Can coloring help with anxiety?

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adult olcoring book coverBiological suggestions about what makes coloring reduce anxiety

There are three parts of the brain that we need to know about to understand anxiety.

The neocortex, (also known as the thinking mind) is based at the top of the brain and is used for higher levels thinking processes. Language and complex problem-solving occur here.

The lower part of the brain or the subcortical regions are where the majority of our basic animal functions are managed. Psychological and physiological threat-based sensors are located here.

Sitting on top of the subcortical region is the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex acts as a communication system between the neocortex and subcortical regions. The prefrontal cortex quietens noise in the mind and helps to control emotions.

Ultimately an anxiety reaction occurs when the amygdala, an area of the brain in the subcortical regions, fires up in response to recognition of psychological or physical threat.

After the amygdala fires up neurochemicals called catecholamines are released through lower areas (primitive brain areas). This puts the subcortical regions in a prepared state and leads to the subcortical regions becoming dominant in comparison to the neocortex (thinking mind).

As part of a state of preparation physiological changes occur (blood begins to move to major muscle groups, and the digestive system contracts). The individual begins to feel more on edge.

How does the primitive brain become more dominant?

Catecholamines that are released in lower areas of the brain begin to spread into the prefrontal cortex and interrupt its ability to function. When this occurs we find that we cannot think straight, we might feel a little dizzy and/or light-headed (for short periods of time).

If threat responses occur too often the prefrontal cortex can become unwell and it begins to switch off for longer periods. When this occurs, we find that we struggle to regulate our emotions, we find it difficult to concentrate, and our mind appears noisier (e.g., we may find ourselves worrying about things that never used to bother us before).

How does coloring break patterns of anxiety?

Coloring activity is viewed as nonthreatening by primitive brain regions. If the primitive mind only has access to sensory information connected to a non-threatening task, for example, coloring, and it is not occupied by threat-based stimuli it will not maintain threat-based reactions.

Coloring complex patterns requires the neocortex (planning choices of colors), prefrontal cortex (selecting materials and bringing attention back to the task) and subcortical regions (fine motor movements) to work together. All three parts of the brain are involved without one brain area becoming over dominant.

You find about more about how coloring changes brain wave activity and how coloring can prepare the brain for sleep by clicking here.

West Suffolk Clinical Psychology Services

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Welcome to the West Suffolk CBT Service. We offer a dedicated out-patient clinic based in the centre of Bury St Edmunds. Within this clinic we offer the following services.

• Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
• Clinical Supervision
• Capacity assessments
• Cognitive assessments (IQ reports)
• Medico-legal work (court reports)
• Trauma-focussed CBT
• Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR)
• Parks Inner Child Therapy (for victims of sexual abuse)
• Child cognitive assessments
• Learning Disability Assessments for children and adults
• Therapy for individuals with high-functioning autism
• Workshops in CBT
• Mindfulness-based CBT
• CBT for children and adolescents

What is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)?

Although the popular press describes CBT as a new powerful therapy is not a new approach. In fact, more accurately, it is a constellation/mixture of many ideas, some new and some others that have literally been around for centuries. CBT seeks to help you understand in a straight forward, logical way how your emotional problems have occurred and what you can do to reduce your emotional distress and suffering. For the interventions (coping strategies and other exercises) used in CBT to work successfully for you, you will need to become aware of key ideas used in a CBT approach.

Creating your own understanding (hypotheses) in CBT

A hypothesis is a prediction (or a guess) about what you think will occur based on what you think you know. Most of us create hypotheses all of the time in our daily interactions with others as we make predictions about how others may think or behave in response to what we do. For example, when I’m in my car in queuing traffic and I want to move into the next lane I know that if I put my indicator on and start edging out slightly into the next lane eventually there will be someone who is generous enough in spirit to let me move in front of them. For CBT to work effectively for you, you will be encouraged to make predictions about what makes you think, feel and behave in the way that you do.

After you have created an explanation that makes sense to you we will encourage you to put new coping strategies or psychological interventions (coping strategies that you are taught) in place. An idea behind encouraging you to try these new strategies is to help you find out if making little changes here and there produces different results for you. We can’t stress just how important it is that you give yourself the opportunity to try alternative strategies to assess what impact they have on the way that you feel. When this occurs you will have an opportunity to learn from your new experiences and have an opportunity to repeat or reuse more beneficial strategies in the future, maybe even for the rest of your life.

Scientific measurement in CBT

Strictly speaking, CBT is a scientific approach (an approach based on logical and reasoned thought) and as such it will have outcomes (results) that can be predicted and measured. It is only by measuring outcomes that we are able to ascertain (work out) if what we are doing is creating improvements for us. The number of outcome measurements can be considerable, however common measurements tend to be connected to how we feel, (e.g., the intensity of our anxiety), the rigidity of our thinking (e.g., how much we believe that something that we fear is true), and how long we spend engaging in particular mental processes, (e.g., worry). A selection of measurement tools are provided for your use within this website, within your sessions and within our books. At first sight, many interventions that we offer may appear counter-intuitive (go against what you might expect) or paradoxical. Equally, other ideas utilised may seem so obvious that you will end up kicking yourself for not working them out by yourself.

Self-observation in CBT

A fundamental aspect of CBT is self-observation. Standing back mentally and thinking about your own thinking processes will enable you to increase your awareness of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, particularly when you are feeling distressed. Observation can assist you to become aware of the cycles that you engage in that may lead to you feeling anxious and to help you to take an exploratory approach to your problems and to your own thinking processes. When you are able to think about your thinking you will not need to be bound by the minds content and the minds automatic processes, (Ridgeway & Manning, 2008).

Relapse prevention in CBT

It could be suggested in CBT that reflecting on the processes that occur as you carry out the interventions that we offer you is fundamental. We suggest this because self-reflection (thinking about your own thinking) will improve your ability to learn, and you will continue to increase the number of neural connections (connections between brain cells that aid your thinking) in your brain. The more you use self-reflection processes and engage in new behaviours the less likely it will be that you relapse in the future.

Common types of problems that people find CBT useful for are:

• Anxiety and panic attacks
• Depression
• Obsessional Compulsive Disorder
• Gereralised Anxiety Disorder
• Anger and relationship difficulties
• Personality Disorders
• Psychosis
• Trauma such as PTSD or sexual abuse
• Insomnia
• Eating Disorders
• Work related stress
• Health anxiety
• Social anxiety
• Phobias