7 minutes | Mar 27, 2023
Why Do I Feel More Anxious at Night?
Why Do I Feel More Anxious at Night? The quiet hours can bring a lot of internal chatter, and here’s how to deal with it. Whenever you try to fall asleep at night, many anxious thoughts and embarrassing memories come racing into your mind, preventing you from drifting off. Why does this happen, and can you do anything about it? Experts say that whether you’re throbbing through tomorrow’s to-do list or dwelling on past regrets, it’s normal for worries and fears to surface at night. According to an October 2022 survey of 3,192 adults in the United States, 34 per cent of respondents reported feeling anxious or nervous within the past month. And 32 per cent said that their stress had led to changes in their sleeping habits, including difficulties with falling asleep. However, there is an evolutionary purpose to evening anxiety, said Dr. Rafael Pelayo, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences in sleep medicine at Stanford Medicine and author of the book, “How to Sleep.” “Sleep is the most dangerous thing we can do,” he said, and being hyper-aware of our surroundings allowed our ancestors to spot any incoming threats. But when your anxiety keeps you awake, you not only miss out on the health benefits of sleep, you might kick off a vicious cycle of poor sleep routine and increased stress that can be hard to break. “Sleep loss is often a precursor for anxiety disorders, and anxiety leads to sleep loss,” said Dr. Sarah Chellappa, a neuroscientist at the University of Cologne in Germany. Here’s what the experts say you can do if your overactive mind keeps you awake. The cruel connection between anxiety and sleep Anxiety can surface at any time, but there are a few reasons it may feel more intense at bedtime, said Candice Alfano, director of the Sleep and Anxiety Center at the University of Houston. “Most of us are incredibly busy during the waking hours; our attention is pulled in many different directions, so we have limited time to think about our worries,” she said. “But at night, while we lie in bed, there are few distractions from the thoughts that make us anxious.” This can lead to a frustrating problem: We can’t sleep because those anxious thoughts make us think we are unsafe, making us more alert by raising our heart rates and tightening our muscles. Essentially, the body can’t quite tell if the source of our troubles is a physical threat, like a tiger about to pounce, or an upcoming presentation you’re nervous about making at school — it just gets the memo to stay awake. At a basic level,” Dr. Pelayo said, “feeling in danger or under stress is the same mechanism in the brain.” Worse, sleep loss has been shown to produce more anxious thoughts. In a 2019 review published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews, researchers concluded that insomnia was a significant predictor of anxiety, among other mental health conditions. The researchers explained that sleep helps us distinguish between threatening and safe, so we aren’t as good at responding to stress, fear and anxiety, without adequate sleep. This could, in turn, mean more negative thoughts that can interfere with shut-eye. The good news is that solid sleep can also make your anxiety better over time, experts say. How to slow anxious thoughts at night Since better sleep helps decrease anxiety, general good sleep hygiene practices — like going to bed and waking up at the exact time every day and avoiding any blue light technology before bedtime — can help on both fronts, Dr. Alfano said. The tips below, however, might help you reduce anxious bedtime thinking. Caffeine is a stimulant. Caffeine’s half-life is approximately five hours, meaning if you have an eight-ounce cup of coffee at 4 p.m., you’ll still have half that cup’s caffeine in your system by 9 p.m. That’s a problem because caffeine keeps you awake and is known for making anxiety symptoms worse,
7 minutes | Mar 19, 2023
The truth about PTSD, its causes and cures
The torrent of personal revelations that has poured from Prince Harry of late has been met with a range of reactions, from sympathy through to fury. But quite why he has pressed the nuclear button and blown up all before him, in such a public, uncompromising fashion, has remained a puzzle to some. One possible explanation, suggested earlier this month by Philip Ingram, a former colonel in the British Army, is that Harry is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ingram pointed out in a newspaper article that what Harry went through in childhood - the loss of his mother in a car crash, amid overwhelming media interest - “would break many normal people,” and that his deployment to Afghanistan with the Army brought additional stresses (even if Harry claims military service “saved” him) . Is it possible, then, that trauma lies behind his current behaviour, which from the outside appears more self-destructive than healing? That soldiers can suffer PTSD after leaving the battlefield is by now well established. In the First World War, it was dubbed shell shock, and has since been recognised as a medical condition, a type of anxiety disorder. But it is one that can also be caused by any situation a person finds traumatic, from road accidents and sex attacks to domestic or child abuse, health problems and even childbirth. PTSD can result from grief, too, says psychotherapist Julia Samuel. While in most cases, traumas are processed relatively quickly (in weeks rather than years), in a minority of cases, the trauma remains “locked in the brain, untouched and unresolved, as if it were in the present,” which can lead the sufferer to see the world differently, says Samuel, who was a close friend of Diana’s and is godmother to Prince George, Harry’s nephew. “You can have it on the brain decades after the event. It has no sense of time, it is present in the body. Trauma then heightens your sense of fear and response to the world: the world seems more dangerous.” Multiple studies have pointed to changes in the brain associated with PTSD. The condition is typically diagnosed by a psychiatrist via a mental health assessment, not a brain scan, but research shows the amygdala - the part of the brain that deals with emotional responses - is more active in those who suffer from it. “The trauma is stored in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that’s always looking for threats,” says Samuel. “It can’t cognitively be processed.” Symptoms of PTSD can include vivid flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, becoming easily upset or angry, extreme alertness, disturbed sleep, irritability and aggressive behaviour, poor concentration and, indeed, carrying out self-destructive or reckless acts, according to an extensive list from mental health charity Mind.
9 minutes | Mar 18, 2023
You will learn more about what developmental disabilities are, the associated risk factors, and different interventions that can help individuals with developmental disabilities reach their goals. Developmental disability Developmental disability is a term used to describe physical or mental impairments caused by particular disorders or illnesses. It includes conditions such as Autism, now called an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), cerebral palsy, Down, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Individuals with developmental disabilities often experience physical, psychological and communication difficulties and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime. What is child development? Child development is an exciting process! It refers to how babies and children grow, learn, and master different skills. Four key areas cover physical, cognitive, language, and social-emotional development. Physical development looks at strength and physical abilities; cognitive growth involves thinking and problem-solving. Language development focuses on communication and understanding. Social-emotional development deals with how children interact with others and handle their feelings. Development milestones Development milestones mark typical growth stages and are achieved by most children around the same age. However, each child develops individually, making their own timeline. What Are Developmental Disabilities? Developmental disabilities are delays in their physical or cognitive development that adversely affect a person’s ability to function in daily life. These delays may affect motor skills, speech, learning and other vital areas of functioning. Depending on the severity of impairments and limitations of the disability, individuals may have difficulties performing tasks independently (such as taking care of oneself) or interacting with others (for example, speaking). Risk Factors & Causes Associated With Developmental Disability Risk factors and causes associated with developmental disability vary by diagnosis. Common risk factors include a family history of intellectual disability/developmental delay; advanced parental age; maternal drug use/exposure; premature birth or low birth weight; prenatal exposure to toxins such as alcohol or lead; exposure to environmental toxins such as lead paint; infections during pregnancy; genetics plays a role in some cases; lack of access to routine medical care in early childhood years before symptoms become more pronounced from the age of twelve. Seek Support Reaching out to other people who also have family members affected by a developmental disability can provide you with valuable support in dealing with your own situation. A child psychologist or a developmental-behavioural paediatrician is dedicated to assisting and advising those taking care of individuals with various developmental disabilities, including national organisations and online forums. Developmental disabilities make it difficult for people to do everyday activities and gain the skills to reach their full potential. Developmental disabilities can range from mild to severe, depending on the individual’s abilities and the support they have around them.
6 minutes | Mar 11, 2023
Everyone seems to be on psychedelics except me
Everyone seems to be on psychedelics except me. People will go to the unlikeliest of places to sort their heads out, be it the internet, the rainforests of the Amazon, or even suburbia in London, UK. Like noticing the first grey hairs, I suppose there comes a time in midlife when many of us think: is everyone on drugs but me? These rude awakenings of ageing are inevitable – I just hadn’t counted on them coming to me exactly the same time. There I was, at the hairdresser’s for my biannual root touch-up, when the nice woman charged with making me blonde again – let’s call her Claire, announced that she would have to use a more “icy” blonde tone to help mask the proliferation of greys coming through. Perhaps noticing the shock on my face, she changed the subject and asked how my Christmas was. I mumbled some platitudes about it being lovely, thank you very much, before asking how hers was. “Eventful,” smiled Claire. “I went on a guided ayahuasca trip as a present to myself. Now she really had my attention. “It’s a South American psychoactive plant that gives you this intense spiritual experience,” she continued. “It was mind-blowing. Eye-opening. It takes you into another dimension and lets you see how connected we are. “Goodness,” I said. “Where did you go to do it? Peru? Brazil? Chile?” “Oh no!”, she replied. “I went to see a shaman in Croydon.” Regular readers will know that I’m no prude when it comes to drugs, having tried a fair few before giving them up several years ago. And yet, even this reformed drug addict is shocked by how normal it seems to have become for people to announce that they have spent the weekend casually taking psychedelics. Anyone with even a passing interest in the news will have noticed that Prince Harry has admitted to taking ayahuasca and magic mushrooms. In California, where I went at the beginning of January to interview him, I felt very old indeed as I saw the number of high-end shops selling fancy clutch bags that would have been just the thing had they not been a) 600 dollars and then monogrammed, with words such as “WEED”, “GUMMIES” and “EDIBLES”. Back in the UK, I relayed this information to a similarly middle-aged, middle-class friend, who laughed at me patronisingly. “Bryony,” he said, pouring himself a glass of merlot, “everyone does edibles nowadays, honey”. “Well, I don’t!” I said haughtily, clutching my glass of water. “You may not, but I can assure you that people are microdosing their way through life’s drudgery with chocolate-covered mushrooms they have ordered off the internet all over the country.” As someone who had to give up drugs for their mental health, I found all this a bit much. But I was obviously taking the wrong drugs. Last week, a study reported that a single dose of DMT – the psychedelic found in ayahuasca – might effectively treat people with severe depression. The 34 subjects in the trial were given an I V drip of DMT, causing them to experience a 20-minute psychedelic “trip”. They were then given therapy to help them make sense of the process. Six in 10 were declared depression-free three months later. This kind of study is fascinating because, for decades, most research into treatment for depression has been sluggish, to say the least, slowed down by the unstoppable march of mass-marketed antidepressants. As Dr David Erritzoe, a clinical psychiatrist at Imperial College London and the study’s chief investigator noted: “For patients who are unfortunate to experience little benefit from existing antidepressants, the potential for rapid and durable relief from a single treatment, as shown in this trial, is very promising.” What does this mean? Should we all be out picking mushrooms? Or taking guided ayahuasca trips with so-called shamans on the outskirts of south London?
8 minutes | Feb 26, 2023
Aphasia. Aphasia is a communication disorder that results from damage or injury to the language parts of the brain. It's usually caused by a stroke but can also be caused by other brain injuries, such as a tumour or head injury. People with aphasia may have difficulty understanding spoken and written language, speaking, reading and writing. They may also find it challenging to communicate effectively with others to express their needs. Imagine that you're trying to talk, but you can't get the words out — and then, if you finally do, no one understands what you're saying. And you don't know what others are saying to you. That's what it's like to live with aphasia. Aphasia results from damage to the brain that affects speech and language comprehension. Frequently, aphasia follows a stroke, but it can also result from a traumatic brain injury; in my case, I suffered a "coup contrecoup injury, which had occurred by the jolting of the brain against the skull and the shearing forces on the brain caused by direct contact from, acceleration-deceleration forces. The latter type is more common in paediatric traumatic brain injury and more generally caused by motor vehicle accidents associated with high-velocity acceleration-deceleration forces, and, consequently, aphasia. This occurred when a drunk driver ploughed into a parked car I was sitting in one Tuesday morning in 2006. I'm sharing my story not because I think it is exceptional but because I know it is not. If anything, the telling makes it unusual because so few of us with aphasia can speak about our difficulties. At least 180,000 Americans are diagnosed with aphasia yearly, and it's estimated that some 2 million Americans have it; it's more prevalent than Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig's disease combined. Yet, the condition remains mainly in the shadows, maybe partly because so few of us with it, can tell others about our challenges. Actor Bruce Willis and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords are perhaps the most famous people to publicly acknowledge their aphasia. (Willis's diagnosis, it was recently announced, has now progressed to frontotemporal dementia). In research from the National Institutes of Health, aphasia had the most considerable negative impact on the quality of life of the 60 measured conditions, even more than cancer and Alzheimer's disease. I'm sharing my experience to give hope to others with aphasia and their families. A brain stuck in static. Within days of my injury, I could unstick my tongue from the roof of my mouth and create an odd sound occasionally, but I couldn't communicate in any traditional sense. I felt like a human radio pumping out static — with sporadic bursts of clarity. When I was asked to point to a picture of a teapot, an apple, or an elephant, my adrenaline kicked in, my breathing got faster, my heart rate got faster, and I started to sweat. Sometimes I just pointed to my head. The odds of a sinkhole opening within me were approximately equal to the odds that I'd find the right word at the right time, something I'd done with ease before the accident as a professional freelance writer. Gun-control activist Gabrielle Giffords is the star of the new documentary. I couldn't navigate the smallest space or the slightest thing. None of the tools I had used before made any sense. Not words or places or names or directions or signs on bathroom doors. It's hard to navigate when you can't decipher anything on your desktop or phone and can't tell anyone that you can't. I pointed to a chair because I couldn't say "chair." I mimed drinking from a bottle because I couldn't find the word "bottle" or "water" "thirsty" or "drink." If I spoke at all, I spoke with an urgency bordering on panic. In the first year after the accident, once I began to put words together, I said things like "white stuff sky," which meant snow, or "cow thing pants," which meant belt.
7 minutes | Feb 14, 2023
We’re all looking for that elusive, ‘spark’ – but what really ignites a long-lasting relationship? There is good news, Science is closing in on the answers. For centuries, our romantic fates were thought to be written in the stars. Wealthy families would even pay fortunes to have a matchmaker foretell the success, or failure of a potential marriage. Despite the lack of any good evidence for its accuracy, astrology still thrives in many lifestyle magazines, while the more sceptical among us, might hope to be guided by the algorithms, of websites and dating apps. But are these programs any more rigorous than the signs of the zodiac? Or, should we put our faith in love languages, and attachment theory? (That’s to name just two fashions in pop psychology). The world of matchmaking, is riddled with myths, and misunderstandings that recent science, is just starting to unravel. From the inevitably messy data, a few clear conclusions, are emerging that can help guide us in our search for true love. If you are looking for the secrets of romantic success, the most obvious place to start, would seem to be the science of personality. If you are an outgoing party animal, you might hope to find someone with a similar level of extraversion; if you are organised, and conscientious, you might expect to feel a stronger connection, with someone who enjoys keeping a rigid schedule. The scientific research does offer some support for the intuitive notion, that “like attracts like”, but in the grand scheme of things, the similarity of personality profiles, is relatively unimportant. “Yes, it is true that people are more likely to experience chemistry, with someone who is similar to them, in certain ways,” explains Prof Harry Reis, at the University of Rochester, New York. “But if I brought you in a room with 20 people, who are similar to you in various ways, the odds that you’re going to have chemistry, with more than one of them, are not very good.” It is only the extreme differences, Reis says, that will matter, in your first meetings. “It’s not likely, that you would have chemistry,with somebody who is very dissimilar to you.” The rest is just noise. The same goes for shared interests. “The effects are so tiny,” says Prof Paul Eastwick at the University of California. Eastwick found similarly disappointing results when he looked at people’s “romantic ideals” – our preconceived notions, of the particular qualities we would want in our dream partner. I might say that I value kindness above all other qualities, for instance, and you might say you are looking for someone who is adventurous, and free-spirited. You’d think we’d know what we want – but the research suggests otherwise. While it’s true, that certain qualities, such as kindness, or adventurousness, are generally considered to be attractive, experiments on speed-daters, suggest that people’s particular preferences tend to matter very little, in their face-to-face interactions. Someone who stated that they were looking for kindness, for example, would be just as likely to click, with someone who scored high on adventurousness, – and vice versa. Despite our preconceptions, we seem open, to a wide variety of people, showing generally positive attributes. “We can’t find evidence that some people really weigh some traits over others,” Eastwick says. He compares it to going out to a restaurant, ordering a specific dinner, then swapping food with the table next to yours. You’re just as likely to enjoy the random dish, as the one you’d originally ordered. Given this growing body of research, Eastwick is generally very sceptical that computer algorithms can accurately match people for chemistry, or compatibility. Working with Prof Samantha Joel at Western University in Canada, he has used a machine learning program, to identify any combinations of traits, that would
9 minutes | Feb 11, 2023
Micro-dosing psychedelics, and mental health
Micro-dosing psychedelics and mental health. Continuing with the psychedelic theme, and the potential benefits to mental health have been covered in a previous article and podcast. The key issues were the potential therapeutic benefits of using these compounds. After all, there was a 40-year pause on psychedelic research following the prohibition of these substances. There are some cynics and concerns about this method due to the unpredictability of each subject, and one size fits all isn’t available. The drug’s potency has increased over time, and psychedelics are illegal, so there’s no quality control on supply, and some nasty contaminants, have been found within illicit street products. There have been reports of adolescents experiencing nightmares or flashbacks after taking psychedelics, which could be attributed to traumatic experiences during a bad psychedelic experience. Psychedelic drugs may also negatively affect adolescents' brain development, who are still growing and learning to cope with life’s challenges. Beginning in the 1960s, scientists thought that depression resulted from having low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Traditional antidepressant drugs, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, worked by correcting that chemical imbalance. But there were holes in this hypothesis. Most notably, antidepressives medication could raise serotonin levels immediately, but symptoms of depression typically don’t alleviate until several weeks after starting the treatment. Unfortunately, this drug had unsavoury side effects, such as "emotional blunting" . A new theory emerged in the early 2000s that depression, anxiety, and Post-traumatic stress disorder may stem from the loss of synapses in the brain. It turned out that antidepressant drugs could regrow those lost synapses — a process known as plasticity. It’s possible that by forging new connections in the brain, people can start to change negative thought patterns and regain control over anxious or depressive impulses. The brains of Buddhist monks and other expert meditators — people intimate with mystical experiences — also undergo changes. There’s even research suggesting that talk therapy works, in part, by altering patterns of brain activity. Psychedelics are thought to confer therapeutic benefits by inducing plasticity in the brain. Micro-dosing psychedelics has long been a subject of fascination to people looking for non-traditional methods of mental health treatment. But what is micro-dosing? Could it offer an effective alternative to traditional therapies? This article will discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of micro-dosing psychedelics and how to experiment with them safely. What Is Micro-dosing? Microdosing involves taking small doses (often around one-tenth of a whole amount) of psychedelic drugs, such as lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD or psilocybin mushrooms, over extended periods. People who use this method report improved mental clarity, focus, creativity, and mood states. It’s often referred to as ‘micro-dosing’ because such tiny amounts are used. Micro-doses say the substances help them overcome emotional barriers and increase productivity; others claim the experience helps reduce anxiety or depression symptoms. Read more:
16 minutes | Jan 30, 2023
Optimal Gut Health
Have you ever wondered what the secret to overall good health is? Turns out, it all starts with your gut. The gut microbiome is an ecosystem of hundreds to thousands of microbial species living within the body. These populations affect our health, fertility, and even our longevity. There is increasing evidence that the mixture of microorganisms found in the gut and intestinal tract plays a key role in regulating health. It is central to the digestion of food but has also been linked to the functioning of the immune system, mood and brain function, as well as to a range of conditions, including cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. How Your Gut Flora Impacts Health Gut health is a term that describes the balance of microorganisms in the digestive tract. These microorganisms, which consist of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, help break down food and promote digestion. A healthy gut contributes to proper immune function and overall health. Poor diet, stress, and antibiotics can all negatively impact gut health by destroying beneficial bacteria. Antibiotics will alter the gut flora for up to 12 months. Eating a healthy diet rich in prebiotics (foods that feed the good bacteria) and probiotics (live organisms found in foods like yoghurt), getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, and managing stress are some ways to support good gut health. Good gut health plays an essential role in our body’s performance. It has been linked to various physical and mental health conditions, including obesity, depression, allergies, asthma, diabetes and cancer. It’s no wonder that many experts are now claiming that having a healthy gut could be the key to overall well-being. Brighten up your meal Adding colour to your meal provides essential vitamins and minerals to your overall diet. By rotating the variety of your fruit and vegetables weekly, you will feed different microbes in the gut and ensure you achieve your five-a-day target. Your goal is to hit 30 Different plant-based foods per week. Eat more fibre Fibre feeds the good gut bacteria, and they consume it and then produce short-chain fatty acids (known as postbiotics), which help reduce inflammation in the body. It also helps maintain bowel health because it increases the bulk in stools, increasing bowel transit time. Therefore, avoid laxatives, enemas, and other medicines that change how your bowels function. Learn more
87 minutes | Jan 26, 2023
Psychedelics on the Couch
The term “psychedelic” is derived from the Ancient Greek words “psyche” (meaning “mind”) and “delos” (which means “to manifest”). The British-born Canadian psychiatrist Humphry Osmond coined it in a letter to author Aldous Huxley in 1956. Psychotropic medication definition. Is any drug prescribed to stabilise or improve mood, mental status, or behaviour? It’s an umbrella term for many medications, including prescription and commonly misused drugs. If you want to discuss the benefits of psychedelic drugs, then according to McKenna’s 1992 book on Food of The Gods. He proposed the Stoned Ape Hypothesis. He explained that ingesting psychedelic plants may have encouraged social bonding and consciousness, responsible for doubling the brain capacity of our ancestors two million years ago. Unfortunately, it is only a theory with very little proof or support. There’s possibly some truth in what McKenna enunciates, said the palaeontologist Dr Martin Lockley, author of a book called How Humanity Came Into Being. However, perusing this theory and being an optimist, could our village cokehead be the next Einstein? On the other hand, research has shown that psychedelics may genuinely spark the creation of new neurons and synapses, a process known as neurogenesis within the Petri dish. Perhaps in the future, treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like dementia could stimulate the formation of new neurons without sending patients on any mind-bending cosmic adventure. For the baby boomers, a psychedelic experience is somewhat déjà vu, sending you back to the summer of love. It is indeed a trip down memory lane for some (pun intended). Still, it doesn’t mean it’s all a bed of roses, and it’s no exaggeration that these substances can harm in the wrong hands or be abused. Albeit a popular and mainstream topic for generations, it has been immortalised in history books, folk law and music with positive and negative correlations. Psychoactive substance A psychedelic drug is a psychoactive substance whose primary action is to produce hallucinations or other sensory distortions, with secondary effects that are either less prominent or more desirable. Because of this dual action, the correct term for these drugs is entactogens (entheogens if the primary product is spiritual). Psychedelics include a variety of hallucinogenic compounds like LSD, and mescaline and primarily act on the serotonergic system in the brain. Psilocybin causes visual and mental distortions, such as dysphoria, stress, and anxiety. While amphetamines like cocaine, crystal meth, ketamine and MDMA cause feelings of euphoria. Phencyclidine, also known as PCP or angel dust, is an NMDA antagonist and induces symptoms that can mirror those observed in schizophrenia. Learn more:
8 minutes | Dec 26, 2022
Your anxiety may be physical
Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, but you are not alone if you have experienced a mental health challenge over the past few years. We were already in an epidemic of anxiety before the pandemic, and those rates have continued to climb. The international prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25 per cent in the first year of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. Faced with this crisis, the mental health field offers a few suggestions. The presiding agreement is that our mental health struggles are the result of a chemical imbalance written in our DNA. The implication is that our anxiety is chemical, and our serotonin level, the feel-good hormone, is determined by our genetic destiny. Mental healthcare professionals offer medications and therapy to change our cognitive rituals to lift our suspected serotonin deficiency. But what if these options don’t work for you? While our current offerings help some people, the inaccessibility of therapy is at an all-time high. Far too many people were struggling with their mental health and experiencing disappointing results with medication. Focusing on brain chemistry has led us to overlook what impacts our mood and behaviour; the body plays a critical and often overlooked function in mental health. This can come as good news for those who have not found satisfactory relief from medication and therapy. The determinants of our mental well-being go beyond our genes and brain chemistry to include inflammation, gut health, sleep, nutrition, hormones, chronic limbic hyperarousal because of unresolved trauma, and even having our fundamental human needs for community, nature, meaning, and purpose go unmet. If we do have what is known as a chemical imbalance, it is probably a downstream consequence of these other states of imbalance. In other words, anxiety is not all in your head; it’s based mainly on the body, where it should first be addressed. I believe there are two types of anxiety: genuine anxiety (or purposeful anxiety) and avoidable anxiety. Genuine anxiety is our inner compass nudging us to pay attention to what’s not right in our personal lives, our communities and the world. It’s not something to suppress or pathologise, and it’s not what’s wrong with us — it’s what’s right with us when we can viscerally connect to what’s wrong in the world. With genuine anxiety, our symptoms communicate something to us that should be heard and honoured. Instead of asking, “how can I stop feeling so anxious,” we should ask, “what is my anxiety telling me?” There’s often a call to action baked into our genuine anxiety, and when we let our uneasiness fuel purposeful action, we don’t feel so mired in our anxiety. On the other hand, avoidable anxiety is often as simple as our body getting tripped into a stress response, which transmits a signal to the brain telling us something is wrong. And the human brain worries and fears everyday situations. Your anxiety checklist. When I work with patients, I start with avoidable anxiety — the low-hanging fruit. We come up with an avoidable anxiety inventory. In a moment of peak anxiety, this list can cue them to reflect on possible causes of a sudden stress response taking over their body, help them identify the particular avoidable anxiety that might be occurring, and understand its straightforward remedy. An avoidable anxiety inventory could include the following: Hunger Sleep deprivation Being over-caffeinated A hangover (what is known as “hang-xiety”) Gut issues Inflammation Long stretches of being sedentary Chemical fallout after consuming highly processed food Late luteal phase (the days before the bleeding phase of the menstrual cycle) Inter-dose withdrawal (the pharmacologic low-point when you’re due for your next dose of a psychiatric medication) Ellen Vora is an integrative psychiatrist in New York City, and the author of “The Anatomy of Anxiety.”
17 minutes | Dec 18, 2022
Melatonin, on the couch
A previous podcast discussed how jet-lag medication was used to treat young people for sleep problems. A dietary supplement containing melatonin was readily available in health shops throughout the United Kingdom until it was banned. In some cases, melatonin supplements may also contain serotonin. Be mindful that the human body can make melatonin from the enzymatic conversion of serotonin into melatonin. There have been reports of poisoning in children who needed hospital care, and several young children died from a melatonin overdose. Five of the seven deaths occurred in children younger than one year old. There have also been further concerns about how it might affect a child’s growth, development, and well-being, particularly during puberty. Studies found that morning sleepiness, drowsiness, and perhaps increased urination at night are the most common side effects that occur while taking melatonin. Always talk with your paediatrician about the proper dose and timing of melatonin for your child. And remember, it should be something other than a good bedtime routine, young or old. Let’s start by looking at this hormone in more detail. An article by Amelia Nierenberg wrote in the New York Times states that most people think of melatonin as a natural sleep aid, like chamomile tea in pill form. But melatonin is also a hormone that our brains naturally produce, and like it or not, hormones, even in minuscule amounts, they can have a potent effect throughout the body. “There are some clinical uses for it, but not the way that it’s been marketed and used by the vast majority of the public,” said Jennifer Martin, a psychologist and professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Experts strongly urge people to consult their doctor or a sleep specialist before taking melatonin, partly because the supplement does not address many underlying health problems that disrupt sleep. Anxiety can cause insomnia, as can a host of other potentially serious ailments, such as sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome or mood disorders like depression, that may require medical treatment. In short, any stressor, such as sleep apnoea, chronic infections, allergies or psychological-emotional, can therefore raise cortisol levels. Melatonin and cortisol are in an opposite relationship; when melatonin is high, cortisol should be low and vice versa. When either of these gets out of balance, our ability to sleep is affected. Melatonin, however, is relatively inexpensive and readily available at local pharmacies in the United States. However, in the United Kingdom and other countries, it typically requires a prescription, and many people will go out and buy it on their own. So what’s the best approach to taking melatonin? Here’s what experts had to say. How does melatonin work? Melatonin, often referred to as the molecular expression of darkness, is a hormone the pineal gland produces in response to darkness that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. During the day, the gland does not create melatonin. After the sun sets, darkness triggers it to secrete the hormone into the bloodstream to bind to receptors in various tissues and therefore enforce circadian rhythms causing drowsiness and other signals that it’s time to sleep. Melatonin is light sensitive and will react to morning light exposure when our brain is signalled to pull back on melatonin release. Morning light also signals the brain to release cortisol, our awake and defence hormone against potential predators. During the day, the brain’s pea-sized pineal gland remains inactive. A few hours before our natural sleep time, as it gets dark outside and the light entering our retina fades, the gland switches on to flood the brain with melatonin. There shouldn’t be any surprise that melatonin is sometimes called the ‘hormone of darkness or ‘vampire hormone’” because it comes out at night, Learn more
13 minutes | Dec 12, 2022
Helping your child sleep better.
Helping your child sleep better. The number of children being prescribed the previous jet lag hormone melatonin to help their child sleep has nearly tripled in the past seven years. Melatonin is indeed not a sleep hormone but a biological marker of darkness.” For example, in humans and other diurnal animals, the release of melatonin into the bloodstream helps prepare the body for sleep. A recent study from the Netherlands suggested that teenagers’ sleep problems can improve after just one week by limiting evening exposure to light-emitting screens on mobile phones, tablets and computers. Overexposure before bedtime to blue light emitted from devices can affect the brain’s clock and the production of the melatonin hormone, resulting in disrupted sleep time and quality. So is sleep medication being overused by children? Speaking to Colin Espie, a professor of sleep medicine in the Nuffield department of clinical neuroscience at the University of Oxford, is one of many leading experts worried by this trend. “We seem to be socialising our youngsters into the idea that sleep is difficult, and you need tablets for it,” he says. Instead, he explains, our focus should be on helping them to establish healthy sleep patterns at home. As stark new NHS figures show, children are experiencing an epidemic of sleeping problems amid a sharp decline in their mental health triggered by the pandemic. Insomnia can exacerbate an underlying mental or physical health problem. Emma Thomas, YoungMinds’ chief executive, said: there is alarming pressure young people face with their mental health, with many experiencing isolation, loneliness, and reduced support caused partly by the pandemic. Here are some valuable tips. Prepare children’s minds for sleep (even your three-year-old can meditate) If we want children to sleep naturally, teaching simple, mindful noticing skills can be helpful, says Dr Guy Meadows, co-founder and clinical lead at the London clinic Sleep School. At Sleep School, children as young as three are taught to meditate. “You don’t tell them they’re meditating and put their favourite teddy on their tummy, lie on the floor with them, and they just watch the teddy go up and down.” It calms the mind, preparing it for rest. You might also ask: “What are you grateful for today?” The important thing is that “we’re shifting the mind into a state more conducive to sleep”. Don’t tell your nine-year-old to ‘go to sleep now! We see an increase in sleep anxiety in children from the age of six, Meadows says — “an explosion of the mind’s ability to create worry”. Meanwhile, almost all parents tell their children, “It’s time to sleep!” or “Get to sleep now!” If a child is struggling, that can pressure them. Instead, say: “Let’s just see if you can rest.” Every child can rest. Rather than insist they sleep when you know they’re not ready, Espie asks: “How can my child have some quiet wakefulness?” It’s essential to be a good role model, Meadows says. “You can’t expect your children to be off their devices if you’re sitting in bed watching Netflix, scrolling through your phone.” Let your anxious seven-year-old sleep in your bed. When primary-age children are anxious and sleepless, they often seek comfort in their parents’ beds. And many parents let them — for months. They often feel as if this is some failure. It’s the opposite, Espie says. No parent should feel guilty about this. Treating your child’s sleep issue as a shared responsibility takes effort and is the right thing to do. You’re guiding them towards better sleep habits. “This is about habit training,” he says. In this situation, your child’s initial habit is struggling to settle and be awake alone in bed at night. They are stressed and need reassurance.” Letting him sleep with you solves that problem and breaks that habit.
4 minutes | Dec 5, 2022
Let's talk about your inner monologue
Building upon a previous podcast on self-talk because many of us, when we read something, you hear a little voice in our head. Most of us would refer to this as an inner monologue. Just in case you didn’t know, many individuals don’t have one. Individuals often make assumptions about someone’s internal experiences, being identical for everyone, such as talking to themselves or seeing words in their heads as images. According to psychology professor Russell Hurlburt, approximately 70% of people do not have one. However, if you are one of the ones that do not, don’t despair. He teaches this at the University of Nevada. “I’m convinced that inner speech is a robust phenomenon; if you use a proper method, there’s little doubt about whether inner speech is occurring at any given moment. And I’m confident about the individual differences—some people talk to themselves a lot, some never, some occasionally. An inner monologue happens when we use language but do not use our mouths; it’s merely thinking and hearing yourself without actually saying anything aloud. Hurlburt concluded that only 30-50% of people had an inner monologue in a study that he carried out. Hurlburt took a sample of 30 students and then had them describe randomly selected experiences. “Five main characteristics emerged, each occurring in about a quarter of all samples (many samples had more than one characteristic). Three of those five characteristics may not surprise you: Inner speech occurred in about a quarter of all samples, inner seeing occurred in about a quarter of his specimens, and feelings only occurred throughout a quarter of all samples.” Additionally, he said that subjects only experienced talking inwardly to themselves 26% of the time, and some never encountered it. “Inner speech is the product of the default mode network of the brain,” explains Helene Brenner, a psychologist and creator of “My Inner Voice”. “It’s a network of different areas of the brain that become very active, all together, when we’re not engaged in doing anything task-oriented—when we’re just thinking or daydreaming. It also appears to be related to drug cravings, and it turns out it never entirely stops either—it just gets suppressed when we become more actively engaged. This phenomenon begins in childhood, as we develop language skills. Research believes that those who lack aphantasia (the ability to visualize) are tied into a lack of inner monologues. However, there are many theories about why- and more research is still being carried out. Are you one of the few who have an inner monologue? Perhaps that little voice inside you speaks up every once in a while with tiny, insightful declarations. You would do well to listen to it with reflection and self-awareness. Let it be your friend and not your critic.
8 minutes | Nov 28, 2022
Therapy on a budget for generation Z
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2020, young adults aged 18 to 24 had the highest prevalence of mental health issues. Though mental health issues are common among Gen Z, individuals born between 1995 and 2010 — are growing up in an age of increased stress and anxiety. And been called the most depressed generation are more likely to seek mental health counselling or therapy than their older counterparts. COVID-19 has significantly impacted on Generation Z. The pandemic has radically changed their educational and social experiences. The American Psychological Association explains that psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, will help people of all ages live a happier and healthier life with the assistance of a psychologist. Talk therapy is the most common type of therapy today for mental health. It has numerous benefits, from helping you break unhealthy habits to pinpointing triggers. However, everyone has varying needs regarding mental health, and talk therapy isn’t the only outlet for the many different areas of mental health. Here are seven unique types of therapy that can help you take care of your mental health. ART THERAPY Sometimes words can’t encapsulate what you genuinely feel, but art can. Art therapy uses creative expression to explore your inner emotions, ultimately fostering healing and increasing self-esteem, self-awareness, and emotional resilience. Art therapy comes in many forms, but the most common are colouring, collaging, painting, photography, and sculpting. SAND THERAPY Sand therapy is precisely what it sounds like. Through sand trays, patients create images that reflect their inner emotions. The presence of sand helps increase patient emotional expression, while also decreasing negative feelings that might arise while discussing traumatic events. Psychotherapists use this technique to assess and treat mental illnesses through a less intimidating space. Sand therapy can be used in cooperation with talk therapy or art therapy. Sand play Therapists of America can help you find a therapist specialising in this treatment closest to you. GESTALT THERAPY Rather than talking about experiences, gestalt therapy encourages patients to re-enact them. This therapy helps you dive deeper and experience your feelings rather than just talking through them. After re-enacting, therapists will ask you questions like, “What is going on right now” or “How does this make you feel?” This therapy helps you become more aware of your senses, accept the consequences of your behaviour, and learn to fulfil your needs while respecting others. DANCE/MOVEMENT THERAPY You’re not alone if you need a random dance party to get you through the day — I’m right there with you! You can dance it out in this therapy instead of talking it out. Dance/movement therapy utilises movement to promote social, emotional, and physical responses to improve health and well-being. It taps into psychological and behavioural issues that speaking can’t address. Through exploring your mind-body connection, dance/movement therapy can help you overcome depression and anxiety, combat eating disorders, improve body image, and relieve everyday stress. Techniques of this therapy include: Mirroring is the movement of others to develop empathy or to see a reflection of your feelings. Using dance to demonstrate a struggle in your life as a way to work through it and celebrate your overcoming it. Make a gesture, the therapist told you to do, so you can observe it mindfully and become more aware of your body. Learn more:
11 minutes | Nov 13, 2022
I’m certainly SAD, how about you?
As the Christmas holiday is approaching, many consider it a magical and charming time for adults and children alike. However, it’s the least wonderful time of the year for sunlight. Winter blues or seasonal affective disorder? As many as one in five Americans report “winter blues” beginning around this time of year, making you feel more cranky and lethargic. For about one in twenty Americans, symptoms increase to a seasonal affective disorder (use the mnemonic word SAD to remember). It has been estimated that 10 to 15 per cent of Britons also struggle through Autumn and winter and suffer many of those symptoms, but are not clinically diagnosed as having depression. A seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is caused by prolonged exposure to darkness and cold temperatures, and those shifts disrupt our neuroendocrine systems, particularly the hormones that regulate moods. Traditionally, in the post-Agricultural era, human societies harvested crops in late summer and preserved foods in the fall or Autumn, depending on which side of the pond you lived. Then pseudo-hibernation, staying comfortable and warm indoors with family in the winter. That annual cycle of birth, growth, harvesting and death is part of why so many societies have holidays relating to death, for example, in Día de Muertos, this time of year is the opportunity to remember loved ones who have died and honour their memory. Sadly, for most current employment routes, less sunlight doesn’t typically equate to fewer working hours. Psychologists say that there is generally a sliding scale of seasonal sadness. At the lowest level, it makes us overeat, oversleep, and be grumpy. Winter blues typically involve brief, low-level symptoms that don’t impact your day-to-day life. You might occasionally feel melancholic or tired, but those symptoms resolve quickly, if symptoms interfere with your ability to be productive and enjoy life during this stretch, seek help. In contrast, you maintain typical mental health throughout most of the year but exhibit depressive symptoms simultaneously each year, most commonly in winter, thus only pointing towards A seasonal affective disorder. Symptoms of a seasonal affective disorder include depression, listlessness, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, increased appetite (particularly craving carbohydrates and gaining weight), hopelessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, fatigue, excessive sleep and decreased sociality. A point of curiosity, a high-sugar diet is associated with higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders and a tentative link to clinical depression. In disparity, sleeping well can work wonders in helping to boost our moods. However, if these symptoms rise to a level where you feel you can’t control them with home remedies, or they disrupt your life to the point where you can’t function, it’s time to see a medical professional. You may need therapy, medication or other alternatives to help control your symptoms. Strategies for seasonal affective disorder Try light therapy Brighten up your space Create a routine Get moving Practice meditation and gratitude Make a phone call that matters Look on the bright side of life Read more:
8 minutes | Nov 7, 2022
Positive Self Talk
Positive Self Talk Self-talk: How often do you hear that little voice in your head tell you that you aren’t good enough? Negative self-talk can hinder your progress in life and hold you back from fulfilling your dreams. There are ways to turn your inner voice into a positive one. Follow the ten tips below and create a new positive and pleasing voice that will build your confidence and improve your life. Pledges: Positive affirmations can help program your mind to speak in a cheerful voice more often. They are positive statements written in the present tense. You should say them out loud first thing in the morning when you wake up and just before you go to sleep at night, as these are the times when your brain is most receptive. Regular repetition throughout the day will reinforce the positive pledge and help them to become second nature. Awareness: It’s essential to be aware of that voice in your head. Listen to what and how it is talking to you. If it is constantly negative, then you need to take action to turn it into a supportive and positive voice. Listen carefully, and when you catch a malicious thought, turn it into an optimistic statement instead. Meditation: Regular contemplation can help you develop greater power over your thoughts and emotions. You will learn how to listen carefully and to quieten your inner voice. This will help you create a sense of calm and peace, lessening stress and anxiety. As you gain greater control over your mind, you will be able to silence the negative voice when it starts to speak. Be Appreciative: Think of at least three things you are grateful for daily. It’s all too easy to lose yourself in the day’s negative aspects and give in to the negative voice in your head. Instead, focus on the positive and be grateful. Write them down in a journal to remember them and revisit them if needed. Little acts of kindness, it suggested, are not only contagious but also restorative. Change Your Mindset: Catastrophic thinking can be all too easy and take over in times of stress or anxiety. Instead of thinking of all the adverse outcomes, stand back and look at the problem from a different point of view. Creating a positive image within your mind will set up neural pathways to help you reach your goals. The more you reinforce this mental image, the more routes will be created. If information is available online to help you with your vision, use it to your advantage. Distance Yourself: Create some distance between yourself and your emotions. A practical yet straightforward way to do this is to think in the third person. So instead of saying to yourself, “I’m angry with myself because…”, say, “You’re outraged. Why?” A study by Ethan Kross, author of chatter, the voice in our heads, found that participants could regulate their emotions and reduce hurt by creating psychological distance. Change the script You are still getting caught up in negative thoughts. Listen to what you say, rephrase the thought more positively, challenge the negative assumptions, and look for solutions. I don’t do that: One simple change you can make is to use the phrase “I don’t” instead of, “I can’t”. By saying “I don’t” you are taking responsibility and ownership of your thoughts. If you are trying to lose weight, then instead of saying, “I can’t eat cake” say, “I don’t eat cake”. The power of this approach was found in a study by Vanessa Patrick at the University of Houston. Address your emotional and cognitive needs When individuals need support, they are usually trying to fulfil two elements. These may be emotional needs or tangible advice about moving on or gaining closure. Managing both conditions is vital to your ability to calm the mind and reduce the inner chatter. Use Neuro-linguistic programming NLP, Coaching or Hypnotherapy: Read More
3 minutes | Nov 5, 2022
Overcome Obstacles by Removing Self-Doubt
Overcome Obstacles by Removing Self-Doubt People doubt themselves and their abilities. When it becomes a chronic situation, it can hold people back from getting what they want. Confidence will break through the barriers caused by obstacles. You need to recognize when an obstacle is holding you back. Sometimes, people make excuses for their situations and pretend like they don’t exist. For instance, you could be faced with a family member who has a substance abuse problem. It’s difficult to approach the person, and people ignore that a problem exists. They just keep pretending as if the person does not have a problem with the hope that the situation will resolve itself. However, the person may be crying out for help and is looking for someone who has the courage to stand up to their addiction. If you are in that position, you may want to find ways to find that strength. The addict may resist you and may do so for some time. But, if they know you care, and you keep at it to confront the situation, they do hear it deep down, especially if they really are looking to get help. You do have to be aware if they don’t want help, your efforts will not amount to much, unfortunately. Self-doubt can also cripple you when others don’t have confidence in you. For instance, if your manager has reasons to doubt your abilities, he is constantly going to be harping on at you about your work. This may cause you to doubt yourself and the situation will continue in a nasty loop. In such cases, you need to find out why he feels this way and try to work with him to help figure out what you can do to alleviate the situation. Just having this meeting can show your manager you have confidence, which could be the catalyst to turn around the situation. Confidence is going to be your greatest ally when trying to overcome self-doubt. This isn’t easy for everyone to come to grips with, and it does take courage. But, once you gain confidence, you will find there is no stopping you. Dealing with most obstacles will become easier for you, which will lead to you succeeding more often. Many people find that after they get past a certain situation, they wondered why it took them as long as it did. It doesn’t matter, though. As long as you eventually gain that confidence, you can make happen whatever you need to.
2 minutes | Oct 30, 2022
Six Beneficial Ways to Deal with Critical Individuals
Six Beneficial Ways to Deal with Critical People Constructive criticism is fine, but some people are so relentlessly negative that they can suck the joy out of life. No matter what happy news you might have, they are guaranteed to find the cloud to fit your silver lining. Here are 6 strategies you can use to deal with hypercritical people. Don’t Take It Personally It’s a safe bet that it's not you, it's them. Some people just hug their negativity around them like a security blanket, and it colours their view of the world. They criticize everything because that suits them. Watch how they treat other people. It’s guaranteed, they criticize everybody, not just you. Listen to The Message Is the person obscuring the message? Maybe your critical colleague or friend is tactless, or bad at expressing themselves rather than being mean. Try to see past the messenger to understand what is really being said, otherwise you might miss out on some valuable advice. Accept the Feedback You can decide to make crucial feedback on its own merits. That is, as a source of honest feedback. At least with hypercritical people, what you see is what you get! If you can see past the blunt delivery, you may be able to find a kernel of truth that can improve the way you do things. Deal with Your Discomfort Criticism never feels good. Try to read your own discomfort as another source of information about what is being said. Does the negative feedback trigger a recognition deep within you? Maybe it subconsciously reminds you of a past event, but maybe there’s a ring of truth in the criticism. Sit with your discomfort and see what it’s telling you. If You Can’t Take the Heat, Stay Out of the Kitchen If you can’t stand being criticized, then it’s up to you not to get into situations with people who are likely to criticize you. Don’t ask for advice or expose yourself to their negativity. They’re not likely to change, so you need to take control and avoid such conversations. Don’t share good news if you know they’ll throw cold water on it, and don’t seek their praise if you know you won’t get it. Stay Out of Their Way You have a choice about how to deal with negative people. You can decide not to engage with their negativity, you can ignore them, or you can just avoid them altogether. If you must have contact with a negative person at work, for example, be helpful but don’t engage with them. Otherwise, it's up to you whether you want to have any contact with such negativity, or not.
2 minutes | Oct 30, 2022
Big five personality traits: Who are you?
An individual’s personality traits define how they perceive the world around them. It is a set of characteristics and features that cause them to think, feel, and behave in a particular way. Personality traits are characteristic of enduring behavioural and emotional patterns rather than isolated occurrences. Although all aspects of your personality stem from both nature and nurture, many models of personality types attempt to explain why we are the way we are. People have probably been fascinated by personality traits since the first Homo sapiens roamed the earth. The first profound personality test was created in 1915, during the First World War. Robert Woodworth’s “Psychoneurotic Inventory” was the forerunner of personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs test. Such personality qualities seem more consistent over time, being heavily loaded genetically. Five of the most studied factors that genetically influence someone’s personality: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Openness, Conscientiousness, and Neuroticism. Whereas, personality traits are the most common way we tend to describe human behaviour in people. According to Goldberg's five factors of personality, OCEAN model. We all have a combination of the five traits. (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism) or you could use the mnemonic CANOE instead, depending on your nautical preference. It is important to note that each of the five primary personality traits suggested could represent a range between two polar extremes with the Jungian dichotomy. For instance, extraversion represents a continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion. In the real world, most people lie somewhere in between. The five factors are not necessarily traits in and of themselves, but factors in which many related traits and characteristics fit. For example, the factor agreeableness encompasses terms like generosity, amiability, and warmth on the positive side and aggressiveness and temper on the negative side. All of these traits and characteristics (and many more) make up the broader factor of agreeableness. For example, those with the extraversion trait are described as outgoing, talkative, and gregarious. Conversely, introversion is a preference for solitary or limited social situations. It’s worth noting, though, that most people are ambiverts - enjoying their own company occasionally and social experiences at other times. This is a tendency to be reliable, self-disciplined, and organized. Somebody high in conscientiousness may be a perfectionist, stubborn, and obsessed with neatness to an extreme degree, while those at the other end may be careless, undisciplined, and impulsive. Learn more
8 minutes | Oct 21, 2022
Doom and Gloom Thinking
Doom and Gloom Thinking Expecting the worst to happen in any situation can harm your mental health. How do we stop this unhealthy thinking Imagine you’ve applied for a dream appointment and have now been nominated for the second round of interviews. Do you celebrate your progress and start preparing for the new challenge? Or do you immediately start imagining a rejection, agonising over what it will do to your self-esteem? “If I bomb this, I’m a total loser,” you tell yourself. Or perhaps you’re waiting for a reply to a message to a buddy. When you don’t receive an immediate response, you start imagining how you might have offended the person – without even considering the possibility that they are just occupied with some other task. Maybe it’s global events that concern you. You spend hours every night ruminating on the threat of nuclear war, the emergence of another deadly virus or the likelihood of an economic recession. The devastation it could cause for you and your loved ones keeps playing out in your mind’s eye. If any of these situations feel familiar, you might be susceptible to catastrophising: a cognitive pattern in which you overestimate the chances of something terrible happening and exaggerate the potential negative consequences of that scenario. “It’s a negatively skewed way of thinking, which elevates the intensity of emotions to levels that are hard to manage, and in some circumstances, they are overwhelming,” explains Patrick, a psychologist in Alberta, Canada. Plentiful studies show catastrophising can seriously threaten mental health and amplify feelings of distress accompanying conditions such as chronic pain. Catastrophising can occur at any point in our lives – but the lingering fears of Covid-19, combined with the pressing political and economic uncertainty, could undoubtedly exacerbate the tendency. Finding ways to break those toxic thinking cycles should bolster anyone’s resilience – and there may be no better time to learn. Sigmund Freud Psychologists’ understanding of catastrophising as a severe risk factor for mental illness stems from the birth of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. For the first half of the 20th Century, psychoanalysis – developed by Sigmund Freud and others – had been the primary means of tackling mental illness. The aim was to uncover suppressed fears and desires – often resulting from early childhood and sexual events – that created psychological conflict. Continued research shows that catastrophic thinking seriously contributes to many other anxiety disorders. By the middle of the Century, however, psychotherapists such as Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck had started to look for alternative ways of guiding people through their distress. Rather than exhume hidden psychological conflict, they focused on people’s conscious thought processes by targeting the maladaptive thinking patterns or “cognitive distortions” that could lead to distress. Right from the outset, catastrophising was identified as a potentially crucial cognitive distortion – with Beck writing about its potential role in phobias. For example, someone with a fear of flying might interpret a slight rattle in the cabin as a sign of a technical fault. If they were less prone to catastrophising, they might notice that the cabin crew looked unalarmed. Still, a catastrophiser would assume that the staff weren’t paying attention – and as the ominous sound continued, they would start imagining the awful ways they might die. Reference: