Therapy

cup of coffee having Therapy stress depression IBS anxiety at Neil Cox Hypnotherapy Bude Cornwall

Therapy.

There’s often a ‘buzz’ among people who hear about ‘therapy’. For most of us, seeking therapy means there’s something wrong with us or we are not in the right state of mind. Unfortunately, this is not how therapy is supposed to be.

In fact, many people who seek therapy include successful individuals, including celebrities, public officials and leaders. Therapy is not a hocus pocus, mental brainwashing or head-shrinking as what others may think. It is a scientifically proven technique that can aid in many areas of our life. Particularly those that pharmaceutical companies cannot address.

So whether you are dealing with a difficult time in your life, like a major transition. Or you simply want to be more in control of it and get better at handling stress. Or managing your personal or social relationships, therapy is going to be a big help. And here’s how.

Therapy

Improving relationships.

For most people, relationships are a main thing. We give importance to our social relationships, particularly the more personal ones like our family, friendships and marriage. But in every type of relationship, there is always a rough spot. As they say, there’s no ‘perfect relationship’. Even those who have been together for many, many years now also go through ups and downs as well. Therapists are expert relaters, and are highly skilled at treating all varieties of relational problems. Whether it’s about marriage, parenting, conflicts between siblings, work relationships or friendships – they got you covered. While medication can treat symptoms of depression which developed from unhealthy relationships, it doesn’t address the root cause. Medications can’t teach you how to be in a relationship. Therapy can.

Establishing relationships.

Just because you are single, living alone, or lack friends doesn’t mean you can no longer benefit from therapy. While social media enhances communication and connection, they don’t teach us or prepare us towards healthy relationships. There are couples who are very expressive about their feelings over the phone or through chats, but find it hard to say what they feel in person. Therapy allows for an intimacy workout that enhances connection and communication. It helps us express our emotions better, in a way that our partners (or other people) would understand.

Increasing motivation and career satisfaction.

Each year, a lot of people lose their job and can’t find another. Some do find a job but in the long run, become unhappy of it. Some do struggle with the demoralising issue of job loss and stressful pressure of job hunting. In times like this, therapy can help evaluate what exactly are the things people are concerned about in their careers. At the same time, therapy is a great venue to learn how to motivate yourself more to do better at work even if it’s not really in line with your passion, by helping you figure out what you like most of your job (like friendships, considerate bosses, etc.).

Managing emotions.

Being able to manage your emotions is one of the best skills that can help you achieve your goals and succeed in life. Furthermore, unexpressed emotions can backfire, as it makes you hold grudges, refuse help and support, and deal with your problems alone. Therapy can help you decipher emotions and deal with deeper issues. Emotional management makes it possible for you to reach properly on most types of situations, even those that are really nerve-whacking. Therapists are skilled at helping people become more in control of their emotions.

Developing self-compassion.

Most of the time, we get too concerned about other people that we almost forget to look after ourselves. Seeking therapy is a great way to enhance the quality of your life, from your relationship to your career, and everything in between. It is a safe place to explore and get to know yourself better. If you are hindered by old habits, relationship conflicts or past hurts that weigh you down, getting help from a professional counsellor is going to be a big help. Or if you are struggling with making decisions, identifying what you really want in life or any other things that bother you, it’s a great place to be.

Therapy is not just about treating something wrong about a person mentally or emotionally. More often than not, it is also about making something better. Whether you are going through a difficult time in your life right now, or you simply want to improve an area of your life, or be more connected to your inner self, therapy is really worth a try.

Feel tired and overworked?

Overworked?

You have probably felt it many times – the feeling that you have so many things to do but very little time to do them. And it feels bad, utterly tiring and demotivating. It feels like you have been doing a lot but accomplishing very little.

Overextending at work or any other area of your life can backfire and cause unhappiness. You may be wondering why you’ve come to hate the job you once loved and dreamed of, or take for granted the person you loved the most. If things are going out of balance, don’t panic. In most cases, you only need to take a pause to unwind, recharge and regain your strength, and get back on track again.

But how do you know that you already need a pause?

Business stress probably felt it many times

The following are the warning signs that you definitely need a break. And what you can do about it.

You complain that there’s only 24 hours in a day.

You know you can never change this fact but you keep on complaining and wishing it’s not true. If you are running around like a headless chicken, you are overextended. Being a superhuman can’t help you accomplish more things. When you put too much on your plate, you increase the chance of having fewer goals to accomplish, which simply makes you more frustrated and fed up. Be realistic with your daily targets, as well as your long-term goals. Don’t try to juggle things all at the same time. When making a to-do list, try prioritising the most important ones so even if you weren’t able to finish the rest, you can still feel a sense of accomplishment.

You used to love your job. Now, you loathe it.

Do you remember your first weeks, months and years in your job? There was probably an excitement, joy and enthusiasm. You were probably at your most productive self. But then things start changing. You get burnt out easily. You accomplish less despite your efforts. You are not happy with your performance at work. And you always wish it’s already weekend. If this sounds familiar to you, it is a sign that you are overworked and definitely need a break – a good one. If it’s possible, go ask for some holiday time off. A few days of out-of-work experience can do wonders for your productivity and performance at work. During your rest days, try to make the most out of them. Avoid checking work emails, talking about work issues, and anything else that has to do with work. Make these days what they are intended for – rest.

You don’t have a social life.

If you’re always missing your children’s events, always have an excuse for your friends’ invites and your family and colleagues have no idea where you are – your need for a break is long overdue. Lack of social life is one of the top five regrets of the dying. So if you don’t want this to happen to you, take a pause from your busy life and spend more quality time with your loved ones. They can add more joy to your life and make work easier and the challenges more bearable. You need that sense of belongingness. You need to feel that there are people behind you – praying and wishing that you are doing well.

You haven’t seen a gym in months.

You used to go to the gym several days a week – sweating out all the tension, stress and worries. Now, you hardly think of working out. You don’t even consider exercising at home, or taking a morning jog or walk. You think 30 minutes of physical activity could be 30 minutes of working time so you just tell yourself “I’ll just work out next week”, but it never really happens. Fitness and health should be at the top of your priorities. You can’t be productive at work and perform at your best when you are physically unfit. You really don’t have to hit the gym to stay physically active. Jogging in place for several minutes, taking the stairs instead of the lift, riding a bike instead of a car on your way to work (or parking a few meters away from your workplace), dancing, or downloading some home workout videos to follow are simple ways to stay physically active without putting much time or effort.

You’re S-T-R-E-S-S-E-D.

Does stress never leave you? Are you always feeling tired and lacking in energy? Are you experiencing sleepless nights? Do you drink more coffee than you used to? Do you suffer from unexplained pain such as low back pain, and fatigue? Chances are – you are stressed. Stress can be your worst enemy. It is a condition that when not taken seriously, can lead to a poor health outcome. Chronic stress has been widely linked to a host of health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Feeling stressed is a big warning sign that you need a break. It means you need to act on it now before something else – an irreversible damage – comes around.

You fear change.

Do you hate change? They say nothing is constant in this world but change. However, if you are continually trying to be in charge of everything without allowing room for change, you could be missing a lot of opportunities that could make you extra happier. If there’s an opportunity you are thinking about, don’t hesitate to welcome it. Life really is short. Pause and take a break. This helps you find clarity and make better choices.

It’s time for a break if you can check off one of these items. But taking a pause doesn’t mean quitting your job or pushing away things or people that stress you out. It doesn’t always call for a long holiday. You simply have to slow down. How? The key is to simply know what works best for you. If you can’t get a week-long rest period, try to think of a daily routine that allows yourself to just “be”. At this moment, avoid overthinking about anything, and remember you are just there, being.

Consider strolling in the park, playing with your pet, or spending time alone in a nice place (your garden) and letting nature comfort your troubled mind as you breathe in and out. Dedicate time to do this activity, even if it’s just five minutes a day. And as you do it, make sure your phone or computer is not with you. You want to disconnect, at least for the time being. Consider taking a pause. You’ll realise that life gets so much better when you are able to take a pause and slow down.

Depression and thinking styles

Photo of bearded man sat on a leather sofa with hand on head suffering from anxiety depression stress panic attack

Depression:

  • Is not an inevitable consequence of unpleasant events
  • Cannot be explained as a disease
  • Is not caused by hormones, or brain chemicals

Although one or more of these may figure in depression, depression is much more than any one of them alone. In this blog entry, we are going to look at the psychological component of depression – the way you think, and how the study of this has led to some of the most effective treatment for depression.

Shared thinking styles for depression

Depressed people everywhere think in remarkably similar ways. Understanding what these thinking styles are and why they form a pattern, is a major key to beating depression for good.

Depression, to be ongoing, has to be maintained. Otherwise, depression will simply evaporate over time. This maintenance is performed by thinking styles that encourage any introspection to be emotionally arousing.

What’s the difference between depression and prolonged sadness? (Not a chemical imbalance!)

It’s natural to feel sad for a while when something sad happens. When this happens, we may find our energy levels drop and we become more insular to allow us to adjust to our changed life. This is what grief is for.

The chemical imbalance often cited as the cause of depression is just as often present in someone who is grieving.

The key differences between grieving and depression can be said to be:

  • The person not suffering from depression can “see beyond” the sadness. Even if they haven’t formed the thought, unconsciously they know that the sadness will lift. Depression often makes the sufferer think that ‘things will always be this way’.
  • The sadness, or depression, will only affect specific things, even if it is “always there” for some time. Although the mood may be constant, it doesn’t “colour” everything.

So it’s not the event itself that is sad, not life in general. And even if this thought or feeling arises, it is only temporary.

Depressive thinking leads to depression leads to depressive thinking leads to…

As I explain these thinking styles you will see how each helps to maintain depression, by altering how we perceive reality.

It’s these thinking styles that make it so hard to see an end to the depression, as they limit our possibilities of thought. Once these patterns take hold, the emotional arousal they cause begins to affect us physically.

If you are thinking now “Yes, but you don’t know my life” – remember: there is nothing so awful that you can imagine that someone somewhere hasn’t survived without becoming depressed.

It’s not your fault if you are depressed, but there are concrete, effective things you can do about it.

One of the things depression needs in order to survive is  “negative spin”…

How Depression Causes Negative ‘Spin’

“Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.” William Shakespeare

To understand clinical depression, it is essential to understand that people don’t reflect reality (events, other people’s comments etc.) so much as interpret it.

The same event can have completely different meanings to different people, even if their circumstances are the same.

Depression is partly maintained by how we interpret reality. The ‘spin’ we put on things. Knowledge about how this happens can turn lives around.

The cycle of depression gives rise to too many negative, emotionally arousing introspections which leads to over-dreaming, which leads to exhaustion and depression.

So, to recap, events don’t have any intrinsic ‘meaning’ until human beings add it.

Meaning

Say a tree falls over in the forest, and no-one is there. It has no meaning whatsoever. Then along comes a walker, looks at the tree and thinks, “What a shame, such a beautiful old tree blown down in a moment.” Meaning=sad!

At the same time a nearby householder looks out of his window and thinks, “What a piece of luck! That tree has blown down and the view is absolutely fantastic now.” Meaning=happy!

A local beetle considers it great luck because he and his family now have somewhere to live for the next 29 generations! Meaning=happy!

So the meaning you attach to things is extremely important in determining how you feel.

Depression can turn good things into bad by applying a meaning that harms us. For example, if I phone someone and leave a message and they don’t get back to me I can tell myself this may be because:

  1. ‘Maybe they are away’
  2. ‘Perhaps they haven’t picked up their messages’
  3. ‘Their machine isn’t working or they phoned back when I was out’
  4. Or: ‘They didn’t phone back because they don’t want to talk to me because they don’t like me!’

Any of these reasons could be true, but depression will tend to make you choose 4), or a similarly depressing explanation.

How to depress yourself

Depressed people often doubt themselves in all kinds of ways, but seldom in their judgment about their own interpretations of things.

A common trait displayed by those suffering from clinical depression is not being able to tolerate uncertainty – having to assign a meaning quickly to everything that happens. The depression will take care of “filling in the gaps” in an explanation of events.

High levels of emotional arousal will tend to make you assign meaning to things very quickly, as these levels of arousal are usually reserved for life-threatening situations.

Relax a little, relax a lot!

Tolerating uncertainty is a prime emotional skill.

Established negative thinking patterns can mean that we lose this skill.

One way to break out of the arousal-meaning loop is to relax your body and mind, and do it on a regular basis, at least while first dealing with depression.

But the vital point here is that tolerating uncertainty is a skill, and as such, toleration can be learned.

Learning how to tolerate uncertainty – generating multiple explanations

When children are taught in schools about generating multiple possible meanings for why things happened (some of which don’t reflect badly on them) then they are less likely to depress as adults.

They literally become more flexible in their thinking. This early teaching of emotional skills has been termed ‘inoculation for depression’.

The more possible explanations you can generate, and the more effort you put into doing that, the harder it will be to assign an immediate and definite meaning to an event, and the less likely you are to experience a negative emotional reaction.

Depression literally distorts our perception so that ‘good becomes bad and bad becomes disaster.’ It’s clear that if we only have limited interpretations for why things happen, then change can seem difficult.

Depression acts like a vicious circle because the more depressed we feel the more likely we are to frame events/ourselves/others in a negative light. The more we frame things negatively the more depressed we will feel.

However, this doesn’t mean that the answer is only ‘positive thinking’! We need to look at ways at being more realistic, while at the same time breaking the vicious circle…

Depression and Your Sense of Control

Before moving on to how to break the cycle of depression, a little more on how your sense of control affects depression.

It is common for depressed people to feel helpless, with little control over things. Alternatively, feeling that everything relies on them.

This extreme perception of control, either too much or too little, helps maintain depression in the following way.

  • Too little control – the person stops doing things that could improve their situation, perhaps ceasing activities they used to enjoy.
  • Too much control – person tried to control things they can’t and may become angry or anxious when they realize things aren’t happening the way they wanted. They may also take responsibility for things outside their control. This adds to the emotional arousal that maintains depression.

‘Learned helplessness’, or feeling trapped

A common feeling that accompanies depression is that of being trapped in an intolerable situation. The depressed person can often see two alternatives, neither of which is possible, and without change the existing situation is too painful.

Depression causes this illusion

All too often, this feeling leads to suicide as the depressed person feels that their situation is insoluble by themselves or others.

In almost every situation, there is (at least one) acceptable alternative. Sadly, depression rarely lets people see it. This is why help from a correctly trained professional can be invaluable. They will be aware of the common thought patterns you may be experiencing, and have experience in helping you break out of them.

A nasty Rat Experiment

Rats, like people, can be ‘trained’ to feel and behave helplessly.

In one famous experiment, rats were held down in ice-cold water until they stopped struggling. This taught them, through experience, that effort was futile and that nothing they did made any difference.

Then, two groups of rats, the second being a group which had not undergone this experience, were left in cold water without being held.

The group which had previously been held began to drown, on average, much, much sooner than the second group of rats that had not been held down.

Some of the second group, which had not been held immobile, actually managed to escape!

Our depressive rats were behaving as if they were still helpless even when they were not.

This experiment has been repeated in many ways, some on humans.

THROUGH experience, you can think, feel and behave as if you are helpless in a situation, when in fact you are not. The very nature of this often means that you cannot find your own way out, and need outside help to do so.

Learned helplessness in everyday life

So how does this happen in everyday life? Well, perhaps after several bad relationships, you may get the feeling that ‘no matter what I do I’ll never be in the right relationship’.

Or someone whose parents divorce may develop the feeling that ‘I’ll always lose any people I become attached to!’ Being abused by a partner may lead you to imagine that you have no control in relationships generally.

Learned helplessness is exactly that – learned. Life experiences can cause ‘learned helplessness’ – by reducing your feeling of control as well as your available options in a situation, it can further add to the depression.

But because it is learned, this means we can learn to challenge it. New skills can break this pattern.

We can then increase our number of total available responses in a given situation, and so increase our feeling of control.

Control: if not on the outside, then on the inside

Remarkably, people can have very little external control but not become depressed because they feel they have some kind of internal control.

Some research done on survivors of imprisonment, and torture, in South American regimes has shown some incredible results.

It would be fair to say that these people had almost no control over their situation. Yet, in psychological terms, startling differences were found in the effects on the survivors.

The ones who were least traumatized and who had not become depressed during or after their captivity were the ones who had maintained a feeling of control even during torture.

When questioned they reported that they did this, for example, by screaming after counting to ten in their head before doing so. Or that they knew they would give information but would only give it at a certain time of day. They had little outside control but still maintained an internal sense of control.

It is this sense of control, which is so important. We may find ourselves in a situation where we have little control – such as waiting for the result of a medical examination, or waiting to learn whether someone still wants to be our lover. What can we do?

The only control we have during these situations has to be internal. By exercising control over different aspects, such as how or when we will react, we can retain a sense of control. (And control is a constant.)

We can learn to tolerate uncertainty and ‘be cool’ without knowing the result of something for a while, in the meantime managing our emotional response.

The illusion of too much control

The other end of the spectrum from ‘Learned Helplessness’ is taking responsibility for things over which you actually have very little, or no control.

This, as you can well imagine, can lead to major problems!

On being a “Rain God”

Take the real-life example of a depressed woman who felt guilty over a picnic that she had organized being ruined by unexpected rain.

Neil Cox Hypnotherapy Bude

The depressed woman somehow blamed herself for the fact that the picnic had been rained out, despite the following facts:

  • The forecast had said it would be fine.
  • Her friends had still appeared to have fun under a big tent in the field.

All this was filtered out by the depressive thinking styles she engaged in. She continued to see this event as evidence that she was a ‘walking disaster area’.

Depression can make us ignore evidence which ‘doesn’t fit’ with the depressive focus of mind.

All things to all people

Trying to be ‘all things to all people’ is a non-workable strategy.

Nobody can exert so much control so that everyone likes them. We need to be aware of how much or little control we assume we have over different areas of our lives.

It’s less depressive (and more realistic) to realise that in some situations you do have control but only up to a point.

When a depressed person begins to generate alternative reasons for why things happen (or at least alternative possibilities) then the depression begins to lift. Depression requires a narrow, set focus to maintain itself, and these alternative reasons make that diminish.

‘All or Nothing’, or ‘Black and White’ Thinking and Depression

Most life events are not ‘completely disastrous’ or ‘absolutely wonderful’ but contain elements of both good and bad.

Depression makes people think in absolutes.

‘All or Nothing’, or ‘Black and White’ thinking is the thought pattern that allows us to generate a “flight or fight” response to danger.

It is still needed in the world today, but not many times a day in relation to non-life-threatening stress, as so often happens with depression.

Because ‘All or Nothing’ thinking is emotionally arousing, it causes over-dreaming and maintains depression.

black and white thinking depression

All or Nothing thinking and depression

‘All or Nothing’ thinking is found in depressed people all over the World. This is because it is part of the most primitive of human responses which we know as The Fight or Flight Response.

When faced with a life-threatening situation, we must make a snap decision and act on it. There is no time for ‘maybe this’, or ‘maybe that’.

Either decision will create an emotional reaction to allow us to fight or flee to the maximum of our ability.

The importance of tolerating uncertainty when looking to overcome depression is the complete opposite of ‘All or Nothing’ thinking.

In a survival situation, there is no room for uncertainty, we simply have to decide to either run away or fight. Uncertainty causes hesitation, which would most probably increase our chances of being killed – and we are not going to hang around to find that out!

But these responses evolved for times that were much more physically threatening. These days they are rarely required, at least not to that extent and not most of the time.

Seeing shades of grey – travelling the ‘Grey Road’

Since ‘All or Nothing’ (‘Black or White’) thinking is another thinking style strongly linked with depression, learning not to always think in ‘black or white’ terms but to see shades of grey is immensely helpful in tackling depression. It greatly reduces, or stops the emotionally arousing thoughts that are necessary to maintain the depressed state.

The more we polarise our thinking the more likely we are to become depressed.  Because extreme either/or thinking stimulates the emotions much more.

Statements like “I’m a terrible person!” or “She’s perfect; she’s a saint!” or “I’m just a failure!” over-simplify life and cause massive emotional swings.

Few marriages, holidays or jobs were ‘complete disasters’ but had different elements within them.

From this, you would expect that people prone to depression also get much ‘higher’ when positively excited. And indeed this is true; research shows that people who suffer from depression often need less stimulation to get really ‘up’.

For a healthy emotional life, it’s not more extreme happiness we need, but balanced emotions.

More Calmness = Less Depression

It’s clear that people who experience extreme emotions (‘positive’ as well as ‘negative’) are much more prone to depression.

So, if you are ‘addicted’ to getting high levels of emotional stimulation from experiences, conversations, relationships and so on, it could be time you started doing with less.

For less depression, it’s not more happiness we need, it’s more calmness.

Spotting warning words

As an ongoing way of perceiving reality, ‘Black or White’ / ‘All or Nothing’ thinking is emotionally and physically damaging.

If you spot yourself using this style, challenge yourself to think differently. There are particular words that people often use when thinking in this way.

You can learn to spot them.

Always

NeverPerfect

Impossible

Awful

Terrible

RuinedDisastrous

Furious

Of course, thinking and talking in an ‘All or Nothing’ / ‘Black or White’ way is much more emotionally exciting, and so may be difficult to give up. However, we all talk like this at times, particularly when excited or angry.

To look at how we can begin to incorporate the “grey”, take for example a child failing a maths exam.

They could say to themselves: ‘I’m just plain stupid!’ or they could say: ‘ I’m bad at maths but I’m pretty good at English’ (or sport, art, making people laugh or whatever it happens to be).

The first statement is Black or White while the second focuses on lots of different elements and is not indicative of depressive thinking.  The first statement, when spoken to themselves and others will strengthen this belief i.e. that they are stupid and bad at maths, rather than just having made a mistake during one exam.

We can all make inner statements about ourselves but that doesn’t make them true. Consider the following questions:

  • Can I be basically an intelligent person and still do something stupid?
  • Can I love my children and still get angry with them sometimes?
  • Can my partner love me but sometimes be insensitive?
  • Can one part of my life be difficult and other parts be easier and more enjoyable?
  • Can a part of my life be difficult now but in the future get easier?
  • Can some parts of an experience (such as a social engagement or holiday) be awful and other parts of it be OK?
  • Can I be basically an intelligent person and still do something stupid?
  • Can I love my children and still get angry with them sometimes?
  • Can my partner love me but sometimes be insensitive?
  • Can one part of my life be difficult and other parts be easier and more enjoyable?
  • Can a part of my life be difficult now but in the future get easier?

Becoming less rigid in our thinking allows us to avoid using ‘Black or White’ or ‘All or Nothing’ statements to depress ourselves without examining their validity. Using this ‘cognitive’ technique will literally allow you to spot what you are doing and therefore challenge its accuracy.

Remember: A major reason people depress is because of the way they perceive reality.

Once this begins to broaden, depression has little to cling on to and will start to lift. Depression often centres around one recurring belief, such as “I’m just not the sort of person other people like.”

So, if you can deliberately challenge this and come up with alternative evidence, you can begin to start to break down the depression.

An important note: trauma (PTSD) and depression

People who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may find that they become depressed. The symptoms of PTSD are intrusive. Terrifying ‘flashbacks’ to the original trauma, which keep the brain in a high state of emotional arousal.

In this state, it is extremely difficult to think in a balanced way. Because as we have already seen, when emotionally aroused, the brain’s default mode of thinking is ‘all or nothing’. In addition, the thought that life will always be as difficult as it is when experiencing traumatic flashbacks is a depressing one in itself.

Happily, we can now stop flashbacks in a single session using the ‘rewind’ technique. Often, removal of PTSD in depressed people is enough in itself to lift their depression.