Pride 2020

This year, I have left my annual Pride post until near the end of June (and on actual Global Pride day), as I have been taking the time to read, learn and educate myself over the global difficulties of the last few months. Pride is such an important event and it has coincided with a global pandemic and civil unrest- Black Lives Matters is such an important organisation and issue, and is intrinsically linked to Pride, also.

Although I identify as agender, this is not something that has caused me difficulty in my lifetime- an invisible difference, that only a few knew (now the world, may I add!), I wanted to really listen to the voices of the LGBTQA+ community, and the reality of the here and now, growing up with the difficulties a new generation faces. What better way to do this than to introduce a ‘guest’ for this blog- a 17 year old, Magdalena, an Autistic, Non-binary lesbian, studying at college, who writes thoughtfully on the effect of the history and what it means to be LGBTQA+ in the 2000’s. Thank you, Magdalena, for sharing your thoughts.


Identity, intersectionality, and self-reflection, or where we went wrong with Pride 

As a part of my English literature coursework, I’ve spent the past few months studying the gay culture and history of the 1980s. It seems strange to categorise time in such recent memory as history, but for the queer community, the 1980s were massively destructive. The rise of AIDs and the complete lack of accountability from any government means that so many members of the queer community are no longer with us. This has had a profound effect on how gay culture became fetishised within the mainstream in the early 90s and lead us to today’s ‘Rainbow Capitalism’. This Pride, I think it’s vital to take inspiration from the Gay Communities of the 1980s and re-politicise our identities.

To be gay in the ’80s was inherently political – life and love were ruled by legislation. For anyone out and proud, violence was common and expected, employment was tenuous, and family ties were often cut. There was absolutely no way to be gay in a socially acceptable way, and at most tolerance could be expected from cisgender heterosexual friends. But this had a stimulating effect on gay communities – to be an active member of these communities was to ally yourself with other similarly oppressed people.  At first, this was true within queer communities, but soon the complete disenfranchisement from systems of power led to more and more radical politics. Socialism and Civil Rights movements were common within queer communities (not to say that the gay culture within the ’80s was perfect, but that without any ties to bigoted systems of power often people would champion other marginalised groups).  A fascinating example of this is the Lesbians and Gays support of the miner’s movement. For more information, I highly recommend either the film Pride or this documentary made by the group in 1985; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHJhbwEcgrA

With this complete politicisation of identity in mind, I invite you to consider not only queer culture now, but also how the world views queer people at large. One could argue that queer people are now acceptable to society, and the fight for gay rights is over. This is patently untrue – a specific type of queer person is acceptable to society. These people check most of the following boxes: white, able-bodied, cisgender, skinny and either Christian or atheist. Money also helps.

A perfect example of this is Ellen DeGeneres – after she was forced to come out as a lesbian in the mid-90s, she became the most palatable queer person in the media. She was white, skinny, conventionally attractive and already established in the industry. Her talk show is now a staple of American TV, and she has become a household name. Ellen DeGeneres is also now one of the mega-rich; friends with George W Bush (who not only attempted to ban gay marriage constitutionally, but also started the Iraq war – killing an estimated 151,000 – 160,000 Iraqis in the first four years, most of whom were civilians), and is infamous within show business for her alleged terrible behaviour. The only thing that sets Ellen apart from the rest of the 1%, is that she is a lesbian – but based on the above behaviour, how much does she care about the queer community?

This post is not a strange and long call-out post for Ellen DeGeneres, but she serves as an excellent example of what I want to explain. As it becomes more and more acceptable to be queer (providing you are of course massively privileged otherwise), there has been a political shift within communities for us to moderate our behaviour to make other people more comfortable with our identities – we must become entirely non-threatening to be ‘accepted’. This is a step backwards for Queer rights – we cannot align ourselves with bigoted systems of power and present it as progressive. Support for queer people cannot be conditional, because by adding these conditions, we betray the members of our community who fight for us the hardest.

This modern marketing of queer culture harms trans and gender non-conforming people, people of colour, the disabled, and the poor within our communities. These are the people on the frontlines, making changes. The first Pride was a riot, and trans women threw the first bricks. To celebrate Pride, you cannot opt-out of the political side of being queer – to quote Adam Eli “Queer people anywhere are responsible to queer people everywhere.”  I urge queer people reading this to think about how they identify – not just their gender and sexuality – but who they identify with. Do you sympathise with the people upholding and profiting from bigoted systems of power more than those suffering? Do you identify more with the security of your whiteness than the queer community? Do you consider other people’s pain to be somehow their fault?  

Our identities exist within the context of the world around us, and so the question of identity is far more complicated than the mainstream media would have you believe. There is more to being Queer than loving who you love and being who you are because we must be queer in solidarity with others. This Pride, I invite you to remember our history as revolutionaries and support people who are suffering under the same system you are.


I also want to add to this post- that I will be discontinuing my Facebook page, both personal and professional, in the very near future. Why? You may ask- the answer is simple. Social Media can be used for amazing gains- the spreading of knowledge and information to society is essential, especially when the media and government is trying to twist our understanding of the current climate, and maintain the current untenable white supremacist, racist, homophobic and transphobic culture that black, coloured and LGBTQA folk experience on a daily, hourly basis. Part of the problem, I feel, is the lack of accountability on platforms such as Facebook, to actively manage and discontinue the spread of false information and hate speech. I do not feel that Facebook, in particular, has (or will do) an effective job of this, and I am voting with my feet. There are many forms of protest that one can take, the one option I have available to me is this; the ability to leave, to say no and to not buy in to the offensive, racial, homophobic and transphobic narrative that these platforms help to spread.

Until such a time as I feel the various media outlets, like Facebook, are listening to morality, I do not want to be a part of the machine, so I am removing my cog. Thank you for following this page, I am still active on Twitter (who are actively trying to address the bigoted, socially unjust narrative spewed by the likes of Trump) and my own webpage, www.wandahowell.com


As the black author Eldridge Cleaver said- “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” 

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020

Like all of you, I have been working from home, trying to educate the kids whilst working with clients, admin and writing my progression for my thesis- COVID-19 has kindly set me back a bit, like I am sure it has many of you! So, this blog is going to be short and concise… unless I end up waffling!

This week marks an incredibly unusual Mental Health Awareness week for us all, with everyone coping in the best ways that they can. The theme for this year is ‘Kindness’, but I would ask you “what do you think about when I say ‘kindness’?” I am sure most of you will think about being kind to others. However, particularly during these stressful times, what about showing kindness to yourself? Have you thought about that?

Most of us have an abundance of compassion for our friends, family and even strangers, but what about compassion for ourselves? When do we think about being compassionate towards ourselves? When are we actually compassionate towards ourselves? What do you think being compassionate towards yourself is? What should it consist of?

Being compassionate towards yourself is difficult- our brains are hard-wired to assess for danger at all times, and goodness knows we are in a dangerous situation right now, with COVID-19 causing concerns globally. Jobs, health, schooling and friendships feel like they are all at risk, and some may well be. Now is a really good time to start to be more compassionate towards yourself.

Being kind can consist of many things- volunteering, helping a friend, a random act of kindness or making a cup of tea for yourself because you have had a hard day. I guess I am thinking about the home-schooling parents here- wow, what a term, eh?? Congratulations for getting through it- it has been tough!

Helping others gives us an amazing sense of satisfaction and happiness, but it can be difficult to volunteer or help out whilst this current pandemic is happening. We do, however, have the internet to help! We can virtually check-in with people and see how our friends and family are. We could skill-share online- I could teach you yoga if you teach me knitting? Given that most of us are actually stuck home and cannot get out to help others, it feels to me that right now is a really good time to practice your kindness towards yourself.

When something goes wrong, or doesn’t turn out as you would have liked or expected, what happens next? What words go through your head? Are they kind words? Are they words you would use to a friend in the same situation? 

We use our Internal defensive behaviours to keep the self from experiencing difficult internal situations or emotions and can include dissociation, substance misuse, harming oneself, and constantly reminding oneself of one’s faults, flaws, and weaknesses.

External defensive behaviours are intended to help the individual avoid harm from others, and include blaming the self, silencing the self, being submissive and non-assertive, distrusting others, and keeping others at a distance (Gilbert & Procter, 2006)

So, If my friend failed their driving test, am I going to commiserate with them and support them or am I going to tell them that it isn’t surprising as they fail at everything and are totally useless? NO!!! So, if I failed my driving test, why do I have those thoughts about myself? This is what I mean about being compassionate towards yourself- ok, I failed the test, but it isn’t the end of the world. I can take the test again; I can take more lessons and I can get better. Everyone fails something at some point in their lives. 

Part of compassion is about being realistic- who are you comparing yourself to? There isn’t really much point in me comparing myself to Taylor Swift, is there? I am not under 30, a pop star or a millionaire, so the comparison isn’t fair to me. Even if my brain thinks it is!

Kindness starts with being kind to yourself, so it is just as import to recognise when you have given enough of yourself- feeling tired, overwhelmed or frustrated are really good signs that it’s time to be kind to yourself. Don’t overdo things- so many people in this pandemic situation have decided to learn things or bake things. If you don’t feel like learning something, just because others have, doesn’t mean you have to. Back to comparing again, aren’t we? Their situation will be different to yours, so maybe they have more time and energy to actually do new and different things. It is ok to have not learnt French, the guitar or how to make the perfect sourdough bread before we all go back to work, you know.

For support:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk

https://youngminds.org.uk

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/

https://www.compassionatemind.co.uk

Reference:

Gilbert, P., & Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate Mind Training for People with High Shame and Self-Criticism: Overview and Pilot Study of a Group Therapy Approach. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 13, 353–379.

Something is a miss..

Hi Everyone! I hope 2019 is faring well for you all! I have been remiss in my job of late- I have not updated my blog since the New Year. There has been a very good reason for this; last year, I had a loss in my family that was incredibly profound. It wasn’t my first loss, but it was my first loss as an ‘adult’, and it did hit me hard. Since then, as anyone who has experienced loss, I have been trying to figure things out and make sense of my, now changed, world. That’s not been an easy thing for me to do.

My first experience of loss was as a 7-year-old at school, my favourite teacher died of an asthma attack. I remember being so sad, but not understanding how something as simple as an asthma attack could kill someone. Being a young child, I quickly got over that loss and carried on with my life, back in my safe cocoon of knowledge that people don’t really die, unless for a ‘special’ reason. I carried on quite well for a few years and then experienced my first loss of someone who was personally important to me, as a young teenager- my Grandmother died (being that I am half Polish, she was my Babcia) and my whole world was shaken. Everything I thought I knew had been capsized.

A few years after, I lost my Grandad (Dziadek) and I think I was much better equipped to deal with that loss, as I had already experienced a loss that felt so huge, it would crush me. I can now see, with my Psychological training, that what I was experiencing was perfectly healthy! Had I not responded in the way I did, perhaps then there would have been something ‘wrong’, but we dealt with it as a family and we carried on. There is no ‘right’ way to grieve or process your loss. Psychologists and Psychiatrists have spent a lot of time trying to work out how our grieving processes work- Swiss-American Psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was frustrated by the lack of education that medical schools gave, in terms of the response to death and dying, so she started a series of interviews with patients, conducting her own research into the work that was already available, with regards death and dying.

1969 came and Kübler-Ross published her book, ‘On Death and Dying’  which published her idea that we go through stages of grieving, which she called the ‘Stages of the Grief Cycle’. Kübler-Ross initially assumed the stages to be linear, that is that one follows another, follows another, in order. However, later in life, she realised that the process was not linear, and that as individuals, we go through the process in differing stages, going back and forth as our own personal grief is processed. This kind of makes sense to me- I mean, we are all fundamentally human, so it would be sensible if we all reacted within some boundaries of a cycle, wouldn’t it? Or does that not account for our individual differences?

Kübler-Ross’ model does have criticism levied towards it, however. There are many reasons why the model might not be applicable; life is very different since KKübler-Ross created the model There is no definitive evidence that we actually pass through these stages; I use the model with clients to show that we all experience different reactions to loss, but that all of these reactions are part of a natural process. George Bonanno, a Clinical Psychologist at Columbia University in America has reviewed a number of peer-reviewed studies and journals and has come to the conclusion that we adapt and cope with trauma and loss through Psychological Resilience and some resilient people show no grief at all- but this doesnt mean they haven’t experienced the loss profoundly- this brings to mind an article I read about hypersensitivity, which would make an excellent blog post in the future. (Follow the links to read more about Psychological Resilience- it really is interesting!)

Whatever the theory behind grief and loss, we all experience it in our own way. For me, I felt the need to slow down my pace of work and to focus on the present more deeply. By doing this, it helped me to appreciate the here and now, rather than the what is going to happen in two weeks time, or the rumination on the past! Mindfulness, as always, has been a huge support for me. I guess this is my own personal resilience kicking in, acknowledging that there has been change in my life, and for me, change needs to be adapted to and worked with. Some changes happen quicker than others, I guess, and there are no rules as to how your own personal psychological resilience will kick in and work for you.


  1. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Dying-Elisabeth-Kübler-Ross/dp/0415463998
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kübler-Ross_model
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bonanno
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_resilience

It’s been a Mental (Health Awareness) Week!

May is Mental Health Awareness month and this week, 10-17th May, is Mental Health Awareness week. I wonder if you know this, and I wonder if you care? Mental health is still a stigmatised subject to discuss; we’re getting better at talking about it, but we’re not getting better at dealing with it.

Antidepressant use has sky-rocketed since 1992- prescriptions for antidepressants have increased 100% since 2015, or 500% since 1992 and 1.1 million people are, unfortunately, on benefits because of their mental health difficulties. Mmmh. I wonder what this is telling us? I wonder what the trend is that is making antidepressant use increase, year upon year? Don’t get me wrong; I am not against medication for mental health difficulties; I know in some cases the medication taken can be life-changing for some people. I am more interested in the deeper causes than that. What is going on in our society, and why are we getting sadder and less fulfilled, as a nation?

I have been studying for my (final ever!!!) exam in Professional Issues in Counselling Psychology, and, given that this is Doctoral level, I did a LOT of reading for this. In fact, I ordered several books, too 🙂 But seriously, I was engrossed in what is a mix of theory, lived experience, political discussion and the psychology of the changes that we are being forced through. These changes are being pushed on to us from so many different areas; by the society around us, work, school, government, media, social media and peers- you name it, we’re getting pressure from every direction, so just how does it affect us?

I’m really not going to go into masses of theory, so don’t worry there; but hang in there, it’s worth it, I promise! Do you know we have a Minister for Loneliness in Parliament in the UK? Yes, yes we do. She’s called Tracey Crouch, and she is here to cure our loneliness. Or is she? How is she going to make us feel better and less isolated? Is it flinging money at more therapists in what is an already hugely overstretched NHS? Or is it at a more fundamental grassroots level?

Have you been into a GP surgery recently? A health centre or hospital? Have you ever noticed the signs on the walls? What are they telling you? Are they telling you to lose weight? Are they telling you to stop smoking? Join a gym? Practice some yoga or Mindfulness? Those are all great suggestions, sure, but what is at the root of all of this? Why are people unhappy?

Think about your life, what makes you unhappy? Is it your job? Your house? The fact that you are struggling to get from pay day to pay day- or even just through the first week of the month would be good! What do you see when you look in the paper, or on social media? Are these concepts/material goods/lifestyles attainable for us, in this economic climate? The answers you come up with are probably not very positive answers. Things need to change. People need to start getting involved in their lives, and the lives of the community around them- it’s the only way we can affect social change, and as I am about to show, no matter who you are, social interaction is massively significant for us all.

As a (terrible) beauty advert states- here comes the science bit! As homo sapiens, we live for groups. Really, quite literally live because of them, and for them. We’ve talked about the whole caveman thing already on this blog- we wouldn’t have survived alone- so what makes this any different now? We need to feel like we belong. We need to feel needed. Social connection is so vital for our mental health- I’ll start at the beginning and make it as quick and painless as possible, I promise!

Back in the late 1970’s a Polish Social Psychologist, Henri Tajfel, after experiments in the lab, proposed a new theory relating to the way we function as humans; Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). What Social Identity theory tells us, is that we favour the groups of people we are with and feel comfortable with- your rugby club? That’s what we would call your ‘ingroup’ and the opposing team, well, they would be… yes, you guessed it, the ‘outgroup’. So, whose side do we take in a situation like this? Well, the people we are in the same group as, of course. Why is that, I hear you ask? Well, how does being a part of that group make you feel? Accepted? Happy? Fulfilled? Yes, we all feel that way when we are accepted, welcomed, supported and helped in a group. We all feel the need for that acceptance. ALL of us. And when we have groups that we are happy with, it makes our lives better. We have something to look forward to and enjoy, and in turn, this increases our mental health and wellbeing.

Taking care of your mental well-being is just as important as taking care of your physical well-being and is something that you can take an active part in- taking an interest in your own life and community! Getting involved in your community will not only make you feel included, but it will give you a sense of purpose and happiness. Yes, I really do know, and understand, that it’s so hard to get out and about when you’re feeling unwell and low, but if you can get yourself out, you really will benefit from it.

Any group works- reading club, gardening club, pole dancing classes, swimming, boules, poker (no betting here!), cooking club, art, debating, ecological, photography, football, rugby, ballet, environmental, tap… the list goes on, but the more involved you get, the better you will feel. Don’t trust me, trust these fantastic psychologists who have performed research into this fascinating, and helpful area; a group of Psychologists who used Social Theory intervention to create social groups, Groups 4 Health, for people with mental health difficulties; the result was improved psychological health and well-being (Haslam, Haslam, & Cruwys, Groups 4 Health, 2016). One group of scientists worked out that even belonging to a group of people who feel stigmatised, such as a support group, your mental well-being increases (McNamara, Stevenson, & Muldoon, 2013). There are also some scientists who believe that social identity and feeling part of a group and being included is so important that they even wrote a book about it (Haslam, Jetten, Cruwys, Dingle, & Haslam, 2018). Connection is key!

Sadly, there are other elements that we need to keep us happy- enough money, safe and affordable housing, jobs, jobs that are well paid, jobs that are not zero contract and what about social spaces that we can all use safely? A psychological theory doesn’t cover these, I am afraid, but Politics does. And it’s up to us to influence and create change in these things, if we want to feel better. The tragic school shooting’s in the USA have awoken the frustration and anger in school children across America (even across the world), who can see precisely how unfair their lives are; subject to the rules and regulations of people who do not understand the complexities of their lived experiences- as a parent, I cannot even imagine how scary it is to send your children to school every day, unsure if that is the day that a tragedy may happen at your school.

Politics aside, don’t we want to take a little bit more interest in our lives? Improve our situations- for those we love, those around us, our (future) children and families, and even just for the health and well-being of all? What do you think?


References:

Haslam, C., Haslam, S., & Cruwys, T. (2016). Groups 4 Health. Journal of Affective Disorders, 188 – 195.

Haslam, C., Jetten, J., Cruwys, T., Dingle, G., & Haslam, S. A. (2018). In The New Psychology of Health: Unlocking the Social Cure.Abingdon: Routledge.

McNamara, N., Stevenson, C., & Muldoon, O. T. (2013). Community Identity as Resource and Context. European Journal of Social Psychology, 393 – 403.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin, & S. Worchel, The social psychology of intergroup relations(pp. 33 -47). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

 

 

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.

 

 

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