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Social Network Helps the Stressed and Depressed Cope

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When you’re anxious, stressed, or depressed, your inner monologue often goes to a dark place. It can start to seem like everything you do is stupid, all obstacles are impossible to overcome, and everyone hates you. A therapist can help you see that these thoughts don't correspond with reality, but not everyone has access to a therapist 24/7. 

Enter Koko, an app that allows you to enlist a team of strangers to be your pseudo-therapists. It’s a social network built on the ideas of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and “reframing,” or rethinking your perspective. 

Creator Rob Morris developed the tool, which launched on Apple's app store this week, while completing his PhD at the MIT Media Lab. In a study of 166 people with symptoms of depression, the crowdsourced technique Koko employs helped people improve their moods and learn cognitive reappraisal, a therapeutic tool that teaches people to tweak the way they're thinking about a problem.

Image Credit: Koko

When you log in to Koko, you can post the negative, depressive, anxious thoughts that often go unshared on general social media channels, where people feel pressured to present themselves in a flattering light. You can post, for instance, “I just ruined an important work presentation, and I feel like an idiot.” The app will prompt you to delve deeper into your feelings about the situation. Then, other users can comment on your post—but they have to say something deeper than “oh, that sucks!” Instead, users are supposed to reframe the negative thought, helping the stressed party find the positive aspect of the situation, no matter how small. They might, for instance, point out that public speaking is a common fear, and it’s important to give yourself credit for trying your best. 

The practice of helping others see their problems in a new light can, in turn, help you learn to rethink your own stressors. And having a community to turn to in tough times can help people feel less alone, allowing them to unload anonymously to a supportive group. It’s not a comprehensive substitute for talking to a mental health professional, but it's a lot more helpful than posting cryptic statuses on Facebook or telling no one at all. 

Koko is available for iOS now. An Android app is forthcoming. 

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Health
8 Potential Signs of a Panic Attack
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It's not just fear or worry. In fact, many panic attacks don’t look like panic at all. Panic attacks come on rapidly, and often at times that don't seem to make sense. The symptoms of panic disorder vary from person to person and even from attack to attack for the same person. The problems listed below are not unique to panic attacks, but if you're experiencing more than one, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor either way.

1. YOU'RE DIZZY.

Doctors sometimes call the autonomic nervous system (ANS) the "automatic nervous system" because it regulates many vital bodily functions like pumping blood all on its own, without our having to think about it. Panic attacks often manifest through the ANS, leading to increased heart rate or decreased blood pressure, which can in turn lead to feeling lightheaded or faint.

2. YOU'RE LOSING YOURSELF.

Feeling detached from yourself is called depersonalization. Feeling detached from the world, or like it's fake or somehow unreal, is called derealization. Both forms of dissociation are unsettling but common signs that a panic attack has begun.

3. YOU'RE QUEASY.

Our digestive system is often the first body part to realize that something is wrong. Panic sends stress hormones and tension to the gut and disrupts digestion, causing nausea, upset stomach, or heartburn.

4. YOU FEEL NUMB OR TINGLY.

Panic attacks can manifest in truly surprising ways, including pins and needles or numbness in a person's hands or face.

5. YOU'RE SWEATY OR SHIVERING.

The symptoms of a panic attack can look a lot like the flu. But if you don't have a fever and no one else has chattering teeth, it might be your ANS in distress.

6. YOU KNOW THE WORST IS COMING.

While it may sound prophetic or at least bizarre, a sense of impending doom is a very common symptom of panic attacks (and several other conditions). 

7. BREATHING IS DIFFICULT.

The ANS strikes again. In addition to the well-known problems of hyperventilation or shortness of breath, panic attacks can also cause dyspnea, in which a person feels like they can't fill their lungs, and feelings of choking or being smothered.

8. YOU'RE AFRAID OF HAVING A PANIC ATTACK. 

Oddly enough, anxiety about anxiety is itself a symptom of anxiety and panic attacks. Fear of losing control or getting upset can cause people to avoid situations that could be triggering, which can in turn limit their lives. 

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Big Questions
What’s the Difference Between Feeling Anxious and Having Anxiety?
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Whether it’s giving a toast at a friend’s wedding or waiting for the results of medical tests, we all get worried, nervous, or stressed out sometimes. But what’s the difference between feeling anxious and having anxiety?

To find out, we talked with Dr. Karen Cassiday, president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. She says the essential feeling is the same—it’s the intensity that matters, and the effect the feeling has on a person’s life.

“Anxiety is a general human experience,” Dr. Cassiday tells Mental Floss. “It’s feeling some mild apprehension and the physical sensations that go with it, but being able to handle it. In an anxiety disorder, that danger signal gets out of control, and you feel like you have to take preventative action in order to protect yourself.”

A doctor may diagnose an anxiety disorder if someone has been feeling anxious and worried for months, and if their symptoms are making it hard to sleep, study, work, or otherwise live full lives.

“Some people, for example, might not take a raise at work because it means they might have to speak to people,” Cassiday says, “or travel, if they’re afraid of flying.”

Anxiety disorders take three forms: generalized anxiety, in which the stress tends to attach itself to anything and everything; social anxiety, which can make it very hard for a person to interact with others; and panic disorder, which manifests in scary panic attacks.

“People with anxiety disorders avoid normal life activities and experiences in order to avoid triggering their anxiety,” Cassiday says. “They aren’t able to choose to do things that people normally enjoy or that make their lives rich. They lose opportunities to connect with relationships or in the community, opportunities to be productive, to volunteer, and to make money or finish school.”

These conditions are strikingly common, affecting as many as 25 percent of the population.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms—well, we’re not going to tell you not to worry, but take some comfort in the fact that these conditions are treatable. Many people find relief with talk therapy and medication.

For folks who aren’t ready to take that step, Cassiday recommends a free app called Self Anxiety Management, and getting into meditation, yoga, and exercise.

“It doesn’t matter which type,” she says. “The best one is the one you’re willing to do.”

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