Category Archives for "Anxiety"

09/01/2019

Anxiety And Mental Health From A Male Perspective

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Who’s on the podcast?

In this episode of the podcast Jo talks to Kev Cullinan who, as well as being a huge advocate for yoga and passionate about his music, has also struggled with his mental health.

What’s the topic?

Whilst there is increasing awareness surrounding male mental health, there are still pervading views in society that men “should be strong” and “shouldn’t show emotion” which only serve to isolate men further and increase their risk of suffering in silence.

On the Mental Health Foundation website it’s reported by the Office for National Statistics that there were 5,821 suicides recorded in Great Britain in 2017, and 75% were male. Furthermore, suicide is the most common cause of death in men aged  20-49 years’ old in England and Wales.

Kev discusses his struggles with anxiety and depression, and about his journey into developing ways of managing his mental health.

In this episode we talk about:

  • What it means to be a male with mental health difficulties
  • Kev’s experiences in disclosing his problems to mental health professionals
  • The coping skills and strategies that Kev uses to help manage his mental health

Related posts

Thank you for listening

Thank you for supporting the podcast, it means a lot to us that you’re listening. If you enjoyed this episode please share it using the social share buttons on this page. If you have any comments, or suggestions for future podcast episodes then please feel free to get in touch 🙂

We’d also appreciate it if you’d review the show and leave a rating for the podcast in iTunes, and this helps it to reach a wider audience.

Finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes to make sure you keep up to date with the latest episodes.

02/01/2019

Anxiety In Children And Young People

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Who’s on the podcast?

In this first episode of the podcast Jo talks to Sarah Blunden, who is a Counsellor in private practice in Stoke-on-Trent. Sarah also works at a local charity counselling children.

What’s the topic?

It seems as though there are a lot more pressures on young people these days; this might be linked to things like social media and/or the need to do well in school. Whatever the reason, these pressures can increase their feelings of anxiety and worry.

The Mental Health Foundation states that 70% of children and young people who experience mental health problems have not received support at a sufficiently early age, so it seems pertinent that young people receive the support they need as early as possible.

In this episode we talk about:

  • Sarah’s work with children and young people and the sorts of issues that can cause them anxiety
  • How Sarah works with children and young people to explore their anxieties
  • Ways that children and young people can manage their anxieties more effectively.

Live Minds: Young people’s telephone service

North Staffordshire Mind now have a young people’s telephone service called Live Minds for children and young people aged 11-18 years’ old living in Stoke on Trent. The service is available to call free of charge on Wednesdays 4pm-8pm and Thursdays 4pm-9pm.

The number is 0800 0051 445.

Please note that the service is not a crisis line.

Contact Sarah

If you’d like to find out more about Sarah then check out her Facebook page, or you can visit her website Sarah Blunden Counselling.

Thank you for listening

Thank you for supporting the podcast, it means a lot to us that you’re listening. If you enjoyed this episode please share it using the social share buttons on this page. If you have any comments, or suggestions for future podcast episodes then please feel free to get in touch 🙂

We’d also appreciate it if you’d review the show and leave a rating for the podcast in iTunes, and this helps it to reach a wider audience.

Finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes to make sure you keep up to date with the latest episodes.

The 12 Ways Of Surviving Christmas

Blog banner the 12 ways of surviving christmas

If you're someone who loves everything about Christmas then this might not be the post for you. However, we're going to assume that you've arrived here because Christmas is a time of year you struggle with.

Us too! Welcome to our exclusive club!

Actually, it's not so exclusive because we know that LOTS of you find this time of year difficult. The problem is that Christmas is promoted as "the most wonderful time of the year" and we end up feeling like we HAVE to put on a front of enjoying ourselves, even though we might be finding it all rather stressful.

The 12 ways of surviving Christmas

So, how can you get through Christmas unscathed relatively unscathed? We've got 12 tips for you in a serious/tongue-in-cheek post.

1. Take yourself away from it all

Yep, that's right. Wrap yourself up tightly in the fluffiest blanket known to man and don't leave the house until it's all over.

Seriously, if you need to stay in and shut yourself away from the world for a little while then do it. It's important to recognise the need for self-care.

Get yourself some nice food, put your favourite DVD/CD on and enjoy the peace and quiet.

2. Surround yourself with positive people

Don't underestimate the power of good people. Friends who lift our spirits can be hard to come by; if you have some then meet up with them.

They may even be people who like Christmas (don't judge!), but if being around them helps lift your mood then give them a call and arrange to meet them.

3. Don't get sucked into pressure of present-buying

Christmas can be financially hard for a lot of people, perhaps more so parents, with the pressure to buy the latest gadgets and toys.

Even if you're not buying for children, you may often feel the pressure of buying a "good enough" present for friends or relatives.

Why not suggest a "Secret Santa" as a way of reducing the pressure of present buying?

A lot of people set a price limit for the present too which helps to keep costs down.

The bottom line is, if they value your company then they won't give a hoot about the value of the present they receive, or even if they receive one.

4. Escape

While [insert generic family member] is peeling the spuds and the rest have nodded off, spy your chance and leg it!

Okay, so if that's not an option, you could say you're just popping to the shop and go out for 30 minutes to get some air and clear your head.

Even better, if there's a dog going spare offer to take it for a walk.

Taking time out of the situation you're in can give you a much-needed break and a chance to breathe and process anything that's causing you stress.

5. Go on holiday

Getting away for a week or two is a great way to avoid all the overwhelm of the festivities. Plus, it's a nice way to treat yourself.

We've done this ourselves and it's been really nice to spend time alone without needing to be sucked into all the "hectic-ness" (not even a word but it should be).

6. Go out to eat

If the thought of wrestling with the turkey or being attacked by the sprouts doesn't float your boat then maybe it's worth going out to eat.

Yes, it's an added expense for all concerned, but it doesn't need to be michelin star and it takes the pressure off needing everything to be perfect.

7. Volunteer

If you'd like to give something back over Christmas then there are plenty of organisations that need volunteers over the festive period.

Helping others at this time of year will not only help you feel good, but it'll get you out of the house if you don't want to be on your own the whole time.

8. Set your boundaries

Attending certain get-togethers might be something you don't feel you can avoid. Or maybe you do want to go, but want to set yourself time limits to avoid the over-whelm. 

Whatever your reasons, it's sometimes good to set people's expectations early on by telling them you can only stay for a certain period of time. That way it's easier when it comes to saying your goodbyes.


9. Worship the internet gods

What better way to avoid the Christmas crowds than by shopping online? We are HUGE advocates of this; we rarely set foot in the shops especially at Christmas time.

You can snuggle down on the sofa in your comfy clothes and trawl the internet for gifts, while smugly scoffing at the people getting into fisticuffs over the latest action-hero-doll-cum-coffee-maker-cum-steam-cleaner.

You can often get things gift-wrapped as well, so what's not to like?

10. Break with tradition

Who actually says that you have to make a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, or that you have to to adorn your house with tinsel and a Christmas tree?? *gasp*

This is all just a ploy from companies who want you to buy their products, when in reality you can celebrate Christmas in. Any. Way. You. Want. Or not at all.

So, make whatever meal you want. Do a casserole in the slow-cooker/crock-pot if you don't want to be stuck in the kitchen all day. If your relatives would prefer a traditional Christmas dinner then there's nothing stopping them from making it themselves on another day. They have 364 spare ones after all!

Don't bother with the decorations and/or Christmas tree if you don't want to. There are no hard or fast rules.You can do Christmas your own way 🙂

11. Don't take it all on yourself

If you've been forced volunteered to host a festive get-together, that doesn't mean you have to do it all yourself.

For example, you could ask each of your guests to bring round a dish to save you from doing all the cooking.

In fact, bringing people together and everyone contributing to the occasion is a good way of everyone feeling more involved in the experience.

12. Put things in perspective

Try taking a step back from the situation as this can help get some perspective.

Let's face it, a huge aspect of Christmas is that it's an opportunity for thousands of companies to make money. At the end of the day we have a choice as to whether we buy into that. Don't get sucked into the hype.

If you don't have the tree, the traditional dinner, the tinsel, the fancy presents, the Christmas music, the mulled wine, those awful (but funny) Christmas jumpers, that doesn't mean your Christmas is worth less than anyone else's.

In fact, it doesn't mean anything, because all the above is just stuff.

Another thing is that while Christmas is promoted as a time for family, many people don't have, or don't want, family around them. Whatever way you decide to spend the Christmas period, make sure you look after yourself if it's a difficult time.

Best wishes from both of us. We're taking a well-deserved break and will see you in the New Year.

05/12/2018

Why Not Everyone Enjoys Christmas

Blog banner Why not everyone enjoys Christmas

We all know the drill at this time of year. We're bombarded with adverts about the latest gizmos and gadgets to buy, not to mention articles on how to host the best ever Christmas dinner for the family.

There's a lot of pressure for people to be happy, and to spend however much money it takes to make other people happy. We're not trying to be a pair of grumps, but the fact is not everyone enjoys Christmas and we're going to explain why.

"Christmas is a time for family"

It's true that Christmas is a good time for the family to get together and spend time with one another.

However, there are many people who have lost loved-ones and there's the added pressure to socialise whilst trying to deal with their grief. Even if these loved-ones have been gone for some years, Christmas time may continue to trigger strong emotions. Some people may even have no family around them at all.

Others may not want to spend time with the family they've got for various reasons. There may be those who do see their family and really struggle, but to not see them would cause more conflict.

Families are complex, and we're 99.9% sure that no families are without some sort of difficulties. Therefore, don't assume that everyone wants to see their family at this time of year and that it might actually be a sensitive issue for some.

"Christmas is a time for giving"

There's a huge amount of pressure on people when it comes to buying presents at Christmas time. It might be on the parents whose children want the latest gadgets. Perhaps someone thinks if they spend more money on their spouse this will show the extent of their love for them.

Retailers are more than happy for people to spend their hard-earned money in their stores. They're not interested in the quality of our relationships; they want to make profits!

why not everyone enjoys christmas

However, we don't need to buy into all this hype (no pun intended). We can choose to let go of the pressure of gift-giving and give to each other in more meaningful ways. Volunteering, donating money, clothing, or food to charity are all great ways to give more meaningfully.

Getting friends and family involved in such activities can help to spread the message that there are more enriching ways to give to others, other than focusing on exchanging material possessions.

"Christmas is a time for socialising"

Some people might love the obligatory work Christmas party, or their friends' annual festive outing to a pub or restaurant. However, for others these social occasions can fill them with dread.

Similar to the expectations of getting together with family, there tends to be pressure on people to attend social gatherings. It's almost expected that everyone must want to go out to let their hair down.

The fact is that there are people who are just not into doing this. Perhaps they suffer with social anxiety, where attending such occasions proves extremely difficult, or maybe they just prefer to spend a quiet evening indoors.

Whatever the reason, it's important not to put pressure on those who may choose not to do what we expect at this time of year. No one has to do what others are doing; they can do what feels right for them, whatever that might be 🙂


It's "the most wonderful time of the year"

The fact is, that Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year for many people. Christmas may evoke a lot of negative emotions such as sadness, loneliness, guilt, and/or regret.

It's important that we don't judge people who we think aren't getting into the "Christmas spirit". It's okay to feel whatever you feel at any time of the year and Christmas is no different, whatever the adverts might have us think.


why not everyone enjoys Christmas

If you know someone who's struggling perhaps ask if they'd like some support. It might be that they decline - perhaps they need time alone for reflection - but at least they know you're there if they want to talk at any point.


Peace, love, and understanding

The message we're trying to give here is, let's try to understand this from both perspectives.

For those who really struggle around Christmas time do what you need to do to look after yourselves. Don't feel that you need to bow to the pressure of what you think you 'should' do in order to fit in. Christmas means different things to different people.

Equally though, we wouldn't recommend shutting yourself away for prolonged periods as that can often make things seem worse. Get support from others if you're struggling. Don't suffer alone and try not to feel as though you're a burden if you admit to others that you're finding things hard. The people who truly care will support you.

For those people out there who do enjoy Christmas, get out there and enjoy the festive season. See friends/family if you want to. Go out for food, dance the night away at the work's Christmas do, and clink those champagne glasses!

However, also bear in mind that other people might not want to do these things, and that's okay. And, if someone does need to talk about why they're struggling, give them some of your time and a listening ear. That might be the best present they receive this Christmas 🙂

5 Ways To Get Organised And Reduce Anxiety

blog banner 5 ways to get organised and reduce anxiety

While this might sound harsh, it's important to acknowledge that we sometimes create our own anxieties. If we can recognise this fact, then that can help us move from a position of helplessness to one of being in more control.

Whether you're struggling with work/school, or keeping on top of things that need doing at home, there are different ways we help ourselves. In this post we focus on ways we can get organised and reduce anxiety.

1. Prioritise

Your 'to do' list of tasks may be ever-growing, and it might often feel that you're constantly working without feeling you're getting much done.

Have a look at your list and see if any of the tasks have deadlines. Ask yourself whether you need to prioritise the tasks which have an end date.

Can other, less pressing, tasks wait until the more urgent stuff gets dealt with?

Are there any tasks on your list which aren't actually your responsibility and need to be allocated to someone else?

2. Break tasks down into smaller steps

You might have things to do which, on the face of it, seem like mammoth tasks. Looking too far ahead at the overall goal may cause you to feel over-whelmed, so one way of dealing with this is to break tasks down into smaller steps.

A very simplified example might be: you have a report to write about staff satisfaction at the company you work for. The report requires a lot of detail and will likely take a considerable time to write.

Thinking about the report is making you feel anxious, so instead you look at the individual tasks you need to get done in order to complete the report. These might include:

  • Doing research on the internet about staff satisfaction in general
  • Interviewing a certain number of colleagues, using specific interview questions
  • Asking staff to complete questionnaires
  • Setting time aside to write the actual report

Once you've broken the overall task (i.e. writing the report) down into these smaller steps, you can then tackle each step separately. That way, once you've completed each step you can feel a sense that you're moving closer towards achieving your goal.

3. Set yourself goals

Setting goals can be a great way of motivating yourself to achieve the things on your 'to do' list. This is where SMART goals come in; you may well have heard of these. Here's what each letter stands for and how it applies to goal setting.

Specific

These are goals which are well defined. You might want to ask yourself things like what you want to achieve; why the goal is important to you; who else is involved; where is it going to take place; and which resources will be needed?

When these things are clearer, this gives you more focus towards your goal and you know what is required to achieve it which can remove a lot of the anxiety.

Measurable

When a goal is measurable, this helps you track your progress and stay motivated. It also means you remain aware of how close you are to achieving your goal.

Achievable

You may want to ask yourself how you can achieve your goal. Do you possess the tools/skills to achieve it, and if not how would you attain those tools/skills? So, instead of feeling anxious that you don't have the skills, you can identify what you need to do to get those skills and go and do it.

Realistic

When setting your goal, you need to be aware of the resources available to you, the knowledge you have, and the time you have to complete the goal. If you set unrealistic goals you may not achieve them and this might leave you feeling like you've failed.

Time-bound

How much time have you allowed yourself to achieve your goal? If you don't allow sufficient time you may not get it done, or you may rush to get it completed and not do it properly.

We've got two more points to add which aren't so much about planning, but more about your mindset.

4. Don't compare yourself to others

We're all different. We all have different skill-sets, different day-to-day responsibilities, and different amounts of available time in any given day.

Therefore, it's futile to look at someone else and perceive that they're achieving more than you, or doing things in a better way.

Don't waste your time focusing on what other people are doing, as this only takes you away on the things you've got to do!

5. Go easy on yourself

There are only so many hours in the day and there's only one of you. You can't do everything.

Use the tips above to help you get more organised and reduce anxiety, but don't beat yourself up if you don't clear your 'to-do' list all at once. There's no such thing as perfect 🙂

Do you have any tips to getting organised? Let us know in the comments!

7 Ways To Tackle Low Self-Esteem

blog banner 7 ways to tackle low self-esteem

There's a lot of information out there about the symptoms of low self-esteem. It can lead to people withdrawing from social situations, focusing on the negatives, and being unable to take positive feedback (i.e. compliments) from others.

Through our work with clients we often see a link between their low self-esteem and their levels of anxiety.

Where does low self-esteem come from?

Low self-esteem can stem from any number of situations or events.

Perhaps people in your family or teachers at school said certain things which made you feel inadequate. On the other hand, you may not have been told anything directly. It might have been the way other people treated you which led you to believe you're not "good enough".

Stressful life events can also have a negative impact on self-esteem. You might have lost a loved one or experienced a serious illness, and this can all take its toll on our perceptions of ourselves.

Low self-esteem and anxiety

In a previous blog post we explained a technique for how to figure out your negative core belief, which is a 'global belief' you may apply to yourself as a person. If you have low self-esteem this core belief might be something like "I'm a failure" or "I'm not good enough".

A negative core belief can impact on many aspects of your life. For example, if you have a belief of "I'm not good enough" this may cause you to avoid situations such as meeting new people or trying a new hobby due to the anxiety invoked by each situation.

Think about the prospect of meeting new people when you have a core belief of "I'm not good enough". Examples of the thoughts you might have are: "No one will want to talk to me", "I'll end up standing on my own", or "I'll make a fool of myself in front of people".

Such thoughts aren't going to fill you with much confidence. If anything, they're likely to make you feel anxious about going into that situation. We've said this before and we'll say it again: It's not the situation, but our thoughts about the situation which cause us to feel a certain way.

The impact of low self-esteem

The example above highlights how much of an impact low self-esteem can have. It can stop us from meeting new people and trying out new experiences.

We can end up isolating ourselves because we don't feel we're good enough to be with people, and we have no confidence in our ability to succeed in new situations.

The problem is, the more we avoid these new situations the more our low self-esteem is reinforced because we're not challenging the thoughts which feed into our fears.

7 ways to tackle low self-esteem

Here are seven ways you can tackle low self-esteem. You may find that some work better for you than others. That's fine; stick with the ones that work well!

1. Challenge your negative thoughts

Thoughts are not facts, but we give far too much weight to them. They're our beliefs about ourselves or a given situation which are likely to have been influenced by past experiences.

Check out our blog posts herehere, and here for ways to challenge your negative thoughts and beliefs.

2. Make a list of all the things you're good at

We can't possibly be good at everything, but we need to focus on what we're good at rather than beating ourselves up for things we're not so good at.

Make a list of all the things you're good at, together with the qualities you like about yourself. Having these things down in black and white can help you appreciate them more.

3. Surround yourself with positive people

Unfortunately we may know people who tend to (consciously or unconsciously) reinforce our low sense of self-worth. They reiterate how difficult everything is rather than helping us look for ways to address the problem.

When we're feeling down on ourselves, we need people around us who are in "our corner", who will help us get out of the funk we're in and encourage us to dust ourselves down and move forward.

4. Don't be so hard on yourself

No one is perfect and no one gets everything right all the time, and that's okay!

We may make faux pas in social situations, we might make mistakes at work or not do something to the standard we expect of ourselves. Lower your expectations to more realistic levels.

Accept that you're human and you're fallible, just like everyone else on the planet!

5. Don't take on too much

Often, people with low self-esteem take on more and more responsibilities in an effort to prove to themselves that they have worth. In fact, when you take on more than you can handle you're not valuing yourself.

Be more assertive and learn to say "no" sometimes. Constantly saying "yes" will only give people the signal to keep coming to you, and overloading yourself will only lead to burn-out.

6. Feel the fear and do it anyway!

We talk about this in our post here. Sometimes, the best way to give our low self-esteem a kick up the backside is to face our fears head on.

Pushing through the fear can have a hugely positive impact on your sense of achievement.

7. Seek external support

Friends and family may mean well when offering support, but perhaps they miss the mark or say things which aren't always helpful. Having someone who is outside the situation, with an impartial perspective, can be beneficial when working with low self-esteem.

If you feel it might be helpful, consider seeing a Counsellor to help you explore your low self-esteem and how you can improve it.

What things do YOU do to help you feel better about yourself? Comment below 🙂

Mental Health And The Masks We Wear

Blog banner Mental health and the masks we wear

There's nothing quite like a fancy dress party. Lots of people getting dressed up in all sorts of weird and wonderful costumes, pretending to be someone/something else.

The process of making ourselves up in this way is actually not too dissimilar to how some of us deal with our mental health difficulties. Sometimes it's easier to put on a metaphorical mask and pretend that everything's okay.

Do we all wear masks?

If we're honest with ourselves, we all wear masks at some point in our lives.

Perhaps we wear different ones each day depending on the role we're in. Work may require us to wear a different mask to the one we might wear around friends or family. 

Do we ever really take our masks off, though? And should we?

The positives of wearing masks

Masks are a useful way of protecting us when we're going through difficult times. We might not be able to take time off work, or we may not want to, so wearing a mask can be a way of us maintaining our role.

One would hope that we could talk to our superiors about any problems we're having, but as many of us know the fear of stigmatisation due to mental health difficulties is very real.

Even if we get support from our supervisors, some roles may be emotionally demanding (e.g., counselling). Therefore, it's important that we don't bring our personal difficulties into these roles as we're there to support others and not the other way round.

The negatives of wearing a mask

Whilst wearing a mask can help us through tough periods, it can also prevent us from addressing our problems. Wearing a mask may become quite addictive and something we're not able to stop doing for fear of the consequences of removing it.

However, in order that we can begin to address our problems we need to be brave enough to remove the mask and be vulnerable.

Finding some balance

Allowing regular time to remove the mask can help you process your emotions and think of ways of tackling whatever difficulties you're having. By continuing to pretend that everything is okay, the problem doesn't get addressed and the emotions build up.

It's also a good opportunity to release any pent-up emotions. Whilst some people might see this as a sign of weakness, it's actually really healthy to do this. We're not robots, we're human beings, and it's perfectly normal to feel.

You may well want to put the mask back on when you're in work or with friends/family, and that's okay. If you've allowed yourself some time away from the mask to be yourself, then this will help during the times when it's more appropriate to wear the mask.

How helpful/unhelpful have masks been for you? Let us know in the comments.

17/10/2018

Why It’s Difficult For Men To Talk About Mental Health

Blog banner for Why its difficult for men to talk about mental health

The inspiration for writing this post came after an old Tweet from Piers Morgan in 2017 re-surfaced. For those who aren't aware, Piers Morgan is a British journalist/television host/general-fly-in-the-ointment.

In his Tweet, Piers was responding to a statistic which stated that an estimated 34 million British adults have experienced mental health difficulties. Piers' response was "...man up, Britain and focus on those who REALLY need help".

Alan Vann works with children with anxiety in staffordshire

Whilst I don't want to get into a debate about Piers Morgan - there are plenty of those going on -  his response really highlights the ongoing stigma faced by people with mental health problems.

It also emphasises that the language people use often perpetuates the expectations placed on men when it comes to discussing mental health.

My experience as a male dealing with difficult emotions

Prior to training as a Counsellor, I had real trouble talking about my feelings. I'd grown up with messages like "boys don't cry". I'd never seen my father talk about his emotions and I was worried that people would think I was "weak".

As a male, I believed that showing my emotions would mean I couldn't cope. On top of this, none of my friends talked about how they felt either. Conversations were limited to what had been on the television the night before, our hobbies, or the daft things one of us might have done.

Dealing with my emotions

The way that I dealt with situations was with anger. I didn't understand other feelings and I certainly didn't do sadness or crying.

Anger was a tool I'd learnt as a child. I was bullied at school and anger enabled me to keep people at a distance. It was a defence mechanism to stop me feeling hurt. I'd observed other people's ways of dealing with problems and came to believe that showing anger made problems go away and "won" arguments.

I carried this strategy with me into adulthood; however, I also came to learn that my way of coping pushed people away and affected the quality of my relationships.

The turning point

When I was in my 30s, a friend of mine passed away. He was one of the few males I'd been able to talk to about my problems. He was helpful and supportive, but I'd had no idea that he had been struggling with his own difficulties.

As well as the sadness of losing a good friend, his death also brought up feelings around my father's death 12 years' earlier. For the first time in years I cried, and began to realise that the way I'd been coping with my problems wasn't working any more.

It was at this point that I decided to go for counselling.

How counselling helped me

I was able to explore my childhood experiences, the beliefs I'd developed and how I'd coped. I talked about who I wanted to be as a person and that I no longer wanted to hide behind my anger. However, this came with its own fears of becoming more open; how would people react to me, as a male, expressing my emotions?

Counselling gave me a place to talk to someone who wasn't involved in my day-to-day life. I could be upset and cry without being judged, and I no longer had to hide behind the mask of anger that I'd been wearing for so long.

It taught me that it was okay to be a male and show my emotions, and that this made me no less of a person.

The experiences of my male clients

From my experience of working with males, many who come to see me don't feel able to talk to other people. Some may talk to their partners, but even then they still have fears around opening up completely for fear of how they'll be perceived.

A lot of my clients have had difficulties expressing themselves. They may have been told as young boys that it wasn't right for them to do this. Some believe that they'll be perceived as "weak". I've heard many phrases along the lines of "I'm a man, I should be able to cope". They believe that, as men, they "should" be strong.

Like myself, many males I've worked with have developed defence mechanisms as children and have carried these through into adulthood. They've not been able to allow themselves to be vulnerable or open, because they fear what other people will think of them.

My experience as a male Counsellor

When I first started my counselling training, some of my male work colleagues laughed and made comments like "Why are you doing a woman's job?". However, as time went on, more of them would come to me to talk about their problems.

Conversations no longer revolved around what had been on television the night before. They started focusing more on life issues such as relationship problems. It was as though they felt they had permission to do this, because they saw that a fellow male would listen to them without judgment.

As a Counsellor, I feel that part of my job is to be a role model to my clients of how it is possible to be a male who can express their emotions. It's about changing the message from "men should be strong" to "men should be able to talk about how they feel".

Talking about emotions does not equal weakness. In fact, it takes great courage for someone to open up to others and allow themselves to risk being vulnerable.

A message for males who are finding things difficult

Although there are ongoing efforts to tackle the stereotypes of males and mental health, the sticking point is society's expectations of how men deal with their emotions.

It's also worth remembering that these are just expectations and opinions; they are not laws. We as males can make a choice to move away from what society expects and express ourselves when we're finding things difficult.

Whilst this might be scary, it can definitely be beneficial for us in the long run.

How counselling can help you

I've been on both sides of the line. I've been the male seeking help for his problems and am now in the privileged position of being able to provide support to others.

If, like me, you've been wearing a mask in your everyday life for fear of opening up, the counselling room is a place where you can remove that mask. Counselling is a safe environment where you can be honest and vulnerable without being judged.

If you choose to put the mask back on when you leave then that's your choice, but I try to encourage clients to rely on the mask less and less as time goes on. Opening up is scary, but it's also very liberating.

If you want things to change then counselling can support you to become the person you want to be, as opposed to the person you think you "should be". It made a great impact on how I deal with my emotions and I'm forever grateful for it.

Please do contact me if you'd like to access counselling.

How Counselling Can Help With Anxiety

blog banner how counselling can help with anxiety

As it's World Mental Health Day, we thought it'd be good to write a post about the benefits you can get from talking about your difficulties. A "problem shared" really can be "a problem halved" and if you're finding it difficult to talk to people around you then counselling can be really helpful. 

What stops people talking about their mental health?

The reasons for people not talking about their mental health can be many and varied. It can depend upon the person and the difficulties they're experiencing. Here are some examples:

Gender

Society tends to have different expectations on males and females when it comes to talking about mental health. If you're a woman, it's almost a given that you'll gather with other women to discuss your problems and seek mutual support. Most women have no problem doing this as it's seen as something that "women do".

On the other hand, if you're male you may find it more difficult to talk due to societal expectations that you "should" be strong and not discuss your emotions. Whilst views are starting to shift there's still a long way to go, which is highlighted in the fact that suicide rates tend to be higher in men.

The presenting problem

You may have been through experiences which have impacted your mental health that you're worried about sharing. One such example might be going through childhood sexual abuse. This can leave people with many mixed feelings such as shame and guilt, which may prevent them from seeking support from others.

You may blame yourself for your presenting problem, no matter what that is, and this can leave you feeling as though you don't have the right to ask for help.

Whatever the problem and the reasons for not wanting to talk about it, this may leave you feeling extremely isolated.

Feeling like a 'fraud'

You may believe that you're a "fraud" and that your difficulties are not serious enough to deserve support. This is something we often hear our own clients say. Some of our clients worry that we'll think they don't really need to come for counselling because their problems don't warrant it.

The fact that you've got in touch with a Counsellor to seek support for the problem means that, for you, it's important to bring it to counselling and that's a perfectly valid reason from our perspective.

Stigma

As much as there's more awareness around mental health these days, there's a still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues.

You may be wary of sharing information with your employers for fear that you'll face discrimination. Family and friends might not quite understand your difficulties so you may rather keep quiet than risk not being understood.

As you may well have heard before, people often talk about physical health problems being easier to understand as they can be seen. However, mental health problems can be hard to comprehend if the people around you haven't experienced them.

How does talking about mental health help?

The more we talk about mental health the more we help to normalise it. EVERYBODY has 'mental health' and it doesn't fall under "good" or "bad"; it's on a spectrum.

The old cliche of "a problem shared is a problem halved" is very true. Often, just being able to talk to someone about your problems without fear of judgment can be a hugely powerful experience.

Support from family and/or friends can be beneficial, but sometimes you may not feel comfortable talking to them. This could be because your difficulties involve family and/or friends, or you might worry that they won't understand.

Having someone impartial to listen can make such a difference and this is where counselling comes in.

Counselling and mental health

The Counsellor-Client relationship is really unique. It's very rare that one person talks about their difficulties while the other listens without responding with such things as "Oh, that happened to me too!" and re-focusing the conversation onto themselves.

Counsellors are not there to judge; they offer an acceptance of you and your situation. Having someone to listen in this way can be very powerful, and the safe space of the counselling room can be a welcome relief when the outside world doesn't appear to understand you. 

Whilst Counsellors cannot change your situation, they can help you explore how you'd like your situation to be different. Remember that change is possible, but you have to make the change; your Counsellor cannot make changes for you and neither can other people.

Counselling can only really be effective if you're willing to accept responsibility for the changes that you want to happen. If you're ready to do this, then great work can take place.

How counselling can help with anxiety

We've talked in previous posts about how anxiety is fed by negative thinking and that our core belief about ourselves can feed into our negative thinking.

Like other mental health difficulties, it's often hard to know where to start with tackling anxiety. Seeing a Counsellor can help get clarity over the problems you want to address, as well as the ways in which your Counsellor can support you with tackling those difficulties.

Whilst there are things you can do yourself to try and tackle your anxiety, sometimes you might want some additional support in order to know where to start and which direction to take.

If you're seeking support and are thinking about accessing counselling then please do contact us.

Also, try to keep talking about mental health to help reduce the stigma; it can be done if we all work together 🙂

Dealing With Anxiety Step By Step

Blog banner Dealing with anxiety step by step

We've already talked about how to challenge the core beliefs and negative thoughts that feed into anxiety, but what other action can we take in terms of dealing with anxiety?

Exposure Therapy is a way in which people can be supported to confront their fears. When we're fearful of something it might lead us to avoid it. However, whilst this avoidance may reduce the feelings of fear in the short term, it can make the fear worse over the long term as we're not addressing the fear.

Exposure Therapy

The aim of Exposure Therapy, is to expose ourselves to the thing(s) we have fears of and/or have been avoiding. These might be situations, activities, or objects (e.g., spiders).

There are different ways we can expose ourselves to the things we fear, depending on what we're comfortable with. You might want to be exposed to the fear in real-life; so, if you have a fear of giving a presentation you may decide to do this in front of a group of people.

Another way is through imagining that you're facing your fear. You might imagine you're presenting to a group of people, and then describe the sights, sounds, and smells within that situation. You'll observe the emotions and physical sensations which come up for you, as these can often be as powerful as going through the situation in real-life.

Jumping right in

In a previous post we talked about mastering your fears and how, sometimes, one of the most effective things to do is to take a deep breath and face our fears head on. The thing to remember is that everyone's different.

Exposure Therapy can be done at different paces, depending on how you feel. There may be times where jumping straight in at the deep end is going to feel most effective, and some people prefer to face their fears in this way.

Flooding


For people that prefer a quicker and more "head on" approach to tackling their fears, Flooding may be good for them. The idea behind flooding is that anxiety is a learned fear that needs to be 'unlearned' by exposure to the object/situation/activity.

An example of flooding might be someone who has a phobia of spiders, who is given a spider to hold. During this time they'll need to use coping skills to manage their anxiety (e.g., relaxation skills) and continue holding the spider until such time as the anxiety begins to lessen.

Another example might be someone who doesn't like being around lots of people. They may go into a situation where there's a huge crowd of people (e.g., a shopping centre) and use coping skills to help them manage their anxiety until it reduces.

This method is seen as quick and effective, although it might be too intense a way of dealing with fears for some people.

Dealing with anxiety step by step

For those who want a more gradual approach to facing their fears, there's the option to do this through Graded Exposure. This does exactly what it says on the tin and gradually exposes you to the situation/activity/object that's causing you anxiety.

Graded Exposure

In Graded Exposure, you identify the feared situation and then think about where you currently are in terms of tackling that situation. An example scenario might be that you want to go to the local newsagents to buy a newspaper, but you're unable to leave your front door without feeling extreme anxiety.

You need to think about the gap between where you are and where you want to be, and break it down into small manageable steps. If your goal was go to the newsagents to buy a newspaper, an example of breaking this down might be:

  1. Opening the front door and staying there for as long as is comfortable;
  2. Moving from the front door to the pavement, and staying there for as long as is comfortable;
  3. Walking to a specific point in-between your house and the newsagents and staying there for as long as is comfortable;
  4. Staying outside the newsagents for as long as is comfortable;
  5. Going inside the newsagents, looking at the newspapers for as long as is comfortable and then leave;
  6. Going inside the newsagents, choosing a newspaper, paying for it, and then leaving.

This is a very simple example. You may have more (or less) steps than this. The most important thing is to come up with as many steps as you feel necessary to achieve your goal.

Working through the steps

The steps in Graded Exposure Therapy are something that you can come up with yourself or your Counsellor, if you're working with one.

The idea is to repeat each step until you feel comfortable with it, and then move onto the next step. Your anxiety doesn't have to totally disappear, but it should reduce to a level which feels more comfortable.

Moving to the next step may cause an increase in anxiety, but like the step before, you repeat that step until the anxiety reduces to a more manageable level and then move onto the next...and the next.

Bear in mind that this process might take a while and you may come up against obstacles along the way. Persistence is key.

For example, if you try one of the steps and it feels too much of a leap from the previous step, then rethink that step and see if that needs breaking down further.

Keep a record of your progress

When doing Graded Exposure, it's important to keep a record of when you attempt each step, your anxiety levels before and after, and any notes you think are relevant. This can help you reflect on what went well and what you might do differently next time.

For example, when you look at the time of day that you're doing your steps you might reflect that trying them at a different time, when there are less people about, might be beneficial.

When you review your notes you might see that your anxiety level prior to tackling one particular step has gradually decreased, even though you might still be working on the same step. This visual record of your progress will help motivate you during the times when you might be feeling you're not making much headway.

Take a look at this worksheet we've put together which you can use to help you 🙂

What ways do you tackle your anxiety? Are you a "jump right in" or "step by step" sort of person? Let us know in the comments.

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