Monthly Archives: March 2020

An Easy Method for Dealing with Heightened Anxiety and Panic Attacks in these Difficult Times

A very dear friend was recently struggling with anxiety so I suggested a simple technique to her that can be used straightaway called scaling. I then thought why not share it on here which also forced me to write it up properly. Two posts in one day. The bonus of extra time and for once a “Jim post” that might actually be useful. Here goes.


Scaling is something I use a lot in therapy sessions, often simply as a way of indicating where someone is in relation to things like depression or anxiety, as in Im a 7 out of ten today for my depression or my anxiety is around 4. Its a simple quick indicator that’s easily understood.  When I worked in schools I used it a lot, “Ok Sam, how’s the anger today?” “oh it’s about 6 , my mum had a go at me this morning.” Quick, easily understood, a starting point.

Scaling, though, can do so much more than give a quick indicator of mood. With anxiety or panic attacks it can become a technique that not only describes but helps decrease anxiety.  With the Coronavirus outbreak creating such changed conditions for all of us and the news full of grim statistics that naturally up our anxiety levels, I want to share this simple yet effective technique hoping that if helps just one person then it’s well worth sharing.

What To Do

If you experience heightened anxiety or feel panicky try rating the intensity of the feelings from 1 to 10.  A full-blown panic attack would be 10 on the scale and feelings of deep relaxation would be a 1. Let’s suppose you are talking about the current situation or thinking about it and you start to feel uneasy, a bit frightened, you might say to yourself,”I am now at 5 on the anxiety scale.”  If you began to feel worse you could say,”I am now at 6 on the scale.” Then try the age old but effective deep breathing but still thinking about the scale, not the original thoughts that created the anxiety.  As you begin to feel better you can gradually count yourself back down the scale, getting yourself to a 2 or even 1 on the scale. That’s it. Simple.

Why Scaling Works

Scaling in this way is effective because you are doing the following:

  1. Switching to scaling means you are using the thinking part of the brain rather than the emotive part. In order to think and attribute a score, to consider where you are on the anxiety scale you have to use the neo-cortex. This is the part of our brain more concerned with rational thought than emotion.  (With Corona virus our amygdala, or more primitive brain, often dominates, sending us messages of threat and creating the stress inducing fight or flight phenomenon and mass toilet paper buying behaviour).
  2. Scaling makes us “put a fence” around the experience so that we are clear about the limits.  After all its impossible for panic to go up indefinitely, it has to level off and the scale reminds us of that.
  3. For the time that it takes to grade the anxiety or panic you are less “in”the panic and more outside it.  Switching to using the Neo-cortex is helping us become observers of our own panic and this in itself can help to reduce it.  It has the effect of reducing the emotional content .
  4. By doing the scaling you are giving yourself data on the length and intensity of the anxiety or panic attack.  This in turn gives you more control.  Panic attacks in particular can feel that they are going on forever when in fact most of them are short lived.  That are short-term survival responses and they can be controlled.

The basic rule I am suggesting here is that by giving the thinking brain a task we diminish the experience of unpleasant emotion. You could even try using a pen and paper to scale the anxiety because that way you can physically see how things are improving and even keep these as a record to help in subsequent experiences. 

That’s it; a simple technique which if combined with deep, regular breathing could help reduce anxiety to manageable levels.  Hope it helps and feel free to pass this on to anyone you know who experiences heightened anxiety.  Keep safe everyone and keep doing lots of the stuff that makes you happy and relaxed.

Jim x

Isolation Consolation

One of my sons lives near London, the other in Sheffield. I see them maybe once every few months. I call them on the phone- no joy. They don’t do phone calls, it has to be conversation via WhatsApp. I send a message saying it’s easier to say what I want to say via a call. They text back that they are in the middle of something. Then there’s 20 minutes of intermittent texting to communicate something that would have taken 2 minutes on the phone. It’s a generational divide. At least we now have one.

Growing up I wondered when they were going to exhibit the generational rebellion I had shown to my parents. My dad hated it when I played Hendrix in the house. “Rubbish!” He would shout, “the Devil’s music” or most bizarrely, “That bloody Hendrix can’t even play the guitar properly.” Try getting your head round that statement. I loved that feeling of inhabiting a different counter cultural world to my parents. My offspring,however ,have been a massive disappointment in that respect. Sure at 8 years old they mocked my musical preferences; laughing at my Tindersticks albums, yawning at Leonard Cohen and running a mile at Hank Williams. Then it all changed. My music collection became “cool” and they were right of course. My unrecognised claim to fame is that I single handedly championed the music of Nick Drake when I was 16 and no one else was listening to his albums . Now everyone’s on the bandwagon and I tiresomely have to remind everyone that,”I FOUND HIM FIRST, HE’S MINE.” So, you get the picture, they love the music I loved and now own all my old vinyl. No generation gap there. But when it comes to communicating we live on different planets.

What now with isolation? Strangely I’m communicating with them more than ever before and they are even using voice calls or as we used to call them, telephone calls. The national lockdown seems to be making people communicate more than when there were no restrictions. Before lock down I didn’t see them for months and hardly spoke to them , now I don’t see them for months but I speak to them all the time. If I were cynical I’d say they are prepping me for financial support. But maybe they are being sincere, maybe they see me as part of the vulnerable group; male, over 60, overweight, and are getting in early – doing that connecting with my dad before he croaks it stuff.

The other possibility is they are bored and after doing all the other things; exercise, shopping, cleaning, cooking, hobbies, Netflix, sex, eating, more sex and toenail trimming they have run out of things to do and thought, “oh well nothing else to do, let’s call dad.” But I’ll take that and it might be one of the unexpected bonuses of this shitstorm of a situation that friends and family connect more and appreciate each other more. That seems like a good silver lining.

Which brings me to tonight. I’d never heard of “Zoom” until last week now I’m hearing about this videoconferencing app everywhere. Both sons have accounts and yesterday we even had a chat where there were four of us on screen including my ex, the boys’ mother. Let’s just say that was a novel and interesting social situation, good, just strange. The upshot is that tonight my eldest is hosting a quiz on Zoom and my ex and her hubby will be there, I’ll be there as well as my partner’s children. All dispersed but coming together for some fun and entertainment. Just as it often takes a funeral to bring people together so it now looks like Coronavirus is helping us connect more in some ways than we ever did when we were free to move around. Is there another lesson to be learned here post crisis? I think so. I hope so. In the meantime I’m going to read and digest some quiz questions and answers because those kids need to know that daddy knows best.Yes I am very competitive and I like winning.

So fuck off virus!

Stay safe everyone. Jim x

The Impact of Coronavirus on Mental Health- A personal view

I was very touched today when Drgettingsober commented on my last post saying that she was worried that I hadn’t been around for a couple of weeks. I was really taken aback that she should say that but then I reflected that I have felt the same when certain bloggers haven’t appeared for a while. It means there’s a real, genuine care out there. A concern for how people, we haven’t met, but we know from their posts, are doing. That seems to be something special and so in light of that I’m going to do my bit and post a bit more regularly.

I had thought,”who cares about whether you drink or not when all this other stuff is going on,” but of course this forum is about so much more than that. On the drinking side I’m just glad that I now don’t drink; firstly I want to be fully aware and cognisant of what’s going on so that I can make good choices and secondly my immune system is my personal doctor and drug supplier that will hopefully get me through this crisis. I don’t want that amazing ally to be weakened and compromised by alcohol.

So I thought I’d make a couple of observations about the impact of the virus on mental health. I volunteer with Samaritans which for those not in the UK, is a national helpline for those in need of a confidential talk with a supportive listener. It’s often referred to as a suicide helpline but this is only a part of what the service offers. People ring in who are lonely, had a bad day, have ongoing mental health needs, maybe suffering abuse; basically people in distress. As you can imagine the topic that comes up all the time at the moment is the virus situation. For those with mental health needs the fear and uncertainty has just added an extra layer of anxiety thus adversely affecting most people’s emotional well being. Our role is to listen and understand, to be a compassionate point of contact for people who may feel frightened and isolated. We can also signpost to organisations that can offer direct advice and additional support.

Going on duty I was expecting the negative aspects of how the fear and anxiety was impacting on people’s mental health. How do you reassure those with pre existing anxiety and OCD issues? It’s not easy. But then another theme emerged which really surprised me. Some of this came from callers but also a friend who suffers from anxiety and depression. The surprising theme was that now others were experiencing what they had been experiencing for years they felt strangely comforted. Staying at home, living with anxiety. This was becoming a “normal” situation suddenly for so many and a few who suffered from depression actually felt better knowing that they were not alone. It’s a strange kind of logic but I get it. There is a comfort when after years of feeling you are missing out on the regular stuff of life, that others are going through the same thing, albeit involuntarily. My friend with depression also feels more positive now in that he feels he can help others and this has boosted his confidence and self esteem. Some who are isolated and have been for years showing empathy for those that now have to feel isolation maybe for the first time. Surprising stuff.

All of this shows me we have to be careful in assuming this crisis is a one way ticket to a worsening mental health situation. Of course many will have increased anxiety and feelings of hopelessness but others will be strangely comforted and energised by no longer feeling they are the only ones suffering. Also in our physical isolation many of us are reaching out, using means such technology and music to connect, setting up neighbourhood help schemes, applauding health workers every night at 8pm (Spain) and looking at creative ways to maintain our lives in difficult times. That’s got to be good for our collective mental health.

One thing that the Samaritans work shows me is that just being there for someone, the simple act of listening to someone who needs to pour it out, can make a big difference. Not everyone is going to experience worse mental health in these tough times, some may even see an improvement, but being there for each other will make a difference. Just like it does on these blogs.

Take care all. Jim x

Samaritans Here’s a link if you want to find out more. Oh, and volunteers always required 🙂

What to say…..

Ok others have done it, so I’ll do it. A short post just to flag up that I’m still around. I haven’t posted because the posts that I drafted seem so ridiculously irrelevant. Also I can’t work out whether this crisis is turning me into a misanthrope or a lover of this strange species we call human. One minute I’m railing against the greed, selfishness and profiteering of some only to be gladdened by the selflessness of others. That’s humanity I guess, capable of wonderful acts of kindness one minute and appalling selfishness the next.

Overall I’m hoping some good will come out of all this like a collective wake up call.

If you destroy habitat and mess with nature as we do,don’t be surprised that we unleash these animal based viruses. Also let us hopefully rethink the cost of globalisation, unfettered air travel, inequality, access to healthcare and other big questions. For me it’s fascinating that in times of crisis even right wing governments can become quasi socialists. Boris and the conservatives are undertaking the biggest incursion into the private sector ever seen here in the UK. That’s good!To maintain cohesion our government has to act in a way that goes against all their principles and that’s also good. It’s almost as if they know that a society based on the idea that we need to put the collective good ahead of private profit is a rational way to organise society. Now that’s a thought and might be worth a post.

Stay safe everyone. Jim x

Oh – because this post became a bit serious and we all need a laugh, please have a look at the YouTube link below. If you’ve run out of toilet paper it could be just what you need!

Fact- Being Sober Doesn’t Improve Common Sense

This is a tough one. A laying bare of the soul, an admission of fallibility. Six months sober and there are many pros; improved sleep, lower blood pressure, clearer head in the morning, you know the list. I had also hoped being sober would also improve my powers of common sense, help me make sensible decisions, make other men envious of my day to day problem solving capabilities but alas I have to confess that that has not been the case. To put it bluntly I still do very stupid things that would indicate to some people that my brain has failed to make the necessary synaptic connections necessary for daily survival.

Knowing this blogging community is so caring as well as sharing, I will expose my recent example of crass naivety, stupidity, lack of common sense or whatever you choose to all it. I know you will be kind not cruel.

I’m on holiday in the Peak District and I chose yesterday to go walking up Kinder Scout, which is the highest point in the peaks.I’m a Londoner now living in a flat area of the UK and not used to hill walking. My first proper walk therefore was to walk the most difficult of hill walks in the Peak District. You can already see where this is going!

I have a guide book that says don’t attempt this by yourself(I did), take a whistle in case you get lost (I didn’t) and don’t attempt to go off course to reach the high point marker(I did). It also said if inexperienced don’t try the walk in winter as the weather can really turn (I ignored that).At the car parking I secretly scoffed at other walkers with their poles (it’s not Everest I smirked to myself, and left mine in the car.)

I set off and within 200 yards realised I’d already gone wrong going the wrong way on this circular walk. Oh well I thought I won’t turn back I’ll just read the guidance backwards, silly old Jim. Let’s cut to the chase. First part of the walk was great, lovely scenery, a few houses, sheep. This is easy. I then had to climb a path and as I ascended it all changed. There was snow and ice on the ground, the temperature dropped and there was no longer a recognisable path. There were one or two walkers however and some rocky outcrops mentioned in the guide so it was all ok.

Then it changed again, hail started coming down, there were peat bogs, it was getting colder and there was nothing that looked like a path. I ended up walking across snowy drifts and falling over. My feet disappeared into peat bogs and the other walkers were nowhere to be seen. That’s ok, I thought, I’ll use google maps. Great idea Jim, you’re on a barren hill side miles from anywhere and expect a signal?

At this point I wanted to cry and be cuddled by a mother figure. I wanted to escape into mindless eating of my sandwiches. Who, I thought, is going to fix this. Then out of the snow I saw a walker. He said I needed to go down hill about 100 yards and I’d find the path. I did , but lost it again soon after. I realised that I’m rubbish at hill walking. I fell again and kept walking into rocky blind alleys. I found a waterfall. That was in the guide book. I started to walk up the waterfall thinking the rocks in the stream were the path. A young couple came along and started shouting at me. They had that look on their faces that suggested concern and maybe incredulity. The look said,”what the fuck are you doing!” But they said, “get out of there, it’s dangerous” and then told me where to pick up the path. I carried on and again, over heathland, the path disappeared. I had a map that had I looked at would have shown me that going back down to the river would bring me to where I had parked my car. But of course I didn’t bother with the map. Instead I walked over another hill and when I could get google maps realised I’d gone an additional 3 miles out of my way and had to do the last 2 miles walking on narrow country roads.

My 6 mile 3 hour walk had turned into a 10 mile 5 hour walk. I had exhibited mind blowing stupidity and a complete lack of common sense. Before I reached my car I saw a pub. I was not tempted. If I can be this stupid without a drink I thought, what would I have been like with a few inside me.

Hopefully, yesterday was a lesson or two learnt. On the positives, I got lots of exercise, I’m alive and the scenery was heavenly!

Here are some pics from my walk of shame! Jim x

Be kind in your comments. My self esteem has taken a battering!

Before the walk
This is easy!
Ooh that’s interesting so the weather changes as you go higher?
Snow, wasn’t expecting that!
Where are all the people and houses
Ok it’s lovely but where’s the path!
I reach the summit but I wonder why the sky is that colour?
I try walking up a stream- frantic walkers tell me that’s not the way
Help! It’s snowing and I’m lost!
At last! Signs I’m heading in the right direction