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The Emotional Travel Agent – Journeys Away From Anxiety, Depression And Despair

Written by: Nicola Wakeling, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Anxiety, panic attacks, depression, rage and despair seem to be part of our every day lives and conversations. It seems more common than ever that we know someone who is struggling and wants an end to their suffering. The struggle is real and it's a big problem. But long term therapy is so….. long term. What can also work, is an Integrative approach that starts with a very different mindset.

The Emotional Travel-Agent

After years of working alongside clients to create personal change, I have often thought of what I do as being an Emotional Travel Agent. People come with many different presenting problems and say ‘I don’t want this anymore. Whatever that may be. They are all quite certain about what the problem is and how it makes them feel. Often they are exhausted, exasperated, anxious or downright angry and have been living with this problem for long enough that they are quite sure that they don’t want to be ‘here’ anymore - and by that, I mean in suffering, in whatever way that presents in their lives.

So I ask them “If you don’t want to be ‘here’, where would you like to be instead?” This is a deceptively simple question and one that sets the tone for the fundamental underpinning of all the work that we will be doing together. Not that they know that at the time, because it’s such a simple question that it falls right through the conscious mind and garners the answer ‘Not here”.

Knowing what we don’t want

It is so easy for us to know what we don’t want. In fact, we have learned from a very young age to be sensitive to needing to solve discomfort and even to set aside our own needs in order to not create a problem for others. But what is absent in the way that we usually think, is what it is that we would like instead. I cannot begin to tell you how difficult it is for people to visualise, sense or even feel how life could be better in some way.

But (and this is where it starts to get interesting) if we had no idea about how our life and experiences could be better, then it’s possible that we wouldn’t even know to want it. If it were perpetually dark in our world and we had never experienced light, never witnessed the sun brightening the sky in brilliant hues, we would not long to see a beautiful sunrise. We wouldn’t even understand the concept of light, let alone understand or anticipate the nuance of a ‘better sunrise’. So it stands to reason that each of us knows exactly what it is that we want but we have become hopelessly disconnected from it.

Finding something missing

My mother tells a wonderful story about a very strict teacher that she experienced as a child. This woman was seemingly fond of bellowing at her students, particularly for non-compliance of any nature. My mother, probably 7 years old, was subject to one of these tirades for non-compliance as a result of not turning in her homework. The teacher leaned over her desk and leaned close to her face, saying “Imagine my surprise, Carole, when marking the books, I found your homework missing”. Unfortunately, my mother felt it necessary to point out to the exasperated teacher that it is not possible to ‘find something missing’. The rest of that particular story is thankfully history.

And yet, within our therapy space, this story comes to me endlessly as we as humans have a remarkable propensity to find something missing. I shall explain.

Zack’s story

Zack came to me with a long history of anxiety that resulted in him not wanting to leave the house. He worried about visiting the shops and had switched his entire life to being online. He had arrived at a point where he would wake in the morning feeling anxious about his day before he had even moved from his bedroom to his living room, which was the extent of his life and was constantly feeling on edge, with sweaty trembling hands and weak legs. His relationship was hanging by a thread and his Uni work was too much to contemplate, he had no sustained concentration and he was behind. The only thing that he felt he was doing well, was procrastinating, which in turn led to more anxiety and guilty feelings. As he laid out his situation, I asked him…. ‘So, emotionally you don’t want to be where you are right now… where would you like to be’. He replied ‘Anywhere but here”.

Going to a new place

And so begins the exploration. If you were to go to a real Travel Agent, they would bring you brochures on various destinations to begin narrowing down the possibilities. As with all holidays, you will choose with a spirit of “Could I see myself there….? Would I enjoy that? Is that me?” And interestingly, the way that you would make your decision would be whether it felt right. Of course, there may be other constraints such as price or distance, but generally, if you went to a Travel Agent with such a loose brief, we could consider that you are open to many possibilities.

One other question that a smart travel agent might ask is “Where have you been before that you liked?”. And so it continues in our session - I ask specific questions to lead Zack to a very specific place where ‘he knows himself’, he is comfortable and calm, in my therapy terms this is where ‘the problem is not’. He is on an emotional holiday…. Even if it is just for a moment. But he made a short trip, regardless.

And despite him being ‘problem free’ at that moment, what brings him back to his problem is when I ask him ‘So when you have got what you want, what will you have then?’. And his answer? “I won’t have the problem”. He has found something missing.

Could you imagine choosing your holiday like that? - ‘I will be happy on holiday wherever I go because I just won’t be here. Of course, we have all had moments where we would rather be anywhere else rather than where we were at that moment, but it is a very short-lived and ill formed goal to pursue. But there we are, when it comes to our happiness, we are willing to consider ‘anywhere but suffering’ as an approximation of what we are looking for.

And so I helped Zack return time and again to this comfortable anxious free state, and from here he could see his ‘problem’ with a world of new resources. The more he stayed on his ‘holiday’, the more his life ‘back home in the suffering’ seemed not so bad. Just like it does on a real holiday. But then we looked at how he could make things better once he returned to his ‘problem life’. And that is the secret to the results that my clients are getting - all of the ‘work’ to end the suffering is best done in a very different ‘place’ than it ever feels like you should be. So for Zack, as with every client, we are strengthening and refining processes, learning how to access a ‘problem free’ state endlessly, employing tools and unconscious understanding to widen this sense for Zack, until it becomes second nature to him again.

Returning Home

And this is almost where the metaphor ends. Because there is one aspect of this therapy journey that never fails to shock me every time it happens. One day, after just a few weekly sessions, Zack was suddenly talking about his ‘suffering’ as though it is a temporary destination that he visits from time to time. His problem state has become the exception and not the norm. He talks about how he has joined a snooker club and met new friends, he describes how he doesn’t enjoy his Uni work but knows how to rest himself and not feel guilty because he then has the motivation to do the work that he needs to do. He talks about catching himself beginning to run old patterns in his mind and how he feels himself getting drawn into them but knows exactly what to do. He says that when he does unusual things like taking stuff to the dry cleaners, he can’t help but smile at how he feels wobbly when he gets out of the car. He says out loud ‘I choose to do this because I enjoy organising myself for next week”. He can feel it….the allure of the holiday that he never wanted to take, the one he got trapped in and needed a holiday from, and he knows where home is now.

And the interesting part about this journey? Although people still feel the shadows of the problem, they mostly delete the existence of the suffering. It doesn’t appear in the words that they use, the states that they make for themselves each day and they most certainly don’t find it missing.

It is possible to find ways of reimagining your life and of course as humans we are unique in our abiliity to access possible futures that we can work towards. But this work that I love is so much more than smart goals - it is an embodied, state-managed transformation that brings along all of the things that you would want to have with you on ‘the holiday of your life’. Hope starts in our bodies, in our words and in our thoughts.

Where do you want to be every day of your life?

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Nicola Wakeling, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Nicola Wakeling is an exceptional and passionate Therapist and Coach combining hypnosis, NLP, neuroscience, generative coaching and existential psychotherapy together into a fast-paced results driven practice. With years of SME experience and national award-winning businesses under her belt, she is passionate about optimising growth from within using all possible resources, even when they have to be discovered and unleashed first. Nicola is also a skills-based Mentor for Coaches.

She has a private practice both online and one to one in Buckinghamshire, UK



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