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Liz Davies, a qualified councillor and spiritual teacher, has worked in the mental health field for 12 years as a psychological well-being practitioner for the NHS, helping people with stress, anxiety and depression management and other common mental health problems. She recently set up Angelic Interventions, which offers workshops and one-to-one sessions combining psychological techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, with spiritual methods such as meditation. I had a chat with Liz about her new practice and the topic of worrying.

RTBB: What made you decide to set up Angelic Interventions? 
Liz Davies: I wanted to spread some knowledge about what people can do to help themselves feel better, and in my own style. Setting up this practice allowed me the freedom to tailor the sessions, and I’ve found that the mixture of the psychological and the spiritual works really well. I’ve always been on the spiritual side and after doing my spiritual teacher course I found that the methods really complemented the psychological work I was doing.  People often get ‘spiritual’ confused with ‘religious’, but they’re very different things. Being spiritual is more about appreciating yourself and the world around you.

RTBB: Why do people worry?
LD: A common reason is that people think that worrying will help them to control the outcome. People have the mistaken belief that it is helpful to worry and that if they don’t, they won’t be able to cope. They then get into a habit of worrying, and we don’t challenge it as it seems natural to us. It’s also about a need for certainty. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable with uncertainty so worrying becomes a way of feeling that you are prepared for the worst. However, uncertainty is part of life, so in a way worrying about the future is quite pointless because it puts us into a state of anxiety and doesn’t solve the problem.

RTBB: What are the negative effects that worrying can have on our lives?
LD: When we’re worrying, we’re basically not living our lives in the moment. When we’re dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, we’re missing out on all the things that we could be enjoying in the present. Our senses are redundant a lot of the time because we’re so wrapped up in our heads or in distractions. When you’re living in the present you’re actually calmer, more alert and able to cope with things easier. If you fully engage yourself in the moment then there’s a lot to be found. The practice of mindfulness talks about paying attention to what’s going on right now by engaging your senses. For example, if you’re doing some work and are worried about the deadline, take a break and mindfully make some coffee. Notice the grains of coffee and sugar, listen to the water as you pour it in, feel the warmth of the mug and appreciate the smell and taste of the coffee. Savour the experience. This can be very relaxing, and if you apply this to your life generally it can lower your anxiety.

RTBB: Can worrying ever be a good thing?
LD: Worrying evolved as a way of helping us to solve our problems. If we weren’t ever anxious about anything or vigilant to any kind of threat, we wouldn’t care about anything and we’d never get anything done. So there’s a certain level of anxiety that we need to keep us on our toes and be able to solve a problem when it comes along. “What if” worries don’t help us because they get you into a spiral of negative thoughts which, in turn, affect your mood, making you feel more down. Catch yourself when you’re getting into a negative loop of worrying and switch your thought process to something that’s going to help you.

RTBB: How can people effectively cope with their worries?
LD: Sometimes it’s not a practical problem that can be solved as it’s out of your control. The best thing to do in that situation is learn to let go of your worry, and accept that it is not helpful to you. There are other things you can do, like distracting yourself in a positive way by doing something you enjoy. Anything creative is brilliant as in gets you into the moment and out of your head. You can also set yourself a ‘worry time’ where spend half an hour at the end of the day going through your worries. Whenever a worry comes to you during the day, write it down and literally worry about it later. Then, when its worry time, you sit down with your list and you might find that some of those things aren’t worrying you anymore. You might also find that some of them are practical problems that you need to solve, in which case you can use that time constructively to work out a solution. It’s also helpful to talk it over with other people. Putting your worries into words, verbally or on paper, can help you process it and even see a way through.

RTBB: How can cognitive behavioural therapy help?
LD: The CBT model says that we can’t change our mood directly but we can change our thoughts and challenge our behaviour. CBT talks about using evidence to question how acceptable the worry is. For example, if you’re worrying about failing an exam you would ask yourself “How many exams have I done well in?”, “How many exams have I worried about but went alright in the end?”. If you find that there’s not much evidence for the worry, you need to come up with a more realistic view of the situation. Accept that you’re nervous and that it’s important for you to do well, but realise that you’ve coped with exams in the past, you’ve revised and you can only do your best. CBT is about changing you irrational thoughts into more balanced and fair thoughts.

RTBB: How can meditation help people relax?
LD: A lot of it’s to do with taking yourself out of your buzzing thoughts and mental chatter, and bringing yourself into your body so that you’re focusing on your breathing, for example. Mindfulness of breathing meditation involves concentrating on each breath whenever your thoughts start to wander, which physically and mentally relaxes yourself. It can help you to learn to bring yourself into the moment and let go of the worries. The time out also helps you to just gain some clarity on things, and you’ll start to feel calmer generally.

RTBB: You mentioned about maintaining balance, how can people maintain a balance in life generally?
LD: One method is the see-saw model. On one side you have your worries and on the other you have your resources – the things that help you cope. If you’ve got a lot of worries, you need to focus more on making sure you’ve got enough resources in place, otherwise the see-saw will tip. It’s common when people are really busy for them to squeeze out the stuff in their life that help them. They think they haven’t got enough time, energy or motivation, so they just don’t bother. Resources can be a range of activities: exercise, mediation, yoga, spending time with friends, music and art. Doing things that you enjoy boosts your energy levels and it helps you to cope better.

RTBB: Anything you’d like to add?
LD: Don’t beat yourself up. The most important thing that I have learned is to be compassionate to yourself. Whatever your habits are, just accept that it’s just a pattern that you’ve fallen into as you were trying to help yourself. Forgive yourself and find a new method for the long term. Then it’s just a matter of doing new things – practicing to live in the moment, learning to let things go and making sure you’ve things in your life that give you a balance and bring you joy.

If you’re in the Brighton area and want to find out more about anxiety or stress management, come along to Liz’ free taster workshop on 11th August. For more information visit http://angelic-interventions.com/