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.
If you’ve never heard of Victor Frankl, then I recommend you look him up. He was an Austrian psychotherapist, neurologist and Holocaust survivor and details his experiences in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.
He pioneered a method of working with anxiety-related disorders called ‘paradoxical intention’. Basically, the method encourages people to shift their focus away from the problem, changing unhelpful patterns. So for example, if someone can’t sleep, standard therapies might introduce relaxation techniques. Frankl told his patients to do the opposite – try NOT to fall asleep but to stay awake as long as possible. This deflects attention away from the problem, reducing anxiety about it and eventually allows normal, natural sleep.
Most problems begin from behaviour that was once helpful. It is when our habits get stuck in patterns that are no longer appropriate, that it becomes unhealthy. Exploring the opposite of what your instincts are telling you to do can often help to break old habitual patterns that are no longer serving you well. Today, modern therapies like BWRT are an effective way of changing such responses, quickly and easily.
Exams or tests coming up? Stressed? Sleepless nights?
Exam and test anxiety has debilitating effects, not only on self-belief and performance, but also on general mental health. It’s not just young people who are affected – mature students also struggle. There is help available and whatever your age, you do not have to struggle alone.
Exam anxiety manifests in a number of ways. You may experience it around traditional exams but also in any situation where you are going to be judged on your performance, including auditions, interviews and driving tests. I successfully work to help many people who are experiencing anxiety about all kinds of tests and exams, whether at school, college, university and professional institutions, or for work related tests of aptitude or performance. Whether you are a pilot needing help to pass challenging assessments of competence, an actor or musician auditioning for a role, or someone who has trouble with a driving test, I can help. So, how do you know if anxiety is having an impact? The indicators of anxiety generally fall into three categories: cognitive, affective and physiological.
Cognitive signs of test anxiety include negative thoughts of being overwhelmed and not in control of the test situation, the experience of ‘going blank’ and not being able to recall material, and excessive thoughts focusing on failure.
Affective signs include feeling panic, fearful and anxious about the test or the consequences of failure.
Physiological signs can include a racing heart, an upset stomach, wobbly or jelly-like legs, and trembling and sweating, before or during the test situation.
“…every time a teacher tells me exams are near or if you fail you risk not getting a good job I get so scared and sometimes I get so scared and stressed I feel like crying. We should just be told to try our best and work hard and if we don’t listen to that information then it’s our fault because pressurising a student can stress them and so they end up doing worse than their best”(Putwain & Roberts, 2009)
Nobody should have to feel like this about exams and tests. I used to teach Psychology, and I am an Examiner who assesses other psychological practitioners, so I fully understand the pressures that people experience. If your test nerves are having a negative impact and stopping you reaching your full potential, then contact me to find out more about how I can help.
Research reference: Putwain, D.W. & Roberts, C.M. (2009). The development of an instrument to measure teachers’ use of fear appeals in the GCSE classroom. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(4), 643–661. doi:10.1348/000709909X426130
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.
Perhaps you are juggling a working life with a family life, or perhaps you feel like there’s just not enough hours in a day?
The Christmas period seems to start earlier every year – looking around the town and online it is already upon us and it’s still only November! Even with a few weeks to go, do you feel stressed or even overwhelmed with how much you have to do?
If you have a look around on the internet you’ll find lots of people offering to coach you through this – they even pop up on Facebook ads now so there is no escape. It just goes to show what a problem it is for people – spawning all these new businesses! So with all the stuff that’s out there – usually pretty basic stuff too – what advice can I, as a Psychologist, pass on?
First of all, recognise that you have an issue with constant busyness and that it leads to inevitable overwhelm. How many of these ‘busyness’ behaviours do you recognise?
Multitasking – “I am listening to you, I’m just quickly replying to this email/message/doing something else”
Time Management – “I have to finish this so I’ll just work through my lunch/take it home/cancel my day off/use my only free time”
Messy workspace or home environment – “I know I have stuff everywhere, but I know where things are”
Unfocused – “I check my social media in case I miss something – I try not to get too distracted from what I’m supposed to be doing”
Being too available to everyone – “If you need to reach me, then just phone/message/email me and I’ll get right back to you”
Recognise any of these? They can apply to your work or your home life, or perhaps both!
Did you realise that the happiest, most successful people are relaxed and take things in their stride because they have firm boundaries around working time and personal time?
This includes the distinction between work you do in the home (housework, childcare, chores) versus the things you enjoy – the stuff that nurtures you and feels good.
The happiest, most successful people are not constantly busy. They prioritise their time in a healthy way. They don’t stay late at the office and they always take all of their holiday entitlement. They take days off. They enjoy their weekends. They spend evenings at home with their family, making time to relax or socialising, not constantly buried in a laptop, paperwork, their phone or endless chores. They ensure they make time for quality sleep. They make time to eat mindfully – enjoying a meal rather than being engrossed in something else. If this doesn’t sound like you, but you’d like it to be – you now know what you need to do!
If you need help with that, then have a read through some of my previous blogs or get in touch to find out about how you can work with me.
I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist and Personal Development Specialist based in York. You can reach me at http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com
On holiday this year I spotted this tree at Loch Lomond. Despite the environment trying hard to uproot it and wash it away, that tree has found a way to stay steady and to thrive, even in a tough location. It prompted me to think about resilience and how people manage to survive and even thrive despite the world sometimes seeming to be against them. Perhaps you will recognise yourself or someone you know in what follows, and if you do then I hope you find this blog helpful.
Life throws us challenges continuously, and often problems happen one after another. When some people face difficulties, particularly when they become prolonged, all of their emotions become negative. When life is good, they feel great, but when things turn bad, they feel terrible and don’t cope well.
Resilient people are able to find something positive in even the worst of circumstances. They definitely are aware of the bad stuff, but at the same time they find a way to also see the good. For instance, they will take the perspective that as bad as something may seem, at least they don’t have ‘such and such’ a problem. How do they do that?
How do you learn to become more resilient – more able to cope well with life’s problems?
Positive Mental Attitude
Oh I know, it sounds such a cliche – that PMA! However, it is helpful to recognise and acknowledge that the way you think affects the way you feel. In order to change unhelpful emotional patterns, you need to curb that habit of negative thinking and build up your positive thinking. You need to strengthen the neural pathways that support this more helpful way of looking at things, so that becomes your habit instead.
When you find yourself ruminating negatively, notice what’s happening and challenge your viewpoint – ‘What’s the real evidence that things will never get any better?’ All people have memories of success and of failure. Thinking that things will ‘never’ improve is an example of extreme, black and white thinking and not accurate.
We experience this negative type of thinking because our brains are naturally wired to focus more attention on negative events than positive ones. We have evolved to watch out for things that threaten us, so we are attuned to spotting them. So, even though positive events are happening, we have a natural tendency to filter them out. When you take time to notice and appreciate the positive aspects of experiences, you begin to build up a more balanced evidence base and this allows you to make better judgements. A consequence of this, is developing your resilience and enjoying the good things in your life.
Learn from experience
All good and bad experiences provide opportunities for personal growth. When you see events from this perspective – life as a learning experience – the more resilient you become. Resilient people look at a problem and say – ‘What will solve this?’ and ‘What am I learning from this?’ Problems provide an opportunity to learn and problem-solve – developing these skills allows your resilience to develop. Ask yourself questions such as – ‘What is useful in this?’ or ‘What available choices do I have?’, rather than focusing on ‘What’s going wrong?’ or ‘Who can I blame?’ It takes practice to shift your thinking in this way, but it is worth the effort.
This type of learning encourages you to think more broadly and to accept what is possible. Alternatively, focusing on the negative will impact on the way you communicate with others and possibly make problems even worse. Perhaps you have experienced this yourself?
Being kind boosts the serotonin or feel good chemical in your brain. Practicing kindness to others and also appreciating kindness from others, and being grateful for the good things in life (and yes, everyone has something!) allows you to see any difficulties from a more balanced viewpoint. Think about this as filling up your very own reservoir of resilience. Having a reservoir of resilience you can draw on, means you will be able to cope well when difficult times come along.
Treat yourself well
Stay mentally and physically healthy by eating a balanced diet and taking regular exercise. Spend time with people whose company you enjoy. Laugh and nurture the humour in situations – after all, gallows humour is a coping mechanism! Take time to relax – listen to your favourite music or go for a walk in nature. All these things relieve stress and allow you to top up your vital reservoir of resilience.
Finally, if all of this just seems too hard, then please do seek out expert, professional help. A good coach or therapist will help you – you are not alone.
I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist and Personal Development Specialist based in York. You can reach me at: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com