The Impact of Gratitude on Anxiety, Depression, Self-Esteem and Well-being:

As I write this article, the sun is shining and it's a beautiful day here in Ely (although by the time you are reading this it may well have turned back cold and wet!). And on a sunny day like today it's often easier to take a few moments here and there to be grateful for the sunshine and to enjoy the surroundings for a moment.

People do seem to be a lot chirpier when Spring arrives and to be much more appreciative of being able to get out and enjoy the good weather and to go and do things with the warmth of the sun pouring down upon them.

Certainly last weekend when I headed out with my girls I deliberately took a few moments to just make sure I was in the moment when I was with them so I could pay them full attention and to take some time to enjoy being out in the open around all the trees and nature and so on. And today I took some time to record a little vlog on the benefits of gratitude and how it can help boost well-being, happiness, self-esteem and more. Given all we know about the benefits of gratitude and appreciation it really does make sense from a mental health perspective to cultivate it purposefully...more on that later.

It may just be me, but one thing I like to do on my daily walk to the office is to keep count of how many people take a brief moment to show gratitude and appreciation for small acts by other people. On my route to the office I often encounter many parents who are in the process of dropping off their kids or who have just done so, along with others who are heading to work or even out walking the dog or running. I find it almost automatic to do things like move to one side to let them pass on their way, or to move onto the road so they can continue along the pavement.

And it is actually quite surprising how many people do not acknowledge even small acts of benevolence from another person (about 50% if you're interested). Not that it's worth getting wound up about (because worrying or getting annoyed about what someone else does or doesn't do is futile) but I do wonder whether they take the same attitude into the rest of their day and into work and friendships and so on. Often these people seem (from the outside) to be pretty unhappy and I wonder if they get annoyed and frustrated at their kids, colleagues and friends when they receive the same lack of thanks and appreciation from them. 

Yet regardless of what other people say and do (and regardless of my daily contemplations!), there is much to be gained from deliberately fostering an attitude of gratitude and putting it into practice for ourselves to boost our own well-being and happiness and to help with anxiety and depression. 

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Hypnosis and Exam Anxiety - Could hypnotherapy help you perform to your best in exams?

Spring seems to have arrived early in the UK as it's another beautiful sunny day and it's still only February as I write this. This time last year we had snow on the way so this a lovely change (although I love snow!) and I'm even wearing shorts in the office today. The mornings and evenings are notably lighter and it won't be long until temperatures start rising earlier until later (although it's sunny today it was still only about two degrees when I headed to bootcamp this morning). 

And it's been a pretty awesome weekend all around. Saturday started with a tough but oddly pleasurable tyre routine at bootcamp, I had a full day working with some great clients and then got to watch Wales beat England in the Six Nations rugby (always a highlight when we win!). On a post rugby high I ran probably the best I have all year on the sun yesterday and then spent a fun day at a nearby National Trust place with the kids. If every weekend was like that I would be even happier (yet probably pretty tired too!).

One thing the arrival of spring always takes my mind back to, is the link between the arrival of the nicer weather and how it is intrinsically linked to the knowledge of upcoming exams. I can still vividly remember for my GCSEs, A-levels and degree how the sun would shine and I would want to be outside, yet my focus had to remain on my work.

One of the things I start to get contacted about a lot from this point of the year onwards is for those who have GCSEs or A-levels coming up this summer. The growing sense they are coming closer, that sense of pressure to do well, the dread of the exam room and going blank and all the other exam related anxiety and stress, can lead to overwhelm and panic. 

Exams can be pretty stressful events at the best of times, but add in anxiety, stress and diminishing confidence and it massively escalates all those unhelpful thoughts and worst case scenarios and lead to underperforming in the exam room. 

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Relaxation Training For Anxiety - Could It Help You Ease Your Anxiety?

Like most weeks, this week I have been hugely busy helping many people to manage, reduce and overcome their anxiety. As part of that treatment, I always encourage people to find ways they can mentally, emotionally and physically calm things down a bit. After all, if you are more relaxed and calm for a while then your anxiety has to reduce a few levels doesn't it? 

Perhaps one of the best aspects about learning to feel calmer and more relaxed is that it is something anyone can do. Sure, with all those anxious thoughts and feelings it may take a bit of time and application, yet we are all biologically and naturally able to do so. We just need to learn methods that work for us and that we can incorporate into our daily lives.

And given that when we feel more relaxed we tend to feel better in ourselves and be able to think more clearly and rationally, it seems a little strange that relaxation training is often dismissed as 'just relaxation'. 

Earlier this week my regular bootcamp was cancelled twice in a row; once due to unsafe icy conditions and the other due to the illness of the instructor. Like many others who use exercise for their mental health and physical health I noticed a difference in how I felt without this usual release and focus. And certainly there is nothing I find more relaxing than lying in bed at night with a good book and getting absorbed in the story line (I love those classic crime novels!). I've also been using my Alexa a lot with the kids to play thinking games (like 'fact or fib' or 'escape room') so we all get some time away from the screen and have to use our brains a bit (even if my seven year old seems able to randomly guess the right answer in any true/false quiz and beat me time and time again!).

Finding time to relax certainly does pay dividends in reducing anxiety and helping mental health, yet could actual relaxation training also provide you with feeling better benefits? 

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Anxiety - How To Deal With Anxious Thoughts:

Phew! It's been a blistering start to the New Year and January is well and truly over already! How did that happen!

Hot on the heels of Christmas came my daughter's eleventh birthday one weekend, and a sleepover involving five over-excited (and then over-tired and over-sugared) ten and eleven year olds for her sleepover party. That was one loooonnnngggg night! And it wasn't helped by my seven year old who had to cram in to bed in between my wife and I, and who decided (in her sleep) that if her elbow hit something hard when she moved (my head) then the best thing was to keep elbowing it until it moved.

Being in the office and helping people to overcome their anxiety and other unwanted and unnecessary thoughts, feelings and behaviours has seemed like a rest compared to that night!!

On top of all that home stuff, and a return to bootcamp after the festive break (oh the muscle soreness!), I've been really busy helping people who have been struggling with anxiety and who want to break free from that ongoing cycle of anxious thoughts.

In this article I'm going to suggest some ways in which you can start to interrupt, challenge and let go of anxious thoughts so that your anxiety reduces and you can find yourself feeling more at ease, more relaxed and just generally feeling better mentally and physically.

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Anxiety and Uncertainty...And The Amazing Disappearing Rabbit!!

If you are currently dealing with anxiety, or even if anxious overthinking and worry are your habitual ways of thinking, then anything that involves uncertainty or waiting for something to arrive, like an appointment date, can lead to that anxiety escalating massively. 

In fact it can take over your every thinking moment. 

Those anxious thoughts can be there from the moment you open your eyes and all the way through to when you try to get to sleep at the end of the day (and you can find anxiety impacts on your dreams when you do sleep too, as I wrote about last year in this article, Anxiety and Dreaming - How Your Anxiety Impacts While You Sleep).

And here's the thing; when you are in the midst of some stressful or anxious moment and you can keep active and focused and 'doing stuff' then you probably feel at least a bit better. You may feel you are being productive, getting things done, taking action. You may feel like you are dealing with that anxious or stressful thing and that you are coping. That anxiety can, of course, come back to bite you when things calm down again and are quieter and you have less to occupy you.

Yet sometimes some of the trickiest times for anxiety and your mental health are those moments when there is nothing at all you can do, when you have to just sit back and wait for something to happen and where events are outside your control. What can we do then?

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Using Humour To Tackle Anxiety and Stress - Anxiety Relief with Laughter:

One of the things I'm really enjoying about having an Alexa at home is asking it to tell a joke each day. There's nothing that lifts the mood like a good joke is there? Or to be honest, even a bad joke that makes you grin and moan about how awful it is can lift the mood too.

The other day this was the joke of the day...'What's blue and smells like red paint?..........Blue paint!' That actually made me laugh out loud and I enjoyed it so much I've told it to dozens of people (I got a typical groan from my kids about how it's a 'dad joke'!). Come on: it's funny really!

And yesterday I was talking to a client about how we can use humour and laughter to reduce anxiety and stress. After all, if we are laughing (or even mildly chuckling) it's very hard to be anxious and stressed at the same time. And whether that simply lifts our mood for a while or makes those anxious thoughts seem a bit silly and so we get a change of perspective, making humour part of your coping strategy can really pay beneficial dividends.

Finding humour in things (or in general) can help us get a sense of perspective on our problems and issues as well as physically providing a release for tension and stress. In fact there is even a Coping Humour Scale which seeks to measure and understand how you use humour to handle problems (it asks you to rate on a scale things like: 'I have often found that my problems have been greatly reduced when I try to find something funny in them' and 'It has been my experience that humour is often a very effective way of coping with problems.').

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Hypnotherapy for Anxiety and Depression (and Happy New Year!):

Hello and Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful festive period and are all set and ready to have a fantastic 2019.

While busy enjoying my Christmas break, I was delighted to read a story in The Times about 'how hypnosis can sooth anxiety and depression'. A wonderful little piece about how effective hypnotherapy for anxiety has been at Southampton University and let's hope that many other universities and education establishments follow suit and get their mental health support in place. More on that story and the results of anxiety hypnosis in a bit.

I've got to say that this Christmas was one of the best I can remember. We had loads of fun playing cards and games, messing about, and trying to get our new Alexa to say funny stuff (my favourite so far is asking 'how much is that doggy in the window?' - and 'is this the way to Amarillo?' was pretty amusing too). Although if my daughter shouts for the Imagine Dragons to be played (again...and again...and again) then I may have to work out how to make it only listen to my voice!

The one thing I miss most over Christmas is boot camp! With all the eating and the lack of routine, I made sure to get to bootcamp on Christmas Eve (in my Christmas jumper) before using some of the spare time away from the office to get out for a few shorts runs. And right after the big day, we all headed off to the Ely Panto which is always a brilliant show and well worth booking in for. There was also time to head over to watch Ely City play Haverhill, a pretty even contest even though Ely ultimately lost.

And now, being back in the office for a few days I've already had the chance to help people to reduce anxiety, end unwanted thoughts, increase self-esteem and tackle their fears. It's all set to be another great year of anxiety-busting and confidence building! 

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Anxiety & Your Imagination - Hypnotherapy Vlog and New Research:

In my last article I wrote about anxiety and how your imagination interacts with it, following my trip to the Rochester Dickensian Christmas Festival. Anxiety driven imagination leads to thoughts about things going wrong or badly in some way. Your mind seeks to interpret the cause of the anxiety and it flows into all those unwanted scenarios that can fill you with dread, fear and worry.

Anxiety fuelled imagination strengthens that cycle of anxious thoughts and feelings and can lead to avoidance behaviours and that sensation that something bad is going to happen.

I've recorded a brand new hypnotherapy vlog for you about this very subject - anxiety and your imagination - and you can watch that further down the page.

And interestingly, not long after I recorded it, a new piece of research came out on this very subject which talks about how you can use your imagination to extinguish anxiety and fears.

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Anxiety and Imagination - The Rochester Dickensian Christmas Festival:

This past weekend was spent at the fabulous Dickensian Christmas Festival, down in Rochester in Kent. I wrote recently about how we can use the message of a Christmas Carol with Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Future to help us take action and make decisions right now that will cause us to live the life we want to live (go and check that article out if you haven't already).

In this article I'm mainly talking about anxiety and how our imagination and thinking can intensify those unwanted anxiety-filled thoughts, feelings, behaviours and emotions.

One thing I love about the work of Dickens is how he took experiences from his own life and the people and places around him and incorporated those into his stories to bring them to life. You only have to stroll down the main street in Rochester to notice all the plaques on the buildings describing how that place appeared in a certain novel of his. Rather than just creating everything from a blank canvas, Dickens took real life and wove it into the fabric of his work. It's certainly one of the ways that he brought his work to life and gave it that essence of being realistic and believable to us readers.

And if you are struggling with anxiety you may very well be able to relate to that process. Anxiety has a way of taking the people, places and situations around you and starting to distort them in your imagination into all sorts of worst case scenarios. And just like a good Dickens novel, the more you get absorbed in them, the more they come to life in your mind and the more your anxiety escalates.

All those 'what if this happens?' type of thoughts can grow and grow until everything seems like a disaster waiting to happen that will lead to bad outcomes, negative consequences and you feeling even worse. Your mind goes into overdrive seeking out those possible future threats so that you can prepare for them or avoid them, yet because most of it is anxiety-fuelled distortion and perception, you may find there is no escape from your own thinking.

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What are you focusing on? Things you can't control, or those you can?

The other day I was chatting with someone who was telling me all about a co-worker who, in their opinion, wasn't pulling their weight at work. They also told me about a conversation they had with someone over the phone and how they didn't like that other person's opinion or the tone of how they expressed it. All of these things were so prevalent in their mind that it was stressing them out and keeping them awake at night.

In another conversation, a client told me about how angry he gets when someone cuts him up in the car, or if he thinks they drive too slowly. That anger would lead to shouting and cursing. That emotion and those thoughts could take over his whole day.

And I think we could all reel off dozens of other examples; the way that e-mail was phrased, the look on someone else's face, that worry about what others think about us, that thing that doesn't go to plan, that person who is late, that response we get that isn't what we expected or wanted, that person who didn't say thank you when we let them pass or we did them a kind deed. 

It's so easy to get caught in the cycle of focusing on things that we can't do much about and then finding that those thoughts and that focus leads to us experiencing wave after wave of negative emotion.

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