Skip to main content


Embrace the S.A.D. cycle and have a lousy life

THE S.A.D. cycle starts with Stress – if you don’t deal with stress it gets worse and becomes Anxiety – if you don’t deal with Anxiety it becomes Depression.

S. + A. = D.

You too can embrace the S.A.D. cycle – all it takes is staying in stressful, unhappy situations and not doing anything about it – that’s all it takes.

For example, you’re unhappy with your job; your boss is on your back, you don’t like your workmates and the work is boring. You constantly think about your awful dead-end job and this makes you feel really uptight.

So far, so good, you’re stressed.

What causes stress and anxiety and why we have two brains

Stress is the first defence mechanism the human race ever had

Once upon a time when the world was young and humans were Arboreal Fructivores (tree dwelling fruit eaters), the world was paradise.  We had virtually no natural enemies, plenty to eat, and all was well with the world.  Until climate change (remind you of anything?).

The forests and jungles shrunk and were replaced by grassy plains that eventually became deserts, there was overcrowding, something had to give.  So Evolution / God / Mother Nature, whatever you want to call it, was forced to make a choice.  Some species stayed in the trees (our primate relatives the chimpanzee and so on), and some took their luck on the ground.

Why boredom is so stressful and some creative solutions

Why is boredom so stressful? It 'messes with your head'.

These two states present different kinds of ways boredom is stressful.

  1. Boredom allows your stress brain free reign to invade your head with worries and fears – boredom and depression go hand in hand – I call this 'agitated boredom'
  2. Or it does the opposite and you feel 'brain dead' with no motivation to even think about your goals let alone set them – I call this 'listless boredom'

For example having no action and distraction – that is nothing to focus your attention on to – presents great opportunities for the limbic brain to nag you about worries, negative thoughts, and things you're procrastinating about or should be doing – and in this case the reaction is one of being nervous, twitchy, restless, anxious – i.e. stressed/anxious.

Alternatively, having nothing to focus your attention on to can induce almost a 'fugue' state when the brain, again having nothing to focus its attention on, goes into 'idle' mode – just ticking over – aimless and listless.

Either of these states could be associated with anxiety or depression. Boredom is not trivial.

Can worrying ever be good for you?

Whether it's S (stress), A (anxiety) or D (depression), worry thoughts are often the direct cause, as well as a symptom. It's rare to have a worrying thought only once (that's just a thought).

A worry is a repetitive thought – an actual 'loop' of neurons in your brain between the emotional brain and the smart brain that goes round and round (for more on our two brains see my article on What causes stress and anxiety and why we have two brains).

In the mental health profession we call them 'Ruminations'. This is what a cow does with grass – chews it over, swallows it, throws it up and then chews it over and over again.

In the mental health profession, a lot of our time is taken up by helping you NOT to worry.

But sometimes, the thought of NOT worrying (believe it or not), causes people to worry. For example ...

"If I don't worry about things doesn't that mean I don't care?"

"If I don't worry about things maybe I won't do anything about them."

"If I don't worry about things doesn't that make me a shallow person?"

"If I worry about people doesn't that make me a good person?"

You could think of this as secondary worry – that is worrying about worrying, which only equals more stress.

When all else fails

Ten things to do when nothing's working

You were going OK, feeling pretty good, the coping methods were working – and suddenly, you feel like you're going backwards.

This can last a day or two, or a week or two, but when you're feeling 'blagh' a day can seem like forever.

So here are some tips to get you through when nothing seems to be working ...

What if my anxiety or depression comes back?

Fear of Relapse

You've been through a pretty tough time with S.A.D. and finally you feel like you're getting on top of it. You've been feeling much better – pretty 'normal' in fact. You've been mindful, using your coping skills and (hopefully) been pro-active using daily practices like Mindfulness, exercise, re-focusing, and so on.

Then you wake up one morning feeling bad.

Now everyone has good and bad days, but when you've been through a bad period of S.A.D. – a day that just might seem a bit 'blagh' to someone else – feels catastrophic to you, and that question starts going through your head.

What if my Anxiety or Depression comes back?

What if I go right back to the beginning and I have to go through this all over again?

Suddenly you start to feel worse, you start to ruminate and worry – and before you know it – you're on the 'slippery slope' again.


Early warning signs of stress - getting 'Fitchi'

Too many people leave it too late to take action on their stress. They miss the warning signs and as a result stress can get out of control – possibly turning into anxiety and/or depression (remember the S.A.D. cycle – Stress overflows into anxiety and/or depression). Some would say in the majority of cases anxiety and depression begins with stress.

Getting in early right at the start of stress makes it much easier to make an intervention and reduce your level of arousal. Some of the early warning signs I'm telling you here are not commonly identified, which is why I'm telling you about them. They're signs I notice in myself and that many of my clients identify with; "Yes – absolutely, that happens to me!" Other symptoms (rather than signs) are described elsewhere on this site.

But what are the early signs that aren't described so often and what do you do about them?

I'm going to invent a term for the early warning signs of stress – it's 'FITCHI' (let's pronounce it 'fit‐chy').

I am not only inventing this word for you, but for myself because everyone gets stressed and these are the things I notice in myself that make me pull back and take either short term or longer term action to address my stress levels. So from now on when I notice these things – I will mindfully notice that I'm getting 'Fitchi' and take action to immediately adjust my attitude or do something to reduce my arousal.

Waiting out the emotional storm

My client was having flying instructions a long time ago when instruments were pretty rudimentary, and the instructor was giving advice for what to do when you're in, or about to go into, a storm.

He told my client "If you get caught in a storm – never turn!"

My client asked why (since running away seemed like a very obvious thing to do).

"Because", said the instructor, "They never build storms in straight lines".

My client said a "blind went up" and he never forgot the advice. Of course, storms are not endless, as long as you stay the course, the storm will pass and you'll come out the other end – if you don't stay the course, you may end up flying in circles around and around in the storm, or get disorientated or lost.

When you're in an emotional storm, like the inexperienced pilot, you might panic, run around in circles, go off course and make hasty decisions. If you stay the course, keep going and wait for the storm to pass (which it always does), you'll be in much better shape.

What is Mindfulness and Brain Training?

In recent years, mindfulness has become a popular tool for psychologists. It's relaxing and that in itself makes it useful. That's not the actual purpose of it though – I teach that the purpose of Mindfulness is to find the mind (the 'observational self') and help to distinguish it from the brain (which is the organ that thinks).

'But aren't they just the same thing?' is a common response.

The Human is the only creature that can observe itself – be self-aware, at least in a philosophical sense. Great apes have shown in mirror tests, that they understand it is them in the mirror, but having a sense of 'self' - consciousness, an ability to project into the future and have imagination - seems to exist only is us. We have evolved the capacity to be able to observe ourselves; our thoughts and feelings, and we have a sense of self and self-perception that sets us apart. This is my view (and it's a popular view). That is, that the mind is separate from the brain. There is another view that what we think of as mind and higher thinking is just a reactive function of the brain and an illusion; that we have no free will. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, that doesn't happen to be mine.

Category Index