Flourish and Thrive with Us

Caring For Our Carers

When mental illness, physical illness or extreme circumstances hit our families, it is likely that the care of those who suffer will fall on the shoulders of one or a few carers.  The role is taken on out of love, and yet it will come as a certain change in direction and identity for the carer.

It can feel that the rest of the world moves on from the incident or tragedy that brought them into the role as carer.  And yet, for the carer, the world can feel like it suddenly stopped spinning on its usual axis, and spun out of control or out of usual orbit.  That feeling does not necessarily come to a neat resolution.  Nor does a sense of normality and control break through.

Many carers will not talk about this, preferring not to burden other people with their "stuff".  They may also have fatigue over telling the story over and over again.  Yet alienation, grief and loss for a life anticipated (both for themselves their loved ones), profound physical and emotional exhaustion and the resentment-guilt cycle is a reality for most carers.

If you know someone who is a carer, we can help to ease the pathways to burnout by:

1. Listening without judgement.  A carer does not intentionally want to sound negative, helpless or hopeless.  It is the reality of not being able to see from moment to moment how things are going to turn out.  Just being able to voice this can be a tremendous relief.

2. Ask what they need.  We can't assume to know what a carer may be feeling, and therefore we can't presume to know what they need.  It may not be the right time for a visit, or for providing practical assistance

3. Normalise the normal:  Check in as if they were still the person you know, and not the role they perform.  A note, a message, a walk, a movie, a tender touch or hug if they ask for it.  This helps someone who is caring for others anchor in the knowledge that they are still remembered and seen for who they are.

What I Have Learnt From Clients // Part 1: VALUES

Being a psychologist is such an honour and privilege. I have the opportunity to sit and hear from clients about their most personal struggles and assist them with moving forward. I get to see them being vulnerable, and have courage in doing so.

In being a psychologist, I have found that is actually a two-way street. Clients learn from their psychologist- for example, how to cope with painful emotions, healthy perspectives, communication skills- however psychologists also learn from their clients. During this blog series, I am going to write about some of the things that I have learnt or been reminded of by clients.

In today’s blog, I am going to focus on what client’s have taught me regarding values.

In today’s society, we are constantly bombarded with messages through the media that you need to be wealthy, successful and attractive to be content and satisfied. Client’s often come into therapy holding these ideals. It can be the pressure to achieve these ideals that maintain their pain.

"How can you take action to improve your life in the areas that matters most?"

What I have found though, is although on the surface, clients communicate the allure of being wealthy, successful and attraction, what clients tend to put most value on is experiences and relationships. During therapy, I have often seen clients reflect on their values and become more in touch with what really matters to them. What I have also found, is that when clients reflect on what matters to them most about themselves, it is not necessarily being wealthy, successful and attractive. I have often seen clients communicate that they would rather be a person who treats people well and has good friendships, rather than someone, for example, who is physically attractive.   

So as you read this blog, what can you take away? It is always good to reflect on what really matters to us. Valued areas can include family, friendships, work, education, participating in the community, enjoyment and pleasure, health and personal growth. What really matters to you most on that list? How can you take action to improve your life in the areas that matters most? Is it organising to see that friend you have been planning on messaging for a while? Is it joining the sporting team you have always felt you were too busy to be in? Is it leaving work earlier to spend more time with you family?

Living consistently with values is so important for overall mental health. Often people come to see a psychologist for assistance with clarifying their values and problem solving how to increase their satisfaction in valued areas. 

Intuitive Eating – The WHAT, THE WHY, and THE WOW

As
Intuitive Eating becomes more popular, and the term gets thrown around a lot,
the message can become a little distorted. So, let’s explore the what, the why
and the WOW moments (as well as a little bit on what Intuitive Eating is NOT).

THE
WHAT

Intuitive
eating is when we eat based on our internal cues (hunger, fullness, energy
levels etc), and leave all those external “shoulds” behind.

  • I
    shouldn’t eat that biscuit.
  • I
    shouldn’t be hungry now, I’ve just eaten.
  • I
    should eat now, I eat this time every day.
  • I
    should eat to my diet plan, anything more or less is not good enough.

Intuitive
eating asks us to trust our bodies, and respects that we know how and when to
nourish ourselves. We make peace with all foods.

THE
WHY

So,
why is there so much hype? When people eat intuitively we find the following:

  • Increased
    emotional wellbeing
  • Improved
    body image
  • Decreased
    weight cycling
  • Less
    disordered eating
  • Improvements
    in health markers (cholesterol, blood pressure)
  • Increased
    levels of exercise

THE
WOW

Living
life without food rules frees up so much mental space, and allows us to make
time for the things we enjoy.

When
I asked a group of intuitive eaters what their WOW moment was these were their
replies:

  • “I
    could finally enjoy a stress-free weekend away with friends. I could eat
    and drink happily, without having to make up for it when I got home.”
  • “I
    never realised how much stress it caused me to be so preoccupied with my food
    and body. It cleared up so much time for me when I learned to trust myself
    again.”
  • “Being
    able to eat with spontaneity was so refreshing, I could go out and eat what was
    available on the menu, not what I had pre-planned the week before.”

What
it is NOT

To
paint a full picture, we also need to highlight what Intuitive Eating is NOT.

It
is not a new type of weight loss program.

It
does not mean we eat donuts and cake all day.

AND

It
does not mean we are letting ourselves go.

SO WHAT NOW?

Intuitive
Eating teaches us to eat in a way that serves us both physically and mentally,
and helps us to reach a place of food freedom.

Remember
that this is just a small snapshot into the world of Intuitive Eating, however
if you are ready dive in, LET’S GO.

References:

Tribole,
E., & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating. New York: St. Martins Griffin.

Tribole,
E., & Resch, E. (2017). The intuitive eating workbook: principles for
nourishing a healthy relationship with food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications,
Inc.

Intuitive
Eating in the Treatment of Eating Disorders: The Journey of Atunement. Renfrew
Perspectives (2010).

www.intuitiveeating.org

What Is Psychosis

Psychosis is one of the most misunderstood psychological illnesses and
is highly stigmatised by the media and entertainment industry as ‘incurable’
and dangerous. This perception is harmful in many ways – it isolates
individuals with psychosis, increasing hopelessness and lowering self-esteem
which then impact on recovery. Over the course of a few articles, I’ll be
dispelling common myths about psychosis and exploring ways families, carers and
individuals can cope with and address these symptoms.

Psychosis is a term used to describe a group of psychological symptoms
that influence a person’s understanding or perception of reality. Although it
has been sensationalised in the media, psychotic symptoms are quite common,
affecting 3% of Australians. Symptoms of psychosis usually emerge in
adolescence or early adulthood and can look very different from person to
person. There are effective pharmacological and psychological treatments
available which are beneficial for most people.

Psychotic symptoms can
be placed into 5 main categories.

  1. Hallucinations
    – seeing, feeling, smelling, hearing or tasting something that is not actually
    there.
  2. Delusions
    – unusual beliefs or ideas about yourself, the world or others. These can
    sometimes be quite frightening and upsetting, or they can be comforting and
    exciting.
  3. Thought
    disorder – thoughts can seem to become jumbled, speed up or slow down.
    Sentences can become unclear or hard to understand, and use made up words.
  4. Emotions –
    emotions can change without reason such as mood swings between excitement and
    depression. People with psychosis may express less emotion or feel less
    emotion. They may also express emotions that seem strange, for example laugh at
    something that isn’t funny.
  5. Behaviours
    – people with psychosis may withdraw and become inactive, or they may become
    very activity. If the person is experiencing delusions, they can behave as if
    these beliefs are true. If they are experiencing hallucinations, they may
    respond to things that others cannot see. They may begin to neglect their own
    appearance and self-care.

Without treatment,
psychosis can have a significant impact on your ability to function and can
cause decline in cognitive functioning such as memory, attention and higher
order functions (such as problem-solving). However, research has found that
early treatment of psychotic symptoms increases the likelihood of a full
recovery. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing psychosis, it is
recommended that you seek professional help from a General Practitioner,
Psychiatrist and Psychologist.

Coming next: What Causes Psychosis?

What is Trauma?

Psychological trauma involves a frightening or distressing experience where someone feels his her own safety/life or the safety of a loved one is threatened. The person's picture of safety and security is profoundly shattered.  The Australian psychological society give examples of some typical traumatic events such as experiencing: a serious accident, an armed robbery, war or terrorism, natural disasters, sexual abuse, or the suicide of a family member or friend.

Because most people have different perspectives, defining what events are ‘traumatic’ can be very subjective. For example, a five year old being lost in a busy city may find this experience traumatic, whilst an adult may find it mildly stressful or inconvenient. In this way characteristics such as developmental stage or even perceptions of one’s own competency can impact if someone perceives an event as traumatic where significant levels of helplessness and fear for one's life or well being is experienced.

If someone has experienced a traumatic event, it can often cause strong physical or emotional reactions and altered thinking patterns. These symptoms are very common and usually last for a couple of weeks. If you have recently experienced a traumatic event it is important to have a good support network and to feel safe. If you find that after a few weeks you are still struggling and unable to function, it is important to seek mental health help and visit a GP who can refer you to a Psychiatrist, or Psychologist.

Parenting and ADHD


My child has ADHD - How do I manage my own emotions during
tough parenting challenges?

I have a passion for children
and adolescents with ADHD. They are often larger than life, fun to be around
and have so much to offer to any who take the time to tune in. However, the
growing-up years can be tough, particularly when a child is wired differently
and emotional resources in the family are drained. Despite the inevitable
challenges involved in raising a human with neuropsychological differences,
there is incredible scope for parents to build a strong and resilient bond. In
fact, most therapeutic approaches prioritise supporting parents. One skill fundamentally
important to the parent-child bond is the ability of a parent to regulate their
own emotion. This is essentially an ability to calm oneself down, or pick
oneself up, in response to overwhelming emotion. The good news is, like many
psychological skills, emotion regulation can be strengthened with a little
know-how and practice. When parents become self-aware and model a healthy
relationship with their own emotion, they give their children a powerful gift!

Read on for some key
principals, and food for thought.

What to Do

  • Take care of stress, sleep, and self-care – a parent
    who is well-rested will find emotion more tolerable, and won’t need to control
    the environment around them to keep themselves feeling comfortable
  • Stay in the present moment - cultivate a habit of
    sticking with what is currently happening in front of you, and make no room for
    emotions that belong in the past (whether it be this morning, last night or
    last year)
  •  Monitor your
    emotional ‘dashboard’ – our emotions send us important signals that guide our behaviour
    - it takes practice to interpret this information so that we can make wise
    parenting decisions and look after ourselves
  • Make a deposit in the ‘attachment bank’ – use plenty
    of eye contact, physical touch, words of affirmation and the gift of your time
    and interest to communicate unconditional positive regard to your child – a
    healthy attachment relationship with your child will help you return to a happy
    equilibrium on ‘those days’!
  • Practice ‘grounding’ techniques ready and have them
    ready to whip out when you find yourself in the middle of an emotional meltdown
    – try a few and see what works well for you

What to Avoid

  • Unrealistic expectations – take the time to really
    understand the problems causing frustration in the relationship – is your child
    able to meet the expectation, or are there lagging skills and problems that
    need solving? Auditing how ADHD impacts each area of your child’s life is an
    empathy-building exercise, and where empathy exists, negative emotion is
    short-lived
  • Power struggles – while it’s tempting to ‘make’ a
    child meet an expectation, this will inevitably lead to an increase of emotion
    in both parties – it is OK to come back for a conversation when everyone is
    calm

  • Unintentional reinforcement – both positive AND
    negative emotion in the parent-child relationship will increase the frequency
    of a behaviour – Eg Correcting a child with frustration for table manners may
    lead to more of the same behaviour ... and more frustration!
  • Forgetting to have FUN! All children/teens/parents
    need time to laugh together, and especially families facing challenges

If you are struggling to manage
your emotions as a parent, why not reach out to our team for help?


What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

Do you ever have trouble dealing with your emotions and at times feel like they are just too overwhelming? Do you find yourself making unhelpful or even detrimental decisions in your relationships or everyday life when you are experiencing strong emotions?

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a therapy designed especially for people who want to manage their emotions better! It’s a therapy that provides you with skills to manage strong emotions, deal with stress, and communicate better with others. Children and adults can benefit from DBT, as the diverse and broad ranges of skills are helpful for all stages of life.

DBT involves a journey through different core skills and can be done with a
therapist or even in a group setting. DBT begins with learning how to be more self-aware and mindful, emphasising focusing your attention and being aware in a non-judgmental way. Next you will begin to identify emotions and learn helpful ways to regulate emotions. Following this, you will work with your therapist to be better prepared for crisis times, when your emotions are heightened, in the hope this will prevent any rash or irrational decisions that we sometimes make when overwhelmed. Finally, you will develop skills to help better communicate with others and have your needs met in a respectful and effective manner.

DBT is well researched and found to be effective for a wide variety of
psychological problems. If you think DBT may be helpful for you, have a chat with your GP for a referral to one of our psychologists who are able to work with you in this way.

If you would like to better manage your emotions here are a few ways to get
started:

  • Try being mindful! Download the FREE Headspace App on your
    smartphone and be coached through daily mindfulness exercises
  • Make sure you are looking after yourself! Not having enough sleep,
    exercise, consuming too much alcohol or drugs, or poor eating habits can make it more difficult to manage your emotions!

What to expect at your first appointment

It is very common to feel nervous about your first appointment with a psychologist. Your psychologist is well aware of what it means to see someone you have never met and share your life's story and challenges with.

Research into therapeutic effectiveness tells us that about 80% of effective therapy has to do with the relationship between the psychologist and the client. This means that the first few sessions, the first 3 session infact are important for a psychologist to establish trust, safety and respect.

At The Centre For Effective Living we ensure that psychologists are well aware of the importance of establishing rapport and trust with clients in their first few sessions. We spend a lot of time ensuring that new clients feel welcomed and embraced in their early sessions.

Easy Recipes For Christmas Gatherings

We’ve all been there. Caught at the last minute, you are now invited to the street Christmas BBQ.

“Just bring a salad” they say. Panic sets in.

So you run to the shops, but the premade options are looking a little uninspiring.

Behold! A list of delicious and fancy looking salads that can be thrown together in less than 15 minutes.

Enjoy!

Pecan and Cranberry Salad

Ingredients

• 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
• 3/4 cup olive oil
• 1 medium bag of mixed greens (300g)
• 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
• 1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
• 1 1/2 cups pecans or walnuts
• 150g fresh goat cheese/feta, crumbled (about 1 1/4 cups)

METHOD

Whisk vinegar, mustard, and thyme in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season dressing with salt and pepper.

Mix greens, cranberries, and onion in large bowl. Mix in enough dressing to coat. Sprinkle with nuts and cheese.

Green Bean and Radish Salad with Shallot Dressing

• 500g green bean, trimmed
• 1 x banana shallot, finely diced
• 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
• 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
• juice of half lemon
• 250g radish thinly sliced

METHOD

Boil a large pan of water. Tip in the beans and cook for 4-5 mins until just tender. Meanwhile, mix the shallot, mustard, oil and lemon juice with a little salt and pepper.

Drain the beans well, then toss with the radishes and dressing. Serve warm.

Smoked Salmon Pasta Salad

• 500g trofie or other short pasta
• 2 bunches asparagus, woody ends trimmed, cut into 3cm lengths
• 3/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/4 cup dill, finely chopped, plus extra sprigs to serve
• 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
• Grated zest of 1 lemon, plus juice of 1/2 lemon
• 1/4 cup salted baby capers, rinsed, drained
• 2 cups rocket leaves, roughly chopped
• 200g smoked salmon, sliced into thin strips

METHOD

Cook pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water according to packet instructions, adding asparagus for final 1-2 minutes. Drain, refresh, then cool completely.

Meanwhile, whisk the creme fraiche, olive oil, dill, garlic, lemon juice, half the zest and 2 tablespoons water together in a small bowl, then season and set aside.

When pasta is cool, toss with dressing, capers, rocket, remaining zest and smoked salmon. Serve with extra dill sprigs.

Loneliness


Loneliness: the importance of connection

A recent survey of the Australian population indicated that 1 in 4 Australians feel lonely, and that lonely Australians had significantly worse mental and physical health status. Connection with others matters! Psychologists have long been interested in loneliness and have found that connection with others increases self-esteem, feelings of belonging, and a sense of meaning.

Below are a few tips on how to connect with others if you are noticing signs of loneliness in your life.

  1. Body cues – when we feel lonely, we can begin to act out those feelings using body cues that also push others away. Common body cues of loneliness are avoiding eye contact, leaving situations without saying goodbye, and turning away from others physically. This can make it more difficult to connect with another person. Being aware of these cues can help you begin to orient your body towards others, rather than away.
  2. Have an offline presence – people who are lonely can find it easier to connect with others online, but research suggests that this can also cause feelings of disconnection. Perhaps organise an offline, face-to-face meeting with your online friends and grow a deeper relationship with them in person.
  3. Join in – look out for opportunities to join or participate in activities. When you are already feeling lonely, it can be easy to withdraw or decline invitations to events. This can backfire and reinforce your loneliness. Challenging yourself by becoming actively and intentionally involved. This can counteract your loneliness even though taking the first step may be really difficult.

There are a number of reasons why people may be feeling lonely and psychologists are trained to assisting people to build more meaningful relationships and connect with others, to help you create a meaningful life. If you feel you may need assistance, the team at the Centre for Effective Living can support you in making meaningful changes.

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a way of helping us to capture our thoughts and work on them so they are more reflective of a true reality.  The way we think impacts our feelings.  For example, if you saw a dog approaching you on the walkway, if you thought "That is a ferocious dog who will attack me" you would feel afraid.  If you thought "I am not sure about that dog, I will just move to the other side of the road" you might feel quite neutral or a little cautious.  If you thought instead "What a cute dog!" you might feel quite happy.  Depending on which scenario occurs, our behaviour will also change.

Many situations in our life are a reflection of how we think, sometimes these thoughts are accurate, and sometimes not.  Depending on how we appraise a situation, we will not only feel differently, we will also behave differently.

What CBT consists of

Typically, your mental health worker would:

  1. Help you identify what the problem you are encountering is, discussing onset, duration, and severity of symptoms.  This would usually consist of an interview and some validated questionnaires.
  1. Work with you to identify your goals for therapy.  This helps to narrow down goals and sets some realistic expectations about your therapy
  1. Discover with you the situations that elicit strong emotions and therefore some strongly impacting thoughts
  2. Work on these thoughts to elicit realistic evidence about whether these thoughts are true, and therefore whether a different emotional experience is appropriate
  3.  Identify new ways of engaging similar situations, where we behave, think and feel in a different way towards a more clarified mental health.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been found to be very effective in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders.  To take those first steps call us now and we can take you through.

The State of Child and Adolescent Mental Health

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Statistics

In a recent survey of child and adolescent mental health issues in Australia, it was found that about 1 in 7 children aged 4-17 years old had a mental disorder in the previous 12 months.  That is 560,000 children and adolescents.  The most common issues were ADHD, Anxiety and Depressive Disorders.  About 1 in 10 children aged 12 – 17 years had ever self-harmed, and 1 in 13 of the same age bracket had seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months.  Children reported that the most aggravating issues for them were bullying, problems with their eating and weight concerns, smoking and substance use and internet use and gaming.

When to get help

These developmental years are important for seeking help as these are the years identity is formed, social networks are impacted and academic foundations are built.  Seeking early intervention leads to much better outcomes.  How do you know when to seek help?

The general rule of thumb is if your child or adolescent is going through a period of time of a few weeks where they are showing general signs of not coping, which cannot be alleviated by previous coping strategies, such as:

  • Having more days feeling sad, anxious, angry and/or afraid
  • Their eating and sleeping patterns are impacted much more than usual
  • School performance and attendance is significantly deteriorating
  • They are finding it difficult to concentrate not only at school but also in carrying out daily activities
  • Avoiding playing with friends or activities and games they would usually find great pleasure in
  • Young children who previously had by-passed bed-wetting, thumb sucking return to these behaviours
  • Physical complaints – nausea, headaches, pains in their body
  • For adolescents – use of substances, getting in trouble, and unusual pre-occupation with weight and eating, withdrawal and wanting to spend more and more time alone
  • In young children – emotionally not coping and may want to be with parents more than usual

 

If your child is showing these signs, a visit to the family doctor is the first step.  From there, the doctor can discern if there is anything medical going on.  If it looks like a mental health issue, a referral to a mental health professional can be made.

End of Year BURN!

At 7:30pm I was flopped on the bed - spent. My husband walked in and wondered if I was alright? Well...if you are going to ask a Psychologist this question, be prepared for the full analysis...

In the middle of office renovations, moves, lots of farewells, the general busy period, juggling personal and professional demands, planning for next year, I was aware of a kind of Passion burn. I described it as such:

Imagine there were various strands of thick paint. I can see every colour in the distance. The thick red of passion for our burnout prevention work, the bright yellow of excitement for our new office suites in Gordon, the purple, the blue, the green...all representing the different emotions I feel for the futures of very important parts of my life, work and world. For now, though, what I feel is the converging of all these emotions into a thick, muddy, unclarified mess of paint. Out of which will eventually ooze out into the clarified emotional future. For now, though, it is a thick clump of paint I feel I am wading in. The net result is a profound feeling of the double Ds - Discouragement and Doubt. Which leads to the major P - procrastination. Which leads to major impacts on motivation, negative self talk and (shock horror!) giving up.

Ever felt this way?

As we talked through the issues we decided it would be helpful for me to do the following, I share here with you:

1. Focus mindfully on each strand of emotion separately. Feel it, taste, breathe it. Embrace the positive face of each emotion and describe it fully in every detail.

2. Journal and reflect on each of the future versions of those strands. Build hope, build passion, build mental fortitude. This does not mean coming up with a PollyAnna future. It is a realistic view of what can happen, rather than focusing on what catastrophes could happen.

3. Chunk each emotional strand into "What do you need?" questions. Problem solve how to feed this and schedule it into my diary.

4. Have a chip away mentality. With each of those emotional strands clarified and anchored in hope, then chip away at the things I can have control over.

Post Natal Depression in Dads

Most people are aware that postnatal depression and anxiety effect women, but few people are aware that up to 10% of new Dads can experience these struggles as well. In fact, depression affects 1 in 10 Dads between the first trimester and the year after the baby’s birth. Anxiety conditions affect 1 in 6 dads during the pregnancy and 1 in 5 Dads in the postnatal period. There are a number of ways that new Dad’s can care for themselves in order to manage the paradigm shift that a new baby can cause.

The Basic Needs
It’s easy to forget the basics when you’re caring for the basic needs of another. Be careful to eat regular and healthy meals, exercise regularly and to be creative about managing your sleep. When these basic resources are low, it is much more difficult to cope with stress, anxiety and low mood.

Your Relationship
Remember that you are still a couple and your relationship will also need to be nurtured. Set aside a block of time each week where you can spend quality time together. At the end of each day, debrief together for 10 or so minutes. Reflect on the challenges and successes of each day.

Self-talk
Take note of your self-talk. How we speak to ourselves can have a big impact on how you feel and cope. Start to notice if you’re falling into the trap of making thinking errors (See this summary of thinking errors for more information). Decide whether the way you are thinking is helpful or unhelpful, and start redirecting your thinking in a more realistic and balanced way.

Engaging the help of a professional can be greatly beneficial in supporting you to care for yourself and your family in the midst of this great time of change. Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia provide a national hotline supporting women, men and new families. If you feel you require face-to-face support, the Psychologists at the Centre for Effective Living are able to assist both men and women with adjusting to parenthood.

National Psychology Week: Human Connection

Do you ever avoid interacting with people because you are afraid that you are ‘too awkward’ or people won’t like you? Have these thoughts ever impacted on your ability to establish meaningful friendships? Or led to difficulties interacting with colleagues? Or difficulties participating in conversations with other mothers from school?

National Psychology week is here again from November 11-17. This year, the theme is the Power of Human Connection, with a focus on helping people to improve their social skills and connections, and enhance their relationships.

In my clinical practice, I have a passion for working with people who experience low self-esteem and social anxiety. I often hear from clients who experience such express concerns that they have difficulty interacting with people or avoid social situations because they are too anxiety-provoking. It seems that self-beliefs that they are “too awkward” or have “nothing to offer” mean that they often avoid interacting in social situations, whether it be at work, with friends or with family. Often this leads to further feelings of worthlessness and provides no opportunity to either improve their social skills or learn that the interaction may go better than they anticipate. Even more so, avoiding social interactions denies people the opportunity to build healthy relationships and experience the satisfaction that comes from quality human connections. Meaningful relationships are often crucial for people’s overall well being.

If you perceive yourself to struggle with social skills or building connections with people, and have for a long time, it can understandably seem hard to begin changing the way you have interacted with people. It can be perceived as too overwhelming to begin facing situations that you have previously avoided because you feel you are too awkward or won’t connect.

In my clinical practice, it has been a privilege to be able to see client’s who have felt helpless in regards to building connection and enhancing relationships, take slow steps to confront their anxiety and build their confidence. Psychologists can assist people through therapy and skills building to build more meaningful relationships and address the barriers that can get in the way.

Saying Goodbye Well

Saying Goodbye Well

As a trainee psychologist a memorable moment was when it was time to say goodbye to one of the courses I was taking.  The trainer of the group finished with a good deal of time spent on asking us to say goodbye "properly".  He laboured the point that saying goodbye was a natural part of life, and we all needed to do this well.

I have been thinking a lot about saying goodbye lately.  We are moving locations as a practice and in my personal life I am also transitioning to another place.  I find myself thinking to an acronym coined by David Pollock who does his work in helping people who move from one culture to another.  The acronym is RAFT.

R is for Reconciliation.  Thinking through the relationships that perhaps there have been things unsaid or ruptures that have yet to be repaired.  This does not mean digging up all kinds of worms for yourself!  These may be relationships you would like to keep ongoing.  Perhaps there are certain issues that have been side-stepped in other relationships.  This is a kind of making peace before moving on to the next stage.

A is for Affirmation.  This is a wonderful stage of speaking kind, encouraging and affirming words to the various people in this particular location whom have been connected to you. You could send a card, a letter, or be intentional the next time you meet, to speak words of affirmation.  This is a kind of parting gift.

F is for Farewell.  This is the markers of the time to say goodbye.  Having scheduled events with key groups of people, more intimate coffee meets for those more significant connections, posting on your FaceBook page something symbolic and reflective to signify the farewell - these are all examples.  Don't forget the children!  Ask them who they would like to have some time to say goodbye to, and how would they like this to happen.

T is for Think about the next destination.  This is taking the time to research about, talk about, envisage about where you are going to next.  Sometimes we can be avoidant about thinking about the next place. It is painful to do so.  Perhaps we are concerned about getting too excited in case we are let down.  Having realistic ideas about where you are going next, and also starting to prepare yourself by talking about it is a helpful stage in saying Goodbye well.

Caring for The Carers

Checking in on Carers

Caring for others is a privilege that comes at a sometimes very large cost. In particular the family
and carers of those with chronic illness can experience stress, overwhelm and isolation. They may be
unable to join in regular social activities, and have trouble maintaining regular contact with friends
and extended family. Friends and family can in turn distance themselves.

Often not knowing what to say prevents people from reaching out to those who may be struggling.
This leads to further isolation and further stress for such individuals. Carers and family members may
also be reluctant to talk for fear of being a “burden” to others, being judged, blamed or
misunderstood. They may also struggle to make time for themselves whilst caring for someone else.

R U Ok is an initiative that aims to encourage meaningful conversations with those who may be
feeling overwhelmed and / or isolated. If you know someone who is caring for someone with a
chronic illness, or if you know someone with a family member who has a chronic illness, simply
spending time with them can be useful. You don’t have to have solutions to their problems but your
presence and willingness to listen may be all they need. People often underestimate the power of
simply being there for someone, especially when they have no solutions for the problem at hand.

Simply having someone listen to them or spend time with them can reduce a person’s
sense of isolation and ease their pain.  A simple question as to how they are with a genuine willingness to listen can make a lot of difference. They may choose to talk or not. Either way knowing that you are willing to listen and equally willing to simply spend time with them, asking the question and then giving them the opportunity to respond as they wish whilst still accepting them, can make a lot of difference to them. Sometimes all they may want is a distraction, doing something pleasant to get their mind off things. At other times they may simply want someone to listen to them. Either way your time and willingness to listen may be all the help they need.

Mindfulness Glitter Jar

Mindfulness Glitter Jar

Making a glitter jar is an activity you can do with your kids to introduce them to how their mind works when experiencing difficult emotions and how to calm down during difficult times.  When the glitter jar is unshaken, the glitter is settled peacefully at the bottom of the jar. You can see clearly through it.
The glitter can represent thoughts. When we’re feeling angry or upset (shake the bottle), thoughts are swirling around so we aren’t able to think clearly. Watch the glitter though, it always settles. And as
you watch the glitter settle, notice the mind settling too. When the glitter returns to the bottom of the jar, you will feel more calm and can think more clearly.

I recommend creating a glitter jar with your kids as a fun activity, then explaining to them how this amazing thing they just made can represent their thoughts and feelings, calm them down and help them feel better.  I tested a few recipes out and ended up coming up with my own recipe that has
ingredients that are easy to find and suspends the glitter in a solution of water and glue that allows the glitter to fall slowly. This, I believe, encourages longer periods of meditation and has a soothing,
calming effect.

Ingredients For Glitter Jar

1. Jar or bottle: For the jar, I use plastic water bottles so I don’t have to worry about glass breaking.
For durability and shape, I prefer to use 11.2oz (330ml) Voss Water bottles. The labels peel off fairly easily, but you have to go slowly.

2. Glue: I really like Elmer’s Clear School Glue for my glitter jars. If you’re using the 11.2oz bottles I recommend above, one 5oz bottle contains enough glue for about 2 glitter jars.

3. Glitter: Fine glitter works best. I’ve used glitter from a glitter sample pack and we added in a few of the larger hearts and stars spangles from this Sugar Sparkles Sample Pack.

4. Water: Warm water, straight from the tap.

Instructions

1. Fill your bottle about 1/8 to 1/3 full with glue. The more glue you add, the longer it will take for the glitter to settle after shaking.

2. Add glitter, start with a tablespoon or so. Take a deep breath as you watch your child pour glitter everywhere but inside the bottle. PS: a slightly damp paper towel wipes up fine glitter pretty well. A vacuum works even better.

3. Fill the bottle the rest of the way with warm water. At this step, before filling the bottle all the way, you can leave a little less than an inch of space at the top of the bottle, cap it, and shake it to see if you want to add more glitter, more glue, or just more water.

4. When the bottle is full up to the neck with water, glitter, and glue, cap it. I recommend using a hot glue gun to seal the cap closed. I did this by applying a single ring of glue all around the top threading and then screwing the cap on.

For how to use the Glitter Jar click here

 

R U OK?

Being a teenager can be hard. There are so many changes and challenges, from completing exams to friendship dramas to arguments with parents to friends struggling with mental health issues.
At times, teenagers might find themselves or a friend struggling to cope with daily life. As much as they may want to reach out to a friend or family member for support, they may feel like they can't. They may fear that someone will judge them or they won't understand. They may fear that their feelings with be dismissed or ignored. They may feel stupid or ashamed for feeling the way they do; that they shouldn't feel anxious or depressed. As such, they choose to keep suffering in silence.
Knowing someone is there for you and cares about you can make a world of difference to coping with the challenges of being a teenager. If you notice your teenager struggling (or if you are a teen reading this, your friend), start a conversation. Ask them- are you ok?
R U Ok is an organisation that encourages people to start conversations with those who are struggling. You don't need to be an expert to start a conversation, all you need to be is a good friend and great listener. You don't need to have 'all the answers' or the 'right advice'. Often all a teenager needs is to feel that their concerns are heard and feelings are understood.
If you feel like you need more help on how to start a meaningful conversation, R U Ok has some great resources on their website. Just follow this link https://www.ruok.org.au/how-to-ask

Five Simple Tips To Manage Change

Feeling anxious about change?

Check out these 5 simple tips

Finishing school, starting university, starting your first job, having a baby.. all of these are positive changes. They are changes people seek out. It can be quite a surprise when these changes cause anxiety. We usually associate anxiety with negative experiences and it can be a rude shock when a positive change brings about an anxious response in you. So why does this happen?

Anxiety is the body’s defense mechanism. It is the body’s response to our brains believing that we are in danger. When faced with something new, no matter how badly we wanted it, our brains can start to feel in danger. The fear of things not turning out as hoped, the fear of the unknown and doubts about our ability to meet the new demands are just some of the reasons that positive change can trigger anxiety in humans. How can you manage these transitions well?

  1. Write it out – when starting something new you can feel overwhelmed with thoughts about the change. “What if it doesn’t work out?” “What if my new teacher (boss etc) doesn’t like me?” “What if I make mistakes?” and “what if I don’t cope?” for example. Having these thoughts swirling in your mind can trigger an anxiety response in your body. Writing these thoughts down can be helpful. Writing is so simple and yet so powerful. Putting your thoughts on paper can operate as a form of download and also allows you to see your thoughts and decide which ones are real problems to work on, and which are simply fearful predictions with no real basis to them. Spend a few minutes dumping your thoughts on paper each day. The next day review what you have written and determine whether you need to take action on these thoughts or not.
  2. Maintain a balanced perspective – Often when starting something new your brain, in an effort to protect you, starts thinking about everything that could go wrong. In doing so it generally ignores all the ways in which things could go well. Remember to think about what could go right too. For example, you may think “what if my new boss (or teacher) hates me?” Acknowledge that this could happen, but is it not equally likely that your new boss or teacher may like you? No-one is asking you to predict the future but since your brain may naturally do that in an effort to protect you, it is helpful to balance the picture out by recognising that, yes, things could go wrong, but they are equally likely to go well, unless you have clear evidence that things are likely to go wrong.
  3. Get informed – if you don’t know what to expect your brain may take some poetic license and imagine all sorts of catastrophic outcomes. Gather as much useful information as possible so that you feel prepared for the change ahead. For example, if you are starting university check out the university’s website, visit campus a few times, work out how you will get there and learn where all your lectures will be held etc.
  4. Accept that there is no such thing as the “right” decision – often people agonise over decisions; “Is this the right job for me?” “Is this the right course for me…?” The fact is that none of our decisions come with guarantees and that’s what we are really looking for when we try to make the ”right” choice. Do your research, make your decision and then decide that it will be the right choice for you. Research has found that the more committed we are to our decisions the more comfortable we are with them, not the other way around. Once you’ve made a decision, commit to it and determine to make the most of it, being indecisive leads to less satisfaction regardless of the decision.
  5. Take care of yourself – self-care is important if we are to navigate change well. So as much as it is within your control get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and stay social.
    The next time you embark on something new, no matter how much you wanted it, don’t be surprised if you feel a little anxious. If the anxiety feels overwhelming, try out some of the strategies above and see which ones work best for you.

Workplace Anxiety

Workplace Anxiety: Is Common

We spend a great part of our lives in some sort of work setting.  Other than sleeping, this is probably a part of our day where we are engaged in a form of employment.  For some the pressure to perform and stay on top of things is equaled to the fear of losing it all and not having income.  Catastrophising takes over and soon we picture ourselves unable to pay the mortgage, disappointing our families and being ridiculed by our employer.

Workplace Anxiety: The Sources

Anxiety in the workplace can come from performance anxiety where we are afraid that we will make mistakes or somehow be responsible for significant breaches or negligence in our work.  It can come from distressing situations with colleagues, supervisors or customers that keep replaying in our mind perpetuating our distress.  It can come from harassment and bullying.  Restructuring, redundancies and changes in our workplace can cause significant stress and anxiety.  It can also come from the weight of our own expectations of ourselves.

Workplace Anxiety: The Consequences

Disrupted sleep, tense muscles, compromised immunity, impacted concentration - can lead to a vicious cycle of feeling under resourced and impotent at work.  Yet, work can provide us with a sense of purpose and achievement when we feel well.  We can start to avoid situations that impact our career progression.  We can pull back from networking with colleagues and key stakeholders.  Avoid the more complicated tasks, or simply the tasks that could highlight potential mistakes (emails, phone calls to customers).  We procrastinate on key deadlines.

Workplace Anxiety: The Solution

  1. Recognise that anxiety is transient, and can be reduce by practicing some relaxation and mindfulness strategies.
  2. Practice self compassion.  You are going to feel this way in your work every now and again, this does not make you a failure
  3. Identify the problem and engage in problem solving to manage the overwhelming helplessness.

Psychologists support individuals who go through all kinds or workplace anxiety, consider talking to someone who can help you with those 3 steps.

Parenting An Anxious Child

How to tell if they are anxious or just disobedient

Do you have an anxious child and struggle to know when to discipline their behaviour? Are they misbehaving or are they anxious? It can be very difficult to tell the difference, but it’s an important difference to make. Anxious behaviours don’t deserve punishment and this can make it really tricky for parents when it comes to telling the difference. Getting into trouble can be what anxious children want, because it can mean they avoid an anxiety-producing situation.

Here are some principles to help you tell the difference

Physical and Verbal Aggression are Not Acceptable: Regardless of how they are feeling, physical and verbal aggression are not acceptable. These behaviours are not acceptable for anyone, even if they are experiencing big emotions whether that be fear, anger or sadness. Permitting your child to behave this way will be unhelpful for them in the long-run. They need to learn to manage their emotions appropriately.

Check for Avoidance A key feature of anxiety is avoidance, and if a child is afraid they may be behaving a certain way to avoid a task. On the outside this might look like misbehaviour. For example, you might ask your child to get changed into their pyjamas and they refuse. Stepping back from the situation and taking some time to consider what is going on can help you discern if this is anxiety or misbehaviour. In this case, you may know that your child is afraid of the dark and at the moment, their bedroom light is off. This would be anxiety talking, rather than naughtiness. However, if your child is instead glued to the iPad playing a game and there are no signs of things that would cause your child to be afraid, it’s likely that this is a case of disobedience.

Knowing how to parent a child that is anxious can be really difficult. These are just a few principles that can guide you in parenting an anxious child. Childhood anxiety can be very limiting not just for a child, but their family as well. Fortunately, anxiety is well-researched and there are effective evidence-based interventions available. If you would like more support and guidance, seeking professional help from a Psychologist can be greatly beneficial.

Internet Gaming

This year the World Health Organisation (WHO) Gaming Disorder, of which problematic internet gaming comes under.  Gaming Disorder is defined as having patterns of problematic gaming behaviour for at least 12 months, where there has been an increased priority given to gaming at the cost of other interests and daily activities.  The behaviour also needs to cause significant impairment to daily functioning, such as interfering significantly with one's work, relationships and school.  Such disruption could lead to jobs lost, or significant warnings for performance.  This may seem like drastic definitions, however in a recent study from Finland, where they reviewed 50 studies on internet gaming, correlations between problematic gaming behaviour and depression, anxiety, OCD and somatisation were found.  With increasing advances in technology and new games invented and being downloaded everyday, gaming disorder, whether accepted as a clinical diagnosis or as part of the landscape we live in, is here.

One significant impact internet gaming can have is on the quality of sleep.  Unlike a tennis match with a limited pool of players, within your time zones, who have a limited physical capacity to keep going, internet gaming is boundary-less.  It is difficult to identify clear finish times, and to manage gaming relationships.  Sleep is impacted when it is difficult to wind down and "finish".  Particularly if time zones mean that you could be disadvantaged if you stop while other players keep going.  The temptation to load up on caffeine, push through natural sleep and tired cues impacts sleep.  Conflict in gaming relationships can be toxic.  What gets said in chat forms behind a screen can lack the civilities and appropriate courtesies than what is considered sporting behaviour.  This too can keep you awake.  We also know that flickering lights and blue light from screens impact sleep negatively.

If you are wondering where to go for help, speaking to a trained professional to help with problematic internet gaming behaviour, and therefore improve quality of sleep would be a helpful first step.

Depression In Men: Stealth Mode

Symptoms of Depression in men can go undetected.

It is commonly thought that men are socialised to hold their emotions in check so as not to look weak and "unmanly".  Yet emotions and the ability to feel makes us human.  It brings the best of us to others as we express not only what we think, and in what we do, but also in what we feel.  Emotions are a way for us to have a sort of thermometer to indicate to us what is going on deep within us.  When our emotional life is in a state of constant turmoil and aggravation, the clinical signs of depression can surface.  Depression in men can be difficult to detect.

As men may find it difficult to express just how despondent and despairing they are feeling (as in when they are in the grip of depression), they may not signal or seek for help at the early stages of depression.  They may not themselves recognise the start of the downward spiral of mood.  Added to this, is the uncommonly known symptoms that characterise depression in men.  In addition to the typical symptoms of depression, low mood more days than not, change in appetite, impacted sleeping, gripping thoughts of low self worth, guilt, shame, loss of pleasure, thoughts of self-harm and suicide, there are some additional symptoms to look for in men.

Depressive symptoms in men include:

  • Increased irritability, anger and interpersonal sensitivity
  • Physical symptoms - headaches, body pains, impacted sexual functioning and libido, digestive difficulties
  • Increased risky or self-harm behaviour: Substance use, reckless driving, aggressive sport playing inducing injuries, risky sexual behaviour

Men are far more unlikely to seek help for their mental health.  Being aware of the risk factors for men, knowing the complete picture of depression in men can help with early detection, and awareness that could make the difference.

What you can do:

  1. Affirm their experience without trying to solve or fix things. Listening is a powerful affirmation of someone's experience and offers the hope that they will not be judged as being weak.
  2. Read some material together, exploring the commonalities of other men's experiences and recognising the experience of your friend or loved one as being common to many.
  3. Offer to be there for the next step - making an appointment with your family doctor.
  4. Make sure you have support for yourself as well.

Be sure to read some of our blogs on Men's mental health.

Gentlemen! Your health matters!

Men's Health - did you know?

We look at men's health in this post.  Did you know that statistically men live 4.4 years less than women?

Did you know that 70% of overall health is controllable through factors such as regular exercise, balanced diet, sufficient sleep and having strong friendships?

Did you know that men who are physically inactive are 60% more likely to suffer from depression than those who are active?

Did you know that 54% of Australian men are insufficiently active?
(According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare)

Although exercise has been shown to play a huge role in men’s health, it can be hard to know where to start. Thankfully, there’s a whole field of psychology research dedicated to figuring this out. Phew!

What we do know

So what does this research tell us? Men need to be doing a minimum of 2 ½ to 5 hours of moderately intense exercise (i.e. brisk walk) each week OR 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours of vigorous exercise each week (e.g. hiking, running, carrying heavy loads, and sports such as basketball and soccer). In addition to the options above, you also need to include at least 2 muscle strengthening workouts per week (e.g. weights, resistance training or body weight exercises).

Starting somewhere is better than nowhere, so start somewhere – Is it too ambitious to begin running 3 times a week? Start running once a week. Intimidated by the equipment at the gym? Learn how to use one new piece of equipment each week. Just aim to get your body moving. Increase exercise gradually rather than attempting to reach the recommended goals all of a sudden. Smartphone apps can help you gradually increase and track your exercise, like Couch to 5k (C25K), Runkeeper or Zombies Run.

Call a mate or find an exercise buddy – Research suggests you are more likely to make changes if others are changing with you. Get a family member, friend or colleague to join you. Start a culture of friendly badgering about when you will next exercise together. Perhaps join a sports team or your local Park Run (http://www.parkrun.com.au/) so that the exercise is goal-directed and social.

Celebrate your changes – Regularly look back at what you have achieved over time with your exercise buddy and make a big deal about it. Put up a victorious Instagram post. Take photos of yourself periodically and track the changes – they will happen with time and persistence!

Don’t just celebrate your physical changes – exercise makes your brain happier too, reducing symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. Research suggests that even within 5 minutes of moderate exercise a noticeable increase in mood can be felt. Furthermore, the effect of exercise on depression has been found to be comparable to the effect of antidepressants in adults with major depression (Blumenthal et al., 2007)! So take note of your mental improvements and celebrate them, because exercising improves your mind as well as your body.

For more information on Men’s Health Week, watch the Centre for Effective Living Facebook page.

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