Neil Hughes: A New Plan for Anxious Feelings – Escape the Custard! (Transcript)

Next time I’ll choose something different, and over time, I’ll learn some things I can do. There are useful ways of getting out of these loops, these traps.

The third key feature of custard traps, you may have guessed, is that they’re habitual. So, they’re difficult to escape in the moment, but we keep falling into them in the first place because they’re habits. Now, I’m no brain scientist, but I do know that our brains are constantly forming physical pathways, they are essentially rewiring themselves all the time, and this makes us prone to habits.

So, it becomes instinct for me to go from, “Oh, there’s a slight pain on my left leg,” to, “That’s definitely a blood clot! I’m on the verge of death!” This link between these two concepts has been strengthened in my brain through habitual repetition. And, therefore, what we need to do is to have a really long-term outlook.

Oh, my goodness! We need to learn to replace these habits in the long term, and this is about learning what it feels like to dip our toes in the custard, what it feels like just as we’re entering a custard trap. For me, there are physical sensations. I get a stab in the chest, a fizz in the brain. There are also situational triggers. I know everything involving my health is likely to send me into one of these anxious traps.

For other people, maybe it’s social situations, fear of contamination, any of a million different things. But once we’ve learned what these triggers are for us and what it feels like to be getting stuck into one of these loops, we can use that itself as a trigger to do something positive.

So, as I feel myself falling into a trap, that reminds me to take some positive action, something really quick and easy. Maybe I’ll drink a glass of water or phone a friend, meditate for ten seconds or relive a sporting triumph. I mean, not one of mine, obviously; just one I’ve seen.

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But the point is to associate something positive with what was formerly negative, and, over time, this can replace the habit. It’s like laying a foundation over the custard and transforming it into solid ground. Did this sound a bit too easy? It probably should. It’s good to be suspicious of easy answers to tough problems, and anxiety is a really tough problem. I’ve only touched the surface of the mind management aspects of it today, but there are also chemical aspects, social aspects, situational aspects.

Mind management is a really good one to focus on because we can always take more control over what’s happening in our minds. But it is difficult, and I’ve actually got a highly scientific graph here of exactly how difficult it is. In the beginning, things might be quite tough. And then we make a decision to stop doing something about it, to make it to solid ground, and for a while, things actually get worse. It’s because previously we were using all of our energy just staying afloat; now we’re putting extra energy seeking out solid ground and making our way towards it.

It’s harder for a bit, but there’s a payoff as we learn to start getting better at understanding ourselves, at replacing our habits, at breaking all of these unpleasant cycles. Eventually we start to spend a little more time on solid ground and a bit less time anxiously struggling on the custard. I don’t know if we can ever make it to the bottom of the graph where all is wonderful all the time; I doubt it, but it’d be nice.

But I do believe we can learn to spend more time at peace. I’d love to be able to give you personally the actions that you need to individually take to be less anxious, but these things are so unique to us.

We’ve spent years developing our own individual mental habits, our own personal custard traps, and only we can put in the effort required to escape them. But it’s my hope that, if we’re all a little bit more open and honest about these difficult personal experiences, these tough solo journeys across the custard to solid ground are journeys that we can all make together.

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Thank you very much.

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