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.
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?
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.
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 goodthing!
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.
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;
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
So, in honour of our (not so) wonderful British summer, I thought that this week’s blog post should be aimed at all those parents out there- Just how do you survive the holidays with you children at home?
I happen to be one of those strange parents- the holidays for me are a joyous time! Yes, they are filled with shouting, crying, laughing and lots of rain, but it also means no school run, lie-ins and some real quality time with the family! Summer holidays are different for everyone- some people love them and some people loathe them, but, whichever one you are (a lover or a loather), we still have to get through them!
Unless you have an appointment or somewhere to be, why rush? Enjoy the fact that there is no school to rush about for and no clubs to ferry the kids to! Your kids have been working really hard for the last academic year- they deserve to have some time off!
One thing you could do is to get the kids involved in some meditation! No, not the kind of meditation you are thinking of, but a guided meditation. Using a progressive muscle relaxation can be a really useful life skill, believe it or not! By teaching your kids to relax and take a minute for themselves, you are arming them with weapons of defence for future stressful times, and lets face it, school, with all its testing and social pressures, can be a really stressful time!
You could also teach your kids to find a special place that is calming and relaxing- these techniques are great for pre-exam butterflies! Why not give it a try?
Remember when your little one’s were babies, and you thought you would never get a good nights sleep or a lie-in again? Well, now you can- legitimately!!! Again, your kids have had a hectic busy year- so have you! What else are the holidays for, but to kick back, relax and have a sneaky lie-in? So what if you didn’t get the washing done- there’s always tomorrow! Sometimes it is good to take things at a slower pace, recharge your batteries and get your head back in to a good space!
♯3 Switch off the electrics!!!
I don’t mean X-boxes or PlayStations- after all, research has found that (limited!) access to gaming teaches kids a lot about coordination, socialising, sharing, story telling and creativity! Have you ever played Minecraft with your kids? The stories and characters they create can be totally fascinating! But what I mean, is Social Media- we can spend all too long flicking through Facebook, Tweeting on Twitter or posting photo’s to Instagram. When we are doing this, and our kids see it, it becomes normalised. That’s what you do when you go out with people; you play on your phone.
Tear yourself away from it for a few hours- instead of taking a million photos in the play park, go ON the play park with your kids. Release your inner child!!! Now, wasn’t that fun?
♯4 Divide and Conquer!
What? Well, this one is for the parents who have multiple siblings to look after. I am sure that you will have the experience of having a 10 year old not want to do what your 3 year old wants to do; so, what do you do with that?
Well, contrary to popular opinion, children thrive on boundaries and timetables- they like to know what is happening and when it is happening and for how long it is going to happen! Why not spend Sunday night planning the week ahead? So that when your three year old wants to go to Peppa Pig world, and your ten year old complains, you can show them that you have space for them to choose something later in the week. This way, they can learn responsibilities and that dreaded word, sharing!
♯5 Don’t Compare!
This one ties in with number 3- don’t compare your activities to those of your online friends! There life is different to yours, and yes, they may have gone to Euro Disney for a ‘quick’ weekend with the kids, but that doesn’t mean a camping holiday is inferior! Your time is what you make of it, so be CHILL! Engage with your kids and stop worrying about the Jones’s, because I can promise you, they’re trying to keep up with you, as much as you’re trying to keep up with them!
♯6 Let your kids get BORED!
You do not have to produce activities for them every single day! It’s part of childhood to get bored and then to experiment with trying to entertain yourself! Get them to create games, art projects, have a story telling competition- there is nothing wrong with suggesting activities to them, but they will never learn to entertain themselves if we don’t leave them to it!
Sport can be a fantastic activity- cycling, playing in the park, football or even just a yomp through the local forest or park! Whatever you do gets them out of the house, expending energy and, guess what? When you expend energy, you get tired! So, a nice early night for the kids can give you just that little bit longer to relax by yourself, or with your partner, in the evenings. Now, what is so bad about that?
Do you have relatives that the kids could go and visit? Maybe for a morning or an afternoon, or, if you are really lucky, an overnight sleepover with Grandma and Grandpa! The kids will love it, you will love it and it gives your relatives time with the kids, unpressured, which might not happen the rest of the year!
♯9 Got a tent?
Have a sleepover in the garden! Did you ever do that as a child? Remember how exciting it was to sleep in your back garden in a tent?? You could have a little midnight feast, burin some marshmallows on the bbq or the kids might just be old enough to sleep in the tent alone. Whatever happens, there will be a buzz of activity in your house, and we know what releasing adrenaline produces, don’t we? Sleepy times!
♯10 Plan as a family
Finally, you are a family- so; if the kids are old enough, plan the holidays with them. Give them options- it doesn’t have to cost a fortune! Get them involved with running the house- baking kids (the cakes are their own rewards here!) doing the dishes or hanging out the washing. You can choose to give them pocket money for tasks, with a special visit to the sweet shop at the end of the week, or just teaching them that running a household means everyone needs to pitch in. The choice is yours- it is your family, after all!
Anyway, there are some ideas for dealing with the holidays. Yes, they’re not perfect and yes, they may not all suit you, but anything is worth a try, isn’t it? As you all know, your children are only young and wanting to hang out with you for a very small amount of time, and that time flies by even quicker. Making the most of the holidays can actually be really fun, it depends on which perspective you take!
Remember, you can always try some relaxation techniques, if the excitement gets too much!
I have been on a lot of training lately- some I have loved, and some I have found less impressive- the techniques just don’t resonate with me, so I have decided not to adopt them in my therapeutic work. That isn’t to say that the types of therapy do not work, I just don’t see them fitting in to my practice, be it because of a lack of a rigorous scientific background, or I just didn’t like the form of therapy! This got me to thinking- who is to say what works and why? Whilst pondering this (eternal) question, I found a study in the Psychological Bulletin that really intrigued me.
The study is called The Effects of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis, so perhaps from this, you can see why my interest was piqued! The study is a meta-analysis, which means that they have taken all the studies (between 1977 and 2014) that are about CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) (Johnsen and Friborg, 2015) and have analysed them to produce an overall investigation in to the efficacy (how it is working) of CBT. The results are, interesting, to say the least!
The study tracked the fluctuations in the effectiveness of CBT over time, and what the study found was that CBT appears to becoming less effective over time. This is not good news for the NHS, as this is the main type of therapy that they advocate. So, why does it appear to be falling out of grace, and why?
The study shows that over a period of time, 1977 to 2014, CBT has become roughly half as effective in treating depression as it used to be. I have to say, that from my clinical practice, I am finding that clients are becoming more and more resistant to CBT- in my (limited!) opinion, it is because we are becoming more self aware, and the more self aware we become, the less we can justify it to ourselves. But then, I am just one psychologist and that is my opinion!
One theory that is being bandied around is the idea of the placebo effect, which I am sure you have all heard of. The placebo effect is the idea that if you take a pill for your headache, and you believe it is paracetamol, but it is actually just a sugar pill, that the power of your mind is so strong that you will believe that this ‘tablet’ has made you better and your headache disappears, even though there was no ‘active ingredient’ in the pill you took.
Perhaps, like a popular friend in your network of friends, CBT’s reputation precedes it; the fact that CBT was hailed as a miracle cure, could mean that people really thought it worked (the placebo effect) when in actual fact, it didn’t work as well as was expected.
Part of this theory is about our expectations, which kind of ties in with my theory on the efficacy of CBT- in comparison to when CBT came about, when it was developed by Dr Aaron Beck in the 1960’s, our expectations of life have changed greatly. We are more realistic about life, in general. So, perhaps we do not expect a ‘miracle cure’ anymore? Perhaps we accept that we are who we are, and we can only change things if we want to? Who knows? That, my friends, is another study waiting to happen!
Another theory is that, as any therapy develops and becomes more popular (which is inevitable!), that the number of incompetent or inexperienced therapists applying these techniques increases. This means that the efficacy of the therapy decreases- if you are not attending CBT therapy with an experienced practitioner, it is not going to work as well. It’s like taking your Porsche to the Skoda garage- it’s similar, but not quite the same, and a Porsche has a specialist management system, so a Skoda garage wont be able to give you as good service as the Porsche garage will; although your car may be fixed to a certain extent, there is still work left to do.
Whatever the reason, life has changed and therapy changes with it. Who is to say that the placebo effect can’t actually help? I mean, if CBT works for you, who cares if it is the placebo effect at work? As long as it works, right? The problem though, lies in if it doesn’t work for you because you have been to an inexperienced therapist, or perhaps, as in my experience, you are actually self-aware and you know what is happening for you. Either way, if the only therapy available to you is CBT, and it doesn’t work, what do you do?
Well, the current therapy du jour happens to be mindfulness. Now, I have been using mindfulness for a few years, and just attended a course to brush up on my techniques, learn any new theories and to make sure I am not an inexperienced practitioner! But, is mindfulness just the next buzz word- in 40 years time, will the studies be there to show us that, just like CBT, mindfulness has become less effective also?
Last week I attended training on a course called Havening Techniques®. Yes, yet another new form of therapy. I have not had enough experience with Havening to fully make my mind up about it, which is why I need volunteers to work with. But, this brings in to question, again, the efficacy of a therapy and the placebo effect- who is to say what is right and what is wrong? If a therapy works for you, and a competent therapist is treating you, then does it really matter what the modality of therapy is? Perhaps, in our ever-changing world in which we live in, the changing modality of therapies is actually useful. Perhaps therapy is adjusting to our different lifestyles and expectations in life?
Back when Freud was just at the beginning of his Psychodynamic theory, life was very different. People did not understand how their emotions effected, and affected their lives. The ‘new therapy’ gave us an understanding of what was happening in our lives. But now we understand, we want to solve our problems. And, in true modern fashion, we don’t want to wait; we want to fix them NOW.
Perhaps this is where Havening® could fit in? Dealing with trauma and emotions in a focused way, whilst, at the same time, giving you techniques to practice at home, where you do not have to be an expert? I don’t know, but I do know one thing- I am looking forward to finding out!
★ if you have contacted me with regards Havening therapy; I am in the process of writing contracts etc. to begin the therapy. I hope to be in contact with you in the next week or so to book appointments!
Johnsen, T.J. and Friborg, O. (2015) ‘The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis’, Psychological Bulletin, May.