Heatwaves, Antidepressants and You

Silouette of and hot sun beating down on them

Many of my clients are already taking antidepressant medication by the time they get to my clinic. The side-effects of these drugs means that if you are taking them, you need to be extra cautious during the current heatwave in the UK.

Antidepressants – some basic facts

Around one in 6 or 7 of the adult population of the UK take antidepressants (that’s 8.3 million according to the NHS – out of an adult population of around 53 million).

Antidepressants are used to treat more than just depression. They are also used to treat various forms of anxiety (including generalised anxiety, social anxiety, PTSD, OCD and phobias), eating disorders such as bulimia, long-term chronic pain (such as MS) and bedwetting.

There are various types of antidepressants, including tricyclic antidepressants, SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors). They all work to alter the brain chemistry, but each in a slightly different way.

The Heatwave

The UK is currently undergoing a heatwave, and is likely to continue to have more frequent heatwaves in the future. The Met Office issued its first ever Red Warning for extreme heat, and the highest ever temperature to have been recorded in the UK was verified in Conningsby (40.3 degrees C / 104.5 degrees F).

Side-effects of Antidepressants

Antidepressants all have side effects that impact different people in different ways. Of particular importance during the current heatwave, some drugs …

  • prevent the body from regulating its temperature properly
  • cause people to sweat excessively
  • stop registering thirst properly
  • make the skin more sensitive to sunlight

There is evidence that suggests a link between a link between some antidepressants and heat-related illnesses.

Anti-psychotic drugs

A much small number of people in the UK are taking anti-psychotic drugs (one in one or two hundred). If you are one of these – the same applies – there is a link with heat-related illnesses

So what?

This blog is basically a warning to the millions of people on antidepressants and anti-psychotics – for whatever reason. You may be more susceptible to heat-related problems – and the drugs you are on may prevent you from realising you have a problem.

Of course – you should keep taking your medication, just be sensible – drink plenty, stay cool … you know the drill. There’s plenty of advice out there on how to deal with the hot weather – just be sensible about it.

For more information

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-62496985

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/talking-therapies-medicine-treatments/medicines-and-psychiatry/antidepressants/uses/

Photo by Andrey Grinkevich on Unsplash

Have you got the balance right?

Person balancing on a log in the woods

Should we focus on the positive emotions and ignore the negative ones, or are the negative emotions actually useful to us? What is the right balance?

Positive emotions

I often find myself telling clients to focus on the positive aspects of their lives. Positive thinking is associated with a better balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, which in turn help to calm anxiety and ease depression. I tell them to:

Notice the positive things in their lives and pay attention to them;
Do something that will help themselves or others – something positive; and
Have positive conversations or interactions with other people.

A lot of my clients lead highly stressful lives and develop large amounts of anxiety. So I ask them, “What has been good about this last week?” I want to encourage them to start noticing the positive things that are happening around them – which is sometimes difficult when your life is choked with anxiety – so it is a skill that they have to relearn.

Toxic Positivity

But there is a problem with something that is known as “toxic positivity”. Toxic positivity is an attitude that some people have that no matter what happens you “should” put a positive spin on it. Smiling through everything with a sort of false grin on your face is actually a very bad idea. The toxic positive attitude can lead to even more stress. Despite this, I still find that some of my clients have the toxic positivity attitude.

RAW emotions

The RAW emotions are Regret, Anger and Worry – and despite the fact that they are all negative, they have their place in our lives.

Regret is all about being sad about an event that didn’t go the way we wanted it to. It is actually important to think about that event, because it might teach us what went wrong and how to avoid doing the same thing again. If I regret arguing with my friend, it might help me avoid arguing with them in the future.
Anger also has its place. When we become angry with something, it makes other people around us feel uncomfortable, and is a message to them that this is something we feel strongly about.
Worry is all about thinking about the things that could go wrong in the future. This is useful, because it allows us to plan for things going wrong so that we can be ready if it actually happens.

The problem with the RAW emotions comes when they get too strong. Regret is only useful so far as we learn lessons from the event. Anger becomes a problem when it is so bad that it breaks up relationships. Once we have prepared for bad things happening in the future – worry is no longer needed. If you have taken your exam, waiting for the result – there is no point in worrying about it as you can’t do anything about it.

Getting the balance right

It’s all about balance – a bit of regret, anger or worry is fine – if it helps you in the future, but regretting something for the rest of your life, catastrophising about everything that could possibly go wrong, and being angry about every little thing that goes wrong – these are the things that cause stress and anxiety.

So spend a few moments thinking about your life. Have you got the balance right? How much of your time do you spend noticing and enjoying the positive things that are going on? How much of your time to you spend having a positive conversation or doing something positive? And how much time do your spend being cross about things, regretting past decisions and worrying about what could go wrong?

Now ask yourself … have I go the balance right?


Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Fly Anxiety

Picture of plane flying into the sunset

Those holidays are on their way! As lockdown ends and travel restrictions are eased, many people will be looking forward to taking their first holiday abroad for a few years. As the sun and the sea and the good food beckon you, some of you may find your self developing anxiety about the flight.

You are not alone. Around one in three people develop some form of anxiety when they fly. Most of them can manage a small bit of anxiety by themselves – either they put up with it or maybe have a drink or two to take the edge off it. But there are a small percentage of people for whom the anxiety is really bad.

Flying is actually one of the safest forms of transport. You are more likely to crash while driving to the airport than crashing in the airplane. But this does not stop a lot of people getting nervous about the flight.

33% to 40%People who have some anxiety about flying
2.5% to 5%People who have a crippling anxiety about flying
1 in 3.37 billionThe chances of actually getting killed in an aircraft crash
Fear of Flying in Numbers

Why do people fear flying, even when it is so safe?

The fear comes from that subconscious part of the brain that controls your fight-flight-or-freeze response. That part of your brain is not particularly clever, and once it gets an idea – it tends to stick with it – even if it is wrong. So it’s no good telling yourself that flying is safe – the fight-flight-or-freeze part of the brain doesn’t listen – it just goes ahead and makes you afraid anyway.

Where does a fear of flying come from?

For every person with Aerophobia, it is different. Some people just overthink it, for some it is the lack of control, and for others it is a bad experience of flying in the past. Where it comes from actually doesn’t matter – it’s what you do about it that counts.

What can you do about a fear of flying?

Some people just put up with it. If the anxiety levels are relatively low, they just sit tight and maybe have a drink or two, or take some over-the-counter medication. If you don’t want to do that, some form of therapy can help.

Many forms of therapy use “graded exposure” to help sort out phobias. This gradually introduces you to the source of your fear in small steps at first, exposing you to small parts of your fear, and then, as the fear reduces, expose you to a bit more. This is more complex with flying – because you cannot “fly a small amount” at the start of the process.

How does Hypnotherapy deal with a fear of flying?

Hypnotherapy uses a very different approach. Hypnotherapy recognises that a fear of flying starts with the fight-flight-or-freeze part of the brain. You are not aware of your response until the fear and anxiety hits you. This fear has somehow been programmed into your brain, and you need to “unprogramme” it. So the hypnotherapy starts with a process of scrambling your response to flying – in order to “unprogramme” it. Hypnotherapy then goes on to “reprogramme” the brain so that it can remain calm before and during the flight.

I like to tackle fear of flying in two sessions. The first is a week or two before the flight (to “unprogramme” the brain). The second is a few days before the flight (to “reprograme” the brain). In between the two sessions (and also for the flight itself if they want), my clients listen to a hypnosis audio that helps embed the changes into the unconscious part of their brain.

Everyone has anxiety sometimes

How often do you feel anxiety ... Once a year, a few times a year, once a month, once a week, 2 or 3 times a week, every day ... and where on this scale would you like to be?

Everyone has anxiety sometimes. The difference is that some people only have fleeting moments of anxiety, maybe once a year … while others have anxiety feelings almost every day. For many people, living with anxiety is so normal to them that they do not realise that it is quite possible to live life with little or no anxiety.

The big question is: Has your stress and anxiety reached a stage where you want to do something about it? Knowing that you could reduce your anxiety levels and get back in control of yourself, would you actually want to do that? What would your life be like when the anxiety is gone.

This is not a simple question to answer, because if you do want to do something about it, you need to put some effort in – and there are no miracle cures – it doesn’t change overnight. I tell my clients, “You have spent years training your brain to be anxious, and now it is very good at it. It will not change overnight – but in a few weeks you can make significant changes, once you have decided to put the effort in.”

Infographic: Majority of UK Adults Have Experienced Mental Health Issues | Statista

So, if you have decided that you want to lead a less anxiety-filled life, what can you do about it? There are basically three main avenues that you can pursue:

Self-help – there are lots of things that you can do to help yourself, including exercise, mindfulness, taking a positive outlook on life and so on.
Medication – if you go to your doctor, you may well be prescribed medication to help reduce the anxiety – although the modern trend seems to be to start with therapy first.
Therapy – there are many types of therapy – hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, emotional freedom technique, cuddle therapy and the like.

I help people who want to reduce their anxiety levels using hypnotherapy. In particular, I concentrate on solution-focused hypnotherapy, which looks at what my clients want to achieve rather than digging up their past. I find that typically within 5 to 10 sessions (see note below), my clients have significantly regained control of themselves and are able to live their lives without the symptoms of the anxiety they used to suffer from.

Contact me if you want a chat about your anxiety, and what your want to do. If you want hypnotherapy sessions, I work face-to-face out of my clinic in Fleet, Hampshire, and I also work with clients over Zoom.


Note

I cannot guarantee success in 5 to 10 sessions – some clients take less than 5 and others take more than 10 – but 5 to 10 is about average.

The OCD Cycle

My Obsession with Phone Cables

In the days when we had phones fixed to walls with those twisty cables joining the handset to the phone, I used to feel quite uncomfortable when the twisty cable got twisted round itself in a bit of a tangle. My wife used to laugh at me for taking the phone of the hook and untwisting the cable. It’s not that it gave me any pleasure having a nice neat phone cable, its just that I felt uncomfortable when it was twisted round itself.

Now, most people I know have some little obsession like that. I had a neighbour who would obsessively wash his car every week – whether or not it needed it. And I know plenty of people who fell they must check their social media accounts as soon as they get up in the morning. You might start to consider, what little obsessions you have.

As I say to my friends … everyone’s a little bit OCD.

These little habits we have are not really OCD – because they don’t have a significant impact on our lives. And we actually can stop doing them, even if we don’t want to. It’s when it gets so bad that it starts to interfere with our lives – that’s when we need to do something about it.

The OCD Cycle

Diagram showing the OCD cycle, described in the following paragraphs

OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The typical pattern for OCD is called the OCD cycle. It often starts off with some sort of trigger – may be a thought, or something that happens around you. That trigger starts off the OCD cycle.

  1. Something triggers an obsessive thought that goes round and round in your head – usually a worry or very negative thought – this is the obsessive part of the cycle.
  2. The negative thinking creates anxiety; which starts to dominate your brain and re-enforces the negative thinking. The anxiety gradually increases.
  3. You feel compelled to take some specific action. If you think about logically, the compulsion will not resolve the situation, but at this point you are not thinking logically – you just want to get rid of the anxiety. This is the compulsive stage.
  4. The compulsion gives you temporary relief. So just for a short time, the anxiety reduces … until the next time.

A Couple of Examples

OCD can grow so as to completely dominate people’s lives. Here are some examples I have met (with names changed of course) …

John’s OCD was triggered when he was due to leave his flat. He worried obsessively about the house being broken into while he was out. This caused him a huge amount of anxiety that took over his logical thinking patterns. He would compulsively go round each room in his flat checking that the windows were closed and locked – shaking each one vigorously, and then when he had finished he would go round and check them all again, just in case he had missed one. This gave him a temporary relief from the anxiety, but when the OCD really kicked in, he would check a third and fourth time, and eventually stopped leaving his flat altogether.

Jane’s OCD was triggered whenever she ate anything. She worried that the food she ate might have sugar in it and she was certain that any amount of sugar was bad for her. This worry caused her massive anxiety whenever she was about to eat any food. She started checking every label of everything before she ate it – obsessively checking the contents for sugar, and refusing to eat anything that had any sugar – even in trace amounts. Reading all the labels gave here temporary relief from anxiety until she had to eat again. She massively restricted what she would eat, and stopped eating out, or eating anything that anyone else offered her unless she could read the ingredients label first.

How Do You Know If You Have OCD?

Many people with OCD do not recognise that they have a problem – it is so much part of their lives that it has become normal. So ask yourself these questions:

Do you often have worried thoughts going round and round in your head – always worrying about the same thing?
Do you have a something you do to prevent the thing that you are worrying about from happening?
Do you feel compelled to do it – with an almost irresistible urge?
Do other people tell you that what you are doing is over the top?
Do you notice other people in the same situation doing something other than what you would do?

What Can You Do About It?

If you have OCD, or recognise OCD traits in one of your family and friends, you can do something about it. Doctors can prescribe medication – usually SSRI drugs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors). These are also prescribed for anxiety and depression. The purpose of the SSRI medication is to break the cycle at the anxiety stage. If you can reduce the anxiety, then you may not feel the compulsion.

The other forms of treatment for OCD are therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will normally gradually increase your tolerance for the trigger, so that the obsessive thoughts become more in control.

Hypnotherapy is all about allowing the unconscious part of our brain (sometimes referred to as the subconscious) to find new patterns of behaviour. When you are in a very relaxed frame of mind in a trance, the unconscious part of your mind can rewire itself, and deal with the build up of stress that has occurred and not yet been dealt with. This can allow the brain to find its own way to break the OCD cycle in a very relaxed and calm way.

Photo by alevision.co on Unsplash

All about anxiety?

This is a brief description of anxiety and why we have it. I do not cover in any detail what to do about it. I will leave that for other posts.

Signs and Symptoms

When we experience anxiety, we usually notice a number of signs and symptoms in our body and mind. People will typically notice one or more of the following:

  • An uncomfortable feeling in the chest or stomach
  • Increased muscle tension
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Increase in adrenaline and cortisol in the body
  • Inability to stop worrying that something bad will happen (overthinking)
  • Inability to stop reminding themselves or re-living something bad that happened in the past
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Increased jumpiness at sudden noises or movements
  • Panic attacks

Anxiety comes in different degrees – from mild anxiety to full blown panic attacks.

Anxiety and Excitement

The feeling of anxiety is similar to the feeling of excitement. This is why some people get excited when they go on a rollercoaster or one of those scary rides, and others get panicky and scared. The body gets a similar reaction in both cases – a burst of adrenaline and cortisol. Some people love it and others hate it.

What anxiety is for

Anxiety is basically nature’s way of getting you to focus on potential danger. It is getting ready for the fight-or-flight-or-freeze response to danger. Imagine our ancestors who lived day-to-day by hunting and gathering. If they noticed signs of a pack of dangerous animals hunting in the area, they would become anxious as they went about their daily activities. The anxiety made them focus more of their attention on the possibility that they might be attacked by predators. They would be more aware of noises and movement that they might catch out of the corner of their eyes.

Their anxiety would increase if the danger was imminent. The brain would focus more on the potential danger than on gathering food. And as the danger lessened, the brain would focus more on gathering food than on the danger. Getting the balance right is key.

How the brain gets it wrong

In modern society, in most (but not all) parts of the world, we do not experience life-threatening dangers on a regular basis. But the part of the brain that deals with anxiety (the amygdala) is very primitive, and does not understand the modern world. It is the same brain structure that our hunter-gatherer ancestors had many years ago, and now has to deal with a society that has moved on. So the amygdala sometimes gets it wrong. It creates anxiety when there is no life-threatening event happening around us.

And what is more, once it learns a pattern, the amygdala tends to stick with it. So if someone starts to get anxious when going into a crowded supermarket, say, the amygdala will attempt to repeat the pattern of anxiety next time they go into a crowded supermarket. This pattern then becomes reinforced. Sometimes we can recognise the triggers that give rise to anxiety, and sometimes we cannot. In some cases anxiety is a constant presence.

Everyone had moments of anxiety at sometime in their lives. Even the most calm people will feel a twinge of anxiety if they see a car speeding towards them as they start to cross the road. This is normal. But some people suffer from a large amount of anxiety all or most of the time. Their amygdala has somehow learned to become over-sensitive, creating anxiety when it’s not needed.

Classification of anxiety

Doctors will classify anxiety disorders, but they are all variations on the same thing. The main classification of anxiety disorders are

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Doing something about it

There are three main approaches to doing something about anxiety. I am not going to cover these in any detail in this post:

  • Self-help – there is a lot of advice available to help you help yourself – including such things as mindfulness, breathing techniques, distraction techniques and so on
  • Therapies – there are many talking and other therapies that can help
  • Medication – prescribed medication can include anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants (which also help with anxiety)

As a hypnotherapist – of course, I would recommend hypnotherapy. But I know that hypnotherapy is not for everyone. You need to make your own decisions about what is best for you. The first step is to decide whether or not your anxiety impacts your life sufficiently for you to want to do something about it. The next thing is to recognise that there are things you can do about it – you are not stuck with it forever. It is at this point that you can start to turn it round.

An Overview of Anxiety, and what you can do about it

Anxiety means different things to different people. To some it is living with a constant state of tension – always jumping at the slightest noise. Some have runaway thoughts in their mind – constant rumination on the bad things that have happened, or that might happen, or that they imagine are happening.

For some, their anxiety manifests itself in physical signs such as IBS, acid reflux, migraines, loss of libido, eczema, excessive sweating, nausea. For others, it appears as behaviour that they don’t seem to be able to control – OCD, nail biting, over-eating, drinking in excess, smoking etc.

Whatever the signs and symptoms that manifest themselves, the sufferer may reach a stage where they decide that they have to do something about it. Everyone has some anxiety in their lives … on occasions. It only becomes a problem when it has a serious negative impact on their lives.

There are three broad ways that you can tackle anxiety: self-help, medication and therapy. Before I look at these in more detail, please note … some of the physical signs and symptoms of anxiety can also be signs or symptoms of physical problems – so make sure you check with your doctor.

Self Help

Most anxiety sufferers start with self-help and there is a wide variety of websites and articles available that will offer suggestions. Some of the key ideas behind these self-help ideas are:

Use mindfulness techniques to help focus the mind on the here-and-now. This prevents the mind wandering into the realm of negative thinking, and trains the anxiety sufferer to be able to have a calm mind rather than ruminating on potential negative outcomes.

Exercise and diet are extremely important factors in overcoming anxiety. Exercise generates the right chemicals in your brain and body to provide that feel-good factor. The right diet can cultivate the right bacteria in your body that is now known to have a significant impact on mood.

Regulating sleep is a key weapon against over-anxiety. The dreaming part of your sleep is the time when your brain sorts out all the unresolved stress. So good sleep hygiene is very important.

Contact with nature is known to help relieve anxiety – so go for a walk in the woods!

Cultivating a positive outlook on life – positive thoughts, activities leading to a positive outcome, positive interaction with other people – all help the right chemicals flow in the brain that reduce anxiety.

Medication

A medical doctor will sometimes prescribe medication for treating anxiety disorders. This will often be a antidepressant such as one of the SSRI group of drugs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). Although these drugs are called antidepressants, they will also help with anxiety.

There is a chemical in the brain that travels between the neurones called serotonin. A steady flow of serotonin in the brain produces a general feeling of well-being. However, shortly after serotonin is released, it is reabsorbed, so the brain needs a constant supply.

SSRI medication slows down the process of reabsorbing serotonin, so it hangs out in your brain for longer. When you are anxious, you generally feel low, so having serotonin hanging round a bit longer can raise your mood and pull you out of the anxiety a little quicker.

Therapy

There are a wide varieties of therapies available to help with anxiety.

Hypnotherapy is an effective way to reduce anxiety. Hypnotherapy focuses on allowing the sub-conscious part of the brain to process unresolved anxiety and stress in the background, without the sufferer really being aware that this is going on. As a hypnotherapist, I strongly support this type of therapy, as I have seen so many of my clients turn their lives around. However, I also recognise that it is not for everybody.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is widely recommended. In particular, the NHS (UK’s National Health Service) can prescribe CBT therapy as there is scientific study to demonstrate its effectiveness. However, it does not work with everyone.

A wide range of other therapies are available, too many to provide a comprehensive list here. As well as talking therapies such as counselling, there are physical therapies such as Havening, Cuddle therapy and EMDR.

Conclusion

So if you are suffering from anxiety to the point where it seriously impacts your life, I would recommend you do something about it. If you have physical symptoms – check with your doctor first in case there is a physical cause. Self-help is a good start, but if you need additional help you need to look to therapy or medication. Of course, I would always recommend hypnotherapy, but I do recognise that this is not for everyone, and other therapies are available.

Press When Full – Eustress

We all carry stress with us – it’s like having a stress bucket that you are slowly filling up. Now wouldn’t it be great to have a button to press when that bucketful of stress gets too full.

Reduced to its simplest form, stress works like this :

  • Small amounts of stress – good;
  • Large amounts of stress – bad.

We all store stress. I describe this to my clients as a “stress bucket”. We all store the stresses of the day in our stress bucket, and then empty the stress bucket either by resolving the issues that cause it, or during sleep where our brains use dreams to resolve the stresses that we carry. So for well-balanced people, it all balances out in the end.

But it’s when our stress bucket gets too full that problems start to arise.

Everyone has a different capacity for stress. Some have a huge stress bucket and have an enormous capacity for dealing with high pressure situations. Others have a very small stress bucket – maybe it’s a stress teacup – and seem to blow up at the tiniest thing.

But however large your capacity for stress – things will go wrong if it gets too full. We start to develop anxiety, panic attacks, over-thinking problems and a whole range of physical symptoms.

Susan Jeffers is famous for saying, “Feel the fear and do it anyway” – the title of her best-selling self help book. When you are afraid to do something, and you do it anyway, you take on a huge amount of stress. Provided you have the capacity for that amount of stress – this is where you find you can achieve a huge amount. Pushing yourself to the limit of your stress is where we maximise our achievement.

Hans Selye coined the term “eustress” (pronounced as if you are saying, “You-Stress”). It is defined as the stress you need to achieve what you want, but is not so much that you are overwhelmed. This is the good stress – it helps us get out of bed in the morning and go out to achieve stuff.

So it is now widely recognised that “some” stress is good. But having too much stress pushes us into anxiety and panic. If you have a very low amount of stress in your life – you are unlikely to achieve very much. Increasing the amount of stress will allow you to achieve more – this is eustress. But when you are too stressed, your performance and achievement drops, you become anxious and you can suffer from panic attacks.

Another way to describe this is the three zones model

Comfort zone – just doing the stuff we have always done before and are comfortable with. This is the ultra low-stress zone.
Stretch zone – doing new stuff that we are slightly uncomfortable with. It stretches us and pushes us outside our comfort zone. This is the eustress zone.
Panic zone – where we push ourselves too far. We are so far out of our comfort zone that we are filled with anxiety and panic.

Everyone has to learn how much stress they are happy with – how much stress they need to put themselves under to achieve what they want to achieve, without reaching that breaking point. Once you know that – spend your life mostly in you comfort zone, some time in your stretch zone, and avoid the panic zone. Find the point of stress that takes you into a stretch and the point at which you hit the panic zone, and you can live a happy and fulfilled life.

References

Review of “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway”
https://www.solutionsforresilience.com/feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway/

Overview of Eustress
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eustress

Photo

Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

Using breathing techniques to calm anxiety

There is growing scientific evidence that breathing techniques can help you get your anxiety under control. These techniques are useful in helping with stress, anxiety and insomnia. In this video, I’m going to talk about how controlled breathing helps … and show you a basic technique that you can do on your own.

Ideas like controlling your breathing, and using your breath to chant … in order to calm yourself down and get into a better state have been around for years … and I used to think that it was all a bit “hippie” and fantastical. But, surprisingly, there is growing scientific evidence to support the theory that it really works.

One idea, that comes from some branches of yoga is alternate nostril breathing – breathing through one nostril for one breath … and the other nostril for the next breath. Or breathing in through one nostril and out through the other.

Chanting “om” is another breathing practice from way back. Taking a deep breath, then slowly chant the word “om” … “Ooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmmm”

“Follow your breath” is a modern mindfulness exercise. First controlling your breathing – breathing slowly in, hold for a moment, breathe out slowly and hold for a moment. Then just focussing your mind on your breath, paying attention to the feel of it as you breathe in and out.

We see this pattern of exercises that focus attention on breath, and consciously controlling and slowing the breath. These exercises come from all sorts of different places. So does it work … and what is actually going on?

We all know that as our emotions change, our body can change with it. You can generally get an idea of someone’s emotions just by looking at them – are they smiling, frowning, is there tension in the shoulders … or have they dropped down into a relaxed position.

When we are stressed or anxious about something, our sympathetic nervous system comes into play. The brain sends signals to the body to along the sympathetic nervous system to tell it to get ready to deal with something dangerous. Our heart rate increases, our breathing rate increases, our muscles tense and so on. And for this reason, the sympathetic nervous system is sometimes known as the “fight-or-flight nervous system”.

Conversely, when we are relaxed, content and happy. When we are doing something enjoyable like eating or having sex, the brain sends signals to our body along the parasympathetic nervous system. So the parasympathetic nervous system is sometimes colloquially known as the “feed-and-breed nervous system.”

It is less well known that these nervous systems work the other way round too. If our body changes, it engages one of these nervous systems, and our emotions can change as a response. Now, not many people are able to consciously slow their own heart rate down, but we can consciously change our breathing patterns. When you focus attention on your breathing so as to make it slower and more regular, it mimics the pattern you get when you’re relaxed. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your emotions.

There have been a number of scientific studies to demonstrate that this works. When you focus on slowing down the breathing, the activity in your amygdala – which is the part of the brain dealing with anxiety – reduces. And the activity in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain dealing with rational thinking and executive function – increases. And in this way, you can become calmer and less stressed.

So how do you apply this controlled breathing technique – what do you actually do?

There may be certain highly stressful situations where you can use a controlled breathing technique to calm you down – just before something important, like an exam or interview. If you have difficult falling asleep – then use it when you are lying in bed ready to go to sleep.

You can also use it as a regular everyday practice to help reduce the general stresses and anxiety of the day. This is sometimes called the “365 technique”. Do it every day – 365 days a year.
3 – the number of sessions you do it every day
6 – roughly the number of breaths you take in a minute
5 – the number of minutes you do it at each session

So, 5 minutes sessions, 3 times a day, 365 days a year. In each session, breath roughly 6 times a minute – that’s about 10 seconds a breathe – breath in for the count of 4 or 5, breath out for the count of 5 or 6. Some people say it is better to have a longer out-breathe than in-breathe. That’s the 365 technique.

So it could go something like this
……

In … 2 … 3 … 4
Out… 2 … 3 … 4 … 5 … 6
In … 2 … 3 … 4
Out… 2 … 3 … 4 … 5 … 6
In … 2 … 3 … 4
and so on for about 5 minutes.

Have a go, you never know, it might work for you.

My name is Tim Maude. I help people who are only just coping. I use hypnotherapy to help get rid of the negative effects of stress and anxiety.

References

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/proper-breathing-brings-better-health/

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/parasympathetic-nervous-system

Acknowledgements

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

What is the difference between anxiety and stress?

I am sometimes asked, “What is the difference between anxiety and stress?” If you look up stress and anxiety on the NHS website, you will find that they are lumped together. The only difference is that there are some specific disorders that the NHS label as “anxiety” – Generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder etc.

I tend to treat it as a scale – mild stress at one end of the scale, through to major anxiety at the other.

Everyone has a little bit of stress in their lives – even the most laid back, relaxed people feel a tiny bit of stress when their bladder is full and they need to go to relieve themselves. It’s part of life and motivates us to do something towards solving a problem.

When we have a lot on, or we have to get somewhere on time, our stress levels increase. The stress is our bodies reaction to a potential problem. If it didn’t really matter whether all our jobs got done or not, or if there were no consequences if we didn’t get to that meeting on time, then we wouldn’t get stressed about it – but it does matter – so we get stressed.

The worse the consequences are, the more stressed we get. When I was at school, I used to get really stressed about French lessons, because I wasn’t any good at it and the French teacher would get really angry and hand out severe punishments for getting things wrong.

Stress is the feeling we all get that motivates us to avoid something bad happening.
Stress has both physical and mental symptoms. Blood pressure goes up. Our heart rate rises. Muscles tense. It becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate on anything except the bad consequences that we want to avoid. Now a small to moderate amount of stress is fine – it motivates us to avoid bad things happening to us. But it can get out of hand – and we usually call that anxiety.

We can unwittingly train ourselves into anxiety. If we constantly think about bad things that can happen – we can overthink things, we imagine what other people think about us, we can get small concerns out of all proportion – If we constantly think about bad stuff that can happen, our moderate amount of stress can become full-blown anxiety and this leads to all sorts of problems.

Physically, we can get headaches and dizziness; constant muscle tension can lead to tiredness and muscle pain; we can get digestive problems like reflux, IBS, burping, even vomiting; hearts can race and we can get palpitations; some people can get skin complaints or sexual problems.

A common mental problem is overthinking, where we go over and over bad things in our head. Concentration can become difficult as a result, and sometimes it can be difficult to make decisions. Constant worrying can lead to being forgetful and irritable.

Anxiety can effect sleep patterns, encourage you to eat too much, or too little, and you can end up drinking or smoking a lot more than you usually do, as you loose a little bit of self-control.

Other symptoms and side-effects are phobias, OCD, panic attacks, avoidance of social situations and so on.

So everyone has a bit of stress in their lives. Most people manage their lives quite well with a low level of stress. But if you are only just coping with the amount of stress and anxiety you are suffering from, then remember that you can do something about it. There is a solution – self-help, therapy or medication – they all have their place, but you need to take the first step and decide you want to do something about it.

Hashtags

#Stress #Anxiety #Hypnotherapy

See Also

NHS on Stress and Anxiety

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress/

Wikipedia on Psychological Stress

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_stress

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash