Is the fear of seeing a therapist and the fear of getting upset related?
Is it possible to be okay about getting upset, rather than have to distract and avoid it?
Why are we wary of seeing a therapist? What do we think it means we are weak, or crazy if we seek help?
These are the main themes of my new book where I explore these two related issues and how we can learn a different way of managing our emotions so that we do not have to fear getting upset any more. I’ve also put together an appendix full of helpful information about finding a therapist and the different therapies that you can choose from.
The book is published 22nd May 2021 by Hero Press (Legend Times Ltd) and is available in paperback and ebook editions. You can get your copy at any of the stores below or hopefully at your local library too!
The first thing is to accept that it is normal that we are feeling anxious and afraid. The events happening at the moment will be triggering the fear centre of our brain and our survival instincts are activated.
Why are we feeling so anxious?
If we already have reason to fear death and illness (from previous past experiences), then we will have these experiences and feelings triggered as well. This can be very unpleasant, but it is normal. It is our brain telling us that this danger happened before and it feels like it is happening again. We will be in fight/flight/freeze mode as a result.
The other reason is because there is very little certainty over exactly who/when/how or even if we will be personally affected. We don’t know. Uncertainty is uncomfortable and can make us feel very anxious because it triggers a sense of powerlessness and helplessness.
What is anxiety?
We are anxious because something bad might happen, and we might not be able to do anything about it. These are the central two themes of anxiety:
Something bad might happen, and
I won’t be able to cope with it.
It is a state of mind where we are future-focused on what ‘might happen’ and underestimating our ability to cope. Our brain and body then work to activate us to deal with this potential threat. We are likely to feel many different sensations: tension, hot, nauseous, headache, tight stomach, wobbly legs, dry mouth, short, shallow breathing, irritable with those around us, maybe even more angry.
How can I cope with this?
First remind yourself that you have coped with things before and you can cope again. Find people around you who help you feel supported and safe. Spend time NOW with those people you care about, and bring yourself into the PRESENT moment, and away from future-focused worry. Actively check in with your body to notice the tension, and breathe slowly to bring yourself down a notch or two.
Accept that you or people around you might be more nervous/on-edge, and be compassionate with yourself and others if you can. Imagine that you are all just trying to do the best you can.
Bring your mind back to the present if it races too far ahead to what ‘might’ happen. When we are anxious our thoughts go straight to ‘worse case scenario’ thoughts. Notice this and bring your mind back to the present and what you can deal with right now.
The Worry Tree can help
There is a technique called The Worry Tree which can help bring our minds back to problem solving and away from anxiety-inducing future-focused worry. Here’s a link to it, but it essentially asks you to ask yourself one question: “Can I do anything about this RIGHT NOW?” If you can’t do anything right now, let it go, or tell your brain when you are going to do something about it. I find my brain needs a schedule and needs to know ‘when’ I will deal with it before it will let me let it go.
One of the things that can help keep us in a state of anxiety is constant checking. This is a normal behaviour that our brain does, to ‘scan’ for any threats. Unfortunately though, it can keep us in a cycle of anxiety – checking – reassurance – anxiety – checking – reassurance. Social media notifications and news reports can feed this. Each check is like putting another log on the fire.
Reduce this checking behaviour and balance out your social media and news consumption with stories and information that is not connected to corona virus. If you can seek out people and stories that help you feel connected and safe.
We can get through this
Be compassionate and understanding. Do what you can to encourage a sense of safety and connection with the people in your life who matter. And if you can, try to give people the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the best they can as well. Let’s all use this as a way to practice the coping strategies that we all have inside us.
This article was written as a follow-up to an interview with BBC Radio Shropshire Monday 16th March 2020 9.45am with Jim Hawkins. You can listen to Jim Hawkins and check out the BBC Radio Shropshire website here.
There are so many apps out there for self help so I thought I’d make a list of the ones that my clients have mentioned or that have been mentioned by colleagues. I’m also trying out one myself at the moment and hope to add to this list. I have no affiliation with any of these apps by the way. They are purely the ones that I would feel safe recommending to clients or providers that I work with.
Buddhify – useful mindfulness app with realistic short chunks and a wheel with lots of different choices depending on which situation you are in.
Pacifica – a good all round CBT app, useful for helping to catch thoughts and feelings and check in throughout the day.
Silver Cloud – an online CBT program with modules that you can work through that help to give you lots of in-depth info about particular issues.
Headspace – the established favourite of the mindfulness apps.
Sleepio – a great app which discussed the evidence base behind sleep difficulties.
Catch it – developed jointly between the University of Liverpool and University of Manchester this is a great app for checking in with your mood and noting down what was happening at the time.
This article by Neuroscience news discusses the difficult to accept point that perhaps we are not designed to be happy. I think this makes a lot of sense to me and certainly seems to explain why we struggle to be happy.
From a survival point of view it makes more sense for us to be vigilant and on guard most of the time, and have moments where we are able to feel safe with certain people and in certain environments. Maybe the moments of safety, contentment and companionship are ‘happiness’, and all we can ever really have are these moments.
If we stop trying to be happy, stop asking ourselves if something is wrong because we aren’t as happy as we ‘should’ be, and instead take small comfort in the moments of contentment we do have. Perhaps this can take some of the pressure and expectation off of us?