to one specialist help for anxiety and depression in Bristol
and depression are subjects which deserve to be dealt
with thoroughly and for this reason I have created a
sibling website to offer resources and information
specifically aimed to meet this need. For more
detailed information specifically about Anxiety and
Depression, I invite you to visit my sister website at
. At present some of the sections on the sister
site mirror the information contained here, but over
time the new website will be continually updated with
new articles and information. For now the new website
contains enough information to make a visit
worthwhile, so please do take a look if you have time.
In the meantime the following will give a nice
overview of some of the considerations one might make
when approaching a solution to anxiety and depression.
This is an
article I originally wrote for the website www.nomorepanic.co.uk.
This site is a wonderful resource for anybody looking
for help with panic, depression or anxiety. I include this
article on my website as a number of people have commented
that they found it extremely helpful, and it offers some
understanding as to how and why hypnotherapy can be a very
valuable tool in dealing with these states. Even if you are
not based in Bristol or Bath, or are not considering
hypnotherapy as a form of treatment, I hope you will still
find this article to be useful to you.
I'd like to
share with you a little of my knowledge and experience in the
hope that you might take something from it that you can use
Anxiety and depression is fighting talk. There's no doubt
about it. Being chronically anxious or depressed is about the
most miserable thing a person can encounter in a lifetime, and
to a greater or lesser degree, most people will have a brush
with these states at some point during their lives.
Mercifully, for most, it's a short lived affair, but for
others the battle deepens….weeks turn into months and months
into years. It can seem as though there is no way out. It can
also seem like you're the only one who ever felt "like
this"….but rest assured, you're far from being the
first, or the last to have these feelings. It's interesting to
me how many people have such similar symptoms even when those
symptoms seem to be so personal and unique.
Allow me to offer a new perspective. First of all, let's just
challenge the assumption that you are a "depressed"
or "anxious" person (By nature). A much more
accurate and hope inspiring description is that you are a
"normal" person who is suffering with an
inappropriate depressed or anxious response, either to life in
general or to a given situation. Depression and anxiety may be
viewed as a learned behaviour (albeit an unconscious learned
behaviour) rather than an affliction which is imposed upon us
from the outside-in. There is an important distinction to be
the belief that you are a "depressive type" is
immediately disempowering to you. It implies that you accept
your role as a depressed or anxious person, and it also
implies that depression or anxiety is a permanent state …a
part of your nature. Though still a contentious subject,
modern research (See Michael Yapko/ Joe Griffin), strongly
suggests that the idea that depression is purely genetic is
flawed. The picture is actually a lot more complicated than
that. Genetics may have a small part to play but no
"anxiety/depression gene" has been identified, and
the research suggests that such a gene will not be found. If
this is so then we must search for other reasons. We don't
have to look too far. Where anxiety and depression runs in
families, it's easy to recognise that it will be difficult for
children, or even husbands and wives, to emerge from such
families with good coping skills and a strong sense of
we learn a great deal about our environment from those around
us, and if we are around people who continually see the worst
in things, then it will be very difficult for us to find a
positive focus in our own lives. If we are continually told
that "it's a bad world", it will be difficult for us
to believe any differently. Repetition of any idea be it good
or bad will create a programme in the mind which will colour
all of our experience. The idea that depression or anxiety is
handed down purely genetically largely overlooks this factor.
In the same way, modern medicine also offers us a view of
depression or anxiety as a dysfunction of brain chemistry.
Whilst it is
without question that anxiety and depression will produce very
powerful changes in brain chemistry, what is not commonly
recognised is that these changes are at least in part the
RESULT and not entirely the CAUSE of depression or anxiety.
Understanding this means that we have a little bit of leverage
in approaching a solution to anxiety and depression, because
it means that we are not at the mercy of our chemistry. In
fact, we can go further and recognise that our brain chemistry
actually responds very readily to the way we think and feel
about life, which means that we do have a way in, to break the
cycle. You can see therefore that if your fundamental belief
about your life is that you are a depressive or anxious type
then this is the message you will send to your subconscious
will have accepted the idea that you are an anxious/depressive
type at a conscious level, then the subconscious mind, being a
non-deliberating mind will accept this idea and implement what
it believes to be an appropriate response. Our biofeedback
systems, being the adaptable systems they are, will respond
accordingly, and oblige us with the internal chemistry which
matches that belief (i.e a depressed or anxious state). Viewed
this way, we can understand that the chemical states we
experience when we are depressed or anxious are at least
partially a result of our beliefs and perceptions rather than
the cause of them. Whilst pressures upon us may well be
overwhelming at certain times in our lives, at some level,
chronic depression or anxiety is a result of that modality
being accepted as the norm rather than the temporary
extreme…the driving factor being that the mind has taken on
board the erroneous belief that life in general is filled with
danger and that the organism must therefore be protected at
all costs. Prolonged exposure to highly stressful living is a
major factor in creating these states.
Thus we have our two symptoms. Depression requires that we
withdraw from life, minimising our chance of being damaged by
life, and anxiety requires that we engage with life but that
we remain on Red,
, or Yellow Alert status. That is, that we must remain in
fight or flight mode in order to deal with the life
threatening situations we are sure to encounter in such a
dangerous environment (At least according to the subconscious
mind with its current belief that life is dangerous). In
accepting the label of an anxious or depressive type, it makes
it far more difficult to separate yourself from the symptom.
If you believe fundamentally that you ARE the symptom, (i.e I
am a depressive) then asking yourself not to be depressed or
anxious is like asking yourself not to be you! So, the first
thing to get straight in your mind is that you are NOT the
symptom. You are You…..and the symptom, the anxiety,
compulsive behaviour, anger or depression, is a response. I'll
Our ancestors endured unbelievable hardship to get us here.
Droughts, famines, ice ages! In a world of much fewer people,
the primary consideration was survival and the continuation of
the species. This meant shelter, food, and procreation was
paramount and securing these all important facets of existence
was never without its dangers! And so we have our instinctual
responses. These can be roughly summarised as follows:-
· Fear - The flight (run away) response
· Anger- The stand fight and protect response
· Depression- The withdraw and conserve energy response
These responses are instinctual. That is, they take precedence
over our ordinary "will" because they are programmed
in to us at the most fundamental level of our being. They are
designed to ensure the survival of the species and the
individual and as such will naturally override the rational
logical thinking mind. So, beginning with anxiety- A human
being coming face to face with a wild hungry tiger will need
to act instinctively if there is to be any chance of survival.
This means that this person will move into a high alert mode
without any conscious effort at all. This person will move
immediately into a trance-like state. Adrenalines (powerful
chemically stimulating hormones) will flood his nervous
system. Blood supply will be maximised to the limbs as they
are primed for fight or flight with extra oxygen. He will
become hyper-vigilant. His hearing will be fine tuned to pick
up on the slightest changes in the environment. The hairs on
his arms and the back of his neck may stand up. His peripheral
vision will switch to high alert and he will be sensitive to
the slightest movement. In short he will be primed to perform
physically and mentally to the absolute edge of his
capabilities….and all without ever giving the process a
single thought. All of these changes are completely
Now, we can
be grateful for this. Should we ever find that we have
wandered into a dangerous situation, we can be sure that these
responses will serve our survival just as powerfully today as
they served our ancestors, but the problems come for us when
these responses are triggered inappropriately.
Living as we do in the modern Western World, it is rare for us
to run into any truly life threatening situations, but we have
lived in this relative security for only a short period of
time in evolutionary terms, and adaptable as we are, we are
still honed to respond instinctively to danger in the
environment. In the absence of wild tigers, we have found a
different danger in our environment…..at least as far as our
survival mechanism is concerned- Stress. Why stress?
Well…let's get back to basics. Again, at the most basic
level, we are programmed to seek to have our needs met.
basic of these needs can be roughly summarised as food,
shelter, security, happiness, companionship, love, adventure,
freedom, etc etc. Stress is a result of any one of these (or
other) needs being either removed, or challenged in a way
which threatens to rule out future access. We can see that
there are many situations which will directly relate to these
issues. If we are ending a relationship we are losing
companionship, community, belonging, safety. If we are having
trouble finding a job, we may feel threatened by the
possibility that we will not be able to obtain food. Being
stuck in a traffic jam can be perceived as a threat to our
all of today's modern stresses can still press the basic
primitive necessity/survival buttons. Stress is also created
when there is unresolved conflict present in our lives,
particularly where that conflict is internal, so thinking and
perceiving negatively can also be included as a major factor
in creating stress. So we can see that there are many ways in
which stress can be created. Now when there is too much stress
in a person's life, this will be interpreted by the
subconscious mind, at an instinctive level, at the survival
level, as danger in the environment. We can see that not
having needs met, and negatively forecasting
(thinking/assuming the worst) can be interpreted as a threat
to the continuation of the individual and of the species as
far as the mind is concerned because we will be feeding an
image of future misery (helplessness) to the subconscious
future is considered to be filled with danger (helplessness)
then the mind decides that it's not safe and obliges us with
anxiety as a means of helping us to remain physically and
mentally prepared to deal with hostility or depression as a
means of withdrawal from life altogether. These states are
nicely self perpetuating with anxiety creating more anxiety
and helplessness and depression deepening as life becomes ever
more meaningless as we continue to withdraw……and so the
So….what is to be done? Well…..the good news is that as
there is a way in, so too is there a way out. Both anxiety and
depression can be successfully treated when approached with
the right kind of understanding, which involves essentially
working backwards using the understanding given above. We will
all be familiar with the saying that we can't see the wood for
the trees. This is especially true in relation to being
depressed or anxious. Being adrift at sea for a long time with
no sight of land could lead one to form the erroneous
conclusion that there is no land, but rationally, it is always
possible to remind oneself that there IS land.
So, it is
important to remember that even though things may look very
dark now, it is fundamentally incorrect to assume that things
will remain that way indefinitely. Indeed to do so is the
surest way of ensuring that things don't improve! We know that
when we are anxious or depressed we can lose sight of the
higher intelligence we have access to when we are calm and
relaxed and start to think in very literal black and white
modes of thought. This means that we see things as good or
bad. Light or Dark. Safe or Dangerous. Since we are negatively
focused anyway, the majority of the time we will find the
worst in things. It also means that we are unable to see
clearly all of the possibilities of escape from our situation.
If we don't recognise that we are thinking in this black and
white style, then we can make the mistake of believing that
the negative conclusions we have arrived at are complete and
correct. If we believe our own negative introspections, then
we continue to make it impossible to move out of the cycle of
anxiety or depression.
Somebody who is anxious or depressed will find it difficult to
cope with ambiguity. This means that it is difficult for that
person to be able to put an issue aside and say "I don't
know how this will turn out…..and I will choose NOT to worry
about it in the meantime….." So it is necessary to take
a leap of faith in the beginning. One has to say "I know
I cannot at this moment in time see clearly all of the options
available to me, but despite the negative images and thoughts
which are coming in, I can still choose to know that
re-engaging with life will be positive for me, even if it is
difficult right now" The leap of faith here is the faith
that you will emerge from the woods by moving towards that
life of security and joy REGARDLESS of whether you feel
depressed or anxious; hence the expression "Feel the fear
and do it anyway".
anxiety sends the wrong message. It tells the subconscious
mind that we agree with its assumption that our life is
endangered and reinforces the inappropriate response. In order
however to be able to challenge our own black and white styles
of thinking and false assumptions it is first necessary to
dissect the issues so that we fully understand them at a
rational level. It should be noted here of course that we know
that the responses themselves are irrational, that is, they
are neither conscious nor necessary, but we take the first
steps towards healing by at least having the knowledge about
our issues readily available in order that we can challenge
our false assumptions as they arise rather than placidly
accept them as truth, thus compounding our difficulties as is
so often the case.
Typically, negatively focused people will think hurtful things
and then make the mistake of believing them themselves. Often
this will be in the style of sweeping generalisations such as
"The World is a terrible place"……"I'll
never recover from this illness…."…."Ten years
I've wasted…." I'll never pass my
exams"….."If I had only …….then I'd never be
in this mess" etc.
As an example, using the above. "The World is a terrible
place…." How might we challenge that assumption? If we
were to sit with pen and paper and list what is good about the
world and what is bad about the world, then we would find
clearly that there are some aspects to the world which are, or
seem, terrible, but that there are also aspects to the world
which are clearly beautiful and joyful (We can KNOW this even
if we don't FEEL it right now….we are looking for
objectivity in this exercise since it is this rational style
of thought which we will use initially to challenge our false
assumptions) Also, we would find many aspects which could be
seen either way according to who is doing the seeing. Thus we
have ambiguity in the world and the same is true of our lives.
We can see rationally that the assumption that the world is a
terrible place is actually fundamentally flawed. The truth of
the matter is that it is terrible, beautiful and indifferent.
It is filled with ambiguity. The question then becomes not
"what is it?", but "how will I choose to relate
So, you could begin by concentrating on at least one single
major aspect of your life, challenging any negative thoughts
which arise in relation to that aspect.
Begin by sitting down at the start of the week and listing all
the points you can make.
· What is good about the situation?
· What is bad about the situation?
· What would be the most positive perspective you could have
on this situation?
· What is the most negative perspective you could have on
· And what don't you know about the situation?
Invariably this will include the fact that you don't actually
know how it will turn out. Logically, you can reason therefore
that you are much more likely to achieve solution if you are
positively focused and you can therefore decide to take the
positive optimistic view as a strategy for success…or if
this is not possible, you will at least be content with saying
to yourself…"I don't know how this will turn out….but
this is no reason to assume that it will turn out badly".
Once you have rationally dissected the issue, you will have an
absolute picture of the rational REALITY of the situation in
mind. Now…..any negative assumptions which arise in relation
to that situation can be immediately challenged on appearance.
Continually challenging negative assumptions in this way will
lead to the formation of a new habitual pattern of thinking.
That new pattern will be much more positively focused, and bit
by bit, as we learn to think more positively, we find that our
feelings adjust accordingly.
Learning also to deal with adversity by reminding yourself
that it's transient and that, however devastating it may seem
at the time, your life encompasses much more than that, is the
perspective of resilience. Learning to distinguish between
facts and inferences and how your feelings can deceive you
into believing something that isn't really true is a vital
skill to master (Michael Yapko).
Remember that as you continually practice challenging negative
assumptions and finding instead the positive perspectives on
situations you will be learning the habit of thinking
positively. Over time, you will begin to move naturally into a
positive thinking style as your efforts become habit.
Remember also that this process does not take place in
isolation. In order to maximise control in your thinking
processes, it is also necessary to ensure that you are sending
a message of safety and relaxation to your subconscious mind.
This means ensuring that you are taking time out to relax
deeply. There are many ways that you can do this, Even if you
are very anxious generally, you can learn techniques which
will help you to relax. Do challenge the thought that says
"I'm too anxious to relax!". It's usually an
incorrect assumption. It may be true that you feel too anxious
to relax generally, but most people can learn techniques to
probably unequalled in effectiveness for creating deep
relaxation, but stress reduction techniques such as
progressive relaxation or similar will be very effective for
most people. Meditation is good too. It might be worth buying
a book on stress reduction or at least searching the internet.
It's important to recognise that patience is a virtue here. In
reducing anxiety generally, it is necessary to practice stress
reduction and relaxation regularly. Don't make the mistake of
doing it once, deciding that you don't feel any better
generally and so give up believing it wont work. It will work.
Remember, it's a cumulative effect, which over time, shows the
subconscious mind that there is a state available to you where
things are much safer than it currently believes them to be
generally. As you work with this more and more, the
subconscious mind becomes more and more familiar with the
relaxed state which sends the message that life is becoming
safe again and it begins to loosen its grip generally. The
goal here is that you are working towards having your
subconscious mind recognise that the danger is passed and that
it is safe for you to resume intellectual control. If there is
no danger present (overload of stress), then there is no
reason to stay on Red Alert and therefore no need to remain
anxious or depressed.
Now, since I am a hypnotherapist, I am naturally biased, but
it should be noted that hypnosis is uniquely effective in this
regard because the hypnotic state allows us to get in
"underneath the radar". This means that ordinarily,
the mind, especially the anxious mind is extremely untrusting
of any messages coming in which do not match with its
preconceived ideas of how things are. When a person is
extremely relaxed however, the subconscious mind decides that
the incoming data is from a safe source and may be considered.
It is important to note here, that the incoming data is only
considered, not automatically accepted. This is why it is not
possible to absorb negative suggestions. The mind will
automatically reject a suggestion if it cannot be used towards
a more positive outcome than the picture it currently holds.
Hypnotherapy does its best work when there is strong agreement
at a conscious and unconscious level that the change being
envisioned is strongly desired and can be realistically
implemented. Then wonders can happen. If the subconscious mind
decides that what you are presenting (in this case that it is
safe to engage fully with life again) is a good idea and backs
it, then you are pretty much assured success with your
A good hypnotherapist will also have a number of highly
effective tools available to deal with trauma. Obviously, some
anxiety and depression results from trauma and it may be that
there is difficulty with letting go for some people. Therapy
is a good idea for anyone who is anxious or depressed. It can
help enormously to have an impartial shoulder available who
knows the territory. Do be aware though, that certain forms of
therapy can actually be counter-productive. When choosing a
therapist, please do recognise that any therapy which
encourages continued negative introspection can actually make
you feel worse! These styles of therapy are the ones where you
go and tell your therapist all about your problems week after
week and their role is simply to listen. This focuses on the
problem, but doesn't offer solutions, and for reasons that
should be obvious will often deepen anxiety or depression.
Effective modern therapy should be positively focused, that is
that it creates new perspectives and finds solutions to
problems, hence the name- solution focused therapy.
Taking care of yourself physically is obviously important.
Good diet, a clean environment, regular exercise, and care
with drugs of any kind is essential to overcoming anxiety or
depression. Smoking and Caffeine (Coffee, Tea, Red Bull) are
both powerful stimulants which increase anxiety and stress
your nervous system. Remove them from your menu if you are
able to (buy decaffeinated). Keep your alcohol consumption to
a minimum. Alcohol affects your ability to produce a healthy
flow of serotonin which is a key factor in our ability to cope
and feel happy. You will note that depression is worse when we
have a hangover, and it can take up to 3 or 4 days for our
serotonin production to return to normal following a bad
hangover. If you drink heavily twice a week therefore, you
will not be giving yourself a chance to ever fully recover and
we need sufficient serotonin to feel good. Long term
therefore, it is important to recognise that excessive alcohol
consumption will interfere with the therapeutic process and
should be avoided as far as possible. By all means socialise, but do take care to
note where your limits are. Everything in moderation. We
also will note that moderate daily exercise can make a great
deal of difference to the way you feel on many levels. It can
improve your sense of self esteem, your sense of control, keep
your weight steady and increase your serotonin and endorphin
(feel good chemicals within your body) levels. The mental
health charity MIND have published a free booklet on the
benefits of exercise on emotional well-being which you can
view by clicking here.
In summary, to tackle anxiety and/or depression, it is
· Remove as many of the major stressors in your life as it is
within your power to do.
· Learn to be kind to yourself. (Meeting your needs).
· Have faith that there is a way out of your difficulties
even if that's not clear to you at present. It will become
clearer as you make progress.
· Challenge negative thinking as it arises.
· Learn to relax deeply and practice this regularly. Self
hypnosis will work well as will stress reduction techniques.
Keep at it! Be patient and persistent.
· Seek professional help for any issues or traumas you feel
unable to deal with alone.
· Look after yourself physically. Take regular moderate
exercise. Avoid drugs of any kind (including caffeine and
cigarettes) wherever possible.
I am a
trained and certified anxiety disorders specialist with plenty
of experience in helping people successfully overcome
depression and anxiety. If you would like to meet me to
discuss your difficulty and a way forwards please do feel free
an appointment for a consultation.
John Crawford- DHP, HPD, MAPHP, MHS, MNCP - Registered
Clinical Hypnotherapist - Written 3rd April 2004
Please feel free to copy this article. If you do reproduce
this article in part or whole, it should be credited by an
acknowledgment to myself and a link to my website: www.hypnotherapyforlife.co.uk