Solutions and Causes of Anxiety

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For this post, I will outline all the different causes of anxiety. I will break my list into categories and sub-categories (note: there will be overlap – for example, emotional anxiety can cause cognitive anxiety. and ultimately every form of anxiety has biological manifestations).

1st we need to address the reality that Anxiety in 100% necessary for survival – it is impossible to have no anxiety, If you didn’t have anxiety you would not have an automatic system for avoiding danger. Anxiety is an effective mechanism which informs a person when change is necessary = Often it is not simply our job to ‘stop’ our anxiety… instead, it is our responsibility to listen to our anxiety to deduce a needed change.

note: for simplicity, I will be calling the complex neuro/biological network responsible for anxiety the – ‘anxiety system’.

The main sources of anxiety:

Health and Biological

Nutrition – What you ingest affects the neurotransmitters in your brain (both in creation and transmission) which impact the sensation of anxiety. Both your hormonal and neurological systems are impacted (and in many ways connected) to your digestive system = gut health directly impacts mental health. Studies have suggested that anti-oxidants and probiotics may impact anxiety. Many believe that in the process of human evolution our first neurological system was in our gut (intestines) – therefore, maintaining a healthy environment in our digestive system is crucial for our mental health. Additionally, what you eat can leave you more susceptible to other causes of anxiety listed below (example 1 – Ingesting too much caffeine can negatively impact your sleep = which is a major source of anxiety. Example 2, consuming food that is difficult for your digestive system to process can leave you lethargic, which can impact your social abilities and your motivation to engage in anxiety-reducing activities such as exercise). Lastly, having relatively stable blood sugar is correlated with reduced anxiety – this means that eating regularly and eating ‘easy to digest’ (not heavily processed) foods can help to manage anxiety.

Exercise – Exercise is necessary for the proper function of many biological systems including your cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and your central nervous system. Without exercise it is difficult to ‘reset’ your ‘fight or flight response’= this will leave you with more ‘alertness’ or ‘vigilance’ – When your system is in fight or flight mode – there are measurable effects such as shallow breath, increases heart rate, tense muscles and more adrenaline in your system. Exercise is one of the most effective mechanisms for 1.) a healthy central nervous system and 2.) helping your body to effectively transition between sympathetic (the ready for action state of being) and parasympathetic (the rest and digest state of being) systems. Additionally, Anxiety is a natural feedback mechanism for automatic bodily function – If you are having difficulty breathing or/and if you have an accelerated heart rate, you will experience anxiety as a biological notice for you to take reparative action – without proper respiratory and cardiovascular function, it is possible for you to feel anxiety from activities such as walking up the stairs. For many people, It is near impossible to not feel anxious without a regular exercise routine.

Sleep – Almost everything listed above under Exercise is also true for Sleep. It is relatively impossible to avoid feelings of anxiety without sufficient sleep (7 – 9 hours per night). To compensate for your fatigue, your body will utilize hormones to energize the body – this leaves you feeling anxious. Additionally, the proper function of most of your biological systems is impacted when you do not get enough sleep. Anxiety is your bodies natural way of letting you know that something isn’t right – If you don’t take care of your body it is natural for you to feel anxiety.

Breathing and Oxygen – The brain receives signals that we are drowning when it is not supplied with enough oxygen (with insufficient oxygen the sensation of anxiety occurs to inform your consciousness that there is a real problem. Often when people are having a panic attack, they exhale more than they inhale (unconsciously); this increases panic as they have too much CO2 and too little O2 in their system. During times of extreme emotions, it is common for people to engage in ineffective breathing patterns – this exacerbates our stress response and reduces our ability to engage rationally (with our cortex). Breathing impacts the central nervous system – certain breathing patterns can engage the ‘fight or flight’ system while other patterns can activate your parasympathetic (resting) system. In general, Breathing deeply into your abdomen (stomach area) reduces anxiety, while short quick breath into your chest increases anxiety (or vigilance – remember what we call ‘anxiety’ is not always a bad thing – If you are preparing for athletic competition you want to feel a little ‘anxious’).

Prolonged Stress – Stress Feedback Loop (burnout, unsafe environment, institutionalized oppression, abusive relationships etc.) – When a person is in a state of stress for a prolonged period of time, their stress creates a feedback loop, which begets more and more stress. In stressful situations, it is adaptive for our ‘anxious system’ (most notably the sympathetic nervous system and the amygdala) to activate in response to the stress to assist us in resolving the situation (fighting, running etc). During this time the body releases cortisol and other hormones such as adrenaline to 1.) assist us in taking action in the moment (increased blood flow to muscles and decreased blood flow to digestion etc) and 2.) to create and strengthen synaptic connections in the brain so that we are ‘faster’ at responding to the threat or stressor if it should come about again in the future. When the stress does not go away the body continues to release cortisol, which mylenates (makes more effective) synaptic connections which activate our ‘anxiety system’. If this continues for too long, basically anything in the environment can very quickly invoke an anxiety response = we are in a constant state of fight or flight = sympathetic activation. This type of anxiety requires a prolonged period of time in a safe environment with reduced stimulation to recover (this option is not available to all people – especially marginalized or oppressed group = community-wide social justice interventions are often necessary to reduce this form of anxiety). For other people, this means leaving an unhealthy relationship or quitting a job or creating better boundaries (turning off your electronics during rest time)etc.

Brain Hemispheric integration – when the left and the right hemisphere of the brains are well integrated – the synergistic relationship can help to manage anxiety. The left hemisphere is our logical and language center – the right hemisphere is our systemic, emotional and creative center. The left hemisphere requires the proper function of the right hemisphere to understand emotions (of the self and of another) the right hemisphere requires the language of the left hemisphere to narrate the emotions we experience. Studies have shown that the act of correctly identifying emotions reduces the felt impact of that emotion (ex. simple saying I feel guilty or embarrassed etc.). We need the right hemisphere to be aware of our anxiety, the left hemisphere to label the anxiety, the right hemisphere to create potential solutions to remedy the anxiety, and the left hemisphere to implement the details and linear strategies of the plan.

Trapped Tension or Energy – For centuries Eastern medicine has identified that the body stores anxiety and stress… many cultures believe that disease is caused by dis – ease or unresolved stress that is trapped in the body that needs assistance in being successfully released. Acupuncture and massage are two of the most well know and well-researched interventions for freeing trapped stress from the body. There are also somatic therapies (psychotherapies) which allow a person to re-experience traumatic events in a safe setting – this often involves mindfully noticing sensations in the body while allowing the body to ‘finish’ an action which was interrupted during the trauma (such as shaking uncontrollably).

Trauma – Some experiences in life are too extreme for the human condition to handle (this differs from person to person – some people might only require a slow car accident to experience trauma while others return from war zones without incident.) A traumatic event was never cataloged correctly in the brain – as such when there is an environmental trigger (‘reminder’) a person will feel as if the traumatic event is happening in the present moment. For most stressful incidents the memory of the event can still be anxiety provoking, but there is a felt sense that the stress was in the past. For a person who experienced trauma, the threat (stress) feels like it is happening in the now – this is emotionally very difficult and can be a source of constant anxiety (as you will always feel fear).

Relational Variables

Secure Relationships – Humans have evolved for millions of years to be a relational animal. As such, many of our systems (especially the systems utilized for emotional regulation) require positive and secure relationships (vulnerable, authentic, emotionally and physically nurturing, supportive, attuned, compassionate) to function ideally. The most effective way to stay regulated is to be in the presence of a secure partner or caregiver. Studies have demonstrated that pain and fear (both related to anxiety) are significantly reduced when a person has a secure relationship present.

  • There are 3 main methods of regulation: external regulation – when another person behaves in a way which offers you regulation (ex. a parent holding a child and swaying back and forth or when you receive empathy and compassion from your therapist). Self-regulation – When we engage in behaviors to regulate ourselves (ex. meditation, journaling or deep abdomen breathing), and inter-regulation -when we are regulated through a reciprocal emotionally intimate connection with another (this is often behavioral – such as having an emotionally connecting conversation, but inter-regulation will happen without additional action for people in a secure relationship. For example, simply sitting next to a loved one can have regulating effects). Humans have required secure bonds for survival for millions of years – because of this fact, relationships are thought by many (namely attachment theorist) to be basic needs for survival (like food water and shelter). If the body does not have access to a basic need it will activate the ‘anxiety’ system.

 

  • In a secure relationship, partners can use empathy to understand their partner’s emotional reality – they then can offer compassion to nurture their partner’s emotions. Both partners will benefit from emotional intelligence to assist them in knowing themselves and knowing the need of the other.

Sex and Physical Touch – prolonged nurturing physical touch and consensual sex with a loved one release oxytocin, which reduces cortisol (responsible for perpetuating the stress feedback loop – above) and makes you feel more ‘safe and bonded’. Without regular touch, our bodies are left to manage anxiety without the influx of really helpful hormones. Sex is unbelievably helpful in promoting health in almost every variable one can think of – the positive biological, existential, and relational impacts are really useful in controlling anxiety. When Anxious, a prolonged hug (about 8 seconds or more) can assist in regulation. As many of us know, babies and young children require nurturing hugs to regulate; Though adults have other methods of regulation, are systems still favor nurturing contact with a loved one.

Attachment Style – The way that we were nurtured and cared-for by our early caregivers impacts how we engage in relationships as adults. There are three main styles. Secure – “I am confident in myself and in my partner to meet my needs”. Avoidant – “I am only confident in myself to get my needs met”. Anxious – “I am unsure about how my needs will get met, but I want you to do something.” People with an avoidant style will feel anxious if they have to rely on another person, and people who are Anxious tend to feel nervous about whether someone can or is willing to help them.

Boundaries – The ability to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in a way which best meets your needs is paramount to controlling unnecessary anxiety. We all have different stress threshold and levels of tolerance for certain activities or emotions etc. – our inability to monitor our needs and to set boundaries with our environment is one of the major sources of anxiety. Very often we stretch ourselves way too thin and can benefit from reducing responsibility (saying no). Other times we prioritize comfort instead of engaging in activities which would promote existential, physiological, or relational health (not saying yes).

Consciousness and Congruence

Attention – Attention is one of the main sources of Anxiety. What we place our attention on directly impacts our emotional systems. At any given point there are millions of things in the present moment that you can attend to (all of which will elicit a different emotion), additionally, there are a seemingly infinite amount of things that have happened in the past or could happen in the future that you can place your attention on. Lastly, the human brain does have limits to the amount of stimulus that it can successfully process – Often we are so inundated with stimulation that we feel anxious in response to the reality that we can not adequately categorize our environment (for survival reasons, your brain is responsible for categorizing everything in your environment as a threat, a pleasure, or neutral – this is a largely unconscious process). Placing your attention on a positive stimulus (or thought) can help you to manage anxiety.

Mindfulness – Almost everything that we feel anxious about it out of our control, already happened or is purely hypothetical. Mindfulness is the ability to place your consciousness in the present moment. In the present moment, there is very rarely anything to be anxious about (quantitatively there are very few minutes in your life where stressors are actually present – the rest of the time our minds are reminding us about stressors that happened and stressors that could happen.) Developing your ability to immerse yourself in the present moment (mindfulness exercises, yoga, meditation) is one of the most effective means of mitigating anxiety. Mindfulness also, ironically, would help us to know and understand the physiological, emotional and cognitive reality of our anxiety.

Thoughts, Beliefs, and Schemas – Often our attention is placed on our thought processes and the quality of our thoughts along without our attachment to our thoughts (or, conversely, our differentiation from our thoughts) impacts our anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT is interested in helping people to identify dysfunctional thought patterns and addressing them with ration. The theory is also concerned with identifying core schemas that impact a great majority of our behavioral patterns. Schemas are essentially universal and rigid truths that we unconsciously use to guide our decisions and behaviors (ex. “Conflict is bad, I need to be liked by everyone, emotions are weak, strong people don’t depend on anyone else etc.)

Existential – Are you living a life which is congruent with who you really are? are you acting like you – or – are you being you (or are you being someone that you believe you are supposed to be that isn’t actually the ‘real’ you?) Existential Anxiety is your body and minds way of reminding you to be your self – we are all unique and have different paths towards feeling fulfilled – we all have a different purpose. Anxiety is the result of not living a life which embodies your core values and sense of meaning. If your life feels subjectively meaningless, you likely will feel quite a lot of anxiety.

Emotions – put simply, anxiety is fear (fear of failure, fear of impermanence, fear of abandonment, fear of harm etc.)… so all anxiety is related to emotions. When we ignore, avoid, deny, repress, or otherwise disregard our emotions we tend to have a low underlying anxiety. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that something important is not being attended to – some emotion is not being honored. And again, anxiety then is your bodies way of saying – please respect and acknowledge your emotional truth. Anxiety tells us what needs to be changed – our intuition and emotions give us the data needed to arrive at what change needs to take place. Becoming more aware and connected to your emotions is a great way of managing your anxiety. On the other hand, it is also very possible to be too enmeshed with our emotions – we can feel as though we Are our emotions instead of living a life in which we are Experiencing our emotions (ex. there is a huge difference between “I am sad” and “I feel sad”).

Intuition – your intuition is your automatic and largely unconscious implicit decision-making system – It is extremely intelligent – this system has the ability to provide decision making information (usually in the form of an emotion) from a large amount of data. Your explicit system, largely manually and conscious, is considerably slower in comparison and does not have the ability to process as many variables. Your intuition is therefore very often correct and is a more robust decision-making tool. (note: the system can be fooled by trauma, other life events, and intentional psychological manipulation – ex. political adds target your implicit system to manipulate your feelings and resulting decisions about candidates – so do many marketing campaigns). Anxiety is often felt when we ignore our intuition. This is because your brain ‘knows’ something that you are not consciously aware of. for example, if someone is trying to sell you a counterfeit item – your explicit system may have no way of deducing this, but you have a ‘gut feeling’ that something is wrong. Often times we experience anxiety because we are not conscious of, or do not have proof, something we ‘know’ to be true (ex. your kids are doing drugs, your friend is lying, your partner is having an affair, your job is planning on letting you go etc – again, sometimes our intuition is wrong, but sometimes it is correct, and our anxiety is the result of ignoring or denying.)

Nature – We evolved for millions of years to live within nature – for reasons not totally understood, being in nature has dramatic impacts on anxiety. Simply being immersed in nature is a natural (yes a pun!) solution. This likely means that the opposite is true = lacking regular access to nature is likely a cause of anxiety and depression.

 

 

 

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Concrete vs Abstract responsibility for teenagers

Many Teenagers are struggling to complete the tasks that they are responsible for… often times their achievement is interrupted due to the fact that they view the tasks as meaningless or irrelevant to their life.
The “meaningless and irrelevant” assertion is often […]

Addiction, Self-determination, Flow, Mindfulness, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, and Human Bonding

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Addiction, Self-determination, Flow, Mindfulness, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, and Human Bonding

What are the components of addiction? why is addiction less desirable? and what aptitudes help us to avoid addiction?

“Let’s Turn the conversation towards Efficiency and Away from Morals”

The Psychobiological and Relational causes of undesired, addictive, and compulsory behavior:

Flow (peak experience) – Humans are most fulfilled when: Goals are clear, there is regular feedback concerning progress towards the goal, and you have the aptitudes necessary to make the challenge at the sweet spot between too hard (anxiety) and too easy (boredom).

  • Implications – Many electronic devices contain software that was developed to create a sense of flow. This creates a radical craving to engage with the software.

 

  • Solution – We need to ensure public access to ‘flow’ promoting activities that increase biological, relational, and existential wellness. Historically this includes extracurricular activities such as the arts and sport. Self-discipline with also be necessary – such as not having your cell phone at dinner or while on hikes etc.

Implicit System Conditioning – Most human emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are controlled by the implicit system. Our implicit system is evolutionarily older and significantly faster (more intelligent) then our intentional and rational explicit system. This system is adaptive – ex. you couldn’t drive a car with you explicit system.

It is very important to note that most interventions in the past have focused entirely on an explicit override of the implicit system – for example, we attempt to ‘rationalize’ away from a person’s automatic emotional response to stimuli. Unfortunately, this is not how the brain works (If I give you a rational explanation for why something ‘isn’t’ disgusting this will have no impact on your automatic disgust response).

  • Implication – Most of us have been primed to have automatic behavioral responses (towards a vice) in response to various emotions or environmental stimuli. example of stimuli that often lead to drinking: anxiety (emotion) or watching a sporting event (environmental).

 

  • Solution – We can set up our environments which allow a mindful reflection on our emotional and somatic realities so that we can our observe our desired impulses, emotions, and sensations with calm attention and without action. We then can learn to feel our feelings without reacting automatically to them. Increasing our ability to tolerate intense emotional experiences will have a positive impact on our ability to avoid the compulsory behavior.

Brain wiring and neurotransmitters – there is some overlap here with the implicit system. “What fires together wires together” Experiences that happen together can wire together – this creates predictable emotional reactions to stimuli and can create associates that are not necessarily rational. 

Neurotransmitters help to control our psychological wellness – deficits and surpluses create issues ranging from depression to mania to attention issues to psychosis etc. Adding substances to a developing mind (or a developed mind) can have unpredictable effects on our neural chemistry. Additionally, substances can impact the brain’s ability to properly uptake, release, and create neurotransmitters – which then leads to deficits or surpluses.

  • Implications – Substances such as ecstasy have been shown to dramatically impact the production of important neurotransmitters.
  • Solutions – Modeling and appropriate structure – We can ensure that we are modeling healthy relationships (including abstinence when necessary) with behaviors that can be unhealthy for our biology. We also should have regular access to nutritional items that promote a healthy biology and a sense of enjoyment.

Human Bonding and Attachment – Many vices (especially substances) impact or interact with the brain area responsible for human bonding and attachment. This means that instead of seeking out a secure relationship with another human – the substance is used (ineffectively) as the relational surrogate. This often leads to isolating behaviors – which leads to dysregulation and depression – which leads to more substance use.

  • Implications – Many people will use pot or alcohol as a means of feeling less lonely and dysregulated – though this can feel helpful in the start – the process can create a feedback loop which leads to exacerbated feelings of loneliness and dysregulation without the substance.
  • Solution – Emotionally significant/vulnerable and authentic connection. It is easier to use electronics or to engage in a substance than it is to be vulnerable enough to share your true self with another person. It is hard to remain open, empathetic and compassionate in front of a person who is suffering or who is offering their authentic self in a way that we don’t yet understand (Our impulse is generally to fix or to categorize). When we grow in our ability to stay present, honest, openminded, and compassionate, we naturally dissipate feeling of loneliness… in turn we gain a felt sense of regulation (and we, therefore, are not in need of the vice to mitigate our fears).

Anthropological Importance of Inclusion – We are a tribal animal. Our cortex developed to its’ current sophisticated state in response to the need to track an ever-increasing amount of social information (currently we max out at about 200 people). Exclusion from the group generally resulted in death for the vast majority of human existence – we tracked information to ensure inclusion (and to track ‘unsafe’ people). This reality has created a substantial fear response related to exclusion – this fear will propel us to make poor decisions to mitigate our fear.

  • Implications – We will often compromise our beliefs, emotional needs, intuition, and ration in order to protect ourselves from the fear associated with exclusion – this can mean that it feels terrifying to be without social media or to ‘just say no’ when the dominant group is engaging in unsafe behavior.

 

  • Solutions – Create emotionally intelligent communities that promote acceptance of differences and encourage open-minded and vulnerable communication. Through a compassionate dialogue, we can create a sense of culture which is best suited to the needs of the individual and the collective. Within this space of openness and acceptance, we reduce judgment and make it safe to express differences (therefore the culture will be inclusive of people who avoid behaviors that are harmful, though ‘normal’.

Faced paced society with ever increasing stimuli, social dynamics, and expectations with a corresponding reduction of health-promoting options – Currently, our society is not set up to be optimal for our psychological health. We are over inundated with stimuli, we lack sleep, we are responsible for monitoring more social dynamics than is possible, we lack access to nature, there is less access to arts and athletics, we are constantly encouraged to think about the future as opposed to the present moment, and we are often held to unrealistic expectations (such as the average workweek for an adult).

  • Implications – Often it can feel like the only way to ‘deal’ with our life is to disassociate from it, avoid it, repress it, or escape from it. Many electronics help us to completely leave (disassociate) from our current reality. Many substances produce a feeling similar to a state of mindfulness – you are absorbed in the present moment and free from the suffering found by attending to the past or the future. Lastly, many substances give us the permission to be who we want to be – inhibition. Both electronics and substances help us to deal with our anxiety resulting from feelings overstimulated, unrested, unfulfilled, and over-extended.
  • Solution – Intentionality and authentic prioritizing our life choices and values. We can enact intentionality and discipline so as to live within a set of values that promote our well-being.  health diet, appropriate boundaries, authentic expression, secure relationships, exercise, and access to nature are vital for our psychological well-being – these should not be compromised if we have the privilege to not be oppressed from accessing them (many, if not most, people in our world are oppressed from access to these variables).

Variables Impacted by Addiction

Freedom and Self-Determination. Reduced Intentionality – Increased automaticity

  • Remember Pavlov and the salivating dog (rang a bell every time the dog was fed – led to the dog salivating by the bell – even when no food was present)? As humans, we are constantly conditioned to have predictable and automatic responses to certain stimuli (this is adaptive). We can, therefore, develop automatic (and often unconscious) emotional, biological, cognitive and behavioral responses to substances, electronics, and other vices.
  • Conditioning Targets the implicit system to create unconscious associations with the vice (drugs, electronics, alcohol, shopping etc).

Experience: you have a huge problem and there is nothing that you can do about it in the moment – what vice do you want?(sibling lost all their money and they are on their way to your house to live with you)

  • Anxiety = conditioned to have a strong desire (sensation and emotion) for vice – often followed by an automatic behavior to engage in vice
  • The teenage brain is already in a state of re-structuring – pre-frontal cortex (executive control center) is less integrated into brain functioning. (this is an important time for the development of intentionality and good habits).
  • Solutions –
    • Mindfulness – focused attention on the present moment. The ability to notice without judgment and without automatic reaction. With mindfulness, we can observe the stimulus and our mind and body’s desired reaction to the stimulus. With practice, the pre-frontal cortex can override the automatic behavior (though the automatic emotion will likely stay mostly the same).
    • Willpower to engage in life intentionally despite a strong impulse to avoid or otherwise retract from discomfort. (without self-determination we are controlled by the external world and our urges)

Emotions and Body Awareness. reduction of sensory and emotional experience along with a reduced ability to tolerate emotions or sensory experiences.

  • What sensations are experienced in an elevator with a stranger (what does it feel like in your body)What emotions do you have as a result? What behaviors are we likely to engage in?
    • Now imagine all the experiences that a teen is going through – Away from home, love interests, making friends, meeting expectations, and figuring out who they are
  • After you have looked at a screen for 5 minutes where is your consciousness?
    •       What effect might this have on emotional aptitudes such as empathy?
    • Electronics and substances often disassociate us from our body (and relationships).
  • We must learn to continually be aware of and to tolerate our emotional and somatic experiences to achieve our ambitions – substances and electronics can rob us of the ability to develop this capacity.

What normal aspects of everyday life require a high level of emotional awareness and tolerance? Public Speaking 😉 Creating an emotionally intimate relationship.

Attachment and inter-regulation through Human bonding

  • New research is finding that substances and electronics target the same area of our brain used for human attachment and bonding (bonding is a primary need like water (orphanage example & cast away example)— the pull is extreme)
  • We are a social animal, and through millions of years of evolution we have developed a very sophisticated system of bonding with other humans that radically improves our ability to survive – Human connection is the #1 predictor of happiness (slope of a hill appears less steep, reduced amygdala activation in FMRIs when shocked)
  • We need to help our teens to bond with each other, with us, with the community
  • Electronics and substances mimic the feeling we get from positive human connection BUT they do not lead to lasting happiness and they do no facilitate regulation (human bonding is the cure for stress).

Conclusion – Our goal is to mentor our community towards becoming Self-determined, Emotionally intelligent, and Relationally able people. This doesn’t need to be a moral argument – Drugs and Electronics are not intrinsically bad or good… Instead, let’s change the discussion to efficiency – what are the most efficient means of developing the above Aptitudes?

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

The Depression Bubble

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The Depression Bubble – a metaphor for understanding a loved-one’s depression – and compassion

and suggestions for the healer…

Depression can be like a bubble blocking the person inside from receiving positive influence from the outside world.

Inside the depression bubble the person is left to deal with their hopelessness, apathy, sadness, meaninglessness, lethargy and despair all by themselves… we try to pull them out of the bubble or to push them into positive activities, but the bubble prevails.

Left to their own devices, the person in the bubble attempts to make their life more bearable by engaging in behaviors that lesson the burden… Substance use, TV watching, empty calorie eating, responsibility avoidance, video gaming, indifference, self-sabotage, lashing out, and sedative behaviors ensue in an attempt to bring a moment of relief.

We get frustrated with the bubble… and eventually, we get frustrated with the person in the bubble. Our thoughts attack us… telling us that the bubble is the person’s fault. “the Bubble will go away if you exercise, stop watching tv, stop smoking pot, start eating better, make plans with friends, go to therapy, get on meds, dedicate yourself to school/work, and find a hobby”

Our frustration leads to desperation and we forget the impossible truth… the bubble is stronger than our coaching… the bubble does not allow our positive influence to reach the encapsulated person.

humbled we find that no amount concrete action is having any impact. There is no force which is effective at budging the immovable object… strength is irrelevant… behavioral techniques consisting of consequences and rewards seem to only strengthen the bubble – thereby reducing our potential influence.

But it feels impossible to let go of control and we often resort to punishing the person for engaging in the behaviors which are a symptom of being trapped in a depression bubble. We punish them for not doing their school work, constantly critique their substance use, and take away their electronics while at the same time bribing them to exercise.

how do you move an immovable object… how to you impact something that is not receptive to behavioral conditioning?

This is where the healers’ job becomes impossibly hard… we must love unconditionally past the disruptive behaviors. We must not condone and yet accept fully at the same time. We must see the person despite the bubble.

We have only one tool – Love

and one mechanism of intervention – Connection

The strategy of connection takes patients and perseverance… but perhaps more challenging than those attributes is our own growth towards a more honest perception of reality. Past cognitive reprogramming, we have the opportunity to spiritually transcend into an acceptance of that which is beyond our control.

We want to believe that life is controllable and through our actions we can create predictability and permanence. We are so tied to this belief system that we, the potential healer, find ourselves in a bubble of rigid repetition – endlessly engaging in the same feudal behavioral interventions – endlessly upping the consequences set on the person trapped in the depression bubble. Without connection we have no positive influence (other than fear – which works very poorly on an apathetic person) … and as we move into the role of punisher we unintentionally remove our ability to help.

Connection

Through connection a person may gain the resilience necessary to allow their own self-determination to emancipate the self from the bubble.

Through connection we might keep hope just a little stronger than despair until time affords a quantum shift and the bubble pops in response to any one of an infinite number unpredictable catalysts. (ex. a developmental shift, a change in environment, hormonal/biological changes, entrance of a romantic partner, finding of purpose, a significant event etc.)

through connection a ‘we’ identity is formed and positive influence can permeate the bubble leading the trapped person to potentially make movement towards those behaviors which destroy depression bubbles (exercise, relationships, sleep, purposeful activities, art etc.)

Sometimes connection just slightly reduced the symptoms of being trapped in the depression bubble.

And finally, sometimes connection doesn’t seem to do anything and we are left with our acceptance and faith in the way things are. We gain in our own spirituality and in energy saved from engaging in the impossible. Because when we spend all our energy physically controlling the depression bubble we weaken our self and allow the potential for the depression bubble to encapsulate us.

We offer connection while offering compassion to the self for engaging in such a trying task. Love is intrinsically wonderful, and it is best for us to remember that not even love has the ability to control reality.

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

The Evolution of CBT = Mindfulness – moving from changing projections to eliminating projections

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Quick summary: I am going to propose that we can use mindfulness interventions to increase our ability avoid projecting our beliefs onto a stimulus. I am also going to suggest that we can use mindfulness to increase our reflective ability so that we can become aware of our projections before we react emotionally or behaviorally to that projection (knowledge, judgment, belief, opinion etc). CBT offers an intervention which helps a person to change a belief that they are projecting onto a stimulus. This is effective as unhelpful beliefs encourage us to experience unwanted emotional reactions and they encourage us to engage in behaviors which are against our best interests… the replacement belief (the helpful belief) encourages more desirable emotions and behaviors. I am suggesting that mindfulness is the next step in the evolution of psychotherapy (even though mindfulness is thousands of years older than CBT – misuse of the word ‘evolution’ has been noted) as mindfulness can teach a person to notice and/or stop projection altogether or at least can help a person to manage his/her reactivity to the projection.

Simple version –

  • We unknowing put beliefs and opinions onto things that we look at or touch or smell etc and then we are automatically and unknowing affected by those beliefs and opinions…
  • We then feel a certain way or do a certain behavior for reason that we cannot always explain or understand…
  • We seem to be acting and emoting without any control… we feel controlled by our environment…
  • Mindfulness may be the way to learn how to stop ‘putting beliefs and opinions onto things.’
  • CBT may be unintentionally encouraging our habit of projecting.

 

Perhaps you are not truly being controlled by your environment… perhaps you are being controlled by your own projections (knowledge, judgments, beliefs, opinions etc).

I propose this question: We are a country of immense privilege and resource… why are so many so depressed and anxious… what is the common source of our suffering?

When a person interacts with something (a person, an idea, a place, an object etc) with any of their five senses they unconsciously place their beliefs, knowledge, opinions, history etc onto that something which is the focus of their attention… people engage in behaviors and experience emotions related to that very projection.

In this piece when I say that people “project there beliefs onto a stimulus” I mean that we unconsciously put knowledge and judgments onto whatever is holding our attention…

We therefore do not solely attend to reality; we attend to a reality influenced by our subjective perceptions.

  • Example 1, if you look at a snake you might place the following beliefs on it: dangerous, evil, annoying, scary, useless, must be avoided, must be killed, the snake is going to try and kill me, snakes attack people for no reason, that is an immoral object.
  • Example 2, if you saw a person with a sticker that labeled them as being in support of a political party that you dislike you may project the following beliefs onto him/her: dangerous, evil, annoying, scary, useless, must be avoided, must be changed, the person is going to hurt our country, He/she attacks people for no reason, that is an immoral object.
  • How might your projected beliefs influence your actions and emotions?

 

What’s the point? Why should I care about negative projections?

  • The emotional and behavioral reaction that you have to the stimulus is automatically affected by your projections… you can’t feel or behave differently until you alter your projections.
  • CBT then helps people to have different emotional reactions and to engage in different behaviors by helping a person to change what they project onto certain stimuli.

 

I was Reading Dan Siegel’s ‘The mindful Brain’ and I was in the middle of one of his more scientifically mind-bending chapters (neurologically complex and specific) that was explaining the current research surrounding the part of the brain that places or projects ‘knowledge’ onto a stimulus and the part of the brain that encourages reflection (which would be your ability to notice that your mind is projecting beliefs) and attention without projection (which would be your ability to see a stimulus without placing judgments, ‘truths’, opinions, analysis etc on to it).

  • For more about Dan’s work please visit – http://www.drdansiegel.com/ – I cannot say enough about this professional… his work is absolutely fantastic. I would say that his scientific ability is respected to be at the highest caliber… what I was pleasantly surprised to find was how engaging and artistic his personal narratives are… wonderful, intelligent, inspiring, revolutionary books.

 

It then hit me that from a neurological perspective CBT is calling on the same part of the brain to simply offer a different and “better” projection onto a stimulus.

In short, if projection is the problem, than CBT might be strengthening the part of the brain which was ‘responsible’ for the problem. Excuse my oversimplification – again this is just a theory.

CBT encourages a client to isolate negative or hurtful thoughts and beliefs. The client is then asked to replace those ‘disruptive’ beliefs with positive or helpful thoughts and beliefs.

  • Research seems to be suggesting that projections primarily come from a specific part of the brain.
  • The physical and functional qualities of the many different brain parts are affected by use. To dramatically oversimplify this concept this would mean that increasing the use of a part of the brain will increase that part both physically and functionally (just like your bicep).
  • CBT might (this is just a theory) be increasing (in size and function) the part of the brain responsible for projections – which is the source of the ‘problem’.

 

Again, what is the point?

  • ‘Negative’ projections cause suffering and CBT helps people to begin projecting more ‘positive’ thoughts and beliefs onto the relevant stimuli.

 

  • Some philosophies suggest that projections cause suffering despite whether the projection is positive or negative.

 

How suffering is caused by Positive Projections.

  • The suffering arises as projection eliminated the novelty of life… instead of living life we begin to live within our projections

 

  • These projections are known and understood and therefore do not require sustained attention or interest…

 

  • Everything then becomes very boring…

 

  • We loose our curiosity and our passion…

 

  • We require the novelty of ‘new’ things or activities such as material items to elicit excitement… but this does not seem to help our suffering.

 

Common Example of projections making life boring

 

  • Think about when you first met your partner or best friend etc… what did you feel? Were you curious about him/her?  of course this person has changed – did your partner become less interesting, exciting, attractive, intricate, or did you become less interested in him or her… is it possible that you lost your curiosity as opposed to her/him losing anything to be curious about? What would happen if you stopped judging your partner? What would happen if you stopped convincing yourself that you had all the knowledge necessary about your partner? What if you removed all of the beliefs and knowledge that you have about your partner and then you met them again ‘for the first time’… what would be different?

 

  • Remember the first time that you saw your house? What did you experience… what do you experience now?

 

  • How about your first time seeing the leaves change… the first time it snowed… the first time you saw the ocean… the first time you experienced a thunderstorm or saw a rainbow…

 

  • You may still have very positive beliefs about all these things, but for some reason they are not able to elicit the same excitement and curiosity out of you…

 

  • These things are just as exciting and inspiring as they once were but your projections are keeping you from experiencing them… this causes suffering.

 

Mindfulness encourages a client to strengthen there ability to reflect upon the thoughts, emotions and sensations which the mind and body experience without taking automatic action.

  • Mindfulness reduces automatic reaction to projections.
  • this increases control and freedom.

 

Mindfulness also teaches a client how to pay attention to a stimulus without placing a projection (judgment, belief, knowledge) onto that stimulus…

  • You learn to see the stimulus as novel as apposed to understood, quantified, known, defined, labeled, categorized etc.
  • This makes everything interesting, exciting, and inspiring.

 

Children tend to be more mindful then adults… they can look at a leaf falling from a tree with complete amazement and glee… through mindfulness an adult can grow to have a similarly novel experience with such a stimulus.

In conclusion

  • CBT teaches us how to change or alter our projections

 

  • mindfulness teaches us how to stop projecting or to stop reacting automatically to projections

 

  • Research is suggesting that mindfulness increases the mass and function of the part of the brain responsible for reflection and for attending without projection.

 

  • I theorize that CBT may be increasing the mass and function of the part of the brain responsible for projections (both ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’ projections seem to come for the same part of the brain).

 

  • I am suggesting that CBT will evolve into mindfulness as mindfulness reduces the unwanted affects of both positive and negative projections where as CBT is designed to reduce the unwanted affects of negative projections alone.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.