Coping With A Panic Attack

Anxiety may be described as a feeling of worry, unease, or apprehension. As with all human emotions, anxiety is to be expected and can be helpful. It is there to keep us alert and prepared. However, anxiety can be problematic when the feelings of worry are: a) Out of proportion to what is actually going on and, b) We feel unable to control our worry. A panic attack is the quick onset of intense fear and can include sweating, heart palpitations, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

I would encourage anyone with concerns about anxiety and/or panic attacks to speak to a physician or a mental health professional. In the meantime, here are some strategies to help cope with anxiety and panic:

  1. Abdominal Breathing – A key feature of relaxed breathing is the stomach rising and falling. This is in contrast to anxious breathing, where the chest is rising and falling and people are gasping for air. Place your hand on your abdomen and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth ten times. I encourage people to practice this several times a day.
  2. Grounding – A feature of panic is losing touch with reality. Thus, it is important to ‘ground’ yourself back into this time and place. Find a chair and place both feet firmly on the ground. Act as though you are trying to push through the floor. If possible, grab the arms of the air and hold on tightly. The purpose of this exercise is to focus on the feel of the chair and the floor, and remind yourself of the here and now.
  3. Five/Five/Five – Look around the room and notice five things that you See, Hear, and Feel (Touch). An example: “I see the clock, the pen, the wall, the window, and the coffee cup. I hear voices, cars passing by, the music, footsteps, and the clock ticking. I feel the ground beneath my feet, the chair at my hands, the shirt on my back, the watch on my wrist, and the phone on my lap.”

Practice these exercises a few times each day so that you will be familiar with them. You may choose to use all three or to select the one that works best for you. The good news is that anxiety is very manageable. With proper support and a good toolbox of techniques, worry is something that can be well-controlled.

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Divorce is Forever

Marriages come and go; divorce is forever.

Co-parenting is a business.

A common misconception when couples separate is that they can “end” their relationship with the other person. While this may be possible for couples without children,  it is entirely unrealistic for two people who are continuing to parent. Your intimate relationship may be ending, but your co-parenting relationship must continue. For many parents, they actually need to develop and nurture a healthy co-parenting relationship. At the end of a marriage, most people are engaging in dysfunctional communication. In order to co-parent effectively, individuals often need to correct these patterns. They need to move from toxic intimacy into the business of co-parenting.

There are several ways to develop better co-parenting communication. But here are the two biggies: 1) Communicate less often; 2) Have more structured communication.

Why communicate less? Don’t we have kids to raise? Well, yes you do, but you also have an intimate relationship that needs to end. Therefore, you can’t be texting back and forth all day like married people. There should be more boundaries. Have a business-like phone call 2 or 3 times a week (including an agenda and a time limit). There are lots of ways to do it, but most separating couples struggle if they are communicating too frequently. For many people, too much contact = too much conflict.

It is important to structure communication, as well. Pick a time to have a co-parenting phone call when the kids are not around. Call from your car, call from the office, call from a tree – just don’t call when your kids are in the next room. They are listening. They are listening. They are listening. The phone call (or email or text session)  should be at a regular time, so each parent knows when they can expect to hear from the other. Be respectful, be brief, talk only about the kids. When the agenda has been cleared, move on. This is the business of co-parenting.


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New Partners

Special Issues: Separation and Divorce – New Partners
Stephanie Foster, Registered Psychologist

The introduction of new partners to children can be very stressful. There are a number of things to consider, including the developmental age of the child, the time that has elapsed since the separation, and the level of conflict between the parents. In general, parents should consider waiting until the children have shown reasonable adjustment to the separation/divorce before introducing new partners. This varies for every child and for every age. Parents should bear in mind that the introduction of new partners is likely be a stressor for the child. Therefore, the child needs to be emotionally ready to handle the impact. In the very earliest stages of separation and divorce – often referred to as the crisis stage – most children are not ready to accept new partners. It is important to allow the child time to grieve the loss of their original family.

The introduction of new partners is likely to stir up many emotions for your child. It is important to understand what your child might be feeling, so that you can develop a plan of action to help them cope. These are some things to consider when a new partner becomes involved in family life:

• The child may perceive that the first parent who begins a new relationship is betraying the other parent. The parent should explain that everyone adjusts to divorce differently. They should explain that they feel ready to move on, but understand that other people (including the children) may feel differently.

• It is important to remind the children that friends and new partners do not replace the special bond between parents and children.
• The introduction of a new partner may dash a child’s fantasies of family reconciliation. These fantasies are very common in children. Although parents should be honest about the fact that mom and dad will not reunite, they should acknowledge the child’s wish with sensitivity. You might say, “I know that you are feeling sad. It hurts that mom and dad will not be living together anymore.”

• It is vital for parents to spend extra time with children once a new partner is introduced into the situation. This will help to minimize fears of abandonment and rejection.
• You must continue to spend one on one time with your children. Do not include the new partner in every activity, at least in the early stages.

• In the very earliest stages of introduction, make activities with the new partner more time-limited and structured (movies, games). This will allow the child to adjust to the new person’s presence.

• Children may be angry that they are being asked to accept yet another change – a new person in their lives. This is normal. The best way to deal with this is to acknowledge the child’s anger and to introduce new partners slowly, allowing the child to adjust.

• Be accepting of your child’s feelings, including the expression of dislike for the new partner. This does not mean that you should stop seeing the new person, but it does mean accepting that your child does not feel as you do. You might say, “I understand that you do not like him/her. I do like them and I will see them, but I understand that you and I can feel differently.”

• New partners should treat children as individuals in their own right. They should not expect a child to be welcoming right away. The parent and the new partner must be sensitive to the child and responsive to their cues.

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