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

 

Quote of the Week Nine

Quote 9

R. Buckminster Fuller was an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, and inventor.  I like what he says about a focus on need and on original purposes.

And an example of the design of the universe at its best with a photograph of the Dolomites.

How does Change Happen – Or Notice the Little Stuff.

I’ve been remembering some of my experiences of change. One that was very significant for me was a few years ago now. I had been walking my dogs first thing in the  morning and I was reflecting on my internal sense of self and how I was feeling on a day to day basis. As I reached the front door, I had a profound realisation that I was content with myself in a way that I hadn’t ever felt before. I was amazed and astounded by this realisation. I found myself thinking but when did I change?  How did this happen?  As I thought about the difference I was experiencing I realised I wasn’t able to identify any particular moments of significance, but that what had been happening was slow, incremental moments and shifts and change that I had not been aware of until then.

So, how does change happen? There are probably 100’s of books that have been written on the subject, numerous blog posts and theory about how it all works. The impact on people, how we cope and deal with changes in our lives or how we make changes for the better.

Change in Therapy

Clients often talk to me about change during their therapy.   If the desired change is something about self, what seems to be very common is a sense that we will know immediately when change happens.  And that the desired change will happen quickly.  There seems to be an internal expectation that people will immediately think about what they want to do differently and be able put that in place.  I suspect this is often because the distress of the current situation is difficult and people want things to be different and for this to happen quickly.   I see a lot of this with people I work with.   I often find myself saying something like “you’ve been thinking/feeling/behaving this way for x number of years – it’s likely to take some more time for you to make the changes you want.”

The two aspects I’m noticing most as I’m writing this post are about our expectations:

  1. about the speed of change and
  2. that we will notice immediately when we do change.

My “how to support yourself” tips from this post are that we have to learn to be patient with ourselves.  In some ways I often think this is one of the tasks of therapy.  To learn to be more forgiving of ourselves, to be more patient with ourselves, to have more realistic and kinder expectations of ourselves.  And notice the small stuff. I suspect that in my journey to being more content with myself there were numerous small shifts and changes along the way that I didn’t account or was aware of.  If I had been I suspect it would have been very helpful in motivating and encouraging me that I was changing.

I’m going to give a couple of examples of what I mean by “the small stuff”.  If I’m the kind of person who can’t relax until all the jobs are done I might find myself leaving the washing up until after I’ve watched that TV programme.   Or, if I’m really nervous around people and find it difficult to interact I might find that I say hello to one of my work colleagues in the kitchen at work instead of being silent. So my final tip is take time to do a self check and notice those tiny shifts in thinking, feeling and behaviour. They are important and over time can add up to the significant change you are working towards.

Have you made big changes in your life that you would like to share?  How did that happen?  I’d love to hear people’s stories of changes they have made.

 

What’s a Therapy Group Like?

Never, it’s not for me, I don’t have the confidence for a therapy group.

Probably just a few of the responses you might have to the idea of being in a therapy group with people you have never met before. And sometimes it can be the very fact that you do not know the other members of the therapy group that be so helpful.  These people most likely do not know you. They are not in a previous relationship with you:  a colleague, friend, sibling or parent, a partner.  They can give you feedback in a way that is not influenced by their history with you.   They may choose to share their responses to the issues you may be facing in your life. You will most probably find out that they have faced something similar themselves. You are not alone in your experience.

A therapy group can be an opportunity to gain support, to explore yourself and your relationships, to have a shared experience of connectedness.  There are different types of therapy groups and different configurations. Some meet regularly, often fortnightly or weekly for a couple of hours or so.  Some groups meet a three or four times a year for longer. Others meet as a one off for a weekend or longer.

As a therapist who runs a variety of different groups, I am often struck by the potency of the group experience for people.  Taking the step to join a therapy  group, to share intimate moments from your life can be a big decision for some people, one that I think reaps its rewards. Add to this of course, is the fact that I like running groups. I enjoy the interaction, the sharing and contact I see between people, the willingness to be open and support each other. I like the fact we nearly always find something to laugh about together. We enjoy ourselves and have some fun too.

I read recently that we are born into relationship – it seems to me that engaging in therapy with others is a natural way to learn about ourselves through relationship.

Information on my next therapy group can be found at Group Therapy

Integration

Exercise Routine

I exercise every morning for about an hour, and sometimes again in the evening for another half an hour. Weekends I do more, may be three or four hours on one of the days.  What ever the weather, this is my exercise routine, its easy, I rarely miss a day and its nearly always enjoyable.

My exercise is walking my dogs, possibly not the most aerobic exercise, however with a big hill to walk up at a brisk pace and supplemented by a bigger walk at the weekends, it suffices.  What’s most significant about this is that it is what I do,  I get up, get dressed and take the dogs out for an hour.  This is what integration means for me, that we make a change that becomes an integral part of our lives.

Making Successful Changes

I have found that the way to making successful changes in my life style to be more healthy or peaceful is to integrate those changes into my existing routines. Whether it’s exercise, diet, relaxation  or some other form of personal or emotional development.  My personal experience of all of these is that if it’s something I have to make a special effort to do, like packing up a bag of kit to go to the gym three times a week, I may begin with enthusiasm but before long that wanes and I’m back in the old routine.  Unless I can integrate the change it probably will not happen. So, here’s my top five tips for integration of a healthy lifestyle.

Top Five Tips

1) Whatever the change – enjoy it!  For example, if it’s exercise choose something that you enjoy  and which gives you pleasure.

2) Fit into your lifestyle.  Something  that is not congruent with how you live your life may not last, perhaps you could you cycle or walk to work a few days a week, or rather than sitting in your office at lunch can you go for a swim.

3) Be happy with small changes.  Little acorns and all that!  Sometimes when we decide to make a personal change we set ourselves unrealistic goals – be realistic in your goals and what you are asking of yourself.

4) Enlist support.  Talk to your friends, family  and supporters.  Get them involved.   It may be that you want to be able to call them to celebrate a success.

5) Allow time for integration to happen.  We begin by having to bring what we want to do differently into conscious awareness, it takes time for us to shift from being conscious of doing something differently to doing it automatically – without thinking. Making something part of your life will take time.

I’d like to hear about some of the changes you may have made that are now integrated into you life. How did you make this happen?

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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