The Chaos Train

An article by Eliza Burdon.

I had a client recently (Eliza) who started to talk about the experience of panic as a seemingly uncontrollable journey. I liked that idea very much and we started to call it The Chaos Train. I asked her to write an article about it as it seemed such a useful idea.

The train stops at stations on its journey to the hub. Along the way it picks up passengers and freight, (burdens to take to the hub) as each hub is reached the burdens are delivered and the result of them expressed. In the case of this particular Chaos Train they are panic, anxiety and sadness.

I think the fascinating insight Eliza had was that it all felt really chaotic and out of control. Of course it feels like that because it is panic but it is not as chaotic as it feels. The train has to stop at the stations on the way to the hub and pick up burdens otherwise there is nothing to take to the hub and nothing to be expressed. By making choices and deliberately not stopping at the stations on the route Eliza places a structure on her sense of chaos. She fights the darkness and despair and she makes a journey she wants to make not the default journey her Chaos Train may make if left to its own devices. Here is Eliza’s article.

The Chaos Train

All aboard the Chaos Train, final destination Anxiety. All change for Sadness and Depression.

Living in a continuous state of anxiety is chaotic. Panic is predictably unpredictable. We seem to have no idea of when it will strike and yet somehow it is always a certainty that it will. When the panic finally loosens its grip on us, whether that means a panic attack has passed or a stressful phase has ended, we can’t find a reason for it happening in the first place. Our minds will tell us there is no reason, leading us to simply “accept” how chaotic and unpredictable our anxiety is. We lose faith in our bodies and lose sight of how we’re ever going to get better because we can’t ever establish a reason for our behaviours.

 

As you pass through the stations you pick up baggage.

As you pass through the stations you pick up baggage.

The truth is it’s not all that chaotic. Anxiety and the resulting sadness and depression comes as the final culmination of a series of bad behaviours and disordered thinking. The chaos we feel we’re living in is a symptom of our anxiety taking hold of our lives, and accepting that it is that way allows it to act up if and when it pleases. Last time you did this was a Friday and today is a Tuesday? Here’s a panic attack for you. Last time you were here you wore red and now you’re wearing blue? Panic attack for you. Nothing seems all that different? Have a panic attack anyway. Your anxious mind can sense any difference in a situation, and all the chaotic steps you’ve taken to allow anxiety into your life add together to produce what feels like a very unpredictable fear response to just about anything. Yet, in reality, it is entirely predictable, it’s going to happen because you’ve accepted the idea that it’s out of your own control.

The Chaos Train is the journey you take to those major hubs, Anxiety and Depression. At each stop on the way you collect more and more behaviours and beliefs that lead to full blown anxiety disorders and predictably unpredictable panic. Each one is an essential element, they work together to seize control of your mind and create chaos.

It looks a little like this, though each persons individual stops may differ.

Other stops could include inflexibility, a lack of willingness to try things out of your comfort zone or things which are not part of your usual routine will lead to anxiety and panic. Similarly being concerned that other people will judge you. Catastrophising is a major cause of both anxiety and sadness. Catastrophising means allowing your thoughts to run away from you, and believing in only the worst case scenarios. This could be that you won’t be able to cope and you’ll have a panic attack, or that you’ll never get better.

It’s simple to build up to the “Hubs”, a series of faulty thoughts and feelings of being out of control leads to panic fairly quickly. On the other hand, breaking it back down isn’t quite so easy. It’s a slow moving train back to where you started. The best way to approach it is to break it down, cutting one station out at a time. For example, if you can combat catastrophising, you’re less likely to believe in the worst case scenario becoming a reality. With a little more faith, seeing events more realistically instead of living in a fantasy world where everything goes wrong, you would be opened up to a whole new level of freedom. In the same way, combating each station on the Chaos Train journey one step at a time, picking up a little less baggage at each stop, your anxiety would have so much less control over you, and in that, the chaos would dissolve.

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Alexithymia – Can you describe your emotions?

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I recently went to North Canada where I carried out a bit of work with something called Alexithymia.

Alexithymia is basically an inability or difficulty in describing and understanding emotions.

I’d like to share more about this work with you in this video. Alternatively you can read the text below the film.

 

Transcript of the video

Hi, I’m standing here in the middle of a frozen lake in Canada. It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining and it’s only about minus 10 so it’s a great day to be on the ice. I’m just going to go over to that island, sit down and tell you a little bit about why I’m making this film.

Well, I’ve come over to the island and I’ve found a nice little spot with some shade so that I’m able to film.

While I’m here in Northern Canada and one of the things I’m doing is a little bit of work with something called Alexithymia.

What is Alexithymia?

Alexithymia is basically an inability or difficulty in describing and understanding emotions. And it also has a certain, what you might call an externally oriented thinking style, in that it tends to be quite concrete thinking processes.

Often people with Alexithymia might be very successful because they’re very focused on tasks.  They’re very able to carry things through to completion and not get distracted by fantasy or wild imaginings.

The thing about Alexithymia, though, is that it’s a fairly stable personality trait, or so we believe, and therefore it’s going to continue.

Alexithymia

Symptoms

On one end we have Alexithymia which makes it difficult to recognise and describe emotions and on the other end we have excessive description and recognition of emotions. Someone at the other end of the spectrum would probably be highly anxious and they would recognise that they’re highly anxious and that makes it difficult to live.

Someone on the Alexithymic end has all of the physiology and all of the biological processes that go along with anxiety and stress etc but they don’t tend to recognise it so consequently they can’t do anything about it. Their body therefore experiences the hypertension, the elevated blood pressure, all of the stomach upset that goes with stress and anxiety. But they don’t recognise it as an emotional problem and consequently they interpret these emotional signals as a medical problem.

Tests and more tests

This means that they very often spend a lot of time pursuing their doctor and getting the doctor to do lots of medical and physical checks and that can, if you take it to the extreme, push doctors to do all sorts of weird surgical interventions. The thing is none of that is very useful because it’s not a medical problem, it’s a psychological problem.

Alexithymia is correlated with lots of other problems which are often considered to be quite mysterious by the medical professionals such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraine, headache and even depression.

Perceptions

So I’m here in Northern Canada and I don’t expect to see any bears or other wild animals creeping up on me but it’s always worth looking around from time to time to be sure because I’m in a completely different environment from my normal comfort zone which is my office in Reading.

The filters I would usually use to clean out every day experiences have been cleansed. The filters or the doors to my perception have been opened so now I’m seeing things that I wouldn’t normally see. I’m paying attention to things that I wouldn’t normally pay attention to.

The emotional experience of everyday life is like that. You get used to filtering out stuff and not paying attention to stuff. You get used to accepting whatever happens as being the norm.

What we need to do sometimes is just refresh those filters just to say, ‘Let me just pay attention to what’s actually happening in my life.’

Understanding your emotions

If you’re feeling not quite right and you have something that’s not quite right in your body or you have something that’s not quite right in the circumstances of your life then just try to refresh your filters and see if there’s anything that can be done to increase your vocabulary about the emotional experiences that you’re having.

Take the challenge

Let me offer a little challenge to you… 

Do you feel that you can adequately describe your emotional experiences to the people that are close to you so that they can adequately enough understand where you’re coming from so they can feel a sense of empathy?

If you can do that then you probably have a good vocabulary for your emotional world.

If you can’t do that or people complain that you don’t share enough of your emotional experiences then you might potentially have what we might think of as an inadequate vocabulary to describe your emotional experiences and that would be something that you need to rectify.

In the end you can only understand what you have language for. If you don’t have language for your emotional world then it’s hard for you to understand it. It’s hard for the people that are close to you to understand it, share it with you and help you process it.

Alexithymia-2

Increasing your vocabulary

So, I’m in a new place and I’m learning a new language. I’m learning about snow and snow showing and cross country skiing, and wild animals that walk around in the snow. I’m looking at tracks and learning the difference between a fox and a racoon. I’m learning a new language.

We always need to increase our vocabulary. That’s true of our emotional vocabulary. Stick with what you’ve got if it works but if it doesn’t work lets learn some new words to describe, understand and process our emotional world.

Thanks for taking the time to watch and listen. I’m Dr David Purves in Northern Canada on a frozen lake.

How can you increase your emotional vocabulary?

CBT therapy and Mood Control are excellent ways of helping you to develop the language of emotions.

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How to change some part of your life… do it yourself depression and anxiety treatments

September 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Natural Treatments for Depression, Self Help, Well-being

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When considering do it yourself depression and anxiety treatments remember – Right Action Equals Right Outcome.

Challenging depression, stress and anxiety problems requires a vigilant determined attitude.

Change mechanisms

The problem, in any situation where you want to change something is that you need to find enough opportunities to exercise the change mechanisms.

Imagine you wanted to improve on any game, but let’s choose golf for the moment. If you want to improve, you have to get out there on the green and practice. Both in actual games, which are probably more pressured situations, and on the practice pitch. Moreover you have to practice all of the different shots you may use, such as a drive, a pitch or a put. It is further complicated by having to practice with all of the different clubs in your bag. This scenario can be expanded to include any skilled activity from learning to write as a child, through to driving a car or flying a plane.

Human relationships are are a further category where practice is likely to be important. Most people go through a series of girlfriends  and/or boyfriends before they find someone they can live with for the longer term.

Of course relationships do break down, often because people change but also the world changes us in many ways that are hard to see. If you are fortunate, and you approach the whole enterprise with a sense of adventure, you acquire the necessary practice in relationships when you are young and overall it does not cause too much trouble to you and your family.

Depression and low mood are very serious problems.

Active Self Help for Depression and Anxiety

With my Active Self Help for depression and anxiety approach the emphasis is that you have all of the resources to adequately treat and cure yourself, but you may not have the resourcefulness to do it.

Really you may not know what to do nor how to do it. This is where the vast quantity of opportunity that the world constantly throws at you plays its part.

You need opportunities to practice being different in the world to get really good at it.

Imagine if you would one of those old computer games where your cursor which looks like a small basket is at the bottom on the screen and bricks are constantly falling from the top of the screen. To be good at the game all you have to do is to catch as many bricks as you can with your basket cursor. Well I see opportunities for changing your life as those bricks.

Let me complicate the game a little more. The bricks are evil and you only destroy them by catching them. If you don’t catch them they go onto destroy your town, region and eventually your country then  they go onto destroy your town, region and eventually your country then the world.

You have to catch the bricks to survive!

Now let us change those bricks into negative thoughts.

Each negative thought that escapes capture destroys a little more of you, your life and eventually your world. There is now a sad part, but it is changeable. The world offers you, and always has, many many opportunities every day to catch those bricks and stop them destroying you.

Did you know you were even playing this game?

Who told you there even was a game anyway?

It is similar to the halting stop start series of relationships many people have before they settle down, if they do. Who helped you with that…cyour peers were equally confused and yes you may have been able to talk about some stuff with them but probably not the really deep stuff about how you felt about yourself.

I am prepared to bet that you kept that deep inside. Probably because you felt a real need to protect yourself from hurt. It seems incredibly that we managed at all. All stumbling around in a process that is largely hidden and silent, it is a good job that it was also fun at times.

You are in this game, whether you recognise it or not.

Try this exercise…

Every day negative self destructive thoughts flow in a constant stream to attack your mood and sense of security and safety. If you find that hard to believe, simply take one hour of your normal day and put a mark on a slip of paper every time you think or feel or say anything negative about yourself.

I have had clients do this exercise and while it is hard to keep focused for an hour it is do-able. What I have found is that people seem able to recognise an average of between 3 – 7 negative events in that hour; (let us decide on 4 average per hour) Of course you will only ever recognise the conscious events not those that slip under the radar of your awareness. If you think about the waking day as 16 hours that gives 64 bricks that go through each day. This yields 448 bricks for the entire week.

This month is 1,792 and the year is 21,504.

Now I hope you can see two things.

First, I hope you can see why these negative thought bricks destroy you, your life and your world.

Secondly, I hope you will see that the world also provides masses of opportunities to change your life for the better. Remember, it is only the bricks that get through that destroy you.

Those you catch are defeated. They are rendered useless.

Catch it… Challenge it… Change it

I have coined the term: Catch it …challenge it…change it

This is tool is one of the very useful do it yourself depression and anxiety treatments that you can use to deal with the bricks.

Every time you recognise a negative thought, catch it, challenge it for truth and accuracy (not how you feel, that is no guide at all) and change it. Make every negative thought account for itself. Every one you catch that you previously would have missed is a success.

Depression is what missing a lot of bricks brings you.

Catch the bricks and change things for the better.

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Triggers don’t only make guns shoot

September 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Well-being

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Your life is how it is because of the choices you have made along your life’s journey.

This does not mean you should blame yourself for perceived faults or failings. Everyone always makes the best choices given where they are, what they know and their psychological understanding of themselves.

Imagine that the matrix of buttons and triggers that controls your emotions became obvious… what could you do with that?

The vast majority of people (and I include myself in this) live relatively automatic lives; this not a judgement only an observation.

What it means is that most of the time your emotional responses are beyond your control. The forces that manipulate you (both internal and external) determine what you feel at any moment of the day or night.

Have you ever lain in bed unable to sleep?

Have you ever felt irritated but could not identify the reason?

Have you ever been angry at people who did not cause your anger?

Have you ever changed your mind in an instant from one extreme position to another extreme position?

If any of these examples seems to ‘make sense’ to you then you have recognised that at times you give the control of your emotions away.

Lack of awareness or recognition of this coupled with lots of automatic habit processes renders most people victims of their emotions not partners in the emotional enjoyment of  the world of experiences.

Working for Wellness

Working for Wellness is above all else a process of raising your level of awareness of the forces that flow around and influence you all of the time.

Your emotional life is complex but if you suffer from any kind of emotional problem then be assured that your emotions are being controlled and directed by a vast matrix of triggers and stimuli that you will, at best only be partially aware of.

Stick with Working for Wellness and let’s work to change this for the better.

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