Attacking Anxiety and Depression: Where you place your attention determines your mood
This post and the films attached to it can form part of an anxiety and depression treatment using the principles of CBT therapy.
When you’re attacking anxiety and depression, where you place your attention is important. Low mood, depression, anxiety problems or worry can all be better understood if you consider this question! Where is your attention placed a lot of the time? If you think a lot about the past then you may be reinterpreting it in a negative way. If you place a lot of your attention in the future you may be creating catastrophic scenarios that never happen but leave you in a chronic state of worry. But consider this! The present may actually be okay, have you considered this possibility?
Attacking Anxiety and Depression: Your attention is a resource that can be managed
Your brain is like a brilliant super computer. And as we know computers are able to create 3D animated realities. The fabulous Pixar movies like Toy Story and Shrek are examples of what computing power can be used to create. Your brain uses some of its own computing power to create a continuous virtual reality simulation of the world inside your mind. Just take a moment and inspect what is in your mind right now, well that is the virtual reality world created for you by your brain. This process is essential to healthy living and not something to be concerned about until it becomes misused.
Attacking Anxiety and Depression: How to misuse the virtual reality simulator in your brain
For the vast majority of the time your attention is simply attracted to the most interesting things going on. These can be interior fantasies or exterior events. Most of the time you spend driving is time when you have a small amount of free floating attention on the task of driving while the majority of your attention is directed inside focused on other things. But if a cat were to run out in front of your car or someone was to step out unexpectedly then all of your attention would be snapped back to the present moment.
The most common way you can misuse your virtual reality simulator is to allow your attention to be attracted to dramatic fantasy images, scenes and dialogue that are very negative or anxiety provoking. The power of your virtual reality simulator is such that your brain sometimes has a tough time differentiating the emotions created by fantasy and those created as a valid response to reality. You can easily make yourself feel down or anxious by focusing your attention on emotionally powerful scenes of complete fantasy.
A client recently told me this story. She said that she was called to attend a random breast screening clinic. She attended but felt very fearful and actually became tearful whilst there. She said that a few months earlier she had learnt that an old friend had died of breast cancer and my client started to imagine how hard it would be to say goodbye to her husband and daughter. She could not shake of this powerful scenario of dying and leaving her loved ones behind.
Attacking Anxiety and Depression: CBT therapy
The role of good CBT therapy is to help you to learn to recognise the power of the negative fantasy images created in your brain. This is achieved by first helping you recognise that you DO actually create them, then helping you recognize that when you inspect them you feel emotions in keeping with their story line. Then to understand that fantasy is a normal part of living but that it can be much better managed.
Attacking Anxiety and Depression: First recognise the problem
This first film in this series introduces you to the idea that your attention can be well placed or poorly placed and that low mood, depression, anxiety problems or worry can be the unwanted result of not managing your attention well.
Attacking Anxiety and Depression: Some useful tools to help manage your mood
The second film delivers some tools you can use to learn to recognise the sheer power of your attention and how to more usefully direct it towards productive and healthy directions.