Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Top 10 Habits to stay Sane in 2015

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” Shirley Jackson

As I write this, I’ve had clients email me about their husbands/wives leaving them at Christmas and another whose spouse has just died unexpectedly.  As I flick through the newspaper, there is a plethora of unhappy events both in the UK and abroad.  

As Shirley Jackson wrote, how do we continue to stay ‘sane’ when we face the harshness of such events in our everyday lives?  Some might react defiantly by trying to block out any news other than living within their own bubble. I have often been guilty of this, not wanting to absorb anymore misery from the world.  Our cup runneth over with it all at this time of year- both a sickly sweet mix of festive cheer and an echo from those who are alone, sad or without.  It is a timely reminder.

You might know at least one person who seems able to keep cheerful amidst most difficulties; one of those ‘mentally strong’ people we would all aspire to be like. What do most mentally resilient people have in common?  Here’s my top 10 habits you can adopt to grow your mental resilience in 2015:

1.     Embrace Change:  Change is the only constant in life though human beings are often slower to adapt to a change in circumstances.  To help manage change better, whether a chosen or imposed change like divorce, aim to create a plan to deal with the obstacles.  Focus on the first step, then the next etc. to avoid overwhelm.  Focus on the positives that could (eventually) arise from the change.  For example, one of my clients started focusing on all the interests she wanted to pursue which she couldn’t do when she was married.  She felt more liberated and excited about her life which helped her to move on.

2.     Keep going even if at first you don’t succeed: Having staying power is a sure sign of a resilient, emotionally intelligent person.  Most of us give up because of fear when we first fail.  Be kind to yourself initially then realize that every mistake is an opportunity to grow and learn.  Then ‘failing’ no longer feels so scary.

3.     Don't repeat the same mistakes over again: On the other hand, learning from our mistakes is the secret to being savvy and sane.  If you tend to fall for the same man over and over again for instance who is bad for you, take some time to ponder why and how you can establish a new behavior and utilize more self-control in the matter.  Awareness is the first step to changing a habit.

4.     Let go of having a Victim mentality: It might be tempting to have a ‘pity party’ though let’s face it, what does that achieve? Being able to grieve for a loss and allow yourself to experience an emotion and then let it go is healthy though staying stuck in a ‘poor me’ state is not.  It is a waste of energy and leads to negative emotions like resentment and anger.  Move on and practice gratitude daily.

5.     Focus less on pleasing people: Being genuinely kind and supportive towards others is different to being a pleaser, which arises from fear and a lack of personal boundaries.  If you tend to lose your power by focusing too much on others needs, practice the word ‘no’ and learn some assertiveness skills to arm yourself.

6.     Focus on the Present, not the past: All the clients I see have issues arising from the past or future- the past being the most toxic and limiting, whether it is viewed nostalgically or coloured with bitterness.  If you are currently limited by your past baggage, make a list of all the issues that are unresolved and make it a goal in 2015 to work through them- whether that means forgiving someone, or yourself, realize this is the only way to be truly happy in the present. If you're struggling to do this on your own, consider seeing a therapist to gain some support.

7.     Be happy being alone: Most of us feel uncomfortable being alone and need to avoid the possibility with constant activity.  Try stepping out of your comfort zone and try just 10 minutes alone time to spend with yourself doing something you enjoy.  Gradually increase the time and learn to value the solitude it brings.

8.     Take calculated risks: We spend most of our lives trying to avoid being uncomfortable though good things can arise out of feeling anxious- it can be a sign you’re starting to shift the balance towards growth.  Balance logic with your feelings and examine where this risk might take you in your life if you take that leap.  

9.     Be willing to play the long game: We live in a short termist society that wants instant fixes and results.  Be flexible and realistic however when setting goals and aspirations and be willing to put the work in long term. Breaking down bigger life goals into smaller milestones can help you stay content and sane along the journey.

10.  Focus on the things you can control: As the serenity prayer goes- ‘..grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.’  This is my mantra for life and as far as I’m concerned, the secret to happiness. Amen.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

5 Creative ways to overcome your Anxiety

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer

According to research, Anxiety disorders affect more than 3 million of us in the UK alone.  That is apart from those individuals who suffer from some kind of mild anxiety who haven’t sought treatment or advice from a health professional.  Unfortunately, the numbers of those diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder are only set to rise.

Anxiety can take many guises- for some it is triggered by specific situations like driving, or it may be a more generalized feeling of Anxiousness or worry which in normal circumstances you could cope with. If you feel you might be suffering from an Anxiety Disorder read this guide online for more information:

GP’s are often at a loss at how to treat those with Anxiety aside from prescribing Anti depressant or Anti Anxiolytic drugs like Beta Blockers that are often just a short term ‘fix’.  CBT is then recommended as a way of managing the Anxiety symptoms better which in my experience, can be very effective.  For a slightly different approach, here’s 5 creative ways to overcome your Anxiety immediately:

1.    Change the Anxious self talk: Rick Carson, author of ‘Taming your Gremlin’ says we all have an inner ‘gremlin’ that talks us down and makes us feel negative about ourselves and the world.  He suggests tackling it first of all by just being aware of that voice and learning to be more detached from it.  I’d suggest adding a dose of humour in there too as the best way to diffuse fear is usually to laugh at what makes us scared.  What kind of voice would you rather have- a comedian you like? Your best friend who makes you laugh?  Changing the associations with that negative voice might well help.

2.    Add a happy soundtrack: Often our mind not only tells us what could go wrong in a never ending audio loop.  Often it is great at ramping up the fear with visual images of our fears too.  When this happens, try picturing the image of the fear on the cinema screen and try playing the image with a happy/funny soundtrack to again mix up the fearful associations with amusing ones.  See how you feel…If your fear is more generalized, ask yourself ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen?’ and you’ll probably get an image or thought come up to work on.

3.    Neutralise the fear: Another way of diffusing fear is to use Cognitive Diffusion techniques which allow the mind to start neutralizing the connections to the Anxiety.  For example, the words ‘Anxiety’ and ‘Fear’ are often loaded with well a lot of negativity unsurprisingly!  Try using a neutral word like ‘orange’ or ‘banana’ instead when you feel that way. It might well make you smile!

4.    Let go of the Anxious identity: Through my experience of working with hundreds of clients with Anxiety over the years is that they have a strong sense of identity connected to being anxious.  ‘I’m an anxious person’ they say, ‘I’m always anxious’.  Telling their mind they are anxious is pretty much saying, ‘this is me, I can’t get over it’.  Pretty limiting wouldn’t you say?!  Whereas anxiety, like any other emotion is just a state we are experiencing at the time- like anger, sadness or happiness and doesn’t define who we are.  Next time you get a thought like that come up challenge it and see what it feels like!

5.    Create a pattern interrupt.  In a way, all the above are techniques for interrupting the patterns of anxiety and fearful thinking. Another one I like to use with children and adults alike is using a positive anchor word that you can use whenever you feel anxious to ‘break the state’.  Think about either what makes you feel happy or calm? Could it be playing football on a Sunday, seeing your friends, reading in bed?  Whatever it is, allow yourself to be immersed in the memory of doing this thing and get into the positive state and think of an anchor word.  Practise using that word whenever you start to feel anxious and keep reconnecting your mind to that feeling.  

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Top 5 things you need to know to survive being a working parent

As Sheryl Sandberg says: ‘..there’s no such thing as work life balance. There’s work and there’s life and there’s no balance.’  Work-life Balance’ can feel like an elusive ideal we should be aspiring for and yet feel we never quite achieve.  What with trying to ‘balance’ meetings at work, school runs, housework and then fit in some downtime and exercise (if you’re lucky), it can feel like a constant juggling act as a parent.

As a working parent myself to a 3-month old, I know how difficult it is trying to balance everything including a career, whilst trying to remain fully functioning and happy.  With increasing pressures on parents to maintain a good career to provide a nice lifestyle for their family and deal with the financial pressures this brings, it is no wonder Stress, Depression and Anxiety disorders are on the rise. Essentially, parents are often trying to cope with two full time jobs- the one that pays the bills and looking after the kids.

That aside, there are some things that parents often forget in the midst of the juggling act that make life that bit easier:

1.    Create a support Network outside the family

Being a working parent can be isolating and it’s important to gain external support.  Even if your social life has dwindled, ensure that you make time to speak to friends, on the phone or face to face (Facebook as a last resort!). I ensure I see at least one friend a week for a coffee or lunch to keep in touch. If you want to combine it with doing some exercise all the better! Online support can also be of benefit as well, especially to connect with other parents who may be going through similar issues. Try or to find parenting forums or support groups.

2.    Create clear, flexible priorities

When you’ve got a demanding career and an active family life, you can often feel torn between your priorities and overwhelmed at trying to achieve too much at once. Having a more flexible approach can enable you to gain more sense of control over your life balance and move away from this constant state of stress.  One strategy for doing this is to list at the end or beginning of each week what your priorities are and look at what you can defer, delegate or delete from that list. Then set 2-3 clear goals for the week and put the other small goals that take a few minutes like phone calls in a ‘batch list’ and blitz these when you have some time though prioritise achieving the main goals first.

3.    Accept your limitations and what is ‘good enough’

Get out of the mindset of trying to be the perfect parent and start feeling ‘good enough’.  Deciding to keep a career going whilst being a parent inevitably means sacrifices have to be made on time spent with children. This doesn’t mean you have to then compensate with giving things, which is what parents often do to dispel their guilt.  Just accept the decisions you have made and then focus on making the time you do spend with your kids’ count- quality time matters more than anything.  Also accept your limitations and challenge your ‘ill be happy when…’ mentality as that only leads to severe dissatisfaction. Now is where you are.

4.    Find ways of being more present

Leading on from that, start exploring ways of being more in the moment.  I am sure you’ve already heard of ‘mindfulness’ if you haven’t dabbled in the practice already.  Having a ‘beginners mind’ is a Zen Buddhist practice, which essentially means being open and seeing things afresh like a curious child.  I rather like this idea as it involves getting out of your existing rut and habitual patterns and jumping into a new frame of wonderment and excitement. Ask yourself, if I had a beginners mind, how would I see my situation differently and what would I be telling myself?  Try a mindfulness practice for yourself and download the headspace app: Having children also gives you an ample excuse to let the inner child out to play every now and then!

5.    Book appointments with yourself.

This might sound a bit desperate needing to set meetings with yourself though I’ve done this for myself as well as with clients and it really does work.  Think about it, would you ignore an important meeting in your diary? Not likely though often parents neglect their own needs and can end up feeling trapped in their responsibilities.  I teach all my clients about ‘enlightened self interest’, which is about prioritising your own wellbeing with the view that if you’re healthy and happy, you’ll be able to deliver your best to others. Being flexible in your priorities also means you can sometimes make space for yourself without feeling guilty and still be a good parent.  So book that spa day now!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Make your Marriage Last from the Start


Have noticed the appearance and increase in the idea of pre-wedding counselling or preparation recently?  You might have thought that couple counselling is only for couples who have problems. Alternatively you may be riding the crest of a loving wave happily preparing to spend the rest of your life with your beloved. However it is worth taking a closer look at pre-marriage Counselling.

Couples now have to contend with increasing demands that can affect their relationship such as balancing dual careers, childcare, finances and friends. Within this context it is not surprising that many couples that start off with positive intent can find themselves getting into bad habits and stuck patterns that can eat away at the relationship and become harder to fix when more entrenched. Added to this is a lack of traditional support as families live further away and Iead increasingly disparate lives. It is a sad fact that half of marriages end in divorce and it is estimated that only half of those that survive are happy ones. Although statistics on civil partnerships are less readily known early indications unfortunately suggest it is just as difficult to make these work. 

Pre wedding counselling acknowledges the reality of the challenges couples face in making their relationship work. Indeed a good skills based approach has been shown the reduce the chances of divorce by as much as 30% and lead to a happier marriage. It can also help which pre wedding stress. Therefore, it would appear that the idea of pre wedding or civil ceremony counselling might be worth considering to give your relationship the best chance of success.  After all it is one of the most important events in your life. Pre wedding counselling is available at Lotus Therapeutics with a qualified and registered Family Therapist who will get to know you as a couple including your strengths and limitations. You will then be offered a skills based approach to help supplement your existing strengths and help to prepare you for whatever life has to throw at you. 

Lotus also has Couple Counselling service for established couples who are either experiencing difficulties or also want to give their marriage a greater chance of success.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Coping with Endings- a Reflection

Coming into the New year we tend to focus on new beginnings and goals- wanting to lose weight, getting that job promotion.  Often we struggle however, to come to terms with unresolved endings from the previous year(s).   Instead of allowing ourselves the space to process our emotions, we often put our psychological baggage to one side and carry on regardless.  I often describe this denial state as a bit like adding logs to a fast flowing stream- eventually it creates a large dam and our ability to feel balanced and ‘flow’ with life gets inhibited.  Allow this to happen for long enough and you’ve got a very strong pressure to contend with!

We can all be guilty of just breezing though painful experiences like divorce or redundancy and not really acknowledging the impact on us at the time.  Or, on the other hand, we may allow ourselves to drown in the pain of loss and not be able to move forward or let go. 

Letting go isn’t easy.  I myself am currently processing a a lot of changes, mostly positive though equally unsettling- moving house (twice), starting another business and am about to welcome the arrival of my first child.  Initially, this sparked off a lot of fear as I’ve had to surrender to the fact that my life will never be the same, and nor will I.  As Anais Nin said: ‘Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through.  Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it.  This is a kind of death.’  Embracing endings is like stepping out of the chrysalis and into the light so we can stretch ourselves and live a deeper, more fulfilling life. This can be terrifying.

The temptation to resist out of fear can be strong though, as can the sense of wanting justice or consolation for our loss or pain.  What this only achieves is more pain and frustration for ourselves, which only disempowers us further.  Because change often happens organically, we are inevitably forced to take action at some point- write that letter, sign those divorce papers. Once we have taken ownership and control of the ending (as much as possible), we then allow space for new energy and create ground for those beginnings to flourish.   

This year, I encourage you to join me in my goal to ‘let go and live’ more fully in the present, not allowing the past to pull you backwards.  More simply, allow a bit of space to just be with your thoughts and feelings each day and practice surrendering to them, rather than judging or denying your experiences.  See how differently you feel doing this for a few weeks.  For inspiration on being more present, try reading Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Is Facebook Reducing your Wellbeing?

Facebook lowers life Satisfaction

According to a recent study Facebook can make us feel worse about ourselves and our lives.  Facebook is widely regarding as a way of keeping in touch with our friends and family and allowing us to stay well connected.  The study conducted by The universities of Michigan and Leuven in Belgium recruited a group of young people in their late teens and early 20’s to test this out.  Participants were text messaged five times a day for 14 days with an online survey asking questions like ‘How do you feel right now?’ and ‘How much have you used Facebook since the last time we asked?’ and completed a life satisfaction survey before and after.

The researchers reported that the more the participants used Facebook, the more unhappy and dissatisfied they felt with their lives; whereas direct social contact made them feel better about themselves and had no negative effects on their life satisfaction.  It was found that Facebook was more likely to be used when the individuals felt bad which subsequently made them feel worse.  Social comparison with peers and friends was cited as one of the main reasons which lead to increased feelings of dissatisfaction and lower states of wellbeing.  

Facebook linked to Narcissism

Other studies* looking at the correlation between social media use and narcissism in those in middle age also indicates that there is a link between narcissistic traits and amount of Facebook use.  In our self obsessed ‘generation me’ culture, people are seemingly more needy for validation and approval than ever before and with social media those needs are met instantly. Self worth may lower if we feel that we aren’t achieving the same amount of ‘likes’ on our posts or aren’t having as an exciting life as our peers as we perceive it.  The studies suggest however that certain personality traits such as exhibitionism can be magnified with use of social media rather than Social media being the problem in itself. 

Facebook isn’t the core issue

Studies conclude that there is no substitute for face to face contact though should we cut ourselves off from Social Media altogether?  It can be a source of great social support for younger and older generations alike and enables us to keep in touch with people when in our busy lives we wouldn’t otherwise do.  There are certain indicators like existing low self esteem issues and loneliness that make some more vulnerable to being affected by Facebook use. Like any platform, it is how and when we use it that is key to our Psychological wellbeing and it being a positive rather than a negative addition in our lives.  

Here’s 5 tips for keeping yourself and your family sane whilst using Facebook: 

  1.  Keep Boundaries around yours and your family’s Facebook Use: With Smartphones and iPads, we are all switched onto Social Media 24-7 and it can easily eat up your spare time. Have certain times in the day when you switch it off and spend time speaking on the phone and face to face with your family and friends. 
  2. Avoid Using Facebook when you’re in a low or frustrated mood.  As research suggests, it only creates a further downer when you do, so be more conscious of doing things like going out for a run or phoning a good friend to boost your mood.   
  3. Ask yourself what is the purpose for you using Facebook and does it really add something positive to your life? If it doesn’t and the negatives outweigh the positives, consider deleting your account and encouraging your friends/family to use another social media platform like Instagram or Twitter to keep in touch.
  4. If you or a family member is using Facebook because you’re feeling lonely or isolated, consider other options.  Social media is easily accessible though it can lower confidence and self esteem if other social outlets aren’t utilised.  Consider joining a group for a hobby you enjoy or starting a night class.  If you feel you need support to overcome your barriers, you may consider speaking to a Therapist for support. 
  5.  Finally, try changing the way you use Facebook so it becomes a more positive social outlet in your life.  Rather than moaning for instance as a lot of people do (or on the other handing, showing off about how wonderful your life is!) try sharing something positive or inspiring that has happened to you or you’ve come across.  If certain ‘friends’ on Facebook become regularly annoying or negative, try deleting them from your Facebook newsfeed or deleting them altogether!  Weave a new social fabric in your life and experience your positivity grow.