Category Archives for "Self-help/Treatments"

Acceptance And Commitment Therapy: Why Can’t We Just Be Happy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy why cant we just be happy

The aim of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT, said as the word 'act') is for people to have full, rich, and meaningful lives whilst accepting the pain that inevitably comes.

For example, if you love someone deeply then it goes without saying that there'll be all sorts of emotions come up when that person is no longer around. However, as painful as some of those emotions might be, how unfufilled would life be if we'd never had that person in our lives in the first place?

Because of this, the use of the ACT approach is never ever about getting rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. It's not about trying to block out the pain we experience throughout our lives. It's about learning to live meaningful lives in spite of the pain.

The three happiness myths

In his book The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris takes us through the principles of ACT and how we can use the tools and techniques to help us lead more meaningful lives. We highly recommend you buy the book if this approach appeals to you.

Early on in the book, Russ talks about the 'myths' we've been taught about happiness:

1. Happiness is the natural state for humans

The truth is that our 'state' is ever-fluctuating and different emotions flow through us continuously. Being 'happy' might be one, but there is no 'default' state.

2. Happiness means feeling good

There is no such thing as happiness which lasts forever. Emotions are always in flux, a bit like the seasons and the ebb and flow of natural life (e.g., plants dying back in Winter and reappearing in Spring). It's much more useful to aim for living a rich and meaningful life, whilst experiencing the full range of emotions.

3. If you're not happy you're defective

It's interesting how a lot of people's normal emotions now seem to given labels or are said to be some kind of disorder. Life is challenging and is never going to be easy all the time. To have changing emotions is normal!

The 'evolved' human mind

If you're thinking it sounds hard to make room for difficult emotions then you're right! It takes a lot of practice because what we're effectively doing is fighting against what our brains have evolved to do for many years - look out for and respond to threats.

Back in caveman times our main aims were to find food, shelter, avoid big beasts, and to rear mini cavemen/women. In order to be successful at this, we had to be aware of our environment and any dangers lurking around the corner. As a result, our modern brains are hard-wired to scan for threats and respond by using the fight, flight, or freeze response just as our caveman ancestors would have done.

Unfortunately, our brains haven't quite figured out that sabre-toothed tigers no longer exist and the constant need to scan our surroundings is no longer needed. Therefore our brains can cause us to react to perceived threats in ways which no longer serve us.

This is important to remember, because some of the things we do/ways we react might actually keep our problems going without us necessarily realising it. For example, we might have a presentation to do as part of a departmental meeting at work which is really important to us. However, we're feeling anxious about speaking in front of people.

So, one thing we might do is keep delaying the actual meeting. This only leads to us feeling even more panicky about the prospect of speaking in front of our colleagues, who are probably going to start wondering what's wrong with us!

What the ACT approach can do is give us the tools to manage these difficult thoughts/feelings so that we can do the presentation in spite of all the unpleasant emotions we might be feeling.

Context is important

How we think, feel and behave all occur within a certain context; the context is what influences the thoughts/feelings/behaviours in question (e.g., feeling anxious about a presentation and therefore avoiding it).

So, the context could be the environment, a person, a social/interpersonal event etc. A bit like some other therapeutic approaches ACT is also concerned with the triggers (e.g., what was happening right before we snapped at our partner, or right before we started feeling anxious).

The good thing is that once we identify what our triggers are to thoughts/feelings/behaviours, then we can begin to explore how to manage them and continue to live by what's important to us in life.

What if it's all too much?

Some people often have difficulty in starting to explore how to manage the difficult thoughts and feelings because they're just too overwhelming. Therefore, it's firstly important to address the level of overwhelm so that you can be 'freed up' to start trying out the tools and techniques for managing the difficult thoughts and feelings.

We'll take a look at that in the next post πŸ™‚

An Introduction To Acceptance And Commitment Therapy

An introduction to acceptance and commitment therapy

There are many different types of therapy out there, so we appreciate it can get pretty confusing for clients to know which is which. Truth be told, we can get pretty confused ourselves as therapists!

We've recently come across Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which was founded by a man called Professor Steven Hayes. It's commonly shortened to ACT and pronounced as the word 'act'. We really like it as an approach. So much so, we thought it might be useful to do a series of posts outlining the approach.

So, whether you're a client or therapist this series will hopefully help you decide whether the approach is something you'd like to know more about πŸ™‚

What's ACT all about?

Well, let's backtrack for a second because it's probably easier to explain ACT by way of comparing it to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

A common aspect of CBT is helping clients to identify negative thought patterns and negative core beliefs. Therapists will then generally try to help clients dispute these negative beliefs by looking at the evidence for and against them.

In comparison, ACT does not dispute the negative thoughts/beliefs that people have. In fact, it goes as far to say that it's not really helpful to label thoughts as 'positive' or 'negative'. We've put these labels on thoughts according to how desirable we feel them to be.

So if we're not disputing negative beliefs in ACT, then what ARE we doing??

Instead of disputing thoughts/beliefs, the ACT approach encourages clients to 'make room' for such beliefs, letting them come and go as they please. The tools and techniques taught in ACT never have the aim of getting rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings.

Rather, the aim is to be able to sit with unwanted thoughts and feelings, whilst continuing to live a meaningful life according to the things that are important to us; termed in ACT as our 'Values'.

But who wants to have to put up with unwanted thoughts/feelings??

Of course, nobody wants to have unwanted thoughts and feelings. They make us feeling awful and can stop us doing the things we want to do, if we get hooked into them.

However, what you've tried to do to get rid of all these unpleasant thoughts and feelings over the years? You might have tried distraction techniques; over-compensated for negative thoughts by, for example, working even harder if you're feeling inadequate at work; or even used drugs and/or alcohol.

While these things might have worked in the short term, more often than not they don't work in the long term and the difficult thoughts and feelings return with a vengeance.

Time for something a little different?

Taking this into account, would you be willing to try something different from what you've tried before?

We'll be drawing upon the brilliant Russ Harris and his book The Happiness Trap. We highly recommend giving it a read; it's really a accessible guide to ACT and the tools and techniques you'll need.

If, however, you want a whistle stop tour of ACT before you buy the book, keep an eye out for further posts in this series πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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.

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 πŸ™‚

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

The Stories We Tell Ourselves: Reframing Our Thinking

Blog banner The stories we tell ourselves

You may or may not have heard of Derren Brown. He's an English mentalist and illusionist who draws upon psychology in his stage and television shows. In one of his stage shows, Miracle, Derren talks about "the stories we tell ourselves" and the power of the mind to evoke change when we make the choice to change those stories.

He explains that we often carry negative stories around with us, likening them to a suitcase full of bricks, and that they can have a lot of power over us if we allow them to.

What's happened can't be changed

We're not suggesting that you should try and convince yourself that whatever experiences you've had haven't happened. Far from it. They have happened, and that is your starting point.

You cannot change what's happened, but we've talked before about how changing your thinking can impact on how you feel. Therefore, if you change how you think about your experiences it's highly likely that you can change how you feel about them.

Changing your thinking

We should start by saying that we're not trivialising people's experiences and we recognise that this approach isn't appropriate for everyone. For example, if you've experienced a significant trauma then you may need specific forms of therapy to address these difficulties.

Some people might need to work through their experiences and the feelings associated with them before they're ready to change how they think. It might be that counselling can help you to do this.

So let's assume you're at a stage where you're ready to consider changing  your thinking. Whilst this might sound overly simplistic, you do have a choice about whether you change your thinking; we all do. Essentially, you can choose to think of events in ways which are helpful or unhelpful to you in the present.

Below we've given a brief example of a client where we've seen a shift in their thinking. This person is a fictional client who has been made up from the details of a number of different clients we've worked with. However, the change in thinking relating to past life events is something we've witnessed in many of our clients.

An example: Lauren

Lauren was a woman in her mid-30s. She was married with two children and worked as a secretary in an accountants' office. She was reasonably happy in her marriage, but often felt distant from her husband and children.

Lauren came to therapy because she'd been physically and psychologically abused by her mother as a child. Her mother had long since passed away, but Lauren felt unable to let go of what had happened and had carried the abuse with her.

Part of therapy involved Lauren exploring her experiences and her feelings about them; something she'd not done before. There were also discussions of what she wanted for her life in the present and for her future. Lauren said she wanted to be able to let go of what had happened and enjoy her life in the here and now.

Towards the end of the therapy, Lauren reported that she felt "lighter". Whilst she acknowledged that her mother's actions were wrong, she now viewed her mother as someone who'd had her own struggles and wasn't capable of demonstrating love to herself let alone to Lauren and her siblings.

It's worth emphasising that Lauren's acknowledgment of her mother's difficulties was not her way of making excuses for what her mother had done. It was the start of a shift in Lauren's thoughts about those events and it enabled her to begin re-writing her story.

The shift in thinking

The story Lauren had told herself for many years had been one where her mother was "cruel" and unloving, and that she (Lauren) was the victim of that cruelty.

Lauren acknowledged that she had gone through a terrible experience; there was nothing that could change that. However, instead of viewing herself as a victim of her mother's abuse Lauren now saw herself as a strong resilient woman. One who was able to demonstrate love to her own children despite the negative experiences she'd gone through because of her mother.

Through her therapy, Lauren had processed what had happened to her. She'd then made the choice to let go of her "old" story and reframe it in a way which empowered her to appreciate and enjoy her life in the here and now.

If it's so beneficial to change our stories, why don't more people do it?

Change is difficult; even if it's change which moves us into a more positive place. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are comfortable, even if they're painful, because they're what we know and changing them means moving into the unknown.

Also, we often attach our identity to our stories so if we change them we may feel we'll lose our identity. However, we're more than just those stories or experiences, and we can choose not to allow them to define us.

To slightly rephrase a quote from Confucius:

"The man who says he is, and the man who says he isn't...both are correct".

Our minds are powerful and are good at keeping us in a place where we feel helpless; however, we can choose how to use the power of our minds. Therefore, why not use them to move us to a place where we stop the past from holding us back and move forward in the present?

Like we've said, it's not always easy and it's not always simple. But, it can be done because we've seen many clients do exactly that.

Have you managed to change your mindset about something? What impact did that have? Comment below.

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 πŸ™‚

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.

How Hope Can Help With Mental Health

Blog banner How hope can help with mental health

A lot of what we usually write about explores logical, structured, ways of tackling anxiety and mental health, so you'd be forgiving for thinking we've gone a bit 'airy fairy' with this post!

Some people might find the concept of hope a bit 'wishy washy'. What exactly does hope mean? Can we actually use it as a way of tackling our mental health problems?

We believe you can.

But first, despair

Before you get confused as to why we've started with despair, we thought it'd be good to give some perspective to the concept of 'hope' by firstly looking at its opposite.

The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of despair is:

"The complete loss or absence of hope".

The Cambridge English Dictionary's definition expands nicely on this:

"The feeling that there is no hope and that you can do nothing to improve a difficult or worrying situation".

We're particularly drawn to the bit about "the feeling that...you can do nothing" within this definition. Despair, it seems, comes from a place where we believe we have no power to change our situation.

The effect of despair on mental health

If we think of despair in terms of 'mindset', then someone who feels despair will have little faith that their situation will improve.

We've talked before about the importance of managing negative thinking. If we think our situation is never going to change we're less likely to do anything about our problems.

It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; nothing ever changes because we don't do anything to change the situation.

It's probably obvious at this point that despair is not really going to help anybody who's struggling with their mental health. β€‹

What, then, is hope?

In contrast, the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of hope is:

'A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen'.

While we think this is an accurate definition, it's important not to equate it with having unrealistic expectations.

Setting expectations which are too high or unrealistic can be anxiety-inducing and may set us up to fail if they're unachievable. Rather, hope is about wanting something to happen and having a certain level of belief that it will happen.

How hope can help with mental health

We recognise that it can be difficult during challenging times to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

However, if we assume there'll be no end to our problems then that's exactly what will happen. Nothing will ever change; we don't expect it to change so we don't make the effort to change.

On the other hand, if we have a sense of hope that things can be different then that's a much more positive mindset to start from.

Is having hope 'enough'?

Having hope is all about balance. We need to set realistic expectations for what we want, and believe we can achieve them. Without that belief, it'd be hard to have hope.

However, having hope alone isn't enough. Hope and belief are all well and good, but they have to be coupled with action in order for changes to occur.

For example, you could have a hope that you get that promotion at work, but you're not going to get it by sitting back and just hoping it's given to you. You have to put in the work to make it happen. Of course there are still no guarantees you'll get it, but you'll have more chance if you take action than if you sit back and do nothing.

So, don't just hope that things will get better. Instead, use your hope as a motivation towards taking the steps to make change happen.

That's how hope can help with mental health πŸ™‚


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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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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