Category Archives: anxieties

A summer of counselling

Back in May, when I posted about ‘Anxieties – travel and otherwise’, I was in a bad place. My travel anxieties had returned, and I worried endlessly about the future. I decided to have another go at getting help, and sought out counselling as a way of trying to come to terms with everything.

My employer offers staff counselling, so I referred myself to them, and because I was aware there might be a delay in being seen, I also contacted an NHS service in my local town. I had also heard about a telephone service (US based) and contacted them. I must explain at this point that I wasn’t initially trying to get help from all of these, but it was just to have reserve options! In the end however, all three offered help, so I had initial appointments with all. It became clear that they all had slightly different approaches, so actually it was very good in that I learned about the different ways of dealing with my issues. What followed was a series of counselling sessions, some face-to-face, and some by telephone, and in the next paragraphs I’ll say something about what was covered.

One of the first approaches I encountered was Mindfulness. This approach has its origins with Buddhism and meditation, although it has since shed the mystic/religious aspect. Mindfulness is all about learning to observe your thoughts, including the troublesome ones, and rather than immediately respond to them, you can choose to let them pass. It helps to master a form of meditation which is based on deep breathing, and concentrating entirely on the act of breathing, and learning that thoughts are only passing phenomena. Having learned about it, I am now trying to master it, but it is difficult! However, I can see how beneficial it could be, so I will persist.

Another counsellor used Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This uses the idea that thoughts influence behaviour, so if you can, say, categorise worries into practical and hypothetical ones, you can stop worrying about hypothetical ones, and find solution to practical ones. It also suggests that if one has recurrent worries, you set aside a ‘worry time’ each day to take back control. I have used this latter approach quite effectively.

The telephone-base counselling sessions turned out to be the best of all. I had 6 45-minute sessions, and the counsellor believed in using a combination of approaches, including CBT and Mindfulness. This proved very beneficial to me, as it encouraged me to tailor the different approaches to my needs.

Now, with the new Academic Year in full swing, I am pleased to say that, generally speaking, I am in a better state than I was in May. Of course, I haven’t been able to put the different approaches to the test on anything very difficult yet. I have used the ‘worry time’ idea suggested by CBT, and I am trying to use Mindfulness to deal with my worries about the future. I have also recently read ‘10% Happier: How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge and found self-help that actually works’, by Dan Harris, which provides a good illustration of how to apply Mindfulness in a stressful job. I certainly recommend it.

I’ll post again on this in a few months, hopefully to report on positive progress.

Anxieties – travel and otherwise, and their possible origins

With Mental Health Awareness Week just over a week ago, I finally admitted in a Facebook post that I had been suffering from anxiety about travel for many years (which at its worst led me to miss some research trips and conferences). I thought the problem had largely passed, or if not, that I had developed effective coping strategies, but I realised recently as I was contemplating my schedule for the next month or so, that it was definitely still there. I am trying to do something about the anxiety now (I have seen my doctor, I am arranging counselling sessions, using a meditation app etc.)

Discussing with my wife about the possible origins of my anxieties she suggested a number of contributory factors that I had either forgotten about, or didn’t see the connection. It’s all too apparent now. I should say that I am fine with travel within the UK, and it is just when going further, particularly flying, that the problems occur. There are also some non-travel issues that have contributed to these anxieties.

The first of these ‘factors’ was being stopped by US immigration at least 5 times when travelling there for conferences or holidays. Each time it was apparently because my name flagged up – there must be a Robert Jackson out there who is on some alert list. And each time they eventually let me continue my journey after they had established that I was not the person they were concerned about. But this kind of experience does nothing for confidence when travelling! Since it last happened, in 2012, I have a new passport, so if I ever travel to the US again, maybe I’ll be spared the ordeal? Only time will tell.

The next factor concerns my travel in Brazil. I have been there several times for research collaborations and conferences. On more than one occasion my travel plans have been disrupted because of various factors. On one occasion I arrived at Sao Paulo to be told my onward flight to Lisbon and London had been cancelled but they would ‘put me on a flight to Madrid’. There were other occasions like this, none of which helped my confidence. Added to this are the long waiting times and the considerable distances flights cover, which adds to this. Finally even when I last travelled there, English was not widely spoken even in the international airports, making it difficult to get any information. This is a great pity as I love the country, and would like to to go back there!

I also need to mention a trip to South Africa (in 1997) when I was supposed to be doing research collaboration with a colleague in a university there. This trip was very problematical for me, and I ended coming back early. The reasons included less than ideal accommodation, being assigned a student who was not interested in working with me, and the general palpable sense of unease about the place. I only returned there 3 years later because I knew I would be travelling with friends and would always have company.

Moving on to issues related to travel, there is the nightmare that is involved in using an airport now. Everything that is involved, from having get there so early, going through security, etc just makes the whole experience more difficult. As this has got worse my sense of disquiet and alarm has increased, to such an extent that even going to an airport is an ordeal.  Not long ago I set out on a trip to Hannover and was turned away at the departure gate (!) because my passport only had about 4 months validity left on it! This was actually an incorrect interpretation of the rules (I found out later), but didn’t help me at the time. It added to my general disquiet about travel!

Finally, not related to travel is my very personal perception of politics and the UK’s position on the world stage. As an international traveler (well certainly until recently) I am acutely aware of how we are perceived in other countries, which doesn’t make me feel good about travelling. And the political situation locally has dented my confidence. Those that know me will know that I take my politics very seriously. For many years I felt I had a home in the Labour Party, but no more. I tried the LibDems for a while but didn’t find that worked for me either. The consequence is that I feel politically homeless. With Brexit coming up, and my old party ignoring the majority of its members in supporting the government line, I feel detached from everything and depressed about the future. This only feeds my anxieties further.

I hope very much that things will get better, but I am unsure what good counselling can do, as it didn’t really work before. But it does seem my only hope. My doctor has been very helpful, so I am getting support there. My family are wonderfully supportive, but there are limits as to what they can do. Some aspects of my world are very dark at the moment, and I hope to see some light soon.