Anxiety Archives - Embodied Living

The coronavirus crisis is forcing us to face something which human beings excel at avoiding. Death is the biggest taboo of them all and one which we spend a lifetime denying.

Many are writing about trauma during the COVID-19 crisis. We are in the midst of a trauma and that trauma is being triggered by many everyday things now. But I believe that what is even more important in our response to this crisis is our unconscious fear of death.

Read the full article on LifeLabs.

As we cope with the change of Covid-19 we might find our selves in strange states of emotional upheaval. Regulating our emotional arousal levels is a skill we can learn.

You might be coping and working, and perhaps you are even busy. But you might find yourself alternating between anxiety and tiredness, overwhelm and lack of motivation.

Here are some practices to help.

Watch the video on Psychologies LifeLabs

Find other resources to help you cope with a crisis here.

Before COVID-19 struck, burnout was on the increase. Carers and people in positions of responsibility are more at risk. A friend of mine recently went on holiday and had to spend 48 hours in A&E because he collapsed with exhaustion. He recently told me, ‘as the MD I am the lifeblood of the business, if I stop, it all stops.’ Do you know anyone like this who needs some help with burnout?

Burnout on the increase

Half a million people in the UK suffer work-related stress and there is a worryingly high number of cases of burnout. Anyone can get it. A stay-at-home mum, a busy business owner, students, middle managers. It is particularly prevalent in the  caring professions. During the coronavirus crisis, it does not have to be inevitable that our frontline carers suffer from burnout. We can be under even extreme pressure and not be at risk.

The first step in getting help with burnout is to be aware of the symptoms of burnout so that you can do something about it before it affects your physical and mental health.


There are three core categories of symptoms in burnout: emotional exhaustion; depersonalisation and reduced personal accomplishment. How do you spot them?

  • Do you feel empty? Like the life has been drained out of you? Are you unmotivated and perk up only when you think about leaving work?
  • Another insidious symptom of burnout is depersonalisation. Perhaps you are finding yourself increasingly cynical or using sarcasm more. Are you experiencing more and more feelings of bitterness or resentment? Perhaps you have just stopped caring?
  • The final symptom that hits the often high-achieving sufferers of burnout hard is reduced personal accomplishment. If the warning signs are left unheeded, burnout will inevitably start to have an adverse effect on your work performance.

The causes of burnout

On the surface these symptoms are similar to depression, but being specific to the context of work is what makes the difference. The causes of burnout can include:

  • Having to work very hard for little or no payoff
  • Pressure to achieve
  • Pessimism (those of a more pessimistic nature (glass half full) can be more prone to burnout in certain circumstances
  • Isolation (think of the pressures of being the boss, or the stay-at-home mum, or the student away from home)
  • Mindless social media consumption. The keyword here is mindless. Have you ever found yourself on social media because you are bored, or out of a compulsion or habit? However, using social media mindfully, with purpose can reverse burnout (things are never black and white!)

What you can do about burnout

Importantly, perhaps it is worth knowing about what you can do to handle burnout symptoms before you collapse from exhaustion:

  • Listen to your body and give it what it loves: exercise, good food, relaxation (avoid alcohol etc)
  • Identify areas in your life that are contributing to burnout. Perhaps it is your workload? Perhaps you have ‘issues’ around control? Do you have enough community and support around you?
  • How good are you at delegating? Rather than talking about giving the less onerous tasks to the nearest ready hand, I am talking here about working on your pattern of ‘I’m the only one who can handle it.’
  • Finally, find ways to actively antidote burnout: take your annual leave and build in time for fun.


If you can relate to this article, you might need some help. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not of weakness. And seeking the help of a professional can often be the greatest gift you can give to yourself, and your loved ones!

Resources to help with burnout

Here are some resources to help.

A simple self test if you are worried about yourself or someone you know.

Read more about stress on our blog.

Read more about breathing techniques to help you relax.

Find more resources here.

Many of us realise we worry too much. In fact nine out of 10 of us describe ourselves as worriers. And we spend nearly 2 hours a day worrying. It goes without saying that we want to stop worrying.

Yet we often don’t realise how important attitude is in determining our success and happiness in life. We may also realise that, with the wrong attitude, we can spend a lot of energy worrying. But when we say ‘he or she has a great attitiude’, what do we mean? How does that stop worrying? What is our evidence of this ‘attitude’?


The components of existence


Our attitude comprises of three components (or the TEA model of existence):


  1. thoughts (T) – what we think or believe about things
  2. emotions (E) – the feelings or emotions we experience (most often in our body)
  3. actions (A) – our behaviour and how we act


Thoughts, emotions and behaviour do influence each other in an interchangable, mutually dependable relationship. If I am nervous and anxious about an exam tomorrow, and stay up all night worrying about it, this is unlikely to change my view that ‘I always do crap at exams’.

“Attitude is very consequential stuff. It determines everything one does, from falling in love to voting for one candidate rather than another” Anthony Grayling, philosopher

Thoughts are powerful, but you can change them


However, it is Thoughts which are the master regulator of this interdependent system. When it comes to attitude the emphasis is on thinking as thinking powerfully influences how we feel and behave. Nevertheless, what we think and how we think can be changed; we can learn new strategies to literally ‘change our minds’ and stop worrying!


Sharing an example case study


I had an interesting coaching session on this the other day that reminded me of the relationship between thoughts, emotions and behaviour and how, sometimes, people can find it almost impossible to separate them out. It is only when you can see them as separate components within a system that you can start to take control of them to work to your advantage.


My coachee had a particular issue with clients who were dissatisfied and called her to make last minute changes to deadlines or tasks. She told me it made her worry and feel anxious and agitated. In this particular context, like any situation of ‘adversity’, it is the meaning that put on the event that is the root cause of any problem!

Stalking the issue


We ‘stalked’ the issue (the negative feeling) and got her to connect to that and fully realise what that meant in her body (tight stomach, raised temperature, busy head). And then we worked on what she wanted instead (to feel calm, relaxed).


Then we went through the TEA model, looking at the adverse event (phone call from a dissatisfied client) and the thoughts and beliefs, and emotions she experienced. It took a couple of attempts to successfully separate the thoughts from the feelings; but when we did it was a real ‘ah ah’ moment for her. It was like she had been blinded by being so associated into the emotional experience that she could see the real culprits: her thoughts!


Alternative ways to think


Then we worked on the thoughts. What would be alternative ways to think about that? What would so-and-so think in this situation? etc. She needed a lot of help with this: not surprising, when someone is learning something about their map of the world that they didn’t know existed!


Then, I got her to read these alternative thought streams out and ‘voila’. She told me ‘now all I feel is calm and relaxed, but with a sense of challenge’, ‘I can rise to this’. And we had it!

Something to take away


“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”


It can be difficult, in a triggered moment, to separate thoughts from feelings and emotions. But if we learn how to slow down and observe these processes we can be in a more powerful place in any situation.


My online course ‘Emotional Wellbeing’ talks more about TEA model and the ABC of thoughts and actions.


Download the ABC model here to practice in real time.

The way we breathe can increase our anxiety levels considerably. Recently I have been working a lot with clients who have a high degree of anxiety. Their symptoms range from panic, over worrying, phobias, chest pains, blurred vision, impaired ability to think clearly, headaches, inability to focus, loss of memory, muscle pain, dizziness and sleep problems. Before I work therapeutically with them, I focus on their breathing.


These symptoms are also the result of hyperventilation (over breathing) and other breathing disorders. When we hyperventilate, we are breathing mainly through the chest.

How to test yourself

It is quite simple to test yourself for hyperventilation. Here is a simple questionnaire that you can use. A score of over 23 out of 64 suggests a positive diagnosis of hyperventilation syndrome.

Alternatively you can try this:

  • sit in a comfortable position on the chair or on the floor
  • place your right hand on the centre of your chest, the heart area, in between the nipples
  • place your left hand on your belly, just below your navel
  • begin to breathe in your own way, your normal breath

Do you feel the movement more beneath your left or right hand? If the right hand is moving more you are chest breathing.

Shallow breath

Chest breathing results in a shallow breath. As the breath is shallow too much carbon dioxide is exhaled and body becomes more alkaline. This (alkylosis) triggers the neuro-hormonal, physiological responase which increases breathing rate and also the anxiety itself.

Whilst an initial activating event (a conflict with your boss, perhaps) may have caused the breathing response (and the initial anxiety) but the breathing patterns then propagates the anxiety. Thus we have entered a vicious circle of anxiety.

Change our anxiety by changing our breathing

How we breathe, and how we feel are intimately connected in a two-way loop. Which means that we can change the way we feel by changing our breathing.

However, it is also important to know that chest breathing can cause tension and pain because it uses the wrong muscles of respiration. This might include the sternocleidomastoid and upper trapezius in the neck, pectoralis and latisimus dorsi in the trunk. These muscles soon get tired and weak, because they are not designed for primary breathing, and this can lead to aches and pains in the neck, shoulders and upper back.

The importance of the diaphragm

The diaphragm is the main breathing muscle and produces 80% of the inhalation. The diaphragm is attached to the ribcage and the lumbar spine. When we breathe using the diaphragm, the belly moves; it moves out on the inhale and releases back as we breathe out.


Diaphragmatic breathing has many benefits over chest breathing:

  • it massages the internal organs and reduces the symptoms of IBS and other digestive problems (common with anxiety)
  • it activates the vagus nerve and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and reduces the release of the stress hormone cortisol, so that we feel less anxious and more relaxed
  • as the diaphragm is connected to the heart, it acts as a second heart and means that less stress is put on the heart when we use the proper breathing muscle to breathe

Learn how to practice diaphragmatic breathing with this short podcast.

I estimate that one in every 10 people who come to me are suffering from panic attacks. They think they are going mad and berate themselves for feeling out of control. Yet panic attacks are not what you think. They are a stimulus-response circuit that your body has learnt. I have suffered from them myself. It limits lives, even ruins lives if left to run without help for long enough, becoming a panic disorder.

The symptoms include: feeling of faintness (or actually fainting), lightheadedness, chest pains, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, numbness, sweating, tingling feeling on the fingers, nausea, hot flashes, trembling or shaking, abdominal pains. A feeling that you are about to have a heart attack or die. People can feel like they are about to vomit, or have diarrhoea. Symptoms vary from person to person, but they are very frightening.

Who gets panic attacks?

Panic attacks can happen to anyone. Many of us may have had one or two in our lives, and overcome them. When panic attacks become a problem, it is usually in people with less self acceptance/ self like, they tend to dissapprove or dislike themselves. Maybe an underlying, limiting belief about self such as “I’m worthless” keeps them unconsciously wishing to punish themselves or self sabotage any attempts at changing it.

What are panic attacks?

They are not phobias, as phobias are a fear of something specific and identifiable outside of yourself, removal of which stops the symptoms of fear. But if you fear fainting in a public space or making a public spectacle of yourself in certain situations then your fear is a fear of panicking and is internally generated, caused by your own thoughts: “What if I faint? I’ll make such a fool of myself. What will others think of me?”

Panic attacks become inconsistent, their occurrence depending on a number of different circumstances, unpredictable and we don’t know why it happens or how you learned it. They always start with some event in childhood where we lost control of our bodies, usually due to illness, and fainted, were sick or had diarrhoea. This leaves us with a very negative emotional experience linked to a time and place. It is this memory of time and place linked with emotion, that becomes an unconscious pattern outside of our conscious control. And explains why they can be so scary.

What can be done?

Many people believe that, because they have had panic attacks for a while and have not been able to do anything about it, they are stuck with them and can’t change. But, whilst the change may not be immediate, and the person needs to put some effort in to change, panic attacks can be treated and life can return to normal. In Embodied Living therapy here are some of the processes that I look at to help people:

  • education about the process of panic attacking
  • assess hyperventilation/breathing and retrain breathing
  • teach relaxation skills
  • teach thinking skills and identify the trigger thought and learn to change/stop it
  • identify the ‘dandelion root’ of limiting belief or event from early life and re-solution that
  • develop witness mind to teach person to dissasociate and keep out of the panic
  • install resources to help with managing emotional state and control the sympathetic nervous system: anchoring, resourceful self, cognitive distraction, SWISH, timeline intervention and memory resolution,
  • tasking and practicing controlled exposure with resources
  • building identity – ideal self – to build a more resourceful, resilient self this can have a huge impact on eradicating the panic attacks and helping people achieve their fully potential

In yoga we use breathing as a fundamental tool in both posture work and more overtly through the practice of pranyama (breathing practices). There is a way to breathe – known as coherent breathing – where we can synchronise heart rate and even blood flow, with respiration. This process happens when we are breathing slowly and deeply. Specifically, this needs to happen at a rate of 5 breaths/minute (yes that is a 12-second long breath!!). The average person breathes at 15-20 breaths/min (some are at 30 or more!!). This rate of 5 breaths/min brings about emotional and physiological coherence. However, it can only happen if we breathe using our diaphragm.

Unproductive breathing is the human condition

When we don’t breathe coherently we become incoherent (in thought, behavior etc).  For many of us incoherent, unproductive breathing is a lifetime habit, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) becomes dominant. We’re in the realm of fearing, fleeing or fighting. And the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) becomes redundant. The PNS is the side of our nervous system that induces the ‘relaxation response’. Without a doubt we all have inherent access to this deep internal calm state. However, through unproductive breathing habits our system becomes dysfunctional and is no longer able to counteract the stressed nervous system. This leads to a pretty negative and unpleasant way of being in the world.

Our terrible experience

With sympathetic nervous system dominance, caused by unproductive breathing, we experience:

  • poor circulation (cold hands, feet, tingling, numbness)
  • muscle tightness (particularly trapezius in neck and shoulders)
  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • pain (can lead to chronic pain)
  • increased rate of ageing

And a myriad of other symptoms!

Learn how to breath coherently

We can learn how to breathe coherently. This involves the following:

  1. Diaphragmatic action – the diaphragm is a strong sheet of muscle that sits in the torso separating the abdominal organs from the thoracic cage. It is the most important breathing muscle. It can move in a range of 10 cm. Yet in many people its range may be 1 cm or less. When the diaphragm is used to at least 60% of its capacity in breathing it brings mind and body into balance.
  2. Effect on the Heart – the diaphragm is connected to the heart and its action massages the heart. As much as 65% of heart cells are neural cells, identical to those found in the brain, your heart has thoughts and a ‘mind’! In addition, the heart is a powerful EMF energy generator (the electromagnetic energy that a coherent heart kicks out can be measured up to 15 feet outside of the body!!), and can affect the energy of brainwaves (a process called entrainment) and also of other people.
  3. Engage the parasympathetic nervous system – the diaphragm is connected to the vagus nerve, part of the PNS, and its action serves to increase the functionality of the PNS
  4. Entrainment – through coherent breathing we can entrain the heart into coherence (high HRV), and the brainwaves into alpha or even theta.

Powerful changes

These four points mean that when we learn how to breathe coherently, we notice changes in both body and mind. Nevertheless, it is important to realise that for some, to begin with we may simply feel MORE pain, more tiredness or exhaustion. This won’t last, it will pass quickly. Indeed this only happens because we are actually really exhausted and/or in pain. But this experience has been ‘hidden’ by the over active SNS. Stress hormones such as cortisol are at permanently elevated levels and serve to mask this. Without a doubt, in the long run this state of elevation will reduce our immune response.

Constant and consistent effort

But if we practice consistently and regularly these problems will diminish and we will start to feel the many benefits of coherent breathing:

  • reduced pain
  • more energy
  • improved sleep
  • reduced blood pressure
  • reduced symptoms of depression and/or anxiety
  • increased performance
  • improved emotional control
  • increased resilience and less stress
  • better decision making


Coherent breathing is the key to increasing our immunity. building our confidence, and achieving happiness and bliss.

You can find even more resources for accessing your most resourceful self on my Embodied Living podcast site.


Are you suffering during this COVID-19 crisis? Do you feel low and would like a more mindful approach to help you cope? Are you feeling more anxious and want to learn practical coping techniques?

Anyone with pre-existing anxiety, trauma or OCD is likely to be triggered by everything that is currently happening. In fact the trauma of COVID-19 – loss of control, feeling of helplessness and overwhelm – is triggering for all of us. I’m a registered clinical psychotherapist based in Stafford. I’ve have set up a group offering many FREE resources and support during this time. This includes a FREE online course ‘Emotional Wellbeing’ to help with anxiety and depression.

You can access this online course anywhere and at any time. All you need to do is join the group. This is totally not-for-profit, I am not profiting from this in any way. I’m offering this to be of service. This Module was granted approval through mental health professionals in the Satyananda Yoga UK network. Satyananda Yoga is accredited to the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY). It was also approved and grant funded through Staffordshire County Council. I designed and ran the course a few years ago and luckily I had all the assets which I could easily put online.



“Everybody’s better off for a bit of psychotherapy”, says Henry Marsh, leading British neurosurgeon, who is 68 this year.

Recent statistics drawn from the UK population shows that older people experience more mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Yet many people over 60 never seek psychotherapeutic help and it is estimated that 85% of older people with depression receive no help at all from the NHS.

Ageing Population

Over the last 40 years or so, the number and proportion of older people in the UK population (aged 65 and older) has grown by 47%, now making up nearly 20% of the total population. Given that we have an ageing population, why don’t more older people make it to the psychotherapist’s proverbial couch?

One reason is clear. People of a certain generation were brought up to ‘just get on with it’. After all their parents survived the war and other traumas. This means that they can have a kind of in built prejudice to seeking help: they might see it as ‘navel gazing’ or ‘thinking too much’ about things. Or in the very least they see counselling or therapy as self-indulgent.

Limiting Beliefs

However these beliefs, sadly, can often result in a serious impairment of their life. They may be too anxious sometimes to leave the house, they may experience fatigue and loss of interest in the things they used to enjoy that comes with depression. They might be experiencing anger and irritability.

But nevertheless they remain trapped by a belief that to seek help is somehow weak. This is the ego defences at work: if we have been through trauma and hardship and, because of familial or cultural expectations, we ‘just got on with it’, that becomes our ongoing strategy. However, when it comes to the unconscious processes of the psyche, we often cannot fix it our self. We need an experienced other, to help see into the windows that we haven’t yet been able to see into for ourselves and help us to facilitate our own change from this new perspective. We are simply too close to our own unconscious processes to see through them, without someone to help us (otherwise we would have done so a long time ago).

We were made to be able to be happy in an imperfect world. It is not a sign of weakness to seek (the right) psychotherapeutic help, it is a sign of strength that we are overcoming our own ego defences.


The stats from this article were sourced at The Mental Health Foundation

For help with mental health problems contact us.

It’s not hard to imagine that acting is an inherently rewarding profession. It gives the performer a chance to perfect their art, they receive recognition and adulation and are loved by us all after all their performances keep millions of us entertained and offers escapism from stressful lives. However have you ever thought about the strain that acting might put on performers?

Actors are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression as the general population and they report high levels of stress, bullying and sexual harassment as well as drug and alcohol abuse. The Australia Actors’ Wellbeing Study reports that a third to a quarter of actors are likely to be on some form of medication for their symptoms.This is not just about the stressors that inevitably go with the actor’s life: low pay (often); long hours; uncertainty of where the next job will come from. But it has more to do with the psychology behind how actors get into roles or, more importantly, how they derole.

Read my article on Acting out: the psychological risks and rewards of acting on Psychologies Magazine LifeLabs Channel.