Category Archives: Anxiety Articles

Concise articles about how childhood trauma is linked to the development of various anxiety disorders, including : generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex postraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD), health anxiety and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

Stress Contagion : Study On Effects Of Maternal Stress On Babies

Obviously I do not remember being a baby, and, because of this, I have often been concerned about how my mother’s ever dramatically fluctuating emotional states and bouts of hysteria may have had on my psyvhological development. The study I describe below would seem to justify that concern.

The study to which I refer was conducted by Waters et al., 2014 (at the University of California, San Francisco) suggests that a mother’s stress is contagious when she is interacting with her infant in a way that can affect the baby’s physiological reactivity.

In other words, according to the study, babies can pick up on, and attune to, the mother’s anxious state and, as a result of this, display physical symptoms of stress themselves that mirror her symptoms.

This transmission of the mother’s emotions to her baby is also sometimes referred to as ’emotional synchronicity.’

This reciprocal response can not only adversely affect the baby in the short term, but in the long term, too.


70 mothers were involved in the study together with their one-year-old babies.

The mothers were then split into 3 groups by the researchers :

The preliminary part of the experiment involved the mothers in each of the three groups having to give a 5 minute speech in front of two evaluators and then undertake a 5 minute ‘question and answer’ session.

GROUP ONE : This group was provided with POSITIVE feedback by the evaluators.

GROUP TWO : This group was provided with NEGATIVE feedback by the evaluators.

GROUP THREE : This group were not provided with any feedback by the evaluators.

Stress Contagion : Study On Effects Of Maternal Stress On Babies 1

Results :

After the mothers had given their speeches, undertaken their ‘question and answer’ session and received (or not received, as in the case of GROUP 3) their feedback they were reunited with their babies. At this stage, too, both mothers and their babies had their heart rate monitored.

As predicted, it was found that the mothers in GROUP 2 (who had received the NEGATIVE FEEDBACK) had significantly higher levels of stess (as measured by self report and heart monitor indications) than the mothers in GROUP 1 and GROUP 3.

Also as predicted, it was found that the babies reunited with the GROUP 2 mothers themselves showed higher levels of stress as measured by their heart monitors compared to the babies reunited with mothers from GROUPS 1 and 3. Furthermore, the higher the levels of stress measured in the GROUP 2 mothers, the higher the levels of their babies stress tended to be.

This supports the hypothesis that maternal stress is transmitted to their babies and, as such, can be described as CONTAGIOUS.

Conclusion :

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this study is that if even a mother’s stress that has been generated by a relatively trivial event such as, in this experiment, receiving negative feedbak for a speech, can significantly adversely affect the baby at a physiological level, what effects can much more intense and chronic states of anxiety and stress in the mother have on the baby? Future research should help to answer this question although, clearly, it would be entirely unethical for researchers to experimentally induce such states in mothers making it more difficult to investigate,

Of cousrse, a certain amount of maternal stress is inevitable and normal but it is when maternal stress reaches toxic levels and / or is chronic that it can start to adversely affect the baby’s development, including his or her brain development.



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Surprising Study On Reduction Of Negative, Obsessional Thoughts

We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that it is far from uncommon for those who have suffered significant childhood trauma to suffer obsessive, negative ruminations relating to the self as adults that become habitual and automatic. Frequently, too, these negative thoughts are irrational and unrealistic and researchers Gladding and  Schwartz have referred to them as deceptive brain messages.

In their book, entitled : You Are Not Your Brain, Gladding and  Schwartz provide examples of such intrusive and obstinately tenacious deceptive brain messages that include :

They argue that, in order to reduce such negative thinking it is necessary to take advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity (i.e. its ability to change itself) to ‘rewire’ it.  In order to achieve this, they recommend their FOUR STEP treatment method. The four steps are as follows :

  1. RELABEL the negative thoughts in a way which disempowers them (i.e. by labelling them as deceptive brain messages).
  2. REFRAME attitude towards these deceptive brain messages by viewing them as unimportant and false.
  3. REFOCUS attention, even whilst being aware of these deceptive brain messages, to a productive and positive activityor mental process.
  4. REVALUE : adopt a dismissive attitude towards the negative thoughts (aka deceptive brain messages) as having little or no value.

Of course, this is very much a simplification of their treatment method, and, to read about it fully, it would be necessary to read their book (see below). Also, a caveat is that the researchers advise that the method is only suitable for those who are suffering mild to moderate symptoms, rather than those with very serious conditions.

Nevertheless, for the purposes of this article it is not necessary to have read about the method in great detail as I only wish to focus on a study, conducted at UCLA, that revealed that those suffering from OCD could be helped by the treatment method outlined above in a surprising (and very encouraging) way.



The purpose of the Four Step method is, as alluded to above, to rewire the brain in a beneficial way through the focusing of attention and, to test the hypothesis that this is possible, the study (referred to above) was conducted involving individuals who suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD) and experienced continual, negative, repetitive intrusive thoughts which caused them distress.These individuals were then split into two groups, as described below :

GROUP ONE : These individuals were treated with MEDICATION.

GROUP TWO : These individuals were treated by learning the Four Step method (described above).

In order to measure the effectiveness of the treatment given to the participants from each group, each participant underwent a brain scan BEFORE the treatment and, also, TEN TO TWELVE WEEKS after their particular type of treatment (either medication or the Four Step method)


It was found that the GROUP TWO (the Four Step method group) participants’ brains were positively changed JUST AS EFFECTIVELY as the brains of participants in GROUP ONE (the medication group).

These results add to the now overwhelming body of evidence that, due to its neuroplasticity, the brain can undergo beneficial biological changes in response to therapies that train the individual, over a period of time, to intensely refocus his / her attention (in connection to this, you may also be interested in reading my previously published article on mindfulness meditation).


Even more encouragingly, a follow-up staudy conducted in Germany found that participants suffering from OCD experienced a statistically significant reduction in their symptoms JUST BY LISTENING TO A CD THAT EXPLAINED THE FOUR STEP METHOD. This finding adds to the pool of evidence showing that psychoeducation alone can be helpful to individuals suffering from mental health problems.

This suggests that just understanding what our mental health problem is, and how therapy can potentially help us, in and of itself, may help to ameliorate some mental health conditions

You can view more details about Gladding and  Schwartz’s book by clicking below :

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Neurofeedback And Reducing Activity In Brain’s Fear Circuitry.

According to Mobbs, the brain consists of two areas involved in how we experience fear as shown below :

It is becoming increasingly recognized that overactivity in the brain’s fear circuitry may be of fundamental relevance to not only complex-PTSD and PTSD, but to many other psychiatric disorders as well and it clearly follows, therefore, that damping down the over-intensity of neuronal firing in this part of the brain may be key to effective therapy for the treatment of a whole array mental health issues. In relation to this, there is mounting excitement about how NEUROFEEDBACK can benefit many individuals who suffer from acute psychological distress.

  • the reactive-fear circuit
  • the cognitive-fear circuit

Let’s look at each of these in turn :


This circuit deals with threats that are IMMEDIATE and require an instant reaction (namely, activation of the ‘fight or flight’ response) ; it involves the interconnection between two areas of the brain as shown below :

  • the periaqueductal gray
  • midcingulate cortex


This circuit deals with threats that DO NOT require an immediate response, allowing us time to consciously consider the risk they pose to us and how we should respond to them ; this circuit involves connections between the following brain areas :


Mobbs asserts that the relationship between these two brain regions can be compared to the two ends of a see-saw ; in other words, as one goes up, the other comes down, which means :

  • The more activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes.

And the reverse is also true, so :

  • The more activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes.
Neurofeedback And Reducing Activity In Brain's Fear Circuitry. 2

Relevance To Those Who Have Suffered Childhood Trauma :

As we have seen from many other articles that I have already published on this site, if we have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma we are at increased risk of developing various disorders as adults (such as comples PTSD and borderline personality disorder) which are underpinned by having oversensitive and overactive fear-response circuitry and, correspondingly, underactive cognitive-response circuitry.

What Is Neurofeedback ?

Neurofeedback is biofeedback for the brain and neuro-counsellors can provide their patients with such feedback simply by using special, computer software.

The neurofeedback the patients receive allow them to become aware of their brain function frequencies and how these relate to different emotional states.

How Does Neurofeedback Help Adults Suffering From The Effects Of Childhood Trauma?

Armed with this information, and by continuing to learn from the neurofeedback their brains provide them with (via the software mentioned above), the patients can then, gradually, be trained to exercise control over their brain wave activity (for example, by soothing it with visualization techniques, breathing exercises or calming thoughts etc.). With enough training, the patients’ dysregulated brains can be helped to heal and to become less fear-driven.

This results in the reactive-fear circuit become less sensitive and active which, in turn, provides the cognitive-fear circuit, as it were, ‘more room to manoeuvre.’ In this way, irrational feelings of fear that were originally being driven by the (unthinking and automatic) reactive-fear circuit can now be more soberly and rationally considered by the (reflective and thinking) cognitive-fear circuit and, therefore, more easily be dismissed as unwarranted, made impotent and deprived of their power to cause us anguish.

It should also be noted, however, that whilst a lot of excitement has been generated around this method of treatment, it is still early days and more research is needed to determine the extent of its effectiveness and to which disorders its application is best suited.

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Neurofeedback And Reducing Activity In Brain's Fear Circuitry. 3

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Reducing Anxiety By Calming The Amygdala

We have seen from other articles published on this site that severe and protracted childhood trauma, resulting in the child being frequently subjected to extreme stress, can damage the development of the part of the brain known as the amygdala, which is intimately involved in generating feelings of fear and anxiety.

Indeed, in individuals who have experienced such serious childhood trauma that they have gone on to develop complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD), the amygdala has been found to be overactive ; this can result in the affected person feeling constantly ‘on edge. hypervigilant, fearful, and, as it were, stuck on ‘red-alert’ / in a state of ‘fight or flight,’ with accompanying unpleasant bodily sensations such as a racing heart, rapid and shallow breathing (sometimes referred to as ‘hyperventilation), tense muscles, an unsettled stomach and nausea. Indeed, it is these very bodily symptoms that feed back to the brain leading to the perception of being afraid.

Reducing Anxiety By Calming The Amygdala 4


An overactive amygdala is not only associated with complex PTSD ; it has also been found to be associated with depressive and (as one, of course, would expect) anxiety disorders (e.g. Dannlowski et al., 2007).


Fortunately, another part of the brain, known as the prefrontal cortex (which is involved in planning complex cognitive behavior, rational, logical and abstract thought, speech, decision making, reappraisal of situations, active generative visualization and moderating social behavior) can be harnessed to inhibit the overactivity of the amygdala, thus calming it to allow symptoms of anxiety to dissipate and dissolve away.


If we suffer from PTSD or complex-PTSD we are prone to experience extreme fear and anxiety when it is not, objectively speaking, warranted. And, when we become fearful we can become locked into the fight / flight state, causing our body’s oxygen to be diverted to our muscles (particularly in out arms and legs) so that we may fight or flee more effectively. However, this reduces the amount of oxygen available to the prefrontal cortex which, in turn, means that we are limited in our ability to think rationally so that we are unable to reassure ourselves that the danger we perceive is not objectively justified, and, therefore, we are also unable to inhibit our amygdala’s overactivity.


In this fearful state, we need to control our breathing so that sufficient oxygen can reach the prefrontal cortex to allow it to function optimally ; we can achieve this by breathing in a relaxed and slow manner, and, when exhaling, breath out slowly from the stomach so that the diaphragm moves upwards to increase the pressure on the lungs and heart to expel air. This type of breathing beneficially affects the part of the brain stem known as the medulla which, in turn, sends signals along the vagus nerve, leading to increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system and decreased activity of the sympathetic nervous system : in combination, this produces feelings of relaxation and ameliorates feelings of stress and anxiety.


To calm the amygdala further, we can also take advantage of the prefrontal cortex’s ability to visualization (see above) and undertake sessions of relaxing, guided imagery either with a therapist or using self-hypnosis.


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Reducing Anxiety By Calming The Amygdala 5


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Reducing The Pain Associated With Being Stuck In ‘Fight / Flight’ Mode.

We have seen how the experience of severe and protracted childhood trauma can damage the development of the brain’s amygdala, leaving us, as adults, prone to chronic anxiety and a sense of being ‘stuck on red alert’ / trapped in a state of perpetual ‘fight or flight.’ Indeed, being locked into this state of hypervigilance is a hallmark of complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) which some victims of childhood trauma go on to develop.

Such a state, as I know from my own experience, can be intensely painful and affect one on four levels :

  • a cognitive level
  • a behavioral level
  • an emotional level
  • a physical level

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

According to Pullins, 2016, these four levels may be associated with the following types of pain :


  • proneness to interpreting people and situations negatively even when objectively unwarranted
  • proneness to view others as hostile even when not objectively warranted
  • a preoccupation with pain
  • dysfunctional alterations of personality
  • distortion of perception of personal control (this can involve both underestimation and overestimation)


  • irritability and hostility
  • social withdrawal
  • avoidance


  • fear, anxiety, panic, chronic worry
  • depression
  • proneness to explosive rage


  • shaking
  • sweating
  • loss of libido
  • muscle tension
  • insomnia
  • vision disorders


According to Pullins, in order to reduce the above types of pain generated by being ‘stuck’ in the ‘fight / flight survival mode’, and the distress that it causes, it is necessary for us to : REDUCE THE OVER-ACTIVITY OF OUR SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM.

In order to achieve this, it is necessary to INCREASE THE ACTIVITY OF THE PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM (so that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system return to an optimal level of balance) which is CONDUCIVE TO FEELINGS OF REST AND RELAXATION.


Reducing The Pain Associated With Being Stuck In 'Fight / Flight' Mode. 6

Pullins suggests we can help ourselves achieve this balance, and, thus, free ourselves from being permanently locked into the pain-inducing fight / flight state, through the following activities :

  • mindfulness meditation
  • relaxation techniques
  • diaphragmatic breathing
  • engaging with others socially
  • undertaking meaningful activities persistently and with pacing
  • undertaking pleasurable activities / hobbies
  • writing about our thoughts and feelings in a journal
  • distracting our attention from an unremittingly negative focus
  • reframing pain
  • positive self-talk
  • verbal communication


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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

How To Deal With Fear

How To Deal With Fear 7

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1) GET TO THE ROOT OF THE FEAR – often, when we are afraid of something, it is not the actual thing itself we are really afraid of, but what it represents to us on an unconscious level. Sometimes, if we take a little time to analyze the fears that we have, we realize that the thing we think we are afraid of is actually triggering a memory of something in the past which frightened us.

2) STOP AND ANALYZE AGGRESSION AND ANGER – some people seem to be angry all the time (in fact, that is not entirely inapplicable to me). Sometimes, displays of anger and aggression can be a mask for underlying feelings of powerlessness (again, some might argue this is not utterly untrue of old muggings here). Sometimes, then, we get angry in an attempt to hide (not just from others, but from ourselves) our inner feelings of fear.

3) OVERCOMING THE FEAR OF SUCCESS : this may sound a rather odd one, but, in fact, it is far from uncommon. It often exists only on a sub-conscious level. But why, I hear you ask, should somebody be afraid of success ? Well, there are generally taken to be two main reasons – the first is that sometimes we need to take risks in order to be successful, and many people don’t want to put at risk the limited success they may already enjoy. The second is that often people fear the pressures and responsibilities success can bring with it.

4) DESENSITIZATION : this is a technique whereby we expose ourselves to our fear in gradual stages to ‘get used to it’. A simple example would be someone who is afraid of heights. They may start off by going to the second floor of a building a few times and looking down from its balcony, and they would gradually progress to the 4th, then 6th, then 8th floor, and so on, until, by the end of the desensitization process, they are able to look over the balcony on, say, the 30th floor.

5) CREATE A PERSONAL MANTRA : people have been doing this for thousands of years ; ideally, by saying the phrase (whatecver it happens to be) it should make you feel strong and confident. The English comedy character Delboy, for example, has the mantra, ‘He who dares wins’, perhaps a rather silly example, although it was originally used by the elite British fighting force the S.A.S.

6) EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT YOUR PARTICULAR FEARS – this is one of the most important things you can do in relation to overcoming fears. You can start by researching just one or two fears. For the purpose, there are academic materials available on the internet. These will provide a wealth of knowledge about what causes them. Remember, knowledge is power – the more that you know about what is causing your fears, and the more you teach yourself strategies to overcome them, the less frightening they will become.

7) ASSUME THAT YOU WILL BE SUCCESSFUL – when undertaking a particular task, or when trying to solve a problem, ASSUME THAT YOU WILL SUCCEED AT IT. Research demonstrates that there is a positive correlation between levels of expectation of success and success itself. A negative attitude, in contrast, will put you at a disadvantage from the word go.

8) LIVE IN THE MOMENT – Of course, it is necessary for all of us to plan for the future ; however, thinking about the future too much can very easily become a source of fear. This is especially true for those of us who suffer from anxiety conditions. To avoid this, we can train ourselves to live more fully in the present, as a young child engrossed in play does so naturally (we find it harder as we get older). The more that we practice doing this, the easier it becomes.

9) STAY BUSY – When we are busy it is necessary for us to focus and concentrate on the task in hand and stops us having morbid thoughts. Busy fingers are happy fingers!

10) ENDURE A DIFFICULT SITUATION – By making yourself remain in a situation which makes you uncomfortable, such as, for example, an awkward and stressful social situation, you will usually find it becomes more tolerable and perhaps (god forbid!) enjoyable. Set yourself mini-endurance challenges like this – the more you are able to get through uncomfortable situations, the less anxiety provoking they will become.

11) ENGAGE A DIFFERENT PART OF THE BRAIN : this is a most effective method which has the effect of SHORT CIRCUITING THE FEAR RESPONSE. Using a higher level of brain function (e.g playing chess against a computer or even mentally running through some mental maths) will largely disengage the emotional part of the brain and engage, instead, a higher level of consciousness. Alternatively, try to mentally relive, in detail, a pleasurable past event from memory.

12) EXERCISE  :  Research has shown that getting moderate physical exercise (even as little as 20 minutes per day) is of enormous benefit to both physical and mental health.

13) TRY TO FIND HUMOUROUS ANGLES TO APPROACH PROBLEMS FROM :  this is extremely good when dealing with fear as it is almost impossible to be frightened of something when you are laughing at it. The brilliant film director Woody Allen has said that his sense of humour acts as a defense mechanism (I recommend his films – a good one to start with is Manhattan).American comic genius Woody Allen

14) Don’t allow you fears to exaggerate a situation – try to consider the situation in which you find yourself in as realistic a way as possible. In particular, watch out for fears over-riding your rational mind (which is the main reason they become overwhelming. This used to happen to me – all the time and in a very extreme way.

15) DRINK LESS ALCOHOL – drinking large amounts of alcohol effects judgment and often causes fears – especially the next day when hung-over, spiral out of control. There is a danger of long-term, excessive drinking leading to delusions and paranoia.

16) REDEFINE YOURSELF – we are all changing every day (as our brain is changing day by day according to what it is experiencing and how it interprets what it is experiencing, there is nothing to stop us from consciously working on that change in a focused manner. Reducing fears, and leaving some behind altogether, can be one of those changes.






Whenever you feel afraid it is worth repeating this mantra (if possible, out loud)

18) TRY TAKING SOME SMALL RISKS : In life, if we wish to make progress, it is necessary to take some risks. Obviously, though, large, foolish risks are to be avoided !



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Effects Of Unpredictable Stress


Many children who grow up in dysfunctional family homes find themselves living in a state of hypervigilance, never knowing how their parents are going to respond to them at any given time (for example, this is often the case in homes where one or both parents are alcoholics or in homes where the parents are subject to dramatic mood swings and outbursts of explosive rage (perhaps due to substance abuse or to mental illness). In other words, such children live in environments in which they are frequently exposed to severely stressful events but are unable to predict when such events will occur.

A study conducted by J.M Weiss (1971) was conducted to investigate the somatic (i.e. bodily) effects of unpredictable stressors on rats.

How was the study carried out?

In the study, the rats were split into two groups :

  • GROUP ONE : The rats in this group were given UNPREDICTABLE electric shocks (the stressor)
  • GROUP TWO : The rats in this group were also given electric shocks (each shock that the rats in this group received were of exactly the same intensity and duration as the shocks that the rats in group one received – HOWEVER, the shocks given to the rats in this group were PREDICTABLE (a warning signal was given immediately prior to the application of each shock).

So, to summarize :



Were The Somatic (Bodily) Effects On The Rats Different According To Which Group They Were In?

Yes. The rats in Group One (who were subjected to UNPREDICTABLE STRESSORS) suffered greater adverse somatic stress reactions than the did rats in Group Two (who were subjected to PREDICTABLE STRESSORS).


Somatic stress reactions shown by the rats included :

  • changes in body weight
  • stomach ulceration
  • effects upon plasma corticosterone concentration


Similarly, living in an environment in which one is exposed to unpredictable stress can seriously, negatively impact on a young person’s psychological develpopment. Indeed, studies show that parents who treat their children in harsh and unpredictable ways, especially when the child is in an emotionally distressed state, increase these children’s risk becoming emotionally deregulated and unable to cope effectively with stress.

Such children may also be placed at risk of developing various physical problems such as obesity.



One method to help us overcome our vulnerability to the harmful effects of stress was developed by the psychologist Meicenbaum (1985) ; the method is a form of psychotherapy known as stress inoculation training (SIT).

Stress Inoculation Training: 

This therapy is intended to help the individual prepare in advance for potentially stressful situations, increasing his/her resistance to stress, together with his/her ability to manage it.


Stress inoculation therapy (SIT) involves the patient undertaking three specific stages. These are as follows:

1) Conceptualization

2) Skills Acquisition and Rehearsal

3) Application and Follow Through

Let’s look at each of these in turn:


The patient is encouraged to view the stressor as a challenge to be overcome (as opposed to an insurmountable problem).

S/he is taught to differentiate between what can and what can’t be changed about this challenging situation what can, then to accept what can’t be changed and to focus what can be changed (such as his/her response to it).

S/he is also encouraged to become aware that anticipating not being able to cope with the challenging situation can frequently become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Once the patient has reconceptualized the potential stressor, s/he is taught skills intended to enable him/her to deal with it in the most effective manner possible. Skills s/he is taught will vary according to individual needs but may include:

– relaxation techniques

emotional regulation (ie control)

– cognitive restructuring/cognitive reappraisal (eg viewing the situation, and the self, in a more positive way)

social skills 

communication skills

The therapist also helps the patient rehearse for the upcoming potentially stressful situation(eg through visualization exercises and role play)


This simply involves putting the above into practice. Sometimes the therapist may utilize a method known as systematic desensitization which involves the patient first being exposed to only a mildly challenging situation, then gradually being exposed to increasingly challenging situations until the patient has mastered his/her fear.


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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


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