27 February 2020

27/2/2020 Feeling Overwhelmed

You can be zooming along thinking you are managing things when suddenly a sense of overwhelm overtakes you and becomes hard to shift.  Feeling overwhelmed is easily identifiable when there is a sudden trauma such as a bereavement, but when you move from feeling competent to feeling you are not managing it is usually a sign that you have pushed too far. That old saying the “straw that broke the camel’s back” is very much true here.  And even with a recognisable trauma, our ability to deal with it can be affected by the load we give ourselves.

Feeling overwhelmed can be a reaction to one day or a period of days and weeks, but usually signifies we are have taken on too much. Many people make the mistake of thinking that breaks lessen their work, yet research has shown people who take breaks are more productive.  Pushing ourselves regularly to the point of overload not only does our health no good but it may not mean you achieve more. I am not talking about short bursts of driven energy but that relentless striving to get too much done and ignoring the signs. It is less about the number of tasks and more about ignoring how we are feeling. Some days I can achieve more and others I need to slow down and accept this. 

As a social worker for 30 years I remember several times feeling that overwhelm.  Early in my career  I was helped by a manager who said “In your diary what cannot be cancelled over the next two weeks?”  Straight away I recognised that there were many things that could be rescheduled and were not the priority I had given those tasks- this proved a useful strategy for the rest of my career. When we are facing 'too much' we need to prioritise what really is essential,and maybe even reprioritise again. We need to be flexible and adaptable to regain a sense of managing. 

Being able to guage and monitor how what we are doing affects our stress levels is important to pace what we do.  We need to pay attention to our bodies and mind regularly so that we are less likely to be overwhelmed. Taking breaks to do something relaxing, social, self-supporting or enjoyable can help us manage stress by varying our pace and energy plus give us a different sense of achievement. Checking that we are not overloading ourselves and giving ourselves permission to re-prioritise enables us to be flexible. I often talk about a 'maintenance programme' (what we do to maintain our sense of wellbeing on a daily basis), versus a 'therapeutic programme' (what we do additionally for limited periods to support ourselves when we have extra stresses). 

Paying attention to our wellbeing needs supports us by bringing us back to the present rather than living in the future which is more likely to lead to lack of self-care.  Being busy and getting things done is important, but it needs to be balanced with self-care and self-maintenance as an equal priority.

You may find the following useful:



22 August 2019

22/8/2019 Tell Me What To Do Please!

Sometimes people just want a solution, to feel there is something immediately accessible to resolve difficult experiences, thoughts and feelings. The internet is full of advice and information about steps people can take, how to overcome issues etc. With people explaining how they managed to find solutions themselves. Much of this is useful advice and can be very helpful. And sometimes it is not enough.

The reality in life is that sometimes it can just take time. Just like some physical conditions can take several attempts and some time to manage, so it can be with our thoughts, feelings and experiences. Living with uncertainty and not knowing the outcome can feel unsettling and anxiety provoking.

One of the things that can help us through difficult times is having a sense of who we are and that we will be OK: Knowing we will adapt, we will learn, we will survive.  We call this being resilient. It’s not about being super tough or strong.  It’s knowing we are still OK even if we are vulnerable or ask for help.  That we can go through difficult times and be OK.

There is a lot written about resilience as being about taking control with a list of what you can do.  However, in my view this is misleading, and resilience is more about seeing yourself as able to adapt and learn whatever happens to you. You cannot overcome or change everything that comes along but you can find a way to live with it.

If we focus everything on the factors we cannot control, we end up dis-empowering ourselves. Instead we can stay in touch with what we have managed to live through so far:  all the things we have managed to do, the gains we have made, our strengths and skills,  our experiences, building self-support and  the support around us.  Sometimes our difficult time can help us realise what we have, and at the same time it can also show us where we still need to improve or develop. So, learning and adapting is always part of resilience.

Very often we know to advise our friends and family of these things. But being patient with ourselves can be harder. Sometimes the answer is less about finding actions or solutions, it is more about feeling OK with ourselves.

28 March 2019

28/3/2019 Being Assertive- Speaking up for ourselves

Being assertive means being able to speak up for yourself whilst respecting the rights and beliefs of others:  assertiveness .  I see it as respecting yourself as well as others with a sense of responsibility for the possible outcomes. Sometimes choosing not to be assertive can be as valid as being assertive.

 Speaking up for ourselves depends a lot on how much confidence and self-esteem we possess in any given situation. Learning to respect and trust yourself can support being assertive and in turn assertiveness can boost self-confidence.  How do you build this self-confidence so that you can be assertive?   There are some simple practical things we can do that may help us to feel better about ourselves:building-confidence-and-self-esteem . 

 I think learning to believe in yourself can take time and effort if you have experienced negative criticism in your life. We may internalise a criticism even if we think it is unfair so finding a counter-balance voice to that negative inner critic can support us: 5 easy-ways-to-silence-your-inner-critic/ .

What if you manage to speak up for yourself but you get criticised or ridiculed? This is always a risk and can feel hard when you first start out but if you can build that core belief in yourself it becomes easier not to crumble in the face of criticism.  Being assertive means accepting that you cannot change others but you can take care of yourself. Understanding that other people may hold their views for all sorts of reasons does not mean you have to accept them.  Just because someone criticises does not mean it is the whole truth.  You can reflect on criticism but you do not have to accept it. You have rights and choices too.

Being assertive carries rights and responsibilities. We often have to make a choice about whether to speak up so being aware of risks and consequences is important. Not speaking up can also carry consequences- including how we may feel about ourselves. Balancing these choices is a personal decision.  Overall speaking up for ourselves can be a self-supporting experience and being able to choose when you use it is an important skill to develop that helps us manage our lives.  

20 December 2018

20/12/2018 Support- Developing a ‘Personal Toolkit’.

I often use the term ‘having a personal toolkit’ to describe all those things we can use to support ourselves.  Whether you use social media, chats with friends, relaxation techniques or take long dog walks- these are all useful strategies to help us cope with difficult times.  We all have to find ways to cope with the ‘ups and downs’ of life and we make personal choices about what we use. What works well for one person may not for another.  

I started thinking about my own actual tool boxes.  I was never taught to use tools but have chosen to learn what I can over the years according to need or interest.  My toolbox ranges from lots of basic tools to a few power tools. Not comprehensive but enough for my needs. Some tools I use regularly and even have my favourites -now well worn. Some are specialised and rarely used but there if needed.  But ALL of my tools required me to practice and learn how to use them before I could put them to their intended use.  I needed to build my confidence and skills to feel I could use them. 

I think it is the same for our own personal support.  There are some things we need to do on a regular basis to take care of ourselves for everyday needs. At times of greater stress, we may need to add to our toolkit extra strategies to help us cope.  However, if we only ever use our tools in a crisis we may not feel confident they will work.  So, I advise people to practice techniques on a regular basis.  The repetition of practising self-care helps to build up the skills and confidence for when you need it more.

In the same way that I plan my actual tool box for what I need, I also suggest people plan ahead for anticipated problems for what will support them. If you know you are going to experience something difficult think about what you can use to cope ahead of the difficulty. Do you need some extra tools just in case? I am also not only talking about techniques but also how we use our social network for support. Sharing with trusted people more often can open the door to support at more difficult times because you build a more meaningful relationship.

In therapy we may discuss having a plan of how you can support yourself or get support.  But whatever you plan or think you need, in my experience practising and developing your skill is the best way to support yourself both daily and for the future.  You can consider:

  • What is your personal list of what you can do to support yourself or get support? Does it feel enough? Do you need to expand it?
  • Do you feel confident to use these skills or do you need to practice? What would be easier for you to start practising? 
  •  Are there people you can identify you would trust to share a problem with? How do you communicate with them?
  • Do you set aside regular time to practice self-care?  What do you do regularly? Is there anything you would like to try? What more might you need? 
Self- care is a life long need and setting time aside to support ourselves is an essential part of life. Whatever you choose to do it helps to know that you do have things in your toolkit that you can draw upon whenever you need it. 

20 November 2018

20/11/2018   Making Mistakes- Is it so terrible?

How we deal with 'mistakes' and 'errors' is important as our reactions can affect so many things in our lives.  To err is human, to forgive is divine” is a frequently quoted saying which comes from an essay written on criticism by Alexander Pope  in 1711. Which just goes to show this struggle with mistakes  goes back a long way.

There are lots of web sites that advise about growing from our mistakes, how we can learn and let go. I have included a selection at the bottom. Some people don’t like to use the word ‘mistake’ but I do, interchangeably with 'errors', as this is commonly how people talk about themselves.

I want to focus on how we deal with our ‘errors’ emotionally. A lot depends on what you have already learned so far in life.  For most people it is natural to feel some shame, anxiety or fear around making mistakes.  Hopefully we can learn lessons and try to improve.   And of course it does depend on what type of mistake and  consequences. Are we talking about something that could have happened or did happen?  Did anyone suffer? How do we know how bad it is?

Some people can be more forgiving of themselves than others.  But for some the fear of making errors can be so huge that they have to try to be as perfect as possible, such that when they fall short of their own expectations it can feel devastating. Even if nothing awful happens.  This may lead to people feeling really badly about themselves even with the reassurance of others.

Of course high standards are important in many areas of life so it is not to say we should not aspire to be as good as we can. It is more about the reality of life that we may not always attain these standards and how we deal with this.  Tiredness, distractions, ill health can all have an impact on us.  In my view,  we need to take care of ourselves whenever we feel challenged by something. So if you have difficulties coping with errors or a drop in your usual standards:
  1. It is normal to have an emotional reaction after an error. Mistakes do not define who you are. Who you were  the day before still exists- you are just having a few doubts.  Try to keep hold of the real you.
  2. It is good to ask a few questions and learn from experiences.  This is healthy and can actually help you improve.  But avoid going round in circles- it does not help.
  3.  Check out with others so you can have a more balanced viewpoint. Get support.  It may not be as bad as you think. In fact more often than not it isn’t.
  4. Take extra care of yourself. When we go through stressful events we need to slow down and focus on self-care.
  5.  Remind yourself that you will feel better given time. You just have to go through this process. It will pass. Give yourself time. 
  6.   When you feel more grounded you can take stock of your learning. Including about whether your expectations of yourself were reasonable in the circumstances.

     To err is human”- welcome to the human race.  Like everyone you will be making a few more mistakes in life.  Learning how to take care of yourself in troubled times is an important lesson.  Below are some sample web sites:  

                 Growing from mistakes                     Getting over mistakes

03 November 2018

3/11/2018 Catching Up with Myself - List of past blogs

I have had a bit of a gap whilst I transferred blog sites from my web site to here.  Moving from something familiar to something new can seem daunting especially when staying with the familiar feels so comfortable. Now I have made the plunge and feel the energy and excitement of a new site.
I hope to start writing new posts but here are earlier posts that I have copied over.

This is a list of my past blogs that are available below to read below:
  • 27/8/2018 Transformation and Wanting Change
  • 2/8/2018 Resilience and How do we Build it?
  • 21/6/2018  Being Yourself- Can we find a way?
  • 7/6/2018 Living with Uncertainty.
  • 17/5/2018 "I don't want to be a burden"- not wanting to bother others.
  • 3/5/2018 When is it OK to worry?
  • 14/4/2018 Being 'Good Enough' or the problem with perfectionism.
  • 30/3/2018 Developing Circles of Support.
  • 17/3/2018 We have different relationship styles.
  • 12/3/2018 Learning from Wildlife.
  • 9/3/2018 Deep Relaxation.

27/8/2018 Transformation and Wanting Change

I am a keen gardener and I like to think I work with nature.  I have been struggling with one well established patch which gets over grown so that I can’t get into it- but it is good for wildlife, teeming with birds and bees when in season.  So every year I carried on with my hard work and struggled on for the sake of the wild life but always questioning my effort.

Then this year I suddenly decided  'I don’t have to do this anymore’.  I can change things and make it work for me and the wildlife.   Yes it does mean some hard work taking things out and clearing space, and it does mean letting go of some things I planted myself.  But deciding on change has liberated me to feel energised and enthusiastic as I consider a number of choices in transforming this patch.

This solution seemed so simple I wondered about why I had not done this before. That got me thinking about transformation and change.  Sometimes we know what we want but we are worried about making change. Sometimes we want change but we are not sure exactly what.  Or maybe we just worry about consequences- change sometimes involves some level of risk.

However the real change has to come from within us. We have to be ready for change.  Sometimes we may get a Eureka moment, but often it is a long drawn out process as we reflect about the issue.  Maybe doing this repeatedly. This process is important as we carry responsibility for our decisions and taking time means we can pay attention to all the aspects of our issue.

 It may seem slow as we delay making a decision, but in reality there are little subtle steps that take place as we consider our situation.  Wanting change becomes a theme and by returning to it we create subtle changes in ourselves. Allowing for the possibility of change means we imagine what it might be like, we consider different possibilities, we think about the obstacles and the risks, and we consider about staying with the status quo.  We may even try out smaller changes.

Over time this process builds up in momentum so that one day it seems like we know what to do. Transformation does not have to be big, it can be small moments of enlightenment and change as we learn to be open to the  new.  Trusting ourselves in this process that we will work it out one day enables us to keep going through difficulties and find our own way.

I needed my time to reflect but I also had to be ready for this change. Now I have the joy of transforming my overgrown patch into something that no longer feels difficult and can benefit both me and the wildlife.

02/08/2018 Resilience – How do we build it?

When times get difficult how we cope depends on our resilience to take care of ourselves and manage the situation.  How we learn about resilience is usually from our upbringing which hopefully gives us a good grounding and various techniques.  We continue to develop our ability to deal with difficulties as we mature and grow older:  Information about resilience

Resilience is not something we consciously  learn as it is a combination of skills, knowledge and experiences we build up individually. But it is something we get to think about when times feel tough and we struggle to manage how we feel,  to understand what has happened and to find a way through.  Difficult times often lead us to self- question and reflect about our lives which can be positive and add to our learning experience.

Having helpful thought processes, self-care practices  and  supportive networks can be key to managing difficulties.  But at challenging times we can sometimes be prone to self-criticism, neglect ourselves and not make use of available support.  Switching off can be a stress response in itself as we try to cope with our emotions.  Or maybe how we normally support ourselves is not enough.

There are some basic things to help:

  • Relaxation- we need to practice this regularly in order to achieve it. Even if we can bring the tension down a few notches it helps us to feel a little more in control and able to cope better. 
  • Distraction - Find something worthwhile to do even if for a short while.  This doesn’t have to be complex- it can be stroking the cat, going for a walk, calling a friend, doing some cleaning or cooking,  watching a positive film. The idea is to take your mind in another direction and feel better.  Put your efforts into things you can control and help you feel better even if only for a little while. 
  • Is there potential for positivity in the challenge?-  Health problems may mean taking better care of yourself, relationship issues may mean trying to communicate better. Again this can help us to feel we can get back a measure of control if we can do something to help ourselves.
  • Learning- Even if things don’t resolve as hoped, what  can you learn from this experience that will help you in the future? 
  •  Keep it in context-Even if you feel you have done something badly, don’t  label everything in your life as wrong or everything you are as bad. It is human to make mistakes- keep hold of the whole you,  and see yourself in the wider context of all the good things you do as well.  
  • Commit to keep going with all your relationships – don’t give up on them all if one or two relationships have difficulties. 
  • See bad events as just temporary-  You do still have to get through them but eventually it will pass into memory.  

Resilience is a lifelong learning and we all get tested at times.  Recognising that there are things you can do to support yourself and get through the hard times is key to how you manage the situation. At the core of all this is how you look after yourself and support yourself.  At difficult times we can learn to do this a little better and build our resilience further.

If you would like to check out your own resilience bwp have an online questionnaire and some guidance:  bwp resilience
The Samaritans do an online course for young people around building resilience but this can be useful for anyone:   Samaritans-resilience

21st June 2018  Being Yourself -Can we find a way?

Many of us talk about being ourselves and encourage others to be themselves. It’s a standard piece of advice yet at the same time it can feel hard to achieve.  What does it mean to ‘be your self’? Authenticity, keeping to our values and standards, being true to what we really think or feel?  Can we really be true to ourselves when we have so many different roles and responsibilities.  And there is a truth that I cannot truly express everything I think and feel  in certain roles such as at work or with small children. So what does it mean?

Being ourselves is not just about saying what we think and feel or behaving how we please.  It does come with responsibility.  It’s about knowing, understanding and accepting how we think and feel  so we can make a mindful choice about how we express ourselves.   It’s about coming from a place of knowing we are essentially Ok as a person and we can choose how and if to express ourselves (see psychcentral.com/blog/on-being-ourselves-what-this-really-means-what-it-might-look-like/)

If we are not true to ourselves it can be tiring  and affect how we feel. It can be exhausting not being true to ourselves. It takes up so much time and energy if we have to keep changing ourselves, adapting how we present, censor ourselves (see psychologytoday- why-you-need-let-yourself-be-yourself )   There is some evidence that people who are more true to themselves feel happier (see psychologytoday what-doesnt-kill-us ). So finding our own authenticity is good for us.

Being  ourselves is more about how we think and feel about ourselves. Too often we focus on how people see us or how we might be judged.  We worry we will not be accepted or be criticised.  And there may be some truth to these fears. If our past experience of being ourselves was we attracted ridicule or bullying, how can we trust other people again?  And if these experiences were repeated we may not even need to wait for criticism from others- we do it to ourselves instead.  So we censor ourselves, we pretend to be something other.  This requires a lot of energy and effort. We are not helped by expectations from others or messages from social media or society to  ‘ always get it right’.  So we worry and we stop ourselves.

Being authentic and being ourselves does carry risks.  It requires a certain level of resilience to understand that the world does not always receive us well or treat people fairly but we can still be ourselves.  But resilience is not about being hard and battle ready- it’s about knowing and feeling that you are OK.  That most of the time it will probably be Ok and when it is not you will get through. It’s about getting in touch with the core of who you are as a person and knowing that this does not really change unless you choose.  The external world cannot change the central core of your being without you.

This involves finding a place of balance within you.  The place where you can sit with your core self and not worry about any need to change. Some people were blessed with the right kind of support from childhood to know this from the beginning.  Some people have had to learn this later in life.  Some people find mindfulness or relaxation operates at this point and helps them to just be with themselves. Some people have used personal development or therapeutic methods to get to that balanced view of themselves.  Whatever your chosen method it is possible to feel more accepting of yourself and be more your true self.  The outside world  stays outside and you can  feel calm just being your natural self.
I liked what  Caroline McHugh has to say about being yourself (see McHugh).

7th June 2018- Living with Uncertainty

Working with uncertainty requires that we support ourselves to tolerate the not-knowing. How we value ourselves and trust our abilities to make decisions affects how much we cope with uncertainty.  Here are my list of tips :

First try to relax: We can make better decisions when we are more grounded and calm. If you are prone to anxiety, then learning self-help relaxation techniques could help you reduce tensions. Even being more aware of your breathing and slowing down may help.
Look for the positive: if we are consumed with the negative, it may be helpful to bring attention to the more positive alternatives rather than expect the worst. Focus on what you do know and what you can do.  If we dwell on what we cannot do, we essentially disempower ourselves and keep us stuck.  Sometimes just trying something may help.    Thinking about the wider field of possibilities may reduce the power of a narrow negative focus.
Acceptance:  Sometimes we just have to accept that we cannot know or control everything. Nor would this be desirable, as we would become overloaded.  We also have to accept that both we and our world can never be perfect.  Learning to accept our limitations is not always easy but does help us cope.
Value yourself: Trusting that you are an OK person who can cope with whatever life sends you is a valuable skill. If you know you will find a way to manage the uncertainty you are more likely to tolerate it. Building up your self-esteem can help cope with the questions.
Consider planning:  If there is the possibility of something not working out, see if you can make a plan to cover possibilities- but don’t dwell on them, move on.
Avoid focusing on anxieties:  There’s no need to dwell on our fears. Once we recognise them and accept their limitations, we can move on.
Get support: Ask friends, family and colleagues for advice. Check things out. There is a wealth of sites on the Internet where people also consult without getting involved. You don’t have to be alone with your issue.
Relax- Remember to look after yourself throughout the process.  Self-care is an ongoing need to help us cope with life.

In my view, most people often have more skills and abilities than they realise to manage the ups and downs  life sends us. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed and forget what we already know or what we can do. Taking care of ourselves, seeking support and advice, and taking stock is often what helps us get through.

You may find this useful:

17th May 2018 "I don't want to be a burden"- not wanting to bother others. 

Having problems is a universal human experience.  There is no one on this planet today not facing some problem or other.  We all have to work out on a daily basis how to face the day but it is how we deal with our challenges that shows our individual differences.

Most people manage to get up, feed themselves and get dressed but even this can feel a challenge to some when feeling low.  Facing a stressful job, family or relationship issues, money worries,  dealing with loss or ill health can all present challenges to us. Some people may have long term difficulties with anxiety or depression as a result of past experiences that challenge them in everyday life.  We all try to find ways to get through our difficulties.

People use a variety of techniques to support themselves when facing stressful issues- from relaxation,  distraction, physical activities, even watching TV.  My personal favourite is gardening and walking in natural habitats. Whatever works for you is a good starting point to build on when you need extra support.

In my view, the best self- support is to talk things over with others.  If we have a good support network we may have different people we can talk to about different things. Or maybe we have a few close core friends with whom we can share our worries- and visa versa.  Most people manage through this kind of support.

However, for some people or at certain times sharing problems becomes a concern in itself.  Perhaps we are concerned about the problems and stress levels of our friend or family. If our problem seems unsolvable or has been ongoing for a long time, we may worry about overburdening people. Or maybe that people will not understand or could even criticise us. This makes it feel hard to share and we end up missing out on potential extra support.

There is no hard and fast rule here. Only you know what your support network is like, but in therapy and counselling we examine potential support and what gets in the way.  Where people are concerned about being a burden we discuss what this looks like, any evidence for it and ways to manage it. We consider how to test out relationships by a step by step approach or maybe choosing one person to share with. In general most people find it was worth the effort to share with a friend.

 In my experience as a Therapist, I find most people who care about us would like to help in some way when we face difficulties.  Even with their own problems they can often offer some support even if it is just to listen sometimes.  If we are concerned we can always just ask them how much support they can give us.  We can also be responsible to monitor ourselves, or listen to advice,  if our support needs become too great- maybe this is time for professional help such as consulting our GP.

Nowadays the Internet also provides us with a large choice of web sites and chat rooms to get information and support online or in the community. If friends and family are not helpful, or the problem is too complex for them to resolve, Counselling and Psychotherapy can be a useful tool. Or we may go to organisations that provide support for our particular problem.  In the end, we focus on what is helpful to us.  The important thing is that sharing with someone often does help us.

The following are examples of web sites that may be useful.
1)How we ask for help- although this is geared to care I thought it had useful tips.  How we ask for help
2)Sometimes we may have to ‘educate’ our friends and family to understand more about how we feel.  There is a lot of useful information on  mind information-support
3)If friends and family are not always as supportive as we would like it is important that we do not turn inwards to criticise ourselves - verywellmind-unsupportive-friends-and-family

3rd May 2018  Anxiety – When is it OK to worry?

Anxiety is a common theme for many people. It is one of those feelings that regularly occurs throughout our lives.  It is actually a useful survival tool- our ancestors would have had to worry if that tiger was around the corner or where to get their next meal.  That prompted them to take action to minimise risks.  So a certain amount of anxiety is useful and understandable.

 In modern times, it is normal to be anxious about an exam or a job interview and people have various techniques to help them cope.  In my view, a certain amount of anxiety can be good for us in flagging up a need and prompting us to take care of ourselves.  If we didn’t worry about crossing busy streets we might get knocked down!

There are times when our anxiety levels  naturally rise eg at times of loss or major change, health problems, major events. Often recognising this is temporary and having some basic skills to help us cope gets us through.  Knowing we will be OK in the end often helps.

At other times,  coping with anxiety can feel difficult because we do not have an easy answer. Uncertainty , doubts, feeling overwhelmed can ramp up the anxiety so we do not feel we can manage it. We just want it to go away.  At these times, our wellbeing is affected and we are not sure how to cope leading us to question our sense of ourselves.  In extremes, it can trigger the stress responses of’ flight or fight’ leading to physical changes in our bodies-  mind-information-support.

Coping with anxiety is a life skill that we all learn to varying degrees but events may get in the way of how we develop our skills. Difficult childhoods or past experiences may impact on how we learn  to manage our anxieties and trust ourselves.

In therapy, we often start with looking at the issue of support- both self-support and from others.  I am a great believer in people developing their own ‘toolkit’ of strategies.  What works for some may not work for others. It is important we develop what works for us.
Most people have a range of strategies they already use to support themselves and we look at how any of these can be developed or strengthened. A lot of people learn new strategies such as ‘Mindfulness’ or  may use sport to help them cope.  I look at what people are drawn to and want to  develop for themselves- as well as what gets in the way.

We often explore where tension is kept in the body and the breathing- so people can practice relaxing and become more aware when tension starts to build. Often this is a difficult one if people are used to holding a lot of tension so we explore this in manageable stages so relaxing can become more normalised.

We also look at triggers and how to take action before the anxiety escalates.  Most people are aware of what makes them anxious so planning ahead can reduce tension and help us feel more in control.

We also look at support networks and who is available for support- this can be known people, agencies, online resources etc.  Sometimes this can flag up a need to build our network or make better use of them.

 Some strategies may not be healthy such as drugs or alcohol  but until people find other ways to help them cope it can be difficult to give these up. Recognising that there are other options can support building alternatives into your life.

As we develop our ‘toolkit’ of techniques we also examine our thoughts  and feelings.   Learning strategies helps us contain  thoughts and feelings but we may need to process ideas that escalate the anxiety so we can  reduce them.  Getting fears and anxieties into proportion is important to help us cope but may take repetition if it has become a pattern long established.

Anxiety is a normal part of life and can be useful to help us look after ourselves.  We will never be worry free but we can learn how to deal with our anxieties.  Knowing that we have techniques to help us cope,  that there are people or places we can find support and understanding our own thought processes helps us find a way through.   Life is never going to be worry free but we can learn to trust in our ability to cope and adapt to whatever happens.

14th April 2018 Being 'Good Enough' or the Problem with Perfectionism

A concept we work with in therapy is ‘good enough parenting’.  This was an idea developed by an eminent Psychoanalyst Winnicott and later developed by others- a general summary was written by  Gray in  psychologytoday-the-good-enough-parent-is-the-best-parent.

Basically, the idea is that parents do not have to be perfect and accept their children as they are whilst supporting them to understand more about themselves and their world. Parents just need to be ‘good enough’ to support their children to find reasonable ways to deal with an imperfect world and the ups and downs of life. This is not about blaming parents but about recognising how important they are in supporting us to find our way in the world.

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to high standards and wanting to achieve the best results. In fact, wanting to improve enables us to develop and build our skills and knowledge.  Some tasks need to be performed to a very high standard especially if risks are high.  The problem comes when only perfection will do and how we feel when it is unattainable or comes at a high price to ourselves.  This may be about not achieving something specific or it could be about not having the time to achieve the high standards we set ourselves.  This may lead us to drive ourselves to a level of  stress that affects our well-being and generates  self-criticism and shame so we feel there is something wrong with us.

Part of the work of therapy is to support putting things in context and looking at issues holistically.  In therapy, I try to explore what may be ‘good enough’  even if not perfect. Often this involves looking at a spectrum of choices and working out what would be disastrous and what would be acceptable.  Is it achievable to always be close to perfect?  What would be the consequences of allowing ourselves a little more slack? Of course there will always be things that should be carried out at high standards  but can we take a more pragmatic approach to allow some tasks to be ‘good enough’.

Sometimes we find that messages have been internalised from childhood about expectations.  This could be frequent criticisms and dissatisfactions that make children try harder or could be polarised attitudes about what is acceptable.  If we have been taught only perfect or one specific thing will do, it is hard to consider anything else as good enough.  This can lead to having our own  ‘inner-critic’ ready to tell us how we are not good enough.

 In therapy, we work with having a counter –balance to the situation by developing alternatives and challenging the inner-critic.  Inner -critics can be useful but they do need to be balanced with a wider balanced view. Am I really such a bad person? Have I really done such a bad job?  From looking at choices and considering a wider perspective, people then make their own choices about how they want to live and work. Considering flexibility and adaptability often supports managing the stress and finding what works for us.

Learning to accept ourselves as an ‘OK’ human being  even when we do not always succeed as we would wish is important to cope with stress and difficulties.  Seeing ourselves as having choices and being adaptable to life helps us to build resilience and supports us to look after ourselves when times are difficult. Being ‘good enough’ is part of being human even if we do aspire to higher things as well.

30th March 20182018 Developing Circles of Support

    I often use  ‘Circles of Support’ which is a person centred concept taken from supporting people with disabilities to be more independent and  included in society.  I like this way of looking at how we have different levels of support around us. It is a concept that has grown to be used in other spheres such as the workplace, life coaching, supporting vulnerable others.  Another term that can be used is ‘Circle of Friends’ :  circles-support

    Imagine concentric circles and at the centre is yourself.  How you support your self is the core of  how you live and something we often talk about in therapy.  Then you look at the people in your life and where you would place them on the circles. Some people may be close and very much on the inner circles. Others may be more on the outer circles. Some people may even move around the circles as we stay in and out of touch or maybe we get different types of support at certain times.  The circles are not static as we adapt them  throughout our lives.

    There is no right or wrong  in this. Some people have a few close friends or family clustered in the central circle. Some people have a spread across the circles, including people on the outer circles who are more superficial friends but still good to spend some time with. Each person has their place including work colleagues, family,  and maybe even pets. Not forgetting that we may even contact professionals, helplines and information services to get support. It’s your circle and it is your choice. The question is-  does it meet your needs when you need support? If this circle of support is not balanced for you, it is worth exploring what you can do to build it further.

    At times of difficulty we often re-examine our circle of support  but it is not only about having a social network but also how we use it. Of course, every person on the circle has their own strengths, weaknesses and difficulties which may affect how much and what type of support they can offer.  We are also on their circle of support so may be wary of over-burdening them.  Even if we have people willing to support us, we may stop ourselves from sharing a difficulty by thinking our issue is not serious enough or too difficult.  Sometimes we can do ourselves a disservice by not making use of the support we have.

    By thinking about who we have available for support and  how we use it, we can better support ourselves  at times of need.  This is a theme that comes up often in therapy as we look at the messages we tell ourselves that may limit the support we get.  By  supporting ourselves, we can also better support others in our circle – a mutual benefit.

17th March 2018 We have Different Relationship Styles

I sometimes like to watch videos by other therapists to see how they describe interesting subjects- and of course to hopefully learn something myself. I was interested in this video that describes four types of communication styles in relationships: Relationship styles

We often work with communication styles in therapy but with more complexity. Most people are aware of their own styles which can be an asset in different roles and settings. Children usually develop their own communication styles through how adults around them communicate and we continue to develop this in adulthood.

In Gestalt therapy, we believe people learn adaptations based on their experiences so this is not about criticism or blame if something is not working well. We think about the processes going on in terms of thoughts, feelings and meaning as well as their context. I often work with ‘spectrums’ as people are not usually fixed at one point and we look at where their individual styles work well and if and when they do not. For instance, someone who talks a lot may sometimes need to work on slowing down and listening or reflecting. Someone who is very reflective and holds back may need to work on verbalising more

This is not about forcing change- we are all capable of expressing ourselves in the style we choose. Therapeutically I often describe “expanding our repertoire” - being able to do more not less if it is useful to us. If we understand more about our own processing and communication, we may also be able to adapt when we need it and understand more about the different communication styles of other people. This can only support us in our relationships.

12th March 2018 Learning from Wildlife

I am lucky enough to have a largish pond in my garden and for years without fail the frogs gather to spawn. Except this one. I was wondering where they had gone when suddenly there was frog spawn in a very small corner pond I had made from left over liner. That night I counted 14 frogs in a 2X4 ft space. It was packed. What had happened?
I then worked out the frogs had adapted to the recent cold snap- the larger pond remained iced over for several days longer but the small one thawed much quicker. 
I find observing nature relaxing and meaningful. Nature reminds me that sometimes when circumstances mean I can't do what I want -maybe I just need to adapt and think of another way. 
Meanwhile I get to enjoy a much closer view of my frogs and tadpoles in the smaller pond- at least for this year.

9th March 2018 Deep Relaxation

I  was reading about a technique that helps people cope with traumatic memories but they had to be deeply relaxed. In my experience deep relaxation can feel difficult for some people. The sensation of letting go can feel strange and even raise anxiety. Yet we know deep relaxation can be so good for your health.
There are many techniques out there and finding what works for you is important. When I work with clients who have difficulty relaxing, I suggest small steps. Maybe only trying for 30secs or choose a part of you that feels easier such as your hands.
I know from my experience that learning deep relaxation takes practice. Sometimes I may be too tense to achieve it fully which then tells me I need to do it more. But learning deep relaxation is possible with time and patience. The important thing is to try in manageable steps.