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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Are you dealing with stress and depression?

November 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Depression, Stress


Are you dealing with stress and depression? Is there a link between the two? Can stress actually cause depression? These are the questions our visitor Colin had for me. With Colin’s permission I’m sharing his letter with you and then I’ll answer his questions.

Dear Dr Purves

In May I relocated from London to York and took a new job with a housing company. For the previous three months I’d been commuting to London and staying there for the week, away from my wife and newborn child whom I missed terribly.

The move to York was supposed to make things better but things just went from bad to worse. The person who interviewed me for the post wasn’t the person I ended up working for and he took an instant dislike to me. I put up with his bullying as best as I could but it just got worse and worse. I was constantly stressed. He undermined everything I did so that I began to believe it was me. In my previous role I’d been trusted, liked and confident with my tasks but within a couple of months I felt like a different person. It was hard to relax even at home.

Then I got a call from my mother who lives in Scotland to say she’d been diagnosed with a brain tumour and they had to carry out more tests. I’m not  sure if there’s any relationship between how I was feeling before and what happened but I sunk in to an immediate depression.

I was tired and tearful all the time. I found it hard to get out of bed in the morning. I was snappy with my wife and I didn’t want to do anything. In six weeks I put on a stone in weight and I’m not tall so it looked even more. The weight gain made me feel even worse about myself and I withdrew even more.

I recently saw my GP who diagnosed me with depression and signed me off work. I’ve been referred to a CBT therapist now and am just waiting for my appointment to come through.

Is the fact that I was stressed at work before I found out about my mother’s health the reason I sunk so quickly in to depression or are they completely unrelated?

Many thanks


Dealing with stress and depression: What is stress?

Let’s start by looking at what stress is. In a nutshell it’s physical or mental stress on your body. Colin was certainly experiencing mental stress from his situation at work and as he himself identified was feeling stressed and uptight even when he was at home.

We all need a certain amount of stress in our lives but when it’s too much it begins to negatively impact us and our body. What’s actually going on in your body is that the stress causes higher levels of hormones such as cortisol and for example the amount of serotonin decreases. When your chemical balance is out of whack you can find yourself wanting eat more as Colin did or less. You might find you’re very sleepy or can’t get to sleep. And you may find yourself feeling tense and snappy as Colin reports. If this continues you can find yourself suffering from depression.

Dealing with stress and depression: What is depression?

If you are depressed you might feel sad or empty, experience a change in appetite or sleep, tired or even worthless. Colin reports feeling tired and tearful and gaining weight which are all typical symptoms of depression. When we refer to depression what we commonly mean is clinical depression or Major Depressive Disorder to give it its full diagnostic criteria name. You can learn more about what depression is on my clinical depression page.

Dealing with stress and depression: Is there a relation between the two?

There is a relationship between stress and depression. Colin was already susceptible to depression being stressed and unhappy at work before he learned that his mother was ill.

I would ask Colin if as a result of being stressed he had been making negative lifestyle changes. I wonder if he was already eating more unhealthy foods and exercising less? Changes such as these in stressed out people can mean that they are at greater risk of experiencing depression.

Dealing with stress and depression: Getting better

So you know how you got here. Now what should you do? I’m glad Colin’s been referred to a CBT therapist as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT therapy) is a highly successful way to treat depression. While Colin is waiting for his appointment to come through there are plenty of free CBT exercises available which he could use to get started.

Waits to see CBT therapists can be lengthy depending on where you live.  If you find yourself on a waiting list and would prefer to get started sooner another option is to embark on a computerised CBT program such as Mood Control or Blues Begone which you can fit in to your lifestyle.

Dealing with stress and depression: Other treatments

There are lifestyle changes you can make   and natural treatments for depression which you can also try.

Best of luck dealing with stress and depression.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful.

Dr Purves

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