Loneliness

 

Time alone is necessary for our mental well being. When we spend time by ourselves we are able to rest from the stresses and strains of everyday life, give ourselves the mental space to process our thoughts and then re engage with others in a more relaxed way afterwards.

 

However, during the pandemic many of us are spending more and more time alone and the number of people experiencing loneliness has risen dramatically. And it’s totally understandable.

 

Many of us are now working from home and missing face to face time with colleagues. Natural moments in the day we take for granted aren’t currently happening: times such as “water cooler chats”, having lunch breaks and laughs with work friends and catch up chats at the beginning and end of meetings.

 

As more of us need to self-isolate pressure is placed on increasingly anxious homes. Parents who are self-isolating, especially single parents, are finding it tough. There are no face to face opportunities to talk with adults during the day and we can begin to feel cut off from others and miss adult conversation.

 

A short period of loneliness can be managed but there is a tipping point at which the amount of time we spend alone begins to become unhealthy. A prolonged period of loneliness can lead to lack of self worth and esteem, lack of energy and apathy in daily tasks, reliance on technology for all forms of communication and depression. So it’s important to be aware of how we are feeling and to reach out for support if necessary.

 

Once we realise we are feeling lonely and it’s becoming uncomfortable it’s important to take action before it affects our mental health.

 

Here are some ways to tackle loneliness:

 

  • Get up, get fully dressed. Not just in lounge wear but dress as if you were heading outside for a purpose.

 

  • Find one thing to do each day which requires you to leave the house and feel more connected to the world outside

 

  • Find someone to talk with, maybe reconnect with people you haven’t been in contact with for a while, make a phone or video call to someone every day

 

  • Start a journal to get your thoughts and feelings out of your head to stop recurring negative thoughts

 

  • Get distracted: immerse yourself in a box set, comedy series or good book

 

  • Arrange a socially distanced walk or bike ride with a friend or family member outside your bubble

 

  • Spend some time day dreaming about what life will be like next summer when the weather is better and we’ll be able to go to more places and meet people more easily

 

  • Play your favourite uplifting music, and have an impromptu crazy dance whilst no one’s watching

 

  • Shop locally so that you can meet and speak with people, even if it’s just the shop staff

 

  • If you are finding your relationship intense or difficult book an initial session at Relate or find a couples counsellor to help you work out ways to communicate better in this difficult time

 

  • If you are recovering from a breakup be gentle on yourself and give yourself permission to recover

 

  • Spend quality time with a pet and/or children or hug a cuddly toy as a comfort

 

  • Take up a new hobby, language or course which will give you a new focus and where you may meet like minded people

 

It can be challenging to engage with others when a part of us doesn’t feel like it but remember we only need one person to talk with to reduce our loneliness. So start with a smile and a hello and see what happens……

 

SAD in Lockdown 2

 

Many of us are thrown out of kilter for a day or two when the clocks fall back. However, for some of us the loss of daylight hours can throw us off balance for a substantial amount of time and this can have a powerful effect on our mood.

 

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is now a recognised condition for which GPs can prescribe medication. Shorter daylight hours can lead to an increase in natural melatonin in our bodies which can make us more drowsy and sleepy during the day. With less sunny days we are also exposed to lower levels of serotonin which may make us more lethargic than usual and cause us to feel down more often.

 

Research in the US has shown that 1.4% of people who live year-round in Florida are affected by SAD compared to a much higher 9.9% in Alaska.

 

What Can We Do About It?

  • Become aware of our energy and contentedness levels by tracking our sleep, moods, tiredness and libidos and comparing them to how they were earlier in the spring and summer
  • Keep active and get outside as often as possible
  • Eat healthily: comforting, warming soups and casseroles at the end of the day, consider investing in a slow cooker and do the preparation in the morning when you are feeling fresh
  • Buy a daylight lamp or a daylight alarm clock: 30 minutes exposure in the morning is recommended to compensate for the lack of sunlight during the winter months
  • Be kind to yourself: snuggle up under a blanket with a movie or boxset, enjoy a hearty roast dinner, or light the candles in the bathroom and have a bubble bath with a glass of your favourite tipple.

 

As much as we may want to escape to the sunshine to combat our SAD symptoms, it’s not possible for any of us at the moment so we need to make the best of what we have at home. Finding ways to embrace the winter and seeking contentment and moments of joy and fun whenever and however we can in our everyday lives should be our overall aim this winter lockdown.

 

 

The Colours of Life

 

During Autumn, in between the rainy spells, it’s good to get outside and appreciate the changing foliage around us. Autumnal colours are warm and earthy; the burgundy of a conker, the bright orange of pumpkin flesh and the rich browns and reds of falling leaves.

 

Colours are an important part of our life, whether they are in nature, our clothing, our home decoration or our food.

 

We choose colours for many different reasons, consciously and unconsciously. Darker, sombre colours for when we feel down or tired, a splash of red for confidence in our outfit for a job interview or date or shades of green as a relaxing colour for our living space.

 

The beauty of colours in nature can have a profoundly positive effect on us, lifting our spirits and grounding us in the here and now. As children we experience a rainbow as something very special. The story of Noah and the flood is important to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike and this year like at the end of the flood, we’ve seen the rainbow represent gratitude and hope in the pandemic.

 

Colours have been used to distinguish personality types. In Ancient Greece, Hippocrates categorised people into one of four personality types based on the proportion of their bodily fluids. By the early 20th century the psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Carl Jung had developed Hippocrates’ theory into four personality types based on colour. According to Jung, people’s personalities are, broadly speaking, either red, yellow, blue or green:

 

  • Red personality types are typically bold and ambitious

 

  • Yellow personality types are cheerful and positive

 

  • Blue personality types are typically more relaxed and calm

 

  • Green personality types are caring and hopeful

 

The Myers-Briggs personality test and the Insights Discovery Method are contemporary developments of Jung’s colour types which are used in corporate settings worldwide today. Personally, I think that someone’s personality is more complex than just being defined by one or two categories but such tests are useful places to start thinking more about our internal worlds and how we think, feel and behave.

 

As well as people’s various internal worlds of personality colour types we also have the external palette of our different coloured hair, skin and features. Diversity makes life interesting. As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. By embracing all colours, in every aspect of our life, we live a richer and rewarding one.

 

Moving Home

 

Moving home is generally acknowledged to be a majorly stressful life event. Whether you’re moving into a rented house or buying your own home, moving house is always more involved than we first envisage.

 

The excitement and fantasy of living in your new home will fire you up with the necessary energy and bravery to begin with. Imagining your possessions around you in a new space can be exhilarating. However, the reality, commitment and gravitas of the process soon becomes apparent and begins to feel daunting. All sorts of unexpected events can create hurdles along the way and it’s important to keep things in perspective.

 

Here are some ideas for managing the stressful parts of moving home:

  • Give yourself more time than you think you will need for packing up your current possessions and furniture
  • Feel in control and know that you are an important cog of the wheel in the process, keep communicating and be assertive with estate agents and solicitors, if necessary
  • Be organized and keep designated folders for relevant paperwork and emails
  • Share out and delegate tasks so you know who is doing what and no one wastes time duplicating errands
  • Ask for help with responsibilities like viewings, packing, childcare and unpacking
  • Communicate daily with your partner / family / support network, try to restrict discussions about your move to one comprehensive catch up so that moving home doesn’t take over every other aspect of life.
  • Keep the move in perspective. Have quality time to relax and have fun – go for a bike ride, autumnal walk or have a family day out.
  • Pay for as much help as you can afford, such as: packing, moving and cleaning the old and new properties.
  • Factor in time to say goodbye to current neighbours and friends; it’s important to give good friendships the farewells they deserve, these relationships will inevitably change to some extent.


Here are two checklists to help you with the practicalities of moving: ‘Money Saving Expert’ and ‘Help I Am Moving’.


Relocating can stir up many emotions, including good and bad memories of times in the old home. This next phase of your life will bring new opportunities and relationships. Embrace this new chapter whilst also acknowledging what you are leaving behind.

 

 

Loss, Bereavement and Mourning

 

Loss occurs when we lose something that is precious to us. It usually refers to a person, for example – the death of a loved one, but it can also denote many other circumstances such as:

 

  • Grown up children leaving home
  • Being made redundant or leaving a job
  • Divorce or the end of a relationship
  • Infertility
  • Moving house

 

What Happens When We Experience Loss?

 

Depending on the circumstances, our first reaction to loss is usually shock, even if we knew it was coming. This may manifest itself in feelings of numbness and disbelief. We may end up feeling spaced out, dizzy, forgetful and experiencing bad sleep patterns. It’s important to acknowledge what we are going through and to look after ourselves by ensuring that we get as much rest as possible and avoid exhaustion by only doing what is absolutely necessary to get through each day. If possible, we can lean on other people we love for support, catch up on sleep and give ourselves permission to do whatever we think will nurture us.

 

How Can We Get Over A Loss?

 

If we can acknowledge the gravity of our loss then we will be able to accept and process it more healthily. Anxiety and depression can result from unprocessed feelings – in loss this is usually the pushing down of sadness and anger. As uncomfortable and scary as these feelings can be, it is better for us to stay with them so that they can move on. Many of us bury our feelings by distracting ourselves and trying to forget what happened because we are consciously or unconsciously afraid of them. But suppressing our emotions only builds up trouble for later. Repressed feelings may develop into full-blown depression or uncontrollable anger which spits out at inappropriate times. It is far healthier to try to stay with these feelings. If we can bear to acknowledge our emotions they will pass and we will soon feel something else.

 

Another reason to ensure that we process grief is that each loss can bring up feelings linked to an earlier bereavement. Going to a loved one’s funeral may unconsciously bring up memories and feelings from an earlier loss. If we don’t process earlier losses in life, current bereavements can feel overwhelming.

 

Bravery and time spent acknowledging a loss, feeling the anger, pain, sadness and hurt and sharing it with someone we trust is vital to our recovery. Acceptance and the ability to move on from the loss will be quicker and permanent if we are able to do this.

 

 

Resilience

 

Whilst on holiday in Greece I was struck by the importance of the Olive Tree. Primarily by its beauty: the ancient dark gnarly trunk in contrast with the silvery sage and bright green leaves almost translucent in the sun. But also by its centrality to Greek culture and economy.

 

Whilst wandering through an olive grove I noticed how olive trees also provide an ecosystem for neighbouring flora and fauna: rabbits hopped merrily, yellow butterflies and bees rested on the cowparsley below, while swallows darted above the canopy.

 

I was reminded of the similarity of the holm oak, another Mediterranean tree which is very happy at my home in Bournemouth. My thoughts moved to the holm oak in my garden and the view my patients have of it from my consulting room. How its branches wave around on windy days and yet it stays firm with its strong roots and trunk pinning it to the spot.

 

My holm oak tree is a metaphor for resilience in life. The trunks and roots give it a strong base, representing many things: in a healthy childhood this base is provided by our parents and the early start we had in life. If our childhood was challenging we may have been lucky to have been given other roots at that time or later on in life, such as a supportive extended family, friends, partner or therapist. This strong base gives us strength and a belief in ourself which allows us to develop and mature knowing that we are ok.

 

This strong base supports the branches. So to extend the holm oak metaphor further, when the branches wave around on windy days and challenges appear, for example: loss of a loved one, unemployment, or loss then the branches are held in place by the trunk and root system. So we rely on our stable base to keep us secure at our core and we feel we can adapt to what happens to us without it overwhelming us. Our stable base allows us to be resilient and we know that we will survive what is happening to us.

 

Our aim is to live as the olive tree with flexible branches that can bend but remain in place with a solid core sense of self.

 

 

Embracing our Shadow Side


On a trip to Italy I saw many works of art and was struck by the amount of trompe l’oeil (a ‘trick of the eye’ style where objects are painted to look real) in the interior design of buildings.


Looking closely I could see how important the shading was.  On further research, I found out that the use of light and dark in the painting gives the clever perspective of the trompe l’oeil which deceives the viewer, allowing them to see the picture as the artist intended.


This led me to think of Jung and the importance he placed on our ‘shadow’ side: those feelings which we may describe as negative eg jealousy, anger, or hate.  We can also become anxious when we experience these ‘negative’ feelings which adds to our uncomfortableness.


Depending on our early childhood experiences eg being brought up in a family where anger was never overtly expressed safely, or was expressed violently, we may find some ‘shadow’ feelings frightening or uncomfortable. Sometimes to the extent where we don’t allow ourselves to feel them and so we unconsciously repress them, not liking to think of ourselves having these feelings.


Jung saw these shadow feelings as vital to our inner self.  They are as important to us as positive feelings and provide us with useful information and signals. Once we are able to notice our feelings in a non-judgemental way we can accept our current state of mind and body. This is the start of change. Then we can choose what to do with these feelings.


As Jung suggested, over 100 years ago, if we accept all of our feelings, both negative and positive and are able to integrate them we are able to reach a better understanding of ourself and can use our feelings for a more healthy life.


As the trompe l’oeil needs light and dark to exist as a fully functioning phenomenon -so do we need our shadow and light sides to exist together consciously for a balanced and fulfilled life.


Photo by Calvin Craig on Unsplash



Finding Constancy in Crisis


The lifeguard huts are now reinstated on the beach, a sure sign of spring’s arrival and welcome normality in our current crisis. As I walked past the sea 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.



How To Choose A Therapist


Who and What is the Therapy for?

As counselling becomes more popular an increasing number of people are going to their GPs for help and finding themselves on a very long waiting list for therapy. As a result, more people are choosing to find a private therapist, but there are so many available that it can be confusing deciding who to choose.

It’s worth spending a little time thinking about who and what the therapy is for.

Is it just for you? We call that individual therapy. Or is it for you and your partner together? In which case you will probably want couples counselling. It may be for a young person or for the whole family? You will need to find an appropriate counsellor for the problem and the person or people who need it.

You may also want counselling or psychotherapy for a specific problem. You may be recently bereaved in which case you may need bereavement counseling. You may want help with an addiction or you may need support for a relationship that you are in. If that’s the case then there are specialist organisations and therapists who work in these areas and they may be a good place to start.

Here are some links to websites of organisations which may be

useful:https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/

https://www.relate.org.uk/

https://mosaicfamilysupport.org/about-us

There are so Many Therapists, Who Should I Choose?

There are many different types of models of therapy: psychodynamic and psychoanalytical, cognitive behavioural therapy, humanistic, person centred, integrative, it’s difficult to know which to choose. The counselling directory gives a good summary of each type of therapy available.

Research has shown that no matter what model of therapy we choose, it is the relationship between the client and the therapist that is the most important aspect and the one which makes the most difference in improvement.

What To Do Next

Make contact with them. Either email them or even better pick up the phone.

Book an initial session where you can meet. You can tell them a little about what is going on for you and why you are looking for counselling and they can tell you how they work.

It’s important to get a feel for a therapist before you start working with them. Take note of how you feel when you research the therapist, talk with them and meet them. Here are some questions to think about when you meet them:

Do you feel you could trust them and talk to them confidentially?

Do you feel understood? Does it feel like they get you and understand your problem? Can you imagine working with them?

Is the therapist clear about what they offer, what their fees are and how they work?

Are they fully qualified and accredited with a national umbrella body like BPC or BACP?

Don’t worry that you may be nervous. We all know that starting counselling or psychotherapy is a big step into the unknown. It’s totally normal to feel anxious when you first make contact and when you go to your first session. Just reach out to the therapist initially and they will help you find your way to them.


How Will Therapy Help?


Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year can be a difficult time for many people. We spend the holiday with family in a more intense way than normal and this can reveal strains, tensions and ruptures that we normally overlook or don’t like to admit in our daily lives.

Alternatively we may have had a lonely time over the break and wished we had a partner or were in a more healthy relationship or realised our relationship is too toxic to continue.

The holiday may have given us time to reassess our current lifestyle and think that we will benefit from some changes. If we have that sinking feeling on a Sunday, then maybe it’s time to look for a new job or career? If we are feeling isolated working from home then maybe it’s time to get out networking or take up a new hobby, fitness or adult education class? If we are exhausted and realise we aren’t able to spend enough time with people we love then maybe it’s time to think about our work/life balance?

If it’s difficult to admit to ourselves that any of these things is affecting us it’s often even more difficult to talk about it with someone else.

Counselling or psychotherapy is a perfect place to talk about your worries and concerns. It gives you space to say exactly what is bothering you, with someone who is objective and open minded. A good therapist will give you time and space to untangle what is upsetting you. As they say a problem shared is a problem halved and often just getting the issue out of our head and into words is such a relief.

If you think that going to a qualified professional person will help you or someone close to you talk about what’s unsettling or upsetting you then I suggest you start to think about having some counselling or psychotherapy.

My next post is on how to choose a therapist…