Why the past can trap you in a cycle of stress, anxiety and depression

An essential part of the solution-focused hypnotherapy that I practice every day is explaining how anxiety, depression and anger is created, and how we can break this cycle and ultimately get you back to being the authentic, real you. My client’s totally get the explanation and almost immediately their thinking changes and life starts to become manageable again and they cope. This is only the start of their journey, because once they have taken back control of their life I then get them to focus on what their life can really be!

This article from Psychcentral.com nicely explains why when sometimes we react in the way that we do, it is because we have a template with a strong emotional memory that is held in our primitive/ emotional/ child mind that been triggered by a ‘fear’ stimuli. This strong response overrides our intellectual mind (the part of the mind that gives us considered, positive and sensible answers to life’s situations) and we react emotionally: this part of the brain operates with the behaviour of negativity, obsessional, hyper-vigilant and non-innovative (it will rely on previous patterns of behaviour rather than coming up with proactive and sensible solutions).

For those of you who have been my clients, this will make total sense and for those that are considering some wonderful, positive therapy with me, this is just a taster of an exciting and life-changing journey.
Introduction by Mark Jones Hypnotherapy

woman driver driving school panic calmWhen you get upset, scared, angry, or nervous without any identifiable cause it is a sign that your feelings are being “triggered” by the memory of a past situation. When people feel a strong emotion, the emotional brain (amygdala) remembers it, along with many other details connected with the event.

Even things that are indirectly related to the event can trigger the old feeling without our being aware that this is happening. The emotional brain takes in all kinds of impressions like sights, smells, tastes, and sounds, and tries to find a match with something that happened before.

When an emotional memory is triggered, you will say the same things, feel the same intensity of emotion, and behave the same way that you did at the time the memory was created. That is to say, you will respond to today as if it was a different time or place in your life. As a result you may become defensive and lash out with anger or withdraw and avoid confrontation out of sadness or fear. Many of these reactions, however, are not appropriate for the current situation. These reactions are based on past emotional experiences, causing you to have emotions that are out of proportion with the context of the current circumstance.

The mind is constantly looking for patterns. Patterns are quickly identifiable and have strong pathways in the brain. As an example, an adult who had a bad first marriage may automatically recall an emotional memory of jealousy any time his current wife mentions, “I might be late”. The anxiety upon hearing this statement may trigger a memory, which produces a feeling of jealousy stemming from his first marriage. If the husband dwells on this feeling, he will become insecure, angry, and suspicious for no reason in the present.

While you may try to remain business-like and focus on a topic at hand, you can’t help but think of the past. As an example, a couple is discussing whether they have enough money to purchase a new computer. The wife mentions using a particular credit card, which triggers a memory in her husband. At that point, the husband launches into a loud, long lecture about credit cards, high interest, and harassing letters. He becomes overwhelmed with memories of his prior struggles with debt and potential bankruptcy. His wife quickly realizes that any discussion about the computer has become useless.

This kind of memory error is known as persistence. Persistence is not the loss of memory, nor is it the distortion of memory. A person suffering from persistence is doomed to remember events that he or she would prefer to forget and frequently makes references to these painful events from the past. A person with a certain kind of walk or body type might cause you to feel fear because he reminds you of someone who once bullied you. The smell of a stranger’s perfume or cologne can make you blush because you had a passionate night with someone wearing the same fragrance. You may dislike people with red hair because of that one red-headed person who once picked on you. And the list goes on.

Another way persistence occurs is in the case of a panic attack. Imagine being stressed-out for six months, almost at the breaking point. You decide to stop by the market to pick up some bread and milk. While in the store, you run into someone you dislike, which immediately triggers a memory of how you were threatened and hurt by an argument with that person’s husband. That conflict reminds you of this morning’s argument with your spouse, which now dominates your concentration and your mood becomes worse. At this point, your brain, already overtaxed, kicks in with a panic attack. You feel your heart race, your breathing becomes shallow and rapid, and you feel as though you are going to have a heart attack. You end up leaving your groceries and running out of the store.

You now have compounded the threatening-memory of “this individual” and have created a new panic-memory with a label “market” on it. Therefore, the next time you drive by the market to stop for milk, your brain will recall the panic-memory. You’ll develop a feeling – “I can’t go in there!” This is exactly how people become agoraphobic, where they become fearful of leaving their home. You fear that the same negative outcomes that arose in the past will occur again, so you avoid, plan, and try to control as much as possible to protect yourself from the painful feeling of panic.

It only takes one snowflake to cause an avalanche. Remember, with each emotion or experience, the brain is searching to see if you have a an associated memory and it only takes one snowflake to cause an avalanche. The link between emotions and memories is like an umbilical cord: it needs to be severed, so you can access a memory without your emotions filling your life with pain.

Source: Psychcentral.com

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