How Grounding Techniques Help My Panic Symptoms

Back in December 2018, I wrote an article for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) that described my experiences with panic disorder, including derealization and depersonalization. You can read it here on the NAMI blog. Since it published, I’ve received dozens of emails asking how I was able to recover.

I wish I had a simple, easy answer. Although I consider myself recovered, I still have to work at lowering my anxiety. It’s an ongoing process. And we’re all different—what works for me may not work for someone else.

Before I explain what helps me, I want to give a little background:

I’ve had panic attacks since I was young. I don’t remember my first one. But I’ll never forget the first time I experienced feelings that were so terrifying and surreal—they felt unreal. I was in fourth grade.

My teacher asked me to go to the administration office to pick up some papers. When I arrived, a strange sensation came over me, like I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Am I really here? Is this me or someone else I’m watching? Is this real?

The best way I can explain how it feels is that I’m detached from myself, like living in a fog or dream. I wonder if I’m in the right body. My face and limbs feel numb, like a plastic mannequin. When I walk, it doesn’t feel like my own legs are holding me up. My arms don’t feel like they belong to me. When I stare at my reflection in the mirror, I question if the person looking back is really me. It’s as if I’ve stepped out of myself and am looking at someone I don’t know. My voice doesn’t sound like mine. I feel removed from the world. Objects look blurry, sounds distorted. It’s a struggle to bring myself back. In these moments, I have wondered if I was going “crazy.”

Image courtesy of The Recovery Village

The medical terms for these intrusive thoughts are derealization (feeling withdrawn from one’s surroundings, as if the world isn’t real) and depersonalization (an out-of-body experience in which a person feels separated from his own self). Derealization and depersonalization can be symptoms of panic disorder, which I’ve been diagnosed with.

So, what helps me?

Anti-depressant medication has lessened the frequency and intensity of my panic attacks and also the feelings of unreality. But it hasn’t taken them completely away. I know I’ll never be 100 percent cured from panic disorder.

But… I’m able to control my symptoms and live a full, productive, joyous life with the help of medication, mindfulness, and grounding techniques.

I used to think the terms mindfulness and grounding were interchangeable. They’re not exactly the same.    

Mindfulness: Purposefully paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting your feelings without judgment. Mindfulness helps me slow down and appreciate life.

Grounding: Rather than being nonjudgmental about what is happening in the present moment, grounding focuses your attention away from a place of trauma or stress, guiding it toward safety in the here and now. Grounding connects me to my body and my surroundings, reminding me that I’m here and I’m safe.

Grounding techniques use the five senses (see, touch, hear, smell, taste). The purpose is to keep yourself in the present moment. At first, this didn’t come easy to me. It’s taken practice!

Here are some to try:

List five things you can see.

Four things you can touch.

Three things you can hear.

Two things you can smell.

One thing you can taste.

Deep breathe (this is my favorite exercise, it calms me right away). Inhale through your nose while counting to seven in your head. Hold for a count of two. Exhale slowly through your mouth, counting to seven. 

Talk to someone.

Use a grounding object, like a stone, a small stuffed animal, a stress ball. Touch it and notice the texture.

Taste food or a drink. Is it cold, hot, creamy, crunchy, sweet, salty, sour, or bitter?

Chew gum, noticing the flavor and how it feels in your mouth as you chew or blow bubbles.

Smell a flower, essential oils, coffee, a lemon, lavender. Does it relax you?

Listen. Is there a dog barking, sirens blaring, birds singing, wind rustling?

Stretch or exercise, aware of how your arms and legs feel with each movement.

Take a walk. Feel your footsteps on the dirt, gravel, or pavement.

Pinch yourself, pull your hair, wiggle your fingers and toes.

Count to 100, then backwards.

Sing a song or say a nursery rhyme in your head.

Describe your surroundings in detail. Focus on an object, memorizing details about it. Look away and list everything you saw.

Name all your family members and their ages.

Use an anchoring phrase: say your name, your age, the date, what time it is, where you are, what you are doing.

Repeat a mantra while deep breathing. Like: “I am safe.” “Life is good.” “I am real. The world is real.” “Here. Now.”

Pet an animal.

Take a shower or bubble bath.

Listen to your favorite music.

List five things you’re grateful for.

Journal.

Practice visual imagery. Think of a place you love, describe it to yourself in detail, and picture yourself there.

Think of someone you love and what they would say to you.

Be kind to yourself. Tell yourself: “I matter.” “I will get through this.” “I’m doing the best I can.”

What I Noticed While Talking to Teens About Mental Illness

Teen Mental Health

Last week I spoke to teens about mental health, like I’ve done dozens of times before. But this time it felt different. This was my first set of presentations since early 2020, before COVID-19 lockdowns.

I’m a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I present NAMI’s Ending the Silence program to middle grade and high school students. My co-presenter and I talk about the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those signs in themselves or a friend. We speak openly about anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders, and suicide.

So last week, instead of being inside a classroom with students and their teacher, we talked to them via Zoom. The presentations went great and I was so thankful to have the opportunity to meet with them. Technology can be wonderful!

But there’s nothing like actually being there with the kids, looking them in the eye, feeling that emotional connection and energy.

On Zoom, some of the students preferred not to be seen. Their cameras were on, but instead of a bunch of faces, I saw ceilings, bedroom walls, or a silhouette of a person. But that’s fine, I get it. It’s high school.

Even if I couldn’t see them, I knew they were there, listening. When I give these presentations, I never know who needs to hear what I say that day.

Through my computer screen, I could sense the kids were stressed and frustrated. Most likely some of them were anxious and depressed. There’s no doubt that distance learning this past year has taken an immense toll on students (parents and teachers too, of course).

At the end of our presentation, my co-presenter and I open it up to questions. We let the kids know they can ask us anything at all. We’re open books. Sometimes there’s only silence. Which again, I totally get. Mental illness is hard to talk about. Kids don’t want to be thought of as different. They don’t want their peers to think they might be struggling with a mental health condition.

A question at the end of one of our sessions last week broke my heart. Through an anonymous direct message, a student asked: If someone is thinking of attempting suicide, but isn’t really planning to do it, does that person still need to get help?

Our answer: YES. Talk to a trusted adult. A parent, teacher, school counselor, family friend, adult-age sibling. Tell someone you trust so you can get the help you need.

Another student wrote: How do you get help without your parents knowing?

Our answer: It’s hard to do that for a minor. Talk to an adult you trust. If that person can’t help, go to another. And another. And another. Until you get the help you need.

I pray they’re getting help. It’s rewarding to know that at least we opened the conversation.

While the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to weaken, there’s still a long way to go. My hope is that with future generations, mental health conditions can be spoken about as easily as physical diseases.

Keep talking about it.

The goal is to end the silence.

How an NFL Team is Kicking the Stigma

Hurt | By Darius Leonard

It inspires me so much when athletes, celebrities, and famous people speak out about their struggles with mental health. It’s comforting to know that despite living with a mental illness, there’s hope to live a productive and successful life.

Athletes are thought of as tough, strong, powerful. Resilient. Which is why it can be super difficult for them (especially men) to speak out about a mental health issue.

But mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how physically strong someone is or how much money they have.

Anyone can be affected by mental illness.

National Football League player Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts, says he suffers from anxiety and depression. In a personal essay for The Players’ Tribune, Darius talks about losing his brother eight years ago and how the pain is still so deep.

“If you look at me and you see a Cinderella story, or a superhero, or the Maniac, or whatever, just know that underneath the helmet is a real person who is still working through some real pain.”

Colts Kicking The Stigma Initiative

Darius gets support from Colts owner Jim Orsay, his family, and the Colts organization. They started an initiative called “Kicking the Stigma,” bringing awareness to mental health and providing support for mental health services in Indiana. The program is part of a larger NFL initiative, “My Cause, My Cleats.”

Jim Orsay says, “‘Kicking the Stigma’ is our commitment to eradicating and getting this environment changed. We need to find ways to get people to feel safe and not to feel judged or persecuted when they’re trying to seek help.”

Absolutely. The more we speak out about mental illness, the weaker the stigma becomes.

Thank you, Darius, for sharing your story. It’s not easy to talk about a mental health condition. And thank you Colts, for shining the spotlight on mental health.

Mental illness is not anyone’s fault. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. There is medical help available.

You are NOT Alone stock illustration. Illustration of diary - 169511383

No Likes? No Worries.

Image result for image of a teen looking at her phone sad
Image courtesy of slate.com

A few weeks ago, my daughter asked if I’d heard about Instagram’s plan to hide ‘likes’ from posts. I hadn’t, but was intrigued. My first thought: social media taking steps to improve mental health? Big thumbs up. Especially how it could affect teens and young adults.

Instagram, owned by Facebook, started testing hiding likes this past April in Canada. The test went to other countries in the summer, and recently to some users in the United States. The way it works is that the user sees likes on posted photos or videos, but the count is hidden from the public.

Have you ever wanted to delete a post because it wasn’t receiving enough likes? I have, and it wasn’t a good feeling. Ultimately, I left it up because it was important to me, and I realized it didn’t matter how many people ‘liked’ it.

Image result for images of social media
Image courtesy of mccarehouse.org

But it’s easy to imagine how a low number of likes can make someone (particularly an adolescent) feel embarrassed and unpopular. This could lead to low self-esteem, bad body image, or feeling unworthy because your selfie isn’t cute enough, your picture isn’t pretty enough — or worse — your life isn’t good enough.

As the testing was rolled out just this year, it’s too soon to know how it’s going to affect mental health. And there’s another part I’m wondering about. The business aspect of the app, how social marketing influencers will deal with this, as their business is dependent on the number of followers and likes.

It was encouraging to read this quote by Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri: “We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being and health.”

While hiding likes on Instagram won’t be an instant cure for improved mental health, at least it’s a positive step in the right direction.

I LIKE that.

We ALL Have Mental Health: Let’s Talk About It

Image result for images for mental illness awareness week

It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week and tomorrow, October 10, is World Mental Health Day.

So let’s talk about it!

Yesterday I had a wonderful opportunity to speak to a group of elementary, middle school, and high school counselors about mental illness. I’m a presenter for Ending the Silence, a mental health awareness program by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

An area we focused on is the importance of awareness not only among students, but parents and school staff as well. It takes a village. The mental health conversation must be open.

One of the middle school counselors told me something that at first, surprised me. She said the number of students she sees for social and emotional issues (anxiety, depression, etc.) FAR surpass those she counsels for academic reasons. Years ago, it was the exact opposite. And this is middle grade.

I suppose this really isn’t so surprising. It seems as if each generation is more stressed than the previous one. Millennials are known as the anxious generation. Gen Z (ages 15-21) has reported the worst mental health of any generation, according to the APA. Some of the reasons? Social media, gun violence, political climate, immigration, sexual harassment.

I’m passionate about spreading awareness to young people. The more that people talk about mental illness, the weaker the stigma is. The hope is that stigma will lessen with each future generation.

May is Mental Health Awareness month! Let’s all reduce the stigma of anxiety disorders! How? By talking about yours and not being scared to get or ask for help! We are so passionate about the subject that we have a FEARLESS collection of treasures that GiveBack to a local organization helping people with anxiety disorders!

Adolescents need to know they are not alone, that others feel the same pressures. That it’s okay to admit they’re not okay, and it’s absolutely fine (and healthy) to talk about it. They need to know there’s medical help available. The sooner they get help, the better.

When I speak to students during Ending the Silence, we discuss the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice the symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk about anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, eating disorders, and suicide.

Suicide is the focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day. According to the World Health Organization:

Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide.

The conversation on mental health and mental illness needs to be open. Talk about it. Share. Know that you are NOT alone. There is help available. There is hope.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Lifeline at (800)273-8255. Or text HOME to 741741.

Speak out. Together, we can end stigma.

Hope: A Reason to Persist

To me, this quote has many layers.

The first thing I think of is “Never Give Up.” If you hit a roadblock, find a way to get around it. My husband often reminds me to be persistent, not give up so easily. I don’t like to hear this (or admit I’m not trying hard enough), but he’s totally right. Whatever the issue may be, I find that when I keep moving, reaching farther than I thought I would or could, it usually turns out to be a rewarding experience. Not always. But if I push as hard as I can and exhaust all options, even if it doesn’t work out, I feel better about myself. Because I gave it my all. Persistence pays!

This quote also reminds me of my own mental health journey. When I was a young girl, I had terrifying symptoms I never told anyone about. I didn’t know how to describe them, and certainly didn’t think anyone would understand. I felt hopeless. I didn’t want people to think I was weird or different. So I kept it a secret. For twenty years!

When I finally went to a doctor for help, he told me I was having panic attacks. He diagnosed me with agoraphobia and panic disorder. This might sound strange, but my first reaction was happiness. Of course I didn’t want to have an anxiety disorder. But I was extremely relieved that the awful symptoms I’d had for so long actually had a name. Not only that, but others had this too… millions of people. And, there was treatment available. I could be helped. It was unbelievable!

I was filled to the brim with HOPE.

25 Inspiring Hope Quotes #Hope Quotes #Inspiring Quotes

This month is National Suicide Prevention Month. I’m thinking of friends who are struggling with depression. I’m remembering people in my community who have died by suicide. My friend’s brother. My daughter’s classmate from high school. My dad’s work colleague. I’m thinking of how hopeless they must have felt, being in the deepest, darkest place filled with total despair. I’m thinking of their families, who will never stop struggling to cope with the loss of their loved one.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, or any other mental illness, please know that there is medical help available. You are NOT alone. Reach out for help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

There is hope. There is always HOPE.

Pain is real but so it hope. Work to know all of what is real (true) and what is fake (false) in life.

Images courtesy of Pinterest

Mental Health and Me, Featured on Thrive Global

Image result for images of a pad of paper and coffee cup
Image courtesy of Pixabay

It’s been a while! It feels good to be here, writing again. I’ve been devoting my time to another writing project, so I haven’t had much of a chance to be on the blog.

I want to say hello and share an article from Thrive Global I was recently featured in. They talked to me about my mental health advocacy and work with NAMI. I’m a speaker for NAMI’s in-school mental health awareness campaign, Ending the Silence.

You can read the Thrive Global article here.

It’s hard to believe it’s already the middle of August. My favorite season is just around the corner, yay! But I’m savoring each day of summer, aware that it is fleeting.

Take care, Jenny

15 Best End of Summer Quotes - Beautiful Quotes About the Last Days of Summer
Image courtesy of Pinterest

What I Would Tell My Younger Self About Mental Health

The Child Mind Institute has an awesome campaign that I love to follow. It’s promoted in May for Mental Health Awareness Month.

#MyYoungerSelf offers inspiring messages of hope. Celebrities, athletes, business people, and social influencers give short videos about their struggles, and what they would tell themselves as a child. They’re super open about their own journeys and stress that if you’re suffering from a mental illness, you are not alone. It’s okay.

Emma Stone speaks about her anxiety and panic disorder, Mayim Bialik talks about depression, Michael Phelps about ADHD, Barbara Corcoran about dyslexia, and so many more.

Today I watched a video from Alex Boniello, a Broadway actor, whose anxiety began in high school. He was in the cafeteria when he experienced such frightening symptoms, he thought he was having a heart attack. He had no idea it was anxiety and panic attacks.

This got me thinking… I totally relate to what Alex says. My panic attacks started around age 10. I didn’t know what was going on, why I had such frightening feelings. I was embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone. Now I know that stigma and shame kept me from saying anything. I finally got medical help in my early 30s for panic disorder.

That’s why I speak openly about mental health. I want to encourage people to talk about it, to reach out for help.

Image result for images for talk about mental health
Image courtesy of here

So, what would I tell my younger self?

Jenny, I know you’re scared and worried there’s something really, really wrong with you. You’re exhausted from keeping it a secret. You think no one else in this entire world could possibly understand what you’re going through. But millions of other people do understand! Because they’re going through the same thing.

The symptoms are terrifying, but you won’t die from them. Those horrible physical sensations and strange thoughts, like you’re living in a fog or dream, actually have a name: Anxiety and panic attacks. Panic disorder. You are not imagining it. It’s a real illness.

And something else… there is treatment, you don’t have to do this alone. There’s no magic cure, it’s not going to simply go away. You’ll always have to manage it, but you’ll feel a ton better than you do now. The road to recovery isn’t easy, but you’re going to do great.

I know you’re nervous about your friends finding out and you don’t want them to think you’re weird or treat you differently. They won’t. Having panic disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. Millions and millions of people struggle with their mental health. Talk about it and get help — the sooner the better.

Don’t ever forget, you are NOT alone.

Courtesy of The Child Mind Institute

Middle School Heroes

Image may contain: 13 people, people smiling, people standing, shoes, sky and outdoor

(Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line in the U.S. at 741741)

I can’t get something out of my mind. Yesterday I was watching TODAY, and a story immediately caught my attention.

A group of middle grade students helped save a woman who was attempting suicide.

I couldn’t wait to hear how they helped. As a mental health advocate, I’m passionate about spreading awareness, especially to adolescents. I’m a speaker for NAMI’s in-school program, Ending the Silence. I want kids to know there is no shame in struggling with mental health issues and there is help available. If the younger generation is aware of mental illness and talks about it more, the stigma will lessen.

Back to the middle school students… This past Saturday, the boy’s volleyball team at Kepler Neighborhood School in Fresno, CA, met for practice. Their coach had them go for a warm-up run, to a place they’ve never run before — a nearby bridge.

That’s where it happened.

A 47-year-old woman was dangling more than 100 feet in the air by her arms.

The boys said it took a moment for them to realize what was happening. They ran to tell their coach, Murray Elliott. He called 911. He told the boys to go back and tell her that her life matters.

Elliott said that for ten minutes, the boys did not stop yelling and screaming, telling her that her life matters.

The woman eventually pulled herself back up onto the bridge, where she was met by police.

Image result for images for every life matters

The boys are being called “true heroes.” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said it perfectly:

“Their words of encouragement caused this woman to realize her life had value. Thank God they were in the right place at the right time.”

Because of their quick action, that woman did not lose her life.

This story is a reminder of why I speak to high school students about mental illness. During the presentation, I tell the teens that if they notice signs of suicide in themselves or a friend, don’t wait. Take immediate action:

  • Tell a trusted adult.
  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Ask the question. Ask if he or she is thinking of suicide.
  • Call 911 or go to an emergency room.
  • Call the National Suicide Lifeline at (800)273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • Don’t keep warning signs a secret.

When the middle school volleyball team went out for their run that Saturday, those boys had no idea how they were about to impact someone’s life.

Even though I don’t know them, I’m so proud of them.

A true inspiration.

Image result for images for today will never come again be a good friend

 

First image courtesy of here

Second image courtesy of here

Third image courtesy of here