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Blog: Blog2

The helpful technique I used to tackle anxiety, as I recovered from ME/Chronic Fatigue.

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

This is the third in a series of blogs I’m writing, around the lessons I learned during my recovery from ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and how they are now helping me to cope with the Covid19 lockdown. Click here to read the rest of the series.

First of all, it’s important to say that it is perfectly normal to be feeling concerned and worried about what’s going on at the moment. The emerging Covid-19 crisis is a difficult and scary situation and a certain amount of worry actually helps to protect us. It means we’re more likely to follow the guidance around how to keep ourselves safe. Just have a look at some of the extreme groups in the United States who are protesting against lockdown at the moment. For whatever reason, they’re not finding Covid-19 scary at all! And this is leading to them making, what I would say, are poor decisions.

So, it’s fine to find yourself feeling worried or scared. But if that occasional concern becomes persistent and uncontrollable, then you need to find ways to manage it and get some of that control back. Otherwise it can tip into anxiety, and prolonged anxiety isn’t good for our mental or our physical health.

Having a chronic illness, such as ME/Chronic Fatigue (CFS), can be very difficult to accept and deal with. There’s little medical help available, no magic cure, and nobody can tell you how long it will last - or, indeed, whether you’ll ever even get your old life back. So, it’s easy to see why many people find themselves in an anxious state - and the real kicker is that anxiety often worsens the symptoms that the illness creates.

When I was in my early months of my diagnosis, I really had to learn how to calm my mind, or it became an awful loop of worry, which triggered increased symptoms, which led to more worry. Over the months, I developed some very useful ways to calm myself. Nine years later, when I was studying to re-train as a Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) Coach, I realised that I’d actually inadvertently been using some very recognised and successful NLP techniques in order to do that. And I’d like to share one in particular with you now.

It’s called ‘re-framing’. At its simplest, it’s about looking at a situation from a more positive perspective. I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying “look on the bright side”, but did you know why that’s such helpful advice?

Our brains are very clever, but they can also be quite lazy. When you think about something, chains of nerve cells in your brain build a pathway, so that if you need to think about that thing again, it becomes quicker and easier. Those nerve cells are called neurons, and the pathways they build are known as ‘neural pathways’. For example, if you're learning a new foreign language, you build new neural pathways as you learn words and phrases, and the more you practice remembering them, the easier it is to then recall them when you need them.

A well-trodden path soon develops! This is great if this is information you need to remember and recall easily, like a new foreign language phrase. But if you keep thinking the same negative thoughts, they also become easy ‘go-to’ pathways for your brain to choose. And if you keep thinking those negative thoughts, it becomes easier to trigger them, and after time this could start to cause anxiety.

On the other hand, by 're-framing' a negative thought - that is, choosing to think about it from a different perspective - your brain starts to build new, more positive neural pathways. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes to think that way. Our brains really are that pliable! It’s known as ‘neuroplasticity. And, even better, if you completely stop using the negative pathways you’ve established, they start to die off and eventually fade completely.

Re-framing can be tricky to do at first - it does take practice. But start by consciously catching yourself when you’re feeling anxious or worried. Then take a few slow calming breaths and tune in to what’s making you worried. Don’t just feel the high-level emotion, really engage with it. And once you’ve pinpointed what’s on your mind, start to consider how you can look at it from another angle.

For example, it would be easy to repeatedly think about how unfair and frustrating the current lockdown situation is. And to focus on how limiting and restrictive it is. Or, we can re-frame it to think about the fact that by complying with the lockdown rules, we are keeping ourselves safe (great), protecting the health service (wonderful), while quite possibly having a bit more time on our hands to catch up on all of those things we never get round to doing (brilliant!).

As I say, stopping yourself from letting your mind go down those well-trodden worry paths can be difficult - and I talk a bit more about that in my next blog. But identifying and thinking clearly about a more positive alternative really does get easier the more you do it. And that’s because you’re physically creating those shiny new constructive and helpful pathways.

If you’re finding it a little difficult to put this into practice, please get in touch to have a chat about how I can help. I’ve coached many clients to use this technique very successfully, and once it becomes a habit it really is very easy to do.

Take care, and stay safe.


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