Declutter


This is the time of year to have a good old spring clean. Traditionally the home was aired and cleaned after a long winter of smoke and dust from open fires. These days, with central heating, our homes are in less need of an overhaul.


Although this traditional spring clean is less popular, now is a good opportunity to take stock of some aspects of our lives and spend time de-cluttering, reorganising, editing and reducing the unnecessary and unwanted.


We feel more positive and relaxed in a tidy and clean environment, whether it’s our home or our working environment. If we are organised and methodical then we feel more calm. Untidiness and messiness in our immediate environment affects our stress levels, I know I write better when my desk is tidy. Whilst we can function in an unruly environment, living in a disorganised atmosphere can lead to a nagging feeling of low level stress.


If we allow this underlying stress to continue then it can impact on our ability to focus and our ability to relax. If we know that we really need to pick up that load of washing, attack that pile of ironing, tidy our workspace or open and file that post then it can quietly bug us until we get on and do it. Making ourselves do the dull chore that we have been putting off will give us relief.


It’s wise to have a place for things to live so that we can return them after using them. If we cannot find where we’ve put things then we can become stressed whilst looking for them, especially if we’re in a hurry.


When we are ill then we take less care of ourselves because just getting through the day is challenge enough. Once we feel better we have the energy to wash and take more care in our hygiene and appearance.


As well as physical illness this can also apply to how we feel about ourselves emotionally. The more negative we feel about ourself then the less effort we may take in looking after ourself, in a variety of ways. This can include:

  • personal hygiene
  • clothing
  • relaxation
  • sleep
  • holidays
  • exercise
  • eating healthily
  • learning new things


Do we feel that we have been neglecting an area of our life? Could we benefit from an emotional spring clean in part of our life?


Here are some suggestions for how we can spring clean ourselves:

  • have a new hairstyle or hair colour
  • take up a new hobby or sport
  • go through our wardrobe and take clothes we haven’t worn for two years to a charity shop
  • polish shoes
  • organise our online files
  • prune shrubs
  • eat more healthily
  • de-clutter drawers, cupboards and filing cabinets
  • wash and air winter duvets before storing
  • de-clutter and sort through the garage or garden shed
  • take time to see how we are progressing towards our goals and resolutions for the year
  • book a holiday


Any of the above ideas should help us feel more positive, focussed and relaxed.


Life Goes On


The life guard huts are reinstated on the beach, a sure sign of summer’s arrival. As I ran past the sea this morning I noticed how still the beach was. Except for the waves. I watched them, mesmerised as ever by the movement in them. The rolling in and out of them, the white crests tipping and then plunging down to meet the body of water and then the sand.


This got me thinking about the constancy of waves. Their rhythm: rolling in and out. Slowly sometimes, effortless…other times their pace quickens, perhaps even a little furious…


And so it can be in life. When we are faced with something difficult for example extreme stress or the loss of someone, we can feel in shock. We can find it challenging to function as normal: hold down work, family, household and commitments. We can find we take out our anger and frustration of the situation on our nearest and dearest. It’s these times when day to day life seems too awful that we may find it hard to keep our head above water.


However, for most of us life does go on. As the waves continue their unceasing movement so does life. As the ups and downs occur we need to find resilience to keep going. Keeping the faith to get through the difficult times is key. Continuing as we are may be all we are capable of but that’s enough. Like carrying a heavy load further than we want or believe we can, all we need to do is just take one step at a time and focus on getting through one hour, day and week at a time.


To continue the sea metaphor, if we are able to keep our ship steady we will survive being thrown around in the storm. If we keep our head down and continue with our everyday life as simply as we can, the storm will eventually pass. Things will shift and at some point in the future things will be easier.


Difficult Mother’s Day Ahead?



Mother’s Day means many different things for all of us.  It may conjure up images of young children bringing home cute cards they made at school, or posies of garden flowers or even traditional family lunches with 3 or 4 generations present.

However Mother’s Day may also evoke more ambivalent images.  The day can bring up difficult feelings for a lot of us and can include such feelings as:

  • memories of a mother who has passed away
  • an increasing awareness of an unsatisfactory relationship we have with our mother
  • a difficult relationship we have with our mother in law, step daughter or daughter in law
  • difficulties in becoming a mother
  • mourning the loss of a baby or child
  • grieving the inability to become a mother
  • mourning the realisation of not becoming a grandmother


Loss


The common experience running through all these situations is loss.  The loss of a life and the profound impact it can have on us. Or the realisation that a relationship is not one we would wish for or choose.  Or the loss of a hope or dream.

It’s important to acknowledge the complex affect this has had on us so that in time we are able to grieve and accept it.  We need to give ourselves the time and space to mourn the loss and give it the respect and attention it deserves. 

I recommend a book about loss: Griefworks and of course, the national organisation Cruse offers specialised bereavement counselling.

It can help to know that we are not alone.  That Mother’s Day can be bittersweet for many of us.

Amongst the laughter and celebrations around Mother’s Day we may also experience poignant moments and tears.  When it feels difficult be kind to yourself, and remember that this is understandable and ok.


Mindfulness

 

What exactly is mindfulness? And how can it help us?

 

In essence, mindfulness means being in the moment. Being aware of where we are and what is going on for us right now.

 

The origins of mindfulness go back a long way…

 

Eastern cultures have been meditating for centuries and all religions encourage quiet times for reflection. Being in the here and now does not negate other stuff that is going on in our lives. We’re not talking about ignoring planning for the future and being unprepared for life events. But we are talking about getting life into perspective. Not being so overwhelmed with the small (or big) stuff that we don’t have time to appreciate what’s going on in the here now.

 

Mindfulness Today

 

Mindfulness as we now know it was created by Professor of Medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s. He merged the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a zen Buddhist monk, with current neuroscience to create a format which has been proven scientifically to be effective.

 

Here in the UK, mindfulness was developed into Mindfulnessbased Stress Reduction Therapy (MBSR) an 8-week course offering meditation, observation of ourself without criticism and being compassionate with ourself.

 

It does this by offering:

  • short daily guided meditations
  • daily activities to increase living in the moment eg brushing your teeth, eating breakfast mindfully: so concentrating on just the one thing and really feeling it and being involved in all aspects of it
  • habit releasers which are changing small ways in your routines like sitting in a different chair instead of your usual one, choosing what tv you watch, only watch that one programme and be thoroughly involved in it
  • becoming more spontaneous in life generally

 

The Benefits of Mindfulness

 

Mindfulness practice includes specific activities to encourage spontaneity so we can become less routined and regular meditation to calm the brain. Brain scans have shown that neural pathways can change positively after 5 weeks of regular meditation.

 

Some benefits are:

  • physical benefits: decreases depression, decreases blood pressure, decreases pain, improves sleep, improves the immune system, improves memory.
  • increase in self-awareness. We notice what is going on for us in the moment and how we are feeling.
  • increase in stress management: by self-regulating our emotions.
  • increase in our attention span and focus. We are able to spend longer on one task at a time. We concentrate better by prioritising tasks, filtering distractions and become more productive.
  • increase in our attention and empathy in personal and professional relationships. We manage conflict better, respond compassionately and communicate more effectively.
  • Increase in our appraisal of situations and decision making. We become more objective in situations and are able to make a quick, informed, fair decision.

 

Who Is It For?

 

Mindfulness is for anyone. The MBSR course targets people affected by stress, anxiety, pain and depression but anyone can improve their general sense of wellbeing by practising mindfulness regularly. Anyone who wants to feel more relaxed, less stressed and overwhelmed and get life more in perspective can benefit from mindfulness.

 

So How Can I Find Out More?

 

BBC Breakfast has a 12-minute report which is a good place to start. Then I suggest trying a few short meditations. Youtube has numerous mindfulness videos, I can recommend the 9 minute Mindfulness Meditation Taster with Jon Kabat-Zinn or the 3 Minute Breathing Space by Mark Willams.

If you like the feel of these then I suggest trying some more formal practice and exercises. My favourite is Mindfulness – A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

 

 

 

 

Highs and Lows of Online Dating

 

Online dating has become the most popular way of finding love in the digital age. Most of us lead busy lives juggling: work, social life and family. We may come to a stage in life when most of our friends are in relationships with or without children. Meeting up involves going round each others houses or going out to eat and drink and catch up. Time is spent with each other and there is no necessity to involve or talk to anyone else. This makes opportunities for meeting new people difficult.

 

Matchmaking for friends is very rare so an online matchmaking service or dating app. sounds ideal.

 

But online dating is not easy. Whilst it offers an array of single people ready to meet, there can be challenges along the internet dating path:

 

It can be difficult to sell yourself. Those of us who are naturally modest or shy may find it a challenge. The very idea of putting ourselves out there so publicly can cause anxiety before we have started. From finding an appropriate picture to writing the blurb about ourselves…the whole process can be a scary proposition. How much information do we feel comfortable giving and how on earth do we sum up ourself succinctly?

 

Once you have navigated your way through the profiles and communication channels there is the challenge of meeting someone: the anxiety of the first meeting, managing the feelings of excitement and disappointment or further excitement.

 

People date online for many reasons and it’s good to find out if you are both on the same page with what you want. If you wish to continue dating one person remember that the online dating culture is one of meeting more than one person at the same time and until both of you have had the exclusivity chat there is no expectation that you are dating exclusively.

 

Some people have a fantasy about finding the perfect partner from online dating. Unfortunately, there is no such thing! It takes time to get to know someone and find out if you are both compatible.

 

Online dating is not for the fainthearted: there is bound to be disappointment involved. The disappointment can happen very soon, for example, when you meet your date for the first time and they look nothing like their photo. Or it can happen after a few dates when you discover that you find them attractive but you have totally different values and want different things out of life.

 

Maybe you will meet your life partner which is fantastic. Like any relationship, when the honeymoon period is over we realise that no one is perfect and the early fantasy we may have had about our new partner needs to wane in order to let the reality of the new relationship grow.

 

Online dating and relationships in general take grit: effort and energy. Finding the right person takes patience and effort and staying with them involves commitment – but the results can be fulfilling and lifechanging.

 

 

Postnatal Depression

 

What Is Postnatal Depression?

Most parents rank having a baby as the most life-changing event they experience and many find parenthood rewarding. However postnatal depression is more common than we think. 1 in 7 mothers suffer from it. At a time in their lives when new mothers should be falling in love with their babies, some women find it difficult to bond with their new baby. They may be exhausted and disillusioned and feel totally overwhelmed by this new bundle of life which is completely dominating their every thought, feeling and action.

Other common symptoms of postnatal depression are:

  • constant exhaustion,
  • inability to sleep even when you are exhausted
  • crying for no reason
  • forgetting things
  • thinking you can not cope with the baby and everyday tasks
  • excessive anxiety and worry.

 

Postnatal depression often goes undiagnosed because the mother just assumes she is meant to feel out of sorts and exhausted for some time after the birth. However, there are some factors which may impact on the seriousness of the postnatal depression. The new mother may have had a loss or bereavement which she has not had time or chance to process. The feelings of anxiety, disappointment, guilt or helplessness about the new baby may bring up these unprocessed feelings about the earlier loss. This can intensify the feelings of depression the mother feels.

Statistics show that if a woman has had postnatal depression with an earlier baby she may be more likely to experience it with following births. Also, if the mother has had a previous psychiatric illness then she may be more likely to suffer from postnatal depression in the future.

 

How Do I Know If I Have It?

 

If you think this may sound like what’s happening to you, your partner or friend then there is a useful short multiple choice test which you can take called The Edinburgh Test. This test is used to diagnose postnatal depression by asking you how you have been feeling over the last week. It is very easy to complete and if your results show you may be at risk of postnatal depression then you can take it along to discuss with your doctor. An example of an Edinburgh test can be found at:

www.fresno.ucsf.edu/pediatrics/downloads/edinburghscale.pdf

 

What Can I Do About Postnatal Depression?

 

If these feelings and symptoms continue for longer than two weeks then it really is best to go to your doctor and get checked out. There could be another purely medical reason that is causing you to feel like this such as an underactive thyroid or anaemia. If the doctor rules out any medical issues then he or she may prescribe antidepressants for you and/or short term counselling on the NHS. Some women only need short term help to get back on their feet whilst others may need more ongoing support. It’s important to remember that postnatal depression can happen to any new mother and it is certainly not your fault.

 

Self-help Ideas

 

Here are a few practical ideas which you can try yourself and may alleviate your depression and make you feel more like your old self again.

  • exercise and being outside is proven to relieve depression: take yourself and the baby out of the house into the fresh air every day
  • sleep: whenever your baby sleeps
  • be kind to yourself: give yourself a break about the housework and cooking
  • mindfulness: download a short meditation to still your mind and find some calm
  • accept support: from friends, family and your health visitor
  • find support: join your local national childbirth trust (NCT) group, see what your local children’s centre offers, use forums and websites like www.netmums.com
  • avoid isolation: be brave and chat with other new mums whenever you come across them out and about, spend some quality time with your partner if you have one, pick up the phone and have a catch up with an old friend
  • be prepared: keep a change bag by the front door ready so that you can get out easily

 

Hopefully, you or your friend’s PND is temporary: the majority of women with postnatal depression recover fully within 3-6 months.

Labyrinth

 

My first time walking a labyrinth (a path designed in a sequential pattern leading into the centre and back out again) was high up on a mountain in New Zealand. Traditionally you think of a question or meditate on an idea as you walk but it is also interesting to just let your thoughts come and go randomly as I did on this occasion. I started from the outside towards the centre, walking lightly and mindfully…savouring the experience and enjoying the mesmerising mountain scenery.

Reflecting on this now reminds me of personal therapy: navigating the labyrinth as a metaphor for the therapeutic journey that goes on consciously and unconsciously between the patient and therapist. The work starts on the outside with talk of the practical, the everyday and immediate concerns and situations.

It takes time for the patient to feel able to talk of more personal matters, starting to uncover layers of feelings as the trust between the therapist and patient grows. Feeling safe and secure with the therapist, deeper exploration of issues and themes can emerge and greater self-awareness and insight about life and relationships is gained.

As in the labyrinth, at some point, the therapeutic path comes to an end. Gradually the patient begins to feel more secure, that they can stand on their own and see things more clearly. As therapy sessions move towards an ending, the work often returns to the external; more matter of fact issues of day to day life are considered and the path leads the patient back out of the labyrinth again with deeper understanding and acceptance of the self.

 

 

How To Survive Christmas

 

1.Communicate

Ask everyone what they want to do over Christmas. Including something of what everyone wants will make for a happier holiday and will show that everybody’s wishes are important. Decide what you can manage to do, how you can do it and where you can do it. Agree on who you want to spend time with and for how long.

 

2. Prioritise Your Relationship

If you are in a relationship give yourself time together away from the hectic run-up to Christmas. Boycott all Christmas talk and catch up with how you both are. Book a babysitter and have a meal out or buy a vat of popcorn and snuggle under the blanket on the sofa in front of a movie.

 

3. Pamper Yourself

Take some well deserved time out for you. We need to be ok with ourselves before we are able to give to others. Give yourself a chance to recharge your batteries amidst the ever-increasing excitement. Find a local yoga class, meditate, or just unwind in a hot bath with plenty of bubbles, candles and a glass of mulled wine.

 

4. Get Enough Sleep

As the big day approaches look after yourself. Neuroscience proves that sleep is the body’s way of repairing itself. Whilst asleep our brain restructures its connections making sense of the previous day’s information and storing it to memory. Go to bed at your usual time as often as possible. You will need all the rest you can get so that you can get everything done and still have energy left to enjoy yourself.

 

5. Reflect And Resolve

Reflect on 2018. What has gone well and not so well for you? Think about what you might do differently in 2019. What steps can you take to improve your lifestyle and happiness?

 

6. Give Something Back

Research shows that depression can be relieved by volunteering in the community. As Christmas is the season of goodwill why not invite an elderly neighbour round for coffee and a mince pie or encourage your children to choose a current toy they could give away to a charity shop to make some room for this year’s presents?

 

7. Be realistic

Aspiring to perfection will only lead to disappointment. Don’t be over-ambitious. Keep it simple and focus on what you have agreed to do.

 

8. Plan and delegate

Write lists. Spending some time thinking ahead about what you need will pay off. Work out your financial budget for Christmas and stick to it – this could mean deciding a maximum amount on Christmas presents or introducing a secret santa present system. Be organised and don’t wait until Christmas Eve to buy the turkey! If you are hosting ask all guests to contribute by bringing along something to eat and/or drink. If you are visiting offer to take something.

 

9. Old Fashioned Fun

Take the opportunity to switch off the technology for a few hours. Spend some quality time together, play board games, cards, go for a walk.

 

10. Try Something Different

Escape it all! Book a last minute holiday to learn diving in the Red Sea. Get rid of the need for washing up and book your Christmas dinner out or ring the changes and book a spicy Thai meal.

 

 

FOMO

 

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a term brought about by our digital age. It’s the feeling we have when we’re unable to attend a social engagement – a barbecue for example – because we’ve already accepted an invitation – say to the cinema – by other friends. In reality, we want to do them both for fear of missing something.

But the question is, why has FOMO become such a thing?
It might be useful to stop and ask ourselves next time we feel it, what is it we are actually feeling and what has triggered us to feel it?

Social media can intensify our FOMO. In our digital age, most of us have a smartphone or tablet nearby and check them often. Whilst we are busy doing one thing, we may check into a social media account and see others engaging in something else. Part of us may wish we could be doing that too or even instead of what we are currently doing.

FOMO can affect us in many ways. It can invoke feelings of envy…. we want to be doing what others are doing, or wish we could be involved in the alternative activity in case it may be ‘better’ than what we are currently doing… that our life is less interesting, or enjoyable or worthwhile somehow.

FOMO can minimise the enjoymènt we are currently experiencing by distracting us from the good time we are already having and evoking feelings of discontent and unease instead.

So what can we do about it?

The main antidote for FOMO is to practice being fully attentive to what we are doing. If we are able to live in the moment, be fully conscious of where we are and what we are doing, we will appreciate our choices and our current situation far more and not feel drawn to carry out distracting behaviours.

Being ‘in the moment’ is easier than it sounds. It can be difficult to concentrate on what we are doing and become fully engaged in whatever it is when there is so much technology to take our attention away. It takes practice and discipline, but a good start is to concentrate on ourselves and work out what fully engages us. What makes us smile? When do we feel alive and genuinely connected to others? What hobby or activity have we always wanted to do but haven’t been brave enough to attempt?
What nurtures us? Is it being outside? Snuggling with a book and our pet? Spending time with people who care about us?

It is up to us to spend some time exploring what makes us feel fully alive, in order to appreciate the choices we make and not feel we might be missing out.

 

 

 

What Is Psychodynamic Counselling?

 

Psychodynamic therapy is an in-depth way of working which gives you a space to explore your inner self.

The difference between psychodynamic counselling and most other types of counselling is that we work with the unconscious. The unconscious is around us all the time in our everyday life, for example, when we make a slip of the tongue and something pops out that we may have been trying to hide, but what has just popped out is actually what we think.

Psychodynamic counselling and psychotherapy work with this underneath layer of ourselves. It identifies unconscious recurring themes and patterns from the past which have become unhelpful and can feel inescapable. By talking about what is troubling us and what we are thinking and feeling with a professional therapist who can value and understand us, we can explore the issue and make more sense of it. This increase in self-awareness is a gradual process, so once we are aware of what we are doing we are able to do something about it, with subtle but permanent changes over time.

Dreams, daydreams and metaphor are also part of the unconscious. We explore these unconscious phenomena in the sessions and they often link to what we are talking about in the therapy. It’s fascinating how our unconscious communicates with us if we let it in.

Research has shown that the relationship between the therapist and client is very important in all types of therapy. What goes on in the relationship between the client and therapist can mirror other relationships the client has. If the client can tell the therapist how they feel in the room with them it gives us insight into how the client feels and behaves with other people in their life.

As a psychodynamic counsellor, my aim is to help each client discover their authentic self and fulfill their potential to become all they can be.