opening immeasurable new potential for problem solving. It is a powerful approach that is highly effective with clients of all ages. And, while effective and ethical use of it requires extensive specialized training and a robust personal immersion in the process by the clinician, it can offer incomparable safety because much of the process takes place internally, and it is not important for the therapist to even know the particulars of the client’s experience. It is also especially adaptive and applicable cross-culturally because, while often containing some difference in relevance, many (if not most) symbols are universal and much of the process supersedes language. Just as the strains of a familiar song or the scent of a favorite food can bring back vivid memories and emotions, the connection we feel toward the symbols we select ties into the complex neuronal networks of our most foundational prior experiences. The tin facades become a familiar neighborhood, the finger in the sand a long-forgotten street, and a pile of plastic leaves, the bushes where we once found refuge.

[1] Pseudonym – actual name and personal information withheld to protect client’s privacy

Tim Mewmaw is a psychotherapist practicing at the Annapolis Counseling Center. He offers sand therapy amongst other traditional and expressive modalities through his practice in Annapolis, MD. More information can be found via his profile on Psychology Today, and he can be reached via: timm@annapoliscounselingcenter.com.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Just a few thoughts for this Monday afternoon…

I consider myself to be spiritual rather than religious. I find I am closest to my “creator” or “higher power” or my “place in the universe” when connecting with humanity or spending time in self reflection. Church has rarely felt like a spiritual home but yet when I do go (regardless of the denomination) I often find that the common language is love.

Today I attended the school wide mass at Saint John the Evangelist because it meant a lot to my daughter.

I honestly don’t remember what the specific reading was but as the priest began to speak he reiterated that Jesus in this reading was the voice of truth. Truth is the voice of love. And ultimately love is a universal language. While our deity, our religious affiliation, our belief systems, or our ways of worship may be vastly different, at our core, I believe what we want is truth and love.

He went on to speak about the lies that we believe about ourselves. Things like “I am unloveable” “I am worthless” “I am not enough” ….. he then repeated words that I’m sure many of us are familiar with “The truth will set you free”

And oh my …. those words hit me this morning. If truth is love and the truth sets us free it’s because the power of love is stronger than any lies we tell ourselves.

This is not meant to be a religious post or really even a spiritual one… I simply want to remind each and every one of us that the lies we tell ourselves can be cast aside with words of truth and love.

I know I speak the truth when I say “you are loved, you are worthy, and you are enough!”

❤ Jillian

Resolution 2.20 Declaring Suicide a Health Crisis

Legislative Day 2 Introduced by Mr. Volke

RESOLUTION declaring suicide a public health crisis in Anne Arundel County and requesting that the Department of Health take immediate steps to identify residents affected by mental illness and offer adequate treatment and services to help those affected and at risk of death by suicideIntroduced: 1/6/2020Hearing: 1/21/2020

44 Calvert Street arrive between 6:30-6:50 if you wish to speak, meeting begins at 7

See the full link and details here.