An autumnal look at anxiety and depression

As the new season rolls onwards and the weather begins to get cooler, it can be a really good time to do an emotional inventory of the year so far, so that we can emotionally prepare for the cooler months ahead. With reflection about the year to now, we can identify things that made us feel scared, stressed, anxious or worried or made us feel happy and relaxed.

With this information we can develop greater self-compassion for our perceived weaknesses and utilise the positives to help us through the difficult challenges that life throws at us. From there we can start carving out a ‘self-help tool kit’, which can help us to weather the negative emotional times in our lives. And for each of us this will be a unique tool kit, as it is based on your own reactions to the experiences that are in your life.

And the ultimate aim of the inward inventory is to identify your triggers from the year just gone, so that you can more easily avoid any tipping points. It helps us to have more control over our emotions and helps us to stay mentally well. And don’t we all want that?

So let’s get to it…… The Emotional Inward Inventory

There are 4 simple (and yet powerful) questions to the inward inventory. For each month of the year we ask 4 questions. I like to begin from last September, as this is normally my own first trigger point for stress and anxiety to kick in, mostly due to the physical and mental changes from summer to autumn.

1 What was my situation this time last year eg Sept?
2 How was I emotionally feeling then?
3 A year on, what has changed externally?
4 A year on, what has changed emotionally?

Here’s an example:

1 Last September ….. my youngster went back to college. I was getting back into work. I was sad that the summer was over. I didn’t feel prepared for the cooler months or the worry about whether they would stay at college.

2 I was feeling… apprehensive about youngster going to college.. would they manage it? Worried about them grinding to a halt again. Anxious that this might have a toll on my health and I wouldn’t be able to work. Angry that life is so stressful right now for me.

3. What has changed externally?  I had a really good summer. I now recognise that this can sustain me during the cooler months. I can look back at photos and remember good times. I didn’t have that last summer as I was ill. I have reflected that I got through a very difficult year, and I survived! I have brought more creative pursuits into my life and that makes me feel good. I have reflected that I am still in the same situation with the concern over whether my youngster will go to college, and yet I am emotionally more resilient than I was last year. I am learning to breathe through the difficult times. And take creative breaks just for me.

4. A year on, my emotional state is ..? Stronger. More grounded. I have more positive feelings about my own life. There is more times of joy and happiness in my life now.

So, 4 simple questions to ask yourself about last September (and each of the of the months from the year so far)….
1) What was my situation this time last year?
2) How was I emotionally feeling then?
3) A year on, what has changed externally?
4) A year on, what has changed emotionally?

It can be interesting to discover our own inner answers .  And sometimes it can be difficult to do the inventory by ourselves and an impartial counsellor, like me, might be able to help you make sense of what you discover. If this is you, then please drop me a line or give me a call and I can help you navigate through your inventory. It can be a sign of strength to realise you need help, and often life changing when you do seek that help. I wish you luck in your own excavations.  And take it gently, as I did.

Holidays: Anxiety or Rest?

’tis the season for holidays.  The schools have broken up and lots of us are focused on those long, lazy summer days before September. And of course the media and the films show us pictures of idyllic summer scenes where everyone is having fun and the sun is always shining.

Whether it’s a trip away or a ‘stacation’ at home, holidays can be seen both as rest and can also provoke high levels of anxiety.  It can be really hard to acknowledge that the holiday isn’t going as you planned it, or that the holiday that you are on, wasn’t really what you wanted to do. We’re often out of our usual routine, full-on with our families and trying to cope with everyone’s demands of what a holiday ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to be like for ‘me’ this year. So how can we manage this time, so that it becomes a more relaxing and rewarding experience for us?

I would first like to say that if you are feeling anxious about the packing, the travelling, the hotel, the being at home, the not being at home – it’s all okay. When our routines change, it can be a bit tricky to navigate if you’re a person who likes structure and routine. And if you’re reading this and thinking ‘well that’s not me, I like adventure, I like the excitement of it’ then have fun on your holiday! For the rest of us, or just a few of us, this isn’t always the way that we think and we feel.

The first step is to emotionally acknowledge how we might be feeling. Being honest with ourselves give us information that we can use to help us to diminish the apprehension and anxiety. We can use the chart below to help us.  Please note these examples are for illustration, your chart may look very different.


(eg I am anxious
about …?)

Having a whole week with the kidsOverwhelmed, scared, lack of confidence,
Isolated, ‘must do this by myself’
I can draw up a plan
of days, I can see who can support me, I can
reach out to family/
friends, I am not alone
I am anxious about
the airport Be more
specific, here. What is it about the airport
that scares you? Is it
the kids. Is it the
Out of control, fear,
I can see what is at the airport. I can look at
the baggage
allowance, I can plan
for the  kids what they will do. I can be honest with myself that this
doesn’t feel easy to

Write out each of the identified items that you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed about in column 1. Then look at each one in turn and strive to identify the feeling that is underneath the statement and write this in column 2. This may take some time. Be easy with yourself, breath and allow yourself to be honest. It is okay to write it here, no-one else needs to see it. Once you have written it all down, you can look at how you might help yourself to feel more okay. And sometimes we need a trusted friend or family member to help us work through the chart with us.

When you work through your emotional road blocks, you move from a state of emotional pain to a position of emotional power. Once you have completed some of the emotional work, it is much easier to navigate the practicalities of holiday times. Often times the anxiety is likely to diminish and you begin to relax and the holiday can begin. And taken in this way, holidays can become the rest that we all need and crave. I wish you happy holidays!

Finding compassion amongst our negativity

I have read a lot of self-help books over my career and invariably the books talk about positive affirmations which can potentially help your life to work better. I always say to my clients that there is an extra step we need to do before we get to the positive bit. We have to honour the pain, the anger, the anxiety and the over whelm first. Just ‘being positive’ is like sticking a plaster over an oozing wound and hoping that this, in itself, will heal the wound. In truth we have to clean the wound out first and allow it time to heal. To be in a state of denial where we are saying ‘all is well’ when we are raging, feeling anxious and depressed, is not honouring the hurt and the pain.

It can feel really scary to contemplate working with our negative feelings about the situations that are in our lives. And yet as we start to uncover and make sense of the hurt and the pain, we bring new understanding to our situation. And no, things do not change overnight and we cannot wave a wand and make it all go away. And yet when we bring compassion and a loving sense of kindness to the hurt that we have endured, we can breathe new life into the possibility that things can get better. And as we are more patient with the hurt, we give ourselves time to heal and grow from the challenges that we face.

So, when we aren’t trying to get rid of the pain, what do we do? We welcome it in. We breathe with it and we say ‘okay, you’re here, and I am here. I am okay in this moment, in spite of this situation. I can learn from this situation and I can grow from it…. and what can I do right now for myself that will help me to feel better?’ And wait and see if an answer comes forth. Sometimes it can be quite surprising what we can do for ourselves to help our situation. Perhaps it is as simple as making ourselves a cup of tea, or going for a walk. Sometimes the smallest endeavours can bring us one step closer to a better feeling place, and it can be do-able in small baby step.

Relaxation: Welcome medicine for Anxiety and Depression

Relaxation is a word that gets banded around a lot these days. We’re told that it can make us feel calm and less anxious about things. And a dictionary definition cites “the state of being free from tension and anxiety”. Wow I want that!

Many self-help books cite the miraculous benefits of relaxation. And in the past I have been put off by lofty claims that don’t seem to be delivered after the first try. What I think has been missing from the conversation about relaxation, is that the more you do it, the more self aware you become about the state of your mind and body. And this gives us new information about our own anxiety and depression, which helps us to deal with challenging situations before the tipping point ever happens.

I like to think of relaxation as welcome medicine for our minds and our bodies which works alongside any medications we take on a regular basis. And because it is something that we can do for ourselves, it can bring us positive feelings of empowerment as we are proactively helping ourselves to feel better. And the ‘doing’ of relaxation has a cumulative effect that appears over time, rather than an immediate relief. And anything that you enjoy, which is fun and helps you to feel happy is relaxation in my opinion.

So how do we do relaxation? A simple exercise, which is portable as its built into all of us, is the ability to observe our breathing.

If it’s safe to do so now, stop and observe your breathing. You might observe that your breathing is shallow, or fast, and that the monkey mind is constantly chattering. The monkey mind is always with us and it is completely normal to have it bombarding us with all sorts of thoughts. Just thank the mind for sharing and bring your focus back to the breath. You can do this relaxation breathing technique sitting in a traffic queue, on the bus, at your desk or waiting for the kids to come out of school . Just observe. If your breathing is rapid, shallow, fast whatever it is, that’s okay. It just gives you an indication of how you are feeling in this moment. Are you feeling happy, sad, overwhelmed, anxious? All emotions are welcome here.

Practice taking deep breaths reaching right down into your belly. You might want to add the word ‘calm’ or ‘peace’ which you slowly say in your mind as you breath out. Try this technique out for a few days and see if it helps you to feel more grounded and present in your life. And then you can begin to use it when you are feeling overwhelmed. Three easy steps :


Self-empowerment tools which help you to overcome anxiety and depression

Mental Health Awareness Week

It’s Mental Health Awareness week this week. I would like it to be Mental Health Awareness Day every day. It’s curious to me that we only seem to focus on mental health at certain times of the year, or when we are going through a crisis. To ‘have good mental health’ to my way of thinking, is having an awareness of how we are thinking and feeling in any given moment. We can then use this information to determine what our course of action needs to be. And it’s a focus that needs to happen every day, not just on certain days of the year. And if we have good mental and emotional awareness and build habits that nurture and sustain us, then we can help avoid the tipping points, or deal with the tipping points that life brings us. I talk about tipping points a lot in my work. The tipping point is the ‘last straw’, it’s the thing that completely undoes us and finds us in the mire and unable to cope. Sometimes it can feel like it has come out of the blue and yet when we stop and think, feel and listen to ourselves we can often understand that it wasn’t out of the blue at all. Tipping points can trigger all sorts of destructive behaviours, from rowing with our families, working too much, drinking or drug taking to excess and sadly, if left, can lead to feelings of hopelessness and wanting to end life. Over a series of posts this week, I intend to help you to focus on some good mental and emotional habits that you can incorporate into your day. These habits can help you to recover more quickly, or help you to climb out of the dark hole that you might have started vacationing in. And if all of this is too much right now, then it might be helpful to talk to a professional counsellor who can help you to work through your difficulties. So let’s get started.

Empowering you to overcome anxiety and depression

Anxiety, Depression & Fear

Fear is always present in our lives and it’s actually a normal emotion. It can manifest itself as anxiety and or depression or a combination of both. We have been taught that fear is wrong, something to be denied. If we can be even a little bit curious about what is behind the fear, it gives us an opportunity to connect with our deepest hurts and wounds and to transform them. Fear can give us a chance to excavate, to look deeply and deal with behaviours and emotions that are holding us back from fully living our lives. And when we look at it from this vantage point, we diminish the fear and can move forward. I read a book a long time ago which started me on the path of combating anxiety, fear and depression (and there was a lot). The book was called “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by an author called Susan Jeffers. The book was written for people like me (and you). At that time I was suffering post-natal depression which for me manifested as the intense fear and anxiety that I couldn’t be a good mother to my son. The book taught me that fear is normal. The book helped me to move through the fear of being an incompetent mother. By taking the small steps offered in the book, I built the confidence to show up to life in a new way. Building confidence in myself, and my abilities to be a competent mother took a while. And it’s like learning any new skill, it took patience, self-compassion and faith. And I truly believe that we never let go of fear, sure the fear changes, and yet it is part of the human condition. In accepting fear and working with it, we can set ourselves free to live our lives more fully.

Anxiety: Dealing with Road blocks

When I am faced with an emotional or physical road block I can argue with it, I can fight with it, I can swear at it, I can deny it, I can stuff it down and say ‘I’m okay’. Or I can find another way. This can be a process that we have to go through and somewhere there maybe a little crack and some light comes in to the darkness and a new perspective can be found. On the way it is really important to allow ourselves to feel the emotional roller coaster and to be as loving and kind to ourselves as we can be. It is so hard when we blame ourselves and just adds to the situation. Be kind to yourself and know a brighter day will come.

Common triggers of anxiety and depression

In my eight years of being a psychotherapist I have identified some common ways of thinking that may contribute towards anxiety and depression. These thought patterns are often hidden beyond day to day awareness, and yet, in extreme cases can lead to destructive behaviours which can cause devastating consequences.   The two common thought patterns involve ‘all or nothing thinking’ and ‘perfectionism’. These ways of thinking shape the way a person behaves and cause tremendous stress which results in one, or even a collection of the following:

Sleep issues, self-esteem issues, eating disorders, excessive drinking or other addictions, work issues, anger and sadness directed towards yourself or others, suicidal thoughts, self harm or mental health worries.  If you have experienced any of these symptoms, know that you are not alone and you can begin to overcome them.

All or Nothing thinking

This involves a rigid way of looking at the world which doesn’t allow for different opinions, options or outcomes.  It often stems from a childhood where a parent or person in authority made decisions for you, over which you had little or no control. As an example, imagine you have been invited to a party and you are filled with anxiety. Other examples might include, giving a presentation, going to a meeting or some other situation. If you have inflexible thinking around the situation, you will believe there are only two options, either to go or not to go. To challenge this we look at other options, rather than the ‘all’ of going or the ‘nothing’ of not going.   Other options might include going to the party and only staying for a short while, arranging to meet the person whose party it is on another day and time, or to visit the person on the day of the party and choosing not to stay for the big celebration. When we challenge our inflexibility, we see that there are other options available to us and this enables us to make a new plan. And this becomes a new way of thinking, creates new behaviours and has a lasting benefit as you have integrated a new thought pattern into your mind.


So let’s take this thought pattern a step further. Because of the anxiety caused by our inflexibility we have decided not to go to the party. This is when negative self-talk can kick in and we start to beat ourselves up for not attending. We say ‘you should have been able to go to the party, you are useless, you’re a failure’. A lot of clients enter the therapy room with these kinds of thoughts which stem from high standards that develop into feelings of failure when they are not achieved.   The temperature gage of anxiety racks up and depression sets in. When you start to question your expectations of yourself you may be surprised to find that you have high standards which may be impossible and unrealistic. Often I will hear the words ‘what have I been trying to prove?’ and ‘who have I been trying to prove it to?’ These are very good questions indeed. When a person realises that they are in charge of their own standards, they begin to realise ‘maybe I am good enough, maybe I am okay after all’. What a truly empowering realisation.

The warning signs of anxiety and depression

I have found through my work that there is a pattern to anxiety and stress.  If it is not dealt with it can lead to depression and mental health problems. Sadly, I often see people when they have got to breaking point and are barely functioning day to day. It can take longer to recover when you are completely broken.  Being better informed, there is a good chance you can alleviate the agony of being signed off work, retreating to your bed or falling into the pattern of harmful addictions which damage health and family relationships.  So what are the signs?


The beginnings of ANXIETY:  It could be shouting at the kids, your partner, yourself or the traffic. These are warning signs that something in your life is not feeling right and you are finding it hard to cope. Physically your heart might be banging in your chest and you might feel an adrenaline surge in your body. Thoughts like “I don’t feel good, I’ll try and force myself to do this thing that I can’t or don’t want to do right now”. If we deny these feelings and sensations for a long time, then we can feel panicky and totally out of control. Often as result we experience anger, panic attacks or mystery bouts of illness which have no logical explanation. If we don’t assess, regroup, take stock and get support in place then the situation intensifies.


DENIAL: “Okay I’ll pretend this isn’t happening. It’s someone else’s problem, not my fault. I don’t have any control. I will just sit here and bury my head in the sand and hopefully it will all just go away’ or ‘I’ve just got to get on with this, I have to do this, there is no choice. I’m lucky, someone else’s situation is much worse than mine’.  We push ourselves to keep going.   We stuff our emotional feelings down with our ‘get a grip’ mentality at the expense of our mental and physical health. Of course this seldom works as the problem gets bigger and the situation becomes even more difficult to cope with.   It can be really hard to admit that we’re finding it difficult to cope and a sign of strength when we reach out for help from family, friends or an impartial person like a counsellor who can offer support.


RUNNING AWAY: You try to do something, anything in the hope it will make the situation, the feelings disappear. Often people find ways to sooth the anxiety and stress by running towards something else, whether it be having an affair, excessive drinking, taking drugs, sexual addictions, gambling, angry outbursts, and violence towards ourselves or others.  In extreme cases people can retreat within their minds, shutting people out, putting duvets over their heads in the hope that they can control the situation and keep themselves safe.   “I’ll lay in my bed, it’s the safest place and then nothing can happen to me”. With all these behaviours, life is becoming really impossible and the things you are doing to try and help yourself are actually preventing you making sense of and managing the situation.


DEPRESSION: At this point the black dog of depression has descended and in extreme cases the motivation to live is being extremely tested; you may have suicidal thoughts or have attempted to end your life. It can be really, really hard to motivate oneself and you may feel ashamed that you are not coping with life. It can be difficult to ask for help and yet life changing if you do.


Asking for help is the very first step, then it gets easier. It takes courage to admit when you’re not coping and an impartial counsellor can support you as you find the impetus to deal with your situation, your feelings, the anxiety, depression, anger and shame. Seeking help always demonstrates your strength and commitment to yourself and counselling can really support you as you get your life back on track. The big question is, are you ready to admit you might need a little help?

Anxiety, depression & the benefits of relaxation

It is probably accurate to say that most of us were not taught the benefits of relaxation, or even learnt about relaxation in our childhoods or at school. And yet study after study is now demonstrating that finding ways to relax have an important role to play in the way we cope with anxiety, depression and the general joys and sorrows of our lives. When you are relaxed your heart rate slows down and your blood pressure can lower. Your breathing slows down and your stomach can digest food more easily. The stress hormones reduce and your mind becomes more relaxed and your muscles release their tight grip. Concentration and mood improve and sleep quality can improve. Anger and frustration start to clear and your mind is more spacious and can problem solve more easily.

When we think of relaxation the obvious form is meditation, and yes meditation can be beneficial to many people.   And yet meditation is only one form of relaxation. Anything which keeps you gently focused for any length of time can be a form of relaxation. Running, walking, dancing, writing, poetry, and drawing are just a few examples of activities that can focus the mind. And for each individual the activity to help you to relax will probably be different. What activities help you to focus your mind? Focusing your mind away from your troubles, even for 5 minutes, can give your mind and body a welcome respite, creating space for clear thoughts to arrive and for problem solving to start. And when you are feeling particularly stressed, physically slowing your speech down and slowing your walking pace can also help you to feel more grounded and at ease.

Sometimes it can be really difficult to think about taking time out of your busy day to relax as the to-do list is long and time feels short. When you’re struggling with the actual thought of putting time aside for relaxation, you might like to think of it as medicine you are giving yourself, much like the pill you take from the doctor or the vitamin supplement you take in the morning. In this case you are the one giving yourself the medicine and gaining control back in your life. It can be a very empowering concept to know that you are enhancing your own well-being. And sometimes when relaxation is not quite enough to deal with anxiety and depression, it might be beneficial to talk to an impartial person like a counsellor who can help support you in the process of learning to relax.

In these times of fear and worry, come and share your anxiety and stress, depression, bereavement, relationship challenges, anger, sadness and mental health issues with the impartial, fully registered and trained psychotherapist Sue Holdsworth, BA Hons, MBACP.  And from the 1st June, Sue  is moving to the relaxing environment within ‘Scents of Spirit’, Studio 5, at the Fairground Craft and Design Centre, Weyhill, Andover, SP11 0QN.

‘It is nice finding that place where you can just go and relax’ Moises Ariss