What is …. a phobia

A phobia is an extreme, persistent, overwhelming, debilitating or irrational fear or aversion to something such as a place, object, situation, animal, medical treatment or feeling. It is much more intense than a fear response and can in some case be classed as an anxiety disorder. It is also a persistent event that can reoccur. A phobia can lead to a restricted behaviour pattern to avoid the phobia and have a significant impact on someone’s life, home, job and activates.

Symptoms may include:

  • dizziness and light-headedness
  • nausea
  • sweating
  • increased heart rate/palpitations
  • chest pain
  • chocking
  • shortness of breath or gasping
  • trembling or shaking
  • an upset stomach
  • feelings of unreality
  • preoccupied with the fear object
  • numbness
  • out of control
  • detached
  • overwhelmed

There are many types of phobia but often they fall into 2 categories: specific/simple phobias based on one object or situation – like spiders, or complex phobias – like agoraphobia. Simple/specific phobias often (not always) stem from childhood and adolescence. Complex phobias are more often associated with adult trauma or fear.  

Some examples of specific phobias are: animal phobias – dogs, spiders, snakes; natural environment phobias – heights, water, darkness, germs; situational phobias – flying, the dentist, small spaces or escalators; sexual phobias – sexual acts, fear of STI’s; body-based phobias – blood, vomit/vomiting, needles, choking, medical procedures, childbirth; other phobias can also include foods, objects or costumed characters. Some examples of complex phobias are agoraphobia, social phobia.

Phobias do not have a single or simple cause, there can be a number of associated factors such as association with a traumatic event,  learned response from childhood or watching someone else’s response, a genetic component can also be evidenced, some scholars have even suggested humans can have primal fear responses like those to dark or fire.

What happens in the brain in a phobia reaction? Those areas of the brain that store and recall dangerous or potentially deadly events are triggered by something (spider/height etc) causing to the body to have an inappropriate stress reaction to the object/event. This is because phobias are often linked to the amygdala which lies behind the pituitary gland in the brain, the amygdala triggers the release of fight, flight, freeze hormone reaction.

Phobias are not usually formally diagnosed as most people with a phobia are fully aware of the problem and do not need a medical diagnosis, you already know if you scream at a spider. People often choose to live with their phobia especially if it is something both avoidable and unavoidable like heights or spiders. Others, usually those with complex phobias, may find their phobia debilitating and seek medical/professional help

It has been suggested that almost all phobias can be successfully treated and cured. Simple phobias can be treated with exposure therapy through gradual exposure to the object, animal, place or situation that causes fear and anxiety. Or hypnotherapy can help with simple phobias to alter subconscious beliefs and reactions. Mindfulness can help with relaxation and reduce impact of symptoms. Treating complex phobias often takes longer and involves talking therapies, such counselling, psychotherapy, CBT (identify link between feeling and behaviour and alter this pattern), medication (antidepressants, beta blockers and tranquilisers).

If you are struggling with phobias, would like support with mental health issues or you’d like video, telephone or face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at laura@wrightminds.co.uk or on 07598810304

What is … a panic attack


Let us start with how people describe feeling during a panic attack (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Rapid heart beat
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Trembling or fidgeting limbs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • unreality or detachment
  • Loss of control.
  • Sense of impending death or danger

Why do we react like this? Well when something triggers a panic attack our bodies fall back to their primal response, you may have heard it called fight, flight or freeze. This releases chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol into the body so we are ready to react to whatever the body has perceived as a threat. However, without any threat to react to the body now needs to do something with this flood of unneeded chemical. This causes the symptoms of rapid breathing, sweating, swimming head, tense tummy, rapid heart rate, twitching muscles because the adrenaline and cortisol that tensed muscles and increased heartrate and breathing to run or fight now has muscles that aren’t running or fighting. Thus we are left with adrenaline and other chemical flooding the body causing a reaction with nothing to use them up.

What causes a panic? This is a harder question to answer as the usual answer is something very unique to the person experiencing the panic attack but it can be any number of things such as a trigger (a colour, a sound, a scent, etc), it can be a reaction to a memory or thought process, it can be an upcoming stressful event. Sometimes however, people have no idea what has triggered their panic attack which can make it harder to help avoid causes.

How can we help ourselves? There are several options to help panic attacks. Some medications can offer relief from them – speak to your doctor about these if you feel you need to. Sometimes people find moving around helps to use up the chemicals in their body. Some people find focusing on a calming object such as a pebble, using their senses to focus on the item. Some people find focusing and controlling their breathing helps. Some people find reciting poetry or song lyrics helps them. Some people like sounds or scents to help them focus. Some people count to help themselves. Again the best solution is often as unique as the trigger because each and every one of us is individual in our experiences.

If you are struggling with panic attacks, would like support with mental health issues or you’d like video, telephone or face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at laura@wrightminds.co.uk or on 07598810304

What is …. A Personality Disorder.

I was going to try to type out all the information I had about personality disorders, then I remembered that I have a wonderful factsheet prepared by Rethink Mental Illness. So I decided to share that with you all and offer only a very brief description of a personality disorder so that you can focus on the wonderful work they have already done.


What is a personality disorder? This is when a person thinks, behaves, acts, feels or responds/relates to other people differently to the majority of the population. Each type of personality disorder is different and they symptoms differ due to each disorder as the factsheet explains in detail. Some people with personality disorders can struggle with depression and anxiety, as well as other mental health difficulties.

Mind have also got a really helpful page on Personality Disorders.

Although I am by no means and experts in personality disorders if you would like support with mental health issues or you’d like video, telephone or face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at laura@wrightminds.co.uk or on 07598810304

What is … Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder. Often a PHQ 9 questionnaire is used to help diagnose depression. People can experience depression over a few weeks or months, over a few years or all their life. They may have one episode or repeating episodes throughout their life.  Depression is more than a feeling of ‘fed up’ or ‘miserable’ for a few days as this is a very normal experience for most people to have short periods of low mood. To be diagnosed as clinical depression these feelings of persistent and lasting sadness, hopelessness and unhappiness have to last for weeks or more and are bad enough to significantly disrupt normal functions of your work, social life and family life (doctors sometimes categorise it with mild, moderate and severe labels).

One big question often asked regarding the causes is Genetic/Physical or Life Experience? It is a difficult question to answer. Brain chemistry of depression involving the role of neurotransmitters and chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine, hormones such as thyroxine can be involved. Some research has shown people with depression have slight physical difference in their brain structure as well. Often people who have family members with depression are more prone to depression, but psychologists and scientists are not sure if this is nature (genetics) or nurture (watching and mimicking someone as you grow up).

Some people like to separate depression into types, you may have heard of SAD or Seasonal affective disorder a type of depression that occurs at a particular time of year – usually autumn/winter. Dysthymia a continuous mild depression lasting for two years or more (sometimes called persistent depressive disorder). Prenatal depression (during pregnancy) and Postnatal depression (first year or so after giving birth). Some people class grief as a type of depression, I personally see them as different yet having some similarities based on my experiences having worked as a bereavement specialist, and with people who are depressed.

Depression can be a part of other mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, other personality disorders and schizoaffective disorder to name a few.

image kristina-tripkovic

Symptoms of depression include feeling unhappy or hopeless, low self-esteem and finding no pleasure in things you usually enjoy. Depression can have psychological, physical and social symptoms continuous low mood or sadness. These include feeling (not an exhaustive list):

•          hopeless, pessimistic or helpless

•          low self-esteem

•          tearful

•          guilt-ridden or worthless

•          irritable and intolerant of others cranky and restless

•          having no motivation or interest in things

•          finding it difficult to make decisions

•          not getting any enjoyment or pleasure out of things you normally would

•          anxious or worried

•          suicidal thoughts or self-harming

•          struggling to focus or remember

•          moving or speaking more slowly or more quickly than usual

•          changes in appetite (eating more or less) or weight (gain or loss)

•          constipation

•          unexplained aches and pains

•          lack of energy

•          low sex drive

•          changes to your menstrual cycle

•          disturbed sleep – difficulty falling asleep at night or waking up very early, trouble staying asleep

•          tired or lacking energy

•          avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities

•          neglecting your hobbies and interests

•          having difficulties in your home, work or family life

•          digestive problems

•          “empty” feelings

•          a sense of unreality

•          using more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual

•          delusions, such as paranoia

•          hallucinations, such as hearing voices.

There is no single or unique agreed cause of depression. It is believed depression can occur for a variety of reasons and it has many potential and different triggers. It can be one event or a collection of events, it may even be linked to an illness. Some of these ‘causes’ can include:

•          Personality /Family history – certain personality traits may make people more vulnerable to feeling depression, possibly due to genetics, or your early life experiences, or both.

•          Giving birth – hormonal and physical changes, as well as new responsibility could possibly trigger pre/postnatal depression.

•          Loneliness – sometimes caused by feeling low and stressful events/occurrences leading us to isolate from friends and family perpetrating the depression.

•          Alcohol and drugs – drugs such as cannabis can trigger depression, particularly in teenagers, while alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain, which increases the risk of depression (please see previous blog posts about drugs and alcohol).

•          Illness – evidence shows there is a potential higher risk of depression if you have a longstanding or life-threatening illness, such as coronary heart disease, cancer, underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), or damaged pituitary gland, or if you suffer a head injury they can sometimes trigger mood swings and emotional problems. A chemical imbalance or hormone issue, conditions affecting the brain and nervous system, menstrual cycle or the menopause, low blood sugar.

•          Childhood experiences – physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, bereavement, traumatic events, an unstable family situation, bullying

•          Low self-esteem – how you learned to cope with difficult emotions and situations can make you feel less able to cope with life’s ups and downs and lead to failing coping mechanisms.

•          Life events – such as losing your job or unemployment; the end of a relationship; bereavement; major life changes, like changing job, moving house or getting married; being physically or sexually assaulted; being bullied or abused; trauma; illness. It takes time for people to come to terms with events, such as these. If these happen consecutively some people may feel they spiral into depression.

•          Sleep problems, a poor diet, lack of exercise can also lead to depression and altered body chemistry.

•          Other mental health problems and illness such as anxiety; eating problems; PTSD; bi-polar; personality disorders.

Treatment for depression usually involves a combination of lifestyle changes, talking therapies and medicines such as SSRI commonly known as anti-depressants (please see earlier blog post about medications for more information). A good place to start would be your doctor or speaking to a therapist.

If you are struggling with depression or would like support with mental health issues or you’d like video, telephone or face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at laura@wrightminds.co.uk or on 07598810304

Mindfulness Extra

These are some Mindfulness activities I learnt on my mindfulness training. I hope they offer some ideas to you.

The 4 A’s in Mindfulness to help with stress.


AVOID – avoid unnecessary stress, eg stressful people/situations if you can, say no if you can to the cause of stress, must and should are different words and be sure if it is a choice not a pressure.

ALTER – if you can’t avoid a stressful situation can you alter it? Can you alter how you act, feel, respond to the situation. Compromise.

ADAPT – if you can’t change the stress cause change how you think about it – eg reframe the thought, rethink the problem, refocus on the issues differently, review the big picture. It is not raining it is watering the plants, it’s not bad weather if you wear a waterproof coat etc

ACCEPT – sometimes you can’t change things, don’t focus on the immovable, think what can alter in you, how accept it and grow from it.

10 Mindfulness tips.

  1. Do one thing at a time
  2. Do things slowly and deliberately (focused)
  3. Do less (don’t overfill your day, you’ll end up doing more)
  4. Leave space (don’t feel rushed)
  5. Spend a few minutes every few hours doing nothing
  6. Focus on the present
  7. Be present with people
  8. Eat, walk, act, mindfully (slow, focused, deliberate)
  9. Cultivate compassion and gratitude
  10. Do not judge

If you would like support with Mindfulness, or other mental health issues or you’d like video, telephone or face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at laura@wrightminds.co.uk or on 07598810304

New Location

Here is our new address: Room 7, The Annexe, The Old Police Station, Water Street, Newcastle-under-Lyme, ST5 1HN.

The office is situated about a 10 to 15 minute walk outside Newcastle town centre next to the Borough Arms Hotel.

It has some parking on the road in front of the building but it also has a good sized public car park just to the rear marked on the map as King Street Car Park. There are multiple bus stops nearby and Newcastle bus station is a 5 to 10 minute walk away.

In addition after 4 years, due to rising costs, we are announcing a price increase to £40 a session starting 1st Oct 2021.

What is …. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an outlook or mind-set, it is how we view and interpret the world around us. Mindfulness helps us create a purposeful, present, calm, emotionally-aware, non-judgmental mind-set.

Mindfulness was born out of Buddhism and the mind of John Kabat-Zinn. Buddhism seeks enlightenment, or deep understanding of the world and ourselves using focus on the body, breathing and meditation (this is a very brief description of the complexities of Buddhism and I highly recommend you explore it further if you are interested). Mindfulness is based on the idea of acceptance, inner-peace and wisdom.

When asked about the difference of Meditation and Mindfulness I often say Meditation in Buddhism is about a clear and free mind, whereas Mindfulness is about control of thoughts and emotions within the mind (again let me stress I am simplifying a complex subject for a basic blog exploration).

Mindfulness can offer a greater insight into ourselves, and our clarity of experience. It can improve problem solving as it helps us slow down and investigate our thoughts and responses. It helps improve concentration and reaction as our minds are less cluttered. It allows us better acceptance of ourselves and events, often leading to improved enjoyment as we are able to focus more on positives than negatives thus making us less self-critical.

 A key part to Mindfulness is often our imaginations and the power they hold to help calm and focus us. To be compassionate and grateful with ourselves and others.

The three key concepts of Mindfulness are: awareness (of self, emotions, thoughts and other people), non-judgment (of self and others) and being present in the now (not the memories of past or the worries of future).

There are many parts to Mindfulness, including mindful meditation, transcendental meditation, music meditation, guided meditation, group mindfulness, waking or doing meditation,

Mindfulness can help with a number of things including: anxiety, depression, OCD, panic attacks, addiction.

One key idea in Mindfulness you might like to try is this brief emotion flow:

Notice – how do you feel?

Name – Name the emotion/s.

Accept – accept the emotion, the cause etc, don’t try to fight it.

Investigate – what affect is it having on your body/thoughts?

Allow and release – notice thoughts, release judgement, breath and be in the now.

If you would like support with Mindfulness, or other mental health issues or you’d like video, telephone or face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at laura@wrightminds.co.uk or on 07598810304

What is … OCD

Positive Thinking

Obsessions, habitual worrying, compulsions and repetitive behaviours are often termed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD.

These behaviours to some extent are normal parts of being human, everyone has habits and routines to help them remember things, such as putting the key on the hook when locking the door, or always filling the drinks before laying the table. Everyone creates a story in their minds to deal with a difficult situation.

The issues arise when we start to use these behaviours to regulate unwanted feelings or thoughts. When we take undue comfort in the familiarity of habits to keep us safe. Such as if I check the tap I will not flood the house, if I don’t turn off the TV the house will burn down so I am safe if I check the TV. This means more checking makes us feel more secure, so we can get to a stage where we have to check a dozen times to get the secure feeling.

Sometimes we create these actions or compulsions to avoid unwanted thoughts or feelings, to rescript bad times in our lives, to avoid the present events, relationships, feelings. To help us predict outcomes so we feel safer, or more stable, to give us a feeling of control or to mitigate feared/imagined negative outcomes.

If we can understand the underlying cause, meaning or event that created the behaviour or routine then we can re-write the script that is causing it and hopefully reduce to impact of the OCD.

If you would like support with OCD, or other mental health issues or you’d like video, telephone or face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at laura@wrightminds.co.uk or on 07598810304

What is … Anxiety?

Anxiety is an uncomfortable or unpleasant feeling. It can be described as a feeling of uneasiness, apprehension, worry, or fear. It can also have physical symptoms such as shaking, feeling like your heart is beating stronger or faster, sweating, tense or aching muscles, fidgeting, sleep issues, eating issues, rapid/shallow breathing, nausea and dizziness.

Anxiety is an emotional reaction in response to your body’s perception of a vague or unknown or perceived threat.

Anxiety is part of our primal human fright, flight or freeze response and releases adrenaline into our system to ready us to response to the ‘threat’ we perceive or sense. It is to keep us safe.

Sometimes our anxiety response is triggered by things in the modern world that don’t require the fright, flight or freeze response and we can find this is where anxiety becomes a problem for us as high levels of anxiety can prevent us from functioning in our normal way.

Psychologist’s hypothesis there may be many triggers such as genetics, environmental factors, brain chemistry, medical issues (side effects form illness or medication) or side effects from substance abuse.

There are several types of anxiety including social anxiety, post-traumatic stress, obsessive compulsive disorders, phobias, panic disorders.

The most common treatments are medications and talking therapies, used alone or in conjunction with each other. You’ve probably heard of SSRI’s which are a type of anti-anxiety medication that works on serotonin use (see previous blog post for more details). There are also drugs such as benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, pregabalin and propranolol. There are also talking therapies such as cognitive therapies like CBT, art therapy, person centered therapy, exposure therapy and psychoanalytical therapy.   There are holistic treatments such as mindfulness, meditation, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, yoga and acupuncture.

If you would like support with anxiety, or other mental health issues or you’d like video, telephone or face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at laura@wrightminds.co.uk or on 07598810304

What is … A series

Over the next few months I intend to a write a ‘What is …’ blog. This will be a series of brief blogs giving basic and simple information about more commonly experienced mental health issues including the following topics:

What is anxiety

What is depression

What is mindfulness and meditation

What is imposter syndrome

What is a panic attack

What is a phobia

What is PTSD

If you would like support with any of the above mental health issues or you’d like video, telephone or face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at laura@wrightminds.co.uk or on 07598810304