In this episode Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo (of “The Adversity Psychologist Podcast“) talks to Dr Stuart Sadler, Clinical Psychologist and Sleep Specialist. I am sure we have all experienced difficulties with anxiety at times. This episode will help you understand more about anxiety and how to approach and manage it.
·What is anxiety and how can it show up for us?
·What can trigger anxiety
·How can we manage it
·The relationship between anxiety and sleep
Dr Tara Q-C: Welcome to the Adversity Psych. Podcast. A podcast incorporating narratives about facing and navigating adversity, A mixture of people, their experiences, and professional psychological discussion. I’m Dr. Tarquin. I’m a qualified and regulated psychologist with over 20 years experience of mental health, disability in human behaviour.
I want to share people’s stories of navigating adversity in the hope that through being heard, a dose of compassion and some understanding. Can help others in the face of adversity too. Hi, and welcome to the Adversity Psychologist podcast. I’m Dr. Tara Quin. I’m really excited today cuz I have a returning guest.
So, Dr. Stuart Sadler is back. You may remember him from series one. He did a fantastic episode on sleep. So for those of you that might be new to him, I’m gonna say hello and introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Stuart: Hi there everybody. Hi, the tower again. Um, I’m Stuart Sadler. I’m a clinical psychologist based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, and I specialise in depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders and the way that they all interact.
It’s absolutely amazing to be back here talking to you.
Dr Tara Q-C: It’s so lovely to have you back again. So you were on in the first series and we talked about sleep. That episode has had most downloads of all other episodes that I’ve done. I was just saying to you earlier, wasn’t I? There’s something about the way that you present your knowledge, which is just really accessible and digestible for people.
And off the back of that episode, we were just talking about the role of anxiety and sleep and how that would be useful to cover. But we’re doing an episode on kind of, you know, general anxiety as well, and we’re bringing sleep as well. Let’s start at the beginning though.
So I might ask a really ridiculous sounding question, but just what is anxiety and Yeah. How does it show up for us? How can it show up for us.
Stuart: It’s a really important question though, isn’t it? Because Yeah. I think that anxiety, it’s one of those things that people, they don’t always recognise that it’s a problem as much as it can be.
Yeah. And, um, certainly anxiety. It’s one of those things that can come any time and cause a lot of problems in day-to-day life. So for one person, I mean, at an extreme range, it might involve panic attacks. It might involve not being able to leave the house or socialise or function at work. I’ll even go to work, right?
For some people it can be about, worry. For some people it can be about a fear of getting on an airplane or a fear of dogs, so there’s quite a wide spectrum. But I guess if I was to conceptualise what anxiety is, I would largely say that it’s about a fear of something and. I know sometimes people talk about irrational fears, but whether something’s rational or irrational or not, it’s still a fear and there are still ways to deal with it either way.
Right. Really good point. Yeah. STEM techniques you can use if it’s a. Quote unquote irrational fear. They’re the same techniques that you can use when you’re presenting on stage or the same techniques I’ve talked to like actors or techniques that you can just use to overcome normal, everyday nerves.
Dr Tara Q-C: I really like that cuz it’s probably quite stigmatizing when people use that term irrational fear. Cause there’s almost something about, well, you’ve got permission to have a fear or you don’t and, and I, I actually wonder where that came from. I don’t know myself, I’ve been around a really long time. I don’t actually know the answer to that question.
Who decided what’s irrational or irrational? How do we decide that? So when people think about anxiety then, so off the back of the pandemic, people have been talking a lot more about emotional health and wellbeing and anxiety. Right up there, isn’t it? With things that we’re talking about. Because when that first lockdown happened, a lot of people did feel very anxious and fearful about the future, about their current situation.
And that might have been to do with work, family, how a homeschool, all the myriad of things. Maybe their health and wellness as well in terms of the, the virus itself. But what happens in our brains that would be really useful. Cause I think one of the things about your sleep episode is your ability to break things down into nice, manageable chunks.
So you know, if we’re anxious about something. Fearful about something. Yeah. What’s the kinda physiology as well as the psychology there?
Stuart: Yeah, well, there’s quite a lot that goes on, isn’t there? And I think that we have to think about it in a wider context because yeah, I think that when we develop fears, we tend to develop them because quite often we’ve had a bad experience with either that or something similar that we might or might.
Be able to remember. So when something is happening for us, that obviously goes through one of our senses and, you know, I’ll then make sense of that, but then it makes sense of that in the context of our previous experience. Yeah. So for example, if we. If we got bitten by a dog many, many years ago when we were younger, and then we see a dog, it doesn’t even have to be the same dog, just the same color dog, or just even a dog.
It, it activates so it can activate that flat system that says, whoa, remember what happened last? Yeah, you were, you know, you got bit by a dog. You know, it’s best to stay aware because what we’ve got to remember is. Well, I mean human beings. We’ve been on this planet like a few million years and we’ve survived.
The way we’ve survived is we’ve developed these survival mechanisms whose job is to help us survive and. You know, deep down in our brain that really primitive bit, it doesn’t really care about our quality of life. It just cares about survival. Yeah. So our threat system and our amygdala, which is the emotional part of the brain, the part where when activated, that’s where fear becomes active.
So our make and our threat. They would quite happily have us locked in a white room with no windows or doors. If it meant that we were safe, we might hurt it. We might have no quality of life, but we’d still be safe. That’s the important thing and the best mechanism that it can do that. Is to say, whoa, there’s danger.
I’m gonna start sending down some adrenaline. I’m gonna start sending down some cortisol. I’m gonna make it so that Stewart avoids dogs for the rest of his life, or I’m gonna make it so Stewart gets out this situation right now and. Really those hormones, those chemicals that get released, they might increase our heart rate because yeah, we’ve got sense of danger.
It might make us tense, it makes us sweat because our heart starts pumping faster. So our heart has to get the oxygen around our body quicker and then circling back. Our brain has to then make sense of what’s going on in our body. So when our brain says, whoa, Stewart’s heart’s beating fast, Stewart’s tense, Stewart’s breathing a lot quicker than usual, there must be some danger.
I’m gonna send even more cortisol. I’m gonna send even more adrenaline going down so that he gets outta this situation. And then we get that cycle of anxiety and that cycle of, uh, of, of, of panic sometimes. So there’s quite a lot of things that go on, and all the time our body’s making sense of what’s going on with our brain, our brain’s making sense of what’s going on with our body.
And some of this, it can be totally, out of proportion to the genuine danger. But again, it, it’s that idea, right? As long as we survive, our burn doesn’t really care. All it cares about is survival.
Dr Tara Q-C: And that’s a really good point, isn’t it? That a lot of it is very then generalised. It’s not about this right here, right now in terms of the danger.
It’s that let’s avoid this forever. Let’s just, you know, go all out and, and we’re quite often not able to recognise that, are we? Um, and as you say, that dis. Proportionate analysis of, well actually this situation, what is it? We don’t have that ability, do we in that moment to go, hang on a minute, does this really warrant this response?
That’s something you may be able to work through with a therapist or a psychologist later on, but I think it’s really important for people to almost give, you know, maybe that’s a bit of self-compassion there to give yourself a break sometimes that some of this stuff is going on and we don’t have a lot of.
Stuart: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I suppose what I’ve always been struck by, and some of your listeners might even relate to listen themselves. Cause certainly a lot of clients have said this to me. Yeah. That they’ll say that they know it’s not rational, but they still feel it. And I think that’s a really important point, isn’t it?
That our thoughts and feelings are on very separate tracks. Yeah. And not just with anxiety, but with a lot of stuff. And I think that’s because what we’ve tend to forget is we don’t just kind of have that one brain, we have that primitive brain, which is about survival. Like that bit of the brain that we share still with lizards and animals, you know, that bit that’s responsible for the basic emotions.
And all that cares about is survival, but then that newer part of the brain, that cortex, the bit that allows us to have rational thoughts and allows us to think about potential and future ideas and things that might happen, which also includes things that could go wrong, which is another source of anxiety.
Yes. Yeah. These haven’t formed together to become one brain. The newer brain has formed over the top of the older brain and it’s formed connections. Which sometimes like, I guess internet connections can go down. Sometimes they can when you’re podcasting.
Stuart: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Or, you know, you might type a web addressing and you misspell it and you end up in a totally different place from where you ended up.
Right. And this is the thing, it, it’s a little bit like, it’s not like we’ve got one brain that’s making sense of it all. We’ve got these two brains that are trying to collaborate. But sometimes getting mixed messages or misunderstanding and misinterpreting each other, they don’t speak the same language.
The best way I like to describe it to people, if there are any gamers out there, is that right now our brains are running at like, you know, ZedX spectrum or retire 2,600 level, whereas five level, right? Yeah. You know, our brains are out of debt. Technology for modern. There’s a lot. Our threats for most people.
They’re not for everyone. For most people our threats now, it’s not about not having enough food or not having shelter or, or things like that. Our threats. Now, what will people think of me if I say this? Yes. Yeah. You know, what, if I don’t succeed? What if I don’t get this job? What if I’m not wearing nice enough clothes?
What if I don’t have the latest iPad or whatever? Absolutely, our threats have changed, but our brain, it’s still the same primitive brain from millions of years ago. I often
Dr Tara Q-C: use this analogy with my patients that it’s, you know, if you talk down the high street and a saif tiger came along, it’s big old fangs.
Are they teeth? But actually you’d respond the same way as you would. Maybe going on stage and someone judging what you look like, that there’s no difference. But then sometimes people can almost put themselves down a bit with, well, I shouldn’t respond this way. It’s just other people’s opinions or, um, and I wonder whether, you know, how that adds to the anxiety cycle then when you’re throwing in all of that self.
Doubt or judgment about should I be anxious? Other people don’t seem to be, you know, what’s that role of other people? Then what do, how do what, why do we compare ourselves to other people when it comes to things like anxiety as well?
Stuart: Yeah. We, we’ve got this great capacity to beat ourselves up, haven’t we?
And, oh, we have, yeah. It’s a, it’s a real shame because, you know, that same vein that we used to beat ourself up. We can also use it to generate immersing ideas and fantastic solutions to things. And I suppose it’s the other side of the coin that if we’re gonna be able to think about possibilities and potentials, some of those are gonna be like quite critical and quite negative, especially if they touch on past experiences where we’ve had critical.
Experiences, what might be from our parents, it might be from others, might be from genuine experiences where we have failed or we have. Yeah, that’s a good point. Um, and I think that I often describe it as being a little bit like if we have the problem. And then we add another layer to that problem by beating ourself up about having the problem, then we are just complicating it all a lot more.
And the other thing that’s often important to remember, Is that, you know, no one ever felt better by beating themselves up, right? Mm-hmm. I can get worse, but no one ever felt better by beating themselves up. I think sometimes it’s a story that we tell ourself about that, though, about the function that we tell ourselves about what beating ourself up does.
For some people, they believe that, right? If I criticise myself, then I’ll come up with a solution. Or if I criticise myself, then I’ll stop doing it. Almost like a punishment. Yeah. And it makes logical sense because, you know, if we punish ourself or someone punishes us when we do something, we. Tend to be less likely to do that again, but with self-criticism, it just adds another layer to the problem rather than actually preventing it.
And uh, there’s the thing where I’m, I’m sure people, people who do beat themselves up, and I know I used to be one of those people, people who do criticise themselves a lot, it’s often worth thinking about if that was gonna work, it would’ve probably worked by. You know, you wouldn’t be expressing anxiety anymore if beating yourself up was the solution.
Dr Tara Q-C: Yeah. I wonder how many people listening now are asking themselves
Stuart: that question. Yeah. I just hope they’re not saying, oh God, I’m so stupid. I should have known that. Because, you know, it’s be important to creating more anxiety with our anxiety podcast episode.
Dr Tara Q-C: But it’s such a good, because I think actually, you know, it’s a psychologist when we approach treatment, obviously there’s slightly different models, but, um, a lot.
What can make a huge impact for people, you know, or to our patients is understanding what’s happening. Sometimes people can be too quick to dive into strategies, but actually just taking that first step to understand, well, what is anxiety? Mm-hmm. How does it show up? Why?
Stuart: Yeah, absolutely. That’s my brain respond in this way.
I think one of the first things that I do when working with, with, um, you know, with clients is educating. About, about it because yeah, once we realise actually my brain is working properly, it’s doing what it’s meant to do. Yeah. Yeah. It, it takes away that whole, there’s something wrong with me idea. Yeah.
You know, because it’s this idea of whatever it is that you’re anxious about. Chances are there is a genuine worry or a genuine threat behind it. And for a lot of people, you know, that threat, it, it comes down to like a fear of death doesn’t Yeah. About survival. Absolutely. Yeah. But nowadays, like we’ve touched on earlier, you know, cyber tooth tigers, they don’t really hang around in the uk so Yeah.
So we’ve developed a, another. Threats, this idea of social threats, what people will think of us, and, you know, social media gets criticised a lot. It, it can be done used for amazing things, but also as well, it’s become another source for comparison and another source for it have for self criticism and beating ourselves up.
Dr Tara Q-C: Um, and I’m think, you know, the younger generation, maybe not dinosaurs like myself, who perhaps have grown up with it and what that might be doing to younger people’s brains in terms of their threat response and, you know. Yeah. A lot of social media for some people is very caught up in how people look and using filters and all of those things.
But I’m just wondering, you know, have you seen differences in younger generation in terms of..
Stuart: Absolutely. I, I do. I do think that, I think, I hate thinking about the younger generation because then what does it say about how old I am? But, I have noticed the difference and I have noticed that there tends to be a lot more anxiety.
Unfortunately. Yeah. Yeah. I’ve noticed that some of the anxiety seems to represent a sign of the times as well. Yeah. I’ve think that I’ve mentioned once or twice to a few. People that I’ve seen that recently. I seem to have seen more people with a worry about being canceled. Um, yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting.
There was before. Yeah. And, it seemed to be prevalent in younger people where they might be doing their law degree, their medicine degree, and they worry about this idea that they’ll pass their course and then in 30 years time something will come out on social media. That’s totally appropriate for right now.
But say like a photo of them buying a woman a drink out the bag. Yeah. What if down the line that falls under the remit of harassment, for example? Yes. They get canceled. So it is, I guess it can be a big sign of the terms, you know, society, a big impact on. The central met of the world.
Dr Tara Q-C: So, do you know what I’m thinking?
Just if there’s anyone listening that might not kind of understand the term canceled. What we are kind of talking about is that, you know, in social media, people have a public presence. You can be kind of publicly vilified, can’t you, for behaviours that you’ve done recently or even many, many years back.
And actually that’s made me think that’s a really interesting point actually, Stuart, isn’t it? Is that then, how long are. Worrying about this, is this something they’re dealing with, this anxiety on a daily basis for the next 10, 20, 30 years of their career? And how might that, that’s a really good question.
How might anxiety get in the way of you leading a value in life? So psychologists would like to talk about behaviours. So when we have anxious thoughts and they may be physiological symptoms that show up with that big emotions, how might that impact her behaviour and how might that get in the. The kind of life we wanna lead, the things that matter.
Stuart: Yeah. Well, we do. I mean, we do function quite a lot on patterns and within patterns, thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, rules that we have. Those all guide our behaviour as well, you know, values like you mentioned. If we have a belief or value about, you know, money is important, then we, maybe we’d more like to have a different relationship and money from someone.
Yeah. You know values, freedom, for example. Yeah. I suppose the problem is that if our most primitive and most important value is survival, then it’s gonna ship our behaviour in a way that’s gonna make us. Take fewer chances. It’s gonna make us avoid doing things. It’s gonna make us a little bit more apprehensive Yes.
Or a little bit more worried and make us dwell and worry more about things that sometimes we maybe don’t have to worry about. Yeah.
Dr Tara Q-C: Because one of the things that comes up quite a lot with my patients and, and some of the other projects that I work on is that actually it can be quite exhausting.
Worry. So sometimes people say, people just think about the fact it takes up time, but it can have quite an impact on you, can’t it?
Stuart: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. Yeah. Because I guess what we’ve got, remember if you put a brain under a pet scanner, hopefully that brain is still inside a human skull. But if we put that inside a PET scanner, which measures the blood flow and therefore measures where the actual blood is being used, where the energy is being used, when people are thinking.
Not even just one. When people are thinking certain areas of the brain light up. Now, if we look at what worry is, which is basically thinking, but thinking over and over and over and over, yes. Then that brain is gonna be lighted up. And what that means is that Al Burn’s actually using energy. You know, it’s a burning entine, tri phosphate, which is the energy source.
And so quite often people will say, oh, I can’t help it. I’m a warrior. But what you’ve gotta think about is your default state is not to be burning that energy. Your default state is to be resting it. Yes. So you have actually burning energy by Warren a bit like if you decide to go on a treadmill, you are burning energy on that treadmill.
You know? It’s not that. It’s happening by itself. So even, and the reason I say that is just because even when we feel out of control of wound, or we feel we can’t control our thought. You know, if you are not in control of it, then who is? I guess that’s the, that’s the really good question.
Dr Tara Q-C: Yes. And sometimes we try and get more control.
So sometimes people will purposefully sit down, won’t they? Right. If I can try and work through this thing, or behaviourally, if I can try and control everything, yeah. It’s leading to my anxious thoughts. And, and again, coming back to energy then, is um, Just the role of constantly worrying and how much fatigue that takes, how much energy is put, you know, physically, emotionally, into avoiding, or using safety behaviours.
We sometimes talk about in psychology. That’s where, you know, if you can’t avoid a situation and you’ve gotta be in it, you might use some safety behaviours. Like I’ll have a little drink before I have to go to this social event. You know, I’ll sit at the back of the room and put my head down and hope that no one talks to me at this conference.
Got to go to, otherwise I’ll lose my job, for example. Um, is that it can actually impact other areas of mental health as well. And we were gonna just touch on, won’t we, you know, that relationship perhaps between anxiety and depression, for example, that when people are constantly worrying, constantly putting this effort into avoiding and safety behaviours, how that might affect your mood, your motivation, your outlook in.
Stuart: Yeah. Well that’s it, isn’t it? Because the problem with safety behaviours is that they work and that that’s the problem with them. And we go, yes, that worked.
Dr Tara Q-C: I’ve gotta do it again.
Stuart: Yeah. Yeah. It, it makes sense. Like if, you know, if I don’t like, um, you know, if I don’t like a certain person, it makes sense to avoid them.
But the problem with that is that when we start relying on safety behaviours or a certain safety behaviour over and over, or when we start using that safety behaviour in a situation that doesn’t get us like the best outcome for what we want to achieve in life, that’s when it becomes a problem. And like we say, like our basic human all animal instincts even is to survive.
And if we do that by constantly avoiding, there’s not just that we’re missing out on pleasure and opportunity. Absolutely. Yeah. It’s also the message the the implication that we are giving ourself the, I can’t cope with that implication. We might not say that to ourself physically. Yeah. Or even mentally.
Yeah, but that’s the assumption, isn’t it? We see all these other people doing stuff and we kind of know. We’re not doing it. We can’t do it. I’m too scared to do it. Yeah, yeah. And then again, the message we get from that, I’m less than other people and we end up in this spiral where it’s often described in CBT as a cycle, isn’t it?
But I often describe it more as a spiral. Cause the more times you go around it, the deeper it goes. Absolutely.
Dr Tara Q-C: I think that’s quite a powerful visual.
Stuart: As well, isn’t it? Yeah. And so it’s not really surprising that the research shows that if you have trouble with anxiety, then depression often Yes. Is is is close behind it.
Yes. Yeah. And the reason that I specialise in depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders is because they form like a triangle over three. Like a stone. Yes. Yeah. Where if you have trouble with one, Chances are you have trouble with another. And if you have cha problems with two, then the third is probably just around the corner.
Yes. Yeah, yeah. Um, but there is a very strong link between depression and anxiety and whichever comes first, whether it’s anxiety, leading to, um, depression because of not having pleasure in life because of the anxiety, or whether it’s depression leading to anxiety because we have this very. This suppressed lifestyle that we start to worry about things, our comfort zone shrinks, and all of a sudden the stuff we used to do is no longer easy.
It becomes a source of fear rather than, yes, something that we used to thrive doing.
Dr Tara Q-C: So it’s interesting you mentioned in the triad, because we brought this up, didn’t we, in the very first series in your episode on sleep. And I think it’s important to also bring in here then the sleep element. And you did a fantastic episode for us on sleep.
Um, and we wouldn’t do it justice without now bringing in anxiety and how anxiety may impact sleep. Yeah.
Stuart: And vice versa. Yeah, well, we, we know they are very closely related, so there tends to be a pattern. Um, I can’t remember if we talked what it’s. Previous podcast. Um, but there tend to be generally a pattern that if you’re having trouble falling asleep, it’s often anxiety related.
Yeah. If you find yourself waking up early, it tends to be more depression related. Right.
Dr Tara Q-C: That’s good for people to know.
Stuart: Yeah. And um, the reason that, um, trouble falling asleep tends to be anxiety related is because one of the mechanisms of anxiety, which you touched on earlier about worry or dwelling.
Yes. Yeah. It, it tends to be something. Like we discussed, activates the brain and released some of that adrenaline releases, some of that cortisol. Yes. And those are things which make it difficult to sleep. It’s this idea about mice wouldn’t sleep if they thought there were dogs. Uh, sorry if they thought there were cats nearby.
Dr Tara Q-C: We had that. We
Stuart: had that in yet. Yeah. And there doesn’t have to be cats nearby, but if they thought there were cats nearby, they wouldn’t sleep. It’s not always based on what’s going on for us. It can be based on, again, these stories, these ideas. Yeah. These thoughts that we have. If we think we’re gonna get fired in the morning, we might not be gonna Yeah.
But if we think we are, that’s gonna give us a sleepless night. And, um, similarly, when we have trouble with our sleep, that becomes a bit of a cycle because we become less able to regulate our emotions as effectively. And I’m sure everyone’s exposed a bad night’s sleep. You know, just cause I’m a sleep doctor doesn’t mean that I haven’t either.
Um, but we do everything the next day when we’re tired. Everything is a stupid question, isn’t it? We’re less tolerant of people. We Absolutely, you know, we find it harder to deal with stuff. Things feel more overwhelming. Yeah. And that is because. You know, sleep is one of those things that helps clear out our mental clutter.
Yes. Yeah. And prepare us for the next day. So when that gets disrupted or dysregulated, we get into a bit of a cycle that makes. The anxiety worse, but also our sleep worse. And there is actually quite a growing body of research now that shows that you can improve people’s sleep without doing any therapy at all for the anxiety and it’ll improve their anxiety.
Dr Tara Q-C: So interesting. Cause I know you’ve spoken about this before on other platforms and I find that really, really interesting for the public to. Mm. You know that cuz that’s gonna be one of the kind of questions that if you are noticing then issues with anxiety. Whether you’re listening to this and you have a longstanding relationship with anxiety or something that’s newer is the where do people start?
I know there’s no magic solution. You need to do X, Y, Z, but just where’s a good starting point for people then just starting to think about their sleep, but how to start to think about addressing their anxiety, understanding more about it.
Stuart: Yeah, so great question, isn’t it? And um, I’m sure for yourself and probably every therapist out there, um, there isn’t a kind of one stop solution.
It’s based on everyone’s situation. For some people it’s about working on the anxiety. For some people, it’s about working on the sleep. For some people, it’s working on the physiology because this is something that’s often neglected, isn’t it? It really is psychologist. We think about, let’s sit in a chair and just talk about our thoughts and feelings.
Yeah. But our physiology, if we look at our postures day to day, and I know Amy Cus Harvard Uni’s done some amazing research with us where certain postures release different chemicals in the body. Wow. Yeah. Um, you know, like three minutes of what she calls power posing, which is that kind of typical standing with your hands on your hips.
Chest out. Yes. You know, when she did the saliva swabs, there was an increase in testosterone in those people. Gosh. So the way we posture ourselves makes a huge, huge difference. If we’re, if we’re like, In a depressed posture or an anxious posture, you know, getting control of our breathing can make a big difference.
Yes, yes. I think what’s important though is that when we think about that connection between thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and our physical responses, it’s important that people start somewhere. Yeah. You know, starting anywhere is better than spending hours dwelling or looking for the optimal program or the optimal place to start.
Um, I often use a gym analogy that if someone’s a beginner, Just doing any workout program, even stepping into the gym and lifting a weight will get them a result. Yeah, the person looking on the internet for the Optimal Gym program and going from one to another before they step into the gym, they’re not gonna get any results.
Just starting anywhere is a good place to start.
Dr Tara Q-C: Quite a compassionate stance that isn’t it? Cause I’m wondering if, you know, people listening that maybe have a long standing relationship with anxiety, may have had experiences before where they’ve tried to deal with it and they might not have worked out, or anxiety may have suddenly become more intense again, more frequent.
Um, is just that being kind. It actually, you know, Just that first small step. And what could that look like? So obviously people might be thinking about therapy counseling, for example. Is there anything else that people can consider that might look like a first step for dealing with anxiety?
Stuart: Yeah, I think that’s a great question.
It’s a huge question, isn’t it? I think the first step, well, I think this is quite a lot of. Different first steps that could be taken. I mean, obviously if it is related to a genuine problem, then if we’re able to solve that problem, yeah. Yeah. That’s the, that formulation, isn’t it? Yeah, exactly. I. Whether we’re able to fix that problem or not, though a bit of self-compassion never goes in the wrong place.
Um, there were lots of meditations on the internet. Compassion meditations. Yes. Yeah. Gratitude is something that I’ve gotten into very recently and, um, I think is absolutely amazing. Um, it’s hard to feel fear and gratitude at the same time. Yes. Yeah. And um, I think certain, if you’re more into the physical side than breathing techniques are a great thing.
I think one thing that’s really helpful, no matter who you are or what the problem is, is becoming aware of what your patterns are. Yes. That’s a really good point. You know how we tend to respond to things. And again, that’s not necessarily with behaviour. It can be, when this happens, I tend to start thinking X or when this happens, yes, I start to do Y all.
I notice in my body. Yes. And when we do that, we’re sometimes able to say to ourself, oh, Right. Actually, yeah. I’m noticing that pattern. Hang on. I’m, I’m, this is the precursor to anxiety and, and I always say to people, yes, you know, kill the monster before it becomes a monster. Kill the monster when it’s a baby lizard.
Don’t wait for until Godzilla tearing down your city and smashing the place up. I, I often say to people, 90 second rule, 90 seconds. To notice whatever state you’re in and then to change it, because after that, yes. Uh, chances are it’s gonna start spiraling and growing into that Godzilla like monster deal with it.
Dr Tara Q-C: Yes. Yeah. That kind of is, I think what’s really lovely day is that, you know, that comes back to what we’re saying about taking some time to. Educate yourself around what anxiety is, but then how it shows up for you. I sometimes like, and I dunno where I got that from, but that idea of an anxiety footprint, that we all have feet and toes and our footprints might look similar in the sand, but no one will be yours and it, yours is very personal to you.
And taking that time to sit and understand what your in psychology will use the term formulation is, or as you say, how does it show up? And sometimes that could be hard cause we’ve gotta sit and notice stuff. And for some of us, we’ve been trying to keep it at bay for so long. But that’s a really good first step.
And obviously in the kind of current climate, you know, waiting list for therapy, free therapy, getting access, being able to have the means to pay for it, that’s not accessible for everyone and I, it’s what’s really useful is to look at other ways that people can also. To manage anxiety and I really like, cause there’s a lot of free things out there on YouTube, particularly a lot of psychologists and people who’d put a lot of free content out there that’s accessible for you.
But I really like the fact as well, it’s a bit person sensitive that isn’t it, looking at, well, what might work for me actually, I need something more physical to start off with. So maybe breathing exercises are, are better for me. In terms of kind of sleep, are there any extra, so people who might not have listened, we’re gonna refer them back to your, to your sleep episode.
Anything around sleep that can be useful as a starting point to help people look more at their patterns
Stuart: and Yeah, I think, I think there’s a few things that we only kind of only scratch the surface on with the last conversation. Yeah. Because we do have series on sleep.
Dr Tara Q-C: I keep saying you need to start a sleep podcast up.
Stuart: Yeah, I’d love to. It’s just like, I mean, sleep. It’s one of those things where people don’t really acknowledge that they have a sleep problem or Yes, yes. Talk enough about it until you ask them, do you, how’s your sleep? Yeah. Yeah. You know, that’s a good point. We live in a society where it’s almost.
Accepted as having a sleep problem or even a badge of honor. You know, sometimes I get calls from people, entrepreneurs like, oh, I, I heard that Einstein only asked four hours sleep. I, I, I want to do that. Yeah. And it, it’s like really? So they’re actually asking for that? Yeah. Yeah. And, and also as well, it’s not true.
Uh, sorry, not Einstein, it was Edison. But yeah, it was like, you know, he used to nap throughout the day as well, but obviously, that’s not as romantic as the idea. Yes. Optimise your performance would just fall asleep. But when it comes to anxiety as well, I mean, with. I mean, in the context of anxiety, especially the first thing, and in line with what we’ve been saying is Deco catastrophizing it.
Yes. Yeah. You know, everyone has trouble with their sleep at some point, and there was. A lot of stuff out there that that’s, you know, there’s a lot of scare out there about if you don’t sleep, then you’re gonna develop dementia, you’re gonna develop heart problems. Yes. And a lot of these studies, they’re what we would call correlational, where you don’t know which direction the relationship is.
You know, it’s often that people with dementia sleep less, and then obviously it becomes a soundbite on TikTok or on YouTube, and then that’s exactly it.
Dr Tara Q-C: Now we’re in a slightly new age, aren’t we, then for where information goes and how many people see it.
Stuart: Exactly. And I think when it comes to sleep deco catastrophizing, it is not only something that’s gonna help the anxiety, but also help your sleep.
You know, a difference between a good sleeper and a bad sleeper is a bad sleeper starts worrying about it. A good sleeper just says, Huh. Didn’t sleep very well last night. I’m sure I will tonight. That’s a good way of thinking about to get up with it.
Dr Tara Q-C: Yes. Yeah. So then that role of perhaps procrastinating, worrying about it.
Worrying about what, I think we covered this before. Oh no. Maybe I should go to bed earlier tonight. Try and catch up all of those myths. But actually that can be more of a problem in itself, can’t it? The kind. Worry about the next night and the next night. And, and is it, it’s kind of that term doom scrolling with the internet.
Is this such a thing as kind of doom thinking with sleep that now my sleep, I’m, I’m gonna be someone who doesn’t sleep. You know, we can catastrophise sometimes, can’t we? Or start fast forwarding into what’s gonna be without, yeah. Bringing ourselves back to the present.
Stuart: And I think if we know those patterns, if we know our patterns and we have a pattern to start worrying about stuff, yes.
If it’s related to our health, for example, we’re able to say, oh, hang on a minute. I’m just doing that thing that I do. I’m just getting into that pattern, but it’s on my and on my sleep instead of my health. Or instead of, you know, what people think of me, I’m, I’m just getting into that sense. Cause we, we do tend to get hooked into the same processes.
It’s like, For one person, their pattern might be that their body becomes tense when they feel anxious for another. Their pattern might be that they start to go over and over the past, or they start to go over and over what might happen, and if we realise, oh, Hang on. I’m doing that with my sleep. I’m, I’m just slipping into that pattern.
You know, maybe there isn’t a genuine threat out there. Maybe there isn’t a real danger out there. Maybe I am safe. Yes. It’s just my brain is slipping into that pattern. What, how could I exit this pattern? You know what would be a helpful thing to do, and I always draw that distinction. I draw a distinction between what do I want to do and what would be helpful to do, because quite often they’re not the same thing.
Very good point. We want to think about it more because we might come with a solution, but the often the helpful thing is to be able to say, hang on a. I’ve, I’ve, I do this all the time and it just leads to me getting more anxious. What would be, what would be a wave unhooking from this that would actually move me towards a better quality of life?
Dr Tara Q-C: Yes, I was gonna say that sounds very gratitude. Yes. Yeah. That notice and name, that ability to just take a moment to go, what’s going on here before we get stuck in the doing? And it can be hard once you’ve kind of educated yourself and help yourself become a little bit more orientated in the moment, we’re very good, aren’t we?
Going straight from what we noticed to doing and, and, and not created what I call that daylight in between. To be able to go, hang on, what is this? It’s a very kind of neutral stance. Hey, what is this? This is a pattern here, what’s happening here? And it kind of removes any blame and judgment as well, doesn’t it?
Stuart: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And I would also argue as well, cause a thing that people often say is that. But they’re not negative. They’re realistic. They think realistically, yes. But when we think about thinking realistically, this, you know, if that is you, if you are a person who does think realistically and thinks objectively, you have patterns, we all, cuz we all have patterns.
And realistically, if we’re able to look at, well, right, well, what is my pattern? Then it, it’s still, it’s still acting on that mindset. It is still right. I’m still being true to myself. I’m still thinking, realistically. I’m still thinking objectively, yes. It’s just I’m shifting my focus away from, well, what could happen or what is gonna go on to, oh, hang on a minute.
This is that thing that I do. This is that dwelling pattern I get into. How has it worked to help for me in the past? What would be a more helpful pattern?
Dr Tara Q-C: There’s quite a lot of power there, isn’t there? You know, in that being able to notice taking the wind out of the sails of anxiety, I sometimes say we’re just reducing the power.
Taking that power button and just turning it down just a little bit, it can be quite reinforcing them when you start to notice a bit of change. And I’ve certainly had patients who have gone, oh, I can notice now. I’m asking myself questions, creating that daylight. I can, I always say to them, just look on the clock, count the seconds between the thought and what you’re doing.
You know, really. Get present in monitoring that daylight, that tunnel and make it longer and longer and longer. We could probably talk all day. I wonder, I’m gonna get you to get your podcast series out on sleep. All, all benefit from that immensely. We’ve had so many nuggets, but my little signature to move.
If there was one little adversity take away and and anxiety, what would it be?
Stuart: Um, just one. Okay.
Dr Tara Q-C: Um, one little nugget on top of the hundreds we’ve had already.
Stuart: I think for me, it would come down. If I think about when I’m working with clients, the one principle, whatever the techniques are, whatever the direction is, the one principle that it always seems to come back down to is deco catastrophizing.
Yes. One word just deco, catastrophizing, however you do that, whether that is solving the problem, whether that is noticing your pattern. Mm-hmm. Whether that is, um, you know, deciding to worry less, whether it’s moving your body in a different way, putting your body in a more confident open posture. I think the real one principle with Anxiety is about deco.
Catastrophizing. Yes, yes. And if we’ve become good at doing that, then we’re able to deal with anything.
Dr Tara Q-C: What a perfect thing to leave us with. So if people haven’t listened to you already, where can they find you? Where do you hang out? How can people find out more?
Stuart: Okay. So, our service, we’re based in Newcastle upon Tyne, though we do have a really thriving online service.
Fantastic. We’ve actually working online quite a lot before Covid even. Yeah. Um, so, you know, we’re fully equipped for work with people online and. Um, our website is newcastlepsychologist.co.uk and Newcastle Psychologists, it’s not just me. We have a team of therapists who all specialise in a range of different problems.
And, you know, obviously we have different therapists who’ll be able to help with, you know, whatever struggles you might have. And, Quite often I’m able to be found, um, on the podcast circuit, like, like this one. Um, but certainly if anything’s resonated today, then you can drop us a message through the websites and certainly we’ll be happy to help in any way we can.
Dr Tara Q-C: You also like to hang out on LinkedIn as well, don’t you? So
Stuart: I’ll make sure I No, that’s true. I’m on LinkedIn. Yep. And I will reply anyone who sends me a message, I might be up in the floodgates here, but, anyone who just reply, I, I do always reply back. And what I think is really lovely people as well is you do quite a lot of little blogs and articles for people as well.
Dr Tara Q-C: All the accessible things, which I think is something useful for people to know as well. Stuart, thank you so much. It’s an absolute pleasure. I’m gonna think about how I get you back again. We need to do one on depression then. Don’t we gotta complete that, that triad, haven’t we? Um, we’ve had an episode on supporting someone with depression, but I haven’t covered depression in itself.
Yeah. Which is surprising actually for, for four series. I’ve just had other, other things that have come my way. So if you are happy to, I’ll get you to sit on air and then you will do, come back at a later date and we’ll talk about depression and finish that triad. So thank you so much. Absolute pleasure.
Stuart: It’s always a pleasure to speak to you, Tara. And thank you for listening.
Dr Tara Q-C: Thank you for listening to this episode of the Adversity Psychologist Podcast. It’s so lovely to have you here. I’m Dr. Tara Quin, and you can find [email protected]. You’ll see everything. I’m up to, free resources, my media work, and my new Covid Recovery Clinic as well.
Remember to please rate and review my podcast. It really. People to benefit from the narratives of overcoming adversity if they know where to find us. The Adversity Psychologist Podcast helping you on step at a time.
Dr Stuart Sadler
Lead Clinical Psychologist