Practical Issues

Woman gardening, on her hands and knees with a trowel. Lush plants and trees behind her.

Chronically ill people face countless practical issues in their lives. Family and friends also encounter practical concerns, as they wonder how they can help their friends and family.

We reviewed books dealing with both sides of the subject—those needing help and those wanting to help. We hope they help you in whatever situation you find yourself.

Panic Free by Tom Bunn

“In a state of near panic, most people are simply incapable of rational thought. Under stress, imagination takes over, and a situation that is not life-threatening is experienced as life-threatening. That is the first factor that causes panic. The second is the conviction that this situation, truly believed to be life-threatening, cannot be escaped.” (p. 17) Thus begins Panic Free: The 10-Day Program to End Panic, Anxiety, and Claustrophobia  by Tom Bunn; it includes strategies to overcome panic attacks, strategies that work in the real-world.

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: Bunn points out that the symptoms of a panic attack are the same as those of potentially dangerous conditions. He urges people to see their doctors to be sure what they are dealing with.

Solutions offered

Panic Free presents excellent explanations in layman’s language about the brain’s part in panic. It includes specific strategies, with clear step-by-step instructions, to combat panic, anxiety, and claustrophobia.

“Panic Free offers a step-by-step solution for training the brain to stop panic before it starts. In parts 1–3 of the book, Bunn explains the physiological and psychological mechanisms that lead to panic. Then, in part 4, he guides the reader through a ten-day program to establish automatic control of panic, so they can learn to put the frustration, worry, and distress of panic and claustrophobia behind them, both in the air and on the ground.” – Kim Corbin

“When you start to experience panic, you may try to control your reaction consciously. But that may not work, for two reasons,” writes Bunn. “First, your capacity for conscious thought, located in the cortex, breaks down when stress hormones build up. Second, conscious thought may not activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The solution to panic is to train your unconscious procedural memory, located in the subcortex, to calm you automatically, by repeating the exercises in this book.”

Bunn presents a 10-day program to retrain the affected areas of the brain. These are specific strategies, spelled out understandably. His clients, including a seventy-eight year old, have all experienced relief and the freedom to live normal lives.

Summing up

What is the difference between anxiety and panic? Bunn answers that in anxiety, you think something terrible could happen,  but in panic, you are sure it is happening and can’t be escaped.

I advise you to take good notes as you read Panic Free. Bunn cites many facts, and notes will help you keep track of the information. You will more easily remember their functions, how stress and panic affect them, and what you can do to alleviate the problems. Bunn does an excellent job of “de-scienceing” the terms. But keeping track of everything can be difficult.

If you have panic attacks that you have not been able to overcome or if you even just experience stressful situations, I hope that this book helps you.

Book can be purchased at Amazon.

Read more about the book on its website.

Resilience by Linda Graham

Resilience (the book) by Linda Graham teaches you how to bounce back. I can highly recommend this book to you. It is a book to buy, underline, digest, and go back to again and again.

Resilience. “Ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; elasticity; buoyancy.” From that definition, resilience is a much-needed strength for those navigating a life of chronic illness with its unending quality and repeated exacerbations.

Obviously, learning about resilience is of significant interest to me. Having lived with invisible disabilities for over forty years, anything that can help me bounce back quicker from those recurring mild to severe flare-ups would improve quality of life. So I jumped at the chance to review this book. And I’m glad I did.

What it says

In Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, Linda Graham shows us that our brains can be retrained to respond better to difficult situations.

Ms. Graham does an excellent job of simplifying scientific words and ideas into layman’s language. She gives us a treasure trove of practical exercises, backed up by scientific evidence, which aids us in learning to cope with those disruptive times everyone faces. Ms. Graham includes ideas for Barely a Wobble (the mail was late), Glitches and Heartaches, Sorrows and Struggles (minor crises or major catastrophe), Too Much (grief, unending illness, job loss). Be prepared to work, though, to get the most help from Resilience. Sometimes, for us dwellers, a Wobble may seem Too Much! She illustrates how we can regain our footing in each of these situations.

This book is also helpful for people who experienced stressful pasts: abuse, grief, extreme stress. Ms. Graham shows how current responses are linked to earlier memories, but she presents evidence that even those responses can be changed, and healthier habits can be learned.

“Because resilience is truly recoverable, I have designed this toolkit specifically as a brain-training program to help you strengthen your capacities to bounce back,” writes Graham. “You will find more than 130 experiential exercises that will train you — and your brain — to steady or right yourself no matter what is happening around you, to respond skillfully to the most common and the most challenging external stressors, and help you work through any negative internal messages you may be believing about your ability to cope with those stressors.”

My conclusion

When you pull resilience practices together — mindfully practicing gratitude while walking in nature with a friend, calling on your compassionate friend to soothe the distress of any inner part — your resilience becomes almost unshakeable. You will be equipped to cope with anything and everything, and to trust that you can cope.

Buy on Amazon. New World Library has an earlier version: Bouncing Back.

Check out her website.

The Pain Companion by Sarah Anne Shockley

Do you live with chronic pain? Maybe it’s off and on again. Or maybe it’s 24/7. Do you have a plan to deal with your pain?

I just wish I’d had this book forty years ago, at the start of my journey. Most of what Sarah recommends, I had to learn by trial and error. Her ideas do work. She presents non-drug methods to hopefully lessen your pain.

Sarah hypothesizes that you can move beyond your chronic pain. She doesn’t claim your pain will go away; merely, that by employing these methods, you stand a good chance of lessening it.

Sarah herself has lived with debilitating nerve pain since 2007; nothing the medical community, therapy, or medications could do helped. This book results from her own experiences.

The Pain Companion does not advocate stopping medications or medical help. Rather, it offers ideas that supplement medical care. It explores emotional reactions and suggests practical steps to lower the pain level. Sarah keeps each chapter short and ends them with one of her letters to pain, or actions you can take, or a summary.

Part One: Pain Moves In

Each of these four chapters deals with a different aspect of pain. She talks about her journey with pain and about how pain can take over your life. Each chapter ends with a letter to pain.

Part Two: The Emotional Life of Chronic Pain

These nine chapters investigate the emotions connected with pain that doesn’t end. And Sarah includes our reactions to pain and what we can do about them. Each chapter includes steps you can take to deal with these emotions.

Part Three: Meditative Approaches to Physical Pain

In these seventeen chapters, the author gets creative. Even if her ideas may seem strange, read with an open mind; take what works for you; adapt if necessary. She presents exercises to aid in decreasing pain as well as to divert your mind from your pain.

Part Four: When Pain Is the Teacher

One of these seven chapters is provocatively titled, “Enlisting Pain as an Ally.” Check out this book to see how that can even be possible.

A closing caveat

Sarah says, “The Pain Companion is not meant to replace conventional physical remedies, medications, and procedures or the many excellent alternative healing modalities available today,” It is only a companion to guide you on your journey with pain.

The Pain Companion is available at Amazon and other retailers.

Beyond Casseroles by Lisa Copen

Colorful book cover for Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend.

If you have a friend who needs help or encouragement, check this out.

“‘Call me if you need anything. . . .’ Most of us have said this because we didn’t know what else to say. We care, but how do we show it?

Does a casserole really encourage someone? Why don’t people ever call? If you have picked up the phone to call someone who is ill and have had a wave of fear wash over you (what do I say?) This book is for you! Packed with 505 ways to encourage a friend, from what to say, what not to say, things to write in cards or emails, gift ideas, things to bring when visiting in the hospital or someone at home, you will find yourself flipping through it to get an idea for someone you care about who is hurting (and not just those with illness).” (back of book)

You can buy this at Amazon.