Ashton was selected on reputation alone for the second half of the 2013 RBS 6 Nations with his previous exploits earning the ongoing loyalty of head coach Stuart Lancaster at a time when others were calling for him to be axed from the team.
The 26-year-old was locked in a demoralising cycle and even questioned the England management when they sought to address his slump, although now he realises he was lucky to have Lancaster’s support.
“You are trying so hard to do well and it just sends you into a downward spiral, thinking about everything way too much,” the Saracens three-quarter said, ahead of Saturday’s opening QBE International against Australia at Twickenham.
“Rugby is my life so if it doesn’t go well, you take it away from this environment and it kind of gets you down a little bit.
“You end up feeling down because you’re thinking about it all the time.
“What the coaches said at the time, I wasn’t really sure if they were right.
“Now looking back at it I know they were right, but it’s hard to take sometimes.
“It’s hard to get out of that, but now I’ve come out of it, you can understand where they (the coaches) were coming from and that they were trying to help.
“I was very lucky to stay in the team throughout.”
Ashton insists concentrating on the basics of the game rather than continuing with his usual drive to cross the whitewash enabled him to make a dynamic start to the season with Saracens.
“I’m enjoying my rugby again. There was a point where maybe I wasn’t enjoying it as much last year,” Ashton said.
“When I was playing I was trying so hard and it became a bit frustrating for me.
“I had the summer off, got away and relaxed. I looked at what I needed to work on and just worked at it.
“I tried to make the basics of my game better – kick-chase, defence and positioning.
“Sometimes I was just chasing absolutely everything, trying harder and harder and it was having a negative effect.”
England lock Geoff Parling has been ruled out of Saturday’s game with concussion.
Parling was concussed during a contact session at the squad’s Pennyhill Park training base yesterday afternoon and will undergo the recommended graduated return-to-play protocol.
Lancaster has released 11 players back to their clubs for Premiership duty this weekend, leaving him with a 23-man squad.
Ben Foden looks to be included on the bench at Twickenham on Saturday after Alex Goode was sent back to Saracens with Ashton, Marland Yarde and Mike Brown forming the back three.
The starting centre combination will be Billy Twelvetrees and Joel Tomkins.
Players released: F Burns (Gloucester), L Burrell (Northampton), D Care (Harlequins), K Eastmond (Rugby), A Goode (Saracens), T Johnson (Exeter), M Kvesic (Gloucester), H Thomas (Sale), H Trinder (Gloucester), R Webber (Bath), C Wade (Wasps).