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Panic Attacks. Help I Can’t Breathe!

Anxiety. You never know when you glance around a train carriage who is comfortably reading their book and who is actually near to passing out with fear and panic. Nowadays anxiety is becoming more and more common, in the extreme some people can’t even complete a journey to work because their fearful feelings are so intense.

file0002062790027Panic attacks often signify the beginning of all kinds of weird rituals. From changing carriages on a train, getting on and off at different stops, through to a cycle of altering journeys times, changing modes of transport, leaving jobs and even relationships, in an effort to quell the anxiety and feel better.

Having panic attacks can be both paralysing and draining, leaving you feeling physically weak and exhausted.

What makes it worse, is that it’s all happening on the inside and nobody else can see what they’re really going through, so there is little sympathy and understanding.

The reason for one persons panic attacks will differ from the next and that is why there is no ‘one’ cure for them. You can be sure though that there is an underlying reason for this level of anxiety.

For many who suffer from this paralysing condition, it is usually coupled with frustration. It’s annoying to be unable to understand why they are happening. “Why now and why me” is a question I’m often asked by clients and students.

When people feel angry because they are unable to understand why the panic attacks happen, they will often blame it onto something else. For example if the first time you experience anxiety or a panic attack is on the bus, it’s understandable that you might associate a bus journey with them. Unfortunately it isn’t that simple.

I’ve known people whose reason for a panic attack turned out to be a ‘nudge’ from their inner self to retrain in a totally different field, because they had been unhappy in their work for a long time.

People who decide to get to the bottom of the anxiety discover that working through old wounds, such as bullying episodes at school, provided the relief from their unpleasant symptoms.

Others have discovered that emotions from past losses or bereavements have been the underlying cause of their anxiety.

Traumatic events, can remain buried in the unconscious mind and also stored somatically in our physiology. We feel panic and anxiety, usually from the chin downwards somewhere in a body part such as chest, throat, hands, stomach. The Clean Language Grovian Metaphor approach that I have been using with clients since 1991 is a fantastic technique for reprogramming the mind and body. It’s a joy to see people relax and feel inner peace as they realise these feelings have cleared.

In my opinion anxiety and panic attacks aren’t normal and they can be addressed. Here are some tips:

The quicker you get help the better.

Regular meditation can help some people feel calmer.

Listening to hypnosis programs like Stress Free With Confidence and short meditation programs like     Seven Minutes of Zen the  Autogenic Relaxation Response can be really helpful resources. Have you signed up to receive your free program The Five Minute Powernap?  These programs help and at the very least allow you feel like you are taking some control the situation.

Find someone you trust and tell them what you are going through.

Physiologically, we forget to breathe properly when we’re feeling anxious and fearful.

Believe it or not it can help if you hum a tune. Try humming Happy Birthday to yourself quietly. The sound is actually an exhalation at the end of which, you will have to breathe in again. Each time you  breathe in, you’ll  notice that you’re breathing in a little longer and deeper  then work on making your humming the out breath, a little longer.

Happy Humming.









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Brian Tracy quote

When we pay full attention to what someone is saying, it contributes to people feeling validated and recognised.sw_Listening_sa209430

One of the most valuable gifts you can give someone is to be present for them whilst they talk to you. If you think back over your last interaction with someone, did you listen properly? By this I mean really listen to them with your full attention?

Modern psychology states that something like 78% of our communication is non-verbal. This means when people are speaking their words may be saying one thing but their tonality, the volume of what they’re saying and body language, may all be communicating something else.

For example someone says, “Of course I love you!” in an aggressive tone. Or someone is saying yes whilst unconsciously shaking his or her head side to side in a ‘No’ fashion.

It’s the same when we’re listening, if we are only half paying attention to what someone is saying, we are giving mixed messages. What we’re really saying is, I’m not really listening because what I’d like to be getting on with, or saying is far more important than anything you have to say! These mixed messages are confusing for people and add to negative feelings and low self-esteem. It’s poor communication.

Successful business entrepreneur Brian Tracy uses the quote ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’ a good premise for excellent communication.

 Brian Tracy quote

The art of active listening requires practice and since many people like to talk about themselves, there’s usually plenty of opportunity for that.

Effective listening underpins healthy, positive relationships.

How do you stop your mind from wandering when the person in front of you is talking and perhaps you’ve heard it all before? Breathe, focus on your breath for a moment and then guide your unruly mind back to the person on the other end of the phone or the face of the person who’s standing in front of you. What if that was the last time you ever saw them, spoke with them? Would you be happy at how you had received them?

I once witnessed a situation where one person was sharing something really personal and heartfelt and the other person emptied the entire contents of her handbag looking for something. When the first person stopped talking the other eventually looked up and said “Go on, I am listening.” Was that active listening? What do you think?

So what is active listening? Here’s my top ten tips for attentive listening.

  1. Where possible stop what you are doing
  2. Make eye contact with the person who is speaking.
  3. Stand or sit directly in front of them.
  4. Aim to keep your own facial expressions to a minimum, no raised eyebrows or eyes rolling to the sky.
  5. Remain still, without fiddling or rummaging when someone is speaking to you.
  6. Refrain from sounds such as ‘tut’ ‘phew’ or other non-verbal sounds.
  7. When you think they have finished speaking, allow a space, they may not have finished.
  8. Don’t talk over people.
  9. Don’t interrupt.
  10. If someone is talking slower than your mind is working, don’t finish their sentences, there’s just a chance, you’re not a mind reader and don’t quite know what they’re going to say.

Looking forward to your feedback.




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Take a walk on the wild side.

In last week’s post I talked about the shadow side of the personality, the place where we store all the aspects of ourselves that we don’t like or that we think might not be approved of. The shadow could be likened to a dark basement that has a ton of ‘stuff’ stored in it. Maybe hidden away right at the back are things that have gone untouched for years, by this I mean parts of ourselves that we’ve banished.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves”

This insightful statement by Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung, I’ve certainly found to be true.  If we can take the time to explore the ‘mirror’ and investigate what it is that has pushed our buttons, we are likely to uncover a part of ourselves that we previously pushed into the darkness. By understanding and befriending these parts, we reclaim more of ourselves which leads to more self-acceptance and self-love.mgf3

It’s said that 10% of the mind is the conscious, logical, rational part (the short term memory) and the other 90% the shadow side (the long term memory).  If this is true there’s a lot of self-examination to do in order to find more inner peace and a deeper meaning to life.

On her way to a session with me, Hayley was really irritated by someone’s music playing from their earphones whilst on the train.  She ranted  about their lack of consideration, ignorance and stupidity.  Although I agreed in principle, it did seem that her anger was disproportionate to the incident. When I asked Hayley why she didn’t ask the person to turn their volume down a little and explain she was unable to read her kindle because of the intrusion. She didn’t know what stopped her from making that reasonable request and being more assertive.

When exploring her feelings of anger, Hayley instantly connected with the memory of a teenage part of her who was listening to music in her bedroom one evening, when suddenly her mother burst angrily into her room shouting at her to turn down her loud music. She told me her mother continued to remonstrate her for her thoughtlessness and lack of consideration for the other members of her household.

Triggered by the loud music on the train, the teenage part of Hayley felt angry, indignant and jealous that her fellow commuter could play his music without a concern while she had always felt inhibited and unable to listen to her music in a public area and even at home, she always had the volume turned really low.

Hayley was able to see her ‘projection’ onto the music playing passenger and some sessions later mentioned in passing that she no longer seemed bothered by other people’s music on the train.

She had reclaimed a small part of herself and gained some mastery over her emotional self.

Stress Hack 

So the next time someone ‘pushes your buttons’ try this exercise.

Close your eyes and go straight to that feeling and ask yourself “How old is the part of me that feels this way.” Go with your first answer. Ask the same kind of questions that you might of a friend who is asking for your support, such as, “why do you think you feel like that” Or “where are you and what’s happening the first time you feel like this. Use your common sense to have a chat with that part. You can ask, what this part wants or needs in order to feel better and then run an imaginary rescue/healing scenario to attend to the needs of that part.

When we shine the torchlight of self-enquiry into that dark basement and it settles on an aspect that we chose to bring out into the light. There’s a shift, an instant enlightenment and as a result a small part of the whole, feels better.

Want to be more assertive? Listen regularly to Assertive Empowerment Now. Also check out the Guide To Being Human and enjoy!






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Do You Know How To Love, Accept And Embrace Yourself?

‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken' Are you able to be yourself, to be authentic? Are you the real deal?

 In Just The Same Way That There Are No Two Snowflakes Exactly The Same, You Too Are Unique. file000904151411

Don’t you just love that quote by Oscar Wilde ‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken’ Are you able to be yourself, to be authentic? Are you the real deal?

Using a score from 0 – 10  zero being not at all and ten being totally your true self, take a moment to score yourself right now? If you scored ten congratulations, you may not want to read the rest of this blog.

As we continue on our journey in life and encounter its ups and downs, many people lose themselves along the way, whilst others struggle to find out who they really are. People can get lost in roles, dramas, addictions and illness to name just a few of the paths that can lead us away from who we really are.

What stops you from being the real genuine you? Is it childhood conditioning, or perhaps your good manners? Is it the fear of not being good enough, liked enough, loveable enough? Is it pretending to be what you think others want you to be?

Whatever the reasons, there will be a price to pay if we don’t find our way home to being who we really are.

Psychologist Carl Rogers believed that like a flower that will grow to its full potential if the conditions are right, so too will humans, given the conditions. He believed that the fundamental drive of humans is to flourish and thrive – to be the very best we can.

If Rogers was right, can we blossom and bloom if we constantly compromise ourselves by dancing to someone else’s tune? Betrayal of another is bad enough, but betrayal of ourselves, is the highest betrayal of all.

Rogers’s ‘congruency model’ is an interesting one. The face in the centre, is the real ‘you’. At the end of the arrows are the roles we adopt over time – such as the perfect mother, the long suffering wife, the dutiful husband, the protective brother, the hardworking teacher, nurse, banker and so on.Rogers' Model

We are placed in these roles, by families, our culture, society, our peers, and of course by ourselves.

Rogers said the bigger the gap between who we really are (Self) and who we are having to be to keep everyone happy, is where incongruence lies.

Incongruence is a word you tend to hear more of in the therapy world. It explains that sense of inauthenticity we can feel when a relationship is well and truly over and we cannot pretend any longer. Or the growing anxiety that presents itself every Monday morning when we can no longer face the pretence of going into the office and working with the people we have come to loathe. Or the job and its demands that we can no longer cope with.

In the gap between who we really are and our ‘role’ are things like panic attacks, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, psycho-somatic illness, phobias, addictions or any of the other things that we can all suffer with at different times throughout life.

So what do we do? How do we close this gap and become more congruent, more real?

We can start by making an honest assessment of our roles. I believe we need some time and space alone in order to ask ourselves honest questions and listen carefully, until we hear more truthful answers. Perhaps developing the habit of meditation for just 10 minutes a day or spending time in nature, going for a walk by the sea or in a national park.

In an ideal world, we will have the love and support of someone who doesn’t judge or criticise us, someone who will listen unconditionally. If you’re lucky you’ll have a good friend who you can talk to. If not, think about using the services of counsellors, coaches or support help lines.

Get into the habit of asking yourself this question regularly “Is this thing I’m doing or thinking kind and loving to myself”?

Find ways to build your self-esteem; improve your communication skills; learn to be more assertive so that you can deal more confidently with conflicts and difficulties.

Find ways to love and nurture yourself more. Work on forgiving yourself and others for their wrongdoings and fallibilities. In so doing, set yourself free from the heavy burden of judging.

‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken' Are you able to be yourself, to be authentic? Are you the real deal?

And remember the aim: Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken!

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Is Your Child Running Riot?

It’s much easier to change your emotional and psychological state if you have a plan and know where to go


In my first ever blog I wrote about the inner child ruling the roost and how in the framework of the popular therapy, Transactional Analysis we can be taken over by an inner child part or inner parent part in the bat of an eye!


So having overcome my fear of the dentist some years ago. I was rather surprised to find myself wanting to burst into tears at a recent dental appointment. In my defence I had just had five very deep injections in the top and bottom of my mouth. Although it didn’t hurt at all (Martin is a very gentle dentist, details here) even more surprising, was the feeling that my tummy, arms and legs had turned to jelly and I shook from head to toe!

As I was lead out to the waiting room and ‘put on hold to numb up’ I keenly eyed the door weighing up whether or not I could make a run for it and not look back! No chance with legs like blancmange!

Hmmm I realised, this was not the thinking of an adult, more the thinking of a small child! Did you notice I used the child like-word, tummy and not the more adult adjective of stomach? This type of language also identifies a regression.

With this recognition, a slither of light shone itself on my dental despair and I began to realise that my adult self had been temporarily overshadowed by my shadow!

Early psychologists, Freud and Carl Jung had many a discussion about the persona, the ‘bright’ side, the aspect that we prefer to show to the world and also our shadow side, the darker, hidden aspect of the personality that houses among other things, our fears, repressed desires and more negative thoughts.

I’m fortunate enough to spend my days witnessing the ‘enlightenment’ of others as they get to know themselves, warts and all. Through the process of self-examination, questioning analysing and sitting with their truth, people begin to make their dark light and it is illuminating. As a result of this process we can become autonomous more comfortable with who and how we are and to feel more able to dance to our own tune.

With this thought, I sat down in the waiting room and rested a comforting hand on my stomach to soothe my nerves and silently reminded myself of my age – No, I’m not telling you!  That started to ‘ground’ me and I silently continued to list all the adult things in my life such as my relationship, that I have a nice home, I drive a car, teach yoga and run a successful psychotherapy and coaching practice… and hey presto with that, I grew up again!

I’m never going love going to the dentist but I feel more positive about my next appointment and will approach it in a more conscious, adult manner and leave my inner child playing happily at home somewhere!

Get to know what makes you tick and try the following stresshack, as Freud said, Know Thyself , it’s the royal road to discovery.

It’s much easier to change your emotional and psychological state if you have a plan and know where to go


In your journal write the heading The Child:– and leave 3 or 4 pages free (you’ll be adding to this over time).

Now write a few examples of when you’re prone to feeling child-like.

What thought patterns do you have when you regress into child?

Aim to identify the triggers such as…’When  I’m questioned at work, about a piece of work that isn’t finished, I start to feel vulnerable and small.’ Or, when I go back home and sit in the same chair that I sat in as a child I seem to regress  or when dad speaks to me in that tone, I feel inadequate… You get the idea.

In order to step out of ‘child’ and back into empowered ‘ adult’ it’s important to know who that part of us is.

So now write the heading  The Adult:– and leave several pages free to write up who you are when you feel grown-up, how you act when you feel that you’re in ‘adult’ mode.

Your list could  be something really simple such as:

  • The adult wears strong colours.
  • I walk tall and breathe deeply when I feel adult.  
  • The adult feels powerful when wearing a suit.
  • The adult exercises regularly. 

It’s much easier to change your emotional and psychological state if you have a plan and know where to go. You need to ‘know’ that adult part of you in more depth in order to step into that you. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing into a more ‘grown up’ outfit (is it time to get rid of your onesie?) doing some exercise, or reminding yourself of some of some of your achievements, that will help you make the shift from one state to another.

Enjoy and let me know how you get on.



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It’s Time To Quit FAGS?

Give up the fags





Fear Anger Guilt and Shame are ‘blocker’s to feeling good. They prevent a good clear flow of energy, known in the East as Prana, Ki or Chi. Negative emotions such as the FAGS above, can lead to feelings of impatience, confusion lack of understanding and an inability to focus and concentrate.


Give up the fags

Of course it’s important to be able to experience a complete range of human emotions, however excessive fear, anger guilt or shame, disproportionate to a given situation, is simply unhealthy!

It has been my long held belief that excessive FAGS are precursors to physiological ailments. Many a strong, stoic person who keeps going, putting on a ‘brave face’ despite horrendous life events, may later find themselves suffering all manner of health issues.

The body will express what the mind is concerned with.

When we supress natural emotions such as FAGS they have to go somewhere, as my partner’s mum used to say “they don’t go in your boots!” But they do need to be expressed and many people deal with their emotions by somatising them i.e. storing their feelings in the body.

Eastern philosophies tell us that we have layers of body and one of those layers is the emotional body, which they suggest, is the organ body.

The organs although separate, operate in pairs, such as gall bladder and liver, urinary bladder and kidneys. They sometimes share systems, such as the interrelated cardio-vascular and respiratory system of the heart and lungs.

We’re said to have pathways (traditional yoga says 72’000 of them) that are meant to bring energy in the form of chi or prana through these pathways to the organs, in order to keep them working at their optimum level, to leave us feeling well and balanced.

Eastern approaches to health such as acupuncture and yoga suggest that unexpressed emotions are stored within the organs, which can eventually become overloaded and in the extreme, manifest as illness.

Many clients and yoga students who present with physical pain in their body begin to recognise a correlation between that pain and anger for example.

Others may identify fear that impacts their breathing, leaving them feeling tight and restricted in the chest. Thankfully it is possible to override these old pattern with simple breathing exercises and a few shifts in thought patterns at a deeper level.

Sometimes negative feelings can be paralysing for people leaving them feeling stuck and low with a general feeling of malaise and lethargy.

Whatever the manifestation, the presence of FAGS will leave us feeling mentally and physically drained and has an enormous negative impact on our self-esteem and wellbeing.

Did you know that when you make a shift in your physiology it changes your emotional state, which can quickly have a positive knock-on effect on your thinking? This is just one of the reasons yoga has become so popular today. Even if it’s a tough class at the time, we plough on knowing that we’re going to feel so much better, stronger and more energised at the end of it!

286319534790553Try some of the physiological, shifting suggestions below and see if you can change your state!

Exercise really is important, so aim to get moving again. If you’ve tried and failed, buddy up with someone. By making a commitment to someone else you’re more likely to honour the arrangement. Arrange a walk. Plan a swim together or attend a pilates or yoga class. Join a gym. Check out your local church hall, there’ll be all kinds of classes to try there.

Ever thought of singing? Book a lesson or join a local choir. They’re not all about singing Christmas hymns. There’s a 100 strong Rock Choir in my area for example.

Develop a 5 minute exercise routine:

Bring alternate knees toward the belly or chest X 5 on each side to start with, then as you bring one knee up connect it to the opposite elbow for another 5 on each side.

Stand with feet hip width apart and circle the hips 20 X in one direction then the other. Follow this with ‘snake hips’ make a figure of 8 with your hips in one direction and then the other for 20 cycles.

Again with feet hip width apart (preferably bare feet) On the inhale lift both arms out in front of you, then up over your head and back round X 20.

Next take arms out to the sides and up beyond the head bringing the hands to meet above the head and back down again X 20.

Let me know how you feel after that!



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Growing up emotionally. Why childlike behaviour in adults can be a sign of emotional immaturity.

Have you ever been around someone seemingly bright and knowledgeable only to notice them behave badly in a childish manner? Chances are something has stopped them growing up emotionally…

heal your inner child - adults behaving like children - Growing up emotionally. Why childlike behaviour in adults can be a sign of emotional immaturity.

Emotional Growth

Collectively we still fail to understand the difference between intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence. While we grow up intellectually and chronologically, we do not always grow up emotionally. We can have gaps in our development for all kinds of reasons, but it’s often due to something that happened in childhood. For example, a child — let’s call him John — has has five blissful years on the planet when his father suddenly dies. His mother, in her grief, plummets into a depression that she never really recovers from.

John is effectively orphaned at that point. With neither parent there to attend to his emotional needs. This trauma and loss will likely effect John’s ability to learn. Unless that’s picked up at school, he could remain in that ‘state’ for the rest of his life. His development stunted, much like a scratch on a record, or a rogue program that keeps replaying. Years later, John is unresponsive and unemotional toward his partner, going through the motions but never fully connecting.

Continue reading Growing up emotionally. Why childlike behaviour in adults can be a sign of emotional immaturity.

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Stop Letting Your Child Rule Your Life

Do you avoid doing jobs because the thought of it stresses you out? Do you eat too many bars of chocolate when you promised to eat healthily? Are you late for things simply because you didn’t leave on time? Chances are you’re letting your inner child take control of your life…

I know, I know, you start out with really good intentions at the begining of the week. You’re going to eat sensible, healthy foods. And yet by Tuesday you’re on your second take-away.

It sounds like your inner child has taken over and is running the show!

Stop Letting Your Child Rule Your Life - The Stresshacker - Sue Smith

What Happens When You Let Your Inner Child Rule

That inner whining often goes something like this: “it’s not fair, I’m tired, I don’t want to work, I can’t be bothered to go shopping, I need a treat now, I deserve it!” And giving in to it means that you – the adult – are no longer in charge. Let’s face it if you were, you might be able to have a more grown-up conversation with yourself!

Your inner adult might say something like: “I know you feel like you deserve a treat, but if you do eat those crisps or drink that extra glass of wine, your workout at the gym will feel even harder and ultimately the dress you want to look stunning in next weekend will feel tight and uncomfortable. You’re just hungry let’s get something yummy and healthy to eat right now and if you still want crisps after you can have them!”

Continue reading Stop Letting Your Child Rule Your Life