4 May to 8 May – Uncovering the specific anxiety ‘process’ for Denise

4 May 2017

Thank you Robin, I will forward to you my worksheets etc to prove I am doing my homework, but could you please explain something  which is upsetting me about my exposure therapy.  Re your analogy about the scary movie and watching it so many times that eventually you lose interest and therefore fear, well I have been “exposing” myself to the sky, going out under it, looking at it, watching aeroplanes fly across it, but I am NOT losing my fear of it.  Far from it and it therefore troubles me I will not get better. 

Do you think I am not doing it properly?  In other words, do you think I am somehow “fiddling in my handbag” and not facing it in the right way?

I DO have a DEEP down feeling that at last, with your help, I will come through this once and for all.  That day will be so lovely…  Thank you so much

Hi Diane

You are absolutely right – that  exposure can be done in a way that doesn’t work

its very very subtle and it takes you to experiment and tweak what you are doing until you reach the point where you start to understand how it works

Thats one of the problems of emails – its hard for me to easily gauge what you are doing and how you are doing it

But when you said you are out all day and it just feels worse and you cant wait to get in – that did make me wonder

Dont worry – we WILL work it out until it starts to work correctly – like with all things related to anxiety – its all about misinterpretation and catastrophisation which CAN be rectified – once you figure out the right strategy – and we are all different so we need to find out what works best for us

Please do send me any worksheets you have done – and also can you explain more about the ‘whole’ process of what happens when you have these thoughts

I dont mean to just repeat the frightening thoughts

Imagine you are a neutral scientist making a study of Diane’s process when she has the thoughts

so – when you wake up what is your very first thought

do you worry you will have the thoughts even before you have them

what thoughts do you have ABOUT the thoughts — ie I hate this – maybe I am going mad etc

what behaviours do you do to stop the thoughts from arising

what behaviours do you do when the thoughts are happening – how do you hold your body – do you tense up – do you ‘try’ to relax – do you do ‘self talk’

what behaviours do you do when the thoughts aren’t strong – do you think about them and worry if they will come back

DURING the thoughts what are you fearing most?

If you think the sky is so big – what is so frightening about that? What does that thought do to you to make you feel so scared and uneasy and down

What thoughts do you have ABOUT the entire problem – ‘this will never go away – I’ll never get better – I will always have this fear’ etc

Imagine you are having the thoughts – now go inside body and mind and describe why you think you feel so overwhelmed – What sensations do you have – where are they exactly – stomach – shoulders – head – are they hot cold dull – like a cloud – painful – are they worse than a toothache – or worse than indigestion or a sore back -what way are they so unbearable

If you think its the thoughts – in what way are the thoughts ‘unbearable’ – do you think its the ‘content’ of the thought – or that the thought makes you feel so scared or that life is unreal or not right in some way

or is the fear more about what the thoughts say about YOU – that you must be mad or ill or insane or incurable or just not normal

why do those thoughts make you so scared

Try to uncover as much hidden thoughts or sensations as possible – rather than thinking ’emotionally’ (why me..etc) be scientific in this exploration – leave aside the ’emotional’ reaction – do this to HELP yourself

Keep doing the downward arrow technique

you have thought A or sensation B

WHY is that so bad for you

and so on

keep digging deeper

You can also write down the content of your fearful thoughts – so we can use that for exposure practice

One thing for sure – read book 3 VERY carefully – try to understand PLANNED GRADUATED exposure

it definitely doesnt tell you to go out all day and face the fear 🙂

Get back to me with answers to all the above

It really is just a matter of figuring out your particular resistances and behaviours that maintain the cycle

once we figure that out it will be easier to work with it all

I assure you you WILL definitely be free of this eventually – but it WILL take quite some time yet – so try to accept that 🙂


4 May 2017

Bless you, bless you, BLESS YOU.  YOU HAVE BEEN UNBELIEVABLY KIND TO ME. NO ONE has EVER offered to help me understand what is going on in my body and mind to the depths that you have and your patience with my questions is wonderful and much appreciated.  I am a very analytical person, I do like to know the whys and the wherefores of how things work and you understand this in me and you have NEVER yet given me an explanation I have found a flaw in. 

Therefore my trust in what you say is immense and very respectful.  I cannot thank you enough – but I’ll have a go..   from the very bottom of my heart, I offer you a GREAT BIG THANK YOU, and if there ever is any way I can help you to help someone else, Robin, I am more than happy to do so.  I will be in touch with my answers and homework!!!   Thank you.

Night night.  D


7 May 2017

Hello Robin,

Thank you for your help in helping me to overcome my anxiety.  Below are the answers to the questions you asked in your email of 4th May.  I’ve tried to elaborate on them as much as I can without making this email too lengthy!

If I awake during the night and it is still dark, I don’t have any weird and bizarre thoughts at all. I can quite easily turn over and go straight back to sleep.  However, the minute I wake up in the morning, before I open my eyes, my brain reminds me that I have a serious mental problem, that I am no longer like normal people and that I have thoughts unrelated to normal living.  I instantly remember the previous days’ suffering.  I start to ruminate about why we are all here on this earth and I begin to visualise the world outside bobbing about in masses of space. 

I fear opening the blinds because I know I will have to see this outside world.  My mind begins to churn as does my tummy.  I don’t want to get up.  I lay, talking myself round into getting out of bed.  I want to leap out of bed and embrace the day with a list of pleasurable jobs – like I used to – but instead, I’m disappointed that the day has started with a feeling of dread.  I hate the thoughts. I’m ashamed that I could even think such thoughts. I hate the fear which accompanies the thoughts.   I feel “odd” because I AM HAVING SUCH RIDICULOUS THOUGHTS.

I am scared I am not “normal” anymore and SO AFRAID I will never come out of this.  I fear I am on the verge of insanity and will be admitted into some kind of mental institution where no one will know how to treat me.  I don’t understand how I will ever be able to be unafraid of these thoughts now that I have thought them.   In an attempt to “block” out the thoughts, I begin a series of mental games in my head.  Anything from naming birds/flowers/fruit in alphabetical order.  I make up mental arithmetic puzzles and attempt to solve them.  I “fiddle endlessly in my handbag” to make the problem go away. 

I try to think of all the things which used to make me happy but that uplifting feeling eludes me and I feel deflated that no thought will lift me up.  I drag myself out of bed and put the TV on immediately to give my brain focus on something else.  Usually when I awake, my forearms ache as do my shoulders.  I sometimes have a problem lifting them.  I tell myself to relax and feel myself actually “unwinding”. 

Once I’m up and about, I feel a little better, but I’m always looking over my shoulder because I know the thoughts are just behind me.  I’m constantly checking to see if I feel any different/better today than I did yesterday and perhaps if I could feel a bit better, then it would be proof that I was moving away from this anxiety.  I test myself to gauge my reaction to the most bizarre thoughts, and how I react is an indicator, (but I CANNOT FEEL that I’m getting better).

If someone telephones me or I telephone someone, I can hold a very lucid, intelligent conversation and become absorbed and forget myself and chat and laugh like any woman, but the minute the phone goes down, I’m back to ruminating, yet if I was to tell them what I was going through, they would be amazed! They just would not believe my torment!! 

My whole day becomes a battle of trying not to think the thoughts -v- being tormented by them. Before all this started, I loved looking out of any one of the windows in the house onto open countryside, crop fields and woods.  Now I question everything – why are the trees green, why is the sky blue, why are we all here, what is the point in anything, and the minute I start to think about the sky, I’m crushed with weird fears…  it’s omnipresence, the fact that I feel trapped underneath it, it’s infinity, it’s vastness and I DON’T KNOW WHY.  All I know is that I feel fear of it and that makes me feel SO DIFFERENT from everyone else. It makes NO SENSE to be afraid of the sky. I try to reason with it.  I try to look at it with curiosity rather than dread/fear.  Looking at it makes my stomach churn and I feel this general uneasiness. 

People say, “oh look at the sky, the sunrise, the sunset”, etc and I envy them that they can view it without fearing it.  My feelings can be likened to someone who is afraid of heights, especially if they have to look down, but their fears will dissipate once they are back at ground level.  My fear is there all the time because the sky is always with me. It is never going to go away.  THIS is when I feel barmy, irrational, and afraid that  I WILL NEVER GET BETTER and the thought of being like this for the rest of my life scares me to death. 

I try to relax and ignore, but then I become aware that I am NOT BREATHING.  (Obviously I am but the feeling that I have stopped is so convincing.) I literally cannot feel whether I am breathing in or out.  My whole breathing mechanism seems to have shut down.  I then have to really find something “in my handbag to fiddle with” because I am now so sure I AM ABOUT TO DIE…..  I find it almost impossible to relax and let the feelings “just be”.  My legs can go cold and I have been known to question whether I AM ACTUALLY STILL ALIVE!

Sometimes, the thoughts seem to be screaming in my mind that I metaphorically want to put my hand inside my brain and pull the thoughts out and jump on them!  It is the CONTENT of my thoughts which scares me the most, I think.  I’m sure I would not be in this state if I were only afraid of spiders!!!  I DO NOT know why the thoughts make me feel so scared but they do and that makes me feel so different from everyone else, so odd, so incurable…

I’m afraid that I have lost the smart, happy, intelligent, strong minded, motivated, house proud, full of life person I used to be and I don’t know how to “get me back”.  Everyone I have read about who has recovered from this seems to have an epiphany moment and then they find the strength to walk away from the chains of anxiety.  I do not appear to be that courageous despite trying so hard.  To wake up and SMILE again at hearing the birds sing will be a miracle come true.

I’m sorry this is so long, Robin.  I’ve tried to answer your questions as best I can.  I fear you may read it and declare me a hopeless, lost case but I sincerely hope I’m not irreparable.  I’ll forward my worksheets etc. during the week. I’m sure you have more than enough to cope with just reading this email. 

Thank you again for caring to get me better.  I hope together we can.  Bless you and deepest gratitude.  Did you struggle with weird thoughts? I mean really struggle or was your anxiety more physical symptoms based?  Most people in anxiety have a “pattern” to the content of their thoughts, in other words, they all roughly think/fear the same thoughts. My thoughts are nowhere near the thoughts other anxiety people suffer!!!

Anyway, enough for now.  THANK YOU.


Hi D

Thanks and well done for writing all that out – it is very illuminating – mostly because I can see just how much importance you place on ‘your’ particular thoughts

This is what I was trying to tell you about the ‘theme’ – this really is simply like a song stuck in your head – and if you had Postman Pat stuck in your head it COULD be very distressing but you would be very unlikely to worry about the CONTENT – the lyrics of Postman Pat – you wouldn’t start wondering about why you are obsessing about a postman or his black and white cat – or why other people can look at the postman and just see someone who delivers letters but you can’t stop repeating his name over and over ad infinitum

When I was trying to explain this it was as an ESSENTIAL ESSENTIAL ESSENTIAL part of your recovery plan – if you can figure this out and get the ‘ah ha’ moment then you will make a SERIOUS movement towards being free

I have written out your email in a more concise format. The reason for this is that people with anxiety don’t really see that they are continuously TELLING themselves to be anxious – they think they are just ‘feeling’ all these things and then they are simply ‘talking’ about how terrible it all it is in their minds

Hopefully when you read it in a different way you will see just how much you instruct yourself to BE anxious

If you REALLY want to be free of this problem you HAVE to make a DECISION to follow and TRUST what I have been saying – from all you have written you are not yet doing this – that is not a criticism – I am just telling you what you have’t been doing and what you need to do

You HAVE the thoughts – thats ok

You CAN’T stop them or switch them off – thats ok – thats just the nature of ‘tired thoughts in a tired mind

What you CAN do is decide how you REACT to the thoughts and the whole process in general

Would you agree that the problem thoughts – the ones that freak you out and the ones you cant seem to get rid of are the existential ‘space’ thoughts

Would you then also agree that all the OTHER thoughts (the ones listed below that you repeatedly tell yourself) are NOT in the category of ‘obsessional existential space thoughts’ – and that these OTHER thoughts are thoughts you are CHOOSING to have in response and reaction TO the existential space thoughts

and it is THESE ADDED thoughts that you CAN exercise some control over

I will explain it again with the ‘song stuck in head’ analogy

The song (Postman Pat) is stuck – ok

You cant seem to stop the song or switch it off

relaxing or distraction isnt working

so the problem is the song is STUCK – like a broken record

and if you then start obsessing about WHY this particular song – WHY these lyrics – what does it all MEAN etc you can see that that is just ADDING to the anxiety of having a song stuck in your head

so even though you cant stop the song you CAN stop adding MORE thoughts about the CONTENT of the song

THAT you CAN do – would you agree

even if it was hard to do it you COULD do it if you force yourself

You COULD try to keep remembering that its NOT about the content – its about the fact that A song is stuck and that the more you worry and focus on why and what the more it goes around and around

so you STOP adding the ‘secondary’ thoughts and try to just LET the song do as it wants – in the background

SECONDLY – you need to really try and understand what I am talking about when I talk about the OBSERVER POSITION

When you read back the concise version of your email you will see that you are NOT in ‘observer’ position – you are IMMERSED in the thoughts – you have the thoughts and you think about the thoughts and then you think about thinking about the thoughts – you are TOTALLY IMMERSED in the scary movie

YOU are doing this yourself – this is not a criticism – just accept it – It SEEMS like the thoughts take over and you have no choice but thats not actually true

When you are watching a scary movie and you are TOTTALY wrapped up in the story you CAN pull back and realise that YOU are WATCHING the movie

Its the same with these thoughts – please dont just dismiss this with ‘but my thoughts are different’ – you ABSOLUTELY CAN step back much more than you are doing – its not easy but you need to start doing it more sincerely and diligently

You say BEFORE you open your eyes the thoughts start

THAT is when you JUMP on them with the OBSERVER POSITION

THAT is when you ABSOLUTELY REFUSE to indulge in the ‘why me’ / ‘oh no the thoughts are still there’ / ‘my life is crap’ thoughts

Even if you do that out of habit you SHOUT in your head STOP – LET THE THOUGHTS BE – stay steady – let them exist – its a song stuck in my head – dont worry about the content – TRUST what Robin is saying – TRY it for a while at least – be MINDFUL – let the thoughts be – stay steady in the OBSERVER position – watch the thoughts swirl around in front – WHY do I have to have my own added commentary ABOUT the thoughts – has it worked so far??

Have a FLASHCARD beside you if you need it to remind you

you need to be SERIOUS about PRACTICE

If you let yourself get pulled into the movie and you add on all the extra commentary then that is YOUR OWN choice

Just choose NOT to do that

and you have to really really really decide that you really want to choose PRACTICE rather than just more of the same added reactionary poor me thoughts

take CHARGE of the secondary thoughts

Accept that for now you cant do ANYTHING about the first thoughts – they happen – let them be

Let me know how much of this makes sense – go over it and over it – CONTEMPLATE its logic – consider if it makes sense or not – let your inner wisdom SEE it – forget about  – ‘but what if I’m different’ blah blah – trust me your thoughts are EXTREMELY mild compared to many many people I have helped

You need to start INVESTIGATING this as a scientific puzzle – STOP falling back on emotional reasoning – it just keeps you stuck and will really get you nowhere – just trust me on that

Forget about ‘why me’ – just focus on the misinterpretation – the catastrophisation – the anxiety cycle – your safety behaviours – your added secondary fear thoughts and so on

Figure out the puzzle – it has NOTHING AT ALL to do with the content of the thoughts – it’s ALL about the ‘process’ 🙂

You WILL figure it out eventually – just trust me on that too

Remember you are now a CAT waiting at a mouse hole and as SOON as the mouse (thoughts) appear you JUMP on them – you dont fight them or try to stop them or do ANYTHING to them – but you just dont ADD the secondary thoughts – you HOLD them out in front of your mind – you let them do exactly as they want to do but you OBSERVE them like flies buzzing around and you HOLD yourself as the observer and then you WIDEN your observing to take in your surroundings WITH NO ADDED COMMENTARY – so if you are outside you just take in everything in a vague overall way – a touch of green or blue – the sound of a bird or a car – the feeling of standing on the ground – the feeling of your body – your stomach moving in and out – WITHOUT JUDGING or COMMENTING – and if judgements or comments arise step back again and let them come but try not to add to them

Like being in a movie house – just GROUND yourself in your chair in the theatre

Thoughts arise – fine – let them come – let them swirl – let them ‘do their worst’ – wait

breathe – feel feet on floor – relax stomach – shoulders drop

listen to sounds

If certain ‘observations’ trigger your existential thoughts then choose something less triggering like sounds or the sensations in your fingertips or wiggle your toes and so on – but not in a desperate ‘fiddling in my handbag’ way

just ALLOW the thoughts to be as you take the focus OFF them to other things GENTLY and naturally

Try this for longer periods and its also ok if you need to distract yourself too – its not an endurance test

You need to experiment with what works FOR YOU


THE GIST OF YOUR EMAIL – notice how you ADD very unhelpful thoughts ALL DAY LONG

before eyes open I ‘remember’ that I have a ‘problem’

I ‘remember ‘ the previous days problem

I ruminate (I go over and over the existential ‘space’ theme)

My mind churns

Want to be ok but I’m disappointed (which probably involves telling myself that ‘I’m not ok’)

I hate the thoughts

I’m ashamed I think them

I hate the fear

I tell myself its odd to have such thoughts

I tell myself I am not normal

I tell myself I will never come out of this

I tell myself I am on the verge of insanity and will be admitted

I tell myself I will never be able to be unafraid of the thoughts


I try games in my head to block out the thoughts

I distract myself  fiddling in my handbag

I try to think positive thoughts

I put on the TV

I tell myself to relax

I keep checking to see if the thoughts are still there

I ‘test’ myself to see how much I react to the thoughts

I am ok if I am ‘genuinely’ distracted

but as soon as the distraction is gone I ‘remember’ I have the problem (I think about the problem)

The whole day I TRY NOT TO THINK THE THOUGHTS (resistance – non acceptance)

I keep wondering WHY I am having THESE thoughts

They make no sense

So then I think that I am so different from everyone else

so I try to rationalise the thoughts (but at the level of the THEME of the thoughts)

I feel continuous fear because I tell myself that since the sky is always with me then surely I will always have the fear and it will never go away

I tell myself this is ‘barmy’ and ‘’irrational’

I tell myself that I will NEVER get better

I tell myself that I will be like this for the REST of my life

If I feel physical symptoms I try desperately to relax

and when I can’t I try desperately to distract myself

I tell myself that it is the CONTENT of the thoughts that means something is seriously wrong with me

I tell myself that I am SO different from everyone else

I tell myself I am odd

I tell myself I am incurable

I tell myself I am now no longer the person I used to be

I tell myself that other people have an epiphany moment but not me

I tell myself I am not courageous

I tell myself that I am very unique with my anxiety and NOBODY else could surely have had any thought this bad!

My thoughts ‘are nowhere NEAR the thoughts other anxiety people suffer’

8 May 2017

Hello Robin,

Thank you for your wonderful, informative reply.  You never seem to be “off duty” – you replied so  late last night and I’m grateful you did because I read it before I went to bed and understood much of what you said so well that I awoke this morning in a much calmer, soothed frame of mind.  I feel guilty that you were at your computer so late on a SUNDAY night for my benefit and please believe me when I say I AM trying to do EXACTLY as you are asking.  Apologies for only just responding, had a small, but now rectified, technical problem.

PLEASE don’t be cross with me.  I am REALLY, REALLY trying to follow what you are saying.  I certainly had an “ah ha” moment when I understood, this time round, your analogy about the theme -v- CONTENT of my thoughts being likened to the lyrics of Postman Pat and whilst out this afternoon, I recalled your words and as a result, in my head began to sing the (stupid) song!!! However, it worked…I kept reminding myself that my thoughts were just stuck in a tired mind and you’re right, though the continual, repetitive words of a song would be damned annoying, I wouldn’t become afraid of them.  This analogy helped me today.

I was absolutely shocked when I read how pathetic and NEGATIVE I am with my attitude towards anxiety.  I hadn’t realised how many times I was giving my brain a negative response.  Thank you for pointing that out to me.  I do sometimes have difficulty accepting that all I have wrong with me is simply anxiety.  Some days I just “feel poorly” and when I can’t articulate my symptoms, I get scared.  So, finally, may I please ask you, did YOU have days where you could not be specific about symptoms, but you “just felt unwell”?  Is it all down to adrenaline?

Thank you for everything, Robin.

Best wishes, D


Well done 🙂

Understanding the ‘Postman Pat’ concept is CRUCIAL

now you can add to that the Observer Position method and you will really see some changes

so – once you see that its the ‘process’ and not the content – you can then more easily stop obsessing with the content and just see that its just a mass of ‘tired thoughts’ (in your particular ‘theme’) and that they ARE just tired thoughts in a tired mind so you CAN then step back from them and let the just swirl around and come and go and increase and decrease while you hold yourself as the OBSERVER

You need to investigate this many times until you ‘get it’

realise that you ALWAYS are able to dislike the thoughts – you even talk to yourself – ‘I wish these damned thoughts would stop – why are they in my head – I hate them – I dont WANT them’ – and so on

so clearly there is a YOU that is looking at the ‘thoughts’

Its not YOU and the thoughts are one thing

and since this YOU doesn’t LIKE the thoughts clearly YOU know what its like to NOT have the thoughts – you know what your mind feels like minus the thoughts – more peaceful and relaxed

so even when the thoughts are happening a part of you knows what peace of mind is – and these darned thoughts are disturbing it

If you contemplate that – then try in imagine it – there’s YOU the watcher or observer – then there’s the ‘tired thoughts’

so feel the YOU as your neutral awareness and the ‘tired thoughts’ like a bunch of irritating flies buzzing around right in front of you –

then HOLD your awareness as the neutral observing self and LET the thoughts just buzz around

as you hold your attention on the observing self then you can be mindful of your body – feet on floor – relax stomach – drop shoulders – listen to sounds – notice shapes and colours around you – and basically withdraw the focus off the ‘tired thoughts’

this takes TIME and experimentation – so dont be thinking if you dont ‘get it’ in a weeks time that you are a hopeless case 🙂

I felt ‘unwell’ with vague symptoms for YEARS

until I learned that the symptoms weren’t the problem – it was my repetitive REACTIONS to the symptoms

and even after I changed my reactions – it took a LONG time before I felt any major change – old habits die hard

Look at how many THOUSANDS of times you have told yourself that it is all hopeless – it takes time to turn such long term conditioning around – but you WILL do it

anyway – if the ‘ah ha’ of my last email wears off – read it again and again and again

you HAVE to just stop obsessing about the content altogether if you want to move on – even if its not easy – you just have to STOP – it’s like an addict almost – the thoughts make you want to just obsess ‘a bit’ then once you start you cant stop!


8 May 2017

Thanks, Robin.  I have learnt such a lot from you over these past few weeks – the most relevant bits I have incorporated into my flash cards, which are a brilliant invention.  Thank you.  I promise I will implement everything you have set out for me and do everything you have asked of me.  I do try to overdo things at times and try TOO hard as I am a perfectionist, but this can sometimes be my downfall, so thanks for “warning” me to be prepared to let time pass and to not be impatient  if changes for the better don’t happen immediately just because I want them to!  You have become a brilliant friend and advisor and I can’t thank you enough.  I trust and believe in everything you have told me. You have given me such hope.  Simply, thanks for being there for me…

I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

Bless you.  D

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