Our not so realistic reality

Not so real reality

Not so real reality

The basis of any anxiety or panic problem is a personal belief about something that in reality is not true. Whatever your individual fear may be, the chances are that it is completely illogical and not at all rooted in real facts. Living a life based entirely on thoughts and feelings which we know don’t reflect reality is one of the strangest experiences a person can have, and yet so many of us live this way every day, sometimes without even realizing they’re wrong.

Myself, I could say with total conviction that I know my anxious thoughts are incorrect. My logical brain is well aware that a panic attack will do me no harm; I’ve had more than enough to factually confirm that. However, there is still that thought, a voice so to speak, which convinces me to avoid any situation that could cause a panic attack because there is always a “what if?”. This makes my anxiety very difficult to explain to others, and I know I’m not alone. People will say “there’s nothing to worry about, you’ll be fine” and you can’t help but answer “I know I will”. They ask why you’re so scared if you know you’re going to be safe, and unfortunately you’re left with no real answer. It is simply a feeling which guides you through your day, and although this may only make up 1% of your thoughts, that 1% is stronger than all of your logical thoughts combined.

It seems mad, on paper, to allow something you know is wrong to dictate everything you do. From what you eat, to where you go, to who you go there with, this one small sensation, which tells you that maybe this time will be so much worse than all the others, is in control of your life. It doesn’t take long to collect a full repertoire of symptoms and side effects of anxiety, from heart palpitations to nausea and full panic attacks. You become familiar with each one, you’ve experienced them all at their very worst and still survived to tell the tales, but still you continue to avoid and fear situations which may cause them again, all because of one tiny voice.

Imagine a world where this voice, this feeling, is the minority. Where you consider that maybe there is a risk, a small “what if?”, but you don’t allow it to control you because you truly do believe that those anxious thoughts are nothing but lies. Simply knowing that your paranoid brain is wrong is just step one, and while it’s an excellent step, it doesn’t change the fact that there is still a part of you which refuses to commit to the belief entirely. There is so much more freedom and liberation which comes with fully accepting and internalising the idea that these thoughts you have are only there to hold you back, and in no way reflect what life is really like. You first have to realise that you’ve seen it all before, you have the wisdom and benefit that comes with experience. You have been through the worst of it and you are still standing, and that should suggest that maybe, just maybe, some part of your way of thinking is very, very wrong.

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Alexithymia – Can you describe your emotions?

 

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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Only the Dead Fish go with the Flow

This is the first of a three part series called, Only the Dead Fish Go with the Flow, that helps explain how human problems come into being. In this film I explore the negative consequences of going with the flow, like the dead fish, and how it ultimately leads to a loss of control. 

I then go onto explain what happens when you move from a comfort zone to a discomfort zone, with common consequences being low mood, depression, anxiety and stress.

The Dead Fish

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT Therapy)

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a very effective strategy for helping you go against the flow, so that you’re not one of the dead fish, once again to regain control of your life and thereby helping you move from your discomfort zone back into your comfort zone.

It is often very surprising for people when they realise the consequences of going with the flow but even more so when they see how little effort it really takes to go against the flow. 

If you suffer depression, anxiety or stress then you have probably been going with the flow like the dead fish. 

The text from the film is here in case you prefer being able to read it.

Hi I’m Dr David Purves

Have you ever wondered how human problems such as stress, anxiety and depression come about?

If you have you’re not alone. 

Virtually every client I’ve ever had in my consulting room has said, "I didn’t think this would happen to me. How did this happen?"

Well if you want to know the answer to that question stay tuned.

Some years ago a client said to me only the dead fish go with the flow which I thought was a very profound statement. 

Only the dead fish go with the flow … and that brings me to the River Thames here in Berkshire where I live.

The River Thames

The River Thames originates in Gloucestershire and goes through some counties, through Berkshire, through London and down in to the sea.

Now, the non tidal part of the Thames always goes the same way. It never goes the other way. If you had a boat on the River Thames and you went with the flow like the dead fish you’d have no control over where you went. You wouldn’t be able to stop and start. You wouldn’t be able to have any control over your destination, like the dead fish. 

To gain control you have to go ever so slightly against the flow and then the rudders and propeller can bite and you can steer and you can do whatever you want.

So the first part of the answer to the question of, “how did I get here” is that going with the flow gives you no control over the destination that you’ll end up in or the quality of your journey.

From Dead Fish to Boiling Frogs

Now a client, a different client, said to me a few years ago, “If you get a frog and you put it in a pan of cold water and you put the pan of cold water on a cooker  and you very slowly heat the water, the frog will stay in the water until it eventually boils to death. Alternatively if you put the frog straight into the boiling water it will jump straight out.”

Now why might a frog stay in the boiling water until it boils to death? What’s the mechanism by which that could happen?

Well, frogs and cats and pretty much all animals and humans have change neurons in the brain.

Now change neurons are designed to notice change on a moment by moment basis. They’re really interested in contrast.

So if you were to put a frog in the water and heat it up very slowly the change from comfort zone to discomfort zone is so slow that the change neurons don’t fire and the frog doesn’t recognise that it’s moving inextricably from a comfort zone to a discomfort zone. And isn’t that the part of the answer to the question of how do human problems occur?

Comfort Zones and Discomfort Zones

We start off in a comfort zone and we say yes that’s OK. I’ll cope, it’s not too bad. But slowly, as the process of change occurs we move from our comfort zone to our discomfort zone. All of a sudden you wake up and say, “How did I get here? I don’t like this at all! Ahhhhhh!”

Now if you find yourself in a discomfort zone you feel low, depressed, anxious or stressed. You’re going to be underestimating your strengths and resources and you’re going to be overestimating your faults and failings.

The present experience that you’re having is not going to be something that you’re really enjoying  and the future just does not look attractive at all.

If you’re anxious you’re feeling unsafe and vulnerable. You’re probably putting quite a lot of effort into trying to stay safe but what that means is you’re squeezing your life down until you have a much much smaller living space that feels a bit more like a comfort zone but actually you’re doing less than you used to do. You’re pushing yourself out less than you did before and you’re actually restricting your life by a substantial extent.

If you’re stressed, the tasks and the things that you need to achieve far exceed your perception of your ability to achieve them; you don’t have enough time, not enough resources to do things adequately. 

So if you find yourself in a discomfort zone what can you do about it?

Well traditionally some form of psychotherapy has always been good to help you to go against the flow and to move back from the discomfort zone towards the comfort zone.

Of course not everyone wants to access face-to-face therapy. Not everyone wants to embark on it. Not everyone wants to go through that process.

If you did, however, cognitive behaviour therapy or CBT therapy is the treatment of choice. It’s what the Government recommends. It’s what the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends but CBT therapy is relatively scarce in some parts of the world. It’s expensive and it’s not something you might want to embark on.

For that reason I’ve created the Mood Control CBT System. Mood Control enables you to have the benefits of CBT in your life via your own computer. Mood Control delivers a CBT coaching course to you wherever you are in the world.

Now, I’ll be telling you a little bit more about Mood Control in a later film. This film is part of a series. In the next film I’m going to offer you a very strange thought.

Your brain is not your friend.

Your brain will actually create goals that you wouldn’t sign up for and then it can motivate you to achieve those goals.

Your brain can create anxiety and stress. It can create those experiences for you and then keep you trapped in them.

Well, if you want to know how that happens. If you want to know the means, the mechanism for how that occurs, make sure you watch the next film.

If we have your email address you’ll get it automatically. If not you can sign up below to receive the next film, free.

I hope that you’ve found this film interesting and potentially thought provoking. Whatever problem you struggle with – depression, anxiety, stress, panic, OCD, generalised anxieties – it’s likely that the benefits of CBT therapy will reduce the burden of the problem you have and potentially take you all the way back from the discomfort zone in to your comfort zone.

Thanks for taking the time to listen. 

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