There’s No Need to Panic About this Pandemic

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Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) makes a distinction between unhealthy anxiety and healthy concern. Both share the same theme, or inference, as both are about the threats and dangers of everyday life. It doesn’t matter if the threat is real (something that is happening or is about to happen) or imaginary (something that hasn’t happened yet and probably won’t happen at all); anxiety and concern are all about threat and danger.

 

Unhealthy anxiety is the result of irrational (or unhelpful) beliefs about a given event or situation; whilst healthy concern arises when you hold rational (or helpful) beliefs about the exact same event or situation.

 

When you are unhealthily anxious you overestimate the probability of that threat occurring and underestimate your ability to deal with it, you can create an even more negative threat in your mind and might find it difficult to concentrate on other matters. Typically, the anxious will avoid the threat (physically or mentally), ward off the threat, tranquilise their feelings and seek reassurance about it.

 

When you are healthily concerned, however, you are more realistic about the probability of the threat occurring and are equally realistic about your ability to cope with it. You do not create even more negative scenarios in your mind, and you are able to concentrate on other tasks and matters. As a result, the concerned are more able to face up to the threat (if it even occurs) and are more able to take constructive action to minimise said risk or danger.

 

This also applies to health anxieties. A health anxiety is an obsessive and irrational worry that you have caught or are about to come down with a severe medical condition.

 

And, right now, as a health anxiety, as a public and medical concern and as a severe medical condition Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is right up there and scaring us all.

 

But, are our news outlets and our governments overdoing it or not; are we all literally making a drama out of a crisis; are our fears rational or irrational; founded or unfounded? In short, are we experiencing collective Coronavirus anxiety or COVID-19 concern?

 

Considering the statistics (at the time of writing of the 107,828 cases so far, 86 percent have been of a mild condition and a massive 94 percent have so far recovered and/or been discharged.) it would seem to be the former. And so, asset stripping the shelves in supermarkets and chemists of bog roll, antibacterial hand gels and facemasks does seem like reassurance seeking writ large, whilst completely shunning people, public places and public transport could count as avoidance.

 

Beating people up based on their ethnicity or holiday choices, meanwhile, is definitely overkill.

 

Yes, people have sadly died but there have been other factors involved (such as age and other underlying health conditions).

 

Caution is advised, certainly, but the current advice is to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly (for at least 20 seconds) and that’s about it. That is considered effective protection, not just against COVID-19, but all other cough and cold-related germs and viruses.

 

Whilst the Coronavirus is something to be concerned with, and something to take reasonable precautions against, it is nothing to get anxious about.

 

For more on the current global pandemic panic, please feel free to read my post over at Psychology Today (click here).

 

If you want to know more about REBT, the thoughts that can freak you out and, more importantly, how to deal with them, please feel free to purchase a copy of this book that I wrote (click here).

 

Not So Crazy in Love

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Today, is February 14th; Valentine’s Day, the day for lovers, the day for romance, the day for card companies, florists, chocolatiers, jewellers, and restaurants up and down the country to make you make the most of this day, come what may. Back in the day (my day, that is) you were lucky if you got a small card and a cup of tea in bed. Now, it’s nothing but pressure to perform, please and be more loved-up than thou (we can partly blame social media for the latter, but only partly). Basically, Valentine’s Day has gone and gotten all a bit crazy, when you think about it.

 

But then, love is not the most rational of emotions.

 

Enter then, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). Not only is it a form of psychotherapy but it is also considered to be a school of thought. This means that, while it is great for dealing with specific emotional problems such as anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy and so on, it is also (and at the same time) a brilliant way of looking at life and all of life’s problems in a whole new way.

 

This is important as irrationality surrounds us and penetrates us (a bit like The Force in Star Wars only crap), and it can bind us together in unhelpful ways if we are not careful.

 

With it, we can develop the tendency to blow things out of proportion, magnify their difficulty, throw our toys out of the pram and, generally, rush headlong into foolish decisions that we later regret.

 

REBT offers a way of stepping back a little, and of questioning a thought and the emotion it engenders, before you react (or overreact) according to it.

 

Once you start to question the validity and rationality of your thoughts, you will soon start to see just how silly life, and by default, our everyday language really is. Like, really, amazingly, off-kilter crazy.

 

This goes double for love songs.

 

To find out how truly ludicrous love songs actually are, to wise up to their irrationality, please read my new post over at Psychology Today (click here).

 

As you do so, whilst remembering that Valentine’s Day can be as restrained or as OTT as you allow it to become, it means that you can still be as romantic as you wish, but it also means you won’t be no fool for love (or any other emotion) again.

 

How’s that for heart-warming?

 

 

 

How to Have a Happy New Year

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Each year, a friend of mine, when wishing family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances a “Happy New Year,” almost always follows it up with the rather dour postface of “let’s hope it’s better than the last one.” Sometimes they even run through some of the lower points from their preceding 12 months.

 

It’s not surprising that they do that as most human beings have a tendency to focus on the negative. It’s biological and innate; it’s hardwired into us. It’s habitual. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. It’s possible to build a habit of thinking more positively, even if you’re currently the most negative person you know.

 

Positive psychology contains a vast range of tools, exercises, tips and tricks to help you do just that. Whereas most forms of psychotherapy focus on mental illness, positive psychology firmly fixes its gaze on mental wellness. “What can be done to make you feel happier and more fulfilled in your day-to-day life?” it asks. “How can you learn to flourish?”

 

One of its many, many laboratory tested exercises (i.e., a bunch of researchers have made people undertake these things and then rated their mood and physiology in a variety of ways) is one specifically designed to help you reflect upon events in a more positive way. And it does so by getting you to review the day, or the week, or even the month.

 

On a bad day, something nice will have happened (but it’s usually the bad thing you focus on) and, on a rotten week, several good things will also have happened (but it’s usually the rotten things that you reflect upon). But, by ignoring the bad in favour of good, despite your natural inclination, by writing them down in a diary or notebook, you are slowly and steadily building that habit of thinking more positively.

 

But, what does this mean for the new year and your happiness? Well, why not review your whole year? News and current affairs (and pop music) shows do it all the time.

 

So, another positive psychology exercise builds on the above by asking you to get hold of a bell jar, or some such similar receptacle. And, for a sense of occasion it asks that you get it in time for New Year’s Day. Then, over the coming 12 months, whenever something nice happens, you write that event or situation down on a piece of paper and pop it into the bell jar.

 

Note by note, nice thing by nice thing, into the jar it goes. A compliment here, a bonus there; a trip on a sunny day, a night out with friends, you name it. Large or small, any and all events go in the jar. And then, on New Year’s Eve next year, you can gather around the jar with family and friends, or simply on your own if you enjoy being solitary and introspective, and then reflect on what a lovely year you’ve had.

 

“Happy New Year,” you’ll say. “I hope it’s as good as this one was.”

 

You’re not denying that bad things have happened; you’re just choosing to ignore them for once, in favour of the good.

 

Won’t that be nice?

 

 

If You Only Buy One Book This Christmas

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So, I wrote a book. It’s available to buy right now as you’re reading this and it would be awfully remiss of me if I didn’t blog about my book in my own actual blog so, here it is.

 

It’s called The Four Thoughts That F*ck You Up (and how to fix them) and it’s a hopefully humorous and insightful (I leave that for you to decide) book about rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT).

 

REBT was invented in the mid 1950s by a psychotherapist called Albert Ellis. It’s actually considered to be the first form of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to be developed. And it’s brilliant.

 

REBT is the form of CBT that I practice and promote. It follows the philosophy that it is not the events in life that disturb you, but what you tell yourself about those events that disturbs you. So if you are thinking, feeling and acting in ways that you don’t like, but don’t seem to be able to change, it’s not because of the thing, but down to what you tell yourself about the thing, change what it is that you tell yourself and you get to change how you think, feel and act.

 

Now, it’s not saying when stuff happens, that it doesn’t have an influence, because it does but, it’s only an influence. So, even in the face of something difficult, or challenging, or downright negative, you can still remain in control (or regain control if you think you’ve lost it) by looking at what you tell yourself in the face of that difficult, challenging or negative thing.

 

This means that nobody makes you angry, nothing makes you anxious, and nobody and nothing can drive you to drink, drugs, distraction, despair or doughnuts. It’s what you tell yourself about those things and people that does that.

 

REBT says that there is always a thing (or an activating event) and a reaction to that thing (a consequence) but, between the thing and the reaction there will be a specific thought process (known as a belief) that drive the reaction about the thing.

 

So, REBT is all about beliefs. My book is all about the four beliefs that REBT says lie at the heart of psychological disturbance (i.e., that f*ck you up) and the four healthy equivalents that can help keep you calm and rational. It also has a step-by-step guide to help you work on a specific problem

 

Someone recently asked me why I wrote it. That answer could be a whole blog in itself but, briefly, I’ve been in practice now for over 15 years and just for once, when I was finishing therapy with someone and they asked if there is any reading material I could suggest, I wanted to be able to say, “why yes, there is this very book right here.”

 

And now I can.

 

It’s available on Amazon and Waterstones and WHSmith, or directly from the Penguin Random House website and it’s available from all good online bookshops in your country, area and/or territory (so it’s not just available in the UK).

 

I am reliably informed that it is both “super-wise” and “warm and funny.” And it wasn’t my friends that said that. It would make for a good Christmas stocking filler, or last-minute Christmas gift idea. And for those of you looking a little further ahead, it would be a great way of coming up with and sticking to any one of a number of New Year’s resolutions.

 

If you haven’t bought it yet, I hope you consider buying a copy. If you have already bought one, I thank you for doing so. And, either way, I hope you will enjoy it, are enjoying it and/or have enjoyed it.

 

Personally, as much as I enjoyed writing it, I will never forget the thrill of standing in the WHSmith bookshop in Paddington station on the day of publication and seeing out on the shelves already.

 

All the feels.

 

 

 

Anxiety Disorders: A Brief Overview

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As a rule, I tend to specialise in the areas of anxiety disorders and work-related stress management. Between the two, I cover a multitude of sins. And, but sins I mean I help people deal with a series of emotional and behavioural problems that have them thinking, feeling and acting in ways that they don’t like but don’t seem to be able to change.

The term ‘anxiety disorder’ on it’s own could mean any one of several things up to and including, but not limited to panic attacks and panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychosexual dysfunction, health anxiety and any and all types of phobias.

Broadly speaking, anxiety is your response to danger; it’s the fight, flight (or freeze, for those of you who experience brain lock) response to a threat or a danger. However, this response is being triggered in situations that aren’t that dangerous. Coming across a hungry lion whilst walking down your street is very dangerous, whereas sitting an exam is not. However, if you have anxiety, the same thoughts and feelings are being triggered in the face of an exam as they are when confronted by that hungry lion.

Anxiety problems are the number one presenting symptom here in the United Kingdom

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are an extreme type of fear response. They are an exaggeration of your body’s normal response to danger, stress or excitement. They’re not much fun

Panic Disorder

This is where you have regular or frequent panic attacks that don’t seem to have a specific cause or trigger. It can mean that you are so afraid of having another panic attack that the fear itself can bring on a panic attack. Not good.

Social Anxiety Disorder

This is where your fear response is being triggered by social situations, such as pubs and parties, work and networking events. Basically, anywhere you have to talk to another person. This is also known as social phobia and it’s more common than you think.

GAD

Pity the person who is living with this condition, for they are experiencing regular or uncontrollable worries about many different things across most aspects of everyday life. It could be that there are many, many triggers or no specific trigger at all, making GAD a tricky little bugger to pin down.

OCD

This problem is made up of two parts, an obsession and a compulsion. Obsessions are unwelcome and intrusive thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. The compulsions are repetitive activities that you feel compelled to do in order to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession. It could be checking that a door is locked, or repeating a specific phrase in your head and so on. Some people have what is known as ‘Pure O’ where they have the obsession but not the compulsion. This does not make it any less distressing.

PTSD

This is an anxiety problem that gets diagnosed after you have gone through something that you found traumatic. A close brush with death or a violent attack on you or someone near you can do it. PTSD can cause flashbacks and nightmares that make you feel like you are reliving the fear and anxiety you experienced during the traumatic event again and again. Who said the mind isn’t your best friend?

Psychosexual Dysfunction

When related to anxiety, psychosexual dysfunction is the inability to become sexual aroused or achieve sexual satisfaction because you are afraid of something happening or something going wrong. The problem is not physiological it is psychological. It can affect both men and women and, obviously can be quite miserable and debilitating.

Health Anxiety

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this means anxiety about your health. You will have an obsessive preoccupation with the idea that you have (or are about to develop) an illness. Common health obsessions including cancer, heart health, HIV and so on, but people can become preoccupied with any condition. Behaviours include researching symptoms, constant checking to see if you have them and many, many, many visits to your local GP.

Phobias

A phobia is an extreme form of anxiety that can be triggered by a particular situation or object, even when there is no danger. The sufferer knows that their reaction is out of proportion to the danger but they just can’t stop themselves. People can becoming phobic about anything and everything: spiders, mice, lifts, heights, thunder and lightning, buttons, ships, you name it.

Other anxiety problems include performance anxiety (stage fright and exam fears, for instance), body dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and more.

Thankfully, all forms of CBT are considered the gold standard of treatment for anxiety disorders. Hypnotherapy is also a highly effective adjunct to CBT. So, if you need to find a therapist to help you with your anxiety, look for someone who has CBT skills, or hypnotherapy skills, or both.

Obviously, there is quite a lot to digest here so I’ll leave the heady world of work-related stress (the number one cause of staff absenteeism) until next time.

Men, Mental Health, Barbershops and Talking

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It’s good to talk, isn’t it? Male or female, young or old, it’s good to have someone to turn to in times of trouble, yes? And yet, despite the many inroads made in raising mental health issues, men still struggle with talking about their feelings, or reaching out if they’re in difficulty. Which is problematic to say the least. And, it needs to change, but how? Read more

Mental Health is Normal

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I think one of the most surprising things about psychotherapy is that, despite the many, many strides in mental health awareness, more than a fair few people are still loathe to admit that they just might have mental health issues. But, guess what? Having a mental health issue is completely normal. Read more

Stress: take back control

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Earlier this month, I talked about stress and how, according to a massive survey last year, three out of every four Brits are feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope. I also mentioned that therapy could help you to regain control. And it can, only not always in the way that you think.  But, what does that mean exactly? Read more

There Is No Try!

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Yoda said it best when he told Luke Skywalker in the movie The Empire Strikes Back, “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” But, what did he mean? What was the lesson, and why was it an important one?  Read more

Do You Want To Stop Drinking?

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In just a few short weeks Macmillan Cancer Support will be asking you to commit to 31 days of sobriety in their annual Go Sober for October campaign (click here). It’s a fun way to be healthy and helpful. But for some people, that commitment isn’t as easy as it sounds. What do you do if you think you have a problem with drink? What do you do if you don’t think you can stop? Read more