Tag Archives: self-help

First Steps Toward Healthy Change

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Funny Stressed Cat

Funny Stressed Cat

There is no longer any question about the horrific impact varying degrees of stress can have on our all-to-fragile human system. There are experts such as Drs. Lyle H. Miller and Alma Dell Smith, two people who have dedicated their professional lives to the measurement, analysis, and treatment of stress and stress-related ailments and complaints and many others, who can vouch for both the subtle and not so subtle impact that various forms and degrees of stress can have on those most susceptible and overtaken by stress.

In most of these cases, references are made to the emotional/psychological effects of stress and talks about anxiety and how people who are under a lot of stress, physiologically suffer negative impact on blood pressure, aches and pains (very commonly head pain), heart palpitations (leading to heart problems), and possibly even more damaging long-term effects.

World of Stress

World of Stress

And it is very clear and quite easy to understand the direct correlation between change (especially quick changes) and stress. For almost all of us, whenever things happen to cause high degrees of change in short periods of time, the level of stress experienced increases dramatically. And, this makes sense and can be exhibited by the endless supply of advice we are given by those around us to ‘slow down’ and ‘not move too quickly’ through upsetting events. We are advised to ‘count to 10’ so that our feelings of anger and hurt don’t overtake us and we lose balance with rational thought and our over-burdened emotions.

Alternate View of Stress

Alternate View of Stress

We are taught repeatedly in our life lessons that it is smart to ‘give things time’ or to ‘sleep on it’ and ‘let it simmer’ before making any major decisions that will cause a major change. Very few of us go through life without being told by those closest to us ‘don’t rock the boat’ or ‘take your time’. We humans tend to avoid major change…especially when it occurs quickly. We avoid it and advise our loved ones to do the same.

Perhaps one of the most tumultuous times in our humans lives when things change very quickly (whether we want them to or not) is during the period of time we refer to as adolescence:

* Bodies grow and develop, for some practically overnight

* Hormones that we may never knew we possessed, run rampantly through our system – causing emotions to seem like an open mine field

* Social expectations and pressures play havoc even with those with even the most sturdy and consistent of upbringings

And that is just a brief introduction to some of the landscape of the adolescent portrait.

Parent to Teen

Parent to Teen

We can start by adding a dose of understanding to our teenagers. Knowing and realizing just how ‘at risk’ children in the 13-19 age range are can be a wonderful place to start in helping them (and you as the adult who cares the most about them) restore some extremely-needed balance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

Mindfulness and Trauma

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Stability

Stability

Mindfulness is about stabilizing. Studies have shown that people who have experienced trauma can benefit highly from this type of work. (Cullen, 2011). When people have experienced trauma, they can be challenged with high levels of stress, anxiety and depression at any time.

When we increase focus, stress and anxiety decreases, and as insight increases, depression may also be reduced. The implications of effective mindfulness on these specific features are truly significant and the more studies that are being done, the stronger the evidence of effective results of mindfulness.

When a person experiences trauma, racing thoughts and chain reactions of distressed thinking and intense emotions are more frequent, more intense and can last for longer periods of time. The thought pattern easily becomes negative and thereby creates greater levels of anxiety and depression, especially if ignored.

What mindfulness does is brings us into the present moment. Being in the present is provides direct opposition to the racing thoughts which are based in the past, thoughts about things that have happened, or based in the future, worrying about things that might happen. When we practice mindfulness, we pull away from these past and future thinking patterns and redirect ourselves into the moment, grounding ourselves in the present where we regain the ability to address the negative emotions of anxiety, stress and depression that are associated with our thoughts.
We can, for example, tell ourselves that in the present moment, there is nothing bad or harmful occurring to us. We are most likely sitting or lying quite comfortably in a safe place where we can focus on slowing down our breathing and letting the negative feelings go as we exhale. We can ground ourselves and regain our stability, acknowledging the feelings but proving to ourselves that in this present moment, we are okay…we are fine…and we are safe.
We have managed to regain control over the intense emotions that were beginning to overwhelm us. We have become more aware, more able to calm ourselves and less of a victim to our run-away thoughts.

Kabbat-Zin (1994) provides this definition of mindfulness: “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” We are actually doing an awful lot although it seems we are doing nothing. We are freeing ourselves and giving ourselves permission to just be in the moment. And it is extremely soothing. It is like allowing our mind to float and just immerse itself in now.

It is very important for people to work out their own form of practicing mindfulness, something that works for them. I strongly advise people to do some research on it and see what feels like it might be a way to begin your personal journey.

Attention

Attention

Remember that the point is NOT to empty our thoughts but rather to pay attention to them in a purposeful way without judging them and then refocus attention onto whatever it is you were focusing on prior to the thought popping up. Mindfulness is a journey of exploration, discovering sounds, textures, shapes, temperatures, things that always exist but that we don’t focus on because we are not being mindful to them.

If you are just starting out, I suggest just a 10 minute exercise in which you find something to focus on, an object to look at or hold perhaps. It is wonderful if you become adept enough at it to practice it when you begin to notice any negative thoughts or symptoms that you are trying to decrease such as depression, racing or distressing thoughts, etc.

Snoopy Writing

Snoopy Writing

There is a wealth of information available on mindfulness as more and more people are finding it beneficial to many different situations they encounter. I would love to hear from you about your mindfulness journey and results. Feel free to comment or contact me directly.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

How Mindfulness Works

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Looking Under a  Hood

Looking Under a Hood

Many years ago, I read a book that spoke about how we need to provide ourselves with self-check ups. It was a strange idea, I thought, because I’m with myself all the time, what on earth do I need to check in about?

But I am sure that we can all relate to ‘catching’ ourselves doing certain things – when a moment of sanity hits us smack in the head – and we realize something is going on with us that we had absolutely no conscious awareness of at all.

A great example of that for me, is when I find myself with a piece of candy in my mouth that I just bit down hard into, knowing perfectly well that:
* I certainly wasn’t hungry and didn’t need the extra calories
* The candy was not offered to me
* It will wipe out many positive choices I have made in making healthy food choices and keeping myself more active

And now I know it is time for me to check in under my own hood and see what is really going on.

Most likely, this is what I find when I take a few minutes to still myself and give myself a health dose of self-honesty.

• Something is troubling me.
I may not know what it is immediately, and it may take an extra bit of courage, but something is upsetting me usually on a pretty strong and deep level. I need to be still with myself and let it surface and it usually does.

Fear

Fear

For me, almost all the time, fear is involved, and the fear can be more of an anxiety type fear than a specific fear, in fact, that is usually what I find until I sit still for a while and center things. The fear has not been given the chance to latch onto anything specific because I’ve been ignoring it, so it sort of latches itself all over and forms a sense of very general anxiety, with no real target. EVERYTHING feels pressured and there is a tension right in the pit of my stomach.

For any of you who do mindfulness type work, that is why the focus is on internal body sensations, because when we narrow it down to one area, it becomes more contained and then we can manage it.

Then I begin to miraculously become more aware of how quick and shallow my breathing had become and I now have all the physiological signs I need to realize how totally out of balance I have become.

It is time for me to finish up whatever I’m in the midst of if I can’t just automatically drop it, and give myself 15 minutes of time to refocus myself. It doesn’t cost me by the hour, although if I find it persisting, talking to a friend who really knows me well or even finding a therapist is not a horrible idea.

Mindfulness-Mind-Map

What I need is time to refocus my focus. I concentrate on what is happening inside me rather than outside me, and my breathing becomes more regulated, my heart stops beating as quickly and once again, I regain a feeling of composure and a sense of ‘alrightness’ with me and my world.

THAT is how mindfulness works!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

Oxygen. Without exception.

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I’ve come quite a long way over the last few years. In common with many, Life has lobbed one or two, (or three or four), entertaining situations my way of the kind that personal development gurus like to tell you are opportunities not barriers. You know. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. ‘There’s no such thing as a problem, only opportunities’. Of course. Yeah.

The implication here is that if you fail to become stronger, grow, develop into a better person, then you have wasted your chance. You’ve ignored your one and only call from the Fates to fulfil your destiny in true Hollywood style. Bookshelves, lecture halls, theatres and sales team award ceremonies are filled with tales of those special people who did make the grade. Who rose higher than the brick walls that surrounded their life and became better people, richer in self fulfilment and bank balance. These are the ones who really did find their way to streak skywards above the mess and make sometimes truly astounding recoveries and reversals of fortune.

We’re not all like that. We can’t all astound. We can’t all take on life’s adversities and achieve the spectacular. Think it through. If we did, it wouldn’t be astounding, would it? It would cease to be a spectacle. It would simply be something normal and everyday. Unworthy of comment.

My point is, there’s a massive difference between achieving the absolutely stunning, sufficient to make a career out of telling others how to achieve their own version of that very same stunning in the ‘if I can do it anybody can’ style. It’s the whole unwritten premise of that industry. If everybody could do it, it wouldn’t be stunning and sure as hell wouldn’t sell books or fill theatres.

Almost everybody out there is, well, normal and whilst exceptional circumstances absolutely can produce exceptional people, that potentiality for exception must pre-exist. Most of the time, the exceptional person rises from the overall population of everybody else. After all, we only need one heroic leader at a time. Let’s face it, what happens when you get two heroic leaders? Conflict and war, that’s what.

So if like me you find yourself, not on the margins of life, feeling that exceptional potentiality throbbing away whilst it waits for its own particular spark to set an unexpected train of events into motion ending in a pre-destined fulfilment of itself but rather in the mix with the bulk of humanity, wending your own way through life’s trials and tribulations, what then is the more usual result of being thrown up against the rocks of life’s more mundane coastline?

Personal experience leads me to believe that there’s all manner of anxiety, stress and pain that can result. The modern world, ill designed as it is to fit our evolutionary profile, keeps battering our psyche with problems that our instinctive reactions can no longer solve. Emergency protection mode is not a healthy place to live and yet we keep being thrown into it because our instincts tell us to fight it or run away. Much of the time we would be better off pondering quietly over an issue and think up, devise or just create a suitable solution.

The difficulty is of course, that when instinct kicks in we are driven by emotion and hormones, not conscious thought process. High emotion makes us stupid, deliberately so, so that we do actually run or fight rather than cogitate a possible solution whilst disaster roars it’s blood-stained teeth in our general direction. Given that most of us are not living in life or death situations, (depending on personal geography or neighbourhood), we’d be much better off if we could just lower the emotional content of our automatic reactions.

Much of what ails us is based around behaviours learned whilst young enough not to know better and so long ago that we no longer question it’s validity. Here’s a few typical ones; It’s just how it is; Stress is just part of modern life; You mustn’t say no because you can’t be seen as weak; Pain doesn’t go away, it’s there for life; No matter how hard you try, you can’t get pregnant; It’s all going wrong, why doesn’t someone fix it; It’s just how it is; Don’t have a go at me, it’s not my fault.

It’s just how it is.

Isn’t it?

The thought that came and slapped me round the face this week was that through all the difficulties of the last few years, I’ve (usually) been the one best equipped to carry the load, although when I couldn’t, Gill stepped up and took over even though it cost her. (Thank you, by the way). So as in my opinion, I could carry the load, I did. And although I can’t put my finger on when it happened I was brought up in the big boys don’t cry tradition, so I manfully suppressed all emotional reaction to what was being lobbed at us and held everything together. With the benefit of hindsight, that was exactly the wrong thing to do. It’s like keeping the lid down tight on the pressure cooker and reacting to too much heat by strapping the safety valve firmly shut and wondering why it exploded.

Anyway, the thought that floated past me was this. I did it, not because I thought I was stronger or more heroic than everyone else but because everyone else around me was more important than me. So there I was, manfully (big boys don’t cry, remember) holding up everyone else, keeping the lid on until the explosion. And then what? I had to get held up until someone else fell down. At which point, I dragged myself back to my feet to hold them up etc. spinning one of those vicious circles around and around until we all got too dizzy to think. Until life lobbed something at us that I couldn’t fix by being stronger than everyone around me.

So my journey over the past few years has taught me to gradually let the pressure off and find out what it all looks like when it’s stabilised and everyone around was allowed to deal with their own issues in their own way. Yes, we all still helped each other. Provided support where and when it was and still is needed. But like saplings, unless you’re allowed to deal with the buffeting of life, you never develop your strength and have to remain supported your whole live.

There I was, sitting at the kitchen table in mid late-night conversation with Gill, realising that I was mistakenly giving importance to those I love by the time-honoured method of devaluing my own importance. Classic. Put yourself at risk because you don’t deserve help and you don’t want to let them down.

Here’s the deal. If you give value to others by devaluing yourself, you haven’t actually given them anything. They aren’t better off. You’re just worse off. It really is important to tackle life from a standpoint of strength, with a sense of your own well-being and self-worth. That way, whenever help is needed, you are more ready and able to stand up and be counted.

Of course, given that we’re evolutionarily ill-equipped for our current lives, very often the person who needs the help turns out to be you. One of the key developmental stages in any therapeutic advance is a move from a fundamental lack of self-worth, to a point where you truly value your own identity, embracing your right to have a seat at the table.

Along with that comes responsibility. A move away from an external locus of control, whereby life’s problems should be fixed by someone else because let’ face it, it’s not your fault. A move towards an internal locus of control which simply tells you that  whatever happens, however it happened, the responsibility for dealing with your life is entirely yours. Absolutely, you may need help. You may be offered or seek assistance. But the task falls to you.

You really can make it better, even if that turns out to be fixing things that can be fixed and learning to be content with the things that can’t, no matter how bad they might be.

And when you’ve leant that strength, that focussed source of being responsible for you, able and willing to make your own decisions, you’ll find that you’ve developed a centred power that enables you to help others reach their own place of certainty.

Selfish though it may seem at first, embrace that well-worn in-flight safety message: If you have to help someone put their oxygen mask on, make sure you have yours in place first.

After all, if you pass out from a lack of life’s oxygen, so will they. And then you’ve really let them down.

And if you find that you’re metaphorically gasping for air and struggling to get oxygen to those around you, Cognitive Hypnotherapy might just turn out to be the life-line you need. Just pull it down sharply and breathe normally.

Now that I’ve got my oxygen mask on, do you need help with yours?

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*This post originally appeared in Posts of Hypnotic Suggestion in April 2013

that'll wake you up© Tony Burkinshaw 2013
that’ll wake you up
© Tony Burkinshaw 2013