Thursday, February 02, 2006

'I'm So Sad' -- Psychotherapist Jane Firbank Answers Problem Letters - By Jane Firbank

Dear Jane,

I have felt very unhappy for months. There are times when my spirits lift but only briefly. I tend to worry a lot and feel stressed and cannot see any joy in life. I am 30 years old, a female and a lecturer.

I have a lot on my plate work-wise. Yet I have few fixed working hours and some of my work can be done at home or at the library. I am involved in several tasks as well as having written a thesis and waiting for feedback.

I had a bad experience when I left my previous job eight months ago as I couldn't give them notice. Physically I feel run down and long for free time; yet when I give myself time off I feel bored and unhappy.

I had a bout of pneumonia two years ago and tend to think about the possibility of a recurrence. I’m also worrying about doing too much work and missing out on life -- but then I worry about not doing enough!

I am not married and have no-one in my life. I have creative tendencies but they are not made use of in my work at the moment.


Dear M,

Your letter gives a clear insight into the origins of depression. It's all there!

Trauma. That bout of pneumonia. That bad experience when you left your last job.

Stress and suspense. Waiting for feedback on your thesis. A lot of work, unstructured so you can never feel quite sure that you've finished for the day.

Lack of flow. You are not using your creative tendencies. Your work is not bringing you joyful challenge and achievement. Your talents and skills are not being satisfyingly expressed
Lack of people in your life. We all need friends and intimacy, the feeling of being loved and needed.

Worry, worry and worry.

On top of this you may be physically in poor shape. Not enough good quality food, fresh air and exercise.

Every improvement you make, however small, in any of these areas towards the direction of life and fulfilment will make you feel better. A priority is to reduce the amount of time worrying.

Pointless worry is corrosive.

(When your brain goes over and over a problem that it can't sort out, the issue is recycled again in your dreams. The purpose of dreams is to resolve problems but these worries are not the sort of thing which are easily resolved. So you will be dreaming too much, and when you dream too much you wake up in the morning feeling as if you have left your headlights on all night.

Dreaming is the most tiring thing your brain can do. Up to a couple of hours is normal - indeed essential. But when you're depressed you may dream for up to six hours - which is devastating. You wake with no energy to feel pleasure, interest, curiosity, excitement, motivation and get up and go.)

Worry also causes chronic low-grade stress. So not only is your sleep not refreshing, but many of your body systems are affected by stress hormones. No wonder you worry in case you're at risk of another bout of pneumonia - because you will not feel completely healthy and you will have some strange physical sensations and aches and pains.

Your mental functioning is also affected by worry, stress, and over-dreaming. You will find that your ability to plan and make decisions, concentrate and remember things are all below par.

Your mind does not seem to be working clearly. Instead of seeing things in perspective, you will find you have a tendency to see them in black or white - ’Everything is awful.’ ‘I am a complete failure.’ ‘Nothing will ever get better.’ ‘It is all my fault.’ Such illogical, over-the-top thoughts result from depression, and of course because they make everything seem so hopeless, they make you even more depressed.

The worry half hour

The way forward is by keeping your worry under control. Set aside a 'worry half hour'.

Whenever worries come into your mind, you acknowledge them and say to yourself 'I'll think about this at 6 o'clock' or whenever. This works better than trying to dismiss or fight against the worries. Work out what you're afraid of and what is the worst that could happen and what you could do about it. Imagine you're advising a friend, and treat yourself with the same realism and calm common sense you would use to help someone else.

Dealing with trauma

Depression always imroves when traumas are lifted. I use the powerful Fast Trauma Cure developed by the Human Givens counselling approach. In just one session, people can feel so much lighter and clearer. Otherwise look for an EMDR (NLP) practitioner. EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique, may also help ... and has the advantage that you can do it for yourself.

Trauma and worry are two components of depression. Having unmet needs is the third. There are gaping holes in your life which need filling. People. And an outlet for your creativity. Start with finding interest groups, people you could have a cup of coffee with. Start by using your creativity on your environment, so that it's pleasant and expresses your personality. Such things are not trivial. They are the building blocks of a good life.

Lastly exercise improves people's mental outlook - even a brisk walk is a lot better than sitting on the couch worrying. And be sure to get good quality fresh food, and take two Omega 3 fatty acid capsules daily with a multi-mineral pill to insure basic physical health to support a better frame of mind.

Good luck.

Jane Firbank's site,, has over 100 fascinating and helpful problem letter replies, plus scores of articles and book reviews.

Jane Firbank is a psychotherapist working from the new Human Givens approach to counselling. This unites cutting-edge psychological and brain research with the new insights of evolutionary psychology and the ancient insights of the traditional healing and spiritual disciplines. The Human Givens approach is powerfully and rapidly effective in helping people move on from depression, stress and anxiety, obsession, psychosis, relationship problems and addiction. Phobias, traumas and Post Traumatic Stress can often be removed in one or two sessions using the latest knowledge of how the brain works.

Jane Firbank, BSc (Psych), HG Dip. GHR, is in private practice in London, England where she also regularly writes and consults on psychological matters for the Press, TV and radio.

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