Change For Change’s Sake?

Hello everyone- how have you all been? This year has been very busy at Wanda Howell Counselling; I have embarked on yet more training (no, it never stops, if you were wondering!) and have been keeping busy with work, house moves and university at the same time. I have finally finished year 2 of my Doctorate!!! Very exciting times for me- only 2 more years left to go. I have to be honest and say that I have been a little slack with my reading lately, but I did just stumble over an article that caught my eye…

Frequently in my work, I work with young teens and their parents, from a whole range of difficulties like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm and more. Often the parents of these teens are very concerned; perhaps their teen has difficulties regulating their emotions, or perhaps they have difficulties with their anger. There are a lot of reasons why teens and their parents reach out for support, particularly in the private sector of counselling. Parents are finding it more and more difficult to access support in the NHS, for lots of different reasons.

The purpose of my post is not to bash the NHS or to apportion blame to anyone. Life is, I think, more difficult for teenagers now, and all of the teens I work with are simply trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in to society. It is a tricky time for them, and not matter how much support these teens do get, parents are always concerned that there is never enough. We all want the best for our children, so we all try and utilise the support we find, wherever we can.

For parents, it can be really tricky- worrying ‘what have I done wrong? My child does xxx- is it the way they were raised, or is it just their personality?’ Will it ever change, or if they are like this as a teenager, is it too late? The study was published in December 2016 and is the first of it’s kind to follow up on teenagers and their personalities, from the age of 14 to 77 (Harris et al., 2016) and the findings are good news for all worried parents out there!

The study was started in 1947, using the Scottish Mental survey, where teachers in Scottish schools rated 1,208 14 year old children on six personality characteristics. In 2012, the team of researchers traced as many of the original participants as they could, inviting them to take part in a follow up study to find out if there was a correlation between their six personality traits in 1947, and the same traits in them, as 77 year olds, in 2012- a 63 year period! You will be very happy to find out (or not!) that personality does change over time, but that some aspects of personality, such as conscientiousness and stability of moods, do not, suggesting that some of our personalities in older age may actually relate to our personalities in childhood.

So, is this good or bad? Well, I guess if, as a child, you had lovely sunny moods and were conscientious at picking up your toys when your caregivers told you too, then yes, this might be great! If you have a child, or if indeed you yourself, are the opposite, and struggle with mood and temperament, this study shows that it doesn’t have to be a difficulty for the rest of your life; we can, and we do, change. Life is different for all of us; our experiences, as well as how we are raised, make us who we are. Fundamentally, we as adults can take charge of this. We can mould ourselves, and we can be the people that we want to be and become.

I think the key point to take home here, is that we change, and that it is never too late to change. We all change, be it from choice or situation, and we can make changes to our lives if we don’t find those changes that are forced upon us as acceptable. So, if you find that there are elements of yourself that you’re not so keen on, with some progressive, and (dare I say it?), conscientious work, your life and your emotions really are within your own hands and it is your own ability that can ensure that things change for you.

Me? Well, I would like to slow down a little, so I am going to start working more on my meditation- I would like to do this a little more regularly, so that I can stop and smell the roses a little better. Otherwise, before I know it, they just won’t be there anymore.


Harris, M.A., Brett, C.E., Johnson, W. and Deary, I.J. (2016) ‘Personality Stability From Age 14 to Age 77 Years’, Psychology and Aging, vol. 31, no. 8, December, pp. 862–874.

 

 

 

 

Finding Time For Your Mind(fulness!)

I’m really busy at the moment- are you? I have just gone back to University for my second year of my Professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology, after a 2-year absence. It feels very strange to be back, studying again, especially whilst I am still working! It feels like there is not enough time in the day and that I need to squeeze a few more hours in somewhere! I know I cannot be the only person who feels this way?

I see a lot of people in my work, who are also feeling stressed and anxious, because it just doesn’t feel like we are working to the best of our ability; it constantly feels like we are missing things out. Do you feel this way too? I am sure it helps to know that you are not the only one!

I have been so busy, it didn’t occur to me that I had stopped my Mindfulness practice, because I had not had time to fit it in to my working day! How ridiculous, I thought and chastised myself for not following my own professional advice! Then I remembered that the key thing, when one is feeling stressed, is to be kind to yourself!

No, I cannot fit everything in to one working day- we’re not supposed to! There is a lot going on in life, and sometimes we need to just take a breath in and slowly breathe out, calming yourself so that you can think in more depth of a solution to what is happening or going on for you. Even if you cant find a solution, taking some moments to relax and breathe will certainly make you feel better!

How do I know this, you may ask? Well, when I took my certificate in Mindfulness, there was a key study that was referenced back to, nearly all the time. Now, if you have read my blog, or know me in any way, then you know that everything I do, in my work, has to come from an evidence base; this means, there needs to be studies, published in peer review journals, that back up what the treatment claims. Now, for mindfulness, there is one study that really shows, just how much mindfulness can help you, in your daily life, not just when you are stressed!

Now, this year, a new study has come out. Backing up previous studies of Mindfulness. (Gotinka et al., 2016) Conducted a study where they compared 21 fMRI studies and 7 MRI scans from people who practised long term meditation, with people who had been on an 8 week program for Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) in a systemic review of the literature that is already in peer reviewed journals.

The studies was consisted of two groups, those who practiced meditation on a long term basis, and those who worked on their MSBR over an 8 week period. For the latter half of the group, their brains were scanned using MRI prior to starting the 8 week program, and then again after the 8 weeks. Two of these studies performed both elements, studying people who meditated on a long-term basis, and those who were on the 8-week program.

The idea was to see if the effect of mindfulness, in the short term, has the same effect as meditation has on people who have been using it in the long term.

What the study found was that practising mindfulness for an 8-week period, gave the same results in the brain as someone who had been meditating for years..

‘. the findings suggest that the 8-week MBSR training evokes similar brain responses to traditional long-term meditation styles. The connectivity between prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and amygdala indicates a neuronal working mechanism of how this secular training induces emotional and behavioral changes.’ (Gotinka et al., 2016) pg. 41

 Ok, I hear you, shaking your head. What does that mean? Well, although the study does have area’s that need to be improved, or researched further, this study tells us that there are measurable changes in various parts of the brain, that help us to regulate our emotions and to regulate our behaviours. In short, practicing mindfulness over an 8 week period, can give us the same emotional changes that longer term meditation does; feeling less stressed, calmer and responding in a more regulated manner.

Essentially, we can all have the inner peace of a Buddhist monk within an 8-week period.. Or can we? There are some limitations of this study, but even if practicing mindfulness every day for 8 weeks will give a little more calm and sense to your life, it seems like a worthwhile prospect.

Even if you are not experiencing any difficulties in your life, practicing Mindfulness on a daily basis will set you in good stead for the future- schools have even been bringing it in to their school day. Sometimes it is called meditation, but it really doesn’t matter what you call it. The idea is to just let yourself be in the present moment. Your mind will wander, and that is ok!

If I asked you NOT think about cute fluffy kittens. How they play, how they run around, how they purr when you tickle them? Etc. It’s not easy, is it? You need to make yourself STOP thinking about them, don’t you? So, now you can see why Mindfulness can be tricky; if you are not trying to think of something, you will always end up thinking of something! The trick is to think of the moment. The air on your face, the sound of the clock ticking, the cramp in your leg from where you are sitting.. these are all things that are in the present moment. This is the nature of mindfulness. To be in the present moment.

So how can mindfulness really help? Well, I started to pay a bit more attention to my practice; instead of rushing it when I had a spare 10 minutes, I started to practice regularly, every evening at 7pm. I only practice for about 10 minutes, but that is all that is needed. A short period of time, giving yourself a calm space to just relax, and afterwards, I am sure you will notice how much more peaceful you feel, and the issues that were there prior to the mindfulness session, may still be there, but there impact on you will be reduced. It does make on think, however, where would one be with regular practice, on a longer-term basis.. I’ve set an alarm on my phone to practice. What about you?


Gotinka, R.A., Meijboomb, R., Vernooija, M.W. and Marion Smitsb, M.G.M.H. (2016) ‘8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice – A systematic review’, Brain and Cognition, vol. 108, October, pp. 32-41.

 

 

Is it time to give yourself a break?

My word, it’s been a long time since I updated on my blog- life has well and truly got in the way. But, you know what? I am not beating myself up about it, and do you know why? Because life is hard enough as it is, without me making myself feel worse!

How many of us are really kind on ourselves? Honestly? If you get a compliment today, what’s your first reaction? Is it to dismiss it? Or do we thank the person who gave us the compliment? Well, being that we are such a negatively biased species, we tend to dismiss the compliment in favour of self-rebuke; “What? This old dress? I got it in a sale and it doesn’t even fit me well!” Instead of “Thank you- it’s a pretty dress, isn’t it?”

So, why don’t we accept a compliment? Why is it so hard for us to do that? Well, only you can answer that question for yourself. I know why I do it- I feel that it might make me sound big headed. But then, like my Mum says- “If you’re not going to blow your own trumpet, who else will?”

The hardest thing I have had to do, was to create this website! I had to list ALL the good things about me, as a Counsellor. That was tough- trying to ensure that I did justice to my training, and myself, without making it sound pompous. I hope I got the balance right!

I was reading an article today about how being kind to yourself doesn’t make you weak or immodest- see, there is an article and study that was written, purely to show us all that being kind to ourselves is actually a good thing!

The article Resisting self-compassion: Why are some people opposed to being kind to themselves? (Robinson et al., 2016) took 161 young adult participants and asked them about their self-compassion and rated these based on 18 character dimensions. They were then given two scenarios where in one, they treated themselves with self-compassion and the other where they treated themselves harshly and were critical of themselves.

The cohort was then split in to two groups- those who were more self-compassionate and those who were more self-critical. Surprisingly, both groups, those who were more self-compassionate, and those who were less self-compassionate, tended to not differ in their opinions of self-compassion, or the fact that self-compassion is good for oneself and one’s wellbeing. However, the less compassionate group of the cohort said that after showing any self-care, they felt that they would see themselves differently; specifically, the less compassionate group felt that they would feel less ambitious, responsible, modest, careful, industrious and competitive, compared to those in the group who were rated as more self-compassionate!

Added to this, the less self-compassionate participants felt that after being self-critical, they would feel stronger and more responsible. So, what does this mean? Well, both groups of people are just as interested in success and achievement as each other, but the less compassionate group felt that being kind to yourself meant that you were weaker, as a person. Is this true? Is this really the case? The implications of this study is that we need to challenge the negative assumptions we have about being kind to ourselves, because it doesn’t change what is happening, but life is easier and less imposing if we do show ourselves a little self care.

So, how do we show ourselves self-care? Well, it really depends on what floats your boat.. Do you enjoy going to the gym, cooking, having your hair/nails done, walking the dog, yoga or just playing some games on your Xbox? It really doesn’t matter what it is you do, as long as you give yourself a little ‘downtime’ to concentrate on yourself.

It isn’t being selfish; it is taking care of yourself. If we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of anyone else around us? How can we cope when things get bad, if we don’t have a source of stress release? It is really up to you how you do this, but the main thing is that you do it!

I know, I know- life is busy and you haven’t got the time to take time out for yourself.. this is a real circular argument, however. If you are feeling stressed, because there is so much to do, then you need to take some time out for yourself, to de-stress yourself. Yes, there are kids to look after, washing to put on, dinner to cook. But all of that will still be there, even if you do take 30 minutes out of your day to focus on yourself.

After you’ve taken some time out, how do you think you will feel? A little better? Re-energised? Raring to tackle those problems? Yes, actually, it will make you feel better. I cannot promise you that you will be dying to wash the skirting boards clean, but you will certainly be looking forward to your next little bit of me time!

Everybody needs some time out, from time to time, and there is nothing wrong with saying so. We need to find creative outlets- life isn’t one single journey, from a-z, it is a great big wild adventure, and all those small moments in between, that’s what makes up life. So why not go out for coffee and cake, if it makes you feel better? Why not buy a new bag, if you can afford it? Visit that park you’ve been meaning to, because if you don’t enjoy the small moments, you certainly wont be prepared for the bigger ones.


Robinson, K.J., Mayer, S., Allen, A.B., Terry, M., Chilton, A. and Leary., M.R. (2016) ‘Resisting self-compassion: Why are some people opposed to being kind to themselves?’, Self and identity, vol. 15, no. 5, April, pp. 505-524.

 

 

A Rose By Any Other Name?

It is a little late, but welcome to 2016! I really hope that, so far, you have been making the most of the New Year and have settled in to your stride. Personally, I have been so busy with my practice and my NHS work, I have barely had a chance to stop and breathe, but! It is now half-term and I have a few (well deserved!) days off, and what better than to write a blog post in celebration of this fact?

To be honest, part of the reason I haven’t written a blog post is down to the fact that over Christmas, there are very few studies and research papers that come out- and of the ones that did, they didn’t quite float my boat, in the research stakes. Until this one… which led me to my keyboard and some thoughts I have been having, whilst working with clients/patients and attending (the never ending!) training.

Tim Lomas, from the University of East London published a study recently, in the journal of Positive Psychology (Lomas, 2016) which made me smile, interested me and made me feel a little sad, at all at the same time.

Tim decided that he was going to study words that appear in other languages, but not in the English language; he found 216 words for positive emotional states and concepts, that we do not have in the English Language. Tim is constantly updating this list, so if you have any words that you know of, how about adding to the magical lexicon online;

Dr Tim’s Magical Lexicography

So, I suppose you want to know what led me to this study, and why I chose it as my return to blogging? Well, in the wonderful, humbling and constantly evolving profession of Counselling and Psychotherapy, we see clients/patients everyday who come along and tell us all about their lives- this experience always makes me feel very privileged; that my client/patient has chosen me to tell their precious life story to and that they trust me to hold them, securely, in that moment, to investigate what these musings or queries mean to their lives. It is an awe inspiring place to work from, and all to often, our clients/patients come to us with their negative emotions and experiences.

As the role of therapist, I am not trying to change your life, to make it better; I am trying to guide you to do this. In order for you to make those changes, accept those difficulties that you cannot change, it does require hard work, on both yours and my behalf. Looking for the positive, in a life that feels like it is filled with negatives, can be very difficult and disheartening, so this article felt quite important to me- ways in which we can look for the joy in life, when we don’t always see it.

Anyway, take a look at some of the words below- see which ones you think would be useful in your daily life. I know there are a few that I would love to use, and you know, by thinking more positively, we can affect our life and make changes to our life. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s not pleasant; but we can do it. By taking a negative, and questioning it, perhaps it can give us another way of looking at the experience. I am not saying it will go away or change, but maybe it will give us the space and clarity we need to come to terms with it.

 


 

Words relating to feelings, including the subcategories of positive and complex feelings (definitions are taken from Lomas’ paper):

 

Gula – Spanish for the desire to eat simply for the taste

Sobremesa – Spanish for when the food has finished but the conversation is still flowing

Mbukimvuki – Bantu for “to shuck of one’s clothes in order to dance”

Schnapsidee – German for coming up with an ingenious plan when drunk

Volta – Greek for leisurely strolling the streets

Gokotta – Swedish for waking up early to listen to bird song

Suaimhneas croi – Gaelic for the happiness that comes from finishing a task

Iktsuarpok – Inuit for the anticipation felt when waiting for someone

Vacilando – Greek for the idea of wandering, where the act of travelling is more important than the destination

Gumusservi – Turkish for the glimmer that moonlight makes on water


 

Words relating to relationships, including the subcategories of intimacy and more general prosociality:

 

Nakama – Japanese for friends who one considers like family

Kanyininpa – Aboriginal Pintupi for a relationship between holder and held, akin to the deep nurturing feelings experienced by a parent for their child

Gigil – Philippine Tagalog for the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because you love them so much

Kilig – Tagalog for the butterflies in the stomach you get when interacting with someone you find attractive

Sarang – Korean for when you wish to be with someone until death

Myotahapea – Finnish for vicarious embarrassment

Mudita – Sanskrit for revelling in someone else’s joy

Karma – the well known Buddhist term for when ethical actions lead to future positive states

Firgun – Hebrew for saying nice things to someone simply to make them feel good

Asabiyyah – Arabic for a sense of community spirit


 

Words relating to character, including the subcategories of resources and spirituality:

 

Sitzfleisch – German for the ability to persevere through hard or boring tasks (literally “sit meat”)

Baraka – Arabic for a gift of spiritual energy that can be passed from one person to another

Jugaad – Hindi for the ability to get by or make do

Desenrascanco – Portuguese for the ability to artfully disentangle oneself from a troublesome situation

Sprezzatura – Italian for when all art and effort are concealed beneath a “studied carelessness”

Pihentagyu – Hungarian for quick witted people who come up with sophisticated jokes and solutions (literally “with a relaxed brain”)

Kao pu – Chinese for someone who is reliable and responsible and gets things done without causing problems for others

Prajna – Sanskrit for intellectual wisdom and experiential insight

Wu Wei – Chinese for “do nothing” (literally) but meaning that one’s actions are entirely natural and effortless

Bodhi – Sanskrit for when one has gained complete insight into nature

 


 

Lomas, T. (2016) ‘Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography: Enriching our emotional landscape through 216 ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being’, The Journal of Positive Psychology, vol. 1, no. 13.

 

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is finally upon us! I’m sure for all of us, it’s a relief it’s here- either to finally get it over and done with, or to enjoy it with your loved ones.

However you feel about Christmas, please remember it’s only one day; life carries on regardless.

For all who celebrate, I wish you a peaceful holiday. For those who don’t, for whatever reason, I hope the next few days are a chance to rest and regroup.

To all my clients, past and present- thank you for allowing me the privilege of learning about your life, to support you to make the changes you want/need. I hope 2016 is a positive step forward for you all.

Finally, I am taking a well earned (I think, anyway!) break and am not returning to work until the 6th January.

See you all on the flip side!

Wanda

T’is the Season To Be Jolly.. Or Else?

So, I returned from an appointment the other week (back in November, actually!), to discover that my neighbours had already started decorating for Christmas 😐 this is something that does not make me happy; in fact, I had been hoping to hold off on the ‘Christmas Blog’ for a few more weeks yet. But, when another neighbour decorated with lights outside their house (in a bizarre pattern!) last week, I felt that I could not contain this blog anymore; batten down the hatches, Christmas is coming (not said in a Game of Thrones style, I promise).

So, when DO we start getting ready for Christmas and how does all this affect us? I am a bit of a traditionalist; to me, Christmas decorations and trees should not appear before the 15th December, as the earliest! However, there has been a growing pattern of people starting the festivities earlier and earlier; the first year we moved in here, four years ago, the decorations came out the first week of December and they have crept earlier and earlier every year since!

This made me think- am I being ‘Bah humbug’ or are other people feeling the same as me? I found a study by (Werner, Peterson-Lewis and Brown, 1989) that suggests that neighbours who decorate their houses, and perhaps do not have many friends in their street, are doing so to show their openness and cohesiveness in their local community. So, does that mean I don’t want to get involved with my neighbours? Well, yes, to a certain extent, but this doesn’t explain WHY people decorate so early? Maybe it is to welcome the neighbours to the coming festivities?

What about those people whose decorations are ridiculous to the extremes? And I am thinking this;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20669944

Now, perhaps this level of decoration could actually alienate the neighbours? Who wants to live next door to lights of that extreme, or that many visitors during December? The only positive thing I can think of, is that I think your house would be fairly safe from burglars throughout the whole of December?

So, if lights can either make you more (or less) tolerant and accepting of your neighbours, what does give you the ‘Christmas Spirit’? Well, a popular study I have found, cited by all the Christmas Naysayers, is from a couple of scientists in the Journal of Happiness Studies. (Kasser and Sheldon, 2002) asked 117 people, ranging in age from 18-80. They asked them to answer questions about their satisfaction, stress, and emotional state during the Christmas season, as well as questions about their experiences, use of money, and consumption behaviors during the festive period!

Now, I don’t know if this was what you were expecting, but peoples satisfaction was actually greater for the festive period, when it was based around family and religious experiences, rather than spending loads of money and giving/receiving gifts. Was that what you were expecting? I don’t know if I was; I know that, for me, I am very lucky and have a wonderful family, so Christmas is all about being with them. I don’t really mind present giving and receiving, or maybe that is because I am far too old, and bah humbug!

I find it hard to get too exited about Christmas until late December because, for me, it can’t start without my family. So until I am doing those activities like the Christmas food shop, or the kids start the school holidays it really is not Christmas time.

The Christmas period starting in late November, or early December is more about retail. Shops have to be able to sell goods and toys for two paydays before the 25th to give people a chance to buy things. For many people this leads to Christmas fatigue before Christmas arrives, and this is why I choose to ignore the holiday season for as long as possible.

So, I guess this brings us to the crux of the issue; what if it isn’t about spending, money and presents. What if it is about spending time with loved ones. And, lets just say, you are alone and don’t have any loved ones to spend it with. What then? What if you are left alone for Christmas, and I don’t mean in a cutesy ‘Home Alone’ movie style? What happens then?

It can be very hard to be alone for Christmas, but conversely, some people love being alone at this time! So, what can you do to keep yourself from being lonely at Christmas?

Scouring the Internet, the ideas are all the same;

  • Volunteer- helping others always makes us feel good about ourselves, and lets be honest, Christmas is probably the best time to volunteer!
  • Say YES to everything you are invited to- even if you are not feeling up to it, say YES! You can always leave early and go home; you never know what you might be missing out on, if you don’t even try
  • Work, Work, Work- if you enjoy working, then work! We are all different and different things make us happy. If it isn’t interrupting your life, perhaps you can get a jump-start on next quarters budgets!
  • Indulge yourself- comfort food, stay in your pajamas all day, dancing around the front room, watch your favourite movies all day long, whatever it is, DO IT!
  • Don’t wallow in your loneliness; find some support, internet, friends, chat rooms, whatever- just don’t feel like you are on your own!
  • Planning your time in advance is a good way of staving off the loneliness; if you have planned your time in advance, you know that you are not going to get bored and lonely, as you have a full itinery of things to do. Sounds like a plan to me J
  • Random acts of kindness and having faith can be quite important; I don’t mean an all encompassing faith that demands your presence at church 24/7, but perhaps some Mindfulness meditation, some relaxation or just getting in touch with your spiritual side and your ideas of what life is all about. Whatever it is that can make you happy.

So, there you have it, you’ve got some ideas to get you going. But what if none of those things appeal to you, and you don’t have anyone special to spend the holidays with? Well I would say that you do… You are special, buy yourself a present and enjoy it, you deserve it!


Kasser, T. and Sheldon, K. (2002) ‘What Makes for a Merry Christmas?’, Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 3, no. 4, December, pp. 313-329.

Werner, C., Peterson-Lewis, S. and Brown, B. (1989) ‘Inferences about homeowners’ sociability: Impact of christmas decorations and other cues’, Journal of Environmetal Psychology, vol. 9, no. 4, December, pp. 279-296.

 

 

Still Waiting For That Email?

So, having been sick from work for a while, I am slowly getting back in to the swing of things. As I run my own private practice, this includes responding to emails, a task which is usually reasonably quick for me!

However, I am having difficulties with my ISP (internet service Provider) at the moment (they shall remain nameless!) and some of my emails are not being sent, going missing, I am not able to pick up some emails and, perhaps the most frustrating of all, some emails I am being sent are bouncing back to clients, so I am not even getting them!

Whilst I am trying to find fixes for these (oh-so frustrating) issues, I came across this article which was from the Conference Steering Committee for the World Wide Web in Florence, Italy this year, which explains quite a lot as to the difference in responses with some of my clients and colleagues!

Have you ever been frustrated at how slowly (or quickly!) some people reply to your emails? I am one of those people who respond as soon as I am in a position to, as quickly as possible! So, when I have to wait for a response, from a friend, client or colleague, I can become quite eager to see that little red circle with a number in it appear on my email app!

I began to wonder, what is the difference in the speed of replies for emailing people? Is it based on IT skills- would a younger generation respond more quickly, being that email/messaging has been around for most of their lives, or because it plays such an important part in their lives? Or would the older generation be quicker? Seeing it as a politeness issue; non-response would be like ignoring someone? Or maybe every age group felt exactly the same?

The study ‘Evolution of Email Conversations in the Age of Email Overload’ by (Kooti et al., 2015) found a variety of answers to some questions, namely;

  • More than half of the responses contain fewer than 43 words.
  • If people are going to respond to an email, 90 percent will do it within a few days.
  • Responses on the weekends are the shortest.
  • Teens reply the fastest, shooting back a response in 13 minutes, on average.
  • It takes people, ages 35-50, about 24 minutes to reply.
  • People age 51 and older take a whopping 47 minutes to reply to their emails, on average.
  • Women take about four minutes longer than men to send a reply.
  • Only 30 percent of emails exceed 100 words.
  • People aged 20-35 are almost as speedy, sending a reply in 16 minutes, on average.
  • Half fire off a response in under an hour.
  • Want a lengthy reply? Make sure your email arrives in the morning.
  • The most common responses contain five words.

So, what did I learn from that? Well, I learned that people deal with email information (over) load in very different ways! Younger people are quicker at responding, but respond with fewer words- could this be down to the urgency of life when you are younger, or just that fewer words are needed to get your point across? What it didn’t explain, for me, was why some people respond and others don’t? No one likes to be ignored, and not receiving a reply to an email is a way of being ignored. The study also did not stress the importance that we place on emails and responses, only that we do try to respond.

As we get busier and busier, and our working lives’ get more stressful, this study shows that we do still try to answer our emails, but that we answer fewer emails and with fewer words. The main take-away from this, is that if you have an email that you really need a reply to, ensure it is there, bright and early for the recipient to read, when they arrive at work!

But how does this affect us? Does it just mean that when we arrive at work, instead of 10 emails, we are going to arrive to 100? Does it mean that we need to change the way in which we work?

What this boils down to is how much work we have on and how willing we are to prioritize our work- are you good at prioritizing you work? Do you know what is the most important work to get done?

Do you procrastinate and go to the easy to answer emails first? Leaving the harder ones to deal with as the day wears on, and indeed, you wear on? What the study found was that social importance was of higher importance than the actual importance of the content of the emails; so for example, if the email was from a friend at work, we would be more likely to reply to that, than to an email from our boss asking if our work was done. But, does this then add more pressure on us? Are we making our working lives harder?

These are all questions that need to answered by further studies, but I wonder how many of you can empathise with what the study found? Do you feel under more pressure to reply to more and more emails? Do you find that you need to answer emails out of working hours? And, if so, when does that stop?

The pressure can be different for people who run their own business, as for people who ‘traditional’ employees- I know from my own experience, working for myself means that I am never ‘off’ work. So, what can we do to limit the stress?

Well, to start with, we can learn to switch our mobile devices off when we get home from work! I have been doing this for a while now- on days off, evenings and weekends, I will not answer calls/texts/emails from my clients. I am not being rude, I just need to have boundaries that mean I get some time off too! Perhaps that could be a good starting point for you?

Do you give yourself a lunch break? It is really important, during your working day to give yourself a complete break from work; to let your mind rest and recover, to give you the energy to get through the day. It is really easy to just grab a quick sandwich, at your desk, replying to emails or answering phone calls, but are you getting a rest and do you feel like you are getting a break? If you feel that your work is encroaching into your lunch break, make a ‘lunch date’ with friends, try going out for a walk (yes, even in this grotty weather!), or what about sitting in your car for 15 minutes? Something that will mean you are taking your mind off of your work and on to other things!

What about practicing so mindfulness or relaxation at your desk? You could do this in the morning for 10 minutes, or the afternoon, or both! You could even invest in a cheap pair of ear buds, to block out the noise! Anything that relaxes you a little and helps you get through the day is a good thing, wouldn’t you say?

Some colleagues I work with go for a power walk, or yoga session at lunch time; maybe you don’t have the time for that, but at least getting up and having a walk around the office can get you moving and break that habit of sitting there all day!

Finally, what about being kind to yourself? If you get 50+ emails in one day, on top of your daily work, being honest and accepting that you cant possibly answer all of those emails. Yes, I know, it feels rubbish to do that, its like accepting defeat, but is it realistic to expect you to do all of this extra work? If it can’t fit in to your normal working day, perhaps a chat with your boss about your work expectations and the level of work you are getting is needed?

We always expect more of ourselves, but this has to be within sensible limits, doesn’t it? Life isn’t all about work, or at least, I don’t believe it should be, do you? If you are worried about your work/life balance, perhaps it is time to take a look at it. Maybe you can’t reply to all those emails in one day, maybe you shouldn’t have to? But the study above does show us that we need some better management tools to manage our emails, so perhaps it is time we invested in ourselves, our own ‘management tool’ for our working lives?

That said, it is Friday night and time for me to enjoy my weekend! I hope you all have a great weekend; step away from the phone and stop answering your emails! Monday will be here before you know it- surely they can wait until then?


Kooti, F., Aiello, L.M., Grbovic, M., Lerman, K. and Mantrach, A. (2015) ‘Evolution of Conversations in the Age of Email Overload’, Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on World Wide Web, Florence, 603-613.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, Life just happens!

Hello everyone!

I really hope you are all well, and for those of you in the UK, are enjoying our strangely inclement weather!

I am so sorry for my silence over the past few weeks and months; as I am sure you are all aware, sometimes,  life just gets in the way. I have been very poorly with Pneumonia, and am well on the way to recovery now- thankfully!

My illness has made me incredibly grateful for my family and my very close friends- being sick is never fun, but when you are trying to balance all the stresses and strains of modern life, things can really get to you!

I have been practicing my Mindfulness and Relaxation (have you?) to get me through some particularly rough patches. With Christmas coming, it’s quite common for us to get stressed and irritated with the prospect of so much do organise and do. How about giving a bit of basic Relaxation a try? There are a lot of apps on the App Store and Android Store (even on Youtube) that you could find to help you 🙂

Anyway, this is just a very short post to reconnect and say ‘Hi!’ to you all! I am getting back to working condition, slowly and surely, and will be planning some stress-busting blog tips for the run-up to Christmas!

Have a wonderful weekend, and keep wrapped up!

Wanda

Social Media; Friend or Foe?

So, hello everyone! I have been out of the loop on social media lately- work, family, study and other commitments have kind of got in the way; and for that, I apologise.

Hang on, why am I apologising? Surely it is up to me what I post, when I post, how often I post, what I am exposed to and how it affects me? Right? Well, maybe that’s not necessarily the case- particularly if you have a large ‘friend’ base on social media!

I thought this might be quite a relevant topic with which to re-enter my social ‘sphere’. The thing about Facebook, Instagram and other forms of social media, is the control (or lack of it) that we perceive we have.

A recent study by Sarah Buglass from the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent university, in the UK, suggests that ‘as our network size increases, the ability to remember who, or in the case of misclassified profiles, what you are connecting to, becomes increasingly more difficult, and the management of these networks more complex’ (Buglass et al., 2016).

The researchers studied 177 UK based Facebook users, of these 89% had their settings set to ‘friends only’, but just 22% used additional filtering option to improve their online safety. People who had smaller networks (less than 150 friends) were found to be more able to manage the information that they were posting and who they were posting to, as they were more aware of whom they share their posts with.

People with large networks (150+ friends) were more likely to be exposed to unsuitable material, which could cause them Psychological harm. These people are leaving themselves vulnerable to who is able to see their information, which can lead to a risk of damage to their own reputations and that of others, harassment from disgruntled parties, but also the fact that these people were more likely to fall victim to potential data misuse.

Personally, due to the nature of my work, I do keep my private social media accounts, private, but I still do see posts from ‘friends’ that I don’t want to see- be that because I don’t agree with their content or that it is just not that relevant to me.

I know how to change my privacy settings to stop seeing these images and posts, but do you? Have you stopped to think about just who is seeing your personal data? Have you thought about how those ‘shocking’ posts are affecting you?

Having more Facebook friends doesn’t mean you are popular, it means that you collecting people on a list, some of whom will share your ideologies, some of whom will be remarkably different from your own.

Perhaps a friend has let you down? Perhaps you have become distant from your close friend, for whatever reason? Well, seeing them on a daily basis, on your Facebook feed could actually be damaging your psychological welfare- do you really want to be reminded that someone has hurt you deeply, or that you are no longer seeing your friends, whilst they are off having fun with new friends?

Whatever the reason, we need to take care of ourselves on social media- not only for data reasons, but our own psychological reasons. Everyone’s life is different; we don’t need to be measuring ourselves on the virtual achievements of others!

In the mean time, I am going back to my privacy settings and just checking for sure, that you can’t see how old I am!


 

Buglass, S., Binder, J.F., Betts, L.R. and Underwood, J.D.M. (2016) ‘When ‘friends’ collide: Social heterogeneity and user vulnerability on social network sites’, Computers in Human Behaviour, vol. 54, January, pp. 62-72.

 

 

One Year On and Has There Been Any Real Change?

One year ago today, the world was rocked by the unexpected death of Robin Williams. He had been suffering from severe depression and, sadly, took his own life. What caused him to do this is unknown, and sadly, suicide remains very prevalent in our modern society.

According to The Samaritans 2015 report, Suicide Statistics 2015,

  • In 2013, 6,233 suicides were registered in the UK. This corresponds to a rate of 11.9 per 100,000 (19.0 per 100,000 for men and 5.1 per 100,000 for women).
  • The male suicide rate is the highest since 2001. The suicide rate among men aged 45-59, 25.1 per 100,000, is the highest for this group since 1981.

SuicideChart

 

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 18.10.11

So, why is this happening and what is going on? The rates of suicide are increasing- but aren’t we more aware of our mental health now, more than ever? The Mental Health Foundation estimates that;

  • One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives.
  • Around one in ten children experience mental health problems.
  • Depression affects around one in 12 of the whole population.
  • Rates of self-harm in the UK are the highest in Europe at 400 per 100,000.
  • 450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem.

So, mental health issues are pretty common place- so why are the suicide rates increasing? One reason that is consistently studied is the idea of stigma that is attached to admitting that one is suffering from a mental health difficulty. Different forms of stigma include personal stigma (negative attitudes towards others), perceived stigma (perceived attitudes of others) and self-stigma (self-attribution of others’ negative attitudes), so we can see the possible effects of ‘owning up’ to a mental health difficulty.

A study published this year asked 350 members of the public and university students to complete an online survey assessing their knowledge and contact with depression and anxiety, perceived stigma and self-stigma for both anxiety and depression (Grant, Bruce and Batterham, 2015). They found that (surprise, surprise!) the more contact you have with anxiety and depression- be it yourself or a friend or colleague- the less stigma you perceived from other people.

Men reported that they felt more personal stigma around depression and anxiety than women and the more the participant had personal experience of anxiety and depression, the higher their levels of self-stigma were towards mental health illnesses. So, really, there were no surprises. The more you experience mental health difficulties, the more you think other people will judge you negatively. So, now are we getting to the crux of why suicide’s are rising year on year? Despite the fact that we all think we are tolerant towards mental health illnesses, there is still a huge amount of perceived stigma, particularly from people who are suffering.

If you are feeling bad, who is going to want to risk telling people, who may then judge them and make them feel worse? Or just the idea that we have a mental health difficulty can be enough to stop you even acknowledging it, and certainly stop you getting help for it. What this study found was that we need to increase interventions aimed at increasing help-seeking behavior- we need to make it easier and less traumatic and worrying to get help.

We still assume that we are going to be penalized, personally, financially and professionally if we admit to having difficulties; but, and here is the crazy part, ONE IN FOUR PEOPLE will experience mental health problems at some point in their life. It could be you, your mum, dad, partner, children, best friends or colleagues from work. How would you feel if your loved one was feeling depressed, or, heaven forbid, suicidal, but didn’t want to tell anyone for fear of shame?

We really like to think of ourselves as sophisticated and non-judgmental, but, if this were the case, more people would seek help for their health, and surely, suicide rates would decrease? Mental health difficulties don’t discriminate; the old, young, rich, poor, male, female, cultural differences- it doesn’t matter. So, if mental health illnesses don’t discriminate, why should we?

What Robin Williams sad death highlighted for our society was the fact that no matter how rich or successful you are, if you are feeling low, depressed or anxious, money and fame and success won’t fix it- it’s time we were more open about mental health. Life is hard, sometimes, and we all need help from time to time; why should we have shame and stigma attached to that?

I wrote a blog piece earlier in the year on teenage depression, but, you know what? A lot of the symptoms are the same! The other point about this piece I am writing, is that even if you are not suffering from depression or anxiety, it’s really helpful to know what the symptoms are, so we can help and support our friends and family! Also, what’s the harm in spreading information and destigmatizing the issue of mental health? Anyway, back to the point of this particular paragraph; when it comes to mental health illnesses, please seek some help if you are experiencing three or more of these;

  • Do you feel a sense of hopelessness or sadness? It can be for no reason at all.
  • Do you have thoughts of death or suicide? ‘Everyone would be better off if I wasn’t here’ can sometimes be a common thought.
  • Do you suffer from a lack of energy? Are you fatigued more than normal?
  • Are there any changes in your eating habits? Eating more, or less?
  • Are there any changes in your sleeping habits? Sleeping more, sleeping less, night waking and being unable to return to sleep, waking up early?
  • Have you withdrawn from family and friends? Does work seem harder than usual, for no particular reason?
  • Are you tearful? Do you cry easily? Are you crying frequently?
  • Have you lost interest in your usual activities? Is there a sense of apathy that wasn’t there before?
  • Are you agitated? Restless? Unable to sit still?
  • Are you suffering from feelings of worthlessness and guilt?
  • Have you developed difficulties in concentrating?
  • Have you lost your usual enthusiasm? Have you developed a lack of motivation?
  • Are you feeling irritable? Angry? Hostile?
  • Have you any increased feelings of anxiety?
  • Have you become extremely sensitive to criticism?
  • Do you have unexplained aches and pains? Headaches or stomach aches, for example?

Please do go and see a Doctor. Seek out some help. Everybody goes through a rough patch at some point or another and sometimes things are just really difficult to deal with.

There are lots of different ways to tackle depression- medication is not the only thing available! I work in the NHS with clients who are referred from their Doctors surgeries. Sometimes, just talking to someone can help. Knowing that you are not the only one who feels that way can help to normalise what is going on for you. The NHS offers CBT therapy and courses to help deal with depression, anxiety and other issues. Please believe me when I say that you are not alone, many, many others feel this way too.

It might sounds ridiculous, when you are feeling so rough that you don’t want to get out of bed, but try and see your friends and family- research shows that getting out there and talking to people really does make you feel better. It is hard work, I know, but the more you see your friends and family, the easier it gets to go out and see them and the less you isolate yourself from the people who care.

Get some exercise! Go for a walk, run, swim- whatever it is that makes you feel better! Exercise releases endorphins, which are the feel good hormones in our body, so after we exercise, we get a hit of endorphins that makes us feel good. Even If it is just a walk- it will still do the same!

Concentrate on ‘me’ time- whether that’s a face pack, a bath, and meeting friends, going to the cinema. Whatever it is that will relax you. I know, I know, there are far too many things that need to be done before you can have some relaxation. But, the dishes will still be there when you have spent some ‘me’ time, and you know what? Doing those dishes might not be such a big deal when you have had time to relax.

As adults, especially if we have families to look after, we don’t feel like we deserve to have ‘me’ time, but realistically, having some ‘me’ time can help you so much more than you think it will! Spending a small amount of time de-stressing yourself will make all those things you need to deal with easier. Go on, try it- what have you got to lose?

Are you worrying too much? Do you find yourself spending all your time worrying? One thing that can really help is to have a ‘worry book’ on hand. Every time you have a worry, write it in your worry book. Then allocate yourself a period of time during the day to acknowledge your worries- make sure its not bedtime though, as those thoughts will just swim around your head! Take 30 minutes (no more- it’s worry time, not worry hours!), perhaps after dinner, or when you’ve put the kids to bed, and get your worry book out. Have a look at your worries. Can you do something about it? If so, it’s a problem, not a worry- and problems we can do something about!

If it is something in the past, or something that we physically cant do anything about, it is a worry. Write it in your worry book, acknowledge it in your worry time, and whenever it pops back in to your head during the day, say to yourself ‘Yep, that’s a worry for me- but, it’s in my worry book/I’ll put it in my worry book, and I will look at it later in worry time!’ distinguishing between what is a worry and what is a problem can be very helpful and give us some perspective about things we can do and things we cant.

Finally, seek out help- if you are feeling low, call a friend, call the Samaritans, CALM or SANE to talk to someone. Don’t suffer alone! If you don’t feel like your GP is taking you seriously, talk to another one. Just like some people specialise in holiday insurance and others in pet insurance, GP’s have specialisms too! Some are just better dealing with mental health difficulties than others!

If you do decide to go for counselling, it is really important that you find a counsellor who fits with the way you think and feel. If you don’t feel safe and listened to by one counsellor, go to another- as counsellors, we really want you to feel confortable with us; we wont take offense if you don’t! You cant like everyone in this life!

So, don’t let your mental health get to the point that you feel there is no hope. There is help out there, if only you can find it. And, you know what? People are a lot less judgemental than you think, and that stigma you perceived from your colleague? Well, maybe they just don’t really know what to say, but they do want to help!

 


Grant, J.B., Bruce,  .P. and Batterham, P.J. (2015) ‘Predictors of personal, perceived and self-stigma towards anxiety and depression’, Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, vol. 1, August, pp. 1-8.

Samaritans 08457 90 90 90

SANE 0845 767 8000

CALM 0800 58 58 58 or by text on 07537 404717