Foundations of Relationships 

Foundations of Relationships 

By Zarina Seksembaeva, Psychologist

Have you ever found yourself asking the question: what are the factors that attract me to a potential lover or friend? An interesting question, given on any day we are likely to meet many people… However, we will form lasting relationships with only a select few. Hence, this piece will explore the foundations on which we form friendships or romantic relationship.

Proximity

Proximity is a key factor that comes into play when developing a new relationship, whether it is a friendship or a romantic union. Specifically, the distance between people is a strong predictor of whether two people will form a connection. Hence, where a person lives, studies or works determines who they have contact with and are likely to form a bond with. Therefore, proximity is essential to forming an attachment with a potential partner.

Familiarity

The foundation of developing a stronger attraction to people we see more frequently is familiarly. Evidence suggests that, short, yet regular contact with someone is adequate to make us like them. For example, when we become more familiar with another person, they become more predictable, which in turn, feels reassuring. Familiarity is reassuring because we like to have a sound knowledge of our environment. Thus, when we feel a form of predictability in people we interact with, we begin to feel more comfortable and relaxed. Additionally, with familiarly we begin to observe our partner as more similar to ourselves, which is a vital ingredient for attraction.

Similarity

‘Like attracts like’ is a familiar saying that relates to recent research, which indicates that lasting relationships are based on a foundation of consistent attitudes, values and personality traits. It is not surprising that the importance of ‘similarity’ in interpersonal relationships is supported by evidence, as this principle plays a role in the sustainability of relationships. For example, take the Matching Hypothesis. The Matching Hypothesis states that individuals tend to establish both romantic relationships and friendships with others of similar levels of physical attractiveness to themselves.

You may find yourself asking, what about the common phrase ‘Opposites attract’. On the whole, research indicates that there is little support for this argument, as a pairing between opposites may not lead to a long-term bond, especially among romantic couples. Therefore, it is seen as ‘safer’ to connect with people who are similar to us. Joining with someone who is similar to ourselves, gives us the experience of harmony, as we can relax and enjoy the company of our partner, while making the prediction that future contact will also be enjoyable and free from conflict.

Now that you have deliberated how factors, such as proximity, familiarity and similarity are significant in the development of relationships, it is time to consider some tips that may be important to the foundation and continuation of interpersonal relationships.

Tip 1: Create a safe environment with an emphasis on trust

In any relationships trust is the key ingredient and if we are talking about the foundation of a relationship, trust is something that allows the relationship to form and continue. In any relationship one needs to know that their partner will be faithful, and will always try to consider their needs, as well as their own.

Tip 2: Focus on respecting your partner

Respect is another key ingredient that is vital in the foundation and continuation of a relationship. Respect can mean a variety of things to different people but within a relationship respect might look a little like this:

  • Respecting each other’s right to be an individual
  • Following the “golden rule”- treat others the way you would like to be treated
  • There is no room in a healthy relationship for control, ownership, bullying or violence.

Tip 3: Laugh together

Have you heard of the saying laughter is the best medicine? Well did you know that laughter can even be used as a form of therapy? Not surprisingly, laughter has such a helpful effect on us.

Within a relationship, laughter is one way of expressing to your significant other that you enjoy spending time together. When two people laugh together, they feel positive about the time they spend together and can grow closer.

 So try out an experiment and see what would happen if you make your partner laugh at least once a day…………

Tip 4: Affection

Understanding differences in the love language within your relationship is important in order to improve and sustain interactions. Love language, what is that you ask?

Love language is the way partners communicate and recognise love, so it can be critical within a relationship to figure out exactly what your partners love language is.

The 5 different love languages are as follows:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Receiving gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical touch

Majority of individuals would have one or two major love languages. So it’s important to figure what your partners’ language is telling you.

 Tip 5 Communication

In any relationship communication is something that occurs on a daily basis. However, talking about good communication within a relationship, a good partner is an active listener as well as a participant in any interaction. In a relationship, if you don’t express your feelings or concerns they will often build up and could cause resentment. Research has shown relationships that work well include couples that talk openly about everything. Being able to have open and honest discussions, even if, sometimes, those discussions might be a bit painful, only improves the basic building blocks of a relationship.

In summary, any relationship needs friendship and kindness. A healthy relationship might look different for everyone but in essence your partner should be the one person that you always know you can go to with any problem that you have, however insignificant you might think it might seem.

 

What are relationships?

What are relationships?

by Zarina Seksembaeva, Psychologist.

Part of being a human being involves interactions with others or so called relationships, explicitly humans are one of the most social beings on the planet and place a lot of emphasis on relationships. Evidence of this can be found going back thousands of years from early cave men drawings to scripture of poetry and to todays’ music and bestselling novels. But what does all of this mean for the overall human experience?

Relationships, in their many forms, make up a huge part of our everyday practices, consequently it can be concluded that relationships contribute to how we feel daily as well as in the long run. If we review the most popular literature today, we can establish that our happiness and misery result from one form of a relationship or another. Whether it’s fulfilment at work, contentment with friendships or satisfaction in personal and family life, our emotions are largely based on these interactions and relationships.

In 1977, Klinger posted a question, “What makes life meaningful?” the answer, not surprisingly, was largely made up of relationships, 89% to be exact. So why are relationships so important?  Relationships make up the human experience as they contribute to our most positive and potentially negative involvements. On the affirmative side, relationships are a great foundation for well-being and life satisfaction and if we are stable within our relationships we are believed to have good physical and mental health. On the opposite side, poor relationships can contribute to a number of stressors and the lack of connections can make one feel isolated and alone. So while relationships can be difficult and place us through emotional turmoil, we need them to experience enrichment in our lives.

So what is a relationship? The term is so broad, that it is often very hard to define due to the large variety of potential relationships, e.g. those with family, workmates, neighbours, intimate partners, teachers, and doctors.

Kelley et al., (1983) stated that relationships exist to the extent that two people put forth strong, frequent and diverse effects on one another over a prolonged period of time. Accordingly, it can be settled that most relationships include the following three aspects: interdependence, need fulfilment and emotional attachment.

Relationships occur in the context of daily life, and although it’s easy to think of relationships based purely on emotions and feelings, it is the everyday interactions and experiences that are the building blocks that drive the formation of a relationship.

 

 

Relationships within the field of Psychology

Since relationships play a vital role in our lives its not surprising that the field of psychology has had a major interest in this topic. As relationships impact behaviour, every branch of psychology has investigated and placed emphasis on the acquisition of relationships. After completing a literature review, the main theoretical perspectives from which relationships are unpacked can be categorised into three main, non-exclusive categories, reinforcement theories, evolutionary psychology and attachment theory.

Reinforcement theories

This theory proposes that individuals act in a way that is gratifying to them. Specifically, according to this perspective people commence and continue in relationships that produce positive products but once the relationship starts leaning towards the negative aspects then these relationships are unlikely to continue.

Evolutionary psychology

This branch of psychology believes that human behaviours are guided by an evolved biological need. Thus as humans are social animals, group living improves chances of survival and procreation. Accordingly, humans have evolved the need to form relationships, as a survival mechanism.

Attachment theory

This theory places emphasis on the power our early experiences of relationships have on our ability to engage in fulfilling relationships later in life. According to attachment theory, the parent-child relationship significantly determines what an individual comes to expect from other relationships and human interactions later in life.

Now what: Looking at the different areas within psychology, it can be summed up that no matter the perspective we take, as humans we have an innate drive to develop and maintain solid and consistent interpersonal relationships. Thus human beings, no matter the age, tend to seek the company of others to try and create lasting and significant connections. Why do we have this need to affiliate?

 

Hill (1987) suggested that the answer to this question is simple and can be summed up in four points.

Point one: To attain affirmative stimulus

Humans fundamentally appreciate being surrounded by others and whether it’s seeing friends or meeting new people, majority of the time we tend to get a positive experience from these interactions.

Point two: Emotional support

As human beings we are lucky enough to be able to experience, understand and feel a number of different emotions. However at times these emotions can become too much for us to figure out or hold on our own, and in those challenging situations, we tend to seek out support from others. Whether it is to obtain guidance or reduce our anxiety, having the ability to rely on someone for a sympathetic ear might assist us in making a decision.

Point three: Group appraisal

In some circumstances humans have a need to compare themselves with others and affiliation (assimilation into a group) offers the resources to do this. Buunk and Van Yperen (1991) found that individuals who are uncertain about their relationship, particularly if they are unhappy, like to discuss this with others who are in an alike circumstance. Thus people want to compare their own emotional state and responses with others in a similar situation especially when thrown into an unfamiliar context or experience.

Point four: To gain attention

This point may come across as a little controversial, but there are times in everyday human interactions where we seek the company of others to gain one form of attention or another, such as approval or praise.

As individuals we like to feel valued and affiliation can provide that for us.

 

Although the above points make sense, when we think about formations of a relationship, a number of factors come into play when determining which point drives our behaviour.

 

Situational factors in relationships

 

Our need to connect varies across circumstances; there are times when we want to be with others and times when we would prefer to be alone. Fox (1980) concluded that majority of individuals prefer to be surrounded by others during gratifying situations as well as frightening ones.

Based on this conclusion, as humans we like to be surrounded by others when we want to enjoy ourselves such as going out to the movies, dinner, and sporting matches. Additionally, if we are feeling scared or uncomfortable, we also seek out company from others, e.g. “I don’t feel safe going into that house alone, what if it’s haunted?”

On the other hand, there are times in which we avoid human contact. Fox found that as humans we prefer to be alone under specific unpleasant situations such as when we are nervous and tense before a critical event or have just failed a task, and under conditions that require concentration, such as when we need to revise for an important assessment.

Have a think about situations in which you prefer to be alone and those in which you prefer to be in company. Does it support Fox’s findings?

 

Personality factors in relationships

 

The emphasis placed on connections is different from one individual to the next. These differences are essentiality inbuilt in the characteristics and behaviours of specific individuals. For example some individuals, when it comes to interactions use ‘nonverbal behaviours’: they smile, make eye contact, orientate their body towards the other person and tend to have a higher need for affiliation and or relationships. Those individuals pay more attention when interacting with others, appear to be more comfortable and generally appear to be relaxed.

 

So what does all of this information suggest? In summary this piece described that people have a basic need to belong and to form a variety of relationships across the human lifespan, starting from early development to adulthood. Relationships play a vital role in our everyday interactions and contribute largely to how we feel on any given day. Hence it is important to keep in mind what role different relationships play in our lives.

 

Understanding anxiety

by Heidi Rogers, counsellor, psychotherapist.

Anxiety 101

Understanding exactly how your brain works is fundamental to unlocking your anxiety, trauma and stress responses. This includes everything from PTSD and panic attacks, to phobias and mild anxiety that we may feel from time to time.

So how does your brain work? In a nutshell, sensory input arrives at part of your brain called the thalamus, which relays the information to your amygdala (aka: ‘lizard brain’) and your cortex (aka: ‘monkey brain’).

The History of Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal, helpful emotion that is designed to keep us safe. It helps us take notice, become aware, and tune in: something doesn’t feel safe – emotionally or physically, and our brain is trying to let us know.

Going to do a public speaking event and feel butterflies in your stomach / tightness in your chest? That’s because historically, millions of years ago, if you were surrounded by 100 pairs of eyeballs looking at JUST you, that would mean you were about to be dinner!

Increased heart rate, muscle tightness and thoughts like “Get outta here! Don’t do it!” is your brain’s way of telling you that you’re walking into an unsafe situation. It starts preparing to fight, or run away. Millions of years ago being stared at by 100 eyeballs meant death, but in the 21st century that isn’t the case. Our brain is still operating on some old wiring and old lessons learnt.

Our anxiety becomes unhelpful when it controls us, dictates our life and prohibits us from doing the things we want: public speaking, flying, driving, or attending social functions, for example.

Understanding the core of anxiety – fear and safety – is crucial in disconnecting the power it has over our lives. But first we have to understand exactly what we’re feeling afraid or unsafe about, then we can start to unpack our anxiety and bring a sense of safety back into the body.

Fight, flight, freeze

Anxiety can be the precursor to the ‘fight / flight / freeze’ response, which is the most basic way our brain knows of how to keep us safe. But it can sometimes operate in subtle ways.

This response is why we sometimes feel like “I really need to get out of here” when our anxiety peaks. It can also make us feel paralyzed when conflict, anxiety, trauma or overwhelming emotions arise, or drive us to lash out physically or verbally in response to those stimuli.

Understanding the brain’s relationship with anxiety: The amygdala and the cortex

The amygdala is a small almond-shaped part of the brain that drives the ‘fight / flight / freeze’ response and can generate a lot of physical responses – dilated pupils, increased heart rate, breathing capacity, tightness in muscles etc. It is responsible for getting you moving if danger strikes.

It is named for its almond shape – the direct translation of ‘amygdala’ in Greek is actually “almonds”. If you find the intersection of the points that run through your eye and through your ear, that’s where the amygdala sits.

It’s important to know what it’s called and where it sits, because part of learning how to master anxiety is to understand that it’s not “me” or “my fault”, nor is it a lack of sheer “willpower” keeping you from conquering it.

When people say “you’re not even trying to improve your anxiety”, it’s sort of like saying “you should spend more effort on using your liver or kidneys better.”

It’s not that simple and having anxiety is not a choice. Why would anyone actively choose to feel scared, worried or have a racing heart all the time?

This explains why in some instances medication can be incredibly helpful in managing anxiety, particularly while you learn other skills in therapy and begin discovering the areas where you DO have a choice and can regain control.

The cortex is the thinking part of the brain, where our analysis and reasoning takes place. It’s where we obsessively ruminate about things, worry, or analyse conversations over and over. It is the ‘logical’ part of the brain that can look at things rationally and less emotionally.

The cortex may be the more evolved or the ‘monkey’ part of the brain, but that doesn’t mean it’s in charge. When big stress or anxiety hits, the amygdala runs the show because its purpose is to keep us safe.

It makes sense if you think about it. Where safety is concerned, we can’t afford to take the time to process things or analyse them rationally.

Touch a pan on the stove that you didn’t realize was hot, or see a stick on the ground and jump back because you thought it was a snake — those actions are not guided by the cortex. If the cortex was in charge we would burn our hand or get bitten by a snake because the reaction time would be too long for the cortex to process the decision.

The only problem? Your amygdala is in the driver’s seat initially when anxiety hits….and NOT your cortex! The amygdala can easily hijack your brain because it’s centrally located, and has more connections throughout the brain than your cortex.

When you jump out of the way to avoid being hit by a car, or flinch when something startles you, that response is your amygdala in action. It’s where fear lives and specific memories and data lie (the smells, sounds and sights that we experienced during a stressful situation).

Why is this important to know?

The amygdala helps you avoid danger, but acts without consulting you (tapping into the cortex)! Which is why having anxiety is not a choice. It is the brain responding to stimuli. The choice part comes into it when we start to choose how we calm the amygdala and re-train our brain. THIS is the secret to destroying the power of anxiety.

The ‘untreated’ anxiety

Here is the kicker: the number one issue is that most people only treat cortex-based anxiety and ignore amygdala-based anxiety.

For example, during a panic attack, people will only try to talk themselves out of it, or reassure themselves through thoughts (a function of the cortex).

Or when someone is triggered by a stressful memory or flashback, or feels a panic attack coming, they might try to remind themselves they are safe and not in danger (the cortex at work again).

However, the amygdala is driving the panic attack, not the cortex. So ‘speaking’ to the amygdala in cortex language (reasoned thought) is not quickly effective.

We need to calm our amygdala with language it understands. Being our lizard brain means it needs super basic instruction and techniques to achieve this goal.

After you calm the amygdala, then you can use cortex-based strategies like re-framing your thoughts, asking yourself if your anxious thoughts are based on fear or truth, or make a list of alternative thoughts that can quiet the automatic thoughts.

So… how do you calm your amygdala?

In short, belly-breathing (not “deep” breathing! Google: diaphragmatic breathing to find out how), is the quickest option. Once you’ve calmed your amygdala, then you can bring the cortex in and begin telling yourself calming thoughts of reassurance.

But this is the key: you must FIRST do the belly-breathing to calm amygdala down.

Once amygdala is calmer, the cortex will come back online and you can begin rationalising and using logical thought to diffuse the situation.

My favourite ways to re-train the amygdala, navigate a panic attack (and / or lessen the frequency of anxiety) are via techniques that reduce amygdala activation.

  1.     Belly breathing –  breathe slowly and push out your belly button on the inhale. Count the inhale to five, then exhale slowly while counting to five again. While exhaling, try to push your belly button out. It may seem weird and kind of simple, but by opening up your diaphragm a message is sent directly to your amygdala that everything is ok and your body is relaxed. We don’t breathe nice, slow relaxed breaths if we are being chased by a lion, right? This slow and deliberate breathing calms the amygdala into thinking it is relaxed and happy. This technique is the quickest way to calm your body during a panic attack and a non-negotiable first step to stopping the panic.
  2.     Progressive muscle relaxation (‘tighten then release’) – start by tensing your toes, and then releasing. Slowly work your way up your body, tightening your muscles and then relaxing. Make sure to tighten your jaw and face muscles and release them. This should take about 15 minutes to slowly work through your entire body.
  3.     Tension audit – ask yourself where you’re feeling tense and complete a slow scan of your body. Identify any trouble areas and focus on relaxing them, one-by-one.
  4.     Imagery / visualisation – use your mind to visualize a cool and relaxing place. Some common visualisations that help include the beach, forest, space, mountains – anywhere that brings a feeling of calm. Close your eyes and explore your imagined environment, taking in the sights, sounds, smells and general feeling to enhance your sense of wellbeing.
  5.     Meditation – this is a phenomenal practice that has many short-term and long-term benefits. Meditation won’t do much for you during a panic attack because it utilizes the cortex. But the purpose of meditation practice is that it structurally changes your amygdala over time, and reduces the activation that your amygdala experiences during stressful situations.

When learning how to meditate it’s encouraging to know that nobody starts out ‘good’ at it initially. It takes practice to learn how to quiet the mind!

My Favourite Resources on Anxiety and Meditation:

Books:

http://amzn.to/2pqh319

Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic and Worry by Catherine M Pittman

http://amzn.to/2HI4W6N

Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks by Barry McDonagh

http://amzn.to/2DAEs4X

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne

Apps:

Insight Timer (free)  https://apple.co/2DBndR3

Smiling Mind (free)  https://apple.co/2FUoDrL

Reach Out Worry Time (free) https://apple.co/2GEJh0d

Anxiety Release based on EMDR ($7.99) https://apple.co/2pm8QL6

Online:

My favourite person for guided meditations is Tara Brach: https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditations/.

YouTube:

Just type in “guided meditation”

 

 

Why Do I Need to Have Emotions?

Why Do I Need to Have Emotions?

By Heidi Rogers, Psychotherapist and counsellor

We all feel emotion. It’s part of what makes us human.

Anger, sadness, fear, happiness and love are all emotions that almost every human has felt at some time of their lives.

But what are emotions, how do they differ from feelings, and why are they important?

Understanding the difference between emotions and feelings

While feelings and emotions are two sides of the same coin, they are distinctly different.

Understanding this can help you change unhealthy behaviours and find more happiness and peace in your life.

Dr.Sarah Mckay, neuroscientist and author of the Your Brain Health blog describes it in this way: “Emotions play out in the theatre of the body. Feelings play out in the theatre of the mind.”

  • Emotions like fear, hatred and love trigger physical sensations in your body.
  • Feelings represent the mental experiences of your emotions, which your mind assigns meaning.

While emotions are temporary, the feelings they evoke may endure and accumulate over a lifetime.

It can be a perpetual cycle if no action is taken. Emotions cause unconscious feelings, which trigger new emotions that go on to produce more negative feelings… It can be quite exhausting!

Feelings are subjective

While basic emotions are instinctual and universal to us all, the significance they take on are shaped by an individual’s personality and experiences, which obviously fluctuates between individuals

It’s important to understand how emotions and feelings function within us because they play a key role in how we engage with others, and they are a powerful influence behind many of your actions (helpful and unhelpful).

This understanding is the key to change because many of us react to our emotions and feelings based on out-dated, fear-based perceptions.

When you become more self-aware, and can begin to identify your emotions and feelings, you can determine their origin, acknowledge their presence, and then take control back in navigating your life. Increasing our understanding of our emotions is the key to taking back the power over how we feel. We can then begin to consciously change our lives and behaviour, because we turn off ‘auto pilot’ and increase our sense of autonomy and purpose.

“Good” vs. “bad” emotions, and their purpose

We’re taught from a young age to think that painful, “negative” emotions like sadness, fear, anger or shame should be avoided, numbed, and removed from our consciousness. “Positive” emotions like happiness and love are encouraged and praised. How many times have we heard our parents, other parents or ourselves say something like “go to your room until you have changed your attitude and can be nice to everyone.” Or often I hear parents saying “stop crying” or “you don’t need to cry about this, ok?” to their children. The uncomfortable emotions we feel are sometimes uncomfortable for those around us too, and so they try to settle their own feelings of agitation by telling others to contain their negative feelings.

Evolutionary, it makes sense, right? Human beings gravitate towards pleasure and things that bring us joy, and we avoid and detest when we feel uncomfortable or experience pain. Emotions are a textbook example of this and I often hear clients say, “ugh! I hate feeling this way!”

The tricky bit is that when we avoid the negative emotions, or try to numb them, that is when we disconnect from their inherent purpose and miss the value that they can bring us.

Emotions exist because they serve the vital function of attaching ourselves to what really matters and what we deem internally valuable. Belonging and safety are two of the main feelings that humans are hardwired to require for survival. Research has shown us that our emotions are what helped our ancestors communicate their needs, and therefore were vital for survival.

Our emotions are hardwired into our bodies and are the quickest method to connect with others and ourselves. Smiling or crying evokes universal responses, despite language barriers or cultural differences.

Why do we have emotions?

The role of emotion is similar to many other purposes within our bodies: for survival. It is emotions that kick off our responses and reactions to things, and can enable t body to take action if required. Our emotions may not always be logical, but to our primitive brains, it’s all about survival –at any costs – and so pursuing safety is always our brain’s #1 agenda.

For example, if you are walking down a busy city street, and see something suddenly slither across the ground, your brain will respond with the emotion of fear, which will cause you to jump away. Logically, we know that it is unlikely to see a snake on a busy city street, but your emotions and brain will jump into gear, bypass all rational thought, just to keep you safe. When you look closer, you realize it is just a paper bag, and your emotions may turn to happiness at the relief, or maybe even embarrassment that you jumped 3 feet away to avoid the deadly paper bag!

Think about those startling experiences we all have had: a close call near accident, a loud noise, or aggressive behaviour from another person.

What happened within your body?

Your body would have bypassed any sort of ‘thinking’ and would have gone on auto-pilot, with your heart rate increasing, quickness of breath, sweating, or muscles tensing. All of this is designed by your brain in order to activate your ability to protect yourself. Most commonly known as the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response, our bodies are guided by our emotions for what action to take. The emotion of anger can make our brain think we are under attack, sadness communicates loss, and feeling love or showing love makes our body feel safe.

Emotions spur external communication

The secondary role of emotions is to let others know how we are feeling and how that impacts group safety. Facial expressions and body language can speak volumes, across race, religion, culture and dialect. Our prehistoric ancestors needed ways to communicate “careful! We are in danger of being attacked!” by looking afraid or shaking. Or by smiling and communicating “things are good! We are safe.”

Emotions encourage inflection

Finally, emotions serve a valuable purpose in self-communication, and in helping us discern our values and goals. Our emotions can tell us what we need, or what is unhelpful. Knowing those things can help guide our life and alter our choices.

By avoiding our emotions, or numbing them, we prevent ourselves from accessing valuable information on what we need. And if we are unclear about what we need, it is harder to make decisions. Learning to listen to what our emotions are trying to tell us (as in the table above) can help guide us towards what’s important in our lives.

The old adage, ‘what we resist, persists’ rings true in this regard. Resisting, rejecting or judging our emotions is unhelpful and usually futile. We may be able to ignore or avoid our emotions for a period of time, but eventually they creep in and find a way to be heard.

It is easier to accept them, acknowledge them, and give them permission to be present. Exercising self-compassion and empathy towards ourselves is much more effective in accomplishing change or personal growth. Practicing mindfulness, and naming the emotions can be helpful in recognising what we are feeling.

“The way that guy just spoke to me is making me feel really angry. It’s interesting that I am interpreting his words in a way that makes me feel anger.” But beyond that, get curious. Ask yourself “why is this making me angry? What is that about? I wonder what his words are triggering within me?”

We have the ability to change ourselves and create the lives we want. By getting curious about your emotions, and learning how to understand them, long-lasting change is possible. Research has shown us that neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to alter functions after repetitive changes to thoughts and behaviours) is powerful and can lead to remarkable changes. Learning about our emotions is the first step to establishing control of our lives.

 

 

 

Caring for your Social Self

Looking after your Social Self

Engaging in Meaningful Activities and Connecting With Other People

written by Jane Anastasios, Psychologist

Local Councils sometimes get a bad rap for misspending our rates, allowing inappropriate developments, and not always acting or focusing on the needs of the local community. Without entering a potential political minefield, I was greatly heartened to read our local council ‘brag sheet’ newsletter, that amongst other things, listed a whole host of free local community events and activities that they had arranged or were subsidizing – concerts, art shows, classes at sporting centres, book clubs at the library, talks by experts in different fields, gardening clubs, youth groups, computer classes.  One program that stood out to me was an initiative where they link volunteers in our community to check up on and visit other members of the community (elderly, disabled, socially isolated) on a regular basis.   It seemed to me that both the volunteers and the people being visited were on a winner here.  A sense of meaningful participation and contribution, connecting and forming relationships with people, and being a member of their broader community.  This struck a chord with me as the research into people’s psychological wellbeing and life satisfaction clearly highlights the importance of connecting with others, having a sense of belonging, and participating in meaningful and enjoyable activities as factors that lead to people feeling good about themselves and their lives.   In this article we will focus in on engaging in meaningful activities that promote enjoyment, a sense of purpose, and connection as a way of looking after your ‘social’ self and enhancing your psychological wellbeing.

What the research says about engaging in enjoyable activities and psychological wellbeing.

Positive psychology researchers have all noticed a clear link between life satisfaction, improved psychological wellbeing and people who regularly engage in activities they enjoy.  These are activities that are pursued just for the sake of it- for pure pleasure and enjoyment.   They also note that whilst doing things just for fun and enjoyment are important, they are not the whole story (other things like contributing and connecting are stronger factors), but certainly worth doing.  Engaging in things for fun and enjoyment help with feelings of happiness and positive mood, and can reduce stress in the moment (and when done regularly, over the longer term).

Some things you might like to consider:

Regular participation seems key – find ways to build enjoyable activities into your day to day life, rather than just waiting for that elusive day or holiday or retirement when you will have time to do this

You can choose things to do on your own or with others

It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money – some things are free.

It doesn’t have to take a whole lot of time.

Ask yourself what are the things you like to do just for the sheer fun or enjoyment of it.   What seems important is that these activities are enjoyable to you, and you are not just doing it to please someone else, or doing it because you think other people would approve of it.  It is your life so make sure you are spending some of your time on things that are important and fun to you.

Not sure what you like doing.  Here are some ideas of things that some other people have tried out and enjoyed:

What the research says about engaging in activities that are purposeful and psychological wellbeing

As well as doing things just for fun, engaging in activities that bring a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and are meaningful to you are important for our wellbeing.  Finding activities, whether it be through work, volunteering, studying, our hobbies, leisure pursuits, helping your household run smoothly, looking after your family, seem to help people feel more fulfilled.  Taking the time to work out the kinds of activities that are important to you, bring you as sense of accomplishment, purpose, and engage you, is one way of taking better care of yourself and your wellbeing.  Positive psychology researchers have found that when people find or create purpose in activities they tend to report high levels of life satisfaction.  Oftentimes these activities involve sheer hard work (as opposed to than those activities we simply do for fun) and can be challenging, but when they are linked to something that is personally meaningful, or that you value, or that plays to your strengths, people seem to find these kinds of activities engaging and satisfying and in turn this leads to improved psychological wellbeing. People who say that at times they become so deeply immersed or involved in some of their activities (what psychologists refer to as ‘flow’) also report high levels of life satisfaction.

Some things you might like to consider:

Take the time to work out what kinds of activities deeply engage you – for each of us it will be different

Sometimes our jobs or some aspects of them can provide this sense of purpose and/or level of deep engagement.  Allowing ourselves to focus some of our time on these parts of our work (as well as doing the other less enticing parts) seems like a good idea.

Purposeful and engaging activities where you experience a sense of accomplishment are not just about your job and might involve other roles or parts of your life (eg. building a cubby house for your nieces, helping to run a school fete, volunteering your time to help new immigrants to learn English; teaching your child how to ride a bike; cooking a new recipe; a workout at the gym, nutting out a difficult knitting pattern, weeding and planting a garden bed)

Take the time to work out your skills and strengths and things where you like being challenged

If you are having trouble finding something that you currently do that brings you a sense of purpose, engagement, or accomplishment, remember some past activities you have done before when you experienced this – What was it about this activity that gave you this feeling (was it helping other people, was it a sense of learning something new, was it putting together a bunch of new ideas, was it creating something)

What are the things you value in life (e.g. being kind, being a team player, being organized, learning, teaching, creating, being resourceful; bringing people together)

What the research says about connecting with others and psychological wellbeing

Even though this article and the previous 3 are focused on self-care- the things that you can do to look after yourself- the “self” in self-care doesn’t mean you have to do this on your own.  In fact, the research is pretty clear that people tend to do best when we have meaningful, enjoyable, and/or supportive connections with others.  When we are struggling seeking help from others whether it be a friend, family member, or professional (e.g., a GP, counsellor, social worker, teacher), seems to lessen the load.  When we seek out opportunities to connect with other people this can help us feel less isolated and alone and can also potentially be a source of enjoyment.  Psychologists interested in resilience have found that when people have a good sense of belonging and feel connected to a community, and have someone they can go to for support (family, friend, professional) they tend to cope relatively well with the inevitable difficulties in life.  Researchers are also finding strong links between people’s wellbeing and the satisfaction they derive by getting involved in broader community concerns or contributing by helping others in need. I like the notion of interdependence as a way of understanding this.  We are individuals, who at times like being on our own and can rely on ourselves, yet also at times need others and enjoy our connections with others.

My work with children over the years has taught me a lot about the importance of connections and how it seems to work, from their point of view. What they tell me about how connections with others works, also seems equally apt for adults.  In a nutshell what children and young people tell me is that some people are there to help us in practical ways, some for fun, some for doing things with even if we don’t like them that much (like school work, making things, team sports), some to care for you or about you, some to teach you, some are for close friendships, and some just to hang out with (kind of friends but maybe not your best friend), some are just people you know cos you see them a lot (like the lady at your favourite bakery, the hairdresser), sometimes you have fights and make up (or not), sometimes you just don’t hit it off with some people, sometimes you might like people but not see them much, and our connections and relationships with people can change over time.

Some things you might like to consider:

 Look for opportunities to create new connections. Here’s a few ideas:

Go to your kid’s school social events or working bees

Join a sporting team, a walking group or similar interest

Join a book group, film club, chess club

Join a support group

Book in for some classes at your local adult learning centres

Talk to the other parents at the park where your kids play, rather than just scrolling through your phone.

Say a little more than hello to the person who serves you regularly at your coffee shop, supermarket, newsagent, the school crossing supervisor, the neighbour you often see but don’t know

Check out the local Men’s shed

Volunteer your time and skills – there are heaps of ways to contribute and connect. For more ideas about this try contacting your local Council or look up some ideas on the internet.

 We all have different comfort levels and skills when connecting with other people.  Some people have an easier time of connecting with others- they seem to thrive or be in their element; other people might like to connect with others, but struggle to be around large groups of people for too long, preferring smaller groups or one-on-one time; some people feel quite uncomfortable with this whole area but wish to connect with others.  If you struggle with shyness, social anxiety or if you’re not too confident with all of this, seek help from a psychologist who may be able to help with some skills and strategies.

 Strengthen existing connections and relationships.  This might be as simple as arranging more regular catch ups, inviting some people you have just met to attend an event with you, chatting with your work colleagues, sending an email to someone who lives further away and haven’t seen for a while – doesn’t have to be lengthy, just short and sweet is better than not at all. Bake a cake for a neighbour just because you feel like it, offer to pick up or drop off one of your kids’ school mates- sometimes it is actions and not words.

 Ask for help and seek support when you need it – there is usually someone who is keen and able to help in whatever way they can, especially when they know you need it and have some ideas about what they can do to help.   Whether it be help with building a new fence at home, picking up the kids from school when you are stuck at work, making people aware that you are sick at home and might need a bit of a hand, or if you are struggling emotionally you might need a kind listening ear.  And when someone you know could do with some help, do what you can even it is just a quick encouraging text or phone call.

Want to know a bit more about all of this:

For those of you of my vintage or earlier check out this link…Remember Norm and the Life Be in it campaign

https://youtu.be/N_QRyNu9Q3o

And a bit more on the serious, meaty, and research side, check out a Ted Talk “The new era of positive psychology” by Martin Seligman a prominent Positive Psychology Researcher talking a bit more about all of the ideas about engaging in activities and our psychological wellbeing.

Take care.

Self-Compassion one way of looking after your emotional wellbeing

SELFCARE   – Self-Compassion one way of looking after your emotional wellbeing

Written By Jane Anasatasios

Oh my gorgeous lovely neighbour.  She knocked on my door unannounced the other day only to be met with a somewhat frazzled, irritated and cursing version of me.  Before she could even say hello, off I launched: “ I can’t believe it, I’m such an idiot, of all days, my @%beep## computer has finally decided to stop co-operating, the damn space bar is jammed and the ‘a’ key thinks it is an ‘s’, it’s my own stupid fault I still haven’t gone to get it fixed after one of the kids spilt water on it before Christmas, [that’s a whole other story], and as usual I’ve stupidly left things to the last minute.  Of course I’m in the thick of writing a lecture that is proving to be bigger than Ben Hur. What was I thinking? I can’t do this. I may have bitten off a little more than I can chew with this one.  And I’ve got my parents coming over a bit later, the house is a mess as usual and I haven’t got any afternoon tea to feed them…What was I thinking?”. Having beaten myself up sufficiently and whipped myself into a right lather, I took a slight pause to draw breath …. “Oh, and how are you?”  She delightfully and gently chuckled: “One of those days, huh.  Glad to know you are human too. I just popped by to thank you. I finally decided to take up that redundancy package I talked to you about. Lucky for you, now that I have just a bit too much spare time on my hands, I have re-discovered my inner Nigella.  I’m just returning the cake tin I borrowed from you”.  I looked at her somewhat vacantly at first, then at the cake tin she was offering up to me, the cake tin, that in the throes of my rant, I had failed to notice, and in it was the most beautifully iced chocolate cake I’d ever laid eyes on.  My day was starting to look better already.

We have all had “one of those days”, sometimes they extend into weeks, months and even years.  It maybe the culmination of a series of seemingly minor stressful events (like computers that won’t co-operate when you really need them to) or being faced with big decisions like my neighbour’s redundancy and all that that entails, or sad news or awful circumstances and situations that you or someone you care deeply about has to endure (or possibly all of these things together).  We all experience sadness, disappointment, relationship difficulties, illness, loss, frustration, anger, rejection, anxiety, fear, self-doubt, and guilt. These are inescapable parts of being human, even though we do our best to navigate, dodge, outstep and even go to great lengths at times to avoid or outright ignore them and the whole host of emotions we experience when they do happen.  One of the other things about being human is our capacity to self-reflect and to attempt to make sense of what goes on for us and around us. This can be both a blessing (when we are able to do this in a calm and considered way) and a curse (when we are so derailed by overwhelming sadness or anger or worry that we just go over and over it in our heads, and none of our solutions seems ideal).   Thankfully we can also be quite adaptable when we need to adjust to changes or cope with difficulties, even though this may take time and hard work and be met by resistance (mostly our own).  In this article I would like to offer up a few ideas, research offerings, practices and strategies to consider as a way of taking care of yourself by acting more kindly towards yourself as you attend to your rich, sometimes complex and perplexing emotional world.  In essence the ideas below could be summed up in one simple sentence:   “BE KIND TO YOURSELF, YOU ARE ONLY HUMAN AFTER ALL”

Self Compassion & Emotional Wellbeing  

In recent years a whole new body of research has been emerging in the psychology field that focuses on the idea of self-compassion. The research is showing how when we are kind and gentle on ourselves rather than giving ourselves a hard time about our failings or trying to overly focus on changing (vs accepting) ourselves because of some perceived inadequacy or vulnerability, we seem to fair better psychologically.  A lack of self-compassion can take its toll on our physical and mental wellbeing and performance at work, home and in relationships.

Self-compassion involves being kind to yourself or gentle on yourself when you have mucked up, made a mistake, not done as you had hoped, failed at something, or acted in a way that you were not so proud of.  It is not self-pity or an opt out clause (which can also lead us to feel stuck) rather it is a particular way of viewing ourselves (warts and all) and the difficult circumstances we confront at times in a way that can help us to move through and navigate these difficulties. It encourages and allows us to accept responsibility for or own our actions and feelings, but doing so in a way that is non-blaming and non-punitive.  We can often be compassionate and kind to friends and family, even strangers, but are less familiar and comfortable with being compassionate to ourselves. Next time you are going through a tough time or think you have mucked up in some way, try asking yourself what you might say to a good friend in similar circumstances, or what they might say to you.

Self-compassion also refers to recognizing and accepting those events or circumstances that are not of our making or not in our orbit of control that can make us feel vulnerable and have considerable impact on us and how we feel.  The self-compassion researchers have found that being kind to ourselves by recognizing that we are human, that we all face adversity, and experience suffering (they call this common humanity), rather than berating ourselves or the world or pretending we are impervious to life, leads to improved psychological wellbeing by helping us to be more resilient and better able to cope with adversity.

Self-Compassion: Mindful Awareness & Emotional Awareness

Being more self-compassionate also involves an awareness of how we are feeling generally and in the moment.  Paying attention to our moment to moment internal and external experiences without judgment using mindfulness and self-compassion builds our flexibility, adaptability and tolerance to the inevitable challenges of being a human and in relationship with others.  It involves noticing and being aware of how we feel when we are either being overly-judgemental, critical and harsh about ourselves, our actions, our shortcomings, or when we attempt to avoid, repress or ignore our feelings.

 

Self- Compassion, Self-Talk and Emotional Wellbeing

Noticing the unkind and sometimes harsh and judgemental ways we talk to ourselves when things aren’t going so well or we’ve mucked up in some way can be helpful.  Speaking more kindly to ourselves, perhaps as we would to a friend dealing with similar struggles helps us to lighten up on ourselves, reducing our tendency for perfection and self-imposed high standards (eg.“I should…, I must..”). We sometimes expect so much of ourselves and we can fall into the trap of beating ourselves up when we fall short of our unrealistic expectations. Giving ourselves a break and extending compassion allows us to acknowledge with kindness that we are frustrated, angry, worried and that we are human (rather than “a stupid idiot who can’t do anything right”). The good news is that we can learn or re-learn ways to judge ourselves less harshly and change the way we talk to ourselves – we can challenge our thoughts and related self-talk.  This can then in turn help us to find or navigate towards a different and hopefully more helpful solution to our situation or emotional response. A psychologist can help you with this skill.

Self–Compassion: Self- Soothing and Calming ourselves

When we are experiencing difficult or strong emotions it helps if we can find some caring ways to soothe ourselves.  Being aware of a few things you can do to help you feel somewhat calmer in the moment when you are going through a difficult time or feeling strong emotions seems to help.  The trick seems to be working out what helps you best. Sometimes it is about a brief distraction and taking a break or pause from it momentarily, or riding it out, other times it is about directly dealing with it, processing it. Here are some ideas that other people have used that you might find helpful:

  • Focus on your Breathing
  • Relaxation exercises
  • Meditate
  • Go for a walk or run
  • Have a bath or shower
  • Cry
  • Listen to some music
  • Talk with a supportive friend, family member, work colleague, neighbour, GP or other helping professional either about how you are feeling or just simply spending some time with them to enjoy their company
  • Drawing, colouring in
  • Writing or journalling
  • Knitting, sewing
  • Do some housework
  • Cooking
  • Read a book, Watch a movie or TV show, Listen to a podcast
  • Eat a piece of chocolate cake that your neighbour made for you (okay maybe it was 2 pieces. Maybe not the whole cake cos then you might feel bad about that too – who am I to judge; and yes I know I have just contradicted everything I said in the last article about how healthy eating patterns can help improve our psychological wellbeing – I am only human afterall)

Self Compassion, Self Understanding, and our Relationships with others.

Being kind to ourselves by comforting ourselves as we struggle with difficult experiences can also enhance our relationships by helping us to learn more about our needs and preferences and face our flaws and limitations. When we learn more about ourselves we are in a better position to find ways to help others we care about or interact with to understand us.  When we understand ourselves in a compassionate way, it can also help us to feel a bit more willing to admit to and repair our mistakes – acknowledgement and warranted apologies can go a long way.  We can learn to move towards understanding our emotional reactions, learn to take time to reflect, rather than just launch out and react or over-react in the moment, and we can learn to find ways to respond to interpersonal difficulties and tricky situations with others.  We can learn to attend to and speak about our concerns, reactions, and needs in more thoughtful honest and direct ways with others, which seems a little easier when we are kind to ourselves and the other person in the process. A psychologist or relationship counsellor can help you sort and sift through some of this.

Want to know some more about Self Compassion:

Check out Kristin Neff’s (an expert on self-compassion) website www.selfcompassion.org.

And, no my computer is still not fixed. Here’s to being human, to chocolate cake, and to the good neighbours who bake these cakes – the subject of my next article. We will focus in on finding ways to look after our psychological wellbeing by connecting with supportive people and engaging in meaningful activities.   Take care.

 

 

SELF CARE – WAYS TO LOOK AFTER PHYSICAL WELL-BEING

SELF CARE – WAYS TO LOOK AFTER PHYSICAL WELL-BEING

(and how this is good for your psychological well-being)

13/2/18

written by Jane Anasatasios, Psychologist

It is pretty well established that looking after ourselves physically can have great benefits for our psychological and overall wellbeing.   We will take a look at four key areas or lifestyle factors: exercise, diet, sleep and relaxation that can affect our mental health. The good news is that there are certain behaviours and habits or practices that we can build into our daily lives that will help to enhance these 4 factors and improve our chances for physical psychological and general wellbeing.

Exercise and Psychological Wellbeing

Bottom line – regular exercise is linked to improved physical health.   We also know that there is a strong association between regular exercise and good mental health.  Regular exercising has been linked with assisting people with depression, anxiety, and managing stress.  There are a number of ways that regular exercise can help our psychological wellbeing:

  • boost your energy
  • build self-confidence and feelings of accomplishment
  • provide you with opportunities to socialize with others which is also linked to good mental health (e.g. team sport, walking with a friend, group classes, rock-climbing)
  • help you get better sleep
  • help reduce stress
  • provide a distraction you from your worries and negative thought patterns
  • boost creativity and productivity
  • give your mood a lift

This is what health experts suggest:

  • Aim to get 30 minutes of exercise each day
  • Consistency seems to be the key, but some exercise is better than no exercise
  • Having a goal and being clear about why exercise is important to you can help you to keep it up when you are not feeling up to it
  • Play to your strengths and do what you enjoy
  • Work out if you enjoy exercising alone or with others or a bit of both
  • Consult a GP before you start up if it’s been a while or if you have any health concerns or niggling injuries you need to take into consideration.
  • Look for opportunities if time is scarce. One of my friends decided that instead of watching her 2 daughters at Tae Kwando, she would sign up for an adult class herself at the same time.  A few years later, she now has a black belt and her kids are very proud of their mum.   Jump in the pool and do a few laps in the spare lane while your kids are having their lessons.  Meet a friend for a walk rather than a coffee.

More information and Resources:

Talk to your GP, an exercise physiologist (A GP can help you arrange this), Personal Trainer

Local Council and Community Health Centres often have free/low cost exercise options for people of all ages and physical abilities (eg; Walking groups, Swimming classes, Exercise classes, Yoga, Martial Arts)

 

https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/wellness/general-wellbeing

http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/exercise/exercise1/

Healthy Eating and Psychological Health:

Eating a healthy diet is well known to improve our physical well being.  Nutritionists recommend diets with lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and with few processed foods or added sugars.  Keeping well hydrated, and limiting alcohol intake is also important.

Some really interesting research has started to emerge that looks at people’s diet patterns and how this can affect their mood and general psychological wellbeing.  It is a growing area of study and it is still in its early days, but what they seem to be finding is that better quality diets are consistently associated with reduced depression risk.  On the flip side these studies are also showing that unhealthy dietary patterns are associated with increased depression and often anxiety. Some interesting findings are also emerging among quality of diet and other lifestyle factors, our immune system, gut-health, stress and our psychological health. There is also some research that has linked particular nutritional supplements with improved psychological health.

The other aspect of the relationship between diet and mental health is the impact of poor mental health on our dietary behaviours and eating habits. For example, when some people feel stressed or experience difficult and uncomfortable emotions they often seek comfort foods and/or tend to pay less attention to eating well – which of course then in turn affects how we feel and how well our body is functioning.  Changes in eating habits and appetite often accompany depression and anxiety.

A key message to take from all of this research is that building in a consistent healthy eating pattern seems to be related to good mental health as well as good physical health.

More information and Resources:

Talk to your GP or a dietician

http://foodandmoodcentre.com.au/diet-and-mental-health/

A psychologist can assist if you are struggling with patterns of eating that are not good for your well being (eg: eating disorders, weight management, emotional eating) or if you are experiencing changes in your eating patterns and appetite that you think might be linked to depression, anxiety, or other psychological difficulties.

Sleep and Psychological Well being

Most of us know what it’s like when we don’t have a good night’s sleep – lowered energy, we don’t function quite as well, we might feel a bit more irritable than usual, and our ability to concentrate and focus can be compromised.  When we experience ongoing difficulties with not getting enough quality sleep our psychological, physical and general well being tends to suffer.  Depression, anxiety and stress are often linked with changes in sleep patterns and quality.   Conversely the research seems to show that when are getting good quality sleep in a reasonably consistent way, we seem to function and feel a whole lot better.  Whilst each individual varies with the amount of sleep they need, on average an adult needs between 7-9 hours per night, kids and adolescents typically need more.

There are some things you can do to improve the chances of developing good sleep habits.

Here are some of the suggested guidelines:

  • Establish routines – same time for going to bed and waking up. The body has an internal clock and hormones that regulate our sleepiness and wakefulness – this body clock works best with routine.
  • Establish winding down routines over the course of the evening, allowing about half an hour of quiet relaxing activity just before bedtime
  • Don’t try to force sleep, it can take a while to drift off. Going to bed when you are starting to feel sleepy is a good idea.
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants for at least 4 hours before bed. Alcohol also affects sleeping.  Avoid a heavy meal too close to bedtime.
  • As a rule, exercise is good for sleep, but not just before going to bed. The best times are in the morning and before the evening meal.
  • Being out in the natural daylight during the day will improve sleep at night. This will help with your body clock and the melatonin levels in the body.
  • Keep the bedroom distraction free (ie lights off, phones and others devices off) and make sure your bed and bedroom are comfortable – not too cold or hot.

More information and resources

If you have persistent difficulties with sleeping (i.e. getting to sleep, waking up too early, sleeping too much, waking up tired and unrefreshed) check in with your GP or a psychologist

https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au

Relaxation & Stress Management Practices and Psychological Well being

 Learning ways to cope with the physiological effects of stress is a very important skill to learn and that can be one really good way of taking care of yourself psychologically.  When we are faced with a perceived stressful situation our bodies respond by activating the nervous system including releasing hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol to help you react quickly and get through the situation.  Typically, our breathing quickens, our heart rate speeds up and blood pressure rises, our mind becomes hyperalert, our immune system temporarily decreases- our body is geared up to act. This is also known as the fight or flight response, and is helpful when there is a threat or stressor. If the stress is ongoing and the physiological changes activated do not settle down this can lead to considerable psychological (irritability, anger, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, depression) and physical (headaches, fatigue, sleep problems, stomach problems) health problems.  Learning ways to help settle, calm or ‘deactivate’ the body from a stress response is really helpful.  This is where relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, mindfulness practices and yoga can come in handy.   The good news is that these are all skills that can be readily learnt and integrated quite easily into your everyday life.

More information and resources:

There are now thousands of podcasts, apps, CDs, DVDs, youtube videos, books etc available to walk you through some really helpful relaxation practices.  Ask a professional for their thoughts on which of these might be most helpful.

Meditation and yoga classes and now mindfulness mediation classes and courses are fairly easily found in most metropolitan areas – some courses are even offered online now too.

Psychologists, some GPs and other allied health professionals can help you learn relaxation and stress management skills, and mindfulness practices.

SO IN A NUTSHELL IT SEEMS THAT BUILDING IN SOME GOOD PRACTICES AND REGULAR HABITS OR ROUTINES AROUND EXERCISING, HEALTHY EATING, SLEEP, AND RELAXATION CAN ALL GO SOME WAY TO ENHANCING OUR PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL BEING.

Next time we will focus in on some more ways to take care of yourself by looking a bit closer at psychological and emotional self-care strategies.  Until then, take care.

Self Care- Looking After yourself

SELF CARE – LOOKING AFTER YOURSELF

Written by Jane Anastasios. Psychologist & Family Therapist

3/2/18

Some conversations we have with people stick with us.  Many years back, I was chatting with a colleague talking through my concerns about a close friend who was very unwell and had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I was wondering how I could be there for my friend and at the same time be attending to, let alone enjoying, the usual raft of things I had unwittingly managed to pile up on my plate (work, study, my new found love for yoga, social and family commitments).  At the end of our conversation she very gently said “Take care, take very good care of yourself”.  I immediately felt cared for, understood, and I also knew what I needed to do – such simple and wise words.

Sometimes we really need to take extra care of ourselves to cope with what life throws our way.  We need to look after ourselves and tend to our own needs, as we can quickly or ever so gradually end up exhausted, stressed out, overwhelmed, physically unwell, being grouchy with people, and not terribly happy, all stopping us from enjoying life and being available to those we care about.  And when we are tracking pretty well in life and haven’t had too much extra thrown our way, looking after ourselves can help us keep enjoying life, feel satisfied, be productive, and contribute in meaningful ways.

People often have pretty good ideas about what they need to do to take care of others or what others could do to look after themselves, and we even know what might be good for us. Yet we don’t always heed our own advice and put these very things into place in our own lives, especially when we need to the most. The New Year and other pivotal times (e.g. having kids, facing a crisis, being seriously injured) in our lives often lead us to reflect and consider what else we could be doing towards leading more fulfilling lives and/or looking after ourselves a whole lot better. I am tipping that for those of you who made New Year’s resolutions, that some aspects related to looking after yourself a little better probably made it onto your list (e.g.: exercising more, eating more healthily, learning a new skill, spending more time with friends and family, going out).    This series of brief articles on SELF-CARE offer up some ideas, information and research findings to ponder, as you take stock and consider the ways that you look after yourself.

 

What is Self-Care

Helping people to take steps towards improving their general well-being is an area central to a psychologist’s work.  We work with people as they take stock of their lives and the situations they find themselves in and help them to find ways to take care of themselves whilst contending with and coping with difficult life situations and circumstances. Taking care of yourself or self-care might best be thought of as a set of strategies or practices that people can use and actions they take on a fairly regular basis to improve, maintain or enhance their general, physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing.    Self-care is also an attitude toward yourself that you and your needs matter. It can help when dealing with stress and stop the cascade into burnout, with coping when struggling with anxiety and depression, and also contribute to and enhanced sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction

 Why Self Care Matters

There is truckload of psychological research and related literature that focuses on understanding the links among people’s wellbeing and life satisfaction and a number of practices and factors (physical, social, psychological and emotional) that can contribute to, enhance or hamper our wellbeing.  This research and information has found some interesting links that are worth considering when thinking about the value of self-care:

  • Looking after our physical (e.g. exercising, sleeping well) and mental health (e.g. meditation), engaging in enjoyable and meaningful activities, contributing to society through work and other purposeful activities, and connecting with other people have been linked to an enhanced sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction. (Genetics, biology and some other social and psychological factors such as personality and life events also come into play).
  • Many of these factors/areas are inter-related and can influence one another –it seems that if we make some small shifts and improvements in one area it can have a flow on effect to the other areas of our life and therefore to our overall wellbeing. The flip side is also often the case – when we neglect too many of these areas in an ongoing way, we tend to fair worse physically and/or psychologically.
  • Active engagement in self- care practices have been found to be helpful for people who have experienced anxiety, stress, depression, chronic pain, and some other psychological and mental health difficulties
  • When we are faced with stressful life events and situations the ways we go about coping seems to matter to our physical and mental health
  • Looking after ourselves by actively attending to some or all of these areas of our lives does not guarantee our wellbeing, life satisfaction, or improved quality of life, nor does it protect us from experiencing difficult times and circumstances in our lives but when these things do happen, we may be just a little bit better equipped to cope and deal with adversity and stressful situations when they inevitably arise.

Research aside, working out why looking after yourself matters to you, seems important. How and in what ways might self-care enhance your life and well-being?

What else you might like to consider when thinking about about self-care:

  • It is possible to learn and put into practice a range of self-care strategies and make some lifestyle changes, that can contribute to our wellbeing. Some are hard yakka and take patience and persistence, others more simple and a little easier to add into our lives. Making lasting changes can take time and effort.
  • Sometimes it is not about adding more things into our lives, but might instead involve making small changes to what is already or has already worked well, or it might mean taking out some things that are not working so well for us.
  • Sometimes making sweeping or even small changes is not the way to go, as tempting as it can be. Taking time to pause and consider if now is the right time is important – in my mind this is self-care, listening carefully to your needs and acting upon them accordingly.  It may be that you have other pressing things that need our attention and adding something extra into the mix just adds to the stress.  You might be better off holding off for a short spell until things subside a little.  If you are in doubt about this, talk it over with a professional.
  • If you are wanting to make some changes and find new or additional ways to take care of yourself, goal setting and planning can help. You may find it helpful to talk it over with your GP, a psychologist or other allied health care professional.
  • If you are already working with a psychologist or other mental healthcare professional, it would be worthwhile talking about self -care strategies and how they might be helpful to you.
  • This business of self-care and looking after yourself can all sound a bit on the serious side. Some of it is, and yet building in time, space and activities just for fun and pleasure is equally important. Leaving space for spontaneity or doing not much at all – allowing things to just unfold holds value too.
  • Self-care strategies whilst all share some core components will look very different for each of us, depending on who we are, what’s going on in our lives, what life stage we are at, and what our needs, preferences, strengths and limitations are. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is only one way or one set of strategies to use.  The ‘self’ in self-care is important to keep in mind.
  • The ‘self’ in self -care, doesn’t mean you are on your own in all of this. In fact, the research strongly suggests that connecting with others, having meaningful relationships and supportive people (friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues, professionals) in our our lives is very important to our wellbeing.  Spending time with people we like and asking for help from others when we need it are important self-care strategies.

 Want to know some more about all of this research:

http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/

https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/wellness/general-wellbeing

What’s Next:

In the following couple of blog articles we’ll take a look at some more specific strategies and techniques for you to consider. The focus is more on the practice or doing self-care.  To simplify things I have clustered these into three core and inter- related areas and will tackle each one in turn.

  • Physical Self Care Practices: (eg. sleep, healthy eating, exercise, stress management and ways to calm the body and mind)
  • Psychological Self Care Practices: (e.g. self -compassion, self-awareness, and understanding our emotions – finding ways to respond rather than be reactive)
  • Social Self Care Practices: (e.g.: engaging with people, activities, and society in ways that are meaningful, bring fulfilment, a sense of accomplishment and/or enjoyment)

Until next time, take care.

Celebrate Success- rewarding reaching your goal.

Celebrate Success- rewarding reaching your goal.

Written by Sarah Godfrey
Personal and professional development coach, Psychologist, Director Moving Mindsets  & Life Works When self help books

Goal setting is a thoughtful and challenging process and the journey to success can be long and difficult. Attainment through trial and error, personal deliberations and a whole lot of hard work deserves recognition. Even if only by yourself.

This is the fun part of setting goals. It is time to celebrate that you did it this time. You followed the strategies.

  • Identifying goals that aligned with your values and the important areas of your life. You used tools such as Vision boards and active questions to focus your goals and get a future image of what to expect.
  • You applied the SMART goal strategies to keep you realistic and the goal manageable and attainable. You set time lines that you could reach and asked yourself clear questions about these strategies. You defined the goals in terms of effort or achievement that helped you mentally prepare for what you needed to do.
  • Most importantly you recognised old habits that could have derailed your goals and sought help from colleagues, friends, family and professionals to stop you self-sabotaging your efforts.

 So how do you celebrate reaching a goal?

  • Take a moment to process your success. No matter how small or big your goal was it is a statement of your ability to master the new, to take on change and win and to grow as a human being. Well done. A personal pat on the back from yourself is very acceptable in this moment.
  • Let others know. You can be happy and humble at the same time. Tell those who will appreciate your success and avoid the mistake of telling people who will not be encouraged by, inspired by and joyous by your success.
  • Take a well-earned break from goal setting, even if it is for only one day. This is important if your own goal has stages to it. Take time out to enjoy reaching each of the goal. Then get back in to focus tomorrow.
  • Reflect on your vision board and journal on how you did it. Make notes on the tricks and strategies that helped you through. Take notes on the habits that delayed or helped you procrastinate along the road. These will come in very handy next time.
  • Put up a little ‘good on you’ sign somewhere that you can see daily, just to keep that positive energy alive for a while. It is good for the brain to see visual reinforces of doing well, even after the event (think trophies for the mind).
  • Sleep. Kick back and reward yourself with a healthy treat. A bit of self-love won’t go astray.
  • Don’t forget to thank all those who helped you on your way, kept you focused and on task while you battled life to get to your goal.
  • Give yourself time and take it all in – the success, the sense of accomplishment. Once you are settled, recognize yourself for having mastered something novel. You were able to adapt to a change and grow from it, so remember that self-appreciation is the first celebration.
  • If you have a team, then you can do the following to celebrate a collective success:

Recognise them publicly. Give away thoughtful gifts. If possible, give them an extra day off.  Plan a team outing for drinks and food

Last of all share how you did it with others that are struggling to achieve their goals. We are all part of a bigger picture and what goes around comes around. Helping others to achieve the success you managed is a great gift to pass forward in to the world.

And just to keep you motivated here are some inspirational quotes to get you geared up for you next goal.

 

Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” —Pablo Picasso

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” —Bill Copeland

“I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.” —Michael Phelps

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.” ― Karen Lamb

“When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more toward your coveted goal.” ― Napoleon Hill

“Goals are dreams with deadlines.” ― Diana Scharf

“One of the secrets of life is to make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks.” — Jack Penn

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” — Jimmy Dean

“Winners are losers who got up and gave it one more try.” — Dennis DeYoung

“Many people fail in life, not for lack of ability or brains or even courage but simply because they have never organized their energies around a goal.” — Elbert Hubbard

“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” — Andrew Carnegie

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement.” — Bo Bennett

“Focused, hard work is the real key to success. Keep your eyes on the goal, and just keep taking the next step towards completing it. If you aren’t sure which way to do something, do it both ways and see which works better.” — John Carmack

 

Well done.

NEVER GIVE UP-SELF SABOTAGING YOUR GOALS. HOW NOT TO!

NEVER GIVE UP -Self-Sabotaging Your Goals. How not to!

 Written by Sarah Godfrey. 
Personal and professional development coach. Psychologist, Director Moving Mindsets  & author Life Works When self help books

19/01/18

Goals are what keep us going and help us take that next step into the future. We see, we judge, we measure and finally devote our time and resources to certain places we want to reach in our lifetime. In the middle of all this, has it ever felt like you aren’t able to reach your full potential? Do you feel like there is some sort of an invisible force that’s pulling you back from the things you could achieve?

The interesting thing is that this “unseen power” isn’t something out of this world or fate, as some would call it, but rather limitations constructed within your own mind that you need to break free of!

How do you do that?  Well, the first thing to do is to identify these disadvantages.

Do you daydream at work? Do you prefer to be a couch potato and binge watch your favorite TV show over some quality running time? Do you commit yourself to something and then repeatedly doubt your actions and decision? Does procrastination take up more of your hours than actually getting something done? Are you so overcautious about everything you do that you end up doing nothing?

Remember, to win the battle between self-sabotage and your goals, you need to know what’s going on first.

As Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

By this stage you might have identified your goal and its value to your overall happiness. You may have applied the strategies and planning suggested and yet, you hit the brick wall of self-sabotaging.

This part of successful goal setting is probably the hardest and where most people fall apart and become unsuccessful in their endeavours. It is the part of goal achievement that often requires external support like having a personal development coach. You may need more insight and support to overcome old habits that have sabotaged your goals success in the past.

Let’s look at the pitfalls and problems that turn high motivation and goal setting into apathy and failure.

Overcoming Procrastination

 Procrastination is the prevention to accomplishment – The problem with many people is that they see a deadline that is some time away and wait until the last minute to do it. The more time you spend in thinking that you will do it, is more time you are wasting. Do your work today and open the door to goal success faster

Procrastination is the silent assassin. If you are serious about achieving your goals, it’s important that you don’t let procrastination overcome you. It’s easy to fall into old familiar patterns of putting things off for later, but don’t let that become your future. If you have entrenched patterns of procrastinating, then something deeper is going on. Your reluctance to start is, perhaps connected to fears of failure or of success. Seek help and support to investigate why starting is your biggest hurdle if these tips don’t help you begin.

Your aim should be to get off the path of procrastination and get over the bridge of beginning. You need to start taking back control of your life. If you already tend to procrastinate, then you should start implementing strategies to counter it.

Remember this is about success, not an opportunity to put yourself down.

  1.  What will you do to make sure you reach the goal? Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t to get towards the goal you want?
  2. Have a think who can help you with your goal and why they are a good resource for you? Family, work colleagues, boss, personal coach?
  3. Who will hold you accountable to reaching your goal? Sometimes left to our own devices we can make excuses and become distracted. It helps to have others on your team. Professional or social. Link in to your supports or organisation that have the same goal as you are trying to achieve. A development coach can be an inspiration to monitor and motivate you to keep going and stay on track.
  4. Get proactive and positive. List 3 things that will help you reach this goal. Keep adding to this list as you go. Put them on your Vision board or in your Mind Map.
  5. Keep a journal of your progress or have a second VISION BOARD to track your achievements as you near your goal.

Anticipating failure

Alexandra Pope wrote, “To err is human, to forgive divine definition.”  If we forgive others for their failures and mistakes we should remember to forgive ourselves. Failure and success are two sides of the same coin. We learn just as much when attempting a goal and failing as we do succeeding. Start with the radical acceptance that the goal may not be reached this time, in this way, but perseverance, adaptability and flexibility will get you success in the end.

In fact, the most common aspect of failure is that we often fail to anticipate it. Because of this sometimes, when and if it eventually arrives, it becomes tougher to deal with. If you can start anticipating your failure, you can adjust your plans accordingly and cope with it in an efficient, healthy and productive way.  If you don’t like the word failure, swop it for learning. Look around you, the most successful people in the world have failed many times.

How did they succeed?  They anticipated their failures and converted them into stepping stones towards progress. You shouldn’t allow failure to dampen your spirits, rather motivate yourself to learn from it and work harder towards achieving your goals.

Stay focused and try to develop motivational strategies that will help you overcome foreseeable obstacles to reach your goal. The unforeseeable ones, well, we all just must manage those with rationality, flexibility and adaptability when they arrive. The most important thing to remember is 3 magic words, “never give up”. If you are determined and persistent, you will achieve your goals.

It’s crucial to remember that, while some of these strategies may seem straightforward and simple, they will require some concentrated effort. Stay cheerful, stay inspired. Don’t let criticism peg you down. Your goals might overwhelm you a bit, but should always excite you a lot more.

 Let us go through some of the most evident self-sabotaging disasters:

Don’t beat yourself up over something – Mistakes are a human eventuality. Nobody is perfect and there will always be something that will not go the way we planned. Be mindful of your self-talk when things don’t go as planned or as easily as you would’ve liked. Are you someone who will encourage yourself to press on, or the one who will indulge in negative self-diminishing chatter? The latter does nothing except make us subconsciously believe that we are not up to the task and our best efforts never amount to anything. Instead, tell yourself that it’s a learning process and that good things come to those who wait, learn and persevere.

 Beware of a monotonous existence – When you set a goal that will extend over a long period of time, you can become complacent and unmotivated. If your goal is to become a millionaire and you own a bakery, you need to expand your business. This is a long-term goal, requiring risk, adaptability and action. It may take many years to achieve your goal plan (set up a chain under your brand name). Ambition can take time and monotony can be a dampener on ambition. Use your journals, support team, vision boards to snap you out of a monotonous mind. If you restrict yourself within a one-dimensional action plan, your chances of real success can be hindered. If your life drifts from one same day to the next, get your goal on and do something about it.

Drawing useless attention to yourself – If you can’t reach that milestone that you had on your list of resolutions, don’t create a fuss over it. Gossip doesn’t serve any purpose towards the betterment of your circumstance except creating a lot of noise. Remember, people who talk about their shortcomings achieve nothing but informing others of their weaknesses. Negative gossip is simply unnecessary drama and a distraction from dealing with the achievement of your goal.

Suppressing your emotions won’t help – If you have strong feelings about something, acknowledge the emotions. This doesn’t mean that you should go to the middle of a road and shout your heart out. Take some time off for yourself, think deeply about the things that have affected you over the past few days or weeks. Download and debrief. Acknowledge your achievements and accept things for as they are. This is a great way to feel free and clear-headed about what you need to do.

Remember that everyone has unique gifts – Comparison is pointless when reaching your own goals. Others will achieve in their own way and in their own time. They are not you, so stop looking over your shoulder at what everyone is doing. Don’t be swayed with what you see others are doing but concentrate on what you can do. You are a unique individual and there is no other on this planet like you, so focus on your own plan, strategy, steps and success.

Make it a habit to follow through – Keep your promises and don’t back out when someone has already invested time and money or both in you. If you don’t want to be confined by people’s judgments or by your own lack of initiative, then do not make commitments you can’t keep. Get things done no matter what or have a genuine reason for any delay. Demonstrate integrity and honesty to yourself and those who are helping you towards success.

Perfection is a myth – There is no ‘perfect’ way of doing things and perfect leads to a boring and uninteresting life. Life is a rollercoaster so strap on and enjoy the ride, the ups and downs are what gives life adrenaline. Effort is what pushes you ahead and towards your goals. Not the need to do everything perfect.

 

Now that we have a pretty clear idea of what self-sabotaging is all about, it is time to look at the solutions.

Procrastinating? Try setting a timer and dedicate 15/20 minutes of your time on doing something that you have been putting off for a while. Start small, and when those 15 minutes are over, you will keep going. As they say, an object in motion tends to stay in motion.

Find your barriers. Locate and give time to finding out potential barriers. These can be work, relationships, social media, money, access or emotional and psychological barriers. List what might prevent you from reaching your goal? Money? Resources. Self-belief? Then seek support to overcome these barriers.

Define habits. List 2 or 3 habits that prevent you from reaching your goal (things you know you do or have done in the past to lose focus on reaching your goal). Examples are people, places, jobs, thinking patterns.

Rate how well you think your habits are in areas of

  • staying motivated,
  • being mindful of and avoiding procrastination
  • Keeping your focus and managing life’s distractions
  • Doing the hard work (do you tend to give in or do you have endurance?)
  • Believing in what you want and knowing you can be decisive.
  • Persistence and endurance in spite of life’s obstacles.
  • Adaptation and flexibility with change. Because after all, goals are about change.

 SMART your sabotage. Use the SMART goal strategy to stop one of these bad habits. Be compassionate and positive about yourself when you do this. Just as you can use this strategy to start a goal so can it be applied to getting rid of bad habits, because that in itself is a goal!

 Identification –Identify certain “trigger actions” that precipitate self-sabotaging actions.  Once you know these, you can take care not to repeat them next time around.

Recognise and monitor the pattern –  Don’t pretend you don’t have maladaptive behaviors that sabotage your success. Monitor yourself, be aware and tell your goal team what to look out for. Keep away from falling into such ‘traps’ in the future and be mindful of how you go about your plans.

 Decide upon and practice a different pattern – Once you have found out the pattern that had prevented you succeeding in the past work on forming new habits. Make plans and determine what the best success practices are and keep implementing them until they become habits.

 Learn from your experience – Experience is the key to finding your way through the maze of bad habits. When you fail at something, the positive bit is that now you know what not to do. Don’t sabotage yourself twice!

 Ask for advice – There is no shame in being assisted by others, especially those who have a better grasp of something than you. When you get some genuinely effective pointers at what you are supposed to do from reputable individuals, it increases your chances of success. Your goals are more within your grasp when you reach out and get help.

 Preplan for contingencies – The best way to tackle uncertainty is to plan ahead. Anticipate the hurdles and always keep contingencies in place to effectively deal with an unwanted development.

 Don’t be afraid of risks – Risks are what differentiates between the successful and the mundane. To reach your goals, you need to stand out with your actions and that requires risk-taking. Don’t be afraid and push through with educated risks. You are doing something that hasn’t been tried before, making your efforts a novelty.

The road to your goals is full of hurdles and difficulties. It would probably help not to add to the burden with self-sabotage. Before you set off, find out every angle to the scenario, the things you should and shouldn’t do, so that come what may, you don’t stand in your own way. Pave your own way and do it with smart decisions and goal-oriented actions with the above techniques in mind!

 

 

Extra reading and resources/references
http://www.tonyrobbinsfirewalk.com/self-sabotage/
http://abundantlifepractice.com/recognize-self-sabotage/