The Flaw in our Minds

The more I work with depression, anxiety and obsessional disorders, the more they display a mystery about the human mind. How is it we are so easily hijacked by depressing thoughts, anxious thoughts, obsessional thoughts? On average, each human being has at least 50,000 thoughts per day. Some are trivial, some constructive, some are funny. 6,000 of them are repetitive thought chains, focusing on the same issue. Yet the anxious person will keep coming back to the same twenty or thirty negative thoughts. Every hour, every day. That tiny group of worries, self-judgments and catastrophic predictions creates her mental health problem.

What is it about the human mind that makes it so easy for us to be taken in by thoughts?

The answer lies in how consciousness works.

From a few weeks after birth to the moment of death, consciousness runs on like a continuous cinema reel, recording every event, every sensory experience, every thought, and every emotion. To which we add our ever-changing story. 

In consciousness, we also connect to the outer world: people (and the things they say), rooms, food, drink, atmospheres and (if outside) woods, trees, lakes and skies. Also, recording the inner world of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and reactions.

And here lies the flaw: that consciousness gives the same reality to thoughts as it does to experience, and on (factual) written or spoken words. We come to believe that what thoughts tell us are as real as the instructions in a manual. When in fact many thoughts have no referent.

Three examples:

I am going to fail (anxiety)

Life is terrible (depression)

I have to keep washing in case I catch a disease (obsession)

Notice that the first and third are catastrophic predictions, the second is a global judgment. None of them are factual statements. 

Another reason we take alarming thoughts seriously is because they come with a charge. Meaning a bolt of anxiety. Surely a thought that is so unpleasant has to be taken seriously? The answer to that is that, if a thought has an anxiety charge, it is by definition unreliable. Because anxious thoughts are simplistic, global judgments, or else they are catastrophic predictions.

If you read the first three sentences in the last paragraph again, you can see a thought chain forming. Like this:

Catastrophic thought: ‘People will laugh at me’ > Secondary thought: ‘I am anxious’ > Tertiary thought: ‘That means something terrible is going to happen’ > Panic

These thought chains occur by a jump in reasoning from one false premise to another. The mind, when it processes information, cannot tell the difference between garbage and gold. It is you who has to do that.

To go beyond this flaw in the mind requires that we change our relationship to it. Becoming more sceptical about the thoughts that present themselves to us, and more selective in those we give attention to. Taking ownership of the thoughts we allow into mental space, and those we refuse.

Because the mind is a good servant, but a bad master.

Are you master in your own house? Do you run your mind, or does it run you?

In the next article, I will describe some ways to defuse from thoughts you have no further use for.

Photo: Hammer & Tusk @ Unsplash

How exercise changes the brain


When working with clients who have anxiety or depression I ask them to do some hard exercise at least once a day.

My reason for asking that is that I know that exercise improves mood. Several studies show that 30 minutes daily aerobic exercise was as – if not more – effective than anti-depressants in depressed patients. We also know that exercise fosters endorphin release – which counteracts anxiety.

Continue reading

Mind control

Mind parasites

This is the third in a series of articles that teach you a new method on how abolish worry, anxiety, obsessions, OCD, and addictive thinking patterns. In  fact, any kind of repetitive, boring, disturbing thought pattern that keeps you enslaved to the Chatterbox inside your Head.

To recap: the four steps in this new method are:

  1. Change Position
  2. Change Attitude
  3. Change Focus
  4. Practice Mindfulness

I have before written a similar article on this subject called Do You Control Your Mind Or Does It Control You?

In this post I am focusing on Step 1 in the four steps: Change Position

In this step your job is to distance yourself from your thoughts. However ‘real’ they might seem negative thoughts do not in fact belong to you. They have their origin somewhere else – in the conscious mind – ‘Headmind’ – in fact. And Headmind is stuffed full of ideas it has adopted fron other, mostly, dysfunctional, people as well as from mistakes it makes about everyday life and past experiences which it refuses to relearn.

I covered most of these mistakes in my previous article in this series: How to Stop Worrying. But the basic mistake Headmind makes when faced with any challenging situation is to replay old, unhelpful, stories from the past which give you the idea that you are a complete mess. These ‘Headmind tapes’ are like a record stuck on the groove that tell you over and over again that you are facing disaster.

The Change Position step encourages you to see that the tapes are coming from IT rather from you. YOU are not your MIND. Instead, YOU are a sentient, living, emotional person grounded in the moment who needs have no fear of what your mind is trying to do to you.

To make this step work you first need to identify the content of the Headmind tape and I refer you to the previous article in this series in order to get some more help on this. Once you have identified some destructive thinking patterns you are in a good position to identify the tape contents.

These ‘tapes’ are repetitive, conscious, or semi-conscious, ideas which trigger anxiety. You will know they are running because you will suddenly notice that you are getting uptight, frightened, obsessed, panicky or worried. Your job now is to analyse the tape.

This may take some practice and the fourth step, which relates to practising Awareness, is crucial here. I will elaborate more on that step when I get to it but here is a previous article on the subject here. Be aware that these ‘ideas’ may not be thoughts as such. Instead they might take the form of images or self-dialogue which you hadn’t realised (until you practised Awareness) were there at all.

Some common ‘tapes’ include:

  1. An image of something terrible happening to you
  2. The thought that you cannot bear what is ‘about’ to happen
  3. The idea that you are going to ‘pay’ for past mistakes
  4. Self-talk that you are useless, worthless or otherwise fucked-up
  5. Flash-backs to past traumas
  6. Injunctions to ‘get it right or else…’

Once you have identified the crap that Headmind is relaying on to you the next step is simple. And that is change position; to distance yourself from it, treating as something alien to you. A good way to do that is to engage in some self-dialogue:

  1. The Chatterbox is working overtime today…
  2. Those stupid tapes are playing up…
  3. The Control freak is off on one…
  4. There it goes again…

This step is immediately followed by the next step: Change Attitude, which is closely linked. More on that in the next article.










How to improve your mood with Tyrosine


I received a big post following my first article in the current series on Addictions and it seems there is a high demand for a series like this.

Why? Are addictions to drugs and alcohol a bigger problem than we realise?

Meanwhile, one reader would like to know what people can do about it if they have Dopamine deficiency. Depletions can occur genetically in the brains of some people, although they are more common in habitual drinkers and drug users. However, if you suspect your mood is low, or that some of your cravings are running away with you, or that you could just do with a boost then there is no harm in trying a Tyrosine supplement for a few days.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Loss of interest/pleasure in activities
  • Chronic boredom
  • Lethargy
  • Agitation/restlessness
  • Poor concentration
  • Low mood

In my view Dopamine depletion is sometimes mistaken for Serotonin deficiency, which occurs in clinical depression and I wonder that this subject has not been explored in greater depth in developing treatments for depression.

There is a natural way to boost Dopamine levels and that is to consume Tyrosine, an amino-acid which the body uses to synthesise Dopamine in the brain. It is also helpful to take vitamin B6 with Tyrosine supplements as this enables the body to break down the Tyrosine faster.

Tyrosine is also found in soy, chicken, fish, avocado pear, bananas, milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts, pumpkin seeds and in sesame seeds.

I have worked with several cocaine addicts who have found Tyrosine and Vitamin B6 helpful in reducing cravings and restoring mood levels.

I would be interested in hearing from any readers who have tried Tyrosine supplements, or Tyrosine-rich diets.


Four main causes of depression – and what to do about them


The first month of 2011 has come and gone and the statistics show that January is the most ‘depressing’ month, in that more people will seek help for depression than at any other time of the year. As it happens, I have been more than usually busy with depressed clients since the New Year came on; a fact which prompts me to write this article.

First, lets be clear about what clinical depression really is.

In my view, many of the people who are diagnosed by their GP as having depression are not, in fact, clinically depressed at all. Instead, they could be sad, fed up with life, or unhappy. This is one reason why anti-depressants don’t work for the majority. Anti-depressant drugs such as the SSRIs – which increase the amount of serotonin in circulation in the brain – will only work, obviously, if the patient has serotonin depletion, which will only be the case if they actually have clinical depression.

Whether you are depressed, sad, fed up, or unhappy, this article will still apply to you.

Here are the four main causes:

1. Prolonged anxiety caused by negative Headmind thinking.

If you are a habitual worrier, perfectionist, or guilt-tripper then, on a daily basis, your body will become accustomed to very high anxiety levels. Since Bodymind cannot tolerate over-arousal for too long, it will seek to reduce the problem by damping down the system. Typically, this means reducing serotonin (which elevates mood), which leads to the symptoms of clinical depression. In this respect it has been estimated that over 70% of depressed people also have high anxiety levels.

The solution is to change the way Headmind works.

2. The person has developed a ‘hopeless’ mind-set

This problem is typically developed by over-conscientious people who have not learnt how to say ‘No’ or recognise their limitations. The result is that they take on far too many burdens, obligations and responsibilities. Or else they forget to take time out for themselves and keep that crucial work-life balance. One result is burnout.

Depression occurs when personal Headmind reacts to overload by just giving up (a slightly weird response, given that it was faulty thinking that gave rise to the problem in the first place). A common outcome is that the person turns into a victim of some kind.

The most common Headmind defect here is ‘Failure thinking’, which ignores realistic solutions on what to do about overload and, instead, magnifies problems, concludes that there is nothing that can be done about them, and triggers anxiety with the thought that disaster is inevitable. This leads to first anxiety and then to the ‘damping down’ response I described in the previous item.

The solution is to develop a solution-focused, or problem-solving approach to problems. I am in the middle of writing a series on this so please check back for articles on ‘success thinking’.

3. The person has lost her passion for life.

People who have become disillusioned do so as a result of trauma of some kind: the death of someone close, break-up, or departure. Or betrayal, or rejection, by someone they once trusted. Or the usual disasters which befall all of us from time to time but which setbacks the ego will not accept.

In other cases, the depressed person has simply got confused and lost his way. This could be because he has become addicted to trivialities – newspapers, games, television,  the social round, internet-surfing, etc. Or is stuck in routine in which one day is more or less like the next, and which becomes a kind of living death. Once Bodymind sees what is happening here it starts to release copious amounts of the emotions known as boredom and frustration. But here is what is strange: when some people notice they are bored they don’t do anything about it. Instead, they read boredom as another sign that life is hopeless. So they stagnate, more and more.

The solution is to reconnect to Bodymind and your passion.

4. Headmind is blocking the release of strong emotions, such as anger and sadness.

A  build-up of unexpressed or unresolved emotion leads to a similar effect as chronic anxiety: a dangerous level of over-arousal. Once again, Bodymind tends to counter-act this problem by reducing serotonin.

The solution is to find a way to release those emotions.

If you are not depressed right now but you think you might be going that way, then you can find out more about how to stay out of depression here.

Contrary to common belief many people do find a way to improve their mental health without needing to consult a psychotherapist and some of my articles show you how to do just that. But if you do need assistance then you can contact me over on the psychotherapy website.

Image by pinksherbet

Can feeling grumpy be good for you?

Moods1 I receive a mischievous communication from my very good friend Mark McGuinness who wants me to comment on a research article he has looked into, written by some ‘Australian psychologists’, which claims that being in a ‘bad mood’ can be ‘good’ for you.

Now, some of my best experiences in life have been prompted by my ‘bad’ moods. With the aid of those I have got rid of countless annoying relationships, irritating jobs and pointless activities. So my first thought was that – yet again – a bunch of overpaid academics were being subsidised to announce discoveries most of us learned in primary school. And that Mark had forgotten our many rambling midnight conversations about emotions and the meaning of life.

Yet I realised immediately that these gorgeous, Bondi-beach seeking academics have made yet another category mistake: While bad moods can, indeed, be ‘good’, those are not the same as ‘bad emotions’.

To remind you: there is no such thing as a bad emotion. Emotions are an expression of Bodymind
intelligence. A mood is different. It is a  Headmind attitude. It expresses a relationship between our attitudes and the world as we find it. You can read more about moods here.

A grumpy mood, for me, is a relationship based on suspicion. It means that I no longer trust that experiences, situations, people, or the Lord God himself are doing me any favours. And that, in turn, is a cue that I need to revise my trusting attitude towards these entities. I need to retreat, stand-off, complain, and have a moan. I may even need to disengage – permanently.

So yes – a grumpy mood can be good for you if it helps you get rid of your intellectual garbage.

The funny thing is that I actually find grumpy moods enjoyable. Entraining my suspicion and pessimism on the planet gives me a god-like sense of detachment and playfulness. It also gives me a playground for wit.

Rather like one of my favourite philosophers – Arthur Schopenhauer – who once wrote:

“If we were not all so interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.”

Come to think of it, Schopenhauer deserves an article all to himself, so I will write that next.

10 best ways to stay out of depression

First, understand what depression actually is.

Depression is not an emotion like sadness. It is an empty, numbed-out sensation which comes up when Headmind despairs and gives up on experience. It then starts suppressing emotions on the grounds that they are too painful to deal with. The result is that inner feeling of emptiness that makes life seem pointless.

To avoid getting into that state, here are some things to watch out for:

1. Recognise the symptoms

  1. Lethargy
  2. Loss of concentration
  3. Apathy
  4. Loss of interest in people and activities
  5. Deterioration in sleep patterns
  6. Changes in eating and appetite

N.B. You need to have at least FOUR of these

2. Understand that de-pressing is something you do rather than something that happens to you. You de-press your emotions when you:

  • Bury your head in the sand when difficult situations come up
  • Run away instead of speaking up about your emotions
  • Stay too long in dead-end jobs and relationships
  • Give away your personal power to other people
  • Talk like a victim
  • Bury your anger or your frustration for too long instead of doing something about it
  • Live a tedious, monotonous, stuck-in-a-rut lifestyle to the point where your personal Bodymind goes crazy with boredom
  • Fail to forgive and move on from people who have hurt you in the past

Start reversing these patterns now.

2. Eliminate Anxiety from your life. Anxiety is the number one most common precursor of clinical depression. When the panic gets too much your Bodymind will try and numb it out by triggering chemical releases that slow the system down. Use Reverse Thinking to eliminate those Head fucks now.

3. Don’t give any air time to depressive thoughts. That includes ideas like: ‘I might as well die’, ‘Nobody cares’, ‘There’s no point trying to…’. Don’t fight these thoughts   – just ignore them. Turn your attention to full-on activities that completely absorb your attention. It takes practice, but doing this every time you notice a depressing thought eventually drives them away for good.

4. Do activities that foster endorphin release.

Because it is physically impossible for someone to feel depressed while their body is full of endorphins…

5. Invest as much time as you can in your community.

Clinical depression tends to be more severe and longer-lasting in people who live alone or who are in someway isolated from the community. People who keep their friendships alive are also at lee risk.

6. Practice the art of love.

Again, research shows that many depressed people are in unhappy relationships. If you can’t show more loving, or if it is not reciprocated, then it may be time to move on.

7. Keep talking

In my work as a therapist I am constantly amazed by how very few people have learnt the art of speaking up about their emotions, needs and dissatisfactions. The more you bottle things up, the more overloaded with frustration, anger, and fear you are going to get. Until there comes the point when Headmind will try and de-press them.

8. Avoid procrastinating

I see this problem very clearly in people who get depressed over work. The work-load, the problems and the deadlines build up until they get overwhelmed. Or they put off talking to the boss, the ass-hole colleague, or the lazy employee until their behavior is out of control. Eventually, they give up and start de-pressing their fears. They even give up on finding a new job.

9. Revitalise.

This essentially means making the most of your personal genius. If you are constantly elated by new directions in your life you are going to maximise your joy and excitement, not your anxieties. As well as that, you won’t have time to get depressed, and, if you do get down, you will have plenty of alternatives to turn to.

10. Don’t exaggerate your depressed moods.

It’s a little known fact that depressed people are only in fact ‘depressed’ for – on average – one hour a day. The rest of the time they are sleeping, having a crap, eating, dreaming, getting annoyed at someone, reading low-rent blog sites….

The fact that you are blue for half an hour doesn’t mean you have stay that way. Get working on one of the previous 9 tips right away.

A lot of what passes for depression these days is nothing more than a body saying it needs work.’

Geoffrey Norman.

Depression – letting the emotion out

My last post described how the empty, numb experience of depression comes about from suppression of ‘the monster’ – the unwanted truth about your own passion. It also described a process for clearing away depression by connecting to ‘the monster’, telling the truth about who you really are, and finding an outlet for blocked emotion.

The first step in reversing depression is to honestly describe de-pressed emotions to at least one other person to whom the emotion is connected, This, strangely enough, is usually the most difficult step for a lot of people.

The second step is to do something that satisfies the de-pressed emotion. This becomes easier once the person has been given permission to act on his desire by at least one other person.

Remember, the ‘monster’ is only viewed as such by conformist, security-seeking, depressive Headmind. The monster belongs to Bodymind – the realm of passion, love, relentless desire, and personal growth (as well as sex, pleasure, and ecstasy). Left to itself, instead of being beaten into submission, the monster would be no more than a very playful, if shocking, child. Rather like Michelangelo’s Bacchus (left) in fact.

Thanks to Dawn Ward for working with me on this. The names below are pseudonyms.

Case 1. Serena. Female 40s. Married. 3 Teenage children. Depressed for over 20 years. Bodywork focusing revealed that her de-pressed emotions were anger, fear and sexual hunger. She had blocked these out of subservience to her role as wife and mother. She told her anger to her husband and three sons. She related her fear (about loneliness and independence) to the Reverse Therapist. She experimented with sex with her husband, becoming much more dominant with him, telling him to lose weight if he wanted to enjoy sex with her. She reduced the amount of time spent cooking and cleaning for her sons and took a job in a freight company. She started to go out on her own, made new friends, and arranged holidays with them. Her husband was initially shocked but their relationship is now much better, if more distant. Her depression vanished.

Case 2. Jeremy. Male. 20s. Severely depressed 3 years and in psychiatric care. Bodywork focusing revealed that de-pressed emotions were frustration and excitement. He had blocked this because he thought he ought to be looking after his girlfriend and because he imagined that his parents knew better than he did. Felt trapped by university course (his parents’ choice) and demanding girlfriend at the same university. She herself had been depressed since 15 and threatened to kill herself if he left her. He related his frustrations to his girlfriend, his parents and his best friend. He left the university and took a job as an English-language teacher in London. He started to spend more time on creating music and then left on a round-the-world trip for two years. He stayed in touch with his girlfriend whose own depression began to lift without the co-dependent relationship they had developed. His depression left him the week he told his parents to stop making decisions for him and left university.

Case 3. Graham. Male 50s. Moderately depressed 5 years. Company Director. Married. 4 children. Bodywork focusing revealed that his de-pressed emotions were boredom, frustration and joy. He had blocked this because he thought he should be ‘strong’ and a provider for everybody around him. He had over-identified with his role as a successful businessman. He felt numb and empty inside and thought about death often. Described his boredom and frustration to his wife and a close friend. Began to reduce long hours he spent on his business and decided to sell it at the first opportunity. Also started to say ‘No’ to partners and employees who wanted more of his time. Went back to writing poetry, something he had enjoyed years before. Spent more time with his son, with whom he became close once more. Gave up drinking – realising that it was Headmind’s way of ‘keeping the monster quiet’. Depression lifted gradually.

What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness.’ Nietzsche.