Positive Stress and Anxiety: Use them to your advantage

Looking From a More Positive Angle

Recent research highlights how viewing stress and anxiety from an alternative perspective can be beneficial. Positive stress and anxiety can change a person’s outlook on life. Typically, stress and anxiety are viewed as negative concepts, from events that are generally accepted as negative. Examples are something like the loss of a job or family bereavement.

A picture of someone biting their nails - not positive stress and anxiety!

The research, which is summarised by Science Daily here, points out that positive events can also bring on stress and anxiety. Bringing a newborn baby home for the first time is cited as an example. A very positive part of a person’s life but it can come with much stress and anxiety as the new parents work out how to provide for the infant.

Anxiety: Positive early warning

Considering anxiety alone for a moment, it can be useful to view it as an early warning system. As a therapist, I often point out to clients to listen to what their body is telling them. For example, if someone notices tension in their body, it can be a sign they are experiencing an increased level of anxiety. By paying attention to physical sensations in the body, raising awareness, gives control back to clients. For example, noticing a tightness in your chest may be a sign that you are anxious about an upcoming exam. At this point, using relaxation tools such as breathing, meditation or grounding can help to arrive at the exam in a more positive, calm mental state.

Listen to Your Body

However, if stress and anxiety go ignored for too long, that is when more serious problems occur. There is only so long that the body can continue to function in an extremely stressed state. Stress increases cortisol levels, which if maintained for a sustained time can lead to auto-immune conditions such as chronic fatigue or fibromialgia. Therefore, it is very important to listen to what our bodies are telling us. Notice the tension, energy levels and unexplained pains. They are there for a reason – to use as a positive sign that our bodies have been functioning near their limits for too long. If we do not take action, our bodies will – by beginning to shut down!

Viewing events from the alternative perspectives outlined above is a part of counselling. Many times the alternative perspectives can change our view to a more positive one. Stress and anxiety are givens in modern life, so learning to use them positively is a great skill.

To find out if I can help you do just that, please get in touch.

Mental Health Problems: The Media is Raising Awareness

I am an advocate of raising awareness of mental health problems. As such, I like to write about positive stories that further reduce the stigma of reaching out for help. This one, click here, from the charity Mind, is the latest to have caught my attention. In short, they have conducted a brief study looking into traffic to various pages of their website. They have uncovered a link between an increase to specific pages around the time a mental health documentary or drama was aired.

Mental health problems supported by portrayal in the media

Mind observed for several major TV shows that page views to related pages of their website had doubled. The inference here is that people are trying to find out more, potentially with a view to getting help. As a counsellor, I find that clients are often in search of answers. From the answers come understanding and this often starts the empowerment process, enabling people to gain back control. Essentially, it is knowing why things happen that can start the tide turning. When things makes sense, we can start to see choices and can begin to make changes.

Therefore, by watching a good quality program on TV, people are wanting to find out more. They start to research on the internet and discover that there are resources and help available. After all, some mental health problems are such that people are too embarrassed to get help or feel that their self-worth prohibits reaching out. So, anything that reduces stigma and promotes the acceptance of mental health problems should be acknowledged very positively indeed. As such, Mind themselves promote the Mind Media Awards, which recognises significant achievements across many media categories.

One option available to people with mental health problems is counselling. If you would like to find out more about the services I offer, please contact me.

Could a New Idea Be Changing Counselling in Bristol?

Is There a Need for Changing Therapy in Modern Bristol?

The modern day causes us to re-evaluate many aspects of our life. Looking at the big picture one begins to realise that our journey though life is dynamic. As such, it feels fitting that the world around us adapts (or indeed prompts us to respond, depending on your viewpoint…). For example, I think most people would agree that the invention of smartphones has revolutionised our lives. Just think how easy it is to navigate unknown roads with a ‘sat nav’ app. You may ask though, how this links to changing counselling in Bristol – read on…

Changing counselling in Bristol by booking online

Therefore, it would only be right to have an open mind to how the talking therapies can better fit in with ever changing lives. Things are already quite different to the days when clients (or patients, as they were known) where expected to lie on a couch. The therapist provided minimal input. Now, we have Skype, SMS and phone counselling, to name a few. These forms of therapy are well established. As an article (click here), in The Guardian newspaper suggests, another evolution aims to make counselling as normal and easy to access as the gym.

The New Idea

The article talks about a company set up in London that aims to do just that. Therapy is bought in a bundle, ahead of time. You book sessions online at a regular time or as it suits. I agree that this sounds very convenient. However, I believe in the importance of building a strong relationship with my clients. Gaps in therapy are noticeable. It then takes a little longer to work closely and effectively.

Can This Work at a Deep Relational Level?

When a session is booked with the company, you can even select a different therapist. On one hand it’s great that it is so easy to change. If you feel as though your current counsellor isn’t right, there are no awkward conversations. Once again though, going back to the counsellor-client relationship, there can be a great deal of learning to be had. For example, discussing why things aren’t working can reveal a lot about the client. Or being allowed/encouraged to have an awkward conversation without consequences or argument can be cathartic.

Further Reducing Stigma

Nevertheless, I applaud the ethos of the idea. Some of the ways clients can use the service don’t agree with my relational way of working. However, it will suit many people, especially in a large city such as London. Furthermore, anything that helps to further reduce any remaining stigma of reaching out for mental health support is welcomed! Not only that but the online nature of initiating the service really helps integrate therapy into today’s modern lifestyle.

However, are we likely to see changing counselling in Bristol? In my opinion, Bristol isn’t quite ready. Bristol already embraces counselling. As a city, we seem to prefer not to be anonymous service users but value knowing and recognising people. This aligns with my belief in the power of building a healing relationship through personal interaction. Please leave a comment or contact me if you would like to find out more.

Balance in Mental Health – The Elixir of Life?

Working Out the Balance in Mental Health

In so much of the work I do as a counsellor, I find that one word comes up time and time again. It’s a simple word but one with incredible meaning and a number of different applications. Balance. It might make you think of riding a bicycle, walking on uneven ground or a ballerina. Of course, these are all relevant but balance in mental health and counselling has many applications.

Balance in mental health - like walking a tightrope.

With clients, I often talk about the tightrope of mental health. By that I infer that the client is walking the tightrope holding one of those long poles to aid balance. On the end of the stick are two buckets, one containing things that replenish their mental health. An example of this would be self-care. On the other end are the things that deplete their mental health, for example doing things to help others. It is often the case that one bucket is heavier than the other – you guessed it – mostly the depleting one. Subsequently, life has become difficult to manage. This visual image alone can be enough to highlight the importance of balance.

Understanding Why Life is Hard

When people forget or cannot find the time to replenish themselves, they can lose sight of what is healthy and good. Whilst specific activities are very unique to the individual, there are often patterns and generalisations that help. For example, being outside doing something is gathering increasing evidence. Our eyes are designed (evolved!) to be more sensitive to shades of green than any other colour. As supported here, the time doesn’t need to be great, just time outside!

Recovering the Balance

Exercise and a healthy diet are other generalisations. I believe in having a balance between mental and physical exercise in order to promote good sleep. Furthermore, a healthy diet does change the way our minds operate and our bodies function. For inspiration watch this video. Time travelling back a few decades in my life, I am reminded of my mother saying ‘everything in moderation’. Now I understand what she meant and see how it fits with a balance in mental health.

If this post resonates with you in any way, please get in touch to find out about counselling sessions in Bristol. I work at a pace to suit you and aim to recover lost balances through a trusting, open relationship. Contact me here.

Teacher’s Mental Health: Many Do Not Plan To Stay in the Profession

New Teachers are Struggling

A recent study by Leeds Beckett University suggested that less than half of new teachers had definite plans to stay in the profession. Surprisingly, they had come to this conclusion after only a year in their new jobs. Given the time and money they have invested, their experiences must have been quite bad! As a result, new teacher’s mental health declines rapidly.

A happy new teacher with good mental health - in the minority?

This article by the Independent newspaper expands on some of the reasons behind this worrying statistic. Anxiety or panic attacks seem to be the most commonly reported symptoms. Depression and late night self-medication of alcohol are rarer. However, given the relatively small size of the study I imagine the national figures would be very concerning.

The Responsibility of the Next Generation

Why are the people that have taken it upon themselves to follow a career developing our next generation are so badly supported? In Bristol and South Gloucestershire, teachers can choose to receive short-term counselling through the council. This is a good initiative, however managing anxiety and panic attacks can be a longer term process. Furthermore, depression tends to come in cycles and can be very difficult to shake off.

In other areas of the country, teacher’s mental health is supported by regular counsellor visits to schools. This is a time in which any teacher can confidentially speak to someone. Normally once a month, this concept of regular drop-in sessions is inspirational. Results speak for themselves with these schools often seen to maintain consistently high Ofsted ratings.

Proactive Options

New teachers struggle with mental health issues in the absence of a professional support network. Of course, by researching online one can find a plethora of information. Much of this advice is valid and generally suitable. For example, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is successful in combating symptoms of anxiety. However, this should be facilitated by a trained professional.

Mindfulness can often provide good results. This can be as simple as concentrating on yourself for a couple of minutes several times a day. It’s a bit like retraining yourself or learning a new skill. In other words it takes a bit of practice. However, the rewards of learning to be more grounded and present in the ‘here and now’ hold great potential. The grip of anxiety is reduced by spending less time concerned with the future.

Mindfulness can be learnt individually or with the help of a professional counsellor. Please contact me if you would like more information or to arrange well priced sessions to work on these or similar issues.

Social Media and Teenage Suicide

How Social Media and Teenage Suicide are Linked

Previously, I have written about the use of screens. My concern is how they can negatively influence the mental health of all of us, especially teenagers. Recently, it has been revealed that this is becoming a matter of life and death. More specifically, how social media and teenage suicide are being linked.

Image of a meadow on a summer's day

Alarmingly, around 200 British schoolchildren take their own lives each year. At a rate of more than one every other day, I was shocked to read this on the BBC website in this article. Another stand-out piece of information from the BBC is as follows. Due to the private nature of mobile phone use, parents are not up-to-date with the online persona of their children. As such, the type of content they are viewing is unknown. The video on the above BBC web page makes the point that disturbing self-harm or suicidal content is still freely and easily available to all.

Therefore, in some cases parents and friends of suicidal teenagers have no idea of deteriorating mental health. One cannot begin to the imagine the shock of discovering a dead child. So what can be done? How can we understand social media and teenage suicide?

Ways to Approach the Problem

To me there seem to be a number of different corners to the problem to smooth off in order make some headway. Initial thoughts might be to blame the social media companies – we live in a blame culture after all! Yes, there is definitely much they can do to improve the way in which harmful material is so readily available. As an optimist, I am sure there is plenty of work behind the scenes but it needs to be quicker and more effective. With all of today’s technology, how is it that a 14 year old can access suicidal images? Unacceptable.

However, can a teenager’s mental health deteriorate that quickly that parents and friends have no idea? Despite the confusing whirlpool of hormones that swish frequently through a young person’s body, we must regularly keep maintaining contact. By that I mean face-to-face interaction – let them know we are available to listen. Try to understand. It might appear to fall on deaf ears or is received with a grunt but on some level it will go in. Furthermore, there are always ways to connect with a teenager. As unlikely as this may seem, each personality will have a unique way in. This could be a board game, eating pizza in the car on the way home or buying an ice cream on a snowy day.

Conclusion, with Extra Awareness

Finally, by reading this article you are now hopefully a little bit more aware of the potential issue. Just this information will likely start-up your radar for signs of problems at home. Furthermore, if things seem unmanageable it is important to address issues through an open, sensitive and non-judgmental discussion with your teenager.

More help is available through the BBC Action Line, the Samaritans or personal counselling, please get in touch here.

Benefits of Sleep – and learning to sleep well

Benefits of Sleep

Many of us are familiar with the benefits of sleep. However, even as adults it can be difficult to recognise and acknowledge that sleep should be the next thing on the agenda. It becomes all too easy to squeeze in one more little task or another few minutes of TV. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that young people struggle more than adults. They will often rebel against the idea of going to bed (and sleeping). Almost as if it is seen as some kind of punishment.

A person, unable to sleep, staring at the clock. Sleep deprivation provides misery to many.

The Guardian report that, especially in adolescents, insomnia can be more damaging than lack of physical exercise, too much screen time or bullying. The article outlines how sleep lessons are becoming available to children across Britain. This situation is quoted as a ‘hidden public health crisis’. The inference is that poor behaviour or performance at schools could be put down to sleep deprivation.

A Personal Sleep Theory

Reasons aside (and there are many, including social media and obesity) it must be in everyone’s interest to promote the benefits of sleep. Furthermore, I believe it is necessary to go a level deeper and talk about how to achieve good sleep. I have written about the benefits of physical exercise on mental health and how excessive screen time can damage a person’s well being. Combining these aspects of life provides a starting point for good sleep. I have a long standing personal theory. Our minds and bodies should be equally exercised every day. Therefore an achievable level of movement and thinking should be targeted. My belief is that this provides a good starting point for settling oneself.

Some Ways to Move On

There are of course many other recommendations to achieve the benefits of sleep. The NHS provide a good starting point for more reading here. Of course, my theory of equal mental and physical tiredness is only a concept to help most of the time. In life, problems accumulate and often feel unmanageable. Whilst often perceived as harder to manage when tired, outside help can be what is needed. Counselling is one type of support to help surmount life’s obstacles or management of life events. Please get in touch to find out more.

‘If I can do it, anybody can’ – Fury’s message on mental health

‘If I can do it’…

If you have been reading my recent blog posts, you will have gathered that I am keen to raise awareness of good mental health. Furthermore, how important it is that people feel comfortable to reach out when they need help. As such I was full of admiration for Tyson Fury and his message during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2018, which you can read about here.

Tyson Fury speaks out about mental health

Boxers are viewed as the hard men of sport. Tyson Fury is no exception, especially because he stands at six foot nine and eighteen stone. However, he has had the courage to speak out about his personal issues, at an important public event.

Whatever your views of boxing and sports in general, it cannot be argued that Fury makes a good point. The BBC quote him as saying that [sports] ‘people are still living in darkness and are too afraid to come out and speak about it’. However, I believe that this extends far further than sports and into the general population. Therefore, when a celebrity comments publicly about their own mental health, bravery is a word that comes to mind. For many of us, asking for help with mental health is a big and scary step to take. Tyson Fury has helped to normalise this feeling. He is evidence that improvements can be successfully be made to ones own mental health.

 

…’anybody can’

Fury goes on to say ‘no matter what you’re going through, you must always continue to get back up and keep going forward and fight back’. Clearly, he is referring to a boxing match. However, this struck me as a valid metaphor for life in general. As we live our lives, there are constant setbacks and obstacles to overcome. Our ability to deal with these and manage their successful navigation is an indication of our mental health. If the obstacles that knock us down or out become too frequent or too large, things may seem too dark, foreboding or overwhelming.

This is the when counselling can help. It is OK and normal for this to happen. It is OK to ask for help. Even the big tough guys are doing it, without shame or worry about the impact on their image.

Please get in touch if you would like to find out about counselling in Bristol or read more about me.

 

Changing Mental Health Awareness

Changing Mental Health Awareness

Yesterday the BBC wrote about changing mental health awareness – have a read here. They published a kind of ‘top ten’ chart outlining the current view of the problem. One of the headline statistics is that one in six of the population have a ‘mental health problem’. This seems to be part of the issue to me. The problem being that if we are seen to have mental health issues, we are labelled in a different category to the rest of the population. The fact of the matter is that we all have mental health. Furthermore, it varies day-by-day and even during the day. It is OK that the quality of our mental health changes. That is part of being a human being.

 

Severe Mental Health Issues on the Rise

Mental Health Awareness imageLooking at those with ‘severe’ mental health issues, it does appear that cases are on the rise over the last 20 years. However, it is acknowledged that with a greater awareness of mental health, will come a greater reporting of the problems. Nevertheless, modern life is also quoted as having a responsibility in the increase of mental health issues. It seems, young people are especially vulnerable (read my post here) and many mental health problems become well established in youth.

As I have also written about here, male suicide is a major issue. It is perhaps the culmination of many years of severe mental health issues. Astonishingly, there are 6000 suicides in the UK each year. This high number can surely be reduced by raising the importance of discussing mental health and thereby reducing the associated stigma.

 

What is the Solution?

The BBC also report that antidepressant prescriptions are higher than ever. Furthermore, people are being left on the drugs for long periods of time. Subsequently, it is extremely hard to come off even to assess how the individual is feeling. Of course, prescriptions are far cheaper than the talking therapies but what good is being done in the longer term? That remains to be seen. As I mention here, diet and lifestyle are now being touted as effective in the treatment of depression. Also, I am a great advocate of physical exercise wherever possible.

Of course, being a counsellor I genuinely believe that talking (or counselling creatively) about our problems goes a long way to feeling better about ourselves. A positive knock-on is the changing mental health awareness within the client. Counselling may not always be the easiest route but often it can be the most effective and permanent solution. One aim of counselling is to help supply the individual with a set of tools that they can apply to life. Therefore managing most things that are thrown at that person is a matter of adapting the right ‘tool’, thought or action. Many times these become so instinctive they happen even without a second thought.

Please contact me if you would like to find out about having counselling sessions in Fishponds, Bristol.

Considering Moving Back Home?

A young person looking unhappy to be living back home with parents.Considering Moving Back Home?

The Independent newspaper reports here that young adults considering moving back home to live with their parents are likely to suffer from depression. The page refers to recent research that looks at the reasons a person might make this move. Furthermore, an investigation into lesser known information such as the affect on mental health has been carried out. As a counsellor I know how critical it is for a young person to transition into an independent adult. A successful early adulthood relies on this independence. Major signs of success come from financial, social and residential security.

Therefore, if these parts of a person’s life come under scrutiny or fail altogether, the results could be overwhelming. Potential examples are the loss of a job, breakdown of a significant relationship or loss of accommodation. Considering these in greater detail reveals that the individual may or may not have been able to influence the outcome. In other words, it may be that the loss of a job is due to redundancy. Alternatively, behaviour at work may not have been acceptable. People deal with different events in their own personal way. Our upbringing can heavily influence these reactions. 

 

The Importance of Being Independent as a Young Adult

Either way, at this key stage of developing independence, the expectations on a young person are very high. Young adults desire to be accepted by society, which goes some way to explain why this type of life event can have such a large impact. Nevertheless, I find that young adults are incredibly resilient and determined. Counselling can provide the opportunity to reconnect with these attributes. Importantly, it can be a time in which the young adult can feel what it is like to exist without the pressure and expectations of society. Learning to feel like this in sessions is the first step towards being able to apply these sensations to life outside the counselling room.

If you are or know someone struggling in this way or considering moving back home, please get in touch for a free consultation.