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There’s one image that’s helped me understand my mind better than any other.

It’s a concept I come back to regularly, and one that – for me at least – makes sense of one of the scariest and most debilitating challenge I’ve ever encountered; anxiety.

Anxiety is a form of stress, along with depression which has similar but distinct characteristics. All these are, however, conditions which can start off relatively benign, but soon spiral down into dark depths, from which the sufferer cannot see beyond.

The spiral carries sufferers down and down, feeling like a slippery slope that descends into ever smaller circles as the world becomes smaller and darker. 

It’s that image of a spiral that best helps me to understand the anxiety I’ve felt. (Others may describe it as a dark cave, or a tunnel, or a fog, or an illness, or a black dog, or a defective brain – none of which I’ve found make nearly as much sense.)

Crucially, though – the vital piece of positivity! – is that the mind spiral is one we can learn to travel UP as well as falling down. Yippee. 

When you’re at the bottom of the spiral, that climb may seem impossible… or perhaps even pointless (because you’ll no longer remember what the top feels like.) 

But with the right approach – and it really is 90% about your ‘way of thinking’ – it’s absolutely possible to begin floating up the spiral into a much happier place.

[The other 10%, I’d say, is a combination of circumstances (like day to day life and environment), other people (who can support but never actually change your mood) and medication (which really just gives you some sure-footing from which to begin your own climb.)]

In this piece, I’ve attempted to define the ‘mind spiral’ imagery that I feel most encapsulates the anxiety I’ve felt. It has helped me to understand and overcome stress, and is a concept I still consider on some level almost every day. 

Clearly, as this is based on my personal experiences, my thoughts and recommendations may differ from others’, though I help you find them useful too.

What Is The Mind Spiral?

From dark depths to heady heights, the mind spiral’s path is a way of imagining how your mood can change, particularly under the influences of stress. It is also self-perpetuating – in other words, a low mood can trigger further stress and worsen your mood further.

Screenshot 2019-12-30 at 15.13.21The mind spiral’s lowest coils are a horrible place to be. Addled by stress’ physical symptoms (fatigue, shakiness, sleeplessness, etc) it becomes impossible to “function properly” in normal life. Worse, though, is that the negative thoughts are squeezed in such tight circles of negativity that any positivity or happiness cannot hope to be found.

There seems no escape!

Even at the middle reaches of the downward spiral, life cannot be lived to the full. Sadness and stresses take over – usually at night time, as dark thoughts find easy prey in the mind at ‘rest’. Despite being in the spiral’s middle, there’s also a constant and unmistakable pull towards those darker depths.

A life lived at the top of the spiral, though, is truly a brighter, happier one. The mind – free from debilitating stress – can finally open up to joy and experience the world for what it really is, rather than the world as seen through the lens of stress-addled eyes. 

We will all have experienced times of life where we’re nearer the bottom of the spiral, but hopefully too its upper reaches where true joy is found.

By understanding the levels of the mind spiral we can learn to navigate it more effectively, taking control of our path – or at least recognising its direction – instead of falling down it like a slippery slide. 

First though, let’s look at the characteristics of the spiral itself.

Characteristics of The Mind Spiral

It’s important to understand the ‘physics’ of the mind spiral if we’re to navigate it. Understanding your mind is a key stage if you’re to take greater control of your mood.

  1. The mind spiral is one long thread
    Whilst falling down sometimes feels the only way, it is always possible to follow the thread upwards, no matter how long that journey may seem and how ‘distant’ the ‘light’ at the top.

  2. It’s NOT possible to jump straight from the bottom to the top
    “I should feel happier now” will never work. Slowly, steady does it. Expectations of major, immediate improvement are doomed to fail. (Though… don’t dwell too long on that thought! It can be the most gloomy one of all.)

  3. It IS possible to float up the mind spiral, with the right kind of thoughts
    By relieving stress’ immediate tensions in the compressed lower spiral, and with the right kind of thinking, the mind lightens and opens. Conversely, sadness and ‘the wrong kind of thinking’ adds weight and increases pressure, pushing you lower into the spiral. 

What To Do At Each Stage

One frustration I had when feeling at my deepest anxiety levels was that all advice seemed to be pitched at those who felt “quite bad” but had no hope of saving “utterly desperate” me.

Advice like this:

If you’re feeling anxious, try doing something you like, such as baking a cake.

…is no good if you’re feeling so god-awful that all you can do is hide in bed, let alone muster the energy to bake. “And what’s the point anyway? It would take all my precious little energy away.” 

Equally, instructions also tend to be too vague and generalised, like: 

Live in the moment.

…which can seem (terrifyingly) like a distant impossibility when in the spiral’s lowest circles, but also so intangible as to cause further frustration when near its middle.

So, instead, for each stage of the mind spiral, I’m suggesting a different approach. Try to focus only on the appropriate concepts at each stage:

1 – LOW 

When life is severely affected by stress, depression and anxiety, and when you feel truly low.

Screenshot 2019-12-30 at 15.15.23

  • Take It Easy

    Rest is critical. If you can afford to drop everything and head for a 2 week spa break, lucky you! For the rest of us, the idea of “taking a break” can seem utterly implausible. Surely that would be running away from all your “responsibilities”, right? It’s true that most of us can’t just walk away, and nor should we (though, it may surprise you how much time and space people will provide you once they know you need it.)

    Instead, adopting a “take it easy” approach to life can help you lift out of the lower spiral without completely cutting off. The new “taking it easy” you will, for example: go to bed earlier; limit brain-intense activity and computer-based tasks; minimise physical exertion; spend an hour in the middle of the day watching TV. In addition to reducing further stress triggers, this will all help to prove a vital concept to yourself: that you’re worthy of your own kindness.

    >> Why Do This? Because your body is physiologically stuck on a high-stress setting that makes it hugely difficult to listen to the positive or ‘light’ thinking that will lift you back up the mind spiral. Rest alleviates these symptoms and gives you a surer footing. 

  • Carry On, Gently

    With your new “take it easy” attitude, you should also be able to “carry on” to at least some extent. Unless your day-to-life is truly awful, you can probably still handle most of it – bearing in mind you may not feel much joy in it just yet. The idea of getting ‘rest’ (doctors will suggest it) is viable, but is not a license to stay in bed all day. By staying in bed, you’re closing off all the good things in life that will be a crucial part of your route back up the mind spiral. Make at least small efforts and these will be rewarded.

    >> Why Do This? You’ll keep life’s plates spinning, but also it’ll give you great opportunities to turn your downward-spiralling tendencies into upward ones. Being alone with your thoughts isn’t ideal now – they’re not necessarily your friend.

  • Understand The Basics

    Acknowledging that something’s going on in your head and seeking out some medical help is exactly the right thing to be doing here. Reading up on stress, anxiety and depression is helpful, but you’ll also want to understand the mind spiral ‘characteristics’ above, and be realistic with your expectations (importantly: you won’t wake up happy tomorrow, for example, but you could certainly be on the right track by then.)

    >> Why Do This? It’s so much easier to take control of your thoughts once you understand that there are physiological triggers which can significantly affect them. It’ll enable you to act logically and make choices that give you the best chance of feeling happier. 


When thoughts and stress symptoms are somewhat unpleasant, and starting to get in the way of enjoying life.

Screenshot 2019-12-30 at 15.15.15

  • Re-Train Towards Positive Thinking

    Mastering the CBT technique of correcting ‘automatic negative thoughts’ (ANTs) is the only way to avoid further slides down the spiral. I recommend a guide like this which will help you spot negative thoughts and teach you to refocus them.

    The hard bit is that ANTs seem a) irrefutable b) helpful – whereas in reality they are neither. But once you understand that ANTs are weighing you down on a path to the nasty lower regions of the spiral, you’ll feel more motivated to address them (even if this means using a lame-sounding “thought diary” for a bit – just until it becomes your default.)

    Why Do This? Now is the time to train – not when you’re really low. Like a physical workout, mind training takes effort and commitment, which is easier when you’re more in control. It’s well worth the effort.

  • Let It Go

    Positive thoughts and feelings will help you float up the spiral, whilst negative ones (including “I can’t”, “I won’t be able to”, “I messed up”) will drag you down. Once you learn that the negative thoughts aren’t helpful you can cast them off like deadweight, letting them plummet down the mind spiral and into the abyss while you drift on up.

    Why Do This? The easiest way to combat negative thoughts is NOT to challenge them but instead to let the unhelpful thought go. It takes far less of your precious ‘mental energy’, and the negative thought simply wasn’t ever worth it.

  • Explore The World

    It probably feels more appealing to retreat into comfort zones and familiarity, but those will limit your world. The top of the mind spiral is broad and wide, so whenever you’re able to try something new, meet different people or explore a new environment, do it! 

    Why Do This? New experiences have positive effects on the brain. It’s also much easier to get up and say “let’s go on an adventure” (which is easily achieved) than it is to say “I should feel happier today” (that’s setting up for a fail!)

3 – HIGH

Whey your head feels ‘clear’ and you’re happy to get stuck in to life.

Screenshot 2019-12-30 at 15.15.05

  • Enjoy Life’s Little Things

    If you’ve travelled to the bottom of the mind spiral, you’ll know how laughable this advice would have seemed then. But now, taking the opportunity to enjoy sights, sounds, tastes, textures and experiences is a crucial part of staying at the top of the spiral. It’s not exactly a chore, but sometimes the brain tries to sabotage enjoyment by labelling these kinds of enjoyments as “silly”. Don’t listen to that rubbish – enjoy every moment.

    Why Do This: Why NOT do this?! But genuinely, noticing and enjoying the tactile world is all important ‘brain food’! (It’s mindfulness, man.)

  • Discuss Your Mind

    Talking about mental health doesn’t mean ‘telling someone every time you feel sad’. [Often, sad or anxious thinking  is better off being ‘let go’ (as above) rather than discussed.] But positive thinking definitely IS worth sharing.

    If you’ve successfully trained yourself to spot and refocus ANTs (automatic negative thoughts, as explained above), it’s worth sharing that process, especially if you notice other slipping into ‘ANT mode’ – it could be they’re falling further down the mind spiral too.

    Why Do This: Personally, I feel something of a responsibility to share what I’ve learned with others. But talking about your mind also helps to keep good mental practices fresh.

  • Be Healthy

    Exercise, nutrition and sleep are all major contributors to your place on the mind spiral. When you’re near the top of the spiral, achieving a healthy lifestyle feels easier anyway, but it’s important to keep at it. And when you’ve been over-doing it, understand that your mind might slide a little further down the spiral.

    Why Do This: Your mind is an organ, just like your heart and lungs; it needs looking after if it’s to work properly. Plus, whilst it’s impossible to make yourself ‘feel happy’, it’s very possible to ‘go for a run’, ‘eat a healthy mean’ or ‘go to bed earlier’.

Mastering The Mind Spiral

Understanding your mind is key to so many things; sports, academia, dating, business…

But chief among the reasons for mastering your mind, surely, is that it’s the key to feeling happy in your day-to-day life.

My experiences of anxiety have taken me further from happiness than anything I’ve ever known. I find it incredible to think that such a horrible time could have been largely ‘self-inflicted’ but I do now believe that to be (mostly) true.

The challenge of climbing out of that state was one that seemed impossible at the time, and in some sense it was. For ‘climbing’ towards happiness – cruelly – often sends you falling further into gloom.

Instead, by understanding the mind spiral and letting unhelpful thoughts fall away like deadweight, I was able to lift out of the spiral’s grip and now able to feel happier than ever.

I hope these thoughts have been of some use, or interest, to you! I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences too.


ps. All the above is important for effective digital marketing prowess. Thought I’d mention that considering this is meant to me a digital marketing blog. 

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