David Jockelson

Thoughts and ideas


Welcome to my website. I set this up as a convenient place to store ideas and papers that I had written over the last few years. I hope you find something of interest and value here. It was originally only about law – relating to children cases – but has since been mainly about therapy – and a combination of those two subjects – articles and workshops about psychological and therapy issues for lawyers and judges. I have sometimes labelled these as about Stress Management as that is language that is recognised and accented. In fact it is about emotional health and resilience.

If you have logged onto this website in a state of stress or distress you may like to look immediately at the article Five minute stress reduction note

And – excuse the dramatic note if it doesn’t apply to you if it is more urgent that that – the Samaritans are on 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org

Back to a less dramatic tone…

A bit about me: For over 30 years I have been a solicitor, initially with a more general practice, but for a long time specialising in childcare work – which with tragic irony actually means legal work around child abuse and neglect.

I have written a certain amount about that, run some workshops and contributed to various government enquiries. That material is tucked away at the very end of this website.

About 15 years ago I also trained as a psychotherapist with Spectrum Therapy and I started to bring some therapeutic aspects into my work with legal clients as explained in Article in Family Law September 2010 (Please excuse the rather boastful sounding introduction – it was insisted on by the editor.)

I have also offered those ideas and increasingly ideas about stress management and emotional health to people through working one-to-one with clients, many of whom are lawyers. My most recent development is running workshops for lawyers – see below

Even more recently I have been writing articles for legal journals and one of those interested my friend Steve Biddulph who has recently published a new book called “Fully Human“ which contains many of his really interesting and valuable ideas. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/jun/03/supersense-secret-steve-biddulph-become-healthier-happier-more-fully-human

He has kindly given a bit of a plug to some of my ideas and it is possible that someone looking at this website might have come here because of that reference.

He introduces me as a friend and colleague and says “One of his most intriguing ideas is that trauma does more than just cause massive anxiety it also may act as a break in our development. Trauma can freeze us at the age when it took place, at least on some dimensions of maturation which requires trust, learning and physiological calm to proceed well. As a consequence we see many adults today who are emotionally frozen in an infantile stage of development, for example, or an adolescent one. If this is very widespread, then the whole society can be skewed towards certain kinds of immaturity.… we have a somewhat adolescent culture today.“

This is a partial summary of some ideas which are contained in one of the articles on this website – Our culture of permanent adolescence – anger, stress and other addictions By the way, I am very aware that this article is long and dense. Too much so for a website. So I have now inserted a much shorter summary at the beginning of the article.

Parenting note:

This idea fed into my note about parenting on this website. Having benefited hugely from attending a parenting course many years ago, (as well as reading books and attending a workshop with Steve) I went on to train and then deliver such courses at various schools and organisations. The notes that I used and offered to participants are at Some ideas about parenting

The most recent development has been running workshops. These were initially within my own firm and subsequently for other firms and barristers’ chambers and national organisations like the Association of Lawyers for Children and the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) and Immigration Law Practitioners Association. These offerings were initially along the lines of a somewhat simplistic “stress management model“. Please see the various articles here on stress busting or “How to be a Happier, Healthier, more Efficient and Ever Youthful Workaholic!” Stress and looking after ourselves – a 15 minute read

More recently the workshop for the FLBA was recorded and is the first article on the website My first webinar 6 May.

As it says at the beginning, this is my first webinar and is really amateur, with rather unhelpful interruptions by various people and some really retro visual aids – paper and felt tip! (The next one had PowerPoint which can be a mixed blessing and happily wasn’t recorded.)

Most recent event was a workshop I ran for judges. Text of the presentation with additional material is at: Stress workshop with judges: 5 November 2021

Finally I have written some articles for the FLBA Journal including for the Christmas Issue examining the emotional side of the law and asking Why are we so stressed? Why are we family lawyers anyway?Article in the Christmas Edition of Family Affairs, the journal of the Family Law Bar Association (Answer in brief – we are fascinated by family dysfunctionality in other people and having put it in those terms may suggest the obvious idea that we hope to bring order to it because of aspects our own formative experiences in childhood; experiences that we are in denial about partly because they are so normal. And that is why the article will make such uncomfortable, even unacceptable reading for some people.)

I would welcome feedback to me at dj@milesandpartners.com

Stress and judges: 2021

This document is a typed note of the workshop I hope to run on Tuesday 7 December for judges at Central Family Court, which in turn builds on a workshop I ran on Friday 5 November 2021 for the Association of District Judges. The passages in ordinary type are what I said in the 30 minutes we had. To read them takes about 15 minutes. The passages in italics are what I would have liked to have had time to add – with explanations of some very compressed material and a few links to resources I mention.  To read the whole document takes about 20 minutes.

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On Friday 5 November I ran a workshop about Judges and Stress for the Association of District Judges, which I was told later was successful.

That’s really good. That’s encouraging. I will offer those ideas again but in addition, in this workshop, I will go deeper and raise the question of whether people will actually use the interesting and useful ideas and techniques or if there is some curious tendency not to look after ourselves. Because I suspect that many people here would be aware of some of this material and it is available elsewhere but it has either not been accessed or it is absorbed as an intellectual, therefore not either an emotional or behavioural, level

There is no need to take notes if anyone was minded to do so because a transcript of this talk, which includes the content of the talk with the District Judges is available in printed form here to take away. I have got so engaged with the subject that it is probably too long to read straight through but you can maybe dip into it for some useful bits. Treat it as a resource. This is still work in progress for me – a steep learning curve. I have heard from over twenty judges and read a lot but if we had an interactive workshop I would learn even more. And indeed you might learn quite a lot from each other. Sharing information and feelings and ways of coping is better than being told about them by an outsider. Maybe discuss how that can be put into practice?

It is also available online. I have stopped blushing when I refer to my website. Any practising psychotherapist has a website, and it is a convenient place to put material like this. If you just google my name, the website link will pop up and, if you scroll down, you will see the transcript of the talk – which has the added advantage that some of the references are clickable links. However, my belief is that a lengthy article like this when read on screen is very vulnerable to distractions and very superficial skimming – hence the printed versions.
I will start as I did before by saying that I am very glad that you have organised this short session and I fully appreciate how hard it is to make any time away from your court list. There is of course a perfect irony there. Too busy and stressed to do enough about the stress – but that is changing.

I value the court system and the judiciary hugely. I think it is one of the finest aspects of British public life and, like the BBC and the NHS, it is under huge pressure and often attacks by this and previous governments who seem to some degree to resent the high standards and who seem to believe that everything can be done more quickly, cheaply and with a populist spin that plays out well in the media. That leaves aside the literally sickening disrespect for the rule of law.

The pressure is unprecedented. As the President said in October 2018 the pressure is “remorseless and relentless” and “I do not think systems collapse in these circumstances. Systems simply grind on; it is people who may “collapse” or “fall over”. Indeed, that is already happening and I could give you real examples of this happening now. ” That is largely invisible to the outside world but still very real. https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Speech-by-Rt.-Hon.-Sir-Andrew-McFarlane-Association-of-Lawyers-for-Children-Conference-2018.pdf

Significantly this is quoted on the first page of PLWG report which itself with he BPG is a massive contribution to improving the system and therefore improving the well-being of all of us. Again in October this year the President said : “I continue to urge each one of you to take your own well being seriously.”

So what can we do?

I want to address: 1. The sources of stress that I have read about and heard about in talking to more than twenty judges – ie the objective, outside stress factors. Or, as I prefer to say, the demands of the job. Then 2, the subjective, internal responses of judges to those stress factors. Finally, 3, ideas to ameliorate that stress – ideas that I have also been told about by judges and others that I have used successfully with lawyers in other workshops.

But…  having said all of that, it is necessary to do something quite shocking – to analyse, to dismantle and then abandon the word “stress”.

Stress is a very unhelpful and misleading word – because, as is clear from what I have just said, it runs together two very different things: the objectively demanding or challenging situation. And the subjective reaction of an individual.

To say “being a judge is stressful” is to say the challenges have inevitably got a certain negative outcome: “Stress”.  Vaguely defined. In fact undefined. So there’s nothing much we can do about that, if we can’t get a grip on it.  

Let’s look at that.  Some people apparently find certain situations stressful – others don’t. Is public speaking “stressful“?  Obviously, I don’t think so. Personally, I find looking after a baby or a young child for a morning very stressful but fortunately other members of my family do not. Similarly mountaineering, horror films, mathematics…they are challenges and different people have different reactions – at different times, maybe with different skills available to them.  

These exaggerated examples simply show that there are the objective demands of any situation or job and the subjective difference in responses.

I think people only remember two or three things from any talk or workshop. I am going to ask for three and this is the first:

In fact, there is no emotion called stress. If we go under that blanket word, we can address what is actually happening and then do something about it.  This is daring and may be unwelcome but we need to name the real emotions.

If we stop and think for a moment – clearly and honestly, what is rolled up into that word is often in fact a mixture of anxiety and guilt and sometimes frustration and resentment perhaps real pain and regret – or to be even more daring and visceral – fear and anger and sadness.

Now that is really challenging. Because it’s ok to feel stress.  It’s respectable. In fact, traditionally it was rather high status. And in a stressful job -ie an important job – stress is inevitable isn’t it?  But to admit anxiety or resentment or fear and anger may be far too personal, embarrassing for some people.   But the point is that it does allow us to address what is really going on and therefore take steps to work with it.

Many people will flinch away from such strongly emotional language and see it as excessive. So be it. Maybe I just planted a few seeds here. The human brain is not mechanical or like a computer. It’s organic, like a garden, where ideas can be planted and quietly put down roots and grow.

The anecdote. The time-honoured way of starting a talk like this is with a human and I hope useful anecdote which will start a process of planting a seed.

When I was a young solicitor – many, many years ago of course – there was an even younger member of staff, a paralegal, and one day I found her looking miserable and resentful and paralysed sitting in front of a huge pile of papers. I asked what was happening and she said that she had been given the task of sorting out this famously huge, complicated and messy file.

I simply said to her “oh my goodness – that is a huge task. That’s really unfair, you’ve only just started with us”.    

Her response was for her face to light up and for her to say to me “Oh, thank you so much.”   I was rather startled by that. Later we talked and she explained that that simple acknowledgement of the reality and her situation had lifted her mood; previously she had been paralysed by anxiety, a sense of failure and a resentment. Was it just her that was struggling? Was she stupid? And my few simple words of acknowledgment of the situation had lifted that demoralisation and that allowed her to get on with the job. 

I thought about this later and have often thought about it. It was a precious effective gift to her. And it cost me nothing. Quite magical really. And surely, we need any magic that is going around?  So Acknowledgment is one of my favourite words. A word of power.

If I had been all positive and upbeat: “Come on, it’s quite ok, you can do it” blah blah – she would in fact have been more depressed and paralysed.  

Paradoxical?  Acknowledging the negative had that positive outcome. 

You can see the same almost magical effect of an apology. One morning coming to court a colleague says something rather abrupt, rude or hurtful. It niggles away at your mind all morning. There is ample brain scan evidence that the brain reacts and tends to focus on negative stuff – threats – much more than positive.  So you rehearse imaginary conversations that you might have. Your body will in fact have detectable levels of anger and anxiety. At lunchtime they acknowledge their actions and apologise and suddenly the niggle and the anger and anxiety have gone and things are much calmer. Magic.

The process of psychotherapy is, in my book, largely about teasing out and acknowledging what is not named, acknowledging something in terms of the objective facts of a situation and equally important the subjective experience.

You may say that you are not paralegals. I would say that these are common human needs. Possibly therefore childish, but we are all children underneath our adult selves and the really mature thing is to admit that and work with our deeper needs.   

That is why I am going to start by naming, articulating, and acknowledging the objective challenges you face as judges and then naming and acknowledging the emotional reactions that I hear. Or maybe even more importantly the reactions I don’t hear but I do detect – that are hinted at when I speak to judges about this subject. Naming the emotional, subjective aspect may be challenging, even insulting to some people.

Now this could become a recital of all the negative aspects of being a judge. Could it be quite depressing and demoralising? Maybe. Is it worth it? Yes. Can it lead to a positive benefit? Yes.  

There is one thing that is worse than having a negative situation and experience and that is having negative situation or experience but being in denial about it.  Covering up.  Putting on a brave face. Pretending. Because the truth doesn’t go away. The reality and the realisation of that reality burns quietly and unhealthily under the skin. A wound, even just a sore will fester if it is covered up. 

This is to explore the paradox I mentioned – that to have the discomfort or pain of uncovering like a sore or an infected wound is worth it as 1. it will start to heal and 2. We can act constructively on reducing the problem We do move on to the positives and the skillful means to achieve resilience and not to be exhausted and demoralised. Resilience –pliability, flexibility, spirit.”

So let’s acknowledge the stress factors – I will not use that word. The demands of the job.    

Firstly, too much work.  Obviously invariably and loudly I have been told about the huge level of work, “Huge. Massive. Unprecedented. Ever-increasing. Unrelenting” are words I often hear. “The backlog of old cases … back-to-back hearings… emergencies popping up all the time. It’s an almost impossible task.”

At this point I would like to remind people that one of the classic formulas for stress is “responsibility without power“ I.e. you are required to do something but you are not given the means to do it. You are required to get the waiting lists down and deal with urgent cases but there is in fact not enough time.

The subjective impact of that can be a form of anxiety and guilt.

But what I first noticed were comments like: “I don’t know if everyone is struggling like this but ….”   So – get it out in the open, get it acknowledged.  You’d think it’s fairly obviously true in the case of work load isn’t it?   But even so, one judge whispered the news that work was overwhelming. Whispered?  Who was listening?  Who might think they couldn’t cope? I have had it confirmed by that experience and by other comments that there is still an element of shame for some people, of secrecy. Obviously, that is deeply unhealthy.

This is one of the two main points of this talk. Saying the unsayable. Naming the emotions. Mr Justice Michael Kirby in a lecture to Australian judges called it “The Unmentionable Subject” and gave a brilliant lecture on the subject – and that was in 1995! (Reference below) He is still working on the subject and tells me there is real progress – in Australia anyway. He pointed me to the second reference at the end of this note which is an excellent Handbook for Judges in New South Wales – I really recommend it.  

How much progress have we made since then? Answer: not nearly enough. Evidence for that? Numerous surveys of lawyers including judges: The 2020 UK Judicial Attitude Survey: 35% of judges felt the government did not value them at all. A third of judges said they might quit over the next five years.



BUT…. I am aware that the judiciary and the Bar have resources available to them in terms of helplines, or counselling services – and the take up is very, very poor. People prefer to soldier on saying “I haven’t got any time to waste looking after myself” … until maybe they are burnt out – or, long before that, they are exhausted, demoralised, unhealthy and not as good a judge as they could be – or as good a partner, parent, friend etc.

I think people only remember one or two things from any talk. So please can the first one be this turn-key one, the one that makes the rest of the talk have some benefit – stop being in denial and tough all the time. Self-control is totally necessary in court but it is damaging if it becomes denial in the whole of our lives. It is time to get psychological – not to echo the dismissive phrase of the 1950 “It’s just psychological” – ie unreal, unimportant. It is psychological and it is hugely important.

And this is really positive: This talk will highlight the demands of the job which are ever-increasing – and our lives which are embedded in a society and the wider world which is in ever-increasing crisis – but the good news is that we are in society and world where the psychological resources for coping with the demands are greater than before and are ever-increasing. And some of those resources are explored here today.

So we have identified from the anecdote that the very first resource and equipment we need is Acknowledgment – ideally from others but crucially with ourselves – with clarity and honesty. “Everyone is overloaded and everyone is struggling.”  Phew. Breathe out. Say it loud and long – and later we will see what we can do about it.

And if there is a feeling of guilt without actually having done anything wrong, then that is unfair.  And as judges you obviously have a strong sense of what is fair and a deep commitment to fairness for other people.  Therefore there is the subjective but possibly repressed sense of unfairness inflicted on you. And, if we slow down and dare to look at it carefully, it is a source of resentment i.e. very contained and denied anger.  

Again – let’s open it up and acknowledge it.   “It’s not fair! I am justifiably angry about this.”

Back to the demands of the job – Secondly, disruption.  Cases being messed up. The second stress factor that is talked about to me frequently is linked to the first one and it is about the fact that litigants in person and even unforgivably the advocates, really mess things up by being late with documentation or other mistakes that lead to a case being extended or adjourned – which completely throws out the timetable of that case and of others which may get pushed into another day.

Subjective:  When I asked about the impact of this, a judge said that it was a form of frustration and then asked if that was a stress factor.

To which the answer is a resounding yes. Frustration is a mild word for being angry. Being angry but not being able to express it fully or to discharge it or have it acknowledged is stressful and is not healthy. Acknowledgment does not mean screaming with rage or chewing the carpets – it can be calm and quiet and honest.

Three: Covid. Before we leave disruption of cases as a source of frustration let me mention our old friend, the pandemic. Chaos. It has and still effects Judges, the court staff, the parties, the witnesses, the advocates.  Cases delayed by illness. Backlogs building up. 

And a side effect – Remote hearings. Suddenly accelerated. Long hours on Zoom or Teams. Technology “less than perfect” even for professionals.  Very difficult for some lay parties. Connecting by a shaky phone call to a life changing moment in court? Our nagging sense that this is not fair. We are not doing what we should be doing. And again it’s not our fault.  

Four: Litigants in person.  Chaotic. Increasingly with access to online information, misinformation.  Getting the wrong end of the stick and it can be a very long and time wasting stick. Your duty to help them but not advise them. There has been training – on the theory.  How much practical training?  Discus later? 

Five: The Unspoken Fear of Appeals.  Really interesting that some judges did name this.  Some brushed it aside.  “I cannot afford to think about that.”  Really?  That’s an interesting statement. Can’t afford to think about it –   not in the forefront of the mind. So, are you sure it’s not there lurking? That you are unconsciously looking over your shoulder?  It is not true for some. It is true for others. And a source of anxiety. “Humiliation” is a word I have seen in some of the papers I have read.

Six: Hostile media.    For some of us in family law the disturbing news that the President wants to open up the courts to avoid the accusation of “secret courts”an accusation by the media who want salacious or dramatic stories of family dysfunction no matter what the cost to the parties – including the children who have always expressed horror at the idea.

This is a part of a general lack of respect and loss of trust in authority. The Supreme Court billed as “The Enemy of the People”. The relentless stories of political corruption and of police misconduct are relevant to attitudes to us.

As a lifelong rebel I need to focus and see that it is necessary that Good Authority is respected – otherwise it will be the weak that suffer.  Again, we can do nothing to help this – we are powerless – apart from maintaining our own high standards. And acknowledging the truth.  

Seven: This transparency will also require more judgments to be published. More work, more exposure, more anxiety, more care needed to anonymise – even against “jigsaw identification”  ie clever people joining the dots and using the internet to destroy confidentiality for children. Some big training need here?   Discuss later?

Eight: From older – sorry no – longer established judges.  I hear repeatedly – “It wasn’t like this when I started.”  Slight unspoken hint of “This is not what I signed up for.”   If it’s unspoken, then let’s hear it loud and clear. 

Some judges started when letters were sent by the post – snailmail as we used to call it. And a reply within a few days was good enough.  And the workload – “In by 9.00, leave at 4.00.”  

The workload has changed as mentioned before and IT has completely changed our world. It is really worth acknowledging the challenge of this all day, every day especially for people who were not brought up with computers, incredible though that thought may be to younger people here. Yes, we have got used to it and we are now, having caught up with the younger ones, quite whizzy but there is still a strain. And it’s OK – indeed very healthy – to admit that.

That includes Zoom or Teams. We’ve got used to them but they are still really unhealthy for many reasons we could discuss another day. And are on the website.

The latest news is that The Master of the Rolls, Geoffrey Vos, has announced the plan to create “Claims R Us”.  I am not joking. The majority of work is to be done by remote and resolving disputes without court hearings. One judge said that the appeal of the job was the personal interaction. That is being diminished even further.   Subjective reaction?  Dismay? 

Possible action – Protest? That’s only going to happen if the facts and the reaction are shared. Something to discuss?   

Nine: Perfectionism. This is the background starting point. I have always been struck at the extraordinarily high level of work in our profession. There is a universal perfectionism which is so universal is that it is easily overlooked. It’s only when I deal with people outside the law I really notice this. That sounds arrogant and we are reluctant to say it or even to notice it.

That is not to say that the service is perfect, but it is to say that our standards are extraordinarily high.

Perfectionism – we run cases in a Painstaking way – we take pain. This is unwelcome and not respected by government who think everything can be done more quickly and more cheaply.  Frustrating isn’t it?

One result of this perfectionism is a degree of conscientiousness which is admirable – and the reason you got to be judges – but also such a very high degree of conscientiousness that we are very vulnerable to anxiety and guilt.  And to workaholism that is profoundly unhealthy.  Workaholism is a word that is used casually, flippantly, with a significantly jokey quality – maybe precisely because it is a real addiction.  And one day we could look at that more deeply. We need to.

In the meantime I refer you to: How to be a Happier, Healthier, more Efficient and Ever Youthful Workaholic!

Stress and looking after ourselves – a 15 minute read. How to be a Happier, Healthier, more Efficient and Ever Youthful Workaholic!

It is really worth looking at where this comes from, and I have offered the acronym FOBIT. All young people like us know about FOMO – fear of missing out – but FOBIT refers to fear of being in trouble. And when I mention this, when I name and acknowledge this, a number of people including clients have reacted with surprise but some relief “Is that very common then? Isn’t it just me? “ To which the answer is yes it is very common. No, you are not alone.

I have had very senior barristers tell me about just how anxious they have been before important hearings. I was a very junior member of the profession – an articled clerk – remember those? – and on a train to Reading one morning to deal with mitigation for heroin importation, a nationally famous QC told me that, before major cases in the Court of Appeal,  he would sometimes vomit up his breakfast. I was struck both by the story and by his need to share this with a very junior member of the profession.

This phenomenon is a close cousin to the impostor syndrome which has been mentioned a few times to me. Am I really a judge?  One person I knew as a barrister quite well met me in the street after he’d been made a High Court judge and he told me that he really didn’t believe it had happened and we both agreed that we were still waiting for that phone call from the professional body that said there had been a mistake and we had never actually properly qualified as lawyers all those years ago, so we’d better stop now.

I offer both of these fairly extreme examples to establish, I hope vividly, the power of these phenomena which may allow other people with more moderate versions to feel reassured that they are not alone and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

Perfectionism can be an anxious superstition. Fear of being in trouble.  Fear of Disaster.  Perfectionism is useful and it’s dangerous – like fire is. Useful if handled carefully and skillfully; dangerous if handles unskillfully and we allow it to burn us.  

10. Newer judges. The transition to becoming a judge: I have learnt four things.  

10.1. Firstly, some judges, especially the newly appointed have mentioned something that may in time be forgotten…or “forgotten” – ie pushed down. Maybe never really forgotten?  So, let’s pull it up and look at it.

It has been explained to me in this way: To get to being a judge you have to be a successful lawyer – dedicated to your clients and their cases. Whatever advice you may give them before court, in court you are unquestioning, single minded, possibly passionately partisan and championing one cause – and in retrospect that was delightfully simple. But now suddenly having to actually make decisions on the merits – a completely different mind challenge. Quite a shock for some people. And it highlights the essence of being a judge sometimes – what can sometimes be the agony of decision making. “From being Perry Mason to being Solomon” – one article calls it.

One very senior judge said she had sleepless nights worrying about her decisions in a way she never had as a barrister.   

10.2  And then secondly, you have to apply the law even if you are uncomfortable with the law. You take responsibility for something you are not responsible for. You may not wish to order that eviction, but the law says you must. You have to make an ICO with removal because the LA could not find a suitable placement. In an interactive workshop I am sure people could contribute many other examples – anonymously maybe – and share that pain.

10.3 Thirdly, you go from being a professional speaker to being a professional listener.  Shut up and listen. Stay cool and detached. Do not interrupt – or be very careful if you do – even when faced with useless advocates who not doing their client’s case the necessary justice. Again – Frustrating. 

10.4 Fourthly, a more general one was explained to me recently by a judge – a very emotionally intelligent judge – “for those of us who were at the bar, we were used to being self-employed and therefore able to choose a work pattern fairly freely – within the limits of needing to make a living. If the case went short, we could take the afternoon off or start to prepare for another hearing with less pressure.  But once you are an employed judge, that freedom has gone and there is unrelenting pressure.”   The same may be true for someone who was a senior solicitor, more able to regulate their workload and life work balance.

I suggest that this lack of freedom as a judge is innately stressful and again frustrating.

I have noticed that some judges have referred rather obliquely to their relationship with their employers. It is almost as if people are reluctant fully to admit that they are employed and that others, maybe civil servants, have got power over them. And that power obviously goes to the appointment of you as a judge, to any promotion and to the potential issues of complaints.

People become judges after they have become successful and senior in the profession either self-employed or possibly a partner in a firm with a great deal of autonomy. And then to be a judge is apparently and, in some ways, to be invested with quite a lot of power. But to be employed by a faceless bureaucracy is the opposite – it’s a situation of some degree of powerlessness which I suspect is extremely hard to admit, extremely easy to gloss over.

I suspect that there is considerable unspoken discomfort about that mismatch. Unspoken and almost taboo. I am sure you’re glad this is not an interactive workshop in which you are asked to put your hands up if you have negative feelings about your employers! Or even quite think of them as employers and you as workers?

11. Retirement age resentment. At which point it may be germane to return to older judges: One judge I know very well was passionately angry that she had to retire when she felt totally able to continue.  Again Powerless, again frustrating.


Time to turn to some more personal emotional issues:

Firstly close to the job: in some areas of law the content is genuinely traumatic.  For those doing family law. The impact on children haunts us. We may have seen pictures of injuries and heard stories of abuse that generate Vicarious Traumatisation:

See reference below: ” “Vicarious trauma is an occupational challenge for people working and volunteering in the fields of victim services, law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire services, and other allied professions, due to their continuous exposure to victims of trauma and violence. This work-related trauma exposure can occur from such experiences as listening to individual clients recount their victimization…. .”

In Private Law children are exposed to conflict and tension. In Public Law, children are exposed to neglect and abuse. We see the evidence. Our powers are limited, they are not what is needed.  We often end a case dissatisfied and indeed anguished and guilty. 

The second aspect of emotional demands is particular to the individual – each of us has a different personal situation. Some of us may be in a good place and have a calm and supportive home life. Others may be struggling with physical ill health in themselves or their loved ones. Their children may be struggling and demanding. Elderly parents may also be struggling and demanding. Or a person may not have those family members at all and be isolated and lonely – or struggling with marital conflict and divorce.

And all these personal problem are supposed to be left entirely at home? Fine for the time in court but deeply unhealthy if they are denied and suppressed longer term. What outlet do people have for this? What acknowledgment and processing? You tell me and tell yourselves.


I repeat: I suspect that people only remember one or two points from any talk or lecture. I have three: The first is the value – the necessity – of coming out of being brave and tough – i.e. being in denial or pretence – and to name and acknowledge these objective stress factors and then, to be more daring and perhaps less welcoming, to name and acknowledge the emotions – the subjective reaction.


The third element of this very compressed workshop is what can be done to help.  The feedback from the last talk was a request for more practical tips. This litany of problems doesn’t have to be depressing.  Opening up and maybe draining a wound or exposing a running sore to the air and the light is in itself hugely beneficial.  The body – and the mind –  has the power to heal – with good nursing practice, protect it, keep it ventilated and clean. Avoid or reduce further injury. So what does that actually mean?   

Obviously the question can direct itself to both the objective factors and also the internal, subjective aspect.

3.1 Objectively:  As regards the total amount of work, I am sorry… I do not have a magic wand! The magic wand is more judges, more sitting days. Can the judges acknowledge that?  Spell it out to the government? Or are we / you expected to shut up and press on?

In the meantime I have three ideas derived from judges’ comments. 

1. The List Office. I have heard some judges say that they have successfully learnt to be extremely firm and that the List Office has learnt to realise that is the case. They will not accept extra loading. They tolerate the guilt.

Look after yourself.  Hear later about the oxygen mask story.. ! Other judges I suspect are more obliging and may be taken advantage of. Time for some personal assertiveness and coordination between judges?   More to discuss?

2. Case management: Equally judges can get a reputation for being more or less assertive (tyrannical?) about timing of documentation. In family cases Position Statements had to be in by 11.00 am the day before. It slid to 4.00 pm.  In practice it is often a minute or two before the hearing starts. The judge adjourns to read?  Or skim the document?  There has been a move at least at the Central Family Court to reduce the prolix nature of some documentation and encourage shorter bullet point documents. Much ignored in practice. In your courts?  Discuss?

3. It’s important and not obvious to let solicitors know that they really have to tell the listing team in good time if cases are not ready or will need less court time etc and also respond to listing’s emails trying to find these things out.  

Another issue which may be going to disappear if people do come back to court is counsel booking themselves to do a 9.30 remote, then a 10.30 etc so that the judge is kept waiting for the 10.30.  Even an 11.00 and a 2.00.  Not very good if the 11.00 actually starts at 12.00 and goes over lunch? Don’t let them (us) do this!

4. Having said that a judge has to learn to shut up and listen and not talk too much I will now tell a story and give an idea which seems the opposite.

Nick Crichton was a hugely respected judge who set up the Inner London Family Proceedings Court as well as the innovative and acclaimed Family Drug and Alcohol Court. He refused to be a CJ and instead got the CBE!

He got through three times the number of cases as other judges – and yet was hugely respected by the lay parties who felt they had really been heard.

His trick was to start the hearing with a concise but accurate summary of the position of each of the parties speaking directly to the parents.  “I have carefully read your very good statements and I understand you think this and want that.. “…ie he was acknowledging them. The same to the Local Authority and the Guardian. It took five minutes.  “Now I would like to hear any additional points the advocates wish to make.”  That really shut them up!  Or made them very concise. It avoided that tedious and time wasting “grandstanding” – advocates banging on and on so the clients know their point has been put across.    

3.2 Subjectively.

First some positivity. There are good things about being a judge.  You made an informed choice.  And new judges are applying. One new judge said it was great.  Less money than in private practice and less freedom but she was free from hassles with her clerks, the clients – and blooming solicitors! I don’t want to skip over this.   In an interactive workshop I could hear from you with positives.  You could hear from each other. Sharing. Acknowledgement.

As I said quite early in this talk, in terms of subjective, personal self-care, most of the ideas will be familiar and the question becomes why people do not in fact act on them. 

Oxygen masks. At which point any therapist or coach tends to mention the flight attendant’s briefing before take-off.    “If the cabin depressurises, the oxygen masks will drop down from above you. If you are with a child, put yours on first.” Shock! That goes against our deepest instincts which is to look after our child as a priority. The logic is this – if you put the child’s on first you may go unconscious or worse. Not much use then are you?  So – look after yourself in order to be able to look after the child. 

So the second take home message is: it is your duty to look after yourself.  Relevant here?  Please repeat after me… “It is your duty to look after yourself.” Easy?  Harder to say  “It is my duty to look after myself.”  I have found that’s the only argument to get through to duty driven people. 

If we had world enough and time, we could look more deeply at Oxygen mask versus virtuous masochism. Martyrdom. The desire to suffer? 

1. Some judges have been extremely clear in their holiday planning.  Booking holidays far enough ahead and not letting those be compromised.  One told me they make sure they have a proper break every six weeks rather than saving it up for one or two longer breaks.

 2. Day to day:  Several have mentioned the imperative need to get up and get out. Go for a walk.  Preferably outside the court building, ideally in nature?   At least get up from the desk. Another change is from the traditional physical activities of an advocate where there is much more walking, sitting and standing etc. For the judge, sitting for a long time is bad for you. Really bad. As bad as smoking. Keep moving or die young. Dramatic enough?  Put a Post-it note on the screen.  “Get up and move”. Possibly some simple stretching and bending.  




See the website link below for a very simple, short standing poses Yoga routine – Breathing, Stretching and Bending I call it.  5 minutes good, 10 even better. One judge told me she does yoga three times a week. I do 20 minutes breathing, stretching and bending every morning. I find it better to listen to my body / mind and what it needs than to attend a class where everyone is supposed to be doing the same routine. With added, unyogic self-consciousness.

Stress and looking after ourselves – a 15 minute read – David Jockelson 

 3. Several people emphasised to me the vital importance of having a collegiate culture in the court and it was sometimes mentioned that very small courts with isolated judges are particularly hard done by.

One judge said that it was imperative that judges have lunch together every day whether that involves discussing actual cases or simply having social time together. Another judge mentioned and really values their WhatsApp group for exchanging ideas. Create a community was her advice.

I make no apology for quoting the old saying “A trouble shared is a trouble halved” and in Sweden they say “a joy shared is a joy doubled”

When do you share troubles? – maybe just as important when do you get to share your joys, get appreciation, be congratulated on good case management or judgement?   We do not boast in our culture. In my firm I encourage boasting – but it has to be done by alert colleagues posting on the internal emails– “Big cheer for Jane who got her first injunction / John who got this appreciation from a client etc”

Yes – good to share.  On a bigger scale see Harvard Longitudinal Survey. The world’s longest study – 70 years following a cohort of men (and later women) through their lives.  Outcome – the one outstanding thing to have a long, happy, and healthy life is sharing – a community of family and friends. Google TED talk Harvard Longitudinal Study

So acknowledge between ourselves and acknowledge privately the demands and the impact – as per this workshop.  Our successes. Dare to acknowledge to ourselves. Dare to care for ourselves.

4. Other self-care: A good diet: it’s time for Nanny David.  Some people have spent years and lots of money in therapy about their low mood and low energy. And you know what?  They found out they were anaemic.  A GP we met on holiday told us she’d been burnt out and about to give up her job until she found she had zero vitamin D. Easy enough to sort out – she was back on the job.  Moral of the story – ideally get a GP check-up.  And / or – (and I cannot prescribe) – Good diet plus Multivits with minerals.  I do and I love the placebo effect. 

Nanny David also says: have a good breakfast and some lunch. Maintain blood sugar levels at a steady point all day. Low blood sugar makes you grumpy. Too high makes you jumpy.  Neither very judicious? Judicial? So less coffee and sugary biscuits causing yo-yoing of the blood sugar levels. No time for lunch? I carry a small box of mixed nuts and raisins with me at all times. Quick boost raisins plus longer burn nuts.

Water. Every article on health mentions keeping hydrated. Familiar? Too familiar to take seriously? Look at some proper science from PubMed.gov:

Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women.


Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men


Eyes. Staring at a screen all day is really bad. It’s a bit better with in person hearings but we all really need to follow the 20-20-20 rule: look away from your computer at least every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object (at least 20 feet away) for at least 20 seconds. As well as consciously looking much further away – out the window or during your walk at lunchtime.

https://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/irritated.htm or Google “Computer eye strain – 10 steps for relief” Commercial but helpful.

5. Attitude and beliefs.  There is some evidence that it’s not so much stress that injures the health as stress plus the belief that stress is bad for you. Which is why I suggest that the idea I put forward earlier – that things are getting better in terms of psychological resources – is so important. The whole change in the culture of the law thanks to The President and the PLWG shows there is hope and progress.

Easy viewing but a bit exaggerated – TED talk

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend | TED Talk

Original research:  Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality (nih.gov)

6. Keep a journal or a diary. It may sound irrational – or you can see it is symbolic. Sharing problems and joys with the page or a file in your phone really does help.

7. One very techy suggestion – if you can touch type fine – great.  If not or when that’s not practical – have you tried voice recognition? It really works. It is free at the touch of a button on every iPhone. I did the notes for this talk on mine. I sent an example to one judge I spoke to. 100% perfect recognition. I am happy to share the training notes I have – along with some notes that speed up typing.  Do you really type out Applicant or Local Authority every time?  Do you not have short cuts set up?  Eg: Type Apl and LA + Enter? And dozens more. They can increase productivity by maybe 20 %.  I am happy to share notes. 

8. Finally – choose your parents carefully!  This is not the time to do deep psychotherapeutic work, but it might well be worthwhile registering that some members of the judiciary would have had childhoods which leave them more prone to anxiety than others, and one day their simply and privately acknowledging and exploring the reality of that very personal fact could be a step towards a better way of responding.

I approached one judge especially because he was so calm and pleasant in court and he said he is not stressed at all. But also “admitted” to having had a secure, conventional and calm home. Which leads to the formula that you should carefully choose your parents or choose your childhood.

To give you the necessary motivation you need just enough insecurity, conditional love, aspiration ie need to please and gain approval – but not so much that it becomes a liability.

The obvious image is that of a fire.  Very useful stuff for warming the house and cooking the food. Very dangerous stuff as well.  We need to have a fire in our heads to drive achievements, but fire can burn destructively. It is not chance that the cliche is to become “burnt out” if we don’t handle that fire skillfully. 

9. So talking of being skillful ….

My third take home message: The body mind connection is real and is a powerful potential way to cope with the demands of the job.

Breathing. When in a state of “stress” – i.e. anxiety and/or resentment – this goes into the body and in particular the tendency is to hold the breath and breathe in a shallow, top of the lungs way. Most of us can see that. Less obvious is the fact that this is not just a one-way traffic. Being in that state perpetuates the mental state, perpetuates the hormones that lead to that – in terms of cortisol and adrenaline and noradrenaline. That leads to a hyperalertness and a hypersensitivity to negative information. Therefore, that leads to increased anxiety. A perfect vicious circle leading to demoralisation, and burnout. .

That very important and dangerous vicious circle can be broken. By deliberately breathing in a different way as I will show you   – as well as other ways of coming out of the stress body which is what Yoga is about. We have no time for that now but a very short, 10 minute, very simple, practical, basic form of yoga is on the website. I do it every morning.

Please try this: imagine that you have a mirror in front of your mouth – if you are uninhibited, you can put your palm of your hand there – and then breathe out in a way that would steam up that mirror. Please do that three times. Sigh.  Yawn. Now on the in breath, start with the stomach and therefore the neglected bottom of the lungs. Then fill the lungs up fully and you will find that you are sitting up straighter and stronger. Now that good open throat breath out will cause the shoulders to drop, and you will be in a state of calm and relaxed confidence and strength.Later today do it ten times slowly and count the breaths and really focus.  Hey – you’re doing a basic form of Mindfulness. How fashionable is that?! And it is not complicated nor just some ubertrendy thing. Do it several times a day – every day.

Certainly, this is a better state to deal with a heavy day in court than being strung up and buttoned up. Stress reduction by breathing can give instant benefit which is great but also a little seductive if it seduces us away from the need to do it later in the day – at greater length and regularly.

After all this is not just about being in court.  Calm and relaxed is what we need to be at our best out of court – the rest of our lives – with family and friends.  And for our health’s sake.

So there’s hope for us yet. With life being tough and maybe getting tougher, the clever ones, like you, cultivate Resilience.  Dare to care for yourselves. Turn your very considerable intelligence …. onto yourselves.

Remember the second take home message: – it’s your duty to care for yourselves and this is becoming a new cultural norm.

What abut a new swearing in ceremony?  “I promise I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will” – let’s add … “to the best of my abilities – and in order to do so I promise to look after myself. ”  


Some other references:

GENERAL: The Body keeps the Score.  Bessel van der Kolk. The book about stress and trauma that is the current favourite book for therapists and psychologically aware people everywhere


Nelson Mandela: “I have always believed exercise is a key not only to physical health but to peace of mind. Exercise dissipates tension, and tension is the enemy of serenity.” https://www.strategy.rest/?p=688

JUDICIAL STRESS: There are a lot of resources – mainly US and Australian.

The wonderful and prescient UNMENTIONABLE TOPIC by The Hon. Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG  AN


In private correspondence he pointed me to the really excellent: Handbook for Judicial Officers. Judicial Commission of New South Wales.

https://www.judcom.nsw.gov.au/judicial-officers/ Scroll down to Stress and Vicarious Trauma..

United Nations: Well-being of judges should be a priority for every judiciary Dr. Joseph Sadek is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada and a Mental Health Advisor to the Caribbean and Commonwealth Judicial Institute


More Stress, Coping With Loss: Pandemic Exacts Toll on Judges


Why Judges are Stressed: Key Revelations from a National Survey

which refers to …..

CoLAP’s 2019 National Judicial Stress and Resilience Survey: The Results Are In!https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/events/lawyer_assistance/2019/wedgen2/national-judicial-stress-resilience-survey092319.pdf

An Indian resource. It mentions the need to move from being Perry Mason to being Solomon. https://thedailyguardian.com/judging-under-stress-what-it-does-to-judges/.  

Stress and coping peculiarities among judges https://core.ac.uk/display/225958001

The occupational stress of judges  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1884331/ J M Rogers et al. Can J Psychiatry. 1991 June

VICARIOUS TRAUMATISATION: US Department of Justice:  https://ovc.ojp.gov/program/vtt/what-is-vicarious-trauma 

The BMA: https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/your-wellbeing/vicarious-trauma/vicarious-trauma-signs-and-strategies-for-coping  

The Drama Triangle. A very useful model

This is my version of the Drama Triangle which is a model invented by Stephen Karpman. You can research it online and find lots of articles and diagrams.

I hope this version makes sense. To be honest it makes more and more sense to me, and is more and more useful, the more I work with it – on myself and clients.

This is often put forward in quite a CBT style approach. 

The model is: If we are addressing unwelcome behaviour that is automatic – unconscious in a shallow sense – then becoming aware of it can lead to change. 

My experience is that this can be very effective. It can significantly moderate our behaviour. And that is very worthwhile.

Most people using the model stop there. However if we find the behaviour is not simply habitual but is compulsive, then it is coming from somewhere deeper, somewhere genuinely unconscious. If that is the case I suggest we have to use psychodynamic techniques and uncover the formative experiences that are being acted out in the behaviours. 

I would be interested to hear if this makes sense and is useful to you.


It is really helpful to explore these roles in detail.  It’s not a case that an individual is always one or the other. We can Rescue to the extent we become Victims i.e martyrs.  We can be a Victim and use it to Persecute people around us. And it’s worth noting for those of us who identify mainly with the Rescuer, that being a compulsive Rescuer means we come from a place of our needs and may make us insensitive and unskilful.

The moderate, healthy version with increased awareness can be:                       

It is certainly possible to move to some degree from the unhealthy version to the healthy version by awareness and challenging our habitual behaviour.

However we may find that it goes deeper and in fact the behaviour is not changed much by willpower. We may find the behaviour is really powerful, almost irresistible.  In which case we need to go deeper and try and resolve or at least address the root cause.

My experience and understanding is that the behaviour is the acting out of our own history of having been a victim in childhood – not necessarily of gross abuse or trauma but of a range of adverse childhood experiences which have been ignored, kept secret or normalised and therefore never processed.

Indeed the adverse childhood experience may in fact be so much within the normal range that it is not actually seen as adverse or is minimised: Parents who are in conflict or who may separate. Sibling conflict and bullying. Parents who do not give the necessary attention because of mental or emotional health issue like depre4ssion and anxiety or addictions like alcohol or workaholism.

That discussion is is very challenging because if we have had those experiences, we will tend to think about ourselves either as simply having had a happy childhood with no questions necessary or, if we see the adverse experiences, we can see ourselves as courageous Survivors and it requires extra courage and clarity to see and accept the reality that we were also Victims and we retain that feeling deep within us.

It may be a question of moving from feeling generally angry and aggressive or anxious, depressed and sorry for ourselves, to feeling anger and sorrow for the child that we were and in some senses still are.  And having those feelings does not necessarily mean either a dramatic or noisy cathartic or a blaming experience.

It can mean gradually letting the anger and the sorrow come up; articulate, ventilate; saying the previously unsaid, possibly the unsayable.  We can then in time achieve a calm, matter-of-fact attitude to our histories and then be able to act more in line with the healthy roles described above.


(Being more radical again, I suggest that the Nuclear Family, which is so valued as being the ideal in our culture is in fact innately unhealthy. The well known and wise saying “It takes a village to raise a child” highlights the healthiness of a child being raised by a wider group, including older children who are siblings or cousins or friends as well as wider range of adults. These are people who can socialise the child; check them, give them boundaries as well as examples to imitate. This idea is explored elsewhere in this website. See “Our culture of permanent adolescence – anger, stress and other addictions.”)

Why are we so stressed? Why are we family lawyers anyway?Article in the Christmas Edition of Family Affairs, the journal of the Family Law Bar Association

As explained in the article in Summer 2020 issue of this journal, I have been running workshops on well-being for some time now with solicitors, barristers and judges. They have been well received with good feedback, so they seem to be achieving something valuable.

They consisted of examining the physical consequences of being in “stress“.  I explored the fact that there is no emotion called stress.  If we are more precise and healthily honest, what people experience is in fact Anxiety with maybe an addition of Resentment, ie Anger:

And the physical impact of that anxiety / anger is threefold: the holding of the breath, the tensing of the body and the racing mind.

We explored how we can undo those with breathing, stretching and bending exercises to unfreeze the body. This amounts in some senses to the very essence of yoga – coming out of the tense, stressed body, which both reflects and perpetuates stress as the freeze reflex. I have found this understanding of yoga to be extraordinarily motivating. That was followed by some simple mindfulness exercises to calm the racing mind.

So far, so straightforward; it is quite easy, comfortable and indeed pleasant.  However, this article explores material that may seem less straightforward– perhaps because it is in fact harder and less comfortable.

I would like to explore seven connected ideas that go more deeply into the psychology of being a lawyer, especially a litigator, and especially in family law.  Warning: they get more and more demanding – or possibly to some more outrageous – as we go along.

First, we might ask why are we so stressed in the first place?

Of course, our jobs are often extraordinarily demanding and we have extraordinarily high levels of expected perfection in the law.

However, that is to place the cause or the blame outside of ourselves.  Maybe there is a bit more to it than that.  Do we seem to get stuck with that stress?  A clue may be the fact that, even if we fully intellectually accept everything that is explained about stress reduction, we (and I do include myself) have some strange deeper resistance to doing enough about it – at least on a full, longer-term, ongoing basis.

It is as if, subconsciously, we are rather attached to our stressed state. Indeed, maybe we even sometimes self-inflict it; by, for example, leaving things to the last minute or taking on more than is practical.

This may connect with the cultural norm that has existed until very recently that it is normal, respect-worthy, even high status, to be a workaholic; overloaded and therefore stressed because it shows what important and demanding work we are doing. People boast about stress and how hard they work – with a somewhat heroic, martyred tone.

It is good to bring this cultural habit into proper consciousness, CBT style, so we can question it and, perhaps, reduce it to our benefit.

In fact, as explored in the workshop, by separating out the objectively demanding, important work we do from the subjective experience we have in doing it, we can more honestly admit the fact that, rather than simply labelling it stress, we are actually talking about being anxious and possibly resentful – and nobody would be particularly proud of that or boastful about it. Indeed, it may be rather embarrassing – hence some resistance in admitting this.

But secondly, where do we go from here? If we accept any of this what do we do about it?

Do we have the courage and open-mindedness to ask the question as to why this culture has developed? Why are some of us so much in the grip of a workaholic, stressaholic, masochistic, martyred, self-inflicting ethos?

This is an ethos where the adjective “driven“ is used as a compliment or word of admiration. Whereas in fact it is a word which perfectly but maybe shockingly summarises a lack of freedom. Being driven, as many of us are, raises the question of what or who is driving us? and where are we being driven to?  What messages are there of the need to succeed, the fear of being in trouble?

Certainly, those motivations are highly functional in immediate career terms. However, they can have serious costs to us both in terms of our mental or emotional health and our emotional availability with family and friends.  We can see that we all have elements of unconscious motivation; drives which are in fact compulsions, sources of anxiety and resentment; a sensitivity to those feelings but, harder to see, paradoxically an attraction towards experiences which trigger them.

I am suggesting the word “Stressaholic“ for this curious attraction to challenging experiences, and attachment to their apparently unpleasant consequences.

So, a question could be: can we retain enough of the motivation without its damaging side effects?

To answer that we need to go another level down:

Third idea – If we can identify an attraction to stress, i.e. if we are stressaholic, then we might like to look at the whole question of why have we chosen to do this work? With its focus on dysfunctional and conflictual families?

Dare I make the comparison with people who are the victims of domestic abuse in adult relationships and that they have almost always witnessed or been the victim of domestic abuse as children? They repeat that childhood pattern in their adult lives.

We are drawn to a life working with dysfunctional families and conflict – and of course hopefully resolving conflict and doing so fairly – is this because of a childhood formative experience of at least tension, maybe conflict and unfairness?

Now people’s immediate reaction might be – “So you are calling me screwed up? You are saying that the reason I do this work is because I’m neurotic?”   Spelling this out to people who have made a living and whose future careers are based upon this behaviour, are they going to feel that I am telling them to give up their careers? 

Obviously, people are not and should not give up work for a number of reasons. So, I wonder whether the best way of approaching this is to see if it is possible, when we become conscious of our compulsions, to convert them into highly energetic impulses or motivations? 

If it is neurotic energy then we are driven. I offer the unattractive image of driving a car which is effectively out of control with the accelerator stuck down. We are careering along, not taking in the scenery, having to stick to main roads. Not able to respond to other vehicles. Perhaps waiting for disaster.

Drawing attention to that problem is not suggesting that you switch off, park up and go to sleep. Drawing attention to that problem allows us to unstick the accelerator and then we can choose how fast we go. We would therefore have much greater freedom about what route we take and how we engage with others. 

If so, the first benefit of moderating compulsions down to being just motivations might be for there not to be the same self-consuming cost to ourselves. And it is also secondly worth exploring from the perspective of professional advantage the fact that compulsive behaviour is often not nearly as skilful as a more measured and self-aware motivation.

For the fourth idea, we come to the next big jump which many people may refuse: thinking about the roots and therefore the explanation of our behaviour and feelings.

We used to talk about neuroses and many people would, with a wry smile, say they saw themselves as being a bit neurotic and add “surely this is necessary to be successful?” 

We now tend to talk about personality traits or even personality disorders.

The emerging one is CPTSD – Complex PTSD. This is seen as being different from ordinary PTSD which is seen as the result of some specific trauma in adulthood.  CPTSD is seen as more about childhood PTSD, the impact of “Adverse Childhood Experiences” on the soft and developing brain of a child.  That phrase, Adverse Childhood Experiences, is really helpful as it avoids the overheavy and therefore very resistible word “Trauma”.

And if we drop the word “Disorder” we can see that, like Autism Spectrum (Disorder), CPTSD can be seen simply as a spectrum on which we are all located. This destigmatises, de-pathologises the issue. Does anyone say they are entirely emotionally healthy? That they are not disproportionately sensitive to praise or blame?  Is anyone immune from some general anxiety?  Fear of being in trouble is such a prevalent and yet unspoken state of mind for most of us that it deserves to be honestly exposed and maybe even given a catchy acronym – FOBIT? That may sound strange but I find this resonates strongly with many clients.

To investigate a little further why this might be, we need to look at the whole concept of Adverse Childhood Experiences. If you research that online you will find a checklist which is quite interesting to do but it is skewed towards a certain demography – that of the classic “needy, disadvantaged patient“ e.g. questions like “Did you have a parent in prison?”

It may be time to formulate a different checklist of Adverse Childhood Experiences which is more about middle-class or apparently high functioning homes:

Maybe we need questions such as … Did you have parents who are both workaholics, modelling a view of the world that to be valuable and valued you have to be a big success? Parents also quite possibly too busy to be fully available to their children? Possibly parents being pressurising and critical in the way they may have thought of as being challenging and ambition building? Experience of Boarding school? Yourself or your parents?” 

And this leaves aside the other elements from the traditional ACE checklist which may also be relevant in professional homes: parents’ mental health problems; substance abuse including alcohol; domestic conflict in the home; separation and divorce; loss of a parents as a result of that or as a result of bereavement.

For the fifth idea, I suspect this exploration in the last few paragraph is to push myself up against a pretty solid wall of resistance in many readers. So, I know from experience that the rewards at the end of the day mean it is worth pressing on and examining the reasons why people flinch away and reject the possibility of even thinking about their childhoods as including adverse experiences.

For some there is a loyalty to their parents who are now often mellow, loving elderly people. People have a love for parents which could forbid a calm, accurate awareness. Love can be blind at all ages.

A way forward from that is to drain out any blame. We would not blame a parent who had overt physical disabilities such as blindness or paraplegia, that might have limited our childhood opportunities.  We could be matter of fact about that.

It is harder, but still possible to understand if they had more hidden psychological issues that reduced their ability to offer full love and care. There is no need to blame our parents for the fact that the best they could do may have been limited and that has significant implications for us as adults. Maybe we are the last link in a chain of emotional problems and limited resources that go back generations. And that we will not wish to pass on to our children.

For some people there may also be the belief that it is important to maintain a denial of those experiences because to admit them would be to play the victim and become helpless, pathetic, weak and dysfunctional.

That is based upon a model that the only choices in life are Rigidity or Collapse. Whereas the truth is that admitting the reality of one’s childhood, without blame and anger but with calmness and often a degree of sadness is courageous and is a recipe for Resilience.

One perspective is that people who may have had challenging childhoods can grow up with an anxious, and therefore black and white view of many things – and including therefore logically, their own childhoods.

People sometimes think if they admit anything negative, then obviously they are claiming it was all negative and that they had a terrible, abusive childhood.  However, they know that isn’t fair or accurate. So, they shy away from it and possibly idealise their childhood – but not necessarily in a golden way. Maybe just the image of “white washing” is closer to the truth. This can be seen as a covering up of the darker, unhappier aspects and in doing so, obscuring much of the detail. The outcome is that many people have surprisingly poor recollections of their childhoods.

But in fact it is possible to see that a childhood is a mixed thing and that seeing the sadder aspects does not have that accusatory or dramatising quality. People can then see their whole childhoods more realistically. If people don’t need to whitewash their childhoods, they can in fact see the whole experience more clearly in full colour and therefore have a clearer picture and better emotional access to the genuinely good bits – including the love that was on offer. This is what I have repeatedly found happened in working with therapy clients.

Six:  One classic response to this line of thinking is “but my childhood was Normal!”  So, going somewhere deeper and even more unpopular, we can look at the possibility that, for most of us, our childhoods happened in what we could see as the general, shared adverse reality – that of the modern world.   And that is the context of “Normal.”   

Just a teasing question: It is said that it takes a village to raise a child healthily – with the implication of being in a more traditional, wider family unit and beyond that with a community of people who know you and you know. All of these would be people who to varying degrees share and spread the burden of parenting and socialising the children. This is surely the model of living that was the norm for the millennia that formed our deepest “hard-wired” emotional and social needs.   

Then consider what the consequences are of growing up in the exact opposite of that model.  Firstly, we generally lived in nuclear families, with over intense parenting. Secondly many of us lived in cities, with stressful anonymity and thirdly, effectively, through media bombardment, we lived in a huge, competitive and often harrowing world?

Obviously, we cannot undo the reality of the modern world. But maybe if, and only if, we dare to notice these issues could we cooperate to work out ways accurately to mitigate and offset them.

Finally, idea seven, to take it all one step even further – consider if the consequences for many of us of childhood difficulties were perhaps a form of premature adolescence encouraged by the culture.  If childhood attachments with parents were compromised, then the child may move on prematurely to the next attachment stage in life – namely of adolescence – pushing away parents, seeking independence, seeking attention and attachments, with peers and sexually,

And then, perhaps because it was premature, we may have a permanently arrested, ongoing adolescence – with insecurity driving competitiveness, acquisitiveness, grasping – materially or in terms of career and relationships including sexual relations. 

This is reflected in and continues to be encouraged by our society and is now so much the social norm, so universal, so much underpinning the economic model of continual growth that it is extremely hard even to notice it. As an experiment, consider the range of magazines on sale in a newsagent: feeding a hunger which is almost an addiction to adolescent tastes – of beauty and eternal youth for both genders and images of boyish power, especially for males.  The presence of more humanistic, domestic magazines on cooking, home life and health is encouraging although the need to be competitive sometimes infiltrates even those enthusiasms.

If this may all seem somewhat wild or idiosyncratic, it may be helpful to research “Neotony” and see that this theory is in fact pushing at an open door.  Neotony is the retention of juvenile features into adulthood. This trend is common in evolution and greatly amplified in humans. Humans retain a plasticity of behaviour that is generally found among animals only in the young. The emphasis on learned, rather than inherited, behaviour requires the human brain to remain receptive much longer.  Imagination and creativity are central to the extraordinary success of homo sapiens. And other juvenile behaviour is central to less admirable traits, such as selfishness, acquisitiveness and a lack of empathy especially if amplified by a runaway culture of exaggerated adolescence.

These are such large scale and demanding perspectives that they might distract and detract from the fact that we can and maybe should simply start from where we are – our own internal physical and emotional state and take reasonable steps to be more skilful with ourselves – for our own benefit and the benefit of those around us. So, I invite you to return to the first article about self-care.  

Working with some lawyer clients who are hugely in their heads makes me realise just how much it is true that people like them and me and many others do not actually believe in the mind / body connection. And, therefore, don’t really take seriously breathing and yoga etc. Or do as much as we need to of it.

Strangely we believe in the cause-and-effect flowing one way – we know that being emotionally upset or distressed or stressed has physical consequences, possibly psychosomatic disorders.

But we don’t quite believe in the reverse flow – that intervening at a bodily level will change the mind, change the emotional state.

I think and hope that by naming this resistance, I may have already reduced it and people may take seriously the benefit of the breathing and very simple physical practice that I mentioned in the first article and is summarised above. Further details can be found at my website at  davidjockelson.com.

David Jockelson 

Five minute stress reduction note

STRESS REDUCTION Learning to be confident and relaxed in the face of everyday stress.

The basic point of this note is this: as soon as we become anxious the body reflects and expresses this…. in two main ways – 1. holding the breath and 2. tensing the muscles.  This is the Freeze reflex which is a total survival response to threats.  If Fight and Flight are impossible we get stuck in Freeze.

The next major point is that this is not just a one way traffic – the brain sending messages to body. It is a loop: the body sends messages back to the brain.

The body’s breath holding and muscular tension sends message to the brain. Imagine for an animal ..It says : “Careful. Danger of some kind. Maybe we are under attack – therefore freeze, be super alert, look for the dangers, the negatives, the threats, assume the worst, exaggerate the problems, see them before they get to us…….”

It is experienced as loss of confidence. Fear. Pessimism. Catastrophising.

Obviously, this is a perfect recipe for more anxiety: this is a vicious circle. Anxious > tense breath holding > hyper-alert > seeing threats > more anxiety etc.

This keeps a person in a state of anxiety for longer than they need to be. The logic of the circle is very powerful..

Hormonally we keep cortisol, the fear hormone circulating. And adrenaline -trying to offset fear with excitement. Anaethetising the fear. And, like any anaesthetic, it can become addictive.

But by the very same logic we have a magic answer: The logic of the circle is very powerful. This therefore gives us a marvellous opportunity to interrupt that circle and start a very powerful ‘benign circle’.

If we can achieve less physical stress – ie less bodily tension and breath holding – we can achieve less messages being sent to the brain , leading to less hyper-alertness and less anxiety > leading to less tense breath holding etc. We can escape the trap.

So the immediate solution to immediate stress is physical – to do with breath and with physical muscular tensing.  This note only deal with the breathing aspect.   Other posts on this website deal with both breathing and body tension.

ANSWER: The solution is not just deep breathing. Breathing in the right way is not simply about driving large amounts of air in and out of the lungs.  It is open throat breathing. And then the best body language – posture when breathing.

So start with this though: It is about the state of the muscles of the throat.

This is because the actual holding of the breath is not done by chest or lung muscles; it is done by closing the throat.

This may sound surprising but it is very easy to check. Right now – as you read this. Breathe in. Hold the breath for a moment and then release the breath sharply and watch which bit of the body is mainly involved. It is the epiglottis and the vocal chords. You may need to do this several times before it is clear. Make a noise and it is more obvious. The chest moves but the control comes from the throat.

The fact that the vocal chords are involved is fairly clear from the fact that in certain stressful situation we speak with a higher pitched voice, or even lose our voice entirely.

Fear tends to make us squeak with alarm or panic. People also squeak with indignation – a frightened, controlled anger. Awe – where we gasp and whisper in a hoarse tone? People suffering from stifled grief sometimes suffer from the ‘fish bone in the throat’ feeling – which is muscles in the throat in spasm.

Now consider the opposite – the moment when the throat is opened. Laughing, crying openly, howling, shouting in a confident way (strong anger), singing for joy. Saying ‘phew’. These are all situation of uninhibited emotion expression.

Possible exercises to try – anytime –  in fact right now as you read this!

1. Pretending to steam up a mirror. Hold up your hand in front of your mouth and pretend it is a mirror that you want to steam up. That opens the throat very well. This can usefully turn into a Yawn.

2. Breathing very slowly and as silently as possible with the mouth wide open.

3. Breathe out fully. Then breathe out some more. There is always more to come. Then some More! And More! It is quite surprising – and it can perhaps make us realise how the bottom of the lungs are never fully used. I like to think that I am expelling old stale air that’s been there for weeks!

Then hold it there – throat open, lungs empty. Peaceful. Strange.

4. Pretending to smoke a cigarette. Breathe in deep, then breathe out – slowly, luxuriantly, savouring the moment. I suspect half of the pleasure of smoking comes from this enforced or encouraged good breathing. The use of nicotine is a sad, ironic poison and an unnecessary addition. Using this technique, we can get the benefit without the poison.

5. It can help to cover the mouth. Pressing something to the lips. Covering the face as in prayer or extreme emotion. Being under a cover.

6. Counting the breaths. Or focussing really hard on the throat and the movement of air.

7. One you cannot do in public : Experiment with different sounds as you breathe out – A, E, I, O, U, – the classic ‘Om’. Watch how the throat changes with the different noises.

I find the best are: AAAAH (in) then HAAAAA (out). You can do them silently.

Belly breathing –v- Chest breathing.

There is another aspect of holding back the breath: The seven exercises or techniques mentioned above focus on opening the throat on the outbreath – but one aspect of tension is that stressed breathing becomes shallow and confined to the top of the lungs.

A closed throat goes with upper chest breathing. What is needed is to open the throat and then also breathe with the belly and then the chest. Breathe in – extend the stomach. What is happening is that the diaphragm is drawing down.

So, like many people writing about this subject, I have emphasised the benefits of the out-breath. If you want to check it out, technically speaking this is called “the parasympathetic nervous system” trigger and it brings somebody out of the freeze, flight, flight mode into what is sometimes described as the “rest and digest “state.

Most people agree that this is indeed effective in heading off anxiety and panic, but I have been hearing therapy clients who tell me that their main problem is the in-breath. They say that to try and breathe in fully is hard or even actually painful.

In the literature the in-breath – (again check it out as being the “sympathetic nervous system trigger”) – you may see it wrongly identified simply with fight and flight. This is because it can be simply associated with the sharp intake of breath caused by an acute stress and then the state of having the held breath as described above.

But this is not the only form of in-breath. A calmer, fuller in-breath which is followed by a calm out-breath is in fact a source of strength and confidence. The readiness and ability to act but not the anxiety state created by the shallow breathing.

Accordingly, with myself and with clients, I have been exploring and encouraging the fuller in-breath; first to the belly and then to the upper chest. Personally I can certainly feel a form of resistance this causes in me, as if it requires courage simply to take my full space, take my full oxygen, and the associated body language of standing up taller and prouder.

In fact, in live sessions I encourage people to do some acting out, almost some drama therapy: first of adopting a rather anxious, collapsed position: shoulders up round the ears and hunched forward a bit, teeth clenched. (Basically the typical position at a keyboard – so that shouldn’t be too difficult …. Maybe where you are right now, reading this?!)

Maybe exaggerate this and from that position, take a good full in-breath to the belly and then the chest.  You may find that automatically that makes you stand – or even sit – tall and proud. And then the out-breath causes the shoulders to drop and a sense of relaxation to come over you.

Try that now, as you read this? Dare to breathe in – then to breathe out fully?

You then have the apparently paradoxical but in fact perfectly sensible balance of confidence and relaxation.

For some people, their strong exercise – running or gym – causes them to breathe fully and contributes to the runner’s high. But they may then return to their desks and their collapsed body language. Would it be good to get that benefit all day – just by breathing more fully?

I feel that my previous habit of simply focusing on the out-breath while remaining in a state of anxiety can cause a form of collapse into simple vulnerability. That may in fact be a necessary therapeutic transitional stage (which I can discuss another time or you can look at the website) but it is not necessarily where we want to be every day.

By working with the fuller in-breath I have found new confidence and avoided some of those paralysed, prevaricating states.

I will be very interested to hear any feedback on this if people wanted to try it. Please don’t just say it is “interesting”. Please tell me you have tried it and it works!

It may be good to think: “As I breathe in I am daring to breathe in. I am breathing in courage and confidence and strength. I have the right to be here.”

” When I breathe out I am daring to relax, to come out of emergency mode. I am safe.”

And it’s free and legal and healthy.

Breathing, Stretching and Bending – the essence of Yoga

Action: BreathingComment:Because in stress…
Open throatYawn, steam up a mirror.We close our throats to hold our breath. Squeaky voice
Breath from bellyStick it out. Pull it in.We only use top of lungs
Really empty lungsBreathe out. Hah. Then more. HahhhhhWe hold back
Hold it thereStill small point of calmWe are usually in a hurry
10 timesFocusWe are often distracted
Then use top of lungsShoulder back. Proud.We are too frightened to
Put them all togetherNew habitWe have damaging habits
Then explore powerful body language  
Hang headSurrenderWe are too proud to do so
Tilt, rotate headLoosen up, stretchWe are tight and stiff
Open mouth wideYoga Lion faceWe are tight lipped, controlled
Loosen, flex jawLoosen up, wiggleWe clench our teeth
Pull facesPuzzled, angry etcWe overcontrol our faces
Raise then lower shouldersExaggerate. Fast then slowWe both display and suppress our fear in our shoulders
Rotate shouldersWindmill, swim, punchDitto. And anger
Twist trunkLook behind youWe are rigid
Touch the groundWith bent knees and then straightWe get very bad lower back problems
PelvisDirty dancing – Pelvic  thrusts, shake that assWe are too embarrassed about sexual display
Do it slow and long: First for 5 minutes, later for 10 minutes.   Keep breathing all the time. I.e. put the two things together: breathing and movement.Think of Nelson Mandela who did 20 mins every day.   Note how hard to keep motivation. Left brain snobbery. Use a clock.In stress we produce hormones and our bodies express emotions/impulses: Freeze, Fight, Flight, Flirt, Surrender. But we are ashamed and suppress them. We lock the emotions/impulses in. Our bodies then feed back stress to our minds.   This is a vicious circle. It can be reversed and made into a virtuous circle: Release stress. Clean up the blood. New messages to the mind. Quick, free, safe anti-anxiety treatment.

My first webinar 6 May.

This workshop included a lookat the whole concept and experience of “stress“ with this analytical approach: 

The word “stress” very unhelpfully rolls up a demanding event or situation together with the subjective reaction to that. The implication is that certain “stressful” events inevitably cause “stress”.

It is much more helpful to look very carefully and to disentangle three steps in this process:

1. The objective, outside, in-the-world situation of demand, threat or challenge.

We can state clearly and honestly what are the demands, the threats. Simply spelling them out can very often reduce the additional threat element of them being “so bad they cannot be named.” Saying the unsayable is a cornerstone of good therapy work.

2. The resources that we bring to bear: Our skill and training.. Our energy levels. The impact of other stress factors on us. The amount of support that we may have. Our expectations and predisposition that certain things will be difficult to deal with or not. Our personality and initial attitude of confidence or anxiety

Again, honesty about our resources can be helpful – both in saying the unsayable but equally in identifying what is sometimes simple, realistic and practical steps we can take to increase our resources or to reduce the unhelpful additional stress factors. Going a bit deeper, we can note the impact of our early conditioning on our proneness to certain anxiety triggers.

3. The subjective reaction. Essentially anxiety – rising to fear and panic. With a complicating mixture often of resentment, i.e. anger.

Again as regards our emotional responses, by naming what is possibly unspoken or even shameful, we already start to diminish the power of the anxiety and to moderate or channel the anger.

We can also identify and intervene in the anxiety vicious circle which I will explain in more detail in the workshop.

Briefly: a demand can generate anxiety with the powerful hormonal impact of cortisol as well as adrenaline. This physical reaction is also present in the physical responses, the Freeze Reflex that we are hardwired to have in response to threat : breath holding, shallow breathing, physical tension, fearful body language. These then feed back to the mind the message of danger – and therefore lock in the anxiety.  The beginning of a Vicious Circle that is the centre of this discussion. 

It is also manifested in the racing mind, which isuseful inlooking for solutions but often very unhelpful in looking for problems. That is a form of hyper-alertness that exaggerates the threats and generates more anxiety – so an even more powerful vicious circle is created.

We can intervene in that vicious circle at a cognitive level, challenging the thoughts, the exaggerated perception of threat, as in CBT. 

And/or we can intervene at a physical level – changing the breathing and the body language which, by being the freeze reflex, both expresses and reinforces the anxiety state. We will explore simple and practical ways of undoing that in the workshop.

We might notice that unfreezing the body is the essence of full Yoga. And the result can also be a gradual unfreezing of the heart leading to a more mature, content and compassionate person.  Yoga sees that as spiritual progress. We could see it simply as deeper emotional health progress.

Stress and looking after ourselves – a 15 minute read. How to be a Happier, Healthier, more Efficient and Ever Youthful Workaholic!

How to be a Happier, Healthier, more Efficient and Ever Youthful Workaholic!

That is not just a gimmicky title. I am trying to address immediately the suspicion that people may have that stress management or Well-being will involve doing less work. Some judges have kindly suggested just that. Sadly, most of us find that is simply not possible.

So the point about this paper and the workshop is how we can maintain a very high level of work without becoming unhealthy, burning out or becoming cut off from the better things in life – including family and friends.

New Hopes: For last year’s conference of the Association of Lawyers for Children I wrote a paper which was in the pack and it included this sentence: “ just maybe the cultural tide is turning now?” And the change in just the 12 months has been astonishing – there has been a massive increase in awareness and action about stress. More and more people have signed up for yoga. Mindfulness is on the agenda in many places. Well-being has become a universal meme. Conscious Breathing is now highly fashionable.

So this paper and the workshop attempts to draw these threads together and to show how they connect into one evidence-based and quite moderate, practical program that each of us can follow. And in doing so I attempt to make it relevant and palatable to lawyers in particular.

This paper and the associated workshop will mix practical and immediate experiences together with discussion about three main ideas. Because people actually remember experiences far more than words. And ideas, thinking – indeed overthinking – is both a symptom and a cause of stress and anxiety.

So let’s start with an immediate experience to make the whole thing real:

Instant Experience:

So right now, as you read this:

Hold your hand up to your face and breathe onto your palm.  As hot as you can make it. Pretending to steam up a mirror.  Really open the mouth – and the throat.  Do this for three long slow breaths out.  If you start yawning – that’s fine, go with it.

How does that feel? Some people say dizzy. Most people say weirdly relaxed.  I think of it as a magical sweet moment. Instant stress reduction. We will come back to this.

First idea: what stress anxiety does to us and how to counteract it.

The basic point of this note is this: as soon as we become anxious, there are at least three consequences: the first two are in the body’s reaction, which reflects and expresses this:

  1. By holding the breath
  2. By tensing the muscles, altering our body language.

At the same time – 3. Our brains are racing, seeking solutions.

I will try to address all three in just eight pages….

The major point about these body reactions is that it is not just the one-way traffic of the brain sending messages to the body. It is a loop: the body sends messages back to the brain.

The body’s breath holding and muscular tension send powerful negative messages back to the brain. Imagine for us as for an animal it says : “Threats. Danger. Freeze. Because it’s too dangerous or not possible for fight or flight. Be hyper alert, hyper-vigilant, look for the dangers, look ahead, see them before they get to us. Emphasise the negatives, assume the worst, exaggerate the problems.”

Obviously this is a perfect recipe for more anxiety. It is experienced as at least a loss of confidence. Maybe frantic overthinking. Even – dare one admit – Panic?  (Is this by any chance at all familiar to you?)

So we have this vicious circle:

Anxiety  >>  tense breath holding  >>  hyper-alertness >> seeing threats >>  more anxiety and overthinking.

This is all fine in a crisis, a real immediate threat or need to cope with a client or appear in court. The problem lies in the ongoing, long-term state of tension that keeps a person in that state of anxiety for longer than they need to be. Hormonally we are keeping cortisol, the fear hormone, sustained. The logic of the circle is very powerful.

But by the very same logic we have a magic answer: If the logic of the vicious circle is very powerful, this gives us a marvelous opportunity to interrupt that circle and start an equally very powerful ‘benign circle’.

If we can achieve less physical stress symptoms – ie less bodily tension and breath holding – we can achieve less anxious messages being sent to the brain which leads to less hyper-alertness and therefore less anxiety which leading to less tense breath holding etc. We can escape the trap.

So the immediate solution to immediate stress is physical – to do with breath and with physical muscular tensing.  Unobvious point – this is a challenge for those of us totally used to solving external problems with brains and words. Is that true of you?

Next experience: More Breathing

The solution is not deep breathing. It is open throat breathing. Breathing in the right way is not about driving large amounts of air in and out of the lungs. It is about the state of the muscles of the throat.

This is because the actual holding of the breath is not done by chest or lung muscles; it is done by closing the throat. This may sound surprising but it is very easy to check. Right now – as you read this. Breathe in. Hold the breath for a moment and then release the breath sharply and watch which bit of the body is mainly involved. It is the epiglottis and the vocal chords. You may need to do this several times before it is clear. Make a noise and it is more obvious. The chest moves but the control comes from the throat.

The fact that the vocal chords are involved is fairly clear from the fact that in certain stressful situations we speak with a higher pitched voice (which does not exactly assist in sounding like a relaxed, convincing advocate) or even lose our voice entirely.

Now consider the opposite – the moment when the throat is opened. Laughing, crying openly, howling, shouting in a confident way (strong anger), singing for joy. Saying ‘phew’. Sighing. These are all situation of uninhibited emotional expression.

Exercises to try – anytime – now and on the way to court, at court, in court….

  1. Here we go again – Breathe onto your palm. That gives the experience of open throat breathing.
  2. Now breathe very slowly and as silently as possible with the mouth wide open.
  3. Breathe out fully. Then breathe out some more. There is always more to come. Then some more! It is quite surprising – and it can perhaps make us realise how the bottom of the lungs are never fully used. I like to think that I am expelling old stale air that’s been there for weeks! Then hold it there – throat open, lungs empty. Peaceful. Strange.
  4. One you cannot do at court: Experiment with different sounds as you breathe out – A, E, I, O, U, – the classic ‘Om’. Watch how the throat changes with the different noises.
  5. I find the best are: AAAAH (in) then HAAAAA (out). Try that? You can do them silently.

You may like to Google: Breathing – Autonomic nervous system – or look at the fuller version of these notes on the website. Breathing has a major impact on hormonal levels and can very quickly alter our feelings generally and our reaction to objectively stressful or demanding situations.

As soon as you do that hot breath on the hand or any of the other exercises, you can feel the cortisol reduce and the pleasant hormones come thorough. And this can be done at any time – it doesn’t take you away from that urgent work that so needs to be done. In fact you will work far better for doing this.

Next experience: Belly breathing – v – Chest breathing

This is the other aspect of holding back the breath. The five exercises or techniques mentioned above focus on opening the throat – but one aspect of tension is that stressed breathing becomes shallow and confined to the top of the lungs.

Closed throat goes with chest breathing. What is needed is to open the throat and then also breathe with the belly. Try this now: Breathe in – extend the stomach. What is happening is that the diaphragm is drawing down. Breathe out – flatten the stomach. The diaphragm is coming up to expel the air from the bottom of the lungs.

This belly breathing with an open throat sends powerful messages of reassurance to the mind. This is not surprising given the emphasis on breathing techniques in almost every meditation or Yoga tradition. This releases serotonin – the feel good hormone and oxytocin – which triggers sociability and affection. Subjectively it feels lovely and peaceful.

Next experience – Mindfulness. First some information:

Because it is uber-fashionable, some people might just be a bit cynical or dismissive. So, to offer the actual scientific explanation…

The racing mind mentioned above refers to the part of the mind that is highly focused on future planning – (dorsolateral frontal cortex) – and possibly chewing over and regretting the past. Some traditional meditation tries directly to clear the mind, turn down the activity of that centre. But it is very hard to control that “Wild Horse”. It does not seem directly to feed into a calming effect on the limbic system, the deeper, older emotional centres of the brain where anxiety, anger etc live.

Mindfulness attempts to increase the activity of the medial frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible to keeping tabs on the body: “interoception”. (Internal perception if you like.) And that seems to be the best way to calm the limbic system.

So the essence of mindfulness is focusing on the present, the here and now, most obviously the bodily experience – and that really is effective in calming the limbic system and the anxiety.   Strong Awareness reduces Overthinking and Anxiety. If anxiety is about the future, then an intense focus on the present switches off anxiety.  

One of the best forms of mindfulness therefore is a close focus on the self, starting with your breathing. Strong awareness of that displaces the overthinking. Really be aware of the flow of air, how open your throat is, the sound of your breathing, the rise of the belly and chest. Try it again now? Then focus on the rest of the body. How you are sitting, your weight on the seat or the floor. Check through the body carefully.

Other forms of mindfulness recommend you can focus on an object; a flower or candle or a piece of fruit. Touch, smell, taste. There’s no room here for details of lots of techniques – there are plenty online. My advice: Keep it simple. Start with breathing. Let it grow out to the next stage… about the body. And then maybe engage the sensory aspect – and the sensual with music, dance, food etc – really relishing the present experience.

Two minute mindfulness. This is quite practical. I do it on the train as well as at home. Do the breathing as suggested and count the out breaths. And visualise the numbers: One, Two etc. Really focus on them. Maybe zoom in on one letter. The n, the w etc.

Notice how you may lose the thread as the brain rushes off to worry about something else. Start again. And then again. And after a bit you will do ten counted outbreaths.

I time myself doing that – not artificially pausing, just slowing up the breathing. And at the start ten breaths takes about 90 seconds. After a few rounds it takes two minutes. And then more.

Final Experience: Very Simple Practical Yoga – 10 minutes standing postures

Explore the body language of stress because yoga is about working with the whole of the body’s reaction to stress ie anxiety.

“Body language” is a well-worn phrase. We may not notice that it says the body is speaking, expressing something from inside. And for me yoga is not about physical fitness – it is about noticing what the body is trying to say, but often being inhibited –and letting it speak more clearly; going beyond the expression of tension, to undo the Stress Body, the Anxiety Body.

Notice how holding back the breath is not the only physical bodily expression of stress, fear and self–control. We may also draw our shoulders up; go generally rigid and tense in the neck, shoulders, spine, especially the lower back.

It is worthwhile listening to this message: acting this out: deliberately act stressed for a few moments. Hold the breath and do all the physical holdings mentioned above. Then tighten it up even more. Then slowly release it. Do this a few times. We will practice all of these in the workshop. You could do them now reading this.

Really become aware of what is happening. Become aware that this in fact is a body that we hold for hours at a time. And maybe it’s the body that some of us never really come out of?

This can be something you try gradually all day long but it is also good to try and get a hold of the idea and method with a session for a few minutes breathing and stretching.

Yoga classes are great for motivation but a short spell of yoga every day at home might be just as good. Or maybe in fact better. Because, it avoids the possible self-consciousness of a class and rather than following a standard routine set for everyone else in the class, you can do what your body needs – really listening to it and doing as much of each exercise as feels right. So there is a connection here with mindfulness.

Every morning I do the following exercises for just 10 – 15 minutes – or more at weekends:

First I open my mouth wide and feel the challenge to the muscles which normally keep it clamped shut. If you want external authority for this – it’s called the lion pose in Yoga. Mouth wide open, tongue stuck out. I also move the jaw from side to side and break up the brittle tension that is in the joints. Try it now?

Then I move on to the neck. Turning my head from side to side, tipping it sideways each way, head back and especially important – the head forward. Hold that position.

Head angle is really important. Dogs display their feelings, their confidence or fear by the position of their tails. Humans do so by the angle of their heads. Bowed down in surrender or sadness and held up tightly in defiance or anxiety. Try that now?

But any instinct we might have to bow the head in the face of stress is overruled by pride. Or that deeply unhealthy old commend “Chin up!”.

So the head is often carried in a curious tortoise pose. Half bowed, then cocked up. Mixed messages go to the neck muscles so they can go into chronic spasm.   Also in doing so, we unhealthily repress our emotions. (That last sentence goes a bit deeper.. more later.)

Answer: Bow the head to give that impulse its due. Hands behind the head, pushing gently forward – stretching out those neck muscles which have been in spasm. Try it?

Then later you will be able to raise the head in a clearer, more confident way. Look the world in the eye calmly and assertively.

Impulse to bow the head. Resisted “Chin up” > tortoise. Go with Bowing.   The assertive, looking the world in the eye.

The shoulders express a lot of stress:    Try lifting them up even higher round your ears, then dropping them down. Rolling the shoulders and the arms, just like the old PE exercises. Sometimes doing the crawl, swimming stroke. Maybe hear those joints crackle?! Mine do.

Then the back. “You are as young as your spine” The upper spine, twisting, looking behind you. The top of the trunk and then the whole body. The forward bend. Bend the knees to get a good bend. Don’t let hamstrings limit that. Hold it there. Collapsed, surrendering, breathing. Feeling peaceful.

Then the pelvis – maybe a difficult thing to read about because it is sexual. Stress and tension are anti-sex, freezing up. The pelvis is hugely expressive of sexuality. The English are notorious for having ‘frozen pelvises’. So do hula hoop exercises, ‘obscene’ pelvic thrusts and even more embarrassing (for a man?) ‘shaking that ass’ movements. (Twerking Yoga? You saw it here first.)

And all the time breathing. In fact I find the exercises, particularly the pelvic ones, trigger off breathing – strongly. As if the body at least sees the connection between the two practices.

Do give it a go. And then after only a few minutes, it can lead to stopping and practicing mindfulness – sitting down or still standing.

Time for a Second Idea:  As I have said, there is an explosion of interest in wellbeing etc, and we seem to be pushing at an open door on this – but the door keeps on getting stuck!

In my discussions with people:. “Yes your paper looks very interesting and I’m sure I will read it one day“ and six months later they have not. Or, if they have read it and are enthusiastic about it, they admit they are not actually doing anything suggested. So what is happening to motivation?

Now if we can identify that stuckness and reduce it, then we can have much easier progress.

Stuckness – or Resistance.   So let’s address the whole question of resistance but do so in that thrilling, fun way so beloved of cheesy magazines – A Quiz.

I hope that just by making these explicit – “bringing them into consciousness” to use a psychological phrase which is more than a mere cliché – it may help people to free themselves from the restraint that they represent.

So please choose from the following comments and see which resonates with you. You could go through this ticking the ones that do. Measuring your resistance.

“I don’t have time to do anything about stress” _  “I am too busy and stressed doing the work, meeting my targets and looking after others”. _  “You’re going to make me work less and I can’t afford to.” _   “I’m too distracted eg by Fear of Missing Out vital information on line and social media.” _  ”You’re going to make me go to yoga classes and I can’t do those.” _ “So I don’t accept that there is an issue in the first place.”_

One person actually said “I want to keep my head in the sand”._ If I’m not tense, then I am collapsed” _ Others have said “I’ve got to keep running.. If I relax at all I will lose my cutting edge.” Going deeper: “I need to work flat out for self-value. Because I feel guilty if I am not working.” __   “If I’m not useful, then I am useless.”

Linked to this there is an element of stress as status. Through a craving for a sense of public value, workaholic becomes stressaholic  “I don’t have time to do all this” which basically means “I don’t have time and I am too stressed, too busy – i.e much too important. (To counteract that it might be good to have a touch of self-cynicism – I am too self-important?)

Maybe some of us suffer from Perfectionism? That can be harnessed very successfully but how healthy is it to feel never good enough? An imposter? That people are watching and judging all the time? Feeling anxiety, fear and dread sometimes. I offer clients the acronyms FOBIT – Fear of Being in Trouble. And FOBAF – Fear of Being a Failure. They seem to resonate for many of them.   Do they for you? If so, to deal with that, we’d be going a bit deeper. See the end of this note.

Isolated? Do we believe we are the only ones feeling this? If so – does it feel best to keep up the façade of being on top of things, coping?   Superman or Superwoman? “Don’t even ask questions about stress. That would be a sign of weakness.”

So – maybe we come to a very simple conclusion – “keep up the breathless rush!“

So you will see why I have emphasised the whole issue of breathing.

Maybe it helps to realise that things like breathing in a healthier way does not take any more time than breathing in an unhealthy way. That a healthier body posture does not use up time or require special gym kit. Even the very simple exercises that I offer take five or 10 minutes time and they are totally not compulsory anyway.

And if one resisting thought is: “I don’t want to be told what to do by someone who probably thinks they are a perfect Guru figure“. Then the answer is “I’ve been a perfectly ordinary child care solicitor for 30+ years (as well as a psychotherapist for 15) who is plagued by almost all the stress problems raised in this paper but who has managed to survive using the techniques which are offered here and which I have found useful. A fellow sufferer and fellow survivor.”

Third Idea – “Stress” is a really confused and unhelpful word.

Now – if we think carefully about “Stress”, we can see it is a very confused and unhelpful word and it is really helpful to clarify it:

“Stress” is used both to refer to the objectively challenging situation and also to the subjective impact in the individual.  They are different. Rolling them in together gives the very unhelpful message that certain challenges are inevitably “stressful”.

But an objective challenge which causes subjective stress or anxiety in one person may be just exhilarating to another person.   For example public speaking: Some of us love it; for some of us, it is hugely stressful. The same can be said about mountaineering, horror movies or looking after a demanding baby!

So there are two approaches to the issue and both are very necessary:

Firstly we can focus on objectively demanding  (potentially stressful) situations or events and try to moderate those.

This is obviously extremely important and includes the aspects of work that are demanding. In our world: the pressure to meet court deadlines, to meet billing targets, fear of making mistakes, IT hassles – as well as the often distressing or traumatic content of our work. We may underestimate this from sheer familiarity. At the same time, we may have private demands from health, career and money worries or family issues.

They would be the subject of another debate at another time – and in fact they should be the subject of discussions within each organisation with a survey of people’s experiences of their challenges and what can be done to ameliorate at least the work based demands.

Secondly, the other approach to stress is to focus on the impact on the individual and see what can be done to help each of us deal with those demands.

That has been the subject of this note. And it requires us to think in this different way and perhaps a more embarrassingly honest way – to talk not just about stress but about what that actually means – our feelings, our anxieties – even our fear – and how we can be more honest, skilful and healthy.


-I have put a list of the little mini-yoga routine on one sheet at the end of this note. Some clients tell me they print this out and put it up on the fridge door etc to encourage themselves.

Going a bit deeper: You may find there also articles in which I try and understand why so many of us do experience this workaholic, stressaholic compulsions and the Fear of Being in Trouble – or Being a Failure… The extent to which individually we may be reacting to High Functioning Adverse Childhood Experiences and why as a society we seem to be stuck in an enduring, anxious, exaggerated Adolescence: “The Culture of Permanent Adolescence”.  And how the anxious body is a self-repressing body which inhibits the healing we all need. So the techniques I suggest for undoing the anxiety body can open up emotional healing. Deeper waters indeed.

You may also like to look at the excellent book – The Body Keeps the Score by Van de Kolk for the science behind some of this.

I welcome feedback on these notes and your experiences of using the techniques. davidjockelson@hotmail.com

David Jockelson MBACP Accred.

Action: Breathing Comment: Because in stress…
Open throat Yawn, steam up a mirror. We close our throats to hold our breath. Squeaky voice
Breath from belly Stick it out. Pull it in. We only use top of lungs
Really empty lungs Breathe out. Hah. Then more. Hahhhhh We hold back
Hold it there Still small point of calm We are usually in a hurry
10 times Focus We are often distracted
Then use top of lungs Shoulder back. Proud. We are too frightened to
Put them all together New habit We have damaging habits
Then explore powerful body language
Hang head Surrender We are too proud to do so
Tilt, rotate head Loosen up, stretch We are tight and stiff
Open mouth wide Yoga Lion face We are tight lipped, controlled
Loosen, flex jaw Loosen up, wiggle We clench our teeth
Pull faces Puzzled, angry etc We overcontrol our faces
Raise then lower shoulders Exaggerate. Fast then slow We both display and suppress our fear in our shoulders
Rotate shoulders Windmill, swim, punch Ditto. And anger
Twist trunk Look behind you We are rigid
Touch the ground With bent knees and then straight We get very bad lower back problems
Pelvis Dirty dancing – Pelvic  thrusts, shake that ass We are too embarrassed about sexual display
Do it slow and long: First for 5 minutes, later for 10 minutes.

Keep breathing all the time.

I.e. put the two things together: breathing and movement.

Think of Nelson Mandela who did heavy exercise every day.

Note how hard to keep motivation.

Left brain snobbery.

Use a clock.

In stress we produce hormones and our bodies express emotions/impulses: Freeze, Fight, Flight, Flirt, Surrender. But we are ashamed and suppress them. We lock the emotions/impulses in. Our bodies then feed back stress to our minds.

This is a vicious circle. It can be reversed and made into a virtuous circle: Release stress. Clean up the blood.

New messages to the mind. Quick, free, safe anti-anxiety treatment.

Stress management and more – a 30 minute read

Stress management – and more. A fuller body / mind note.  A 30 minute read with a bit of science and visualisations – including the two I use in workshops. 

To start with an important distinction about stress:

In talking about stress, there are two approaches, not mutually exclusive. And obviously people need to address both.

We can focus on objectively stressful situations or events and try and moderate those. This would include identifying aspects of life and work that are stressful. Health problems and worries. Money problems. Family anxieties. In work – the pressure to meet deadlines, to meet billing targets, fear of making mistakes as well as the often distressing or traumatic content of our work of some people which we may underestimate from sheer familiarity.

They would be the subject of an interesting debate and in fact should be the subject of discussions within each firm or organisation which should start from a survey of people’s experiences of stress and what can be done to ameliorate them.

However  – this note is not about that subject. Maybe another note will do so some time in the future.

This note is about the other approach to stress which is to focus on the impact on the individual and see what can be done to help each of us deal with that stress.

It requires us to think in a different way and perhaps a more embarrassingly honest way – to talk about our anxieties – even our fear – and how we can ameliorate that.  This note attempts to offer some techniques to reduce anxiety.

It is now very common to talk about the mind – body connection. For many years these seemed to be two separate worlds: psychotherapy worked with the mind while yoga, tai chi etc were seen as mainly physical.

Quite rightly that is now breaking down and people are seeing the connections. In fact yoga and tai chi have always seen the connections; always seen that the physical states involved have mental effects. It has been the Western, psychotherapeutic side that needed to make the connections and this note is approaching it from that side.

I have had two lots of notes that I have worked on over the years. The first was about breathing and the other was about my ‘Stretching and Bending’ exercises.

So I have integrated them together into one note.

This can be read at three levels:

1. It can be seen as being about immediate, practical stress management.

2. It can be seen as being more profoundly about general emotional health, which is my growing interest.

3. It can be seen as being about something more profound again – a form of emotional health and integration that some people would call spiritual.

I am encouraged by the knowledge that in many religions and in practices like yoga breathing is not a small side issue but is a central part of the practice and the means to progress.

If this third aspect is unattractive to you, then you can ignore it and just focus on the stress management aspect – or the general emotional health aspect.

They are both start from a fact which is simple and obvious but often overlooked: stress and anxiety causes the body to react in a certain way – which I explore in the notes – and, less obviously but crucially, this feeds back to the mind as a message of stress.

This becomes a vicious circle, a reinforcing situation or a stuck place with thoughts and feelings that can be uncomfortable or painful or frightening.

Psychotherapy can try and work directly with those thoughts and feelings; but also enlisting the physical aspect can really help to have a more immediate benefit. The vicious circle can be reversed into a benign circle. The situation ceases to reinforce itself and the stuck place can be escaped from.

A word or two before we start – A lot of the material here will be familiar to many people. And some of us may do yoga, tai chi, meditation classes etc once or twice a week for an hour. But perhaps the most important question about stress is why we don’t in fact use these techniques more – when we are aware of them and we rationally know they would be helpful? The last page of this note explores that paradox and may, for some people, take the brakes off. It introduces the concept of being, not just a workaholic, but a “stressaholic!”.

If this is all familiar stuff, or especially you find it off-putting … maybe just read that part? See below: Important Central Question
———————————- ————————

The classic stress books always emphasise ‘The Flight or Fight reflex’.

However what is perhaps more important in helping us cope with modern life is to notice and to pay intelligent attention to the Freeze reflex.

That often comes before flight and fight. And it is a reflex that remains when we are in any situation with no obvious immediate fight or flight option. This can be either a short term, real danger or a situation of longer term helplessness. We will look at how that works that in practice below.

But crucially – we can get stuck in this freeze reflex. And I suggest that this is the root of many problems.

The main expressions of that freeze reflex are breath holding and bodily freezing – physical tension.

These express stress. But it is not simply a one way message. As mentioned above, once in that state the body then holds the stress body and behaviour and feeds it back to the brain as a message: “We are under attack, remain super-alert, look for the danger, look for the negatives, assume the worst.”

The brain then continues to cause the cascade of hormones that are experienced as anxiety.

To be a bit technical – this is the HPA axis – the Hypothalamus deep in the brain send messages to the Pituitary gland which sends messages to the Adrenals which produce cortisol – the main, very unpleasant fear hormone – and nor-adrenaline which generates hyper-alertness and adrenaline which gives the energy for fight or flight. A great cascade of hormones flow through the body. The subjective sensation can be of being flooded. At an extreme – drowning in anxiety and panic.

This is not just being over-technical – by knowing what it happening it gives us much more sense of being able to control it – less of being the passive victim of this hormonal poisoning which can dominate someone’s life. It is easy to Google and research HPA.

This hyper-alertness can also produce superstitious, magical, symbolic thinking. “I will be ok if I wear this piece of clothing, go through this routine” are the more banal but we also have ideas that “Things will be ok if only…I work things out, do certain actions or get enough information… or enough success, attention, praise, food, possessions, sex, love.”

OK – so that is the problem situation. What could be the solutions?

By undoing that stress body, we can reduce those messages going back to the brain.

By letting out the breath and unfreezing the body we really can alter the brain and our perceptions. By breathing out and by lowering and loosening the shoulders, the neck etc – we can alter our hormones, our mood, our fears and angers.

I find in totally practical ways that breathing out and adjusting my body language are excellent antidotes to anxiety or even panic. (For me now the real challenge is to maintain this better body state all the time – not just when I focus on it. See note 4 at the end of this note.)

But it is easier to start with focusing on the two aspects separately: breath holding and body tension:


This is based on some perfectly conventional science and theory which I have sketched out above. But I realise that this can be off-putting to some people. And even if it is not off-putting, scientific facts are not necessarily the best way of motivating anybody.

Later in this note I offer specific ideas about stress management techniques including breathing, mindfulness and a very simplified sort of yoga.  You can scroll down to the double lines across the page where that starts and you could skip the next section.

But… the object of this note is to offer new ways of doing things and that requires motivation. To be motivated, I find that people actually remember things and absorb them – at a different level that may change their habits – if more of the brain is involved than just the rational, verbal part.

We remember things in a motivated way if we can engage visual or experiential parts of the brain – for example by stories and by doing things.

So rather than labour the theory, I will offer some stories or visualisations, invite you to practice certain breathing as you read this note and then draw out from those stories the necessary theories and the science.

First story – or visualisation: We’re in a group on a picnic in a field. Sunny day. Food spread out on a cloth. We are all relaxed and happy.

Suddenly the gate behind us swings open – a bull. It snorts and scratches the earth.
Everyone Gasps. Absolute freeze. They hold their breath.

After a long pause, the bull turns round and goes back into its own field. Someone darts over and secures the gate.

Phew! We gasp out. We all run to the road and our cars. We pile in shouting, screaming, laughing, talking. Sharing. We need to talk. Tell each other what has just happened. And this will continue for quite a long time before we decide what to do next. And given the gate is now secure running to the cars is strictly speaking irrational – symbolic.

Now try that sequence now: Gasp in. Hold for 10 or even 5 seconds. Breathe out – ‘Phew’. Do it a few times.

Comment. This is obviously about the immediate, deep seated, animal physical reactions to danger as it would have been “in the jungle or forests” . The most direct result of an emergency is the holding of the breath. We gasp at the shock of a threat or an attack. It is important to notice that a gasp is a quick inhalation of air.

So before the flight or fight reflex, this freeze had cut in. As I have said it is a reflex that cuts in when we are in certain situations. In this example – a very dangerous one with no obvious immediate fight or flight option.

If the bull had attacked then the flight and flight would have cut in – chaos as maybe some brave people fought the bull and most who ran away. But until that moment, Freeze is appropriate.

And the freeze reflex involves holding the breath for as long as this situation continues. In a the wild this freeze reflex has the survival function of making a person or animal less noticeable; reducing movement – even chest movements. It also reduces sound and reduces scent emission. It engages the Sympathetic Nervous System. Again, Google and research that if you like,

Certainly it allows a person to hear much better. When you think you hear a burglar at night, the breath holding reflex allows you to listen much more acutely.

It may have also a function of pressurising the lungs and driving oxygen into the blood stream ready for fight or flight.

Crucially for longer term states it also prolongs the hormones in the blood stream – the cortisol, adrenalines and others – the cocktail of hormones needed for fight and flight.

Endocrinology text books talk of adrenaline being metabolised (ie removed from the body) by the lungs. Other hormones are reduced by movement.

But we need those emergency hormones to continue for as long as the danger continues. So we freeze and hold our breath to prolong the hormonal level. This is significant later as we will see.

And note the action required to come out of that state: It is both quite extreme and also quite extended.

It involves 1. the physical act of breathing openly, making the ‘phew’ sound, the instinctive use of laughter, loud voices.. That engages the Parasympathetic Nervous System – again research will show you the beneficial hormones that are released including oxytocin – the hormone that encourages bonding and affection – to others – and to ourselves?

And 2. the need to talk, to share the experience. To acknowledge what happened and how awful it was. To get acknowledgement from others about the reality. 3. Some symbolic behaviour – acting out.

I suggest you run through that sequence again this time being more aware of exactly what is happening – but also acting it out in a heartfelt way. Maybe repeat several times until the idea is absorbed deeper into the mind than just the reasoning, verbal bit.

Second story or visualisation: A longer one. More modern, social stresses.

We are going on holiday. The traffic on the way to the airport is bad, we are nearly late, the plane is delayed, the seats are wrong, there is an obnoxious drunk in the next seat, the airport has long queues, the customs people are rude and threatening, the taxi drive to the hotel is long and hot…..

And all the time we keep control, verbally. It would not help to moan or to shout at the traffic or the customs people etc. And physically – we hold our breaths. Well – not entirely of course. Maybe it’s better to say we are holding back our breath. In fact we breathe in a shallow way, using just the top of the lungs. Shallow, upper chest breathing.

All this time – maybe four or five hours – we are not aware that we are holding back our breath.

We get near the hotel and through gritted teeth we say that the hotel will probably be an unfinished building site – or something like Fawltey Towers. ie we are in a negative mindset.

Finally we arrive. In fact the hotel is delightful, the room is lovely. We put our bags down and say ‘Thank Goodness we’ve arrived’ and gasp with relief and laugh and make repeated ‘phew’ sounds and our shoulders come down from around our ears. And now we can talk and say how awful it was.

And this will probably continue for an hour or so. We will return to it later, we will want to tell other people about it. We want to share the information and preferably to have people sympathise and agree how awful it was. We may want to do some actions – write a letter to the tour company or airline etc. We may want an explanation for the delay and an apology.

Try that now. Shallow breaths, using just the top of the chest. Be aware of it for 5 or 10 seconds. Then – let the breath out properly. Again: ‘Phew’ or ‘haaaahhh’. Repeat a few times. Then again possibly put the note down and let it soak in deeper.


In this second story the need is for freeze as social self-restraint. It highlights how this self-control and the necessary breath holding can continue for hours – without the people concerned being very aware of it.

To come out of that emergency mode, the need is again for physical relaxation – breathing openly to disperse the hormones – and for the sharing of the experience. And we are usually able to do that instinctively, automatically.

So Freeze and breath holding can be about social self-restraint.

Stress books seem to rely rather heavily on the Jungle Book view of life – Dealing with wild animals. But in the evolution of humans – and going way back to our primate ancestors – the evolutionary pressure would have been as much about social success with other members of the tribe as success in dealing with wild animals.

We can see a continuation from pre-humans, living quite like modern apes, through to prehistoric tribal living. That is what formed a large part of our deep psychology.

We are an intensely social animal and also in certain situations, very hierarchical. Life can be a series of confrontations, threats and bluff. Probably this is more true of males but it certainly can apply to females.

So in those situations fight and flight are often not appropriate. Freeze becomes a form of self-inhibition, pretence – socially necessary self-control.

It is a way of being that is particularly appropriate in a situation of real powerlessness. That is important as we will see later.

This situation of social self-restraint freeze, breath holding can last for much longer – months or even years.

Third story or visualisation: Imagine someone back from the front line having survived in the trenches of the First World War, traumatised..

Maybe four years of physical tension. Four years of breath holding, of self-control, denial of feelings.

1. How long would it take him to learn to breathe again?

The instinctive use of laughter and making phew sounds would no longer come automatically. His throat might be frozen in a closed position. The other physical signs would be stuck. Muscular tension, posture, displacement activities.

2. The need not to complain, not to notice, never to tell people of the experience would have become habitual. And the non-complaining was anyway a part of his culture. The taboo on admitting fear, sorrow. The taboo on ‘self-pity’.

It would require a huge amount of skill and care and time to help that person to 1. physically relax and 2. to share the experience.

That is a harder one to practice. It may seem a long way away from our experiences but with some imagination it is possible. It may take some time to mull this over and let it sink in.

(This also provides a key issue which relates to my suggestions in another note on this website about arrested, perpetual adolescence and the war mode. How do we ourselves come out of a threatened, emergency or war state? Why does the culture continually pump up that state? What solutions to that – individually and personally or politically, as a society? Anyway – back to the main story…)

Fourth story or visualisation: Now think about childhood. Maybe our own. Or if that is impossible because of our own taboo on emotions and on ‘self-pity’ – then think of another child. Imagine one…. not having a good time…. adverse childhood experience is the current useful expression which copes with the flinching away from the strong language of “trauma”

Powerlessness? Abandonment? Fear? Frustration? Anger? Maybe witnessing marital conflict or violence? Divorce and loss of the family? Parents with mental health issues, alcohol abuse? The death or absence of a parent? Maybe gross and obvious abuse? Physical, sexual or emotional. Maybe the ordinary level of emotional malnutrition or pressure, judgement and criticalness by parents that is so ordinary that it is hard to see that there is anything damaging or to complain about?

Being told it’s not right to be angry? That fear is ‘childish’ and shameful. the child must inhibit and pretend not to have emotions.

Now think of that child learning instinctively to freeze – to hold the breath, close the throat, tense up. Block emotions. For how many years? 10, 15, 20 ? … and remaining in that state into adulthood? Permanently? Until released?

Think about the hormonal state of modern people – including children. The rise in anxiety, asthma, high blood pressure, depression, eating disorders, suicide.

Think of the need they – we – have for 1. Physical relaxation – especially breathing and 2. Sharing.

Sharing is being attended to increasingly with counselling and therapy. But maybe there is some catching up to be done on breathing?

—————————————————- ———————————————–

The central general point about breathing is this:  It is not deep breathing. It is open breathing. Breathing in the right way is not about driving large amounts of air in and out of the lungs.

It is about the state of the muscles of the throat.

This is because the actual holding of the breath is not done by lung muscles; it is done by closing the throat.

This may sound surprising but it is very easy to check. And I think very important; the main point of this note. Just hold the breath, pause for a second or two and then release the breath sharply and watching which bit of the body is involved. It is the epiglottis and the vocal chords. You may need to do this several times before it is clear. Make a noise and it is more obvious.

The fact that the vocal chords are involved is fairly clear from the fact that in certain stressful situation we speak with a higher pitched voice, or even lose our voice entirely.

Fear tends to make us squeak with alarm or panic. People also squeak with indignation – a frightened, controlled anger. Awe – where we gasp and whisper in a hoarse tone? People suffering from stifled grief sometimes suffer from the ‘fish bone in the throat’ feeling – which is muscles in the throat in spasm.

Now consider the opposite – the moment when the throat is opened. Laughing, crying openly, howling, shouting in a confident way (strong anger), singing for joy. Saying ‘phew’. These are all situation of uninhibited emotion expression. That is why it’s so healthy to sing in a choir! Or do chanting.

Possible future exercises to try:

Take the actions which were performed automatically, instinctively in the first two visualisations and then isolate them as techniques and then develop them –

Letting go of the breath, opening the mouth, opening the throat, making a noise, movement, sharing, expressing, acknowledging the emotions – having the emotions – sharing details.

Realise that to do them will now be to go against a very established habit, so against a strong resistance. It will need to be done in a contrived way. The work will require conscious effort, planning, hard work, encouragement, going against what seems instinctive.

I invite you while you sit here with this note on screen in front of you to try these:

1. Hot breath. Hold the palm of your hand in front of your mouth. Breathe on it with as hot a breath as you can manage. Maybe pretend to steam up a mirror held in front of you. That opens the throat very well.

2. Breathing very slowly and as silently as possible.

3. Experiment with different sounds as you breathe out – go through the vowels – A, E, I, O, U, – the classic ‘Om’. Watch how the throat changes with the different noises.

I find the best are: AAAAH (breathing in) then HAAAAA (breathing out).

4. Breathe out fully. Then breathe out some more. There is always more to come. It is quite surprising – and it can make us realise how the bottom of the lungs are never fully used. I like to think that I am expelling old, stale air that’s been there for weeks!

What is in fact also happening is that the diaphragm is pushing up much more than it usually does. The diaphragm is a large sheet of muscles under the lungs which is – or should be – responsible for most of the breathing action. When we hold our breath or engage in stressed, shallow breathing, the diaphragm is held in one place. By breathing out fully, we stretch and use the diaphragm fully. And that sends messages to the rest of the body and the brain. Try it now?

5. Pretending to smoke a cigarette. Breathe in deep, then breathe out – slowly, luxuriantly, savouring the moment. I suspect half of the pleasure of smoking comes from this enforced or encouraged good breathing. The use of nicotine is a sad, ironic poison and an unnecessary addition. Using this technique, we can get the benefit without the poison.

6. It can help to cover the mouth. Pressing something to the lips. Covering the face as in prayer or extreme emotion. Being under a cover. Or closing the mouth and blowing up the cheeks – which we may do instinctively to cope with irritation, impatience. Imagine standing at a bus stop waiting for a bus that is overdue: Fed up. Sulky. Cheeks blown up. Puffing out. Sighing. All good stuff.

7. Counting the breaths. Or focussing really hard on the throat and the movement of air.

I always start the day while still in bed with this open throat breathing and counting the breaths. It highlights how “wild horse” my mind as I often lose track after three or four breaths.. I start again…and often again… and each failure lays the grounds for eventually getting there and I breathe slowly to ten and hold it at the end of each outbreath.

This is a very simple mindfulness exercise, clearing the mind of its over activity . And I sometimes need to help this by visualising the number – a brass number or a carved wooden one.. but after a bit the need for that dies away and I can just have a relatively empty mind. At least for a few minutes…

I am now able to do this in most places. Even the Northern Line.

Yawning. You may find that a few of these breaths trigger yawning. And that is fine. People may associate yawning with being bored. But it is also a reaction to fear. Soldiers waiting to go into battle or people waiting to parachute jump are sometime puzzled to find themselves yawning. It is the body insisting of some antidote to overwhelming fear. The wisdom of the body..

8. Belly breathing –v- Chest breathing.

This is the other aspect of holding back the breath that we have explored so far in the visualisations. The seven exercises or techniques mentioned above focus on opening the throat – but all the way through the visualisations there has also been the theme that stressed breathing becomes shallow and confined to the top of the lungs.

Closed throat goes with chest breathing. What is needed is to open the throat and then also breathe with the belly. Breathe in – extend the stomach. What is happening is that the diaphragm is drawing down. Breathe out – flatten the stomach. The diaphragm is coming up to expel the air from the bottom of the lungs.

Place your hands on the stomach, finger tips touching. Breathe in, extend the stomach and the finger tips should move further apart. Breathe out, pull the belly in and the finger tips should touch.

9. Use the whole of the body language – stress reaction.

Explore the body language of stress. Notice how holding back the breath is not the only physical result of stress, fear and self–control. We also draw our shoulders up, go generally rigid in the neck, shoulders, spine, especially the lower back.  and this leads onto the next section…..


Breathing is in fact only half of my physical routine. The other half, which I do every morning, which is even more useful emotionally. In fact I would say it is a life-line, a survival system. I worked it out myself by listening to what my body needs. It turns out it has a lot of overlap with yoga or tai chi or qi gong. I call mine simply ‘stretching and bending.’

When I do the breathing mentioned above and then do these simple exercises I can feel a major and rapid change in my body and mind.

Like with the breathing it starts from the fact that stress, fear, anger etc – are expressed in the body – they are, if you like, spoken in body language.

But they are not actually discharged as they might be in successful communication. They remain there as a held, frozen statement.

And as with breathing this technique uses the fact that it is not just a one way thing: Mind to body. Because again what happens is there is the feed-back loop: To hold the body in a certain form has an effect on the mind.

The state of stress, rigidity send messages to the mind that message “we are under attack, threat” etc. The message / state therefore goes round and round, reinforcing and perpetuating itself. A powerful vicious circle. Or a vicious and sterile stable situation.

Now – this vicious circle gives us a great opportunity: If we undo that body language / state then it sends a very different messages to the brain. “We are no longer under attack, threat etc”.

This is where we can again create a ‘benign circle’. A more relaxed body sends reassuring messages to the brain which send more relaxing message to the body etc. This is a very powerful mechanism which is why it is so effective.

So – It is a question of finding the ‘stress-expressive’ parts of the body and interrupting that loop, that message. Learn the body language of stress and cancel it.

How to do this? I don’t have a set routine and I do a different series of movement each morning depending on what feels it needs to be released.

My Routine 

However a typical one might be to start with a strong stretch up. Arms above the head. Then out to the side. If reference to yoga helps – then this is like the Urdhva Hastasana , upward hand pose, or the Hero poses. Really feel strong and triumphant. See Note 1 below.

Hold all these poses for 10 or 20 seconds or longer if that feels right. For me one of the realisations is that attending a Yoga Session with others means I have to do what the teacher says and that may or may not be what my body or body/mind – needs. Doing it privately I can listen to my body and if I need to shake my head for two or three minutes or hold the forward bend for a long time – I can – and do.

The head. Bowing the head down. Stretching it up. Side to side. And this often turns into a head shaking which seems to resonate and be quite powerful as if the impulse to say ‘No’ is coming out – having been suppressed for so long. See note 2 below.

The face – loosen the jaw and move from side to side. This gives me an antidote to my usual clenched jaw state. Open mouth wide. Then pull faces. Crunch up. Really silly faces. The face expresses emotions. We suppress emotions by keeping a poker face. Undo that system by pulling faces and loosen up emotions. Scream face. Part of Yoga Lion Pose:  Simhasana

Then shoulders – they tend to rise up round our ears when we are tense – and freeze at that point. So I lift them higher and then slowly down – or quickly down. Then roll them forwards and backwards. Then swimming practice, the crawl or the butterfly stroke. Windmilling. The reaches up to the sky on each side.

Then the spine: “You are as young as your spine”. Obviously the forward bend. For me a helpful realisation was that the classic ‘keep the knees straight and touch the toes’ exercise really limited back bending because the hamstrings were the limiting factor. And I don’t think stretching hamstrings is very important. So I am happy to bend the knees to get the best stretch in the back. That also leads to a completely collapsed position of surrender which I explore later. Bending forward – as always – remember to breathe out fully.

Standing position – slowly swinging the top half of my body with the arms swinging is great. Looking behind you. Slow and graceful. Then more vigorously, turning it into a punching movement. Side to side, the upper arm reaching to the ceiling.

Backward bend it a bit harder. It is the only one where a floor exercise – Cobra – is really helpful. But I usually don’t bother, backward bend in standing position is enough and good practice on balancing. .

Then hips and pelvis. Rotate / hula hoop. Belly dancing. One way and then the other. Pelvic thrusts. Shaking that ass. Not obvious? Uncomfortable? See note 3 below.

Breathing and doing the stretching.

It would be a sad paradox if we did the open throat breathing and then went back to breath holding when doing the stretching.

It is useful to notice this tendency – that when we concentrate we hold our breath. And if we can break that habit each morning or evening by breathing while stretching it creates a healthy new habit.

In fact the visualisation I use is that as the tension comes out of the joints and muscles, into the blood and then into the lungs and then I breathe it away by my open throat breathing. Haaaaah!
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MINDFULNESS. Yes I know it is uber-fashionable so possibly mockable but…to offer some actual scientific explanation:

The racing mind mentioned above refers to the part of the mind that is highly focused on future planning – (dorsolateral frontal cortex) – and possibly chewing over and regretting the past. Traditional meditation tries to clear the mind, turn down the activity of that centre. It is hard. And it does not seem directly to feed into a calming effect on the limbic system, the deeper, older emotional centres of the brain where anxiety, anger etc live.

Mindfulness attempts to increase the activity of the medial frontal cortex which is the part of the brain responsible to keeping tabs on the body – “interoception”. (Internal perception if you like.) And that seems to be the best way to calm the limbic system. So the essence of mindfulness is focusing on the present, the here and now, most obviously the bodily experience – and that seems to be effective in calming the limbic system and the anxiety.

One of the best forms of mindfulness therefore is a close focus on the self – your breathing. Really be aware of the flow of air, how open your throat is, the sound of your breathing, the rise of the belly and chest. Then focus on the rest of the body. How you are sitting, your weight on the seat or the floor. Check through the body carefully.

Other forms of mindfulness recommend you can focus on an object a flower or candle or a piece of fruit. Touch, smell, taste. There’s no room here for details of lots of techniques – there are plenty online. My advice: Keep it simple. Start with breathing. Let it grow out to the next stage… about the body. And then maybe engage the sensory aspect – and the sensual with music, dance, food etc – really relishing on the present experience.

—————————————————— ———————————-

Now that Important Central Question: why we don’t in fact use the techniques more – techniques that we are aware of and we rationally know would be helpful? (and why are lawyers some of the hardest people to help?)

Going a bit deeper and a bit wider there are two aspects: the social and the personal.

Socially – a perspective is obviously that our society has become one of hyper-stimulation, ambition raising, anxiety generating. Some of the best brains and biggest budgets are dedicated to pumping up success – status consciousness and consumerism. Have a look at another note on this blog:


But less obviously there is an element of stress as status. A sense of value. Workaholic becomes stressaholic “I don’t have time to do all this.” which basically means “I don’t have time (and I am too important?) to look after myself. I am too busy doing the work, meeting my targets and looking after others”. (So to counteract that exaggerated work ethic, the antidote I offer is: “It’s your duty to look after yourself first”.)

“If I relax I will lose my cutting edge.” (Antidote: “you will actually be more effective if you look after yourself”) Are you proud and do you boasting about how busy and stressed you are? Suffer from perfectionism? Feel never good enough? (Antidote: “self valuing” may be becoming “self importance?!” That sounds much less attractive?!)

But add that in our work – we are dealing with genuinely the most important legal cases there are – and the most distressing issues. So there’s a danger we embrace “Noble Stress”!

Is there generally an unhealthy illusion of a high status, high achieving, adrenalised super work ethic? A workaholic, in fact masochistic style of working? Which in fact is not optimally efficient. Indeed it includes self-sabotage. Compare that with (maybe a Scandinavian?) ideal of emotionally intelligent, relaxed efficiency.

Personal: Firstly it is worth considering a potentially stressful situation and noticed that some people will not be stressed by that, others only moderately so and others may have a more extreme reaction.

If you are in the last group, then we are discussing the fact that your brain is very sensitive to stress factors. They may be specific ones or it may be more generalised anxiety.

Going considerably deeper (and you may not wish to follow this) the extent to which – and the way in which – a person is sensitive to stress reflects how their mind was formed during childhood. We are now realising that adverse childhood experiences include even quite normal ones such as parental separation, other bereavements, sibling bullying, parents with psychological problems, parents who offer highly conditional love / ie approval for success. These all influence the developing mind of the child. By their very normality they are unacknowledged, unspoken about, unprocessed, powerful. The concept that you will hear more and more about is cPTSD. Please refer to the note on the website.

Complex (or childhood) PTSD – Adverse childhood experiences

This next point may also be challenging because it is about something unconscious: If tenseness is safety – then relaxation is dangerous; it makes you vulnerable.

In response to stress we may develop a way of coping with the bodily tension which links to being emotionally detached, armoured, covered with a frantic overthinking with a future-focussed anxiety. If so, then loosening the body, slowing down and opening up a crack in the armour is scary. The mind may recoil and hold onto this stress body and lifestyle.

In fact, it becomes not just a habit but an addiction. Stressaholic. A stress state which is uncomfortable but which is familiar and therefore paradoxically comfortable. So it blocks the techniques mentioned above. It is hard to escape – but awareness of this is the first stage. “Ah there I go again – hanging onto my stress”. “I think I hate it but in fact I love it…”

In terms of personal relationships, stress can lead to a hot, frantic, tense head and body and the danger of a rather cold heart. The alternative is to use skilful techniques to slow up, cool the head and the body and therefore to warm the heart?

And to repeat – if the yoga is too much of a hassle – the simplest skilful technique is breathing: It may be good to think: “As I breathe in I am daring to breathe in. I am breathing in courage and confidence and strength. I have the right to be here.” ” When I breathe out, I am daring to relax, to come out of emergency mode. I am safe.” Confident and Relaxed. A nice combination?

And you can do this anywhere – at any time.


A few further notes:

1. Arms high in a triumphant posture.

I was surprised to find to find confirmation about some of this stuff in a TED talk by a Professor at Harvard Business School. Look at TED talks Amy Cuddy:

She claimed that she got one group of students to pose in hunched, defeated postures and another group to pose in expansive postures, extended, or arms held high. They then took mock interviews. The first group were not successful, the second were. More useful for me is that the measured cortisol levels (which is the anxiety hormone) in the triumphant posing students was reduced and their testosterone increased.

This has been challenged in recent research where another scientist was not able to replicate her outcomes – in particular her very ambitious claim that she could in a few minutes alter the hormones level of people. But it seems that the beneficial effect was genuine.

Why not adapt that? – not to do good interviews in business but firstly simply to reduce anxiety. Seriously worth doing for many of us.

And secondly, by adding other less triumphant poses, eg in Yoga and tai chi to generate a state of body / mind that we may feel to be more constructive: confidence yes – but one that leads to a loosening up, a more peaceful, receptive state.

2. So… Triumph but also Surrender

This seems an irony. But for me it’s not just about pumping up confidence – it’s about other emotions. Emotions which are expressed in the body and therefore, by using the body, we can influence.

It is not obvious – but explore this: One of the most important ones is the angle of the neck.

Dogs express their mood of fear and submission or happiness or triumph with their tail angles. Humans do so with their head angles.

The bowed head is a universal expression of surrender. Prayer mode in most religions. And Sorrow. But we are usually conscious and proud and so we override that and we pull our heads back up. We end up with that confused, frightened tortoise pose that we also adopt at a computer screen.

The muscles at the back of the neck therefore hold contradictory impulses. Bow down and pull up. They go into a rigid state. I think this is very bad for body and mind.

But rather than try and simply force ourselves to ‘stand up straight’ I would suggest exploring something paradoxical. If there is an impulse to surrender – go towards it. Explore it. Hang the head. Stretch out those muscles at the back of the neck. Feel how good that is. How much some deep part of us wants to do that. Surrender. Breathe. Feel safe. (It is related to prayer or worship. Which 99.9% of human kind has needed. So if we think we don’t need it? I think there could be a form of non-deistic worship – but that’s a bigger story.)

Then when we emerge and stand up straight, it comes from somewhere much better, much deeper.

Never mind all these words. Please – just try it and see if it connects.

3. Pelvis and sex.

It’s far too big a subject to explore much in this note and many people may object to the subject or the approach here but in fact the response to stress, especially social threat is four fold: Freeze, Fight, Flight and Flirt.

It is dangerous waters but – there is a hardwired instinct in humans that sex is used as a conflict diffuser, a stress response.

Unattractive view? Try Googling: “Bonobos”. They were previously known as the pygmy chimpanzees and as Wikipedia says: “The bonobo is popularly known for its high levels of sexual behaviour. Sex functions in conflict appeasement, affection, social status, excitement, and stress reduction. It occurs in virtually all partner combinations and in a variety of positions. This is a factor in the lower levels of aggression seen in the bonobo when compared to the common chimpanzee and other apes. Bonobos are perceived to be matriarchal.”

The other ones are now called the Common Chimpanzee, and a hierarchical and aggressive lot they are.

We are the third chimpanzee. It would be nice to see that we can share the characteristics of either of our cousins. And we can choose to notice that we have both instincts. We seem to prioritise being hierarchical and aggressive. And we censor out many of the bonobo ones.

Flirting is safe in some situations and dangerous and too complicated in many.

But I am not discussing social mores here. I am just talking stretching and bending exercises and using body language to help emotionally.

And I notice that the pelvis holds a powerful charge. Pelvic thrusts ‘say something’ – something that we usually repress. And perhaps for women is a strange piece of body language.

For most men ‘shaking that ass’ is also very unfamiliar – and digs into something flirtatious, alien, powerful, embarrassing maybe and repressed. Good to go towards it.

Never mind all these words. Please – just try it and see if it connects.

4. The need to do this all the time . All of this is about a session of breathing or stretching and bending. That has great benefits. But then I tend to go back to the usual mode of breath holding and tense body – with consequent anxiety, hyperalertness, spotting threats, cranking up the anxiety etc. Quite often and increasingly I notice this and breathe out even in the office. (I get asked “Why are you sighing David? Is something the matter?” ) And I stretch and bend – just occasionally..

But as far as I know it is only the Alexander Technique which emphasises the fact that a new way of holding yourself has to be a strong, new, all day habit. Sadly Alexander is a bit of a cult but underneath all that, many of the ideas seem very helpful. They are also very concerned with the importance of the angle of the neck – see Note 2 above.

5. Have a look at another TED talk – Google TED Kelly McGonigal Stress

Her message – it’s not stress that damages your health. It is stress + the belief that stress damages your health – which damages your health! Change your attitude – change the reality.

She refers to research by  Health Psychol. 2012 Sep; 31(5): 677–684.   Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter?  The Association with Health and Mortality

Conclusion:    High amounts of stress and the perception that stress impacts health are each associated with poor health and mental health. Individuals who perceived that stress affects their health and reported a large amount of stress had an increased risk of premature death.

6. A new thought in February 2018 was that I truly in my head believe all that I have written here – but I do not have the motivation to act on it at any great length. I have to force myself to do the 10 or 15 minutes each morning. I also notice that I am actually surprised at how effective it is in reducing my anxiety.

Why is that? Perhaps I do not believe it at a deeper level? Is my mind still influenced by early messages? – that bodies and physical exercise is all well and good but not really important and certainly not connected to the mind. The mind – thoughts and words – are what is important and real. This sort of almost intellectual snobbery and cut-offness between body and mind is learnt very young and very thoroughly – and takes an effort to offset. But I am finding that becoming aware of this automatic thinking is a powerful first step.

7. Change

One thing that it has taken me a long time to realise is that change is very hard to spot ‘from the inside’. I can move from feeling anxious to not feeling anxious in 10 minutes but it requires an effort to notice that. It’s as if – whatever we are feeling – that’s it.

Even more so then – real progress is also hard to see. We are addressing unconscious issues here – either deeply unconscious or at least habitual, automatic, unnoticed. So progress is likely to be to some degree unconscious, slow, unobvious.

I have clients who have changed a great deal over a few months who are surprised when I point this out. I have to quote back to them things they were saying at the beginning of our work – and then they seem curiously reluctant to believe in their own progress. Maybe both of these are true of me. And maybe of many people.

I have put a summary below on one page. Some clients tell me they have put a copy of this up on the fridge door and use it to encourage a morning and / or evening routine.

So how to get this state of open throat breathing and relaxed body language into our daily lives? I look forward to hearing your ideas!.

David Jockelson

Action: Breathing Comment: Because in stress…
Open throat Yawn, huff up glass, pretend to smoke We close our throats to hold our breath. Squeaky voice
Breath from belly Stick it out. Pull it in. We only use top of lungs
Really empty lungs Breathe out. Hah. Then more. Hahhhhh We hold back
Hold it there Still small point of calm We are usually in a hurry
10 times Focus We are often distracted
Then use top of lungs Shoulder back. Proud. We are too frightened to
Put them all together New habit We have damaging habits
Then explore powerful body language
Hang head Surrender We are too proud to do so
Tilt, rotate head Loosen up, stretch We are tight and stiff
Open mouth wide Yoga Lion face We are tight lipped, controlled
Loosen, flex jaw Loosen up, wiggle We clench our teeth
Pull faces Puzzled, angry etc We overcontrol our faces
Raise then lower shoulders Exaggerate. Fast then slow We both display and suppress our fear in our shoulders
Rotate shoulders Windmill, swim, punch Ditto. And anger
Twist trunk Look behind you We are rigid
Touch the ground With bent knees and then straight We get very bad lower back problems
Pelvis Dirty dancing – Pelvic  thrusts, shake that ass We are too embarrassed about sexual display
Do it slow and long: First for 5 minutes, later for 10 minutes.

Keep breathing all the time.

I.e. put the two things together: breathing and movement.

Think of Nelson Mandela who did 20 mins every day.

Note how hard to keep motivation.

Left brain snobbery.

Use a clock.

In stress we produce hormones and our bodies express emotions/impulses: Freeze, Fight, Flight, Flirt, Surrender. But we are ashamed and suppress them. We lock the emotions/impulses in. Our bodies then feed back stress to our minds.

This is a vicious circle. It can be reversed and made into a virtuous circle: Release stress. Clean up the blood.

New messages to the mind. Quick, free, safe anti-anxiety treatment.


Complex (or childhood) PTSD – Adverse childhood experiences

Complex (or childhood) PTSD – Adverse childhood experiences.

And how universal they are.

And why – in what way our culture and societies have slowly become increasingly and invisibly unhealthy or adverse for children growing up.

This note is long – and yet also too short – as it is extremely compressed. So compressed as to be unreadable by most people – but  it will be Ok for some people .

It is adapted from an email I sent to an eminent psychiatrist and psychotherapist who responded very positively – so I reckon it’s not too bad.

I have put [Square brackets] where I have explained terms and acronyms for this posting. .

But as a quick intro to the subject: 

This is not PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – as classically understood. That is when an adult, who was otherwise fairly healthy, experiences a dramatic single traumatic event or short period of trauma which then disturbs them into the future.  That is PTSD.  This is a concept that was developed in dealing with Vietnam veterans.  

The letter C in C PTSD officially stands for Complex. However the essence of it is that it is Childhood PTSD. I.e. not necessarily gross trauma and abuse but more what is now called Adverse Childhood Experiences which can include parents with mental health or addiction problems, divorcing, conflict in the home, as well as traditional physical sexual or emotional abuse. 

The point is that children have soft, impressionable brains and even fairly moderate levels of adverse experiences form the developing brain in a way that lives with them for the rest of their lives.

That sounds a bit hopeless but it is good to say that  it is possible to moderate the affects of them in ways that we are now beginning to explore.

In my email to the psychiatrist I started by explaining…..

Law. For 30 years I have been a solicitor practising in the area of child abuse and neglect. In dozens of cases every year I am involved in the incredibly detailed exploration of family dysfunction through the court process. I truly see the evidence of CPTSD – in the state of the parents accused of abuse and the neglect, in the origins in their childhoods and in the trauma inflicted on their children and therefore the likely or actual development in them of their own CPTSD. What is often referred as “transmission down the generations” – as well probably as the epigenetic aspect. A subject that my legal world is only beginning to hear about!

For me what is of growing importance is that although many case are often quite extreme, there is a considerable range or spectrum of degree from gross physical or sexual abuse through less obvious emotional abuse, neglect and sheer attachment disorders shading into what is seen as acceptable and normal parenting. This normal ACE [Adverse Childhood Experiences], is really important in care cases as Children’s Services are now so risk averse that they think in very black and white terms and flinch away from the shade of grey the spectrum aspect of ACE.

Therapy. I have also been a practising BACP psychotherapist for the last 12 years and I have fortunately had a more creative and therapeutic relationship with adult survivors of dysfunctional childhoods – and my work again involves a wide range of spectrum in the degree of severity of their experiences and of the consequences.

CPTSD seem to me to be a particularly valuable issue as it identifies both a set of symptoms and identifies the causation of many other conditions or disorders so elaborately identified by DSM-V and ICD-10 /11. [International systems for classifying mental illnesses by diagnosis]

However, practising in both my areas of work, has make me somewhat dissatisfied with the whole approach of identifying disorders in the way that those two systems do. I would like immodestly to offer some ideas.

Perhaps because of my occupational roles I start with some ideas which may be close to familiar material but broadening to wider perspectives that may strain a reader’s tolerance.

The problems with symptom identification of disorders. Defining conditions and disorders by listing their symptoms in a checklist such as DSM-V or ICD-11 I suggest has certain drawbacks.

Unscientific. Firstly, conventionally and as has been challenged by NIMH, [National Institute of Mental Health in the US]on the basis that it doesn’t help identify the objective organic substrate.

Describing physical symptoms such as having a high fever does not assist as much as identifying the bacteria or virus causing that symptom. Therefore does not lend itself to the most accurate therapeutic interventions.

Obviously fMRI scanning is now making ever-increasing progress but there remains many questions – for example if PTSD has been correlated with among other matters to reduced hippocampal volume can it to some degree be identified in that way – with potential implications for treatment? See below.

Spectrum disorders. Secondly the system for diagnosing disorder by identifying the existence of a certain number of symptoms for a certain length of time is precisely a process not only of box ticking but of putting disorders into boxes with firm sides or limits.

It ignores what I see as clearly the reality that many disorders are spectrum disorders that I have mentioned and which I find really important in practice. .

Obviously ASD made this transition into embracing the spectrum nature of that disorder some years ago but does not the same logic apply to EUPD or GAD? [Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, previously called Borderline Personality Disorder. And Generalised Anxiety Disorder.]

The advantage of this, apart from the fact that it reflects reality more closely, would be a more humanistic approach – that people with disorders are not in a wholly separate category to others who are seen as not having that disorder.

Indeed even more challengingly, people with disorders are seen on the same spectrum as those of us seeking to assist them?

This not only perhaps increases the humility of those of us who are attempting to perform a therapeutic role but also, by ameliorating the stigma associated with the concept of fixed boundary disorders, increases the confidence of those who present as patients or as clients.

This confidence is perhaps not only a healthier place for them to be but would make them far more receptive to therapeutic interventions. And receptive in a more healthy way – of a collaborating patient rather than helpless recipient of interventions.

Would it be impertinent to suggest that our desire to put diagnoses and disorders into firm edged boxes is a reflection of our need for order, categorisation and perhaps distancing from the conditions and therefore from our patients or clients?

Overlapping disorders. A further perspective from the symptomology model of understanding disorders is to see that using the boxes approach for symptoms not only ignores the spectrum dimension but also ignores the degree of overlap between various conditions; most obviously GAD and EUPD but also possibly many others particularly, in the area of personality disorder. I see you mention comorbidity but you also hint that it goes much further than that and I am looking forward to hearing about that.

The advantage of CPTSD perhaps is that by focusing on the causative aspect, it is possible to be more inclusive and open-minded about the symptomology?

If a number of different presenting disorders are best understood by reference to the causative factors, this surely sits alongside the move to identify the neurological correlatives of those disorders and the extent to which adverse childhood experiences is again a spectrum of trauma of abuse and neglect.

“Adverse childhood experiences“ is I find a profoundly useful phrase; as it is innately spectrum aware? It does not limit itself to what we would all see as obvious trauma but includes neglect – as I say above – all the way through to a simple lack of love and skill from parents and carers.

We can then focus our attention on the neurological consequences of those adverse childhood experiences in terms of overdeveloped parts of the brain, probably HPA axis and amygdala hypertrophy or the developmental deficit in other aspects of the brain, perhaps hippocampal volume?

We can perhaps categorise this developmental impact during the sensitive growth periods of childhood as “firm-wired“? In contrast obviously to the innate predispositions and neurological basis for that as being hard-wired and later, the more malleable learning and brain formation as being “soft-wired” or informational.

Plasticity and therapy. The question then arises as to what degree of plasticity exists among what aspects of the firm-wired over-developments or under developments neurologically.

Is it likely or possible that overdeveloped neurological structures can modify downwards in terms of benign atrophy by the selective non-using them? Reversing the classic “use it or lose it“, is it possible to some degree to lose it by not using it?

And if the disorder is one which causes the repetition compulsion that some have labelled ““stressaholic behaviour“, then becoming aware of that and modifying one’s reinforcing behaviour might represent a bridge from CBT into some fundamental neurological healing?

Probably more plausible is the focus on the development of compensating offsetting neurological structures such as work to increase the power of the frontal lobes and even possibly hippocampal volume?

I see a growing interest in EMDR and I wonder if that has some effect in loosening up /developing the functioning of the corpus callosum and might find some resonance in this area?

Attachment issues. If one includes in this debate the whole concept of attachment disorders and again applies a spectrum model to this thinking – such as is now more accepted with the use of language such as “attachment styles” – one can look to both the underlying neurology of adverse childhood attachment experiences and also investigate the concept of working with that neurological substrate therapeutically to compensate for deficiencies.

Unconventional therapeutic approaches. And if I am presuming to broaden the terms of this debate generally, may I suggest that we explore the connections between the medical therapeutic model that is discussed above with its questions about possibly unconventional therapeutic approaches to progress that is made both from traditional resources such as yoga and breathing practices?

Endocrinological aspects. We could perhaps connect them through the endocrinological approach of examining the hormonal consequences of various traditional practices and the impact of endocrine changes both on immediate mood, perception and behaviour of people but also examining whether chronic or at least longer term endocrinological conditions can have an adverse or a positive impact on neurological functioning or even structures?

In my work with therapy clients, I limit myself currently to suggesting and encouraging their work with breathing by explaining the Sympathetic and Para Sympathetic Nervous Systems and the benefits of the release of natural serotonin and oxytocin. I simply work with visualisations of scenarios of shock or threat – which cause the gasping in breath and then breath holding with closed throat. And tense muscles and body posture. And then visualise coming out of that state with the release of the breath – sighing, shouting etc with open throat and the changed body tension and body language.

This is my current most active area of exploration – for clients and for myself, who as you may have guessed is pretty well up the spectrum of CPTSD. Personally, after five years of analysis with Jaffa Kareem until his death, and then other purely talking therapies, I have been working with a body therapist with whom I do talking, insight and emotion work but also body work.

My body certainly remembers very early, baby aged loss and trauma which is far too deep for words. I assume my HPA axis is overdeveloped and my cortisol release is over eager and over intense. Having antidoted it with adrenaline and testosterone for many years I am now working with breathing, yoga and other ways of increasing serotonin and oxytocin. Those ways include, fairly obviously perhaps, socialising, especially eating socially, moderate exercise, music, dancing, rocking, massage, hugs and sex, creativity, generosity, gratitude, meditation.
All seem to trigger PSNS [Parasympathetic Nervous System], hence the serotonin and oxytocin and speaking more radically seem to move me from the action mode of Freeze, Fight, Flight, Flirt, Search – into the Surrender and Grief mode. And I think maybe Healing lies in that grief?

Repression by normalisation.

And in dealing with some middleclass therapy clients I begin to see that the degree of damage ultimately caused by adverse childhood experiences is dependent not only on the degree of adversity but by the degree of repression ie lack of acknowledgement of the adversity.

To create what is perhaps a rather contrived heuristic system of measurement: A normal or “respectable” home – precisely because of its conventionality – may have only 2 units of ACE x 8 units of denial > 16 units of adverse outcome?! Whereas 8 units of ACE more recognised as traumatic but fully acknowledged may produce only 10 units of adverse outcome?!

This could be the difference between eg ACE privately inflicted by a child’s carers – as against a public trauma eg of a car crash, even the chronic trauma of physical illness.

This has the paradoxical outcome that ordinary levels of adversity can be fully repressed especially with a degree of “over parenting” prevalent and admired in an ambitious family and this causes adverse outcomes that are puzzling to the adult.

So many times have I had clients tell me they had happy childhoods and then recount stories of what in fact amount to serious emotional abuse and neglect. The “false memory syndrome” in fact goes that way.

Nuclear family life. Added to which is the issue of the nuclear family, over intense, private to the point of being secretive – without the benefit of an extended family or a fully functioning “village that raises the child“.

In fact rather than the classic trick of idealising parenting with a model of the perfect nuclear family, we might do better to revert to a picture which is more realistic of the natural childhood experiences throughout many “less-developed“ parts of the world and throughout millennia of human familial history.

Adolescence.  Finally, to stretch the receptivity of any reader even further, may I suggest a sociological or even philosophical perspective – namely that adverse childhood experiences in fact relate to a child’s attachment and the neurological underpinnings of that. The lack of secure attachments will inevitably generate attachment anxiety and separation from the caregivers.

Such separation and associated anxiety is typical, inevitable and necessary at puberty and adolescence. However in our society actual separation at that age is not practical given our extended childhoods and educational demands as well as the practical issues of accommodation and this converts adolescence from being a moment of freedom into a period of conflict.

Nonetheless I think it may be useful to think that this pubertal or adolescent experience of separating from attachment figures is available hardwired to all children and may be triggered prematurely by adverse childhood attachments.

If a pre-adolescent child actually enlists the adolescent separation behaviour and attitudes prematurely, can that premature adolescence in fact become fixed as a way of responding and carried through into adult life?
(I wonder to what extent the separation is driven by the premature independence impulse and consequent necessary separation anger which makes the anxiety it self-generates particularly problematic to process?)

If we were to list, perhaps in exaggerated or caricature terms the qualities of adolescence, does one not find an echo in some of the disorders that we identify?

And, even more fundamentally, in the prevailing culture in our societies where acquisitiveness, consumerism, hypersexuality (which in fact means courtship behaviour – ie attachment invitation, implied acceptance) , competitiveness, over-reactivity, neophilia, adrenaline addiction – is both reinforced by a culture and may be seen as being a part – indeed perceived as a necessary part -of an economic model that has serious negative consequences both on an individual basis and in terms of a global impact?

Linking this back to the endocrinological perspective, can we characterise it as the adolescent response to the cortisol of separation anxiety being the natural and exaggerated increase in testosterone (in boys and girls?) and adrenaline which has now becomes socially and culturally the norm in some cultures?
This has obvious implications in gender issues: the linkage between anger, dominance and sex; male adolescent sexuality as effectively being early courtship behaviour, pre any real intimacy and accordingly potentially impersonal, even predatory sexuality. This is obviously a very topical issue but one where there is very poor level of discussion.
I do find this perspective of ongoing adolescence can be valuable with clients: – with some therapeutic clients it is possible to help them explicitly see the degree of adolescence that they still operate in. But with others and but also with the more receptive legal clients – simply using language of moving from immaturity to maturity is acceptable and effective.
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The style of this note is perhaps ironically marked by some of the characteristics described above and may seem not only amateur, naive and arrogant but also breathless and series of disconnected ideas.

That may be one of the perils of thinking or discussing matters outside of the boxes. I would suggest a more favourable perspective is one of the integration of the number of approaches, joining the dots.


A general statement could be that emotional unhealthiness can be seen as predominantly the result of adverse childhood experiences during the formative years, but those adverse childhood experiences do not need to be gross and obvious examples of abuse or neglect but lie on a spectrum – possibly an all-inclusive spectrum – with the perfect happy childhood experience and attachment experience being almost mythical.

The adversity of the outcome is a function of the adversity of the experience plus the completeness of the repression, normalisation, denial. This produces a wide spectrum of disorders, some of which have been labelled or medicalised as overt pathologies but the remainder of the spectrum sometimes dismissed as the “worried well“ which in fact represent the basic unhealthiness of the majority of our population. Indeed that unhealthiness may be both admired and high functioning in an unhealthy culture.

The model of the premature and then permanent state of adolescence may be useful, responding to attachment anxiety whereby the cortisol infused anxiety is antidoted by the typically adolescent cocktail of testosterone and adrenaline.

The growth area may be in the attraction of naturally produced serotonin calmness, rather than the artificially sustained serotonin from medication – together with oxytocin which, although not without complications, does have a pro social component relevant to attachment and maybe even has a component which encourages the making of connections intrapsychically? If so maybe ameliorating therefore both social alienation and internal alienation from a person’s emotional needs and resources.

I have a personal anecdotal experience about this. Some months after I started analysis I was meditating and breathing and had what I now see as a huge surge of oxytocin which led to an ecstatic state of connectedness and attachment – aka love – not just for my family but for almost everyone and everything!

Sadly it waned over the next few weeks – but the essential trigger experience was one of huge and unnamed grief. I can only suppose it was for the loss at 5 months of my mother and my subsequent abuse by brother, father and school. If so, oxytocin was both produced by the grief but also I suspect opened my mind to the grief.

I have never again had that intense experience but try in a much more moderate way to enlist oxytocin in my grief and healing process. In the meantime, I also work at a Bereavement Service once a week! No coincidence.

I return to something I have written above: The practices mentioned above under oxytocin all seem to trigger PSNS and speaking more radically seem to move me from the action mode of Freeze, Fight, Flight, Flirt, Search – into the Surrender and Grief mode. And I think maybe Healing lies in that grief. Does that sound right to you?

I am looking at the extent to which the developed wisdom of Bereavement processing can apply to grieving and processing the reality of the ACE? Models of bereavement – eg: although they are definitely not Stages – the identification of Aspects of grief – numbness and denial,. Searching, etc And the concept of tasks. And Continuing Bonds… may all have an equivalent application?

Many thanks if you have reached this point in the note.

I look forward to hearing from you if you have time for any responses

Best wishes

David Jockelson

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