New Year ... New start

A Happy new year to everybody.   I hope that this year is a good year for all.   Sometimes over the festive season nerves and esteem can take a bashing especially coping with all the festive season entails, or doesn’t entail that you would like it to.    

In the spirit of new year, new start and new possibilities I found this little exercise in creating a greater awareness of self esteem which I thought I’d share. It’s worth a thought even if a bit time consuming.  I work sometimes in sessions with this principle but how it’s shared here would take up a lot of session time, it’s more like a project you can keep and add to throughout the year.  

Set aside some time and write down every single thing you think you’ve  been successful at - small or large it doesn’t matter.  Whether you think they are significant or not it doesn’t matter,  just jot them down. When you can’t think of anything else write down next to them the qualities you’ve needed to achieve that success - sheer drive and determination, perserverence - courage - hope - kindness - friendship and .... 

its interesting to see on your list how you were successful, (even if you’d forgotten) how you overcame difficulty to achieve with the personal qualities you have. How can you harness those going forward?  Once you get going the results can be surprising.


How can I be happy ?

I get asked this question quite a bit during therapy. It's kind of an unanswerable question as we all programmed differently and what makes one person happy doesn't necessarily make another feel the same way.  

I think although for everybody it's different, we all have positive actions we can take to assist our pursuit of happiness.   Researchers that have undertaken many studies into the art of happiness have generally concluded that there are five stages to a happier life that we can all achieve.   (obviously those experiencing difficult times such as grieving or living with challenging issues or illness will find this much harder, as will those whose Maslows' basic needs are not being met) 

These five stages are :- 

Reach out to others, nurture positive relationships with people you care about and make time for them  

Regular physical activity several times a week doing something you enjoy that makes you out of breath for at least 30 minutes

Stimulate your  brain by carrying on learning and be open to developing new skills and knowledge

Be open to new experiences and challenges (Which seems quite similar to the stage above ) 

Give to others in need.   Those who give their time and energy to help others seem to have an enhanced sense of well being     


All these suggestions seem quite simple in terms of personal development but I wonder how much time they will take to implement? As therapists we are required to complete yearly quotas of professional development learning in order to stay registered but the personal development is just as important too.  I'm going to give these a try. 







An exercise in positivity

With recent tragic events featuring loss and trauma that we are all acutely aware of and get highlighted to us everywhere, it made me think about positive influences towards mental health and creating a positive rather than negative spiral of thinking.   Out of every tragic event comes heart warming evidence of heroism and people reaching out to others in despair with an inspiring outpouring of kindness.  

  Negative thinking can undermine a persons confidence and self esteem, making them feel bad about themselves and ultimately that they are not worthy of being happy.   When self esteem is high it's easier to believe that you can overcome difficulties and that you will find a way. Somehow a positive approach triggers a belief that you can manage your worries and that can then lead to change and overcoming of adversity.  

Doing something that you enjoy or brings joy to others can build your self esteem and make you feel good about yourself.   Trying to make a habit, even when things seem very dark or hopeless, of thinking positively about yourself and your qualities that you have (yes - you too, everybody has them) and by focusing on enhancing those qualities everyone can increase their positive thinking in maybe a small yet significant way.  This can be built on regularly through practice to create better self esteem and a more positive outlook.  From small acorns great oak trees can grow.   

Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental health week is every week within my practice but I welcome the ongoing and increasing awareness in mental health and the message that it's okay to seek help.  I hope that with high profile support and people taking courage to speak out there will be less stigma In seeking support for all mental illness.   I think culturally the British stiff upper lip has kept people away from therapy unless they have a close bereavement or are suffering wth life changing illness, then it seems to be acceptable.  I welcome a society where everybody can experience therapy if they need or want it from an early age (mindfulness and mental health self care should be taught in schools I believe) as life seems is fast paced and comes with relentless pressure especially for young people and those using social media.   We know  to exercise our bodies and take care of nutrition and sleep so why not take care of our minds as well?   We all need some self compassion and some quiet space to pause and process what's happening in our lives.  Although therapy can help with  issues long and short term, taking control of being kind to ourselves and doing something compassionate for ourselves everyday is empowering and mentally soothing. 

Happy mental health awareness week !  



Young People and Mental Health Awareness

I generally feel that access to mental health care is difficult for many with either cost, availability or even low self esteem issues facilitating the "I'm not bad enough to need therapy" or " I'm not worth it" feelings.  This feeling can be difficult but not insurmountable with therapy, even if it feels this way.  Younger people seem to struggle even more with accessing therapy to help them with peer pressure, bullying and stress in a judgemental and performance driven society.  

With this in mind I was so encouraged last week to witness a change in awareness with social media being used for good by spreading the mental awareness heart symbol  ❤    This demonstrated that the sender (or wearer in the case of young teenagers I've spoken to) shows empathy towards suffers of mental health difficulties. 

Young teenagers were choosing to draw a heart on their hands on 16th January  to demonstrate they were either in sympathy of, or suffer from, an illness such as anorexia, bulimia, anxiety and depression.  The symbol showed  that the wearer was prepared to reach out to those in need and "give a hug" to their friends who needed it.   

What an insightful and empathic thing to do - in a world where much of the press about young people is negative and depressing -here they are trying to supporrt each other to obtain better health.  

What a lovely thing.  

Expression of emotion is good for you

I've always thought that expressing deep emotion through crying is a valuable cathartic response to emotional and physical pain.  Although it is difficult sometimes to sit with somebody processing deep painful emotion, as a therapist I actively encourage expression of tears as a strength rather than a weakness as it's perceived by some.

 I do think that stored pain can build up and present itself in other ways unless it is released.  Clients I've worked with know that by crying they express and release emotions that sometimes take them by surprise.  I was really pleased to come across some neurobiological research to back up this theory ! 

Here is the gist of the article from The power of positivity.  

"According to neuroscientist and tear researcher Dr. William H. Frey II, PhD, “crying is not only a human response to sorrow and frustration, it’s a healthy one.Crying is a natural way to reduce emotional stress that, left unchecked, has negative physical affects on the body, including increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and other stress-related disorders.”

Research shows that 85 percent of women and 73 percent of men feel less angry and sad after crying than they did before. Many people feel that crying makes them weak and unable to cope with their lives and emotions, when in reality, crying represents the exact opposite" 

Really interesting stuff. The article does on to explain those able to express emotion are mentally tougher, as they are able to accept their emotions and go with them.   I'm not sure everyone I work with feels that way at the time but it is an interesting thought. 

Being able to sit with a clients' intense emotions whilst bracketing off your own emotional response is a sometimes difficult but important part of a therapists' job.  It's also a privilege to walk with others on their deeply personal journey while they learn to process their pain and hoping they feel therapy provides them a safe place to do so. 

Mental health issues are not always obvious

I came across this little gem recently and it got me thinking about the world of therapy and how being a therapist gives me an amazing insight into other people's lives. I see it as a priveledge to walk alongside others on what can be a difficult journey of self awareness and discovery. That people trust me with their fears and hopes, and struggle to overcome what are difficult issues for them is sometimes awe inspiring.  I contantly marvel at their bravery in the face of adversity and the growth and healing of the human spirit.  

The following quote really struck a chord with me and inspires empathy and understanding in a critical and judgemental world -  

"You can't begin to imagine what people are going through in their lives -  so just be nice. It's that simple."

A conscious rethink  

An inspired thought ....

Below is an observation of life and it's meaning, written by Seth, a 24 year old with terminal cancer.  Inspirational words without self pity and blame, just encouragement of others still with choices.  I know it's easy to get caught up in the trials and struggles of everyday life and that these can often seem overwhelming, but without belittling anybody's difficult issues, why not take a moment and  listen to another's view of the life he is leaving behind ......

"Leave a mark in this world. Have a meaningful life, whatever definition it has for you. Go towards it. The place we are leaving is a beautiful playground, where everything is possible. Yet, we are not here forever. Our life is a short spark in this beautiful little planet that flies with incredible speed to the endless darkness of the unknown universe. So, enjoy your time here with passion. Make it interesting. Make it count!"   

Being happier ....

As many clients come to counselling with the sole objective of "being happier" I thought I would share some positive habits to recreate that many say improves their feelings of happiness.  Obviously these are not going to "fix" many long term issues that people come to counselling for but taking a positive step to help yourself can go a long way help motivate and encourage when life feels really difficult.   

1. Be quiet for 20 minutes a day.  This allows the brain to calm and be creative.  

2. Give and receive hugs - physical contact stimulates the feel good hormone.  

3. Read a book, the act of sitting and reading can reduce stress.  

4. Laugh out loud - humour is proven to strengthen the immune system.   

5. Stay active, exercise increases the feel good feeling and clears negativity.  

 ( taken from the power of positivity's 5 ways to be happier online )  

All the above may seem simple but it can also be a challenge to find time to recreate new habits in the fast paced world we live in.   Definitely worth trying out.

Coping with anxiety

I found this little gem online - it really helps, worth giving a try.  

When suffering from anxiety or panic - ground yourself by doing the following : 

look around you and find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. 

Working through the five senses to refocus on the present can halt the flight or fight response to panic by grounding yourself.  

Grounding can help when you feel that you've lost control of your surroundings.  Even carrying out 2 or 3 of the above stages can make a difference and refocus the mind.  


The stages of grief

This is a lovely diagram below that a friend found that graphically depicts the grief process.  Several clients have found looking at it a "normalising" experience and have gained comfort from recognising their emotions and pain.   

I think it's great - this is a visual tool that helps illistrate the grieving process as a necessary mourning journey and as clients gradually progress into adjustment and adaptation there is hope that progress can be seen, even if sometimes it feels as though it's one step forward, two steps back. 

Counselling can really assist those going through the grieving process , allowing safe exploration of these feelings and verbalising the physical pain and symptoms that can accompany it. 




Investment in mental health care

Today the government in Britain has announced an extra £1billion per year will be spent on mental health care as only a shockingly low 15% of people needing care in England actually receive the help they need.  This means an extra one million people per year are predicted to get help.  

I would obviously welcome this as an independent practitioner.  Many people I see feel unable to access the help they need due long waiting lists.  The pressure on the system means that many can reach crisis point before they even access mental health help. 

If this investment means that mental health becomes more widely recognised as manageable and as important as physical health as the government would like, hopefully with less cultural stigma such as seeking help being a sign of weakness or only necessary during times of suffering extreme trauma, then this can only mean a healthier population as a whole.  

Intervention at the early stages of depression or other mental illness has been proven to influence a more positive outcome and with Government given suicide rates in 2014 higher than ever this must be a priority.  

With more people accessing greater resources in order to feel, if not better, at least that somebody can hear they are struggling and support them, this can only be a major step forward in improving mental health for society as a whole.  

Working to create self esteem

Many issues that present themselves during therapy can highlight a persons' low self esteem or lack of belief in themselves.   I am reminded frequently that the way in which an individual sees themselves affects everything they do.  Those with high self esteem seem to have high energy, productivity and generally a good level of well being and feeling of happiness.  

Building momentum during positive life experiences to create a greater sense of self worth and satisfaction seems obvious but what about when we lose that momentum and lose trust in ourselves and my personal favourite - procrastination - creeps in.

So how about some general pointers towards tried and tested ways in which to increase self esteem and getting motivated?

These could include:-

Starting small, setting yourself a small goal each day that can be built upon to create a sense of achievement, whilst visualising where you would like to be.  

Making connections with others to build interpersonal skills, reaching out to others in times of their need has a proven positive psychological effect on the one reaching out. 

Do something you are good at and reflect on it - could you pass on that knowledge to others?

Setting a goal for yourself - where you would like to be and how you might achieve getting there, as knowing where you want to go is halfway there.  

Do something that scares you or that you find difficult.  Okay, so this is a pretty tricky one for most of us, but by challenging the fear and turning it from a negative to a positive you increase your self worth by enforcing greater self belief.  Achieving something for yourself that you thought was impossible has huge benefits for your self esteem.

There are many other ways to improve self worth and confidence.  Sometimes life experience may have dented your confidence and made you feel less worthy.  Sometimes counselling can help address these negative patterns.   Remember though, even small steps can gradually make a difference to a positive new you in 2016. 




Christmas spirit

This time of year can be a difficult time for many whether suffering loss, illness or just plain stress and pressure which seem to be piled on around the Christmas season.  

Being with or without family and friends can produce stress for all of us.  Thinking about Christmas peace and its meaning I was reminded by a child how special this time can be when you can look inward, past any pain and suffering to the good things in your life or that you would like to have in your future.   

This little girl had an idea to create a decorated jar  of happiness to serve as a reminder of positive experiences when she was feeling unhappy.  Different coloured pieces of paper are inside and on each are written something positive that has been said about her or that she has experienced.   When she feels a bit sad she takes out the slips of paper and reads them.  Although childlike and a very simple idea on one level these often prove to be the best kind of ideas.  

What would be in your happiness jar? Something in the past, present or future?  

Seasons Greetings and positive wishes to you all.   

Today is International Men's Day.

 international Men's day sets out to support male mental health, amongst other issues, in particular to highlight the increased suicide rates amongst men.  

The campaign against living miserably (CALM) states that suicide is now the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. I found this statement astonishing!   

Official Government figures show that male suicide rates have risen, in 2013, 8 out of 10 suicides were men which is the highest rate for 34 years. 

So why do men seem to be at such greater risk?  

The samaritans suggest the loss of the "breadwinner role" is driving a rise in suicidal middle aged men particularly in modern society with all its economic and social pressures. 

Is this because statistically men find it much harder to admit they need help I wonder?   Do they believe  it makes them look less manly or weak? I would argue that a stronger man seeks help when he needs it but sometimes do men find themselves in despair before they realise? 

Everybody needs support at times and talking therapy can explore issues,  such as major life changes, that can cause a depressive hopeless mindset and offer practical ways of changing negative thinking. 

Charities that help such CALM, Samaritans and the BPS are calling for a debate in government to raise awareness of the issue.  Today on International Men's Day I'm focussing on the old slogan "it's good to talk". Let's encourage the men around us to improve their mental health and ask for help if they need it.   


Anybody feeling suicidal should contact their Gp or the Samaritans ( 24hours a day).  See further info page for contact details.





Stress - helping yourself


Stress - how to live with it? 

Life is stressful. Some stress is good for us and motivational as without it we wouldn't be productive each day, however when do you know when it is becoming too much? 

We all revert back to bad habits when we are living a constant life of heightened stress. We know what we need to do and what is good for us but somehow life is so busy we forget to take care of ourselves and counteract the stress hormone cortisol flooding our system.  We start to notice stress induced symptoms which are designed to encourage us to take notice, re think and hopefully inspire new positive habits.  

I am regularly reminded with my counselling work that people facing very difficult circumstances sometimes cannot remember the last time they did something small for themselves and often need a little nudge to take better care of and  value themselves.  

So here is a little reminder to do the good stuff we all know but forget to do  -

Take a break - Do something small just for yourself each day, take time to indulge in something that makes you feel good. 

Breathe mindfully whenever you feel stressed and visualise the stressful feelings flowing out.

Don't be too hard on yourself and have unrealistic expectations, try to treat yourself as you would a best friend. 

Do some exercise, preferably outside, giving you the double whammy of sunlight (vitamin D) and exercise endorphins (the happy hormone) - even brisk walking is great. 

Look at your diet and watch the caffeine, alcohol and nicotine intake. 

Try to get a little more sleep during stressful periods. 

Share your worries with supportive family and friends.

Seek medical help if you are worried about yourself or your health. 

If you still feel overwhelmed by stress then maybe look into some therapeutic counselling help in order to explore the causes. Doing this with somebody who is trained to listen without judgement can be both powerful and insightful, helping you to help yourself feel better.


Counselling for Grief and Loss

Counselling for grief and loss - what is it?

I think it is a safe place to share your experience of loss and how it is making you feel.  This not only benefits you but also your family, friends and those around you.  Grief can affect us in many different ways, being fearful of the future, feeling constantly sad or without hope, feeling stuck in a rut and unable to move forward when those around you appear to be enjoying productive lives.  Especially difficult for the recently bereaved is when well-meaning people close to them think they "should" have picked up by now and carried on with their lives.  Grief makes others uncomfortable, they want to help out, but have no idea what to say and fearful to make things worse, say nothing.   It can also be difficult to admit that things still aren't quite right.  Sometimes we all need a little support and help to find our own personal way through.

Many experts have defined clear patterns of grieving and there are recognised "stages", however no two loses are the same and peoples' grieving patterns are all very different.  This can depend on many factors, including past experiences, family and cultural influences, how you cope with trauma and how you learnt to cope with losses previously in life.  The nature of the loss can also affect and heighten the grieving process.   Multiple losses can obviously deepen the feelings of emptiness as can a loss that feels out of sync with the natural order - e.g. the loss of a young person.  

There is no "right" or "wrong" way to grieve, it is an individual path through what can be a very distressing time.  Sometimes grief can show itself in different ways, for example an inability to concentrate, getting very angry, feeling ill or experiencing physical symptoms.  All of this is NORMAL.  Above all, grief can be really confusing.  Trying to make sense of the loss, whether it is recent or deep in the past can sometimes make life feel impossible.  Talking about those feelings to friends or loved ones can often be difficult, as the desire to not upset others or refocus them on the loss when they seem to be moving forward can hold people back from the necessary expression of mourning. 

Different types of loss other than the loss of a person may also deeply affect everyday life, be it a loss of a relationship, health, a job or a pet.  Ordinary life can feel a long way off as life will never be the same as it was before the loss.  Many people struggle with the loss of a future they had planned out,  as life has completely changed for them.  Trying to make sense of the loss  by acknowledging the deep sadness, feeling heard and supported whilst holding onto the hope that life will change and improve, can be invaluable. 

Seeking counselling help is asking for support and acknowledging to yourself that you have experienced deep sadness and loss.  You want to feel stronger whilst seeking a safe space to share your feelings, whatever they may be.   Counselling should provide a non-judgemental and understanding time to explore how you feel, in time helping you out through the darkness.