Are you struggling with anxiety?

Struggling with anxiety can be an isolating, unpleasant and debilitating experience. Is it any wonder that the people suffering will try to avoid it?

The problem is this avoidance can stoke the power of anxiety so how can we tackle this increasingly prevalent condition?


This very short article seeks to explore some of the thinking styles that keep the vicious cogs of anxiety going.


The biochemistry associated with anxiety prepares us for the fight, flight or freeze response.

The part of the brain responsible for this could be thought of as an on-board smoke alarm, constantly on the lookout for threats to our survival. It keeps us safe by activating the sympathetic nervous system which enables us to fight or flee. Of course in more primitive times we may have faced threats to our survival on a daily basis and may well have needed to run away from a predator, fight others for our food or automatically become frozen so that we were in less pain whilst being devoured! But what sends these systems into overdrive these days?  


Life experiences, thinking styles and a predisposition all have a part to play.


Unhelpful Thinking Styles:


Unhelpful thinking styles can trigger the survival brain into action and once activated the thinking brain struggles to take control it may become difficult to remember things or challenge our negative thinking. It is easy to see  how this becomes a vicious cycle.


Something bad is going to happen!


If we  regularly overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening to us perhaps based on past experience, this pattern of thinking becomes ingrained. Our internal smoke alarm  may well feel under threat all of the time!


Worrying keeps me safe.


Does worrying keep you safe? If you predict every possible scenario that is likely to occur as a result of  your actions are you be protected from hurt, rejection, danger? .


I must be prepared for every eventuality


Perhaps you believe if you workout every possible thing that might go wrong you will be more prepared to deal with the situation if it occurs. How many of those scenarios ever come into play? How much time have you wasted worrying unnecessarily? Has this style of thinking triggered more anxiety?



If I avoid the situation my anxiety will go away


One of the results of distorted thinking and the anxiety is that it creates is avoidant behaviour. Perhaps you can think of an example where you avoided a social situation because you have thought of too many “potential” dangers. Perhaps you self-sabotaged a promotion because it meant standing up and publicly speaking? Perhaps you have avoided a difficult conversation because you worry about the outcome. Unfortunately when we start to avoid we never get to challenge our fears and distorted predictions so we never get to see that things can take a more positive path and we become locked into that groove of anxiety.


Perhaps I can help you to work out what fuels your anxiety and perhaps together we could get you to step off of that vicious cycle.


Michelle Brown Dip. Couns. MBACP


www.michellebrowntherapy.co.uk



10 Rules for mucking  up your life.

People come to counselling for all sorts of reasons but although their personal experiences vary greatly there are often  common themes in their behaviour that is tripping them up and keeping them stuck.

Written for Support Local Magazine’s February/March edition, In this short blog I consider the 10 rules to follow to lead an unhappy and unfulfilling life.

1/ Never take a few moments each day to reflect on what you are enjoying in your life and what feels wrong.

2/ Never take a hard critical audit of what you are doing to see if it fits in with your true values. Make sure you follow the crowd and always conform to what the crowd is doing. Be sure to live your life by the values of your, Mum, sister, school, friends, society or your next door neighbour but one. Do what is expected of you at all times and never stop to think if it’s what you want.

3/ If you’ve haven’t  got an addiction of some kind be that, food, alcohol, drugs, social media, self-sabotage or relationships, make sure you get one as soon as possible. It fills up that space where life could be peaceful and uncomplicated. If you already have an addiction spend as much time as possible pretending  to yourself and others that you don’t.

4/ Strive for perfection in everything that you do. Never settle for the comfortable place of excellence be that at work in relationships or exams. If you want to stay trapped in your unhappy world it’s imperative to expect perfection from everyone else too. Perfection is an impossible target to achieve so it will help you to feel bad about yourself  for as long as possible. Don’t forget to waste lots of time questioning every exchange you have with friends, relations, lovers and work colleagues It will keep to the theme of royally f@@king up your life.

5/ Make sure you make your life as complicated as possible, by not putting in any boundaries and always saying  yes to everything that is asked from you, even if you don’t have the time, resources or energy. When you get to burn out never stop to think about what is important to you and what you can let go, just keep going until you crash.

6/ Pick a partner who’s not that into you, doesn’t give back as much as they take and always makes you feel bad for needing or expecting more. For extra points here make sure they belittle your feelings and expect you to apologise when they do something wrong. Get creative here, if the partner you choose is already broken or needy you can waste lots of energy trying to fix them they are a perfect fit for the miserable life you have chosen.

7/ Make sure your belief system keeps you trapped. Keep it limiting. Believe that inner critic that tells you that you shouldn’t try, that your incapable, stupid, too short, too unlovable. If you need some help with this be sure to tune into instagram, facebook or twitter at least 10 times a day to reaffirm just how rubbish you are compared to everyone else.

8/ Have absolutely no belief in yourself. If you do you might try something new and succeed! Stay small, hide and bitch about the person that succeeded and laugh at the person who tried and failed.

9/ Always take the most comfortable decisions and never take risks. Listen to the doubters and never step out of your comfort zone,  it’s a scary world out there and if you take a risk and succeed you might be happy.

10/ Finally be scared of change and make sure you do a job you absolutely hate. And stick with it for as long as possible. Make sure you have an armoury of excuses for carrying on doing it too. Never chance sharing an idea or opinion at work, you might get noticed and who knows where that might lead? Promotion?

To live an extraordinarily unhappy, dull and conformist life it is  important to start these patterns of behaviour as soon as possible in your life and of course if you ever allow yourself to notice how unhappy you are, make sure you leave it as long as possible to get some help with it all. That way your way of being will be second nature to you and will take longer to resolve.

However remember  life is very short and if you would prefer to live a more authentic and enjoyable life, full of meaning and purpose, perhaps more in tune with your true values, the first step could be a few counselling sessions with someone who won’t judge your outlook or devalue your dreams. someone that doesn’t have an opinion about what is right or wrong for you and could help you unpick what you are doing in your life that might not fit in with your true needs or desires.

It would be my privilege to help you to do just that.

Michelle Brown dip.couns. MBACP

www.michellebrowntherapy.co.uk


Impostor Syndrome and what to do about it.

Impostor Syndrome


What is Impostor Syndrome?



“Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised  fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenonomen remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be While early research focused on the prevalence among high-achieving women, impostor syndrome has been recognized to affect both men and women equally” - Wikipedia

Wow, well that sucks.

All the evidence points to you being competent, but inside you feel like a fraud, incapable and undeserving, all the time fearing you may be exposed as a fake. Living your life in this way is a recipe for anxiety and seems to be something all of us have experienced in one form or another from time to time.

Impostor Syndrome  may have shown up in you life in more ways than you are aware. Perhaps you’ve just qualified for a role you’ve been training for for a long time but can’t bring yourself to start applying for positions that demand that qualification or maybe you’ve just landed your dream job but you can’t enjoy it because every day you feel like you have to act a part  because surely they have made a mistake and sent the congratulations letter to the wrong candidate! Maybe you’ve just been promoted, been given a whole lot more responsibility or a sizeable new project at work and you suddenly feel like you’re in the wrong position, surely the boss has got it wrong, you’re not ready, you’re not good enough or perhaps you have attended a meeting where you can’t answer a question and found yourself  immediately reaching for the negative self-talk? “I’m an idiot, I’m in the wrong job, wrong career, I’m not good enough, I’m going to get found out, I’m going to get the sack!”

Not only does impostor syndrome cause anxiety and make your present day work difficult but it can actually hinder you achieving what you are really capable of by leading you to apply for “safe” and unchallenging  jobs that are way too easy for you or by diminishing your courage to really stretch yourself or push for the next promotion.

 

Does this resonate with you? Do you want to  kick Impostor Syndrome into touch?:

  1. Challenge that automatic voice that kicks in when you are faced with situations that trigger you impostor feelings. Instead of allowing the voice in that says “Everyone is going to find out that I have no idea what I am doing” try thinking “Everyone feels out of their depth when they start something new”.

  2. Remember it’s OK not to have all of the answers, you are smart enough to find them out and it’s OK to ask for help.

  3. Don’t be worried about sharing your fraudulent feelings, I guarantee you will not be the only one struggling with this type of feeling and it can be reassuring to know that you are not alone.

  4. Try to start using the CBT method of “Fact or opinion” Is what I am feeling a fact or is it my opinion? Just because I feel stupid at this moment in time it doesn’t mean I actually am.

  5. Perfectionism is a curse in all walks of life and although you might feel it is necessary to drive you to where you want to be it can become a hindrance when you start obsessing over small mistakes, procrastinating for fear of not being perfect and taking too long over  tasks because you fear they are not perfect enough. Aim for excellence and work on being happy with that.

  6. Recognise and congratulate yourself on your achievement. Internal validation is so much more satisfying than external validation and is an available resource all of the time!

  7. When I started out I was a female working in a predominantly male environment, my impostor syndrome feelings weren’t a sign of me being incapable they were feelings of being a minority. Recognise that some of the feelings you are feeling may be a natural response to the situation you find yourself in.

  8. If you screw up, don’t pull out the metaphorical beating stick, see your failure as a learning opportunity. Remember you are human, we are all capable of making mistakes, pick yourself up and move on.

  9. Be kind to yourself. You have as much right as everyone else to have a break, ask questions and to screw up from time to time. People don’t know everything straightaway, it takes time to build knowledge and that’s OK Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.”

  10. Take some time to visualise what success looks like to you. Picture yourself speaking calmly and articulately at that important meeting or at that next interview.

Michelle Brown dip.couns. MBACP is an experienced therapist based in Tunbridge Wells

Where do I begin?

Working through any developmental trauma takes time and courage and it’s important that we are kind to ourselves as we do so. Perhaps you’re not ready yet to delve deep into that trauma be it caused through incest, abuse or perhaps an emotionally unavailable parent, but can you risk taking a few first important steps?

Finding a warm and empathic therapist could be the first step towards this goal. Someone who has perhaps set out on that journey themselves can attune themselves to where you are, pacing your route with what you are ready to deal with in this stage of your unfolding insight.

One of the most important things my therapist shared with me, was the knowledge that it was OK to take out my memories and examine them but put them away until later if need be.

Later might be when my circumstances were better, when I had more knowledge about myself or even just after that important interview or party I’d been looking forward to. The next time I got those memories out I might have more insight to bestow upon them, giving me a different perspective and allowing me to re-frame them.

The point is, whatever you have been through, has touched you deeply and may have made you look at the world in a different way. You might feel like you don’t belong, that you’re not good enough, perhaps that you can only be loved if you are flawless, that you must always put others before yourself, maybe you struggle to deal with relationships because you fear you may be rejected…

That’s a lot of stuff and the journey to healing is going to be long and sometimes hard, but you don’t have to do it all at once. You might have thought long and hard about taking a chance in seeking help and once you’ve finally decided to jump in and share how you’re feeling with another human being, it might be tempting to rush through it all and get better quickly.

Be kind to yourself, this might be the first time you’ve shown your vulnerability and that can feel very frightening. This might be the first time you’ve admitted to yourself, let alone someone else how hurt and wounded you are. Pace yourself. Be kind. You, as much as anyone else deserves to be happy.

Trust that there is a way through. You’ll know you’re on your way when you start taking better care of yourself and your needs, when you stop looking outside of yourself for reassurance or affirmation, when you are able to feel confident in your decisions and act upon them, when you are able to challenge those that upset you and you feel more trust and connection with others.

Be brave enough to take those first steps, but kind enough to yourself to pace your journey.

Finding a positive inner voice

Would you spend your whole life with somebody who really wanted you to fail? What would it feel like if every time you made a mistake or things didn’t go the way you planned, that person pitched in to highlight and magnify your failings and made it their mission to tell you how stupid you were for even trying instead of helping you up and brushing you off.


Eventually your self-worth would be destroyed and you would start to believe that you didn’t really deserve to succeed so why were you even trying? What effect do you think that might have on your self-esteem and self-belief? Do you think you would be able to achieve your dreams and attain your goals with them constantly putting you down? Do you think you would keep that person in your life once you realised the effect they were having on you or would you seek out more positive friendships with people that wanted you to do well? 

The sad fact is that without even realising it many of us spend our whole lives with a negative influence like this one keeping us stuck and stopping us reaching our full potential and the worse thing is that this negative influence isn’t a negative partner or friend it is ourselves! We berate ourselves when we get things wrong, we sabotage our potential by telling ourselves we are not good enough, we push people away because we tell ourselves we are unlovable. When we walk around with an internal voice that is critical, unkind and unforgiving is it any wonder that we end up feeling depressed, anxious and inadequate? Therapists call this negative inner voice “the inner critic” and once we start to notice the power it has over our lives we can start taking steps to challenge it, turn down its volume and eventually replace it with an inner cheerleader!

What difference do you think that might make to your life? Can you imagine carrying around an inner voice that brushed off your mistakes and pepped you up, that encouraged you to try again and that was so full of love that you believed you deserved to succeed? Can you envisage loving yourself unconditionally and completely and being true to yourself? How could that sort of positivity impact your life? 

Maybe this is something an empathic counsellor could help you with.