Anxiety setbacks – reader email

Hi! I recently received an email from a reader who asked me about setbacks. She kindly allowed me to post my reply on this blog:


Hi! Thanks for your email. Nice to know someone’s reading! Sorry to hear you are not feeling too good at the moment, I will try to answer your questions as best I can!!!

I have also had setbacks in the past and they are irritating nasty things. But strangely they are your friend.

It can be tempting for people with anxiety to treat anxiety as something outside of themselves which they have no control over. You often hear people say “My anxiety subsided for a while and then came back” or “it comes and goes”. Thinking of anxiety in this way is all well and good if you can let your anxiety do what it wants, and continue with your life regardless. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Claire Weekes, an Australian doctor who advised “acceptance” – just letting your anxiety get on with it and waiting for it to go away while pushing yourself through your life safe in the knowledge that anxiety is harmless. This technique, as part of a wider arsenal, is a good one to learn about, as it can help (and has indeed helped many people). I personally believe that this can be great for cases where anxiety has been learnt and people are scared of quite specific things, like busy supermarkets etc. When anxiety is more complex – coming and going as if it had a life of its own, not being triggered by specific events, being combined with depression – then the above method becomes harder because you can’t just “unlearn” reactions to specific situations.

That is why in more complex cases I believe an analytical approach is better. Understanding what makes you tick and what makes you anxious, and then dealing with causes rather than symptoms (remember that in a simple learnt phobia there is no cause anymore, it is more like a bad habit). So in order to recover you need to understand more about why you have anxiety sometimes.

Let me backtrack. Earlier I said people with anxiety often “treat anxiety as something outside of themselves which they have no control over”. In fact, when it comes to anxiety at least, there is no such thing as random. Feelings and emotions are triggered for reasons. It looks random as we don’t know what those reasons are. But if we can find out, at least in part, then we can control it – and if we can control it we can outgrow it! (I never know whether to say “cure” or not. Certainly you can get to a stage where you get from time to time a small degree of anxiety when you push the wrong buttons – but nothing like what it sounds like you have been suffering).

Setbacks are your friend because they can give you clues as to what is actually at the root of all this. I am sure people have successfully “analyzed” themselves, but I would honestly be inclined to seek the help of a good therapist. I don’t have the magic answers to the questions: which type of therapy is best? And: How long will it take?

Perhaps a Jungian therapists that also uses art to allow communication in non-verbal and non-conscious ways is a good place to start.

I think that you can get to the bottom of all this and as you understand more about yourself you can start to feel better again. Setbacks are normal if you haven’t yet tried to start to understand the causes of your anxiety. You do return to “normal”, that is the old status quo. But why not aim for something higher: actually managing to get over the vast majority of the anxiety in your life.

Please do write back and let me know how you get on and do ask any questions. I would like to include aspects of this email (obviously without any references to you or your precise situation) on my blog. If that is OK with you please drop me a short email to say so!

All the best


If you have any anxiety questions you can email me at

Be Set Free Fast for Anxiety and Phobias

From time to time people ask me if I can recommend a treatment programme for their anxiety, phobias, depression, panic stress related IBS etc etc. For the most part I recommend them the things which I know from personal experience to be helpful but I always advise them that what works for me does not necessarily work for everyone. I suggest they experiment from prescription medicines under the guidance of a sympathetic and knowledgeable doctor. I suggest they seek therapy and also learn some CBT techniques and do Mindfulness Meditation. I also suggest they start to experiment with some alternative solutions, such as acupuncture or EFT. I always add though, that the alternative healthcare sector is awash with charlatans and shrewd business people, who see those people that suffer from issues that may well include low self-esteem as easy prey. I am particularly suspicious of expensive online courses and of techniques with names that sound like they were dreamt up in marketing departments by advertising executives.

Recently someone contacted me for an opinion about Be Set Free Fast (BSFF). I don’t much like the name, it sounds to unscientific. What interested me here though is that a therapist is offering to treat someone for free. They are not doing a no win no fee, or a free introductory session. They are actually offering to treat someone with phobias and anxiety for nothing. I like that, it shows courage of convictions. So, the lucky recipient of this offer has asked me about BSFF and I have to say I don’t know much about it, I was almost unaware of its presence. All I know is that Be Set Free Fast is actually an abbreviation for a much longer moniker:


“Behavioral & Emotional Symptom Elimination Training For Resolving Excess Emotion: Fear, Anger, Sadness & Trauma.”


This is according to the founders webpage,


So, I turn to you. Does anyone here know anything about BSFF? Has anyone tried it or had any experiences positive or negative? Please post a comment on this blog if you have something to add!

The patient who contacted me is going to get back to me towards the beginning of October to let me know what has happened. I will of course keep you posted!


Depression over-diagnosed?

Last week the BBC reported that a leading British psychiatrist, Professor Gordon Parker, had claimed that depression was being over-diagnosed. He suggested that people who are simply a bit unhappy or suffering from short term low mood are being diagnosed by doctors as being depressed.

We should remember that no one feels happy everyday of their lives, and that we the troughs in life, the times which aren’t so good, make us appreciate the good times that much more. Life cannot be a constant high, despite the best attempts of the media and celebrity culture to persuade us otherwise.

So to some extent I would like to agree with Professor Parker. The word depression has become over used and doctors need to be more careful over diagnosis. Certainly the over use of anti-depressants continues to be a problem. And there does seem to be a trend for people to look for solutions to the problems in their lives outside of themselves, either through drugs or by looking for labels to attach to themselves. In truth a lot of these “depressed” people might do better by taking responsibility for their own lives and leaving doctors free to deal with people who are truly depressed.

On the other hand though, I believe many more people are suffering from minor mental illnesses than we recognize. It is quite common to see the effects of depression and stress in everyday life. But increasingly we see adults who are deeply insecure and crave attention, or who act like spoilt children. People who cling to the latest fashions as if they were still fourteen. People who are so wrapped up in themselves that they forget they have other responsibilities as parents, workers, citizens.

I believe a lot of these people are depressed. They don’t really know what they want, who they are, or where they are going. They have no idea of what really makes them tick and they fill the void which is left with consumer goods and showing off. If these people could get into counseling, into therapy, and learn a lot more about themselves the world would be a much better place.