Managing stress, anxiety & other symptoms
Everyone can get anxious or experience feelings of panic from time to time. This is a normal part of life. More stressful situations like exams, public speaking and going to a hospital appointment can make our bodies and minds show signs of feeling anxious. This might involve your heart pounding or beating very quickly; breathing getting quicker and more shallow; feeling sweaty and hot; getting dizzy and blushing.
These feelings are caused by our bodies going into a "fight, flight, freeze or flop" mode. As humans our bodies have evolved over time to help us survive dangerous and life-threatening situations (like being chased by a tiger!). When our body thinks that we are in a dangerous place (like before an exam), it releases chemicals like adrenalin and cortisol to help us get ready to react to what might happen. These chemicals help our body to fight or flight (run away) from the danger. Some people also freeze or flop (faint) when their body thinks that they are in danger.
One way of trying to reduce these feelings is to use techniques to get back in control back of the feelings by slowing our breathing down. This then has a knock on effect to slow our heart rate down and then stop the extra chemicals being made. People have found the following techniques to be helpful in reducing anxiety and their non-epileptic attacks.
If you get a warning before your attacks you can try something called 'sensory grounding' to try and stop or delay the attack from happening. Sensory grounding involves using your senses to draw your attention back to the present moment and away from the non-epileptic attack. The exercise below is one example of sensory grounding that young people have found useful. It is helpful to try and practise this when you are feeling well so that you can remember what to do when you feel an attack starting.
Sensory techniques can help you to ground in reality using the 5 senses. By changing the sensory input in any of the senses, we can, in a sense, “reboot” the brain and stop feelings of panic, intrusive memories, and other feelings.
To use sensory techniques, follow these important steps:
- Focus on your surroundings.
- Take 3 slow, deep breaths.
- Touch. Varying textures, such as beads, chain, blanket, corduroy clothes, pets (can actually calm and lower anxiety).
- Hear. Safe person’s voice, music, loud noise, car horn, whistle, dog bark.
- Look. What do you see in the room? Name 5 things.
- Smell. Flowers, aromatherapy, sharp smells (certain foods), laundry detergent, candles, lotions, bubble bath (added bonus of touch).
- Taste. Drink something cold or hot, eat something sweet or sour, suck on ice.
Try doing an activity that changes your current experience in any of your 5 senses:
If an activity in one sense does not work, try another. Sometimes it takes a few tries.
After time, you will learn the activities that work the best for you.
Remember, sensory techniques are not intended to stop you from feeling altogether. The goal is to help you stay grounded in the present.
You can find more information about sensory grounding as well as a practise sheet in our sensory grounding worksheet download.
We know that when our breathing gets faster, our heart beats more quickly and we are more likely to experience sensations that may result in an attack. Therefore, one way to reduce attacks is to get control of our breathing. Lots of people tend to breathe from their chests. However, breathing from the abdomen allows you to take deeper breaths and slow the heart rate down, often reducing (and eventually resolving) the uncomfortable feelings of panic. Try to do the following exercise if you find that your breathing can become fast and feel out of control when you have an attack.
- Lie down on the floor and put your hands on your tummy.
- Pretend that your tummy is a big balloon and that you want to fill it as full as you can.
- Breathe in and see how big you can make your tummy. As you do, try counting slowly up to 10. You may need someone to help you at first.
- Slowly let the air out of the balloon, counting back from 10. It may sound easy, but try not to let the air out too quickly.
- Keep doing this, slowly breathing in and filling the balloon and then holding the air in for a moment. Then slowly letting the air out again.
Other things that can help
There are many other things that people find helpful to reduce the amount of stress they have and the affect that stress has on them. It is important to think about the different aspects in your life that may contribute to your stress levels and feelings of anxiety. It may be helpful to think about the following:
- Try and take the pressure off.
- Take time out. It may feel like there isn't time to take a break because there is so much to do. However, if you are feeling that things are getting out of control, making a plan with breaks can make you feel back in control and the breaks allow you to clear your mind and have better focus on the task when you return.
- Avoid medical treatment where possible.
- Talk about feelings. We know that people's stress, anxiety and attacks reduce when people talk about their feelings rather than keeping the bottled up inside. Try and allocate some protected time with a friend or family member to talk about your feelings. With time, you will learn ways to let the feelings out and reduce the number of feelings you keep inside.
- Learn to say no. It is ok to say no to things. It can feel difficult and stressful at the time, but try and think about the increased stress if you say yes to everything.
- Don't be over cautious or become isolated. Lot's of people become more cautious and remove themselves from social situations when they feel anxious as it feels like the feelings will go away at the time. However, they don't go away and often become worse the more isolated we become. Try and keep seeing people and doing things that you enjoy. The feelings of anxiety usually get less with time.
- Learn triggers. As you get to learn if there are any triggers for your attacks, you can then learn which techniques work for you to control the attack or get yourself to a safe place.
- Ask for help! - point your parents/carers/friends to this website and speak to people in school about getting support to work with the feelings you may be experiencing.
- Find enjoyable things to do. Make sure you do something enjoyable in your week. Look at our list of things to do for ideas.
Other websites for managing stress and anxiety
- youngminds.org.uk - a website made for young people about ways to manage things like anxiety and stress.
- epicfriends.co.uk - a website for people looking for help with anxiety and stress by Sheffield Children's Hospital
- NHS website - Learn about CAMHS and other services that can provide support in the NHS.