Depression Treatment and Symptoms

Why mental defeat creeps up on you

When you’re thinking about depression treatment and symptoms you’ll recognise that sometimes you feel like giving up and letting everything just drop. This is a normal reaction when things feel overwhelming. But sometimes when we are faced with circumstances that feel beyond our control this need to let go of everything can get out of control and turn into mental defeat.

Depression treatment and symptoms

Depression treatment and symptoms: Mental defeat

Mental defeat is often seen in clinical cases of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) where it is a whole body response to overwhelming fear, and the threat of death. The survivor often cannot shake off the belief that there is nothing they can do to protect themselves. This leaves them with an ever present sense of vulnerability and threat. Mental defeat is not limited to PTSD however, a recent study into chronic pain revealed that mental defeat is correlated with how distressing chronic pain is felt to be.

Depression treatment and symptoms: Psychological coping

One of the core elements of psychological coping is the belief that you have the necessary means to get through your present troubles with your identity intact. However when mental defeat creeps up on you it attacks your sense of self; leaving you wondering if you can truly manage, while suspecting you cannot. This delicate balance on the edge of coping is both distressing and debilitating. Chronic pain can often leave sufferers with an intense psychological reaction to pain feeling like it has taken away their autonomy and identity.

Depression treatment and symptoms - On the edge

Depression treatment and symptoms: The study of mental defeat in chronic pain

Mental defeat was measured by agreement or otherwise with statements like these:

because of the pain I felt destroyed as a person’

‘I felt humiliated and that I was losing my sense of inner dignity’.

The study used questionnaires to assess mental defeat, pain, distress, and disability in a sample of Hong Kong Chinese. The results are also considered to be relevant to European chronic pain sufferers. Three groups of chronic pain sufferers were compared. When the pain levels of the groups was statistically controlled for the results showed that those volunteers who also scored higher on measures of mental defeat showed more poor functioning and distress, over and above the effects of pain severity.

Depression treatment and symptoms: Mental defeat is linked to depression and anxiety

Those volunteers who scored higher in mental defeat also scored higher on measures of depression and anxiety. They were also much more likely to seek specialist treatment for chronic pain.

Mental defeat is pernicious and can creep up on anyone. It has long been recognised that depression elevates the impact of pain and causes the feeling of mental defeat to be stronger and more persistent.

Chronic pain is a real problem in our modern society, with some estimates putting the incidence of chronic pain in the community as high as 46.5%. So there is a real need to provide psychological interventions and treatment strategies that help defuse the mental defeat that creeps in with chronic pain.

Depression treatment and symptoms: My CBT therapy tools for tackling mental defeat

Depression Treatment and Symptoms - Tools to tackle it

  1. To see the pain as an enemy is to open the path to victimisation. If you give the pain control over your identity then you are in a struggle you cannot win. The pain is not your enemy it is simply an experience you are having. Therefore accept the pain and don’t think of it as an intruder, an enemy or a life spoiler.
  2. Don’t fight pain with rejection or avoidance. Of course you must minimise the effects of pain by careful management but don’t refuse to accept its existence. This only places you in an oppositional place where you cannot win. I have had many clients who started out saying things like:

‘I can’t accept the pain’ I didn’t ask for it, it has robbed me of my life I won’t let it defeat me.

These are understandable sentiments but they are not usually conducive to a good outcome. Don’t fight the existence of the pain but do manage it as well as you are able.

  1. Do allow the pain to flow and ebb. Accept that it is there and is a part of you right now. Although intend that it will diminish as your engagement with it diminishes.  Pain feeds off your attention, anger, avoidance and disability. When you stop feeding pain it loses strength. Stop feeding it your negative emotions.
  2. Depression increases the burden of pain by as much as 15%. Imagine if you could have 15% less pain by changing your mental attitude. This is the goal, as you turn mental defeat, depression, anxiety and the feelings of helplessness that accompany mental defeat away you reduce your burden of pain. This in turn helps empower you to accept the pain you have; reducing further your anger over it. This further decreases your burden of pain and you become someone who has pain but is not defeated by pain.
  3. In the end mental defeat is a forlorn attempt to fight yourself. It just never works. Use a different strategy and you will get a different outcome. And along the way you will become empowered once again.

Reference

Mental Defeat Predicts Distress and Disability in Hong Kong Chinese with Chronic Pain (2013) Tang NKShum SHLeung PWChen PPSalkovskis PM.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed

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Bipolar Depression Treatment

We’re going to look at bipolar depression treatments that you can explore if you are suffering with this illness. The good news is that there are many treatments available and they’re not just medications.

bipolar depression treatment

Bipolar Depression Treatment: What is Bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is an illness in which the patient suffers  with manic and depressive episodes. It’s important that once diagnosed you persevere with bipolar depression treatment because this is a condition that you’ll have for life. It may take some trial and error to find what works for you. But when you get a treatment plan worked out that you’re happy with you will be able to get the disorder under control and enjoy your life once more.

Bipolar Depression Treatment: Diagnosis

It can take some time to get a correct diagnosis. Nina was 19 years old when she had her first manic episode.  She lost a lot of weight and barely slept as she felt she had some much energy. Her dress sense completely changed and she chose to wear much more daring clothes and engaged in reckless behaviour.

Her friends noticed the change in Nina and spoke to her parents who were also concerned. At first they wondered if she was taking drugs but she denied it. Not long after this episode Nina sank in to a huge depression. She comfort ate and put on all the weight she’d lost and a lot more. She agreed to see the doctor who initially diagnosed Nina with depression and put her on antidepressants. Nina seemed to improve and then she experienced another manic episode.

The fact that Nina experienced mania whilst taking antidepressants helped her GP make the correct diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Depression Treatment: In the media

If you watched ER you might well remember Sally Field’s character Nora who was battling with bipolar disorder. The programme did a lot to raise awareness of this disorder. However, Nora refused to take her medication which was Depakote and was seen experiencing extreme mood swings.

Luckily there are many more medications available than Depakote and lots of other treatments. So if like Nora you try something and don’t get on with it there are lots of other options.

Bipolar Depression Treatment: A treatment plan

Your complete treatment plan will likely consist of medication, therapy, knowledge of your illness, lifestyle changes, and establishing a support system.

Medication is essential to stabilise your mood whereas therapy can help you to deal with the way this disorder has affected your life. When Nina’s mood was under control with drugs she was mortified about her behaviour during her manic episodes. Through therapy she was able to repair her relationships with her friends and family and learn how to deal with her feelings.

Bipolar depression treatment

Nina actively sought information about bipolar disorder which she shared with her friends and family helping them to understand the illness. Through these means she gained a support system of people that she could turn to when she experienced set backs.

It’s important to make lifestyle changes which support your recovery. Nina used to keep very irregular hours often studying until the early hours of the morning and then lying in bed until noon. As part of her treatment plan she went to bed at a set time each night and got up at the same time each morning. Other lifestyle changes which are beneficial are to cut out alcohol and drugs.

Bipolar Depression Treatment: Types of therapy

Therapy is an important part of your treatment plan. Catherine Zeta Jones is an actress who has been very open about her bipolar disorder. When she left residential treatment she was reported as saying, “When you get sideswiped like that [by her husband’s illness], it’s an obvious trigger for your balance to be a little bit off – not sleeping, worry, stress. It’s a classic trigger. When Michael was diagnosed with cancer I really thought, ‘You are going to have to wipe me off the floor. This happens to people all the time, but it’s still a huge shock when the cards start to fall and you realize, ‘My God, it really is happening to us.’ “I thought I didn’t have the [emotional] tools to cope. But it’s amazing where the strength comes from – from family and friends, from strangers supporting us.”

Different people respond to different treatments. There’s a number of types of therapy which you can try and see which suits you best.

Family-focused therapy is a good way to work with your family so that they understand your disorder and can be a support system for you. Interpersonal therapy is another option. Interpersonal therapy focuses on relationship issues you may have with your friends and family and help you deal with them. Social rhythm therapy can help you to establish routines which support your illness such as regular eating, sleeping and exercise patterns.

bipolar depression treatment family support

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT therapy) is a talking therapy which helps you to challenge and change negative thoughts and behaviours. CBT therapy is something which you can work through with a therapist or you can select computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (CCBT.) Mood Control and Blues Begone are two examples of Computerized CBT which you can undertake in your own home. CCBT can be a great self help choice if you want to begin therapy immediately or can’t afford to pay for therapy.

Bipolar Depression Treatment: Complementary therapies

If you are searching for alternative depression treatments for your bipolar disorder, there are complementary therapies that you can also incorporate in to your treatment plan if you find them helpful.

Acupuncture can help some people to reduce their symptoms of depression and mania. Meditation is a useful practice that helps you to become in tune with your body and to live within the present. Another useful therapy is light and dark therapy. It helps to regulate biological rhythms to restore sleep-wake cycles.

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Seeking an alternative depression treatment?

What is an alternative depression treatment? Well in this case we’re looking at options that aren’t medication. Usually antidepressant meds are the first treatment plan people consider after finding out that they are suffering with depression.

alternative depression treatment running
Antidepressants have their place but with them come side effects. And if you only use antidepressants to treat your depression when you stop taking them you have a 60% chance of relapsing.

So what can you do? Consider alternative depression treatments as part of your assault on depression.

Alternative depression treatment: Lifestyle changes

For some, looking for alternative treatments for depression, lifestyle changes are all that’s required but they can also be an important part of an overall treatment program if your depression is more severe.

Stress

Spend a few minutes looking at your life and identifying causes of stress and consider how you might reduce this.

Mark’s depression became substantially worse after he took a new job. His manager seemed to dislike him immediately and bullied him almost from day one. Mark realised this was adding to his stress and depression so made a complaint to HR. They worked with Mark to try to improve the situation but he didn’t feel it was enough. Mark was lucky enough to find a new job where he worked with much nicer people who recognised his ability and were very supportive. By reducing stress in this area he found that his depression eased considerably and very quickly.

Sleep

How well are you sleeping? Try to make sure that you are getting enough rest. You will find your symptoms are worse if you are trying to get by on less than 7 hours sleep a night.

alternative depression treatment sleeping
Diet

What is your diet like? In my experience people suffering with depression either comfort eat or don’t eat enough. Whilst fast food, chocolate and desserts may be really attractive try to ensure that you eat a balanced diet with plenty for fresh fruit and vegetables. And eat regularly. This will ensure that your sugar levels don’t dip and help to stabilise your mood.

Exercise

Regular exercise is an important weapon in the fight against depression.  It’s a great alternative depression treatment because when you exercise it releases endorphins and boosts serotonin which make you feel happy. If you’re not used to exercise start with walking as walking is a great stress buster. Just 30 minutes a day is enough to make a difference to how you feel.

Brandon had started taking antidepressant meds when his father died. It coincided with a very stressful time in his life as Brandon was also studying for his law degree finals. His GP prescribed antidepressants for depression with the idea of helping Brandon to get through the exams. After his exams Brandon started seeing a psychologist. After a few months Brandon was keen to come off the antidepressant meds. He joined a gym and went five times a week really focusing on cardio. Brandon came to really enjoy running especially and when his 30 minutes were up he often kept going  for another 15-30 minutes. Under his doctor’s supervision Brandon was able to reduce and finally come off the antidepressants  without feeling his mood dip. Exercise continues to be a constant part of Brandon’s life and his depression has never returned.

Alternative Depression Treatment: Supplements

In addition to alternative depression treatments there are some natural treatments for depression which you can try. As far as supplements go St John’s Wort is probably the most well known. You can learn more in my natural treatments for depression article.

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Alternative Depression Treatment: Complementary Therapies

If you’re seeking an alternative treatment for depression then complementary therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture can also be helpful.

The way homeopathy works is to treat the whole person. Before prescribing a remedy a homeopath would consider your mental and bodily types along with your symptoms. There isn’t a one size fits all in homeopathy. One person with depression could get a different remedy  from another.

If you are taking antidepressants homeopathy had still be used in addition.

With acupuncture very fine needles are inserted in to the skin at specific points to unblock stagnant energy in the body. It’s a practice that has been used for many years in the East. Among other things Acupuncture can lift your mood and reduce stress.

Alternative Depression Treatment: Therapy

Those who seek therapy for depression have  around a 30% chance of relapsing within two years . If you only take antidepressant medication than your chance of relapsing within two years is around 60%. So I think you’ll agree that it’s worth exploring  therapy.

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Why is this the case? Well, therapy helps you get to the root of your depression. Through therapy you can uncover the underlying cause.

There are different types of therapy you can try but Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT therapy is put forward by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as the psychological treatment of choice for mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

CBT therapy is a talking therapy that can help you challenge negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

I favour CBT therapy because it gives you, the patient, a greater knowledge and sense of control over the whole process.

Our feelings are not a good guide to reality in a lot of circumstances and in particularly when we have very negative beliefs and feelings about ourselves. If we don’t challenge these beliefs and feelings and change them they will continue to exert a powerful influence over us and they will distort and eventually ruin the course of our lives causing depression, for example.

CBT therapy is a good way to go about changing your thoughts and feelings.

Alternative Depression Treatment: Finding a therapist

Your GP should be able to refer to a good therapist or you can ask around and see if anyone has a therapist they recommend.

Sometimes you can’t access therapy as quickly or cheaply as you’d like. If you find that’s the case there are some online courses such as Mood Control which you can begin immediately.

There are also free CBT exercises on the internet which you can use to get you started.

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Clinical depression treatments: Your soul has a cold (Kokoro no Kaze)

Clinical depression treatments vary tremendously depending on where you live. This comes from the fact that attitudes to depression can be very different across the globe.

Japan traditionally suffered twice the suicide rate of the USA. However, talking about depression in Japan had always been a very different matter from talking about it in Western countries. In our language, the word for depression is interchangeable with dips in landscape, economy or mood. But in Japanese the word for depression (utsubyo) was used only to describe major depressive disorders and/or mania. Indeed it was seldom heard outside psychiatric circles.

clinical-depression-treatments-in-Japan
In Japan, to talk about or express feelings, people relied on the word ki or ”vital energy.” When describing low mood people might use the word ‘Ki’ and couple it with expressions of sadness because their Ki was sluggish, blocked or leaking.

Moreover there had always been a keep it to yourself (KITY) social norm in Japan where there was merit in not burdening others with your problems. And for both cultural and religious reasons people with mental health problems like depression were likely to suffer stigmatization, in addition, to the burden of their psychological problem.

Traditionally the major pharmaceutical companies had bypassed Japan when marketing anti depressants because there was not a disorder of depression recognized in Japan to treat and therefore no market for antidepressants. Until that is a new phrase was coined that linked the traditional Japanese notion of Ki and low mood. Kokoro no kaze (your soul has a cold)

Clinical depression treatments: Your soul has a cold

The effect of this clever combination of traditional word and understanding coupled with the new way to talking about something that was an unspoken problem for Japanese society started slowly but with gathering pace to change the status of depression. Depression became defined as a ‘real’ problem. And real problems have real solutions!

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Clinical depression treatments: Antidepressant meds

So far so good. The problem I have with this story is not that depression in Japan was under reported and under treated, I think that is self evident.  And clearly the changing force needed to bring this problem into awareness against a strong and established cultural norm was very substantial. All of that I believe was to the common good. No, the problem I have with this overall approach is that in Japan depression has been characterized as an entirely biological problem that is therefore can only be solved by the use of antidepressant drugs.

Clinical depression treatments:  How the Japanese viewed low mood

To put the problem into an historical context the traditional way of thinking about suffering in Japan may shed some light on why depression was never considered a disease. ‘Melancholia, sensitivity, fragility were not considered to be negative experiences for Japanese hence they were not considered to be problems in need to a solution. They were not considered bad in and of themselves.

Clinical depression treatments: The medical model of depression

In contrast the medical model of depression categorizes suffering as pathological and a problem that requires an intervention. Normally this is a pill. It is the case that the treatment of diseases in more easily understood and funded by health insurance companies and national health agencies and of course the classification of something as a disease helps remove some of the potential for stigmatization. But it also creates a market for the solution where previously none existed. Some critics of this approach have argued that it leads to the pathologisation of normal emotion; the tipping point where moods become medical problems and as such it turns normal human experiences into commodities to be managed.

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Clinical depression treatments: A Little history

Eli Lilly had decided in the late 1980s against selling Prozac into Japan as there was virtually no demand for antidepressant meds. Even though throughout the western world Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s were becoming a virtual cultural phenomena – the antidepressant era!

In 1999, Meiji Seika Kaisha a Japanese company began selling the SSR Depromel. Meiji was among the first users of the phrase kokoro no kaze.

The following year, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) the maker of the antidepressant Paxil joined Meiji by entering the Japanese market.  At this point people did not realize they were suffering from a disease and so GSK put substantial effort into the re-education of the normal Japanese doctor. GSK created a simply message: ”Depression is a disease that anyone can get. It can be cured by medicine. Early detection is important.”

In the early 2000s GSK sent 1,350 Paxil-promoting representatives to visit doctors on average of twice a week. With additional campaigns to teach GPs and their patients about the symptoms of depression: ”head feels heavy, cannot sleep, stiff shoulders, backache, tired and lazy, no appetite, not intrigued, feel depressed.”

Clinical depression treatments: Recognition of depression is useful

I have to acknowledge that recognition of depression is better than not recognising it. Depression is a problem that causes untold misery. Even today in Japan data suggest that 6.6% of Japanese have depression.

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Clinical depression treatments: Depression is a psychological problem

To promote depression as a solely biological problem is to tell an incomplete story. As a psychologist I am not a dispassionate observer of the capture of  depression by the medical establishment. I treat depression every working day and most of the time my clients never use antidepressant meds. Therefore my experience of clinical depression treatments shows me that depression is more than adequately treated by psychological therapy and probably best by CBT Therapy.  Nevertheless most psychological therapies are likely to have value as depression treatments.

I cannot blame the pharmaceutical companies for doing what they do which is to sell pharmaceuticals. And I know it is a common meme to bash the multi national drug companies. I can see they do a lot of good in many areas. If you have malaria you should take an anti malarial medication. But if you have a psychological problem that is better treated by a psychological therapy than a drug treatment then I have an issue with the bias in the message. That’s all.

The moral question is this: are we only consumers or human beings who can also consume? To assert and promote that depression is only a biological problem without also stating that it is a psychological problem is obviously good business for pharmaceutical companies but it is ultimately misleading and I think in the end immoral. If there are better depression treatments even though they cannot be packaged and sold by pharmaceutical companies they have an obligation to inform the public because that is a morally good act. I don’t observe this happening right now. How have we sleep walked to this place in the world where the pursuit of commercial advantage and money takes precedence over honesty, integrity and the common good?

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Attacking anxiety and depression: Correcting faulty thinking part 5

Conclusion Jumping

This is the final article in our attacking anxiety and depression: correcting faulty thinking series which has so far looked at how the brain works and thinking develops, how and why your brain makes errors and the consequences of faulty thinking, and how the depressed brain makes more errors than normal.

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Any time you draw a conclusion, make a decision, statement, judgment or interpretation that is ‘black or white’, ‘all or nothing’ or that is ‘overly negative’, even ‘catastrophic’ and thereby leads to you feeling down, can be labelled as Conclusion Jumping.

This can be likened to looking down a telescope or tube at something. When you do this you only ever see a fraction of what could be seen. Conclusion Jumping limits your available options because it prevents you from perceiving everything that is really out there.

Examples of Conclusion Jumping are:

  • If I am not the best, I am a failure.
  • I have to do everything to the best of my ability, or there is no point   in even trying.
  • People never change
  • Life is ruined
  • Men/Women are all the same
  • If I cannot change by tomorrow there is no point in trying
  • Really creative people do not need to try very hard
  • If I do not get this job, that is it, I will never work again
  • Nothing can help me
  • I might have died, next time I will
  • You are my friend or you are my enemy

Attacking anxiety and depression: Talking Down

When you think or speak of yourself or other people in a negative way, when you use should or must as absolute instructions or when you use emotions as a guide to reality, then that is ‘Talking Down’.

Using language in any way that detracts from your worth or the worth of someone else is an example of ‘Talking Down’. Talking Down is very damaging to your well being.

Once Talking Down starts it rapidly establishes itself as an automatic habit pattern that pervades every aspect of your mental activity.

Examples of ‘Talking Down’ are:

  • I should be a better father
  • I should be well by now
  • I am ugly
  • I am not worth anything
  • People like that are useless
  • I do not matter
  • I am failing as a mother
  • I should not let it all get to me as much as it does

Attacking anxiety and depression: Why it is worth challenging faulty thinking

In general the fact that the brain uses short cuts to reduce energy and processing time is not the problem, most of the time your brain gets it more or less right.

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Nevertheless, errors do happen and it is when you do not recognise or challenge the errors that they quickly become automatic. This is when short cut errors lead to faulty thinking. Faulty thinking is a major factor in the development and maintenance of all psychological problems and especially in depression.

If you put effort into recognising and challenging faulty thinking you gain a valuable tool for taking control over your low mood. For this to happen it is necessary to turn automatic processes once again into conscious processes. This requires practise and constant attention on what you think, say and do, coupled with a willingness to recognise that some brain processes will need to be re-trained to ensure your well being.

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Attacking anxiety and depression: Correcting faulty thinking part 4

The depressed brain makes more errors

The attacking anxiety and depression: correcting faulty thinking series has so far looked at how the brain works and thinking develops, how and why your brain makes errors and the consequences of faulty thinking. In part four we’re going to look at how the depressed brain makes more errors than normal.

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Much of our understanding of Active Self Help for depression and anxiety  is derived from research showing that people who suffer from depression make many more shortcut errors.

This research has shown that when mood is low the brain recognises negative sounding words such as (gloom, sad, pain) faster than positive words such as (happy, glad, smile). This demonstrable fact has been shown time and time again.

This illustrates that the brain of a depressed person has learned to accept depressing information into the system more readily than positive information. This is one of the damaging things that acts to keep your mood low.

The most damaging aspect of shortcut errors is that when you generate your own negative thoughts about yourself, they are not usually recognised as short cut errors and are processed faster than other kinds of thoughts.

The sheer repetition of your negative thoughts about yourself has turned them into Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). They were originally created as shortcut errors but now are out of your conscious control. They are automatic and because of this are deadly.

Attacking anxiety and depression:  The summary so far

  • Your brain constantly works to understand the world
  • Your senses take in information from the surrounding world and pass that information to your brain
  • Your brain interprets this information in habitual ways (short cuts), saving time and energy
  • Brain short cuts that go wrong can lead to the wrong understanding or interpretation of events
  • Negative thoughts are always a consequence of faulty thinking
  • Shortcut errors quickly become automatic

Attacking anxiety and depression:   How you can recognize shortcut errors

Here are some pointers you can learn that always indicate brain shortcut errors have happened. Shortcut errors always:

  • Lead to inaccurate negative thoughts
  • Distort reality
  • Lead to you to feeling negative about yourself
  • Lead to self destructive thinking

If you ever experience any of these kinds of problems, you can be quite sure that a short cut error has triggered faulty thinking. If a program on your home computer were working badly you would take one of a number of steps to rectify the problem. You must now start to rectify the shortcut errors that are causing your brain to constantly lead you into faulty thinking.

There are three classes of faulty thinking that we would like you to become aware of. We have labeled these as Mind reading, Conclusion Jumping and Talking Down. Here are some examples. We will also give you a training task to give you practice recognising these faulty thinking errors.

Attacking anxiety and depression:  Mindreading

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Mindreading is very damaging because it leads you to assume you know something that you could not possibly know. It leads you act as if you have a mind reader’s crystal ball; to believe you can see into the mind and know the intentions of another person without any words at all being spoken. Below are examples of Mindreading:

  • He/she thinks I am a failure;
  • Everyone can see how stressed I am;
  • If I talk to him/her they will see right through me;
  • They know I am a fraud;
  • People can see I am useless;
  • If I attempt it everyone will see how nervous I am;
  • I am an open book.

You know Mindreading is happening if: you believe you know something you could not possibly know.

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Attacking anxiety and depression: Correcting faulty thinking part 3

The consequences of faulty thinking

So far in the attacking anxiety and depression: correcting faulty thinking series we’ve looked at how the brain works and thinking develops and how and why your brain makes errors. In part three I’d like to focus on the consequences of faulty thinking – how this affects you.

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Attacking anxiety and depression:  What are the consequences of faulty thinking?

When the short cuts your brain makes go wrong, you are left with the wrong interpretation or understanding of something. Imagine the experience of seeing someone from behind, being convinced it is someone you know.

You tap them on the shoulder and it turns out to be a stranger. That is an example of a short cut error that could be called faulty thinking. In this example you jumped to a conclusion without enough information to be fully sure you knew the person. If this has happened to you there is not likely any harm done, it was a mistake.

Sadly, many human error disasters and accidents can be wholly attributed to short cut errors. The human brain often misjudges the distances between things, miscalculates the speed of something, hears what it expects to hear and interprets something in an habitual way.

In fact it jumps to conclusions,  it sees what it expects to see, it hears what it expects to hear and is imagines things that have not happened. All of these are based on scanty information and the application of rules that are no longer valid.

Sometimes faulty thinking can have catastrophic effects. And the same principles that underlie the faulty thinking in disaster or accident situations also happen in everyday life and can lead to very serious problems;  leaving you dealing with depression and anxiety.

Attacking anxiety and depression:  How faulty thinking creates psychological problems

You are equipped with the ability to be self-critical. Depending upon your life experiences up to this point, your ability to be self critical will be more or less developed. For many people it will be highly developed. But be under no illusion, everyone is critical about themselves to some degree.

If you experience times in your life when you are overloaded, stressed, burdened, confused, tired, unsure or unstable, then your self critical capacity is increased. At the same time your brain is probably working hard to manage the problems you perceive in your life. This is when short cut errors become highly dangerous.

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When your brain makes a shortcut error and the outcome is negative, self destructive, depressing or fear inducing, you may not recognize it as a short cut error. You may accept it as a fact. This increases unpleasant negative emotions and depresses your mood further. Remember: if an error has happened once it is more likely to happen again. The next time your brain makes a short cut error you again accept it as fact. And so this continues until the shortcut error is automatic. You no longer question it.

The process can repeat itself many times with many forms of shortcut error. Your job now is to recognize short cut errors and bring them once again under conscious control; because only by bringing them under conscious control can you rectify them.

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Attacking anxiety and depression: Correcting faulty thinking part 2

Brain Processing Errors

In part one of attacking anxiety and depression: correcting faulty thinking I talked to you a little about how your brain works so that you could understand how thinking develops. In part two I’d like to tell about how and why your brain makes errors and what that means for your mental health.

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Attacking anxiety and depression: How your brain works

Firstly, I should point out that your brain works very well indeed. However, in any system that has to manage the vast amounts of data your brain does, there will always be the possibility of error. The study of brain processing errors is a whole field of research that helps us better understand how the brain works. Many common errors seem to be the result of the brain using an inappropriate short cut. Which means the brain applies a strategy or rules it has used before thereby not having to fully process something. This leads to what we have called shortcut errors.

Attacking anxiety and depression: Brain short cut errors

The real problem with these errors is not so much that errors exist, but that you do not recognise them as errors.
Remember the effect of learning and repetition which we talked about in part one? Well, if an error occurs and it is not recognised it becomes easier to make the same error again; and after 50 errors it is automatic.

Sometimes this really does not matter very much. Suppose you acquired the habit of never eating green vegetables as a child because you mistakenly believed they were poisonous. It is now automatic. You never eat them. It is probably not going to hurt you much.

But suppose you acquired the habit of thinking of yourself as stupid. If you have thought it 50 times or more it is likely to be automatic. Lack of green vegetables will not stop you from achieving your life goals; thinking of yourself as stupid probably will. Both are examples of shortcut errors we have called faulty thinking.

Attacking anxiety and depression: The Muller Lyer Illusion

muller lyer illusion
Look at this picture. It is called a Muller Lyer illusion. Can you decide which of the horizontal lines is the longer, the one on the left or the one on the right?

This illusion is one of many tools that is used to study brain shortcut errors. Actually the horizontal lines are both the same length. But the way the diagonal lines are arranged fools your brain into thinking that the line on the right is shorter and the line on the left is longer. Feel free to measure them with a ruler is you feel the need.

The fact that your brain can make short cut errors may seem strange to you; if so, you can now see why you may have never corrected the errors. The fact is you would not recognise any thought or belief as an error unless you were shown how to see it in the first place. This is what we will do in part three.

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Ever wondered ‘how long will I live?’

Will you live to be 100?

Live-to-be-100Have you ever wondered, ‘how long will I live?’ We all have an attraction to the idea that maybe there is a way to see into the future and even to control the future to some extent. One thing is for sure, we are all living longer and as such are going to have more future about which to speculate. Have you thought about living to a hundred?

When you think about how long you can live you’ll realise that living to 100 is not ‘off the wall’ anymore. Many people will do it, maybe even you. Women live longer than men which is nice for them. But we are all likely to live longer than our ancestors, though quantity isn’t everything, there has to be quality of life as well. In fact, in the end, quality might be the most important element. If you are keen to know,’how long will I live’ and find the thought of living to 100 intriguing, then download the attached report and see your probability of living to 100.

I couldn’t resist finding out the answer to ‘how long will I live?’

I was fascinated to see my likelihood of living to be 100. It is about 10% but if you look at the numbers of people living to be 100 it is increasing a very great deal. By the time I get there it is estimated that there will be over 200,000 women at 100 and about 100,000 men. That is a massive increase of today’s rate.

When you think you want to live a long life remember living a long time is not the only concern…it is how you live.

I often make a distinction between destination and journey. You may have a lot more years but you also want them to contribute to a satisfying and enjoyable journey towards 100.

Taking responsibility for your journey

The truth is we cannot know the answer to the question, ‘how long will I live’ nor can we know what will happen to us on our journey. But that does not prevent us from taking what control we can over aspects of our journey. Every day is full of choices and the way we choose them determines our path.

A few years ago a user of the Blues Begone program said… ‘it is amazing I realized that you are only as depressed as your last thought.’  This is an empowering idea because it reveals some of the profound truth behind CBT therapy, when you change the way you think about yourself then you can change your life trajectory.

It is self evident that you have the potential to have more control over your internal world, if you know how to get it and exercise it. And yet anxiety problems and depression problems, which are both very common reveal a loss of psychological control. So, following this theme of taking what control you can how might we have an enjoyable and meaningful life journey?

Look after your mental health

CBT Therapy_1
As a psychologist this is my primary concern. Without good mood then everything else seems much less valuable. Mood disorders like anxiety and depression are very common and yet they are also very treatable. There are various treatment options available but in general I favour those that create a greater knowledge and sense of control over the whole process. Which is why CBT therapy is my favoured approach for helping people to have a good quality of life, it directly focuses on those profound elements that deliver meaningful life.

Meaning in life

Curiously it is not entirely clear if there is a particular type of thought that shortens your life. You might think catastrophic thoughts or worrying thoughts could potentially shorten you life as they create stress and spoil your present moment. However I am not at all sure the data supports this viewpoint. What does seem to be important is creating and maintaining a sense of meaning in life. It does not seem to matter how you do it but strive to find life a meaningful endeavour. The loss of meaning that accompanies depression is therefore problematic. And this is probably why depression can be a life shortening disorder.

Humans come into this life pre-programmed to find meaning in life. We seek it out and we create it from the things we see and do. If you find yourself without meaning in life then this is likely to be a consequence of some faulty thought processes and can be addressed and worked with. Depression treatment, especially in CBT therapy has powerful tools for doing this (for more information see The Mood Control System.

Excessive fearfulness always seen in anxiety problems can also be adequately treated by a comprehensive anxiety therapy (to start you off you’ll want to watch my film, What is anxiety? How does it affect you? below:

Psychological research has put a lot of resources into figuring out how to be happy and live a worthwhile life. Here are some of the things we know for sure.

Do work you find meaningful

(Bear in mind that no one ever lay on their deathbed and said ‘I wish I had worked harder’)

Make an effort to derive meaning and purpose from your work. If at all possible enjoy what you do, This usually follows from taking a sense of satisfaction from the work. However what it really means is to take a certain amount of responsibility for what you do. It is possible you work in a horrible job that you hate. But this is not conducive to a long and happy life. It is stressful and fills your days with time spent in an environment you dislike. Therefore change it. If necessary invest in yourself and your education or skills to enable to you do something you really find fulfilling. There are many careers in the world that people find engaging and life enhancing, or at the very least interesting and stimulating. These surely are the goals of a working life. But only you can take the necessary steps to ensure it happens. So be responsible for you working life.

A bit of my story

When I was a teenager I took my first job which was an apprenticeship, in a heavy industry. I really disliked the job but what I disliked even more was the sense that the management was responsible for everything and the worker was there to do as much as possible for as little as possible. This was a perspective that both disempowered the worker but also made it hard for people to develop their skills and expertise; although many did, but it made it hard to enjoy the process of being expert and knowledgeable. In essence I don’t think it matters too much what you do but make sure you gain some satisfaction and a sense of mastery from it.

Stay as fit as practical but don’t overdo it!

First things first. A lot of exercise can be bad for you!

I have spoken about studies in the past that have documented the beneficial effects of moderate exercise on longevity. The days of most of us doing manual jobs are gone and if you, like me sit down for most of the day then you like me have a problem. The trouble for me is that what we call exercise now is institutionalized. We use gyms and have workouts when perhaps what we need to do is to incorporate exercise into our daily lives. Walking as much as possible and using our muscles as much as we can within the environment in which we live. In the UK gardening is a great fair weather exercise and combines both movement and interest so it is fantastic.

Find things you can do that are interesting to you as opposed to simply being exercise. Surely if you can engage in a hobby activity that is also exercising then so much the better. The fact is that the alternative of not staying as fit as practical is you lose some of your longevity but as with all things in life moderation is the key. If you enjoy hard exercise like marathons then good for you. But if you’re concerned with the question, ‘how long will I live,’ they will not lengthen your life and may even cause you longer term problems.

Relationships are important

People usually say that the most important things in their lives are relationships with others. We are social animals and what we value is the quality of the time spent with people who mean something to us. If you think about what makes an experience meaningful to you it is likely to be the sense of emotion you get from it. A film that engages your emotions is much more easily remembered than one that does not. The same is true for relationships and the experiences we have when in relationships.

Relationships are the most meaningful processes we have and they enrich our lives. Of course they have to be decent relationships to do that. We don’t want massively stressful ones or ones that are burdensome to us. Therefore following the theme to taking responsibility for our lives see what you can you do today to make your relationship deeper and richer. And if you don’t have one put some effort in engaging another human being in a conversation that is meaningful (not just greetings and stock phrases.)

There is also one important relationship we must not overlook. It is the relationship you have with yourself. Many clients I have seen over the years have been very conflicted within themselves. They may hold two or more positions about what they think about themselves, the world and even their own future. They are both highly competent and yet very self critical causing a lot of anger and internal conflict. If you experience this it is often a precursor to symptoms of depression and anxiety but is entirely amenable to a comprehensive depression treatment or anxiety therapy such as CBT therapy so while it may feel impossible to resolve it’s actually very resolvable. 

Every day you can make choices that change the trajectory of your life’s journey for the better. This is empowering information but only if you take the choices that are presented almost every moment of every day. Taking more control of your life is simply about seeing what is already there and making informed choices rather than letting chance determine what happens next.

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