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Life can be hard. We can all find ourselves facing challenging life experiences at various times and can struggle with difficult thoughts and uncomfortable emotions. We may feel stuck, confused, overwhelmed ……
Maybe you are currently facing relationship or family issues, low self-esteem, stress, anxiety, depression; perhaps you are feeling conflicted, frightened, or experiencing shame or anger or loss…
Or maybe you feel unfulfilled or simply have a sense that something is missing in your life.
It could be that you are going through a traumatic season in your life and need help to process your pain or practically find a way of facing your fears.
Making the decision to come for therapy, like all steps into the unknown can feel scary and can take a good deal of courage. I would like to encourage you that while this is a big step, it also begins a journey of self-discovery that can be transformational. Life can be so full of limitations, rules and restrictions, that it’s easy to lose our sense of freedom and choice…… I can offer you a safe and confidential space in which you feel heard and understood. My person-centred approach means that I respect your uniqueness as an individual and seek to understand how it is to be you in your world. I won’t judge you but will gently help you to make the changes to grow. My C.B.T focus (particularly using contemporary C.B.T’s like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Compassion Focused Therapy) keeps therapy practical and goal orientated, developing ways of being that work better for you while honouring all of the different aspects of who you are and who you would like to be.
Together we can focus on whatever is important to you, helping you to gain deeper insight and awareness of yourself and the challenges you face. My aim is that my calm and open approach will support you in exploring your thoughts and feelings, making sense of your situation and in making positive choices for a meaningful life that fulfils your values.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
Mental Health Matters
It seems that the world is “stressed out”. We have unprecedented access to social opportunities, travel and information at the click of a button. Yet for all this gain, comes a shadow side. We are living faster paced lives than ever before, with multiple sometimes conflicting roles and often a compromised work-life balance.
Our brains have the amazing capacity to adapt and flex, according to the demands and expectations of our environments; indeed the ability to be adaptive and cooperative, is the key to the success of the human species.
It is this ability to assess, problem solve, evaluate and organise into efficient systems that enables us to function in such a fast-paced world where high pressure performance has become the norm for many of us. However, here’s the rub: the very brain systems that enabled us to figure out how to build and invent and discover throughout the centuries, are severely compromised when subjected to a flood of stress hormones. And when our brains are subjected to an overload of information, too fast and furious to process, another brain system is activated; the Limbic system. This is the emotional hot seat of the brain, and responsible for those times when you feel overwhelmed by an emotion for no discernible reason. It’s also responsible for responding to the survival and threat messages that are sent from the Basal Ganglia (brain stem) which is responsible for scanning, tracking and monitoring potential threats to survival, almost like our sentry guard, on duty for watchful vigilance and protection of the headquarters!
It’s an efficient system. So good in fact, that we don’t need to consciously think to detect threat – our brains do it automatically and is known as the Fight, Flight, Freeze response, an instantaneous chain reaction of threat – detection – stress hormones released. Great for when we really do need to jump out of the way of danger, but here’s the thing – the modern world comprises lots of threat that might occur. And we are bombarded with the potential of threat all around us – the impossible deadlines and pressures, politics and infighting, bullying and oppression….and that can be just the workplace! Within the workplace our brains are quite naturally on red alert and continue to be so as we are fed a stream of information through the wonders of technology, to which our brains must attend, process and filter. The thing is when we are constantly subject to streams of information from our places of work, play, environment and technology, our brains are working way too hard to detect threat and the system doesn’t ever switch off. It’s system (and often sensory) overload. The Amygdala, located within the Limbic system is responsible for releasing stress hormones that will motivate us into action – perfect when you need a shot of adrenaline to really focus on task, but it’s meant to deactivate once the danger has passed. However, in modern society our brains are reacting to continuous real, imagined, supposed or potential threat.
The links between stress, anxiety and depression are well known – it is natural to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression when coping with stressful life events, and vice versa it is common for anxiety and depression to reinforce stress hormone activation. Body systems change as stress hormones are released; breathing is faster, appetite diminishes, heart rate quickens, muscles tense and we become more alert. In a difficult situation we need these responses but if we remain in a chronic state of stress it can lead to a variety of physical health difficulties like lowered immune activity, headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, obesity and digestive problems.
The good news is that there are lots of ways in which to manage stress in healthy ways that bring prolonged relief. This includes often a change to lifestyle but also needs a change in the way we relate to stress, anxiety and depression. Learning to recognise the patterns of behaviours we’ve developed in order to cope, like withdrawing and avoiding, and becoming aware of the patterns of thinking that often “hook” us, like worrying and ruminating, can be incredibly powerful. Very often the coping strategies themselves create an additional layer of troublesome struggle; as we try to control our symptoms paradoxically the symptoms seem to get stronger. Of course, looking at ways to manage the cause of the stress is crucial, as is the importance of self-care, including good nutrition and exercise. Stress management tools, like time management, prioritising and boundary setting are important, but without the life-style changes to support this, the tools may not have full impact.
It can be very difficult to incorporate these changes on your own. Talking, sharing and seeking support is vital; through friends, family and community groups. Sometimes that’s not enough and talking to a Psychological Therapist is the most helpful way forward. There are many forms of talking therapies that can be helpful, and it’s important to find a therapist with an approach that works well for you. I offer an integrated approach of talking therapies which enables me to work with past issues and current day difficulties, but with an emphasis on using evidence-based psychotherapies, such as the Cognitive and Behavioural therapy models and Positive Psychology. Helping people to heal from the stressors of life through rediscovering their strengths and resources, and being able to regain choice through developing strategies that really do help to bring long term relief………….it’s the most rewarding part of my job. It’s my passion to share the knowledge and skills I’ve developed over my years of training to ease the suffering that stress, anxiety and depression bring.
Mental Health Matters
In my last article on stress, I mentioned that human beings are adaptive and great problem solvers. This ability to respond with strategies to overcome challenge, is part of our wonderfully developed systems of problem solving. Which is why when we suffer, we will try all varieties of strategies to ease our suffering, from avoidance to vigilance to striving. After-all the application of avoid it, monitor it or fix it problem solving works well in the external world. However, our brains have a tendency to apply the same style of problem solving to our internal worlds, which are not quite so tangible; consisting of ruminations, worry, planning, concerns, memories, tasks, distinct personality traits, and our interactions with self, others and the world around us. All of which makes for endless opportunities for fusion with our thoughts and feelings – many of which can be fear based, and as we are hard wired to detect threat automatically, the odds are stacked against us that we might be able to control our anxious reactions.
Distraction from our internal world of difficult thoughts and feelings, and the debilitating physical symptoms of anxiety, is the very natural purpose of such strategies – it’s a way of avoiding feeling pain; after-all who wants to be in pain? However, here’s the thing – often these strategies work BUT only in the short term, and as we’re not always so great at learning from trial and error, when the strategies don’t work all that well or give only temporary relief, we tend to just try harder with the same types of strategies. In the end we find that ok, we might be numbing the anxiety we feel but actually many of life’s experiences are robbed from us as we decide to say no to social catch ups, events and groups or no to that shopping trip: no to encountering the new and novel, no to stretching ourselves beyond what’s familiar and saying yes only to what feels safe, which can end up being the inside of our living rooms! The cost of avoiding anxiety can be high and tends to have a narrowing effect on life activities. In short, the more we try to control anxiety the more it controls us!
So, if trying to control anxiety is not the answer, what is? What if, we could view anxiety as a natural part of what it is to be a human being. Not something to be suppressed or numbed, ignored or monitored, but something to be understood, to be allowed, to unhook from; by focusing attention on what matters most to us in the moment that we are in. It’s a core part of self-value and compassion, that we take the time to consider what it is that matters most to us – and how much of that is sacrificed by avoiding fear. Reclaiming the activities that once gave you fulfilment can be a helpful way to start. Whatever it is that gives you a sense of flow, of being fully engrossed, is the thing to be doing more of – that helps the brain to relax, knowing it’s safe to switch off the threat response and activates the soothing hormones that help us to feel that all is well, giving us a wider perspective on those difficult anxious thoughts and feelings.