Cold, wet and miserable?

Gloomy and threatening or dramatic and wild?
Gloomy and threatening or dramatic and wild?

My morning’s dog walk could have been cold wet, dark and miserable. It was 7am, still very dark, raining, with quite a cold breeze.

Change Perception

Yet, it was really quite ok.  As I made way around one of my usual routes I found myself thinking about how much our perception can change our feelings about an event or experience. If I had been feeling grumpy and determined to experience my walk this morning as cold, wet, dark and miserable then that is undoubtedly what it would have been.  Instead,  it was enjoyable walking the streets in the half-light as the sun was coming up. I enjoyed seeing who was also out and about. The rain felt refreshing.   The air crisp and wintry.

Traumatic Experience

Unfortunately some experiences we are faced with my be too difficult or traumatic for us to shift our perception of them. The recent floods in many parts of the UK, brought on by similar rain to that I enjoyed this morning, will be an example of this.  Some people’s lives will have been dramatically impacted by what has happened.

Therapy for difficult memories

Sometimes experiences in the present can be too evocative of painful experience in the past.  We may be unable to move past the significance of certain events without professional help of therapy.  For example, significant anniversaries may be triggering past losses,  day to day events may trigger anxieties about past traumas.  If you have had an experience where shifting how you perceive it might be useful, therapy can often be very helpful in that process.

But this morning was happily one of those days when what could have been cold wet and miserable was refreshing energising and connecting.

Christmas Stress

Christmas StressIn the midst of the celebrations and holidays, whether religious or otherwise, I hope that you have had the opportunity for good times spent with people you love and care about.  Unfortunately for some people Christmas will  have meant a host of family arguments, relationship problems, disappointments, painful memories, losses and grief.

Stress at Christmas

There is a tremendous amount of expectation put on us at this time of year.  Expectations about spending time with people that we might actually not get on that well with for the rest of the year.  Along with eating too much, possibly drinking too much and spending too much money.  It undoubtedly can be one of the most stressful times of the year – Christmas stress.   As a therapist I have spent several weeks in the run up to December 25th talking to many of my clients about Christmas.  How they were feeling about it.  What meaning did they attach to the event.  Were they having the kind of Christmas they wanted?  Or were they under pressure to meet other’s needs.  How they might take care of themselves in the face of spending time with people where relationships might be difficult. Or deal with painful memories of events or of loved ones who are no longer here.

Improve your life

I’m also expecting an influx of calls following Christmas as many people reach the point of “this can’t carry on.” This is often the result of a miserable few days spending an intense amount of time perhaps with a partner or family member where things are not going well at all.  Where with the stress of Christmas all the problems in the relationship become heightened.

I invite you to give yourself permission to do what you need to do to take care of yourself.  This might begin by not adding extra pressure by thinking “but it’s Christmas, everything should be different.”  Although Christmas is heralded as a time of year of goodwill, for some people in some situations that is not feasible or even desirable.  If you need to do something different with your situation to improve your life then please don’t let the time of year stop you from taking action to change your situation.

It might also might mean contacting someone you’ve not been in touch with for a long time.  Telling someone something important. Deciding not to spend next Christmas with family.  Seeking out counselling for help with a relationship problem.

Christmas 2016

Stress at ChristmasThese last few days at the end of December can be lovely; with time for resting, celebrating in ways that are healthy and enjoyable, being with people you love and who love you.  Making meaning and finding ways to mark the changing of the seasons and the time of year that aligns with your beliefs and values.  If that hasn’t been your experience this year my encouragement to you is to reflect how you might have this for yourself next year.

Seasons Greetings and Best Wishes for 2016

 

Anxiety

Quite a few people have come to me for help because they feel anxious.  One of the first things I want to say is that nearly everyone will have experiences in their life that they worry, or feel some degree of stress or anxiety about, this is normal.  How we then deal with these feelings can be really important in whether or not they are something which we experience in passing, in response to one off events, or become a pattern of thinking and feeling that stops us from enjoying our lives, because we are almost constantly anxious, or worrying about something.

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

The physical symptoms of anxiety are pretty common: dry mouth, elevated breathing and heart rate, butterflies in the stomach, upset stomach, sweating, trembling, unable to concentrate, sleep disturbances to name but a few.  This reaction is what is known as the “flight or fight mechanism”, it is an instinctive physical response to danger, that is designed to help us get away from a threat.  What is  happening in the body is that chemicals are being released to enable us to literally take flight, that is,  run away or to fight, to protect ourselves physically.  Now, as a response to a genuine danger, for example, enabling us to leap out of the way of a car, as we are about to cross a busy road, it  is appropriate and helpful.  If it is in response to an upcoming social situation or a presentation at work it may not be helpful at all,  but in fact get in our way and stop us from enjoying the experience.

Significant Factors

There are a number of significant factors that I think play a large part in why some people experience high levels of anxiety on a regular basis.  Here are two of them:

Firstly they have great difficulty in soothing themselves when they do feel nervous, anxious or stressed so do not easily return to a state of calmness.

Secondly, they are often have experienced one of more of the following –

  • A recent event that may have triggered feelings of stress and anxiety.
  • A traumatic, frightening or distressing event when they were a child that they have been unable to come to terms with.
  • One of more of their parents or caregivers often used to worry about them, or were themselves someone who often got anxious.

Self-Help Strategies for Anxiety

So, what can anyone who gets anxious do to help themselves. Here are five suggestions that you may find helpful:

1) Put in place a regime to improve your general health and well-being. For example cut down on stimulants – reduce how much tea and coffee you drink, particularly in the evenings.  Take regular exercise. Eat healthily.

2) Learn how to relax.  Make time at least once a day to undertake a relaxation exercise or activity.

3) Develop a series of activities that occupy your mind and provide an interesting distraction for times when you are stressed.

4) Talk about what is worrying you to someone you trust.

5) Challenge your thinking and your worries by reality testing your fears.

Do you often feel anxious?  Have you experienced anxiety in your life and learned how to deal with the feelings differently? I’d like to hear your stories.

Fun in the Sun

In just a few weeks the long summer holidays begin. Will it be a time of fun in the sun or a stress ridden nightmare with the kids hanging around the house driving themselves – and you – up the wall?

What is stress?

Why do we feel stressed?  Stress has its basis in ancient instincts for self preservation – the flight or fight mechanism where the body prepares to defend itself.   Thankfully, modern life does not present us with many situations where we need to run away but the mechanism still remains.   Periods of stress can result in tiredness or difficulties in sleeping, muscle tension, headaches, difficulties in concentrating, worrying, impatience and irritability. However,  research into the effects of stress has shown that people who are experiencing something positive at the same time as a stressful event can find it has less impact.   The level of stress is also dictated by how the person views an event.  So, doing something enjoyable and changing your perspective can reduce your stress levels.

Here are a few ideas on how to make this summer holiday more fun for the kids and  you.

Realistic Expectations

Be realistic in your expectations of your family and yourself.  Give yourself permission to make mistakes, after all, it is part of being human.  Be aware of your inner dialogue – what internal messages are you saying to yourself?  For example, it might be helpful to change negative messages to positive, such as  –“ I am easy going, calm and relaxed.”  Have someone to talk to and share your concerns, difficulties and successes.  And make sure that you reward yourself for being relaxed and calm.

Ground Rules

Agree the ground rules with your partner or with yourself.  Discuss these with the kids, involve them in the decision making process and get their agreement.  Make it clear what you want.   Tidy rooms, no stuff left all over the house, what time to be home, how much TV and computer time etc and in return they get some of what they want.  Set the consequences for not keeping to the agreements.  Make those consequences something that mean something to each child and that is appropriate for their age.  Remember to praise the behaviour that you want.

 Relaxation

Have fun together by spending time as a family doing things.  As well as all of the things to do that cost money there are lots of things to do that cost very little.  Here are a few you may like to try:

  • go to the park and have a picnic,
  • make food together – pizzas, cake or biscuits,
  • play music and dance together,
  • play board games or cards
  • or organise a game of rounders or cricket or just get out into the fresh air as anything involving exercise produces a “feel-good” factor in you and kids, and tires them out! You will have plenty of your own ideas, and so will your friends, so get together and put them into practice.

Most importantly give yourself permission and make time to relax. This might mean anything from a quiet coffee and magazine to time exercising, taking long bubble baths or even time chatting with friends and connecting with people.

Following some of these suggestions may mean changing the way you do things but starting with a few small steps is more likely to succeed than big steps that are more challenging. And as with learning anything new it takes time and repetition, so why not start planning how to have a less stressed summer now.

What ideas do you have for a stress free summer? Share your ideas by leaving a comment.

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Nesting Instinct

Psychological Well-Being

I love watching the birds at this time of year.  Blackbirds, blue tits and robins grappling with twigs and long strands of grass as they fly off to build their nests, making a safe place to raise their young.  I think that our “nests” are also really  important, not just for those of us with families, but for all of us.  Sometimes we  may not fully account how important the space where we live is to our psychological well-being.

Feeling Peaceful

We recently had an extension built to our house.  The builders did a great job, in spite of this, it was still a disruptive and unsettling experience for me as our space was filled with noise, dust and dirt.  So I’ve been thinking a lot about how important our own “nests” are, not so much in terms of expensive decor or labour saving gadgets, more about the connection we have to ourselves and the space around us.  How we can be  impacted and unsettled by a disturbance in our environment, whether at work or at home.  And of course the opposite is also true – having a space that is nourishing, that helps in the process of feeling connected to ourselves and our environment can be an important element in feeling well and being peaceful.

Supportive Homes

In the hectic busy activity of our lives we don’t always see this link and perhaps where we live is just somewhere to eat and sleep.  Yet my recent experience showed me how much more significant  the place where we live can be.  So an invitation to reflect: the next time you walk through your front door pause for a moment on the impact coming home has on you.  Is this how you want to feel? If not, what can you do that might make a difference and make coming home a positive and nourishing experience that supports you and your well being.