Sleep Paralysis: an unsettling sensory experience

Sleep Paralysis

Sleep Paralysis is a very frightening experience that can sometimes happen during sleep.

Here it goes.

You are lying in bed in that special transitional state between sleep and wakefulness. You may be about to fall asleep, or you might have woken up in the middle of the night and are then trying to fall asleep again, or you may be just about to fully wake up in the morning.

In either case, what actually happens is that your mind is fully aware of being awake but your body is unable to move. It doesn’t matter how hard you try but no muscle will eventually respond to your orders. Obviously you might feel frightened and you will most likely have several thoughts crossing your mind, such as: What’s happening to me? Am I paralysed? I want to call for help but I’m not even able to open my mouth and utter a single word!

This temporary paralysis can last from a few seconds up to even 10-15 minutes. After a while you will eventually regain control of your own body but this represents quite a shocking experience that won’t easily be forgotten.

Another disquieting feature of sleep paralysis is the fact that most of the times it is accompanied by hallucinatory phenomena, adding to the experienced sense of fear.

The most common kind of hallucinatory phenomenon reported, is the perception of a threatening presence in the room, as if there were an intruder. Sometimes this presence is more intensively perceived through the senses than just merely detected: it could even be seen, heard or smelled. Those who have gone through this kind of unsettling experience can also report they were being touched or even attacked by this ‘alleged’ presence as though a weight was pressing them down on the chest, leaving them unable to move or preventing them from sitting up.

It is indeed quite a disturbing experience.

Another particular but less common hallucinatory phenomenon that can accompany Sleep Paralysis, is an Out-of-Body experience (OBE).

The person is paralysed in bed but has the feeling that their own soul is leaving the body, flying and floating in the room or even outside of the house, watching the body from an external perspective. Contrary to the intruder hallucination, this kind of experience is usually associated to very positive feelings.

Causes 

Sleep paralysis seems to be caused by a REM-sleep intrusion into wakefulness. REM-sleep is a stage of sleep where our muscles are almost totally atonic.

It is rare yet it can occur if the transition between REM-sleep and wakefulness is quick and sudden; as a matter of fact, the brain maintains the body in an atonic state ‘by mistake’.

Some authors suggest that the reason why hallucinations tend to accompany sleep paralysis lies in the activation of the so called ‘vigilance system’. The potential threat of the sleep paralysis experience activates this system, whose aim is to scan and monitor the environment in search of potential dangers. In this singular and ambiguous situation, the brain may very easily misinterpret environmental signals (Cheyne, 2002; Cheyne, 2007).

Experiencing Sleep Paralysis once in a while shouldn’t worry you excessively.

Sleep deprivation, having an irregular sleep-wake rhythm or going through a stressful period can well trigger this phenomenon.

Furthermore, sleep paralysis is a frequent symptom of narcolepsy.

If this phenomenon is recurrent then consulting a sleep specialist is warmly recommended.

A look into emotions

Emotions

It is strikingly interesting how past scientific theories on the functioning of the human body have remained so deeply rooted in our common sense.

For example Cartesian dualism regarding the differentiation between body and mind is sometimes still supported; on the contrary, body and mind are deeply interconnected and they should not be considered as two separate entities.  As a matter of fact, our body is littered with receptors that constantly report to our brain the activities of that particular area, in order to grant a better control of their tasks.

Another theory that is usually misleading is Aristotle’s concept that our heart is the centre of emotions; in the last decades plenty of scientific data widely showed how the origins of emotions rely in several and very specific areas of the brain, that activate our body for a very rapid reaction.

Emotions are internal states that accompany us in our everyday life, carrying very important and precious information about ourselves.

Every emotion implies 3 different components: a cognitive, a behavioural and a physical one.

The cognitive component is about the evaluation and the thoughts on the emotion; the behavioural is about the reaction that we will adopt as a consequence of the emotion, while the physical is about the change in our body functions that prepare our body to action.

Contradicting Aristotle’s theory, emotions rely in the body as much as in our brain.

Primary and Secondary emotions

In psychology we talk about primary and secondary emotions.

Primary emotions are:

  • fear;
  • joy;
  • sadness;
  • anger;
  • disgust;
  • surprise.

These emotions are called “primary” because anthropologically they have been present since the very beginning of the story of the human being, we share them with primates and they are universally experienced and recognised, as showed by scientist Paul Ekman.

On the contrary, secondary emotions are more recent, as they appeared when our forebears started to live in social groups; therefore they are “social” emotions: guilt, shame, envy, jealousy, …

Emotional Intelligence

The ability to recognise one own’s and other people’s emotion, to manage them and to use them in a constructive way is called Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is considered nowadays very important as it seems that it effectively impacts our work performance and our ability to relate to other people.

Many times relational problems are indeed consequences of a difficulty in understanding the other person’s emotional world and relating to it.

Emotions are very important as they indicate our direction in the world and tell us how well we are dealing in achieving our intimate goals.

If you want to read more about why emotions are so important, click here

Related articles:

“Emotions: hello strangers!” by Ilaria Tedeschi

If you want to know more about the relation between emotions and eating habits, read:

“Overeating as a coping mechanism: Binge eating Disorder”, by Ilaria Tedeschi

Suggested links:

http://www.paulekman.com

http://www.danielgoleman.info/topics/emotional-intelligence/

How to cope with bipolar disorder

Bipolar Disorder

As the former quote says, mood swings are the core feature of people with bipolar disorder.

As a matter of fact, events can trigger the mood swings, making the person feel the related excitement or sadness in such a deep way.

Bipolar disorder is an affective disorder that implies strong mood swings, from mania or hypomania to deep depression, alternating with periods of time with mood in a normale range.

There are two types of bipolar disorders:

  • Type I: periods of intense activation and excessive mood elevation alternates with periods of deep depression. During mood elevation, the person doesn’t need to sleep as much as usual, acts in a different way from how he normally does, has an extreme self-confidence that could bring him to get involved into potentially dangerous situations (excessive speed driving, gambling, not safe and/or promiscuous sexual activity, …). This elevation is so intense that it gets very difficult to handle and potentially dangerous for the person himself or the people who surround him, requiring then a hospitalisation. Sometimes mixed states can be present: the person can experience symptoms of mania and depression at the same time.
  • Type II: periods of time with hypomania alternate with periods of depression. Hypomania means having a less intense mood elevation, that never requires a hospitalisation. Even if the mood swings are less intense, their impact and consequences are anyway impressive.

Bipolar disorder treatment?

Bipolar disorder can be managed with an appropriate pharmacotherapy with mood stabilisers prescribed by a specialised psychiatrist, that will help you in controlling these swing and that should be very regularly taken.

Cognitive Behavioural psychotherapy is a parallel tool that is highly recommended by NICE guidelines (National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) in the treatment of bipolar disorder.

As a matter of fact, psychotherapy can be very helpful to better cope with the consequences of the swings and to adjust your lifestyle to prevent mood changes and to better cope with them. The best ways to prevent mood changes are indeed pharmacotherapy and adopting a very stable and healthy lifestyle.

As Sun Tzu said, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”. Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy can help you in getting to know bipolar disorder, in having a better awareness of it and in early recognising when the mood is changing so that you will be better prepared to deal with it before it gets worse.

Bipolar disorder can be a heavy burden; but with a good specialised help, you can arrange the best solution for you to cope with it.

Related articles:

“Life on a swing: sharing life with the bipolar disorder” by Ilaria Tedeschi.

Suggested links:

www.bipolaruk.org.uk

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/bipolardisorder.aspx

http://www.isbd.org

I am how you want me to be: when complacency comes too easy in relationships

“And you don’t know I much I loved you,

how much wasted love,

silently waiting for you to see me 

and to understand what you already know, 

that I am how you want me to be,

how you want me to be.

I am the only one you can love,

don’t you see that I am only a few steps away from you?”

“Sono come tu mi vuoi “, I. Grandi

Complacency and relationships

Being complacent is a normal attitude that in small doses everybody uses.

As a matter of fact, a little bit of complacency in our daily lives is necessary: we are not always completely free to be who we are, to say what is on our mind or to bring forth what we desire. A bit of complacency and adherence to the rules that society requires us to apply to, are the basis of living in a civilised world.

Sometimes complacency can add up to becoming much more invasive, prying into relationships and hiding our real true self. Herein, we are talking about the “false self”, a psychoanalytic concept formerly theorised by Donald Winnicott.

False self is a defensive barrier that protects us from not being hurt by others; in extreme cases it can completely conceal the true self, making it very difficult to reach.

False self can take the form of complacency in relationships, especially in a couple: acting in order to meet our partner’s expectations can be a strategy to prevent a very feared rejection.

Trying our best to avoid what we fear is a normal behaviour, it is our natural instinct that protects us from being hurt. But when complacency gets too intense, when we try our best to be who we think that our partner wants us to be and by doing so we deny ourselves and our desires … we expose ourselves to risk much more than we could imagine.

What are the consequences?

What is the long term outcome of such a relationship? Where do our desires and spontaneity end up? Can we be really sure about how our partner would like us to be?  Moreover, will our partner be really satisfied by having a faux but apparently perfect partner?

There are not straightforward answers to these questions.  Every relationship is different, it implies two extraordinary and unique human beings, bonding together and creating special dynamics.

However, we know that not listening to who we are and what we want can bring us to a long-term dissatisfaction, a feeling of emptiness, of not being alive and in the end to a difficulty in reading ourselves. In addition, we can imagine how those feelings could affect the mood and happiness of a person and consequently put the couple at stake.

The attitude of creating complacent relationships usually founds its roots in our early years and it is a signal of a suffering area, linked to the fear of being rejected, not loved or criticised when we show our real selves.

What can you do about it?

If this rings a bell, sit back and relax, there’s nothing to worry about! Being aware of this attitude is the first step to change.

Moreover, taking care of our suffering areas is the best way to build healthy relationships and, above all, to contribute to our wellbeing and happiness.

As soon as you become aware of any related dynamics like the aforementioned, take some time to think it through and if you feel like you need help seek advice and contact a psychotherapist or a counsellor.

Insomnia: natural remedies

Insomnia Natural Remedies

Insomnia: what it is

Not sleeping as much as we would is unfortunately quite a common problem. Insomnia means having trouble falling asleep (initial insomnia), maintaining sleep during the night due for example to too many awakenings (middle insomnia) or early morning awakenings (terminal insomnia). Read more

The first panic attack is hard to forget

Symptoms of a panic attack

Suddenly your heart beats fast, like a drum; it’s difficult to breath and you have air hunger. Your stomach hurts, like if someone punched it. Your head is spinning, the world around you or your body seem suddenly unreal, weird.

You feel an intense fear or anxiety, that is increasingly worsening moment by moment. You are worried about going crazy, losing control or that something really bad could happen, maybe you are even afraid that you could die and you feel the sudden impulse to go out, breath new air.

After about ten minutes, everything goes back to normal. But worries about what has just happened still remain: did I have a heart attack? Am I getting crazy? Will this happen again?

Read more

Attachment: that special bond in our intimate relationships

Attachment: what it is

Attachment belongs to the motivational systems of the human being and it is always active in our lifetime.

It defines how we relate to the people we get in a deep relation with, involving intimate beliefs about our loveliness and other people’s affective availability, and consequently the expectations we have about these relations.

In early years, the first person who allows us to experience attachment for the first time is usually our mother. This relationship will have an intense influence on developing the first beliefs and general rules about interpersonal relations.

Types of attachment

In early years, as in adult life, we can discriminate between secure and not-secure attachments.

Different types of attachment are not be considered as separate categories but as elements of the same continuum, with different shades and characteristics.

Adults with a secure-style tend to develop long-lasting and healthy relationships based on mutual trust; the partner represents a secure base to leave in order to explore the environment and to rely on with hope and trust.

People with an ambivalent-style have usually experienced in infancy an unpredictable mother, who intermittently responded and not responded to the kid emotional needs. Those kids developed a feeling of not constant loveliness. When adults, they will probably experience the same unpredictability in relationships, where sometimes they will feel an intense love from the partner and other times and intense rejection.

On the other hand, adults with an avoidant-style were once kids with distant and dismissing mothers; they learned to inhibit their emotional needs in order to prevent rejection. They will become adults who will not experience an intense emotional involvement in relationships and who will stay at a safety distance from intimacy.

Attachment in lifetime

Attachment styles tend to consolidate during the first years of life.

But recent theories suggest that each life stage can represent for attachment an opportunity to change; furthermore, particular life events or psychotherapy processes can allow a change from a un-secure attachment towards a more secure one.

 

Photo credits @Rachel Kramer

The effects of stress in pregnancy

Pregnancy can be a stress trigger in women, as it is a moment of several physiological, psychological and social changes. Due to the intensity of these changes, it’s normal for women to experiment stress in little doses.

What are the symptoms of stress in pregnancy?

Stress implies an intense physiological activation while trying to adapt to significant environmental events (stressors).

Hans Selye, theorising the General Adaptation Syndrome, recognises three different stages of response to a stressor:

  1. Alarm: we react to stressors through an activation of our sympathetic system, increasing the heart beat, blood pressure, breathing activity, endocrine secretions, perspiration, bodily temperature and muscle tension.
  2. Resistance: our body is coping to face the stressor and the alarm symptoms disappear.
  3. Exhaustion: if stressors persist there can be a burn-out of our defences, with symptoms like fatigue, sleep disorders and decrease of immune system. Stress is not pathological per se, as in small doses it helps us to better concentrate and to have a better performance.

Can stress during pregnancy have effects on the baby born?

Some researches highlighted that an intense and prolonged stress could negatively affect pregnancy, possibly leading to a higher risk of pre-term birth and a lower weight of the baby. Specifically, stress could be not directly responsible for those consequences: it could lead indeed the mother to adopt unhealthy behaviours to better cope with it, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol, …

An intense and prolonged stress could possibly have an impact on the foetus motor skills, with a decreased number of movement assessed with ultrasounds. Moreover, other researches found a higher presence of childhood infective diseases, and consequently a higher use of antibiotics, in babies of mothers stressed during pregnancy.

Some scientists observed that baby girls exposed to high levels of cortisol during the first weeks of gestation had a bigger amygdala’s volume. Amygdala is a part of the brain responsible for emotions processing. This could suggest the chance of a higher risk of developing lifespan affective disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or others. The foetus exposure to high levels of cortisol during gestation could then represent a risk factor for later psychological problems.

Last but not least, intense stress/anxiety in new mothers could interfere in bonding and creating a safe attachment with their babies, making it more difficult to respond to the babies’ emotional needs.

Which tools can be used to reduce stress in pregnancy?

After considering the possible consequences of stress, it is very important to recognise when stress becomes too intense and to try to cope with it at our best.

There are several effective tools than can be used to better cope with stress and anxiety, such as relaxation techniques (progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback or slow breathing technique), meditation (yoga, mindfulness) and psychotherapy. Furthermore, do not underestimate the importance of a constant physical exercise, healthy eating and regular sleep-wake cycles.

Is there a link between stress in pregnancy and the baby’s gender?

A research carried out at Oxford University suggests that the mothers’ work and problems “choose”  the baby born gender.

They found indeed that women stressed during pregnancy are more likely to conceive baby girls. In their sample indeed, women with high levels of cortisol had 75% of chance of not conceiving a baby boy.

These interesting results have to be considered as preliminary, as the high levels of cortisol could suggest not only the presence of stress but also the possible presence of other aspects or life-styles that could affect the baby’s gender.

To read the original article, click here.