Tag Archives: Mental Health

The Panic Cycle: Feeding the Monster

            Panic Disorder is something that only a small portion of the population will experience in their lifetime (about 3%). Panic attacks, however, are much more common. As many as 30% of people will have at least one panic attack during their lifetime. Panic attacks are made up of symptoms such as shortness of breath, racing heart, chest pain, shaking, sweating, dizziness, hot or cold flashes, feelings of unreality, and nausea. Add to that intense fear, usually of dying, going insane, or losing control, and a panic attack is far from a walk in the park. One of the most challenging aspects of coping with panic attacks is that, in many cases, they become a self-perpetuation experience; this is known as the panic cycle.

            Basically how the panic cycle works is that the panic causes physical symptoms, those symptoms cause fear, which causes more symptoms. So for example, say that someone (for the purpose of this example, let’s call her Jill) was experiencing a panic attack and had shortness of breath, racing heart, and chest pains. Jill might think that she was having a heart attack and about to die. The fear of dying would make Jill’s heart beat faster and her chest hurt more, which would confirm to her that she was, infact, having a heart attack. This would lead to more fear and more symptoms and it would go round and round until Jill was exhausted and the panic attack was over.

            This self-feeding cycle is also what can change panic attacks into a panic disorder. Panic disorder is when an individual both has panic attacks and is afraid of having more, so they avoid situations or places that they think could trigger a panic attack. This leads to what is known as the “fear of fear.” So Jill had her panic attack where she was afraid she was going to die of a heart attack. She may come to believe that even though she didn’t die last time, next time she just might. This fear of having a panic attack can actually trigger the panic attack. That can then lead to more fear around having a panic attack and, consequently, more panic attacks. 

            Often, one of the first steps when helping someone cope with panic attacks is education. By realising that the symptoms are caused by panic and not by, say, a heart attack, one can stop feeding the panic and break the cycle. Say Jill is going about her day and starts to feel her chest tighten and her heart rate pick up. In the past, Jill might have worried that she was going to die. Now, however, Jill is working to break the panic cycle and instead reminds herself that panic cannot hurt her and the symptoms are harmless. This, in addition to using other techniques that she has learned helps Jill calm down and prevents her panic from getting worse.

Having panic attacks can be a difficult and frightening experience, but help is available. If you or someone you love is struggling with panic attacks, it might be a good idea for you to seek the help of a licensed counselor, who can help break the cycle of panic as well as teach you other coping skills. Hurley Counseling has a range of therapists and appointments available. Give us a call at 251-222-8880.

Grieving & the Holidays

It’s late December, there’s actually a chill in the air, every shopping area is busy. This can only mean one thing – it’s time for Christmas again! At this time of year, we gather for parties, buy presents for each other and plan our family traditions. While this can be a time of joy, faithful remembrance, and fun with friends, it can also be a very hard time for people. Holidays remind us of loved ones we’ve lost, even if we didn’t lose them at Christmas. Memories of past traditions and the absence of certain people resurface.

What can be especially difficult about this is there doesn’t seem to be a natural space to share these thoughts with others. Everyone focuses on being cheery, meanwhile many are struggling silently. It’s important to recognize that grieving is a very real part of life, even more so around certain times, including the holidays. If you’re struggling as you feel this grief and sadness, look for a safe friend or family member who can listen openly. Sometimes family members who are all grieving can find it hard to support one another as each person handles the process differently. So someone outside of the situation may be able to listen better.

While you’re missing loved ones you’ve lost, it doesn’t mean every single memory is positive. This is realistic! Every relationship is made up of many layers, interactions and feelings. We need to be allowed to express and accept those tough emotions and memories just the same. This can be one of the hardest parts of sharing your grief. If you can’t seem to deal with these pieces, counseling can be a very helpful place where you can express anything without any fear of judgment or anyone prescribing how you “should” grieve.

Dr. Chelsea Greer joined Hurley Counseling this month. She sees clients in our Mobile office on Thursdays and Fridays.  Dr. Greer specializes in grief and career counseling. She currently does not accept insurance. Look for her next blog on the career testing services that she offers. New Year, New Career.

To schedule an appointment with her or any of other therapists, please call the office at 251-222-8880.


988: A Proposed Suicide Prevention Hotline

September was National Suicide Prevention Month. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Every 10 hours in Alabama, a person dies by suicide. In an effort to prevent loss of life by suicide, a new 3-digit emergency hotline number has been proposed; 988. Currently, a ten digit phone number will connect someone in need with assistance but in the middle of a crisis, recalling that number is not so easy to do. Although staffing enough people to answer calls would be costly, this is a big step towards saving lives. This new number was proposed by the Federal Communications Commission. The hotline would be there for anyone contemplating suicide or going through any type of mental health crisis.

This proposed hotline is not the first attempt in making help-by-phone available to more people. In 2017, a song titled 1-800-273-8255 (the official phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) was released by American rapper Logic. In the weeks following the songs release, calls to the hotline increased by 27%.

In 2013, a crisis text line was launched for those who prefer texting to calling. The goal of the crisis text line is to guide the texter to make a plan to remain safe and healthy. When you text HOME to 741741, you will be connected with a trained crisis counselor.

While we cannot predict all suicide attempts, we can be aware of risk factors and warning signs.
Risk factors include: mental disorders (specifically mood disorders), substance abuse disorders, hopelessness, impulsive tendencies, history of trauma or abuse, major physical illness, previous suicide attempt, family history of suicide, job or financial loss, loss of relationship, easy access to lethal means, local clusters of suicide, lack of social support, sense of isolation, stigma associated with asking for help, lack of healthcare access, cultural and religious beliefs, and exposure to others who have died by suicide.
Warning signs include: talking about wanting to die or kill themselves, looking for a way to kill themselves (such as purchasing a gun), talking about feelings of hopelessness, talking about having no reason to live, talking about being trapped or being in unbearable pain, talking about being a burden for others, increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, acting anxious or agitated, having recklessly, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing or isolating themselves, showing rage, talking about seeking revenge, and extreme mood swings.
To read more on risk factors or warning sides, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

In the following months, we hope to see progress made towards having 988 be an official crisis support line. Until then, read more about the text line or the proposed hotline below.

If you are currently in a crisis and need to reach a counselor, call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or text the word HOME to 741741. In an emergency, please dial 911.

This blog post was written by Haley Thomas, our intern. She is a fourth year psychology student at Spring Hill College. Her internship here at Hurley will provide valuable experience that she can take with her on her path to becoming a mental health counselor.

Feeling Stressed? Depressed? Try Soccer

A new study published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry in August found respondents experienced better mental health if they engaged in exercise. Team sports yielded the best results of 22.3% fewer bad days, Cycling 21.6%. The optimal amount of exercise was 30-60 minutes, 3 to 5 times a week.

To find out more on this week’s topic of exercise and mental health, read Exercise linked to improved mental health .