Years ago I came across this idea and found it enormously helpful when going through difficult times.
Often life isn’t easy, and sometimes it certainly doesn’t feel fair. The goalposts move all the time. So, when life gets you down, remember that you are the product of a very long line of ancestors stretching back through time. They survived the worst adversities, difficulties and struggles. Those ancient battles and plagues you see in documentaries – your ancestors survived them all. It’s their genes and their blood that are part of you right now.
You have inherited all of their courage and resilience. You are their direct descendant and you are capable just as they were. You can do it!
A fledging starling was in my garden this morning. The parent bird was busy collecting bugs, whilst the youngster sat helplessly on the patio unable to fly away if danger arrived. It reminded me of this quote attributed to Marcus Aurelius:
“Don’t be ashamed of needing help. You have a duty to fulfill just like a soldier on the wall of battle. So what if you are injured and can’t climb up without another soldier’s help?”
Most people expect to always be able to solve the problems life throws at them. I’ve worked with clients who worried about asking for help, believing they should be able to do it all on their own.
When we are born, we are all completely helpless and rely on others to help us grow and learn, just like that fledgling. It is ok to ask for help and you don’t have to face anything on your own. It doesn’t mean you are weak, or stupid or worthless and it is not something shameful. If you need support, then like the soldier who is injured, help is there for the asking.
“It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth” Nietzsche
When did you last take a really enjoyable walk? This photo was taken at the weekend on a wonderful walk along the river in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I recommend walking to all my clients who are stressed, anxious and overwhelmed.
There’s something about being outside in the open, fresh air that nourishes your mind. Some of my best decisions are made when I’m out walking. The bilateral stimulation of walking seems to help with problem solving. Creativity seems to be boosted, along with motivation. Then, there’s the mindful experience of taking in the sights, sounds and smells that root you in an appreciation of the present moment. On top of that, the body benefits from the physical exercise.
Unlike stress that can come and go with the situation creating it (maybe work, study, relationship or money problems), anxiety is something that can persist whether or not the cause is clear to you.
Anxiety can make you imagine that things in your life are worse than they really are, and prevent you from confronting your fears. You may feel that you are going mad, or that some psychological imbalance is at the heart of your unhappiness. However, it is important to realize that anxiety is natural and normal and results as part of a process of bodily functions designed to help you. It is your body’s natural reaction to a challenging event or situation. Biologically the body is readying itself to either stand and fight the threat or to get out of the situation quickly – both of which require a physical response. This process gives you a boost of adrenaline that increases your heart rate and the amount of oxygen going to your limbs known as the “fight or flight” response. The “butterflies in the stomach” feeling that many associate with anxiety is this mechanism kicking in, but instead of being used to avoid immediate danger, it is often inappropriately activated during normal, everyday situations when stress has built up, often without you realizing it is happening.
Common physical symptoms of anxiety include: increased heart rate, palpitations, muscle tension, “Jelly legs”, tingling in the hands and feet, hyperventilation (over breathing), dizziness, difficulty breathing, wanting to use the toilet more often, feeling sick, tightening across the chest area, headaches, hot flushes, perspiration, dry mouth, shaking, sensing a lump in the throat or choking sensations. You may experience some of the following thoughts: that you may lose control or go “mad”, have a heart attack/be sick/faint/die/have a brain tumour, feel people are looking at you and observing your anxiety, things seem to be speeding up/slowing down, feel detached from your environment and other people, wanting to escape from the situation or feel on edge and alert to everything around you.
Some people have a very identifiable cause for their anxiety; a traumatic incident, lots of stressors, or have undergone a significant life event (such as moving house, a separation, health worries). For others there is no identifiable cause for their anxiety and this creates distress. It can be helpful to think about your stress levels as being like a bucket of water. When you keep adding stressors to the bucket (even little ones like finding a parking space or commuting to work), over time it fills and fills until one day it overflows. This can be a good way of looking at anxiety as it explains how sometimes it can seem to come out of nowhere with no significant trigger. However, what has happened is that the trigger was just a very small stressor that tipped you over the edge and allowed your bucket to overflow. You really need a leaky bucket with lots of holes to reduce your overall stress levels. Each one of these holes could be something positive that you do to manage your anxiety, such as deep relaxation, exercise, reading, listening to music or spending time with friends or family.
The most common behaviour when you are anxious is avoidance. Although avoiding an anxiety-provoking situation can provide immediate relief, it is only a short-term solution. Although it may seem like the best thing to do at the time, the anxiety returns the next time the situation happens as avoidance has reinforced the message that there is a threat. When you start avoiding things you never get to find out whether your fear about the situation is justified or what would happen.
The common thread between most anxiety disorders is the panic attack. However, when panic attacks are experienced out of nowhere without an apparent trigger, this is classified as panic disorder. People with panic disorder often feel OK one minute, and the next may feel totally out of control and in the grips of a panic attack. Panic attacks produce very real physical symptoms, from a rapid increase in heartbeat to a churning stomach sensation. These physical symptoms are naturally unpleasant and the accompanying thoughts of terror can make a panic attack a scary experience. People start to dread the next attack, and quickly enter into a cycle of living in fear of fear.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is diagnosed by your doctor when you feel in a constant state of high anxiety and is also called ‘chronic worrying’ or a ‘free floating’ anxiety condition. People with GAD often describe how they can resolve an issue but as soon as this happens, another worry pops up. Everyone has worries from time to time, but GAD is different in that the worry can last for over 6 months, and the level of worry is out of proportion to the risk. For example, if a family member is an hour late getting home without calling, a person with GAD may think ‘they must have had an accident’, rather than any other explanation such as being delayed in traffic.
GAD is particularly difficult to live with as it is constantly on a person’s mind – there is no respite, as the anxiety is not tied to a specific situation or event. It can cause problems with sleep, maintaining a job and impact close relationships. If you feel you may have GAD or panic disorder then you are advised to seek further information and guidance from your doctor who will be able to make a formal diagnosis.
If you feel anxious all the time, for several weeks or if it feels like your anxiety is taking over your life, then it’s a good idea to ask for professional help. Prolonged anxiety, and the overthinking that accompanies it, interferes with sleeping patterns and can result in overwhelm and low mood. It may seem hard to admit to fears that most other people don’t appear to have, but asking for help is a sign of strength and the first step in getting better.
I specialize in helping people like you overcome anxiety. I draw on a comprehensive range of techniques and approaches to help you overcome your difficulties. If you’re interested in finding out more about the ways I can help, then get in touch.
Walking in the Lake District this week I came across lots of well worn paths like this. Everyone following the clearest, strongest path.
It reminded me that our behaviour is like this. We repeat patterns and our brains eventually respond habitually, following the strongest neural pathway. In this way behaviour is reinforced. When we decide to change habitual behaviour it can feel strange or uncomfortable as we wander away from the well worn path and try something new. Sometimes it feels impossible to change.
My work focuses on helping you find healthier paths that lead you where you want to go. Together we reinforce these new pathways so they become stronger. In this way, your desired behaviour feels natural and effortless. So what would you like to change about the way you think, feel or behave? Ready to find a better path? Contact me to find out how I can help you.
How often have you seen those cringe-worthy memes and posts based on positive affirmations? They seem to pop up on social media every day!
Positive Affirmations are heavily promoted by the self-help industry. If you have good self-esteem and feel confident and sure of yourself, positive affirmations can give you a helpful boost. However, if you are the opposite of this – anxious or perhaps struggling with low mood, then affirmations busting with positivity can be damaging.
Research suggests that positive affirmations are ineffective for people with low self-esteem – they are not helping the very people who tend to use them.
According to a Canadian study in 2009 (Wood, Perunovic and Lee), when people with low self-esteem recite positive affirmations, they feel worse. The study concludes that “repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most”.
Researchers asked people who identified as having low self-esteem to recite this affirmation: “I AM A LOVABLE PERSON”. They measured the subject’s mood and how they felt about themselves afterwards. Those with low self-esteem felt worse after being made to recite the positive affirmation. Only those with high self-esteem reported feeling better.
The results of the study suggest that positive affirmations are incongruent with the mindset of those people who have low self-esteem. This creates feelings of conflict and feeling bad, which in turn is a driver for more negative thoughts about themselves.
Perhaps it is the nature of the affirmations that is at fault here. More realistic statements that do not create conflict or trigger negative feelings, but are neutral, are more likely to be accepted. A useful start is an affirmation such as “I AM ENOUGH”.
Understanding the psychology behind the words and their effect on the mood of an individual is important. So if you’ve tried reciting positive affirmations and it’s left you feeling worse, you now know why!
If you struggle with low self-esteem, lack of confidence, anxiety or low mood and feel like you would benefit from professional help, then please get in touch as there are many sound psychological interventions that can help.
If you have children and you’re also trying to hold down a working life outside the home, you will know how busy it feels – all the time! Before you know it, you’re experiencing stress, getting irritable and feeling overwhelmed with how much you have to do each day. Talk to any working mum and they will recognise this. For single mums it can especially difficult – and I know because I was one!
Now I’m no fairy godmother and there is no magic wand to make all this disappear, but there are ways to make it easier for yourself. I’m going to share the tips I used which helped me, and recommend some others that would have made things better for me at the time – had I known them.
Tip 1 – Recognise you can’t do everything and prioritise
Work out what is important. List everything on your mind and split the items into essentials and desirables. Essentials need to be top of your priority list – the desirables can wait
Tip 2 – Get a routine
When you’re busy, it’s helpful to have a schedule to guide you. Think of it like the timetable you used at school – that helped you know what was necessary that day, where to be and when, and what to be doing, as your time was broken down into manageable chunks
Tip 3 – Delegate
You may have a supportive partner who can share the load – so use them. Give them specific things to do, like a good manager does with a team at work. Get the children involved in tasks too – depending on their ages there is usually something they can do to help. Make others responsible for doing their bit! Things may not be done to your standards by the way, but learn to let that go – it’s better for you to get the help
Tip 4 – Back up team
We can all use a support team. Sometimes that doesn’t seem possible, but there are ways to develop one. Your children have friends and their parents are probably working too – perhaps there’s an opportunity to see if you can work out something between you, which allows everyone to take turns doing school drop offs or collecting for example. Rope in anyone in your wider family who might be willing to help when you are stuck
Tip 5 – Ask for help
Most parents are reluctant to ask for help because they believe they should be able to cope by themselves. The problem is, when things become too much you can suffer burnout. Once that happens, others will be saying – “if only I’d known, I could have helped you”. Families and friends can often help out, especially if you let them know you need some support. If you are noticing signs of overwhelm then ask for help. It feels good to know you have helped someone who is having problems, so don’t deny the people who care about you that opportunity
Tip 6 – Look after yourself
I bet you are last on your list of priorities – right? With everything else you have to do, how on earth can you spare the time to look after you! Step 1 is to slow down. Stop! When you take care of yourself, you are in a much better place to support your children. Once they are in bed, do something nice for you. Perhaps you enjoy a relaxing bath or time to watch your favourite TV programme. Perhaps you would benefit from catching up on some quality sleep. Whatever you choose, do something that makes you feel good. By looking after yourself, you are taking better care of your children too
Remember that you don’t have to be perfect. There is no such thing as the perfect parent. Do the best you can, with what you have right now. As far as your children are concerned, that will always be good enough!
If you are really struggling with stress, anxiety or lack of sleep and would like some professional psychological help, then do what other overwhelmed parents have done and check out my website at http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com. There are lots of ways I can help you feel more in control and you don’t need to manage this on your own.