Season two of our podcast is here and this week we’re exploring the topic of fear

Have you ever felt like fear is holding you back? Are there things you would like to do, but fears or phobias make it feel impossible? This week on our podcast, Happiful: Finding What Works, we’re facing fear head on.

Joining me to explore the topic is clinical psychologist Dr Laura Walton, hypnotherapist and anxiety expert Frances Trussell and author Zachary Dillon. Together we find out how fear can impact us, what fuels it and, of course, what can help. 

From auditory hallucinations to water-based phobias, we pick out the common thread throughout our fear responses and the steps we can take to move forward. Listen below, or wherever you get your podcasts.


(Edited for clarity)

Kat: Hello everyone and welcome to season two of Happiful: Finding What Works. We are going to be kicking off season two with a meaty topic, fear. As usual, I am joined by experts and those with lived experience to help me navigate the topic and help us understand what can help. 

So, Frances, I'm going to come to you first for an introduction. Could you please let us know more about yourself and the work that you do? 

Frances: Hi there, Kat. I am Frances Trussell. I am a formerly very fearful person. I'm best known for my work in mindfulness. I wrote a book called You Are Not Your Thoughts. I'm fascinated by the mind and am trained in a number of modalities, including Clinical Hypnotherapy. 

Kat: Perfect. Thank you so much and we're going to be delving a little bit more into hypnotherapy later on. Coming to you next Zac, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about the work that you do? 

Zac: Sure. My name is Zachary Dillon and I'm a fiction author. I've written and published two books so far. One is a collection of absurdist flash fiction illustrated by artists I admire and then the second is my first novel, which came out last year, and it's very closely based on my personal experience with hearing voices and paranoia and it's called I Hear You Watching

Kat: Brilliant. Thank you so much. And I did have the pleasure of reading that and I'm going to be referring back to it a few times in this podcast. So I definitely recommend listeners pick that up, and Frances, I managed to read your book as well, so I've been very well-read for this interview. Perfect. 

Coming to Laura next, can you tell us a bit more about yourself and the work that you do? 

Laura: Yeah, hi Kat, everybody. I am Dr. Laura Walton. I am a clinical psychologist and a scuba diving instructor and I specialise in working with divers, usually with anxiety, trauma or phobias, things that are related to accidents in diving, but not always. In coming into that work – there's actually no real route into being a specialist in working with divers as a psychologist. So I had to shape that myself. I'm still working at that as well, raising awareness for how useful psychology and therapy can be to scuba divers. 

I do a lot of courses, I do direct therapy and coaching with divers and also people who aren't divers. I work with people who have issues relating to drowning because we don't pay that much attention, I don't think, generally in therapy to drowning experiences. And there's a lot that can be done to help with that and other water-based traumas or just generally overcoming fears of other water sports like swimming and things like that. 

Kat: I find that so fascinating. It's not something I've come across before and I think that's why I was especially keen to invite you on to talk about that specifically. So I'm looking forward to delving into that. 

To start with, I'd really love to hear a bit more about the role that fear has played in some of your lives, whether that is personally or professionally. And Zac, I'm going to start with you. I'd love to hear a bit more about how you would say fear has impacted your life so far. 

Zac: Sure. I think it starts, possibly like a lot of people's deep-seated fears - when I was very young and it didn't start as a fear. I think it's combined with a lot of different things and influenced by a lot of different experiences and thoughts that we have over the course of our lives. But I remember one of the earliest stories that my parents have of me interacting with other kids is when I went to preschool, I was two years old and I was standing at the side of the playground watching all the other kids run around and play. And the teacher apparently came up to me and said, 'Why aren't you playing with the other kids?' And I said, 'Because they didn't invite me.' And I think that's a little bit of a Rosetta Stone moment for me because, for the rest of my life, I kind of had that mindset of 'I don't want to impose myself on other people'. 

And I see that kind of stuff happen. Some of the worst atrocities are impositions, of course, and even the smallest things that stick with you and bother you or can hurt you are impositions from other people, whether they're intentional or not. I didn't want to be a part of that problem. 

I didn't have an official romantic relationship until I was halfway through college, partially because I felt like showing interest in somebody else could be seen as creepy or if I came off the wrong way or something like that. So I kind of just stood back for a very long time. The problem is if you play into that too much and let that defensiveness and hesitation feed your actions or inform your actions, it turns into what I - in writing my book and this self-analysis thing that I went through, writing the novel about my experience - I jokingly label the character as an atheist with a fear of God and in this case, the God is other people. It's everybody else. 

The problem with that being God is that all of the judgement comes from other people who can't read your thoughts and intentions. They don't know if you have the best of intentions, so they're just judging based on whatever they see. It could be misinterpreted all over the place, which terrified me even more. The problem with that is once the voices kicked in, which happened in late 2013, once that started happening and I was hearing a running commentary and judgement on everything that I did or everything that I said, and being labelled as an imposition or 'look what stupid thing he did' or something like that, it turned into, not only is this God of the outside observing me and judging me, but what if it could read my thoughts? 

What if they do know what my intention is, and what if this is a test and they're testing me to see what these intentions are, how I react to certain stimuli or something like that? And it turned into this whole... It could have been anything in my mind because of course, it didn't exist. So I'm trying to find a box to put it in and it could have been anything from bullies hacking into my computer to the government and some big test that way. So I kind of went into this big sea of anything is possible - I don't have any concrete proof, but just in case I'm going to conduct myself as if this is happening because that's the safest option, the worst-case scenario. If this actually is happening, then I can defend against it somehow, which is a rabbit hole. 

Kat: Absolutely. I think what you described there is the seed of it, being afraid to impose yourself and how that just grows and grows and grows and it can turn into something else. I think a lot of people are going to relate to that. There was a particular quote from your book that I felt, when I read it, encapsulated what fear is. So I'm just going to read it out here. It's the character prefacing what's going to be coming up for them. 

"I'll walk to work each morning and home every night, refusing to look over my shoulder with my heart in my chest, like a leaf about to fall. I'll have been a target of the universe, a searing pinpoint of light under the vast lens of the all-seeing eye." 

I believe that's on the first page and I remember reading that and I was like, that's fear. I mean, especially the 'heart in my chest, like a leaf about to fall'. As someone who's experienced anxiety, I immediately related to that and I'm sure a lot of people will. So yeah, I think you encapsulated it really well and explaining how it can grow is something a lot of people will relate to. So thank you so much for sharing that. 

Zac: Thank you. And just to add a little bit to that quote, writing this and doing drafts, I started to discover Easter eggs I had hidden for myself where the 'All Seeing Eye', I capitalise that because it's God, it's the overseer, but also 'eye' is a homophone for 'I' - the self. And so he's already labelling this thing and not even realising that he's actually already calling it himself, watching himself from this other observational standpoint. So there's a whole, yeah, it's...

Kat: There's a lot to it! There's a lot for the character to come to realise, which is great. Thank you. 

So moving on to Laura, I'd love to hear more about your experience of fear and what drew you into the work that you do specifically supporting scuba divers and people with water-based fears. 

Laura: Yeah, with this question, there's a lot I can say because - in terms of how fear has impacted life - there's just so many parts to it and so many aspects that it in many different ways has. For the purpose of this podcast, I want to maybe just describe how I got into diving in the first place because that was really relevant to fear. So I'm going back a little bit from that. 

My first dive was in my twenties and I only did it because I was travelling around the world and it was like a dollar, it was the Great Barrier Reef and it was a dollar to do the extra dive. And I was like, well - I have to, don't I? But at that point, I was quite frightened of all the things that were under the water, I'd had a very specific fear about that since I was very young. And I can trace back to where that even developed in the first place. But it was really specific, it wasn't water, I loved water, and I would spend hours in a swimming pool. I loved being in the water, but there was something about the unknown, the uncertainty and the things that were underneath it that might get me. 

So the day before I did that dive, it was a try dive, so I didn't have any background or anything like that, but the day before I was just terrified and preoccupied with it. So I was quite anxious about it because I was kind of going around, you know, trying to avoid that fear because once you've got that fear in mind, you're trying to avoid it and that's where the anxiety comes in. That night I didn't really sleep, but then when I went out and did the dive, there was this rush to get everybody off the back of the boat. 

We got down, I put my head in the water and came straight back up because I couldn't breathe. I figured out how I could breathe and then just went and I was able to step back from some of the thoughts that I was having - that maybe fits into Frances' work as well, the way we can get very stuck and confused around the thoughts about what might happen to us. We can get really pulled into them and so one of the things I was able to do because I had a background in psychology at that point, was just to be able to step back from those thoughts to be able to see, well this is what I'm thinking, but I don't necessarily need to go with that and I want to do this. And then having done that, within minutes I was utterly transfixed. 

I was fascinated because what I thought was a flat surface, when I got under the water, I was like, there's an entire world down here, and once you're there and you see all the colour and all the things that you're interacting with and the fish, then that uncertainty has been removed a little bit. And so it completely changed. 

Ever since then, I've been progressing in different areas of diving. Once I did that dive I went on to learn to dive and that was good sort of 15, 16, 17 years ago, something like that. Throughout that time, I trained to be a diving instructor, which is quite a long story, and as I was becoming a guide and instructor and helping other people to dive, I could see that they had a lot of fear, and a lot of anxiety. I was learning ways to help people with that and at the same time I was training as a clinical psychologist, so I was working and learning all about how to help people with fear, anxiety, and phobia in a clinical context. I was putting all that together as I went and eventually realised there's just such a huge role for supporting divers. 

There was nothing at the time really there, not even that many blogs or anything like that, never mind services to support divers. So since then, that's built more and more, and I work a lot with divers who've had traumatic incidents, accidents, although it's quite rare - you know, diving is mostly very enjoyable, very relaxed. Occasionally some things go wrong and it's quite helpful to be able to have a route where somebody will understand the whole world that you've been in when that happens. 

Kat: What I find so interesting about that is I think fear and anxiety can so often be about the unknown, just the uncertainty and the unknown. And I feel like the sea, the ocean, is just one giant metaphor for that because there's so much going on underneath the surface that we don't know about. So that's just a really interesting thing that you've been able to support people to be comfortable with. And I imagine that bleeds out into the rest of their lives, right? 

Laura: Yeah. People really build their confidence when they learn to dive, especially when there is that fear. And it's not just unknown in the oceans, I mean that's certainly a big factor - there is the unknown of what is out there, but also there's the unknown in yourself. Like when I'm teaching people to dive, they don't know if they can do it because it's so strange and unfamiliar because the skills are not what they're used to. They just don't see how they're going to be able to do it sometimes. 

So when they've been in that place of completely not knowing and not being able to do that and then going through a process of trusting themselves to go through that fear on the other side, their confidence is often massively increased. And then a lot of people will take that out into other areas too. I mean, I certainly do that as well. 

Kat: Amazing. That sounds great. Thank you so much for sharing that. And now Frances, coming to you, could you tell us more about how fear has impacted your life? You mentioned in the intro that it's something you've dealt with, so I'd love to hear more about your experience of it personally and professionally. 

Frances: So I was somebody who was just so caught in fearful thought loops, and I worked in a high-pressured environment in the media and outwardly made things look relatively seamless and yet inwardly was an absolute wreck and could often be found hiding in the bathrooms, having panic attacks and just feeling like an enormous imposter as so many of us do throughout our lives. 

Over time, just pushing through and pushing through, I made myself really sick and actually, that was the best thing that could have possibly happened because from breakdown so often comes the breakthrough. I started going off on retreats and none of it made much sense to me at first, but something in me found me, kept showing up and suddenly something clicked and it absolutely transformed everything for me. So I'm so eternally grateful for that. And that was about 15 years ago. 

I subsequently transformed my career and my life and have spent the last decade teaching. About eight years ago I reluctantly and pessimistically went into being trained to be a clinical hypnotherapist because I was just fascinated, what on earth is going on and how are they getting these fantastic results with anxiety? One of the things I was seeing with some early people that I was working with was an inability to access mindfulness because of this blockage of fear, this fear of letting go, this fear of relaxing, this fear of releasing and relinquishing the grip of thought that so many of us cling onto. 

For me, the power of working both with the conscious - with mindfulness - and the subconscious in this way has had such a powerful impact. Looking back on my very fearful decade or so that I spent really locked into those terrible cycles of beating myself up and thinking I was a terrible person, I wish that I'd had these tools. So it's such a gift to share them with others. 

Kat: I love what you said there about bringing the conscious and the subconscious together and the powerful effect that can have. That sounds really great. Thank you for sharing. 

So we've mentioned a few times there words like fear and words like phobia, but I know there is somewhat of a difference. So, Laura, I'm going to come back to you and ask if you could perhaps explain to us what the difference is, if there is one, between a fear and a phobia. 

Laura: I will certainly try, but there is a lot of discussion around this. I'm writing a course at the moment and I was delving into the research, affective sciences and emotion, and there's just so much research and debate in there and so many different ideas about how you define stuff. It's actually quite a tricky question, but if I can give you the basic answer it's that fear is an emotion. It's one of our most basic responses to something threatening, it's part of our survival. It's wired into us that when something scary happens, something dangerous happens, we have this reaction that is there to protect us. And so having a fear of some things is rational and it's natural and it's adaptive, it's useful. 

We wouldn't function very well if we didn't have fear. Certainly in the environments I go into, I need fear because I need an alarm. If I'm going to go and do something that's going to be dangerous to me, I need something to tell me when something's not working. So fear is really useful in that sense as an emotion. But we can also develop specific fears and some of those can still be useful - if you have a specific fear of something that is in our environment and we might be exposed to it, then it might make sense to be fearful of it. But sometimes these specific fears can get really rigid and very stuck. That can be when it becomes an issue and the problem is when it's not effectively regulated. So when it's taken out of context, it's not appropriate to the situation that we're in, it's not rational for where we are. When it's out of that context and it's not working anymore and it's not adaptive, then it might get into this stuck pattern of responding. 

What we're actually responding to is no longer the external threat. What we're responding to is an inside threat. It's our interpretation or our internalisation of what it was that we were fearful of in the first place. Because it might be that the thing is not even there. So when it gets to that level, and it becomes irrational and it relates to a specific object or situation, then that is something that might be termed a phobia. And phobia is also a medical diagnosis as well. 

Kat: I really resonate there with what you said - you become fearful of something that it's not really. So to give you a bit of an example, I have driving anxiety and I built up such a fear in my head of getting into an accident, I've only been in one accident, but when that happened I was surprised at how incredibly calm I was and I suddenly realised, 'oh, this was the worst case scenario for me' - to somehow make a mistake when driving and get into an accident - and when it actually happened, I just... I won't say that the anxiety has gone because it definitely hasn't, I need to do some work on that, but I'm less fearful of that specific incident because it's happened and I know that I can cope with it and I know the fear is something else entirely. 

Laura: Mm-Hmm. Yeah, I think that's a really useful example to share as well. Thank you for that because I think that will be very relatable for people listening. And I think you're really picking up on that key point. It's not so much the thing happening that's the problem because that thing happening is something that is in the future. Although it's a potential real event, in your mind at the time that it's causing you the problem and the fear, it's not real in the sense that it's actually happening right now. And what we're actually responding to is this internal cycle of, 'I don't want to feel that way', 'I don't want to deal with this uncertainty'. It's the uncertainty that often drives it, it's 'I can't cope with that uncertainty.' 'I need to find some way of removing that'. 

This is not all conscious, I'm talking about the conscious aspect of it, but 'I need to get away from that fear. How can I do that?' And then that sets off a whole load of defensive processes, some of which are behavioural things, which might be avoiding driving in that case, or it might be taking special measures to feel less anxious while driving. And that can take all kinds of forms. Some people might end up with behaviours like, 'I have to have this special bottle of water because it's a comfort blanket'. And that can develop in the behavioural sense, but it can also develop internally in the mind as well. Like, 'I have to do things a certain way or I can't go that particular route.'

We can get really focused on getting away from feelings. So it might be just listening to the radio a lot and not being able to focus on it. But what we're doing is we're not trying to fix the problem. What we're trying to do in that instant is we're trying to get away from the fear because the fear has become labelled as a problem. And we'll get locked into something called experiential avoidance where we're trying to get away from the experience of the fear itself rather than address the problem. And, rather ironically, it makes it more difficult to address the actual problem. So I find this a lot in diving and obviously, all kinds of areas is that when you are locked in fear and trying to get rid of fear, you can't do the thing in front of you because your mind is so taken up by it and - I'm sorry you had an accident by the way, but it seems like you're OK...

Kat: It was fine! We were all fine. 

Laura: Yeah, obviously that's not going to be the main route for overcoming a fear like that, but it does raise one of the main cures for it, which is exposure. As I talked about in my example, when we go and see the thing that we're frightened of, it can have the effect of taking it down a notch because we realise that actually, we can cope with that feeling. It is possible. And that's what we often do in therapy because you can't always put people in the situations that they're frightened of because they are not necessarily safe situations to be in and the situations are ones we do want to avoid and prevent, but in therapy, we can stimulate the conditions for somebody to experience the internal stuff that is associated with that particular event. 

That is something we do a lot in EMDR. I don't know very much about clinical hypnotherapy, but I think there are some links. So there might be some aspects there that Frances can pick up on. But certainly in EMDR, in eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, that's one of the things we do - taking people through facing that fear in their own mind and their own body before actually doing it in real life. Almost rehearsing it and being able to bring that sense of fear and anxiety down before you get to it. 

Kat: Oh, that sounds good. I need to look into this. So, Frances, I'm going to come to you next actually to chat a bit more about hypnotherapy and how this can be a helpful tool in fear and phobias. 

Frances: Laura's absolutely spot on there that we have some similar processes to EMDR, including the eye movement within the fast rewind technique, which is a fantastic technique for helping people. Say you have got an event or a memory in your past that still holds a lot of emotional charge for you. We can, under deep relaxation, we can revisit that memory and remove a lot of the emotional charge from that memory so that rather than that memory being stored in a quick draw file as a pattern match to other things which may then trigger us, we're reintroducing it as a normal memory with a lot of that emotional charge removed. As a result of that, what many people experience is that they're just not triggered by the same things anymore. It can have an enormously powerful impact very quickly.

Now for other people who have fears and they're not quite sure where those fears come from, we can also, through hypnosis, return to the very core roots of what's going on and what is at the base of the fear. And then when we work on reframing that again, we can have this very powerful impact that occurs for most people very quickly. And so it's fascinating to see. 

Kat: It's so interesting to hear the similarities between the two therapy approaches as well as how they overlap. It's so fascinating and we've talked there about a couple of clinical approaches that can support it, like hypnotherapy and talking therapies. But Zac, I would love to hear more about your personal experience and what you found helped once you recognised that some of the experiences you were having were from fear-based responses and just generally what you found has helped you. 

Zac: Well, first of all, it took me a while to, let's say, be led to water and then to convince myself that I could drink without being poisoned, not take the metaphor too far, but it was a defensive fear response and always a ‘just in case err on the side of caution’ kind of a thing. In hindsight, I feel like it almost turned into a gambling addiction because, what I wanted, at every spin of the wheel was if I stood next to that table and put my chips down on a certain number based on whatever I thought I saw indicating, whatever patterns were telling me - bet on this solution. You know, 'you can record their voice coming through the smoke detector' or 'you can go talk to your neighbours', which was another weird, bad idea. 

A lot of those things I thought, if I can just outsmart them, if I can try again differently… That kept me locked in that fear response. I forget the term Laura used, but it was experiential… I wanted to hang onto it….

Laura: Experiential avoidance. 

Zac: That's exactly it. That's what it turned into. I was afraid because it bloomed from me thinking it was just my neighbours to everybody on the street. This is some grand scale, you know, there are agents everywhere, kind of a thing, because it could be anybody. I didn't have any proof anyway. If I just stay at the table, the one thing I can't do is leave the table.

My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, and my parents eventually suggested, which I strangely never thought of… I think because I'd never had this experience of hallucination or paranoia, I'd had anxieties, but they weren't like this. This was the first time, I never thought to ask myself, what if it's not real? It seemed so real to me. I've learned through more research after the fact that when we have auditory hallucinations, they're processed in the brain exactly the same as actual auditory stimuli. This is perceived by the brain as a real sound that you're hearing. If it's a voice, then you dig deep and say, what are they saying? Is it about me? It just keeps going on this feedback loop.

The thing that helped me the most initially was trying to let them talk and think the burden of proof is now on them. I've tried everything except walking away from the roulette table. What if I do that? Honestly, I was kind of fatalistic at the time. If this is real, then yes, it'll be a big relief for it to end and go away. But the biggest relief would be if a car pulled up, threw me in the trunk, and drove me to some basement somewhere, because then I'll know I was right. That's an extreme feeling where I'm like, OK, I'll just let go and drift down river. Eventually, when I hit the waterfall that I've been telling everybody exists further down the river, then they'll all know. Once I've disappeared, they'll be like, 'oh man, we should have believed him'. I'll have this whole martyr experience, which is its own narcissistic trip, which is kind of what this whole thing was. Anyway, everybody's watching me, and I'm going to prove everybody wrong.

What I had to do eventually, I noticed after a while of just letting them prove to me that they exist and step into my life, I tried to stop listening to when I'd hear some chatter in the background. I would stop asking myself, is it about me? Is it them? This took several years of telling myself to do this. Eventually, I noticed that they got quieter each time. 

It took a while, in addition to typical self-care, more exercise resulting in more sleep, which is also good for being in this scenario with an anxiety cycle and stuff like that. When I got tired, they would get louder, and then I'd stay up all night wondering what they're saying about me. Eating well. Meditation was another thing because training myself to observe my thoughts without engaging was significant. Kat, earlier you mentioned listening to the radio. Podcasts were very helpful because they drowned out the voices. If I was reading a book, sometimes I would hear the voice speak up and start reading the book with me. Then it's just reading to me. If I could focus on the book, it would start to insert little things. 

Meditation was tough because it's theoretically a quiet exercise, which is when they're the loudest. Especially if you're sitting there with your eyes closed and they're like, ‘What an idiot’. Another thing that helped me initially was a friend of mine who got me a Tibetan singing bowl one year for Christmas. I used that to get this beautiful drone that covered that and gave me something to focus on, so I was able to escape into that sound. Eventually, I could do it well enough to change over to non-sound aids like a set of mala beads - meditation beads that I used to count my breaths so I could focus on my breathing. That gave me another grounding thing. 

All of these ideas were improvised. I should also say the caveat to all of this is that I probably would've benefited greatly from working with somebody like Laura or Frances in this case. But I didn't have that. I went to an initial psychotherapy appointment recommended by a friend who's a psychotherapist and had a very helpful ‘tear away everything that's not concrete proof’ kind of session with him. But I had only one session. I'm an American living in America at the time and insurance and mental health help is tough to come by. That's kind of all I got. So I had to improvise the rest, and it took a long time.

I was also constantly telling myself… the agoraphobia that came up, thinking that everyone on the street is going to be watching me and maybe I'll walk funny, and then they'll be like, ‘That's the guy’, you know, whatever irrational things. I had to notice those triggers and think every time I need to go to the grocery store, but I really don't want to because I think everybody's going to think I'm some terrible person because of whatever; I had to turn that into an exercise and think, ‘Go to the grocery store. And not only that, but on your way, in the grocery store and on your way back, you're going to make eye contact with - not making crazy eyes at everybody - but just if you happen to see past somebody on the street, look at them in the face and smile as you pass them, just like people do. And try that for a while.’ Worst-case scenario, they punch you in the face. 

That didn't happen. A lot of times I'd get a smile in return, which made my day and just reinforced the fact that it's OK, everyone doesn't hate me, I'm just going to the grocery store like everybody else. So that was huge. It was a big combination of things that I had to notice and dismantle about the assumptions I had built up about how the world sees me.

Kat: That's amazing that you were able to make space for yourself to do all those things and adapt as well. I love the idea that meditation, sitting there quietly, probably wasn't the best thing, but you found ways of making it work for you. That's really inspiring to hear. I think it just goes to show that there are so many different routes to these things, which is fantastic. 

There were two parts of the book that I think clearly share what can help. I wanted to bring those up as well. One is when the character gains control over the voices and can start manipulating what happens to them in his head. At that moment, I was doing a little cheer. I thought that was incredible. Also, there's a point where he goes on a camping trip with two friends, and again, I'm going to read out a quote because I think it encapsulates how connecting to others can be so powerful and helpful. 

The quote is, "If I break from this triangle and flee into the forest, I'd become a lone point in the tangle of possible constellations. But if I walk back to camp, our triangle will remain its strong equilateral dimensions and point outwards at encroaching threats rather than stab inwards at itself." Recognising what's coming from you is important, and being able to reach out to others is helpful.

Zac: Yeah, those camping trips were a really great escape from the city. As happens in the book, though, he realises there's a good and a bad aspect to those because out in Los Angeles at the time, so this was the Angeles National Forest, or in that particular scenario it's Los Padres, up behind Santa Barbara. It's just vast hills and, you know, it's desert-like with trees and stuff, oak trees and stuff like that. But there are no walls. That's the thing. Which means there are plenty of places to run. That's great. I have a backpack full of survival equipment with me. I can do this, but it also means that I could potentially see them. 

There aren't a lot of walls to hide behind. There are a lot of boulders and hills. Then there was the question of are they using drones painted sky blue and like this whole thing. 

But leaning on other people, and learning to finally confide in somebody else… That was another thing that didn't help me initially. I believed that my computer was being hacked. I didn't want to reach out to somebody, especially online, and have that somehow transmit whatever virus was happening to me to somebody else or bring somebody into my apartment. Now there's video and pictures taken of my friend who is going to go home and be followed and whatever. There was a while when I cut myself off from a lot of communication online and hanging out with people, which is problematic because then you're just sitting in your box with your thoughts and the voices.

That was maybe kind of helpful in a way too because it let that come to a head without joining some message board that was going to tell me that it's Q anon or the Illuminati or this whole whatever kind of thing that I could wind up having any of this confirmation bias or something that doesn't help me. It's this slippery slope of 'oh it must be this group of people' or something. I think that happens to a lot of people now because the internet is a wildly powerful tool for a lot of this stuff. In the UK and in the US we've seen how that works or doesn't work, but that can be scary too. Cutting myself off was good and bad, but those escapes from that little box were very important to me. I'm grateful to those friends.

Also connecting with my wife who, at the time, was distant. She was living in Paris, and that was a scary thing too because I didn't want our long-distance connection to be infiltrated. So I cut myself off a little bit from her too. When we finally got back in touch and I allowed that to happen, that was very helpful because she was a voice of reason. It was hard to accept because she was so far away. So it was like, well how do you know? You didn't stay up all night talking to your smoke detector? Like I'm the one who knows what's going on. 

It's a double-edged sword, but I had to accept the idea that either I trust absolutely no one and what do I do? My distrust of everyone will just expand to compress me, and I'll just implode or I have to trust somebody and I'll trust the closest people to me. The friends who I went hiking with, I've known them for so long that I was like, that's a long game. If they're agents too, you know, if they're in on this thing, they've been doing a lot of hard work over years, so that's probably not the case. I think I can go on a trip with them and get out of my head a little bit. But it was tough.

Kat: Yeah, I can imagine. Knowing when that point is to start talking to those close to you as well must have been tricky. You've touched on a few things that weren't helpful, and that leads me nicely onto the next section of this podcast to talk about what isn't helpful. We always like to look at the nuance here. 

Frances, I'm going to come to you first on this. Can you tell us about anything that maybe you've personally found unhelpful when it comes to dealing with fear or also around hypnotherapy, maybe if there is anybody who maybe this wouldn't be the right approach for.

Frances: Nuance is precisely the right word because we are all so nuanced, and what works for one person will be totally different because, as Zac will tell you, we're all living in a completely different version of reality from one another. It's really important to acknowledge that no matter what modalities I might be working with, someone else may have learned those same modalities and be employing them in a completely different way. It's about connection, meeting with someone who is a therapist before you ever have a session, just to check that connection is there, that you can trust yourself to open up to whatever therapist it is. From that connection, as Zac was talking about, it works as such an anchor no matter what we are facing.

Certainly, when it comes to psychosis or auditory hallucinations, it wouldn't be appropriate, in my view, to dive straight into hypnotherapy. It's about taking each case on its own merit and being brutally honest about the troubles we are facing and moving forward with the right therapist. In Zac's case, I would love to work with him because what he's discussing is absolutely fascinating to me. However, is that appropriate? I would probably have referred him to a senior colleague with specific expertise in treating hallucinations. So nuance, it's all about that.

Kat: Yeah. Finding the right support for you and not being afraid to say no if it's not working out. Maybe you have a session with someone and you actually think this isn't somebody I feel comfortable opening up to, being able to say, 'actually no, this isn't working. I'm going to find somebody else or I'm going to try a different route', I think is so important. Thank you so much for sharing that. 

Laura, I'm going to come to you with the same question, really asking about anything that can potentially be unhelpful for people who are looking for support with fear and maybe just anything to be aware of.

Laura: The one word that comes to mind is struggle. When you're in fear, struggling with it has a tendency to exacerbate it because the more we try to avoid it, the worse and stronger it gets. Actually, I want to come back to Zac's account. Is it alright if I just move on to that and explain something? 

I was absolutely intrigued by what you were saying there, Zac, because what I could hear in that was, and sorry I should preface this by, I used to work in a service for severe and enduring mental illnesses. I've had a lot of experience working with people with voices, auditory hallucinations, all kinds of psychosis and schizophrenia, to inpatient level severity. I've got quite a lot of experience in that area. As I was listening to you, what I noticed was just how helpful and adaptive many of the processes you were using are. Kat used the term "figuring it out," which sounds like what you were doing. You were using your intelligence to figure out what would work. 

The turning point is, rather than trying to work to get away from the fear, it's 'what would work to move me to where I want to go? What would work to get me back to my life?' It's not about 'how do I get rid of the fear?' Somebody who's trying to get rid of fear doesn't walk up to people and say, 'Hi, how are you?' when they think these people might put them in the back of a van, that involves facing a huge amount of fear.

The problem you were attempting to solve was not 'How do I get rid of that fear?' at that point, it might have been previous to that, but as you figured it out, it's that healthy adaptive process of 'How do I move forward, what is going to work?' Then trying out loads of things, and if they don't work, you do something else. Many of the things you described are very helpful, evidenced in where I would map it onto, although you can connect your description to many approaches, therapies, spiritual practices which would map onto what you're talking about there. But I would probably map it onto my experience in ACT, which is acceptance and commitment therapy.

And that is a therapy known to be effective in hearing voices in all kinds of different experiences like that. It was one that I used to use back when I was doing that work, but I also use it loads now for myself. Like what I'm doing is new in terms of my career. So I'm always doing something that is not particularly comfortable for me. I use a lot of ACT in dealing with that, and it's obviously a different level, a different thing, but it's still me going forward and doing things that I find scary. ACT has a lot of processes. One of them is being present, so it's being present with what's happening, sitting with experience, just like you do when you're meditating. Another is sitting in the observer self, seeing yourself as the context for the thoughts, noticing that these thoughts are there, they're not you, and alongside that is diffusion, where you step back from a thought.

I think that's what Frances’ book was about. You're not your thoughts; you're able to see that there's me and there's that, my thoughts, there's my fear, there's my experience, there's sensations going through my body, but I am separate from those. Then there are values, knowing what matters, and although I don't think you touched on that much, I think that would be there as well. It's you getting back to life, knowing what matters in your life. As you start taking these steps towards what matters, your life begins to expand, and the fear is still there, but you kind of expand out of it, and you realise that you're bigger than the fear. The central process that unifies ACT is psychological flexibility. The central thing in ACT is being flexible, noticing what works, what doesn't work, and dropping it if it doesn't. Just continuing to move forward and acknowledging that there's going to be fear, there's going to be difficult thoughts, but we can still be flexible in the face of that.

Kat: Thank you so much for sharing that. I'm going to pop some information about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in the show notes as well because we've got some information on Counselling Directory, and I think it's such an interesting approach. It's really interesting to hear how it can support in this area as well. The only other thing I was going to ask you, Laura, is there anything you would advise people to watch out for when looking for support or any approaches that might not be beneficial for fears and phobias or anything like that?

Laura: Following a bit from what Frances was saying there, I think it's really about looking for what people say they are. There are lots and lots of different approaches, many things that do work, many things that have good evidence bases. I work in trauma a lot, and there's a good evidence base for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing). We know that those are effective for trauma and they're also effective for phobias because phobias often come out of trauma, something bad that happened to you, or even the thought of something bad that happened to you that got stuck.

EMDR is effective for that too. We know they're effective and there's an evidence base for them, and many people have been trained properly in the process they're offering and have done all the necessary training. But there are also people who are doing that without having done the proper training. It's not so much where you're at, but whether you've done the actual training for the thing you're offering. EMDR is quite known for that. People think they're doing EMDR, but actually, they haven't gone through the full training and practised with it. My main thing would be to make sure that the person you're seeking support from is appropriately qualified to do the thing they're offering and has the necessary qualifications.

It can be a bit tricky to find, but I know the Counseling Directory is very good at checking qualifications. It can be a handy place for checking that. You can also check directly with the organisations. 

There's something else I was going to say about that, but I think it's just completely disappeared. Oh yes. Yeah, I think it's kind of a second answer in a way, but the big red flag for me is when people say things like the difficulty is easy or we can just suddenly work this out. I'm almost hesitant to say this because we touched on this before, Frances, but I do EMDR, and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing is very similar to the way you were describing your work, Frances, really similar. I have sessions where suddenly one session and you fix the issue; it does happen. But when that gets portrayed as the norm, sometimes that can be a bit of a red flag. If I question somebody about that and they say, oh no,and that's where… I'm not really saying that clearly, but I think that's one of the easy checks in a way, although it can be quite complicated too.

Kat: I think you're right there. If somebody's guaranteeing something, saying, ‘I guarantee this is going to work in X sessions’, or ‘This is a guaranteed fix for all your fears and phobias’, then that's a very good red flag, I think to look out for.

Laura: Yeah. Alongside that, the kind of inability to be questioned. If I'm working with a client who's challenging me on something if I'm going to be defensive and not answer them, I think that would be a red flag too.

Kat: Definitely. And I'll say as well, if anybody's listening to this and they heard the word trauma there and they're more interested in that, we have got an episode dedicated to the topic of trauma coming up in the season. So do keep listening for that as we mentioned some similar topics. It talks about EMDR as well, which is, again, I'll pop some information about that in the show notes because it's another fantastic therapy as well as the hypnotherapy that Frances is talking about. 

So we've got some really great ideas there for people to try and experiment with, to support themselves and to go in with insight and knowledge about what to look for and what to look out for as well. 

Before we wrap up, I was just going to ask if anybody would have any words of wisdom or perhaps something you would say to somebody who's currently struggling, maybe with a fear or a phobia, or even maybe to your past self. It sounds like everyone here has experience with this, so maybe something you would say to your past self. And Zac, I'm going to come to you first on this.

Zac: Sure. There's an afterword to the novel that outlines some of the coping techniques and recovery I'm talking about because to finish the novel, that's its own long boring story of gradually being less anxious and everything's fine. You can't do that for a couple hundred pages. So the novel gives you, he's on the edge of that precipice. The character Alex has a choice to make of 'which way do I lean?' The afterword outlines some of these techniques. In the afterword, I also address fellow voice hearers who might be reading the book. And I just say, this is probably the most reassuring and terrifying thing I could say to a voice hearer, but you are not alone.

I know there's a little bit of a winky joke in there, but it's also true, and it's something I felt was interesting when you contacted me about this Kat and said that this was going to be framed as a discussion on fear because it was only through writing the book and looking back on this experience that I was able to see a throughline of fear, phobic response, and defensiveness. Honestly, through the experience, the strongest emotion I was feeling was annoyance and frustration. Even fearing for my life, it would have been a huge relief for somebody to leap out of the bushes and hit me in the head with a bat. And I would die knowing that I was right. That's fine, please do that instead of letting me live the rest of my life wondering and constantly hearing this.

It was frustrating and profoundly lonely because it was just me, and I was holding myself up, and I felt like everyone else was just eyes watching me. You are not alone. I can't emphasise that enough. I use a gardening metaphor in the afterword too where I see certain plants and potential weeds that appeared over the years that I thought were pretty or helpful in my mental garden that then got out of hand. They wrap themselves around the more helpful plants and strangle them out. Then it's just paranoid ivy everywhere the next time you look around. Taking walks through your garden and observing your own responses and things like that, that plasticity, reactivity, and observation of self is very helpful.

Just try to look at it from different angles if that's what you're experiencing. Many people who've read the book so far said they were surprised that it kept going after he realised that it was in his head. Because you'd think that once you realise that the voice is in your head, it just turns off, right? I mean, because you know, it's fake, and that is not true. It could keep going. I was reading not-so-reassuring articles about how people live their entire lives with this. Once it crops up, and you don't necessarily have symptoms of something else that you can then find a label for and go into, 'OK, what do I do?' 'What kind of medication can I use for this?' What if that's the only thing that you're experiencing, and then it spiders out into other aspects of your life? But yeah, it doesn't shut off immediately. 

It's perseverance, attention, and deliberate action. Trying things and exposing yourself to knowing that just because something is uncomfortable doesn't mean that it's dangerous. That's a huge thing because by avoiding the thing that you think is dangerous, you're confirming that it's dangerous because that's why you're avoiding it. So as long as you avoid it, it continues to be potentially dangerous until you do the thing, and then you realise how dangerous it isn't.

Kat: Some helpful insights there, especially about the avoidance part. As an anxious driver who avoids driving a lot, yes, definitely something I need to work on. Really helpful. The "you are not alone" part is so true. I think that's something we've uncovered in this podcast, the power of connecting to yourself intentionally, but also to those around you. Brilliant. Thank you. If anybody does want to connect with you after listening to this podcast and learn more about you and your writing, where can they find you?

Zac: Well, you can find the book itself, it's called I Hear You Watching, on Amazon. It's available through Kindle Unlimited essentially with a subscription. Also, you can find it in ebook and paperback on Amazon as well. My website is, there's a mailing list and some blog posts about this book, my other writing, and upcoming projects too.

Kat: Thank you so much. And Frances, what would you say to somebody who's currently struggling or even your past self?

Frances: You can change your relationship to fear just as you can change your relationship to thoughts, and there are people out there who can help you do that. It's absolutely possible.

Kat: I love that. Where can people connect with you and learn more about your work?

Frances: It's Frances Trussel. If you search Frances Trussel anywhere or Mindfully Happy, my business, you can find me on Instagram, and on the internet. The book's called You Are Not Your Thoughts, also available in all those places.

Kat: Perfect. Thank you. Finally, Laura, anything you'd like to say to anyone listening, nodding along thinking, 'I need some support with this', or 'I'm struggling?'

Laura: Yeah, the first answer that came to my mind kind of sent me off into a spiral of different things, it's even happening more listening to you, but my first thought was to stop struggling. But I'm also aware of how harsh that can sound when you're really struggling. So that has to be put alongside tons of compassion, connection, self-care, and also values. We touched on that before, like just turning and focusing towards what matters. Although that can be painful sometimes, if you're in a hole and you're digging and it's not working, put down the spade. Stop struggling. It's not about blame; it's recognising that it's not working. Just put it down. You've got fear there. What can you do with that? 

Of course, alongside that, you need some connection to do that. If you're on your own, it's very difficult. Ultimately, it comes down to more like, "It's OK, and I'm here," one of the best things you can ever say to somebody struggling with something, even if you don't understand what they're going through or can't help. Just saying, "I'm here," can make a big difference.

Kat: Yeah, that can make all the difference, can't it? I really like what you said about stopping struggling. It's said with kindness, recognising to put the spade down, stop trying to dig, and deal with the core issue. If anybody wants to learn more about you and your work, where can they connect with you online?

Laura: For my general clinical psychology, that will be under, the website, and also on the Counselling Directory. For anything water-based, like phobias, swimming issues, especially scuba diving and drowning, I have an interest in that. Then, Fit to Dive is my website, named around how we move towards what we want in life. I always want to be fit enough to go scuba diving. It's also on social media: Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn under 

If you google my name plus diving or scuba diving or diving psychology, quite a few things will come up around that.

Kat: Fantastic. I'll include links to all of these in the show notes so people can find them easily. 

If you're looking for professional support, whether psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, life coaching, or holistic therapists, you can find them at I'll be back next week for our exhale episode, delving further into the topic of fear. Thank you for listening, and please take care.