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Sian Confidential: I’m so stressed, I feel like I’m losing my mind

After losing her dad to coronavirus in May, Helen has been signed off work with stress and feels like she will never feel ‘normal’ again.

Dear Sian,

I feel like I’m losing my mind and could end up in an insane asylum. Every morning when I wake up, I feel like something horrendous will happen that day, or even that it has already happened, and I haven’t been aware of it. I have been signed off work with stress for two weeks, but I can’t ever see myself going back. Leaving the house makes me feel sick. When I walk it feels like its someone else’s feet I’m moving. I’m even beginning to question if this is the real world. I have what I think are anxiety attacks and feel like I’m never going to feel normal again. Please tell me I’m not going mad?! I’ve had a bad year; I lost my dad to COVID in May. Me and my sister nursed him at home, we all had it. I had also been bullied out of my last job and had resigned just before furlough which I am so furious about…while all this is negative it doesn’t make sense that I feel like this.

Dear Helen,

It does actually make a whole lot of sense to me. When a person has been through a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one, the brain learns that this life isn’t eternal, it ends. When this isn’t processed properly it can leave a residual fear. Having a serious virus that is killing the immune-suppressed and elderly is also terrifying. These two coupled together will have activated the small organs in your brain called the amygdala which are responsible, among other things, for your survival response known as fight or flight. This is useful in times of danger but problematic when they fail to shut down after the threat has passed. It makes you hyper-vigilant looking for threats everywhere. You become anxious and fraught with negative thoughts and over-thinking about the past and future. You might have been more susceptible to being activated like this due to being “under-fire” and “under threat” regularly in the workplace. 

In summary, you have been left in what is called hyperarousal. Your brain literally thinks you are walking through a warzone with snipers on every rooftop. You aren’t going mad. But you do need help in relaxing as being in this state constantly isn’t healthy. Your feelings of derealisation and depersonalisation, i.e. feeling spaced out, are part of the anxiety response. Don’t be freaked out by them as you will be adding to anxiety. I would firstly recommend a visit to your GP as they may prescribe some medication. I’m a great believer in multimodal approaches. Mindfulness, breathwork and hypnotherapy will also help in teaching your amygdala to calm down. Self-care is essential and you need to find a balance between keeping busy and resting. There is loads that you can do for yourself, however, I would recommend you think about seeking some therapy like CBT.

*Names are changed to protect anonymity.

ABOUT PEACEFUL MINDS

Sian

Sian is a cognitive behaviour therapist and also a clinical hypnotherapist, having trained at Goldsmiths College, University of London and the College of Clinical Hypnosis. Four years ago Sian relocated her Harley Street practice to her native North East after 26 years in central London. Sian now runs her private clinic in Gosforth and also owns a training academy to help organisations with stress reduction. Sian’s approach is to help people become their own therapists, whether they come to see her for panic attacks, depression or OCD (she covers a wide range of emotional and behavioural issues).

PEACEFULMINDS.ORG.UK

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