Being Mindful of Mindfulness!

I was on a Mindfulness course last week- Mindfulness is a really hot topic with Mental Health workers at the moment. I have been working with Mindfulness for around 4 years, so I thought I would scrub up on my techniques and ideas and get back into my Mindful practice for myself!

Did you know that in 2012 there were 40 new papers on mindfulness published every month according to Google Scholar? Guardian journalist Barney Ronay noted that 37 new books had been released that week alone! I think that this demonstrates just how popular mindfulness has become.

Mindfulness, the act of paying attention, in a non-judgmental way, to ones own experiences of the here and now. So, what exactly does that mean? Well, exactly what it says- paying attention to what is happening to you, around you, in the moment that you notice them.

Whenever anyone is going on a mindfulness course, the first thing people who are experienced in mindfulness will say to him or her is “Wait until you do the raisin exercise!” What? What on earth is that? Well, a good way to explain mindfulness is to take a raisin. Don’t eat it- you are jumping the gun there! Hold it in your hand. Have you ever really looked at a raisin? Have you noticed the colours? Have you held it up to the light and looked at the brown and amber hues that are in front of you? Have you ever looked at the creases, the ridges, and the folds? The size of the raisin or the shape of it? Have you felt it between your fingers? Is it squishy? Hard? Smooth? Textured?

No? I am sure you haven’t. Not really. Not closely.

Well, let’s not stop there! Pick up the raisin. Put it to your ear. Do you hear anything? No, of course you don’t, but then roll the raisin between your fingers. Can you hear the squeakiness of the raisin now? The slight grinding as you roll the raisin between your fingers?

Take the raisin and hold it up to your nose. Take a deep breathe in- can you smell it? What does it remind you of? Christmas cake? Cinnamon rolls? Is it a slight smell, or pungent?

Now, put the raisin in your mouth- but don’t chew it or swallow it! Roll it around in your mouth and really feel it. Put it between your teeth, give it a little squeeze. Can you feel the textures and the taste starting to spread? Gently chew the raisin, experience the flavour. Is it sweet? Bitter? Finally, swallow.

Now. I bet you haven’t experienced a raisin like that before, have you? You could do the same with making a cup of tea or brushing your teeth- any activity that you do during the day, that you can break down and really pay attention too!

So, what on earth has fiddling with a raisin for the last 10 minutes done for you, eh? Well, by exercising all of your five senses, your cortisol level has decreased (stress hormone) and you will feel calmer than you did before you started. By looking at things from a visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, gustatory and olfactory sense (see, hear, touch, taste, smell!) you have brought yourself into the present moment. You are not thinking of that annoying colleague today at work and you are not thinking of all the work you need to do tonight to prepare for tomorrow. You are in the moment, and that moment is peaceful and calm.

So, by practising this every day (for those of you in the know, it is VAKGO. Yep, snazzy, eh?) we can just stop what is happening, take a few minutes out of life to relax and calm down, before we go on to the next busy period of the day.

So, how exactly does being mindful, which can actually be a personality trait anyway, actually be beneficial? A study in 2011 suggests that

Evidence suggests that mindfulness practice is associated with neuroplastic changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, fronto-limbic network, and default mode network structures” (Hölzel et al., 2011)

Say, what?! Well, what this means is that by practicing mindfulness, area’s of the brain, associated with neuroplastic changes (referring to changes in neural pathways and synapses that occur due to changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking, and emotions – as well as to changes resulting from bodily injury) in areas of the brain that are responsible for attention, focus and regulation. Simply put, by utilizing mindfulness you can actually change the structure of your brain (the area’s that are ‘plastic’) for your benefit; to increase your sense of personal perspective awareness, your attention and focus, your emotional regulation and your body awareness.

Nah, that’s not real. Once your born, your brain doesn’t change. Well, actually it does- as we grow so does our brain. Our neural pathways and synapses develop and change, according to our environment, what we learn, what we don’t learn and genetics. So, if we train our brain to be present in the moment, really present, we can grow the area that we use to focus and pay attention. What magic is this, I hear you ask? Well, it is simply the wonder of the human mind- although science has come along way over the last 100 years, we still do not really know how the brain functions; we are learning more every week.

So, if mindfulness is so magic, why isn’t everyone doing it? Well, I cannot answer that one, I am afraid! What I can say is that mindfulness is NOT a cure all. It is a technique you can use to develop and enhance your day-to-day life. In fact, there are studies available that say certain people should not practice mindfulness; a study in 2012 concluded that there was not enough data available to fully analyse who should or should not partake in mindfulness meditation or therapy, but that people for whom there are deep-seated mental health difficulties or long term psychological affects, mindfulness meditation may not be appropriate (Dobkin, Irving and Amar, 2012).

The reason that mindfulness may not be appropriate for some people is that the act of mindfulness takes us deep in to meditation- by doing so, we are relaxing and allowing ourselves to be in the moment. If you have any traumatic experiences that you perhaps haven’t dealt with, or that still trouble you, the by going in to the mindful state can reduce your inhibitions, and the safety mechanisms, the defence mechanisms you have in place, to protect you from your difficult thoughts, are suddenly lowered, which can leave you in a very troubled place.

So, this blog then becomes a cautionary tale! Mindfulness, to some, seems like it is a waste of time, however, this is not what we are seeing from the studies that are coming out. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression and to help with many other issues people have. However, it is not a one size fits all therapeutic achievement. In fact, if you are not in the right place in your life, in the right state of mind, mindfulness could in fact be quite dangerous for you- raising traumatic memories that you have repressed, hidden deep down or simply memories that you actually don’t want to, or can’t, deal with. Mindfulness is not the be all and end all that we originally thought it to be, the studies are showing this, but. That said, it could really work for some people.

So, if you are having difficulty sleeping, or are feeling stressed from your busy life, why not take 10 minutes out of your busy day to practice some mindfulness meditation (as long as you are not in the group of people discussed above, for whom mindfulness is contradictive!)? It doesn’t have to be the raisin, although, why not? Perhaps you are just going to use the VAKGO to notice what is going on around you, or you are just going to close your eyes and concentrate on your breath. In and out, slowly, clearly, purposefully. You never know. After 10 minutes of it, you may feel like a whole new person!


 

Dobkin, P.L., Irving, J.A. and Amar, S. (2012) ‘For Whom May Participation in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program be Contraindicated?’, Mindfulness, vol. 3, no. 1, March, pp. 44-50.

Hölzel, B.K., Lazar, S.W., Gard, T., Zev, S.O., Vago, D.R. and Ott, U. (2011) ‘How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective’, Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 6, no. 6, November, pp. 537-559.

 

 

Procrastination- What Are You Waiting For?

Procrastination. We all do it at some time or another. I know I have- if there is a deadline for an assignment, you will always find me playing a game, or anything to avoid the inevitable! But, I always start with just enough time to get it done. For some people, procrastination is far more stressful- it really affects their lives and can change things for the worse.

So, why do we procrastinate? And does it do us any harm? I read a study posted in the Association of Psychological Science last month, the study stated that procrastination, or rather Trait Procrastination– the tendency to delay important tasks despite the negative consequences- was significantly associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease (Sirois, 2015). So, although this study highlighted that procrastination was associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease, it did not provide a causal link- phew, all you procrastinators out there, we can breathe a sigh of relief. For the moment.

20% of people identify as chronic procrastinators (Marano, 2003); meaning that procrastination cuts across all aspects of their lives, from paying bills on time to filing tax returns. Luckily for me, my procrastination only seems to affect writing reports and studies (and yes, this blog, too!), but for other people, procrastination can be literally life ruining.

Chronic procrastination is not a problem of time management, believe it or not! Procrastinators are actually more optimistic than other people- they genuinely believe they will get the work/project/bill paid completed in time! We are also not born procrastinators- procrastination is a learned habit, generally from our familial habits, albeit not directly from our families- it is generally our own responses to being raised within an authoritarian lifestyle.

So, for example, having a harshly authoritarian father will keep you from developing an ability to regulate yourself, by internalizing their own intentions and then learning to act on them. Procrastination can also be a form of rebellion- one of the only ways we feel we can act out within our familial situation. Sometimes parental support is not there, so we tend to look to our friends for support. Now, the thing with friends is that they tolerate our BS, don’t they? They don’t call us on it when we say ‘yeah, sorry, my dog ate my homework’. They empathise with us and let it go- thus reinforcing our procrastination techniques and habits.

Situational procrastinators, on the other hand, make delays based on the task at hand. Procrastination becomes a form of self-regulation failure- you know you should do it, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it, for whatever reason it is, you just cannot get around to doing it, till it is either too late, or it has caused you a problem.

What wont come as a surprise, is that procrastinators actively look for distractions! I remember writing my dissertation and finding that the whole house was ‘desperately’ in need of a clean before I started the work! The thing is, procrastinators tell themselves lies- we say ‘I work best under pressure’ or ‘its not important, I have plenty of time to do it if I start tomorrow’. So, what happens is, procrastinators run out of time- the work that is produced is not of a high enough standard, or we missed buying those bargain tickets to the next gig we wanted to go to.

It may also surprise you to know, that there are three different types of basic procrastinators;

  • The first type is the ‘avoiders’- avoiding fear of failure or fear of success. They would rather that people think they lacked effort than ability.
  • The second type is the decisional procrastinators- when you find it difficult to make a decision. You know, when your friends or partner say ‘where would you like to go for dinner?’ and your response is ‘I really don’t mind’.
  • The third type is ‘arousal type’ of procrastinator- the thrill seekers who are waiting for the last minute for the rush of adrenaline they experience.

So, have you identified which type of procrastinator you are? Are you a chronic procrastinator, or just a casual one- procrastinating in one field or area only? But hey, there’s no problem with procrastination, is there? It doesn’t really matter? Well, actually, that is not true. As I said earlier, there is a study that links procrastination to heart problems, but there is also evidence that procrastination harms the immune system- over the course of one academic term, college students who procrastinated suffered more colds, suffered from insomnia, suffered more gastrointestinal issues and more cases of flu.

Procrastinators have higher levels of stress and lower levels of emotional and harmonial wellbeing. Joseph Ferrari, Professor of Psychology at DePaul University in the USA found that ‘everybody may procrastinate, but not everyone is a procrastinator’ (so, there is hope for me after all!). The Professor says ‘telling someone who procrastinates to just do it, is like telling someone with chronic depression to cheer up’ (Ferrari, 2010). So, what can we do then?

Well, the current level of thinking is that what lies behind a procrastinator’s thought patterns are actually based on our Emotional Regulation. If we can regulate our emotions, and deal with them, then we can stay on task. If we are not enjoying the task, we are more lightly to procrastinate. Ok, so, that’s fine, but as humans, we need to do things on a weekly or daily basis that we don’t want to do, or that we don’t enjoy. So, how can we go about changing ourselves, to reduce our stress and make ourselves feel more harmonious, and less likely to get sick?

One thought of how to do this, is to try to make your current mood a positive one- if we handle this situation well, then our ‘future self’ will be better equipped to deal with these issues in the future (Wohl, Pychyl and Bennett, 2010). Sounds simple, but how do we go about doing it?

One-way could be through Counselling- by attending Counselling we can help the client to realise that they are compromising their long-term goals and aims for short term happiness. Perhaps there is a way that we may feel like we are punishing ourselves for past transgressions- until we open up the emotions and reasons why a client procrastinates, then we cant really get to the core of what we can do to stop it, or improve the situation.

Mindfulness therapy can be really helpful with this- by really appreciating the current moment, and not thinking so far in to the future. By learning Mindfulness skills, you can really put yourself in the present moment and appreciate that moment for what it is. Perhaps then, you can possibly see the damage that procrastination is doing to your self, your stress levels and your ability to actually ‘get the job done’.

Secondly, the procrastinator could split their goal down to smaller tasks- this is basic CBT and can be achieved by you or with the help of a Counsellor. Finding and exploring ways in which you can work with your procrastination can be difficult to see or achieve; sometimes it is only when we talk to some one else about what we are doing, that we really see what is going on before our eyes. After all, as I said earlier, our friends kind of let us get away with our procrastination, a Counsellor will not. We wont be mean or cruel, but we will challenge your beliefs and expectations; that’s our job, it’s what we are good at and we do it in a way that is safe and guided by you.

You could also start by imposing your own personal goals and deadlines- if your bill is due to be paid on the 30th of the month, start splitting the task down at the beginning of the month. Start small; with achievable steps that you can tick off when they’re done- nothing encourages us to carry on with our goals than when we actually start to see results!

Emotionally, this can be a slightly tougher nut to crack- you’re going to need to find something positive in the task that you are trying to achieve, which could lead us back to breaking the task down to smaller components and allowing ourselves to be proud of our achievements, not matter how small or trivial they may seem. When it comes to our loved ones, perhaps it is a good idea to not let their procrastination go- challenge them, did the dog really eat your homework, or could you just not be bothered?

But the key to procrastination could be as simple as self-forgiveness- forgive yourself for procrastinating and acknowledge the fact that you did procrastinate. The next time, maybe you will find yourself actually doing the work a little quicker, and hitting your goals and achievements on time.

 


 

Ferrari, J.R. (2010) Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done., 1st edition, Hoboken: Wiley.

Marano, H.E (2003) Procrastination Psychology Today; https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200308/procrastination-ten-things-know. Accessed May 2015

Sirois, F.M. (2015) ‘s procrastination a vulnerability factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease? Testing an extension of the procrastination–health model’, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, vol. 1, no. 12.

Wohl, M.J.A., Pychyl, T.A. and Bennett, S.H. (2010) ‘I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination.’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 48, pp. 803-808.

Troll; a New Name For An Old Game

So, I was going to write a blog piece about how this week is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, however, I recently made a flippant comment on social media, and all kinds of furore ensued. As I have said before, I won’t argue Politics, Religion or Music; changing people’s opinion is not my mission in life- supporting people to achieve their missions in life, however, is.

I am a fairly laid back person- I believe in the right to freedom of speech and I believe in the right for people to have their own opinions. What I don’t believe in, in any way shape or form, is bullying, and this folks, is what I became subject to- the infamous ‘Internet Troll’! Now, this got me thinking- we can all Pop Psychologise the schemas and mind-set’s of an Internet troll, but actually, what is going on for them and why do they do what they do?

In this day and age, I don’t think anyone under the age of 60 doesn’t communicate in some way via social media, email or text messaging (I have no statistics on this, so this is just a rough guess!) so this made me wonder- what are the studies out there? Has anyone studied Internet trolling? How many people have experienced Internet Trolling and if so, what is the usual outcome?

This might not seem like it would affect you or be something you would come to Therapy with, but, actually, cyber bullying is on the increase- in 2012-2013 Childline (a UK charity) saw an 87% increase in the contact they had with children complaining of cyber bullying. To put this in context, there were 4,507 children who actually had a counselling session from Childline, in a one-year period, specifically about cyber bullying. I couldn’t find any statistics for adults, but if the statistics for children have increased, I would imagine, so too, have the statistics for adults.

My experience of being ‘trolled’ was from someone I did not know, over a comment I made, expressing my own opinion. This person then took it upon themselves to bring me to task for being irrational and abusive- of which, I believe, I did no such thing. The troll decided that I had caused an affront to people and as such, it was their task to chide me. It was, to say the least, intimidating that someone so vehemently, aggressively and dogmatically was ‘baying for my blood’. This person wanted me to pay for what I had said- they felt the need to publicly vilify me, and would not give up until they did.

After a few comments, I politely declined to continue- ‘know when to pick your battles’ is something I have been taught by my parents over the years, and I can spot a troll fairly easily. To be fair, I shouldn’t have even replied to them once, but, I am only human, and so I did. Mistake number 1.

Mistake number 2 was not pushing it to the back of my mind and forgetting about it. It bugged me. Someone was being incredibly rude about me on a public forum, whether deserved or not, and it made me feel uncomfortable.

So, what could I do? Well, I could research- go to my books and look for a reason as to why people like this person feel the need to belittle people and ignore their opinions. What makes the Internet troll think they are right and that everyone else in the world, who doesn’t agree with them, is wrong?

So, firstly, what is an Internet Troll? What is the definition? Well, I found this online, from the good old Oxford Dictionary;

‘Make a deliberately offensive or provocative online post with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.’

Now, I have met a few of these in my time, both personally and professionally, but I have never had the displeasure to greet one online. And, linking in to one of my other blog posts (about how we behave and what we write when we are hidden behind a computer screen), I wondered whether Internet trolls are the same in real life, or was it just the safety of the computer that gave them the edge and bravado to behave however they wanted to?

Actually, I guess this does tie in with Mental Health Awareness week- after all, if someone is being/has been trolled for a period of time (or even just once could be enough), this could seriously upset and trouble them. Bullying is bullying, be it online or face to face and we know from statistics, that bullying does cause people to become depressed, suicidal and to even feel like they have no choice left but to take their own life.

So, what makes a troll? Well, according to a study in 2014, ‘trolls operate as agents of chaos on the Internet, exploiting ‘‘hot-button issues’’ to make users appear overly emotional or foolish in some manner’ (Buckelsa, Trapnellb and Paulhusc, 2014). So, an Internet Troll is a very specific type of person- they are actively seeking to make users appear overly emotion or foolish. I can certainly identify with that as being my experience. This study took place in Canada, and consisted of 1215 participants. They were recruited from an Amazon website and were given several, notable and rigorously tested personality scale questionnaires- the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale (SSIS), the Varieties of Sadistic Tendencies Scale (VAST) and a 27 item Short Dark Triad Scale (SD3). Short Dark what? The Dark Triad is effectively a Tetrad of Personality- people who experience and identify more with Sadism, Psychopathy and Machiavellianism. These scales, when filled in, give the researchers an idea of what types of personality make up an Internet Troll. After all, the people who took part in the study were, admittedly, Internet Trolls; so, who better to ask?

What the study found was that the participants, a mix of men and women, commented, on average, at least 1 hour per day. That is 1 hour per day that these Trolls give up to their ‘hobby’. If you had an hour free, per day, I wonder what you would want to fill it with? Perhaps being kind to yourself and allowing yourself some ‘me’ time to do something that makes you feel good? I guess, that is the point for Internet Trolls- trolling does make them feel good; albeit in an odd way. Younger people commented for longer and men spent a greater time commenting that women.

The troll persona would appear to be a combination of a malicious virtual avatar, which reflects their own personality and their ideal self. Of all the personality measures that were studied, sadism was associated most with trolling and was specific to the trolling behaviour. The personality measures also show that trolling had a positive correlation with Psychopathy and Machiavellianism- as the authors of the study describe, ‘cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism. Wow. I was not expecting to come across this information. Now, I am in no way saying that my troll had any of these issues that I have discovered evidence for- I cannot possibly know that, and I cannot ‘psychologize’ someone I have never met. For all I know, my troll didn’t understand what they were doing. So, please do not assume I am tarring every troll with the same brush- as with everything in life, there is no black or white, only shades of grey.

Another study claims that trolling is both ‘real and pretend, both playful and malicious’ (Phillips, 2011). So, does that mean that they are just playing with your emotions? Purely for ‘the game’ and ‘the lulz’? In the Phillips study, the troll lays the blame firmly at the recipient’s door- saying that they are free to leave the public forum/social media and just not look at it anymore. But what about the invasion of privacy for the victim of the troll? And why should they be forced out of their social media- don’t we all have a right to be online, how we want and when we want?

Another study describes trolls as ‘Trolls attempt to hijack a discussion through harassment or inflammatory content, hoping to provoke an emotional response. The troll ‘wins’ when discussions descend into virtual shouting matches’ (MacKinnon and Zuckerman, 2013). So, being at the end of a troll’s wrath is a no-win situation. Another study states that ‘the order of society is maintained by morality. Morality has definite rules and conducts, which every member of the society agrees upon and depends on. Morality is functional since it has authority and regularity. Therefore people know how to behave and what is right or wrong offline. In the Internet space, however, people do not perceive clear codes of conducts on the Internet, nor authority and regularity, according to the result of this study. Unlike offline morality reinforced by education, that online morality have not been shared and not even discussed so provides the existence of Troll.’ (Shin, 2008)

For some people, trolling is obviously a hobby- a mean one, but one that they enjoy. The victims, not so much. The effects of online bullying are far-reaching. People who troll online are not necessarily devoid of morals in real life, so, the question remains, why do it online?

Victims of cyber bullying are often told if you cant handle it, get offline. But why should you? So, how do you deal with something as serious as online bullying? Where do you go and what do you do, if you don’t want to go ‘offline’? There is support out there, but the convention seems to be, step away from the Internet! Sometimes, however, the damage is already done.

So what does all this mean, well a person will not necessarily consciously decide to find a deserving victim and become the Troll. But someone will rather come across a situation that fulfills their specific trigger requirements – say an offense to their pragmatic morality, and will punish that victim until they see the error of their ways. They may not see their behavior in same way as an external perspective, and without the feedback inherent in more involved forms of communication, continue without mercy. Cyber-bullying is a relatively new concept, but bullying is not. The same feelings can apply in real life, as well as the virtual.

In my practice, I have worked with clients that have been bullied- some for a short time and some for years and years. The damage that it does to them is intense, traumatic, and to some extent, irreversible. Being the victim of a bully changes you forever; it changes the person you were and creates a whole new person who has to learn to deal with the changes that have happened. Some of the changes can be good- the victim can find strength in standing up to a bully, but this can be rare. Most of the time, the changes are not positive; they wear on you as time goes on.

Coming to therapy can really help the victim; they can talk about what has happened to them and explore what the impact has been on them. However, sometimes, victims feel like they are all alone and have no one to turn to- this is when bullying can take a vicious turn. What the bully feels is just ‘a little bit of fun’ can lead to far reaching ramifications for the victim; ‘Beyond the immediate trauma of experiencing bullying, victims are at high risk of later physical and emotional disorders.’ (Vanderbilt and Augustyn, 2010). And here we are, full circle to Mental Health Awareness Week.

So, a warning for all you Internet savvy people; ‘Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!’ (Buckelsa, Trapnellb and Paulhusc, 2014), Perhaps it is time to be mindful of what we are saying to people, especially online. After all, you never know when it might be you who are the victim of bullying, and not the perpetrator. I know it has made me think twice about posting things online and has certainly made me more wary of how I interact online. I don’t find the Internet my playground, and I don’t want to be teased. Therefore, the only answer is to step away from the keyboard, and make a cup of tea!


Buckelsa, E.E., Trapnellb, P.D. and Paulhusc, D.L. (2014) ‘Trolls Just Want To Have Fun’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 67, September, pp. 97-102.

MacKinnon, R. and Zuckerman, E. (2013) ‘Don’t Feed the Trolls’, Digital Frontiers, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 14-24.

Phillips, W. (2011) ‘Meet The Trolls’, Index on Censorship, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 68-76.

Shin, J. (2008) ‘Morality and Internet Behavior: A study of the Internet Troll and its relation with morality on the Internet’, Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference, Las Vegas, 2834-2840.

Vanderbilt, D. and Augustyn, M. (2010) ‘The Effects of Bullying’, Paediatrics and Child Health, vol. 20, no. 7, July, pp. 315-320.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disappointed with the Result? Bear this in Mind!

Here in the UK, we have just had our General Election, which we have once every five years. Now, I know that some of you out there are going to be left feeling disappointed and disenfranchised, but others will be feeling the opposite (I will not be pledging my own Political allegiance here- I learnt at a very young age not to argue about Politics, Religion and music!). And this is where this blog is going- disappointment and how it affects our lives.

There is a general feeling of apathy and dysphoria in the Nation, at this moment in time- I am wondering, have you ever felt that in your life? Do you sometimes wonder where you are going with your life, why you are in a cycle of repeating mistakes, or just that you seem to be disappointed with your lot in life? We all do, at some point in our lives, but it can become a problem if this is our outlook for extended periods of time. In fact, for some people, even just a short period of time feeling like this can be extremely detrimental to their mental health. You know, ‘cos Mental Health Matters, don’t it?

Lots of people are sceptical about therapy- I encounter it all the time. “Oh, you’re a Psychologist? Read my mind then” or the other familiar “Oh. You’re a Psychologist.” Then nothing. They don’t want to talk because they think I will psychoanalyze them the whole time! This doesn’t happen, I just want you all to know this- even Psychologists need time off to kick off our DM’s and enjoy a party!

Saying that, there has been some articles in reputable UK publications of late, to do with something you may never have heard of; Mindfulness. “What is Mindfulness?” I hear you ask! The Dictionary definition of Therapeutic Mindfulness is;

“A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

 I bet you’re thinking “Mumbo Jumbo?” Well, according to a recent study published in the most ‘reputable’ of medical publications, The Lancet (Kuyken, 2015), Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is nearly as effective as taking prescription Antidepressants alone- out of 424 participants, after two years, 44% of the MBCT patients relapsed as opposed to 47% of Medication only patients. So, what does this tell us? Well, surprisingly, MBCT is more effective than first believed.

There are a few issues here, with the Mindfulness study- the scientific description of Mindfulness changes from provider to provider. Now, because it is available on the NHS, MBCT has proven its efficacy (that it works) and so, if it can work on the NHS, then maybe, going to a reputable provider (if seeking private therapy), will also be the same.

The main critique with this study is that the Mindfulness patients had already suffered three or four bouts of depression (depression can be a right b*gger that way) and were already on a maintenance dose of medication. The common thinking has been that the combination of talking therapies, be it MBCT or CBT or Person-Centered, with medication is the best form of support for someone with recurring depression.

So, where does this fit in with disappointment? Well, disappointment and depression can both be caused by life’s tribulations. In one study, disappointment was ascribed to being the resultant causes of ‘what might have been’ or the ‘outcome of unfavourable decisions’ (Zeelenberg et al., 1998). Sound familiar to anyone? Mixed up in there is also the emotion of regret; perhaps you regret your vote yesterday? Perhaps you regret making a decision that ‘could’ of had a more favourable outcome? Whatever it is, life is full of mistakes, disappointment and regret- as well as happiness, joy, love and positivity! The problems only come when these two opposing forces are unbalanced.

So, that Mindfulness stuff, eh? How does that work then? Well, MBCT blends Mindfulness with CBT, so we learn to be in the present, instead of focusing on the future and the past. It helps us to come to terms with the decisions we have made; the disappointment, the regret, and focus on the here and now and how we can make the most of our lives as they are.

MCBT looks at what is going on for you now, and how the impact can be lessened for you- it gives you a specific set of skills, to practice for everyday life. No, it is not just meditation, it is being mindful of what is happening, your surroundings and not skipping forward to the end result.

According to the London School of Economics, 1 in 6 adults will be affected by depression during their lifetimes. That is a significant number; really, a lot. So, if you are feeling that way, please know that you are not alone and there is help available.

If you are interested in Mindfulness based therapy, have a look at the NHS website for more information. Many of your local GP surgeries, in the UK, will also offer free courses in Mindfulness. So, what are you waiting for?


 

 

Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence (PREVENT): a randomised controlled trial; Dr Willem Kuyken, Rachel Hayes, PhD, Barbara Barrett, PhD, Richard Byng, PhD, Tim Dalgleish, PhD, David Kessler, PhD, Glyn Lewis, PhD, Edward Watkins, PhD, Claire Brejcha, BSc, Jessica Cardy, BSc, Aaron Causley, BSc, Suzanne Cowderoy, MSc, Alison Evans, MSc, Felix Gradinger, PhD, Surinder Kaur, BSc, Paul Lanham, Nicola Morant, PhD, Jonathan Richards, BSc, Pooja Shah, Harry Sutton, Rachael Vicary, PhD, Alice Weaver, BSc, Jenny Wilks, MSc, Matthew Williams, MSc, Rod S Taylor, PhD, Sarah Byford, PhD The Lancet, April 2015.

Zeelenberg, M., Dijk, W.W.v., S.R.Manstead, A. and Pligt, J.d. (1998) ‘The Experience of Regret and Disappointment’, Cognition and Emotion, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 221-230.

 

 

Laughter- the friendly medicine.

So, tonight is going to be a really quick blog post- I have been training all day and am shattered (remember back to a previous blog where I said it was ‘ok’ to give yourself a break? Well, this is it!). I will be writing about my training today in next week’s blog though- so look forward to a long in depth article then!

I was working this week with a new client- new client’s are always interesting, as you don’t know their story and it is a ‘process’ to develop a rapport with your client, into what we called the ‘working alliance’ (Clarkson, 2003). The Working Alliance is basically a term for the way in which we work with our clients- in order for you to tell me about yourself, we have to get on, you have to engage with me enough to feel comfortable enough to talk about issues that can be very challenging.

Now, notice how I didn’t say ‘we’ need to engage with each other? As a therapist, my work is all about engaging with you, as the client. I am ready from the moment you walk through that door- you could tell me the very worst thing in the world, and I will openly accept, listen and empathise with you. You don’t even have to know me. That is my job. As a therapist, I am a keen listener and what a therapist does do, is to afford you Unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1951)- that whatever you say to me, whatever your experience is, even though I many have never experienced it myself, I can listen to you without judgement. Accepting all that you tell me and actually caring about it, too.

As a therapist, I am ethically bound to be empathetic and congruent to you, as a client. What this means, is that I am open to what you say, and am listening- I can understand and imagine, or empathise with you about how that must feel and how difficult/challenging/funny/scary it is. After all, it is about being genuine and if I am not genuine with you and honest, how could you hope to gain anything from our meeting?

These are the core conditions of my training- I hope it is what makes me an understanding and empathetic therapist. But, sometimes, for some clients, this isn’t enough. They still experience difficulty in the therapy room and it can take some time to get to know each other well enough, for you to feel like you can open up to me. And you know what? That is fine. It is ok to take your time!

I was reading a study about how, after laughing, we are more inclined to open up and tell others personal details about ourselves (Gray, Parkinson and & Dunbar, 2015)- the study used groups of participants, who were each shown a different video, prior to writing down five pieces of personal information about themselves, which they were prepared to share with their companions. They were shown either a comedy clip, an uplifting but sobering clip or a neutral clip from an instructional golf video.

The only difference in their reactions was laughter. I remember doing a similar experiment during my Psychology degree, except we were measuring our heart rate. Laughing, for obvious reasons raised our heart rate. I remember thinking, well, how can this be linked to anything interestingly Psychological? But here it is- the laughter made that group of participants share more intimate details about themselves than the other clips.

So, I guess you will be wondering, what does that have to do with being in the therapy room and talking about yourself? Well, as therapists, we are only human, you know. We smile, we joke and we are guilty of laughing at the wrong thing, sometimes. So, perhaps, when sharing our information, a more light-hearted approach could be used? Maybe we should share a joke or two, before we start our sessions? I know that, the longer I see you for, the more we talk about, the more we exchange pleasantries and the more we will laugh or smile at the beginning, middle and end of a session. So, I guess, laughter does actually bring us closer together- it helps us to feel comfortable with the person we are with. I imagine, that laughter is a great leveller for all people.

It has been found that when we disclose information about ourselves, it increases liking of us in the other person, and increased liking increases the likelihood of laughter. Increased liking leads to further self-disclosure and before you know it, you are part of a disclosure liking cycle! (Collins and Milner, 1994) So you can see how talking about ourselves, liking and laughter all go together hand in hand.

Unfortunately there is also an opposite cycle where by fear of rejection in the face of disclosing prevents disclosure – leading to increased isolation, loneliness and depression. (Wei, Russell and Zakalik, 2005). The thing is, in therapy, I won’t reject you. I won’t laugh if it’s not funny and I won’t make you feel bad about a decision you regret.

So if you are feeling low, and someone invites you out somewhere, and you don’t really feel up to it, you need to ask yourself a question. Which cycle do you want to ride? The fun bike to town? Or the same one you have been riding in the rut you have been stuck in?

The flip side to this, I would assume, is when we are out and about socialising. Perhaps if we are giggling too much, we relax too much and allow ourselves to say things we didn’t mean to? Perhaps it isn’t just ‘all the alcohol talking’. The study described how laughing could be a ‘social lubricant’. By the very nature of therapy, this seems to go against the grain; after all, I am supposed to be empathic and congruent towards you. But, perhaps you would like to see me laugh or smile? Maybe that makes me more real to you? Whatever it is, and however we are in the therapy room, I am there for you and we can talk and develop a rapport; even if we don’t laugh!


 

 

Clarkson, P. (2003) The Therapeutic Relationship, London: Whurr Publishers.

Collins, N.L. and Milner, L.C. (1994) ‘Self Disclosure and liking; A Meta-analytic review’, Psychological Bulletin, vol. 116, no. 3, pp. 457-475.

Gray, A., Parkinson, B. and & Dunbar, R. (2015) ‘Laughter’s Influence on the Intimacy of Self-Disclosure’, Human Nature, vol. 26, no. 1, March, pp. 28-43.

Rogers, C. (1951) Client Centered Therapy, London: Constable.

Wei, M., Russell, D. and Zakalik, R. (2005) ‘Adult Attachment, Social Self Efficacy, Self disclosure, Loneliness, and subsequent Depression for Freshman College Students; A Longditudinal Study’, Journal of Counselling Psychology, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 602-614.

 

 

 

Anger- Where are you when it comes to Communicating?

So, it is nearly mid week, and I have been busy at work- Counselling and Therapy is a job I love and have great passion for, so I am very lucky when I am busy! Somebody absolutely exploded in frustration at me today- it wasn’t my fault, but sometimes it is to be expected! However, after the explosion, the person said “I am sorry, I never lose my temper, ever. But, when I do, it is really explosive! It’s really wrong to be so angry”.

This got me thinking- is it really wrong to be so angry? And if it is, who told us it is? For me, anger is a way of expressing how I feel/felt at a situation- if I don’t express my anger, how is anyone to know that something is wrong? Maybe this comes from the fact that this is what my parents taught me to do, and as is well documented, what our parents teach us really does affect what we do in life!

A lot of the time we don’t express our anger- because we are afraid of the ramifications of doing so. But, this person expressed their anger towards me, when it really wasn’t my fault. So, who has been helped in this situation? Was it the person who was angry, or was no-one really helped? I mean, sure, getting the anger out of themselves was a great thing to do- sometimes, we are like a bottle of fizzy drink that has been shaken up. All that shaking up creates pressure, just as anger, bottled up, can create pressure, and at some point, as sure as the bottle will explode when opened, so will we when our anger gets too much to bottle up!

So, in some ways, anger is a good thing, right? Yes, but what could have made that situation easier? Perhaps talking to the person who angered you in the first place? Dealing with the main reason that you are angry, in a rational way? After all, none of us are mind readers, so how do we know that by discussing the issue, we won’t resolve it in a peaceful way; thus negating the need to bottle up and explode?

Counselling and Therapy can be really helpful when dealing with stressful emotions- the therapy room is a safe space to talk about what has upset you and made you angry. There are ways we can look at anger and how to deal with it. For example, relaxation and time for yourself can be really helpful when you are feeling stressed and angry. Did that ever occur to you? Perhaps taking some time out to have a long bath, a yoga lesson, a run, walk the dog or read a book can help calm you down. Maybe then, you could be in the right frame of mind to address the issue that has got you so angry in the first place?

Communication is SO important to everything in our lives- Dr Albert Mehrabian (Mehrabian, 1981)  pioneered language communication in the States and discovered that;

  • 7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken
  • 38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said)
  • 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression

So, if that is the case, even when our words are unspoken and our anger is bottled up, perhaps we are displaying our anger in other ways and maybe that is why people react to us in a negative fashion. Is this something you have experienced? I wonder?

Communication is so important in life- we are communicating all the time, all day long. Some of it is subconscious, some of it is very conscious. Some of it is controlled, and, as in the case of anger, not so controlled! Therefore, how do we communicate with people when we feel the need to vent our frustrations?

Are you a passive communicator? Do you put others needs before your own, only to find that, eventually, the frustration of it all gets too much? Sometimes, being passive is a wonderful asset, for example if you really do not mind which take-away you have tonight. But sometimes, it can get in the way- feeling that other people should come first, when you really wanted a Chinese tonight, but your partner has ordered Pizza. You sit and seethe silently, displaying all those non-verbal communicative, anger emotions towards your partner! Do you recognise this pattern?

Are you an Aggressive communicator? Are your needs greater than everyone else’s? Is that a really fair way to be? Does it get you far, or are you finding yourself angry all the time when other people challenge you? Perhaps it is time to try and be a bit more co-operative and see the other side of the story?

Are you Passive-Aggressive? Finding ways to ‘get your own back’ on people who have upset you, without letting them know they have actually upset you? Did your neighbours make a lot of noise until late last night, so this morning, you got up at 6am and revved your car engine knowing it would annoy them? Perhaps, with communication, you could discuss a resolution to the problem, instead of frustrating yourself even more?

And finally, are you an Assertive person? If something is troubling you, do you talk about it and work with your colleagues/friends/partner to resolve your issues? Do you consider the other persons side of the story?

I am sure, most of the time, we are a mixture of all of these, but perhaps thinking about what we want to achieve from the situation could help us- do we want to stay angry? Is it helping us to be angry? What would we really like to do? We all behave in these manners at some point, so, just to show that we are all human, and we all do theses behaviours, I have included an anonymous poll to fill in- just for fun!

Perhaps therapy will be a helpful way for you to work out what is going on for you, perhaps not. If you are unhappy with your anger issues, perhaps it is time to look at whats causing it, and change what you are not happy with? Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be really helpful with looking at current anger related issues, but if the anger stems from an earlier time in your life, perhaps a longer term form of therapy and counselling would be more appropriate? Only you know what is going on for you and how you want to deal with it!


 

So, what type of Communicator are you?


Mehrabian, A. (1981) Silent messages: Implicit communication of emotions and attitudes. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth (currently distributed by Albert Mehrabian, email: am@kaaj.com)