Peace in Your Time.

Hello Everyone, I hope you are keeping yourselves as safe and well as possible in these difficult times. As you all know, we are living through unprecedented times which can be scary and anxiety-provoking for everyone.

According to The Economist (unfortunately, a subscription is needed for this article), one-fifth of the world is currently under quarantine or lockdown. We are all in the same position, regardless of who we are and where we live. However, for some of us, this scenario has a lot more riding on it than for others. After all, the wealthy can afford to self-isolate without worrying about buying food or losing their homes and jobs.

In the USA, 6.6 million people filed for unemployment benefits for the week ending 28th March ALONE, which is double the week before, according to the BBC. This is a horrendous situation to be in and very frightening for people who are already struggling. In the UK, we are incredibly lucky to have a (reasonably) easily accessible benefits system and the NHS to support us- things we often take for granted.

There are some parallels between living in quarantine and living in a war zone; we live with a palpable sense of danger, even just going to the shop, and we have essentially lost our freedom, albeit for an excellent reason. There are also some suggestions within psychology that the impact of quarantine can lead to PTSD symptoms for some people. So, we need to acknowledge our mental health because we are ALL susceptible to struggle.

We know that at least 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health difficulty in their life-time, I wonder if the COVID-19 pandemic may well increase this. Our fantastic vital key workers and all frontline staff are striving and risking their lives daily; I can only imagine how scary this can be.

Due to our circumstances, we will be in quarantine until at least June 16th. Having been stuck in a 6×6 ft room in Great Ormond Street during our sons Bone Marrow Transplant (shout out to all the staff on the BMT wards there, especially Robin ward- thank you for working so hard and supporting everyone during what is a scary and unknown time!), we have ‘done’ quarantine before, so have some experience. The difference this time is that we are not the only ones who are quarantined- I don’t know if that makes this easier or not?

Some of the things that we did during our quarantine were dance, yes, dance! Just getting up and moving and having a giggle can break the tension and give you a reprieve from your current situation. I am not a good dancer, but that is half the point! To have some fun, do something different and to not be so serious. With what is going on around us, we need to have a break sometimes!

We watched movies- Sharknado was out at the time, and my word, did we laugh! Cleaning- even in our little room, with our one-year-old son, we turned cleaning into a game! Who could finish first, the floor is lava when mopping… just trying to be a little creative? Keeping in touch with our friends and family via Facetime/Skype/Whatsapp- I cannot stress how much this saved us! I missed my other kids and mum and dad at home, so seeing their faces every day, listening to their days and hearing their problems gave me a break from our own. We were even given paints by the Rainbow Trust charity, which brightened up our day no end.

We are now at home for this quarantine, and luckily, we have access to more things to keep us occupied! I’m not going to pretend the last three weeks have been easy for us as a family- I am working online with clients, the entire family is home and, we are all trying to share laptops and broadband bandwidth- it’s not easy when two of us are trying to Skype! Yesterday I also finished my taught element of my Professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology (just the thesis left now), and the relief is unreal- one less thing to worry about in some quite dark times.

It is so important to practice your self-care still- what makes you happy? Do you have any strengths you can on which you could focus? We all have strengths, but do you know what yours are? Here is a website (if you like surveys and don’t mind registering!) that can help you find yours. By focusing on your strengths, and practising them daily, we start to get a better sense of wellbeing. Why? Well, if we are focusing on the things we do well, and we enjoy, we get positive feedback from this, which can make us do more positive things. Can you see the pattern? The thing is, we have to practice these strengths, which is something we often forget to do. When I took the test and found out my strengths, they were pretty obvious, but I would not have thought about them otherwise; our positives seem to be something we just take for granted, while we focus, and sometimes hyper-focus, on our negative areas!

So, if one of my strengths is to be kind, if I make my family a cake, I am going to get a sense of happiness and wellbeing from their positive reactions. I cannot stress how much we need to practice these! Some things we do, like breathing, we don’t think about and are just second nature, negative thought popping into our heads and things we don’t practice, but they still happen- why? Because our brains are developed to look for danger, so we keep a firm hold of those negatives and bring them out whenever we feel threatened.

Now, I am going to demonstrate an exercise so you can see what I am talking about and learn, if you want to, how to relax and calm yourself and feel just a little bit better. Imagine focusing on your positives. Get comfortable, sitting or lying down, preferably somewhere quiet, possibly tricky if your entire family are home! However, you can do this with your kids and partners- breathing and focusing can be beneficial for everyone.

Close your eyes, take some deep breaths in and out, relax your body. Feel your body touching the chair or bed, feel the rise of your chest and belly as you breath. You will have thoughts going through your mind, that is absolutely fine and will happen, even if you try not to! Picture yourself doing an affirmative act- just because we are in quarantine, doesn’t mean you have to limit your imagination to quarantine and your own home!

Maybe picture yourself helping your friends, doing a good deed for another, getting your work done and being praised, driving your car on a sunny day- yes, driving is one of your strengths (if you can drive), your strengths are what you make them and want them to be! Focus on what it feels like, the positive glow that surrounds you. What is your face like? Is it soft and smiling? What does that feel like? What about your voice? Soft, quiet and calming or irritated and loud? What is it like around you? Are there people? If you have done a positive deed, what do they look like and how are they talking to you? Smiling and happy? Stay with this and focus on the smiles, warmth and positivity surrounding you.

Now. When you are ready, open your eyes.

How do you feel? A little better? A little calmer? Ok, this might not last forever; you know, when your boss calls 10 minutes later or your toddler starts crying because you gave them the apple they asked for. But! We can always do it again- as many times as we like. We can practise this during the day, especially when we are feeling positive. Be compassionate and kind to yourself; if you are struggling with thinking of your strengths, go smaller! Positives can be things like making a cup of tea for your partner or cooking dinner for your family; these are choices we have, and when we make them, we are showing our compassionate side and how we care for others, and how others care for us. On our bad days, I tell my clients that even getting out of bed, having a cup of tea or brushing your teeth is actually an amazing achievement! Acknowledge that- times are tough, and we need to be gentle with ourselves.

What about if we get our brain stuck in a rut and just can’t get away from those negative thoughts or worry and panic? 

  • Firstly, the thing you are worried about- how likely is it to happen? What is the reality of your worry?
  • Secondly, what is the best-case scenario around your worry? What is the worst-case scenario? Generally, our expectations are not met with reality; it usually isn’t the worst or best case, but somewhere in the middle. Make a plan- best case scenario plan and worst-case scenario. Either way, you now have a plan and are prepared for whatever comes your way.
  • Finally- remember, you are a capable, smart person; you have got this far in life, so you have a lot of strengths and skills that you can utilise. Remember that a lot of these worries may just be that. Worries. Worries and thoughts can’t actually hurt you! 

Another thing you can do is to create a safe space for yourself: Make sure you are comfortable and close your eyes. Breath in and out comfortably and relax. In your mind, picture somewhere that is calm and peaceful, or somewhere you feel safe. Imagine what it feels like to be there. Is it warm or cold? Bright or dark? Busy or quiet? Are you on your own and if not, who are you with? Explore where you would like your safe place to be and when you need to relax or calm yourself (before a test? Job interview?) you can close your eyes and take yourself off, coming back peaceful and relaxed. 

I share this with clients all the time, but my safe space is a beach or a pool in a sunny climate. Laying by the pool, feeling the sun on your skin is incredibly relaxing, especially when you can also hear the gentle lapping of the waves in the pool or the sea. So, I take myself to this place when I want to be calm; I can do it for as long or as little as I like, and when I open my eyes, I always feel more grounded and peaceful.

Now, you may be thinking “But, my worry is a big problem!” Is it? What tells you that? Do you know the difference between a worry and a problem? Worry tends to be something that has happened in the past or something we think may occur in the future. Worry doesn’t have a fix to it, which makes it different from a problem. A problem can be resolved and has a solution to it. We may not be able to solve our problem at this moment in time but knowing that there is a solution can be very helpful and stop us worrying!

These are challenging times for everyone involved, try not to put pressure on yourself to do that new hobby or get that extra work done; yes, it can help us to feel better, but if we are trying to achieve the impossible, how is that going to make us feel? Pretty negative! We often compare ourselves to people- that’s natural, I guess, we are only human after all! But! Do you compare like for like? Or are you comparing yourself to someone who has more money, a bigger house, fewer pressures than you? Social media shows us the differences between our lives, and we can quite often be left feeling inadequate because of what our friends/family/celebrities post. Remember! People only post the good and the bad- it’s not considered ‘newsworthy’ if your day was just a normal one. But the reality is that we all have dull days and ‘normal’ days; in fact, we have more of them that we have amazing ones or hideous ones. Try to remember this.

Goodness, that’s a lot to remember to do, isn’t it? Looking after your mental health takes utilising some skills, time and effort; who would have thought that? Do you go to the gym? Exercise classes? Go for a run? Swim? Play hockey? All of this takes time and effort, doesn’t it, to keep your body in shape, so why do we think of our brain and mental health being any different?

If you were asked to run a marathon right now, you would try (maybe?!), and you would be out of breath, achy and sore; you would then take time out and rest, wouldn’t you? Well, we are in the middle of a pandemic, which is scary; surely, we need to take that time out to rest and look after our mental health too?

I hope you all keep yourselves safe and well- practice social distancing, stay in if you don’t need to go out. Remember, you may be ok if you get COVID-19, but there are some extremely vulnerable people out there who will not be if they contract the virus.

Social Justice League; Help Wanted!

So, another New Year has come around, and I wasn’t going to write another blog quite so soon (and certainly not about this subject). However, I have been thinking about the recent UK General Election for the last few weeks and what this means for the people of Britain; change won’t happen without voices, so here is mine.

I’ve thought a lot about how (and what!) to write for this post- I tend to keep my Politics to myself, but over the last few years, I have found that this has become harder and harder. Sigmund Freud liked to see the Psychologist as an empty screen for the client to project, transfer on to and work with. I think times have changed, significantly, and that level of work isn’t appropriate anymore. Working with clients’ needs depth, relational understanding, and empathy; if you were talking to me, and I didn’t answer, would you think I was listening or cared? No, probably not, so it feels more important now, with the election result, to raise my voice and make it heard. 

Regardless of who has been in Government- we can argue who started all of this until we are blue in the face- the fact remains that just over ten years ago, austerity measures were introduced to the UK populace. This meant that hundreds of thousands of people had their benefits removed, their Disability living allowance reduced (or wholly taken off them) and some were put on to the new Universal Credit system. All of which meant that they had no money for weeks, even months, allowing the pay-day lenders to step in and make life more difficult. Even the United Nations found that our Government, by introducing these policies, failed to uphold the rights of people with disabilities (UN, 2016).

Oh, but that’s only for the poor, right? Only for the people who don’t want to work or can’t work. I have no sympathy for them, right? They got themselves into this position; they can get themselves out. Why should my hard-earned taxes go to support lazy people? Ever heard yourselves saying this? Ever believed someone who was saying this?

When my son was born over seven years ago, I was fortunate that the austerity measures had not fully hit and were not implemented to the hilt. My son was born with a life-threatening illness that meant he needed constant NHS medical treatment and a Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) at the age of one; we didn’t even know if he was going to live or die for this first six months of his life. Every day became a gamble. With this level of stress and worry, my husband and I found that working became impossible (stays in hospital, appointments, tests, lumbar punctures etc.) and we had to do something we never thought we would ever do; we had to go on to benefits.

Being able to claim benefits saved us- we didn’t have to worry about paying our bills or mortgage, we had support and help, and we could concentrate on our son’s BMT and getting him better and looking after our kids. We even were referred to some community support teams and the WONDERFUL charity, the Rainbow Trust.

I dare say, if we were in the same position now, we wouldn’t qualify for benefits. Certainly not as much as we needed to keep ourselves afloat for the 18 months that we needed them for until we could change our circumstances, get back to work and back to our ‘ normal life’. 

My point is, you don’t know what is going to happen in life, which is why I believe passionately in social justice, community support and change. I do not think that the Government that has been voted in believes in social support; I do not believe that they will do their best to support the most vulnerable and in need in our society. So, it is up to us to do this. As a Psychologist, this is part of my job; it should be part of yours, as a member of society, too. Remember, we are conditioned to live in a community group; as I so often say to my clients, Cavemen wouldn’t have survived if they had had to hunt/cook/make clothes/look after children on their own.

There are many ways of supporting your community- volunteering, donating, supporting. Whatever it takes, it’s part of our responsibility, socially and ethically, to make a change. Think about the future of your children, your grandchildren. What do you want their lives to look like? An NHS to support them in times of need? A Government that cares and assists us in our time of need? In your old age? I’m not even going to mention the particulars of Brexit; I can’t even figure out what the general public understand about Brexit, but I don’t personally believe they have been sold the truth on it (see the last blog post!). 

I am deeply concerned about how we understand our society- we seem to be blaming the most vulnerable and unfortunate for our financial problems- if there were no benefits, we would all be better off. I sincerely hope that most people don’t believe the narrative that the 1% and media (owned by the 1%!) are peddling. Our problems stem from greed and commercial gain; we are interested in what we can get from life, not who we can support.

There are so many concerns we have nowadays- an inability to access services when needed, wages not increasing with inflation (which is essentially a pay cut, if you’re not sure why people complain about this) and the cost of living keeps rising and rising. The standard of housing we live in isn’t what we would expect, young people are terrified of never being able to get on to the housing ladder, and good jobs are few and far between. But forget about jobs for life- where’s the security that we need in life, to feel safe and comfortable? Is it really because of the benefits system, or is it because individual International companies and Billionaires do not pay their fair share of the taxes they owe? I’ll leave that for you to decide, and I would strongly suggest doing some research if you’re unsure.

I am not telling you what to think or feel, but the clients I have and have had come from a range of different backgrounds; rich versus poor, young versus old and different ethnicities. The common denominator is fundamental unhappiness in life that is often caused by the situation one finds themselves in. People’s social circumstances have a profound effect on their mental health (Harper, 2016); If you live in a flat, with awful neighbours, coming to therapy could make you feel better. However, if you can’t do anything about those neighbours, things aren’t fundamentally going to change, are they? So, it is of fundamental importance that we have the right social support, as well as the right community and governmental support. I cannot stress how important our community is in supporting us; as a community, we can affect change and make a difference.

This year I am committing to making a difference; I am committing to doing more with my community and more to challenge the political policies and austerity measures that have been and are going to be continually implemented. We are the ones who can make a difference; we are the ones who can create a more harmonious system (Fietzer & Ponterotto., 2015) ensuring that the hierarchy of society that we live in allows for more equality amongst the privileged and underprivileged. Is there anything (else?) that you can do?

With that, I wish you all a prosperous and healthy New Year; May you fulfil your dreams and wildest desires in 2020; taking care of ourselves and others. Happy New Year!


Fietzer, A. W., & Ponterotto., J. (2015). A Psychometric Review of Instruments. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 7(1), 19 – 40.

Harper, D. (2016). Beyond Individual Therapy: Towards a Psychosocial Approach to Public Mental Health. The Psychologist, 29, 440 – 444.

UN. (2016). Inquiry Concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Carried out by the Committee Under Article 6 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention. Retrieved December 1, 2019, from http://www.ochr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CRPD/CRPD.C.15.R.2.Rev.1-ENG.doc

Not Only Is Big Brother Watching, But He Is Whispering In Your Ear.

So, we’re nearing the end of 2019 and finishing it off with a bang, here in the UK we will have a General Election. This election isn’t about Brexit, despite what the media would like us to think, this is about our future, our children’s future and the future of public services such as the NHS and Education. These issues are hotly contested, and because of this, the coming election is a storm of emotions, sublimation, ‘fake news’ (thanks to Donald for that one) and mud-slinging from all corners. Your average election then, right?

The difficulty is that the media has so much power now; whatever is presented in the press via, video or audio, is immediately deemed the truth. We have all heard about how the Conservatives changed one of their CCHQ Twitter accounts during the recent Politically televised debates, calling itself ‘Fact Checking’ account, falsely debunking statements of truth. I am reasonably confident that if I were to behave in the same way, and someone made a complaint, I would no longer be able to practice!

This phenomenon, of hearing a ‘fact’ often enough that we start to believe that it is true, is called the “Illusory Truth Effect”. This phenomenon affects people in different ways, irrespective of your cognitive profile– how ‘smart’ you think you are, score, or come across. The more we hear a piece of information, the more we believe it; this is why precisely what we hear/see/read in the media is so important, if it is repeated often enough, we believe it. The response by Dominic Raab, the Conservative Party Foreign Secretary, on the BBC Breakfast TV Show was “no one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust”. We know this is wrong, though, don’t we? How many of you get your news from Social Media now? That quick thumb scroll through Twitter while you’re picking the kids up from school, or on the way to your next meeting, or while having a cup of coffee- we all do it, and we all pick up information from it, to say that we don’t is deflective and obtuse.

I wonder if you have heard of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal? A story broke in December 2015 by a journalist called Harry Davies for The Guardian. The story gave detailed information of how the Cambridge Analytica company gained knowledge from (what, at the time, was believed to be) over 50 million Facebook US profiles, without their consent. Cambridge then used this data to enable them to advertise politically and to build a software program that has the power to influence and predict voting choices. All without Voter’s knowledge. The story finally broke in March 2018 when an ex-Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie, who had been an anonymous source for an article in 2017 in The Observer by Carole Cadwalladr, headlined “The Great British Brexit Robbery”, went public.

So, did you know about this? Follow the links to learn more about the story as I don’t have time or space to write up here. You may ask why is this relevant to me? Well, the app created was called “This is your digital life” and gained consent (permission) from a couple of hundred thousand Facebook users to collect the answers to the data questions asked. All well and good, right? Yes, but what Facebook didn’t inform their users was that they also used the data and profiles for their Facebook friends in their online social circles. 87 MILLION of these profiles used without the owner’s consent. This meant that the data wasn’t just limited to users in the US, but all over the world, too. At this point, our story becomes more pertinent and of more interest to those of us in the UK.

Cambridge Analytica had links to another company, AggregateIQ (AIQ), who played a pivotal part in the 2016 Brexit Vote Leave campaign. AIQ accounted for 40% of the campaign budget for the Vote Leave campaign. Can you see where I am heading here? All of this happened, without your knowledge and even may have influenced how you voted at the time.

Coming back to the illusory effect, had you accessed your Facebook in 2016, or even your Twitter in 2019, you would have seen the information that you would have deemed to be tru, By the sheer fact that you had read it, and perhaps understood it published elsewhere, once, twice, three times.. how many times before you even stop questioning the data, never mind the source? I know, I know, life is too busy, it’s not relevant to you… so many reasons why this shouldn’t be an issue, but it is.

When do we stop questioning and start following? This journal article explains how even when we know a ‘fact’ is untrue, we still need reinforcement of the truth to enable us to ensure that we do not automatically accept the original ‘fact’ as the truth. That sounds quite complex, however if, for example, you have been told, or learnt, that a Goldfish has a three-second memory, Now, you hold that ‘fact’ as the ‘truth’ because you have heard it or been told it many times before. However, the truth is that goldfish have a memory span of about three months.. the Great Wall of China is NOT visible from space, despite what we were told as children; nowhere in the Bible does it say there were three Wiseman (just Wisemen!) and although 41% of US adults believe we coexisted with Dinosaurs, we actually missed them by 64 million years; all great examples of how the Illusory effect works! So, to mediate for these ‘facts’ we hold as the truth, we need to reinforce the true facts for us to override the incorrect facts. Simples…

My point throughout all of this, is who’s truth do we believe? Where do we get our information from? This isn’t just about politics, this is about how you live your life. It is about your narrative. Are people on benefits, for example, all lazy or cheats? No, it’s what you’ve read and heard over and over again in the media. The truth is that we all have difficulties in life, and we would hope that when we need help, it will be there for us. That help will only be there, if we look at what we are being taught and told and challenge it. It is easy to let sleeping dogs lie and go along with the Illusory effect; however, at the end of the day, is it helping you? Have you made the right decisions? Are they your decisions and not the decisions that the media/politicians/parents/work colleagues/friends want us to have?

We can only affect real change if we are informed about the decisions we are making and the choices we take; can you say that you are informed? Are these your beliefs, or the ones you have grown up on? Whichever it is, vote with your heart and your conscience; the Illusory Effect can be challenged, but only if you are open to it! As a strong proponent for Social Change, and an advocate for justice and equality, and maybe perhaps a little bit of the researcher in me, I am voting with my rational mind and with the policies in mind. I am voting for what is going to make my family, my children, my friends and my communities future lives better!

If you’re interested in finding out what my stance is, from a Counselling Psychologist in Training point of view, follows this link to a great organisation called ‘Psychologists for Change’. This organisation is a group of likeminded psychologists, psychology graduates, academics, applied psychologists and more who believe in applying psychology to policy and political action; trying to make all our lives better.


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