Life can be hard – how do I build resilience?


Resilience in action!

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?

Be kind

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:


What 10 things made this a good year?


It’s that time of year when many of us look back on the year that has passed and have a quick mental review of what sort of year it was. We all wish each other a ‘Happy New Year’ at the start of January, so how did your year go? Spend a moment now just looking back over the last 12 months of your life and see what your overall feeling is about this year.

Isn’t it strange how when we do this we tend to focus on the things that went wrong, were really bad, or disappointing? I noticed myself doing this, which prompted me to write this blog.

For many, this has been a particularly challenging year as things have shifted on the world stage. Perhaps you have experienced #anger, #anxiety or even #depression. Add in any personal, financial or emotional challenges and your review may be teetering on the edge of that negativity cliff! We all have this negativity bias as part of our human nature and it helps us to watch out for threats or danger in our everyday lives. However, we can become too focussed on what went wrong and fail to notice what went right! It is easy to become blinkered to the good stuff. So, I decided to write a list of the things that made it a good year…..

  • Love and support from close family
  • Good friends
  • Opportunities for meeting new people who enrich life
  • Exercise to feel good and improve health
  • Getting out in nature
  • Regular, healthy meals
  • Time to rest and recuperate
  • Helping others
  • Enjoying hobbies
  • Learning from a new challenge

The good news is that there are many more than 10 things on this list – this list goes on. So, my new view overall is – that was actually a great year full of challenges and opportunities that stretched old ways of thinking, increased learning and therefore enriched life! If you are feeling down about the last year perhaps your focus is in the wrong place. Take a step back and shift your focus onto what went well. What did you learn? How did you grow and develop emotionally? If you find this difficult, the easiest way to start is to think about what you can be grateful for this year – perhaps things, surroundings or people you have taken for granted? Get started now. I wonder how many you can write on your list?

I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist and Personal Development Specialist based in York. You can reach me at:

Why positive memes don’t always help


Sometimes I like those positivity memes we see scattered around the Internet and social media and I’ve even shared a few myself. However, the relentless message that you just need to be happy, or think positively, can be very frustrating -especially if you are really struggling with mental health problems right now.

Sometimes someone just needs you to sit and listen, to be there with them and acknowledge their difficulties. They may not be ready to see the bright side yet and seeing these supposedly uplifting comments, memes and quotations actually makes them feel worse, more of a failure, and wonder why they aren’t coping. This listening and sharing the shadows for a while, before encouraging someone to move forward, can be difficult, especially when it’s someone you love who is struggling.

As a professional therapist it’s my job to be that listening person. This week, I’ve spent several hours walking alongside people in the midst of their struggles. It’s my job to judge what approach is appropriate and when the time is right to support and gently guide someone to move forward along a new path.

If you are finding it difficult to support a loved one, you are not alone. I can provide efficient and effective help. I can help you to understand what is happening and how best to change things. As a psychologist, I have the knowledge and skills you need. As a hypnotherapist, EMDR and BWRT practitioner I have the techniques that will help. As a therapist I care about restoring your well being and it is a privilege to be asked to help you.

I can be reached via my website at

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on positive quotations and memes – helpful or frustrating?

Chronic Pain and Beliefs


Your experience of Chronic Pain is not just about the physical sensations. There are many psychological aspects to pain including what you think about pain, and how you think about it – which I mentioned in my blog – Pain and the Power of Words

The psychological aspect to your experience of pain is based on your own beliefs – the meaning you give to pain.

  • Control

Do you believe you can control your experience of pain and manage how it affects your life? I use hypnotherapy to show people how they can learn to manage their own pain experience and gain control over it using self-hypnosis techniques. This gives you the power to change your perception of pain, lower the intensity of pain and lessen distress and depressive thinking

  • Acceptance

Helping people to explore their pain using mindfulness techniques is the first step in accepting that pain is only one component of your experience. Pain sensations are transient and can change. It is still possible to lead a satisfying life, and practising pain reduction is helpful but not necessarily central to this

  • Disability

When people believe they are disabled by pain they will necessarily behave that way. You need not be disabled by pain. Activity can reduce the experience of some pain (i.e. pain stimulated by physical damage) – despite common thinking that it will make the experience worse. For example, weak muscles are more likely to spasm so limiting activity only makes pain worse long term. Exercise to lengthen and strengthen muscles can stop pain getting worse

  • Fear of Harm

It seems common sense to believe that pain is a signal of physical damage so activity should be limited or avoided altogether. However, when pain becomes chronic, the intensity loses its association with the amount of physical damage. Gentle exercise such as stretching is in fact beneficial rather than causing harm

As you can see, your beliefs about pain guide your behaviour and therefore impact on your long-term health. Your beliefs will determine the strategies you use to cope. Maladaptive coping strategies include guarding yourself, resting and constantly asking for assistance to do things, believing these behaviours will help you avoid further possible harm. This limits your life and can lead to distress, withdrawal from society, anxiety and depression.

Adaptive coping strategies are the answer – including pacing yourself so you never get overwhelmed by pain, learning how to gain control over your perception of pain, learning ways of coping when pain flares, and encouraging regular gentle activity to encourage mobility.

Do you recognise any of your own beliefs about pain? Would you benefit from shifting your thinking?

I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist, Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapy practitioner based in York. You can find out more about my work and how I can help you at:


How can I help my loved one through Depression?


I see many clients with depression in my therapy room. They bravely recognise that they need help and take those first tentative steps in coming along to see me, unsure whether anything can be done to help them. I always take time to explain what depression is and how it is maintained so they can begin to see a way forward, armed with a renewed sense of hope that this mind state can be beaten with the right help. I have also noticed that they get frustrated with well meaning loved ones who don’t understand what depression is, or the best way to help. I have been asked on many occasions if I have some information that they can share at home to help those around them understand and be supportive. I put some information together a few years ago, adapting things I have learned and useful tips I have read that worked for previous clients. As such I can’t remember all the original sources now, so apologies if I haven’t acknowledged any authors. In this blog I just wanted to share this information to help people. Perhaps you can share it to help someone you know.

What is depression?

When your loved one starts therapy for treating Depression you naturally want to support them in the best way you can. In order to do this effectively it can be helpful to gain an understanding of what Depression is, how it affects someone physically and mentally and what you can do to help.

General understanding of depression is confusingly coloured by many myths: it’s caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain; it’s anger turned inward; it takes a long time to come out of; it stems from childhood events that have to be explored before progress can be made, etc.

The rapid increase in the incidence of depression is one of the reasons we know that depression isn’t a genetic disease. Over the last 30 years, a large body of research evidence shows that most depression is learned, brought about by the way we interact with our environment. We know that the majority of people exposed to adverse life events do not develop depression. So, we know it is not caused as a result of the specific events we experience, but by the way we respond to them.

Sleep and Depression

The role of dreaming is key to a full understanding of depression, and why practical therapies help. We all dream for about two hours a night, even though we often don’t recall it when we wake up. Evidence shows that the function of dreaming, which occurs predominantly during REM sleep, is the metaphorical acting out (not the resolving) of unexpressed, emotionally arousing concerns. Dreaming allows the arousal to be discharged and frees up the brain to deal with the concerns of the following day.

In depression, however, this process goes dramatically wrong. Instead of having about 25% REM sleep, and 75% slow wave sleep (which boosts energy levels in the brain), these proportions become inverted. A depressed person has far too much REM sleep and too little slow wave sleep. The prolonged negative self-examination and rumination, which depressed people experience, creates high levels of emotional arousal and a greater need for discharge during dreaming. This increased discharge activity also depresses and exhausts the brain, leaving the dreamer lacking energy and motivation next morning. Depressed people tell me in therapy that they wake up from sleep feeling exhausted.

Emotional Thinking

Depressed people spend too much time worrying and as such, they are misusing their own imagination. I call it negative self-hypnosis. All this emotionally arousing introspection also prevents them seeing their life situations objectively. High emotional arousal inhibits the logical part of the brain, and blocks rational thought. A depressed brain is a stressed brain.

To the emotional brain, everything is either black or white, good or bad, right or wrong, safe or dangerous. This is because high arousal locks you into a negative, confined viewpoint. It is only the rational part of the brain that can inject the shades of grey and see the bigger picture.

People who aren’t habitual black and white thinkers can snap out of this negative emotional state fairly quickly. People who have a tendency towards endlessly analysing the negative aspects of their lives, catastrophising every little setback and conjuring up more, are more likely to stay locked in their depressive mind state. People who tend to blame themselves for everything that goes wrong, applying a negative thinking style to everything, are the most likely to suffer from depression.

How does Depression feel for my loved one?

Winston Churchill used to refer to depression as like a Black Dog. Having a Black Dog in your life isn’t about feeling a bit down, or sad or blue. At it’s worst, it’s about being devoid of feeling altogether.

  • It can ruin your appetite
  • Anger may flare up at any provocation
  • It can be difficult not to take anger, criticism, negativity and apathy personally
  • It likes to wake you up with very repetitive, negative thinking
  • You may have noticed they’ve lost the sparkle in their eyes
  • Displays of love, affection and intimacy may be out of bounds
  • They may create endless lists of everything that is wrong with their life
  • They may hatch plans that they believe will fix everything
  • Laughter doesn’t come as easily as it used to
  • It makes them say negative things
  • They may have real difficulty firing up and getting going
  • They may have become ultra-sensitive and cry more than usual
  • Doing anything or going anywhere requires superhuman strength
  • It can make them irritable and difficult to be around
  • Activities that used to bring them pleasure may suddenly cease
  • Although exhausted they may not be able to sit still and relax
  • A tendency to find the negative in everything may become the norm
  • There may be signs of over-indulgence

How can I help my loved one?

You may well be right when you say. ‘It’s all in your head!’ but don’t say it. Never tell them they’re ‘just looking for attention’; it’s demeaning and hurtful. They’re not looking for attention but they are probably in need of it.

If you’re genuinely worried about someone, organize a group of close friends or family members to make some sort of contact each day. It can be to help out, have a coffee or simply to say hello.

Pointing out the lovely weather is annoying and pointless.

Don’t push them into things they don’t want to do and then make excuses for their behaviour. This only feeds the despair and keeps denial alive.

They can’t just ‘pull themselves together’. If people could just ‘snap out of it’, they would. No-one ever chooses to have depression.

Learn about the condition together; knowledge is power and validation is a great healer.

Help them to develop a strategy to simplify their life both at home and at work. Stress is one of the biggest drivers of depression.

Encourage any form of regular exercise.

Be sensitive about how you approach the subject; a lot of people aren’t used to talking about their mental health.

Being thoughtful and kind will never go amiss but don’t try and jolly them along, it can often make them feel worse.

If they’re old enough, inform any children about what’s going on. They need to know that the depression isn’t here to stay. Children often think it’s their fault so reassure them that it’s not.

Together, try and learn to recognize triggers and early warning signs. Also know when to give each other a bit of space.

Try not talking. Just listen. Really being there for someone without opinion or judgement is one of the best gifts you can ever give.

Agree to a course of action to get rid of the depression. Don’t just ignore it and consult a professional if you haven’t already.

As a care-giver, compassion, empathy and understanding are vital, but recognize that you alone don’t have the power to rescue your loved one. Professional help is often what’s needed.

Depression in any relationship can be confronting, frightening and frustrating but navigated together, your relationship can become deeper, richer and better for it.

I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist and Hypnotherapist based in York. I specialise in helping people with depression and anxiety. You can contact me at

Have you ever considered how your diet may be affecting your mental health?


As a specialist helping people to overcome issues that affect personal well-being and happiness, I see many clients suffering the effects of stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and fatigue. There are many techniques and tools I can use to help them and together we work to get them back on track. However, I also look at the big picture and it is noticeable how many people are not supporting their mental health by consuming the nutrients that are needed to maintain it.

Now I’m not a qualified nutritionist but I can guide people in the direction of sound nutritional advice from experts. Have you ever considered how your diet may be affecting your mental health?

It seems second nature nowadays to understand that a good, healthy diet is necessary for physical wellness, but there appears to be less awareness of the effects of poor diet on mental health and well-being. For example, there is growing evidence that what you eat plays an important part in the development, management and prevention of depression. Ensuring your diet has adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals can help protect you from mood swings.

Similarly, sugar can create inflammation in the cells and spike the levels in your blood, causing your energy levels to crash when levels dip, leading to irritability and low mood. Caffeine is a stimulant and affects your adrenal glands – just like stress. It isn’t just coffee that contains caffeine – it is included in tea, many fizzy drinks and in chocolate. In large quantities caffeine can increase blood pressure, feelings of anxiety, depressive symptoms and stop you sleeping. Caffeine is also a diuretic, meaning it promotes the production of urine and causes you to lose water from the body. It is very important to stay hydrated – we seldom drink the amount of water we need. Effects of mild dehydration include irritability, loss of concentration and reduced mental functioning. Without the essential nutrients you need in your diet, how can the body and mind rebuild and maintain itself properly. All those nerves and synapses in the brain need nutrients in order to connect and fire in the right way.

Just as caffeine is a stimulant, we know that alcohol has a depressant effect on the brain. Alcohol can quickly create low mood, irritability and/or aggressive behaviour. As a toxin, it has to be deactivated by the liver and your body uses many nutrients to complete the detoxification process, depleting any reserves you have.

Today’s diet has developed along with new production techniques, which gives us easy access to processed food. In our busy lives, we often go for the quick, easy option and bypass fresh food, which takes longer to prepare. We are ingesting more sugar and additives than ever before. I’m sure you have heard of the recommended 5 a day, but not many people eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, despite the availability of frozen options. Apparently in the UK we are also eating less fish, so our consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is declining. Have you noticed those supplements on the shelves promoting that they boost brain functioning?

It’s not just about what we eat either! It’s also important to consider when and how often we eat. In order to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and avoid mood swings, we need to eat regularly throughout the day, including breakfast. Low blood sugar creates low mood, irritability and tiredness. When you notice that dip in blood sugar, eat a healthy snack such as raw nuts with a piece of fruit or raw veg. Eating wholegrain foods and complex rather than simple carbohydrates (think a raw apple rather than apple juice) fills you up and gives you a slower release of energy which helps stave off those hunger pangs you notice, when blood sugar levels dip and send you craving for the easiest option such as a sugary snack.

So perhaps this has provoked you to think more about the nutritional value of what you are eating. Look carefully at your next meal and consider this – is it just empty calories, or are there vital vitamins and minerals that supply the brain with what it needs to function well? For example we know that the brain needs the amino acid tryptophan, which can influence mood, and is provided when you eat protein. If you have a diet rich in sugary, processed foods and little protein then you are cutting off your supply.

The best way to eat healthily and not get too bogged down by the detail of what each food group provides, is to eat as wide a variety of foods as you can and mix things up a bit. On your next shopping trip why not spend a little longer looking at what is available – try a different fruit or a new vegetable – there are many weird and wonderful examples from all over the world in every supermarket. Your brain will love you for it!

A blip on the timeline of your whole life


What if all that stuff you are worrying about today doesn’t really matter all that much? What if it’s just a blip on the timeline of your whole life?

Whether we worry or not, this doesn’t generally change things. Ask yourself if today right at this moment you are ok. I’m not talking about burying your head in the sand and ignoring things that perhaps need dealing with, but just focussing on the here and now. Stop. Pause. Be mindful of this very moment in time. Ask yourself if today, right at this moment, you are ok.

What happens, happens – whether we spend sleepless nights and all the hours in a day worrying or not. Often things that seem so dreadful now become less anxiety-provoking over time. It can be helpful to remember that what you are experiencing now is just a moment in the timeline of your whole life – a small blip in the story of your life. It is not what defines your life, unless you choose it to be.

You can choose how you react to whatever happens in your life, even though things may be thrust upon you, can feel unfair, undeserved and arrive at your door at the most inappropriate times. Whilst you cannot always control what happens in life, you can choose your own actions, thoughts and feelings. Surely it is better to choose actions, thoughts and feelings that are helpful and healthy and support your own sense of well-being, than those which are damaging and provide no benefit? It may seem that a negative coping strategy helps you out short term, but really you are only putting off finding a better way of dealing with things, which you will need to find at some point if you are to survive any crisis with your health and well-being in tact.

There is one thing that you can be sure of in all this, as time moves on change happens. Nothing ever stays the same. This change is what makes life worth living. It is the natural way of the world. Winter turns to Spring just as the night and darkness gives way to each new dawn. Every moment, as one person dies, another is born somewhere in the world. There is a natural and never ending cycle of decay and rebirth. It never rains forever – at some point the sunshine returns – plus the rain has it’s own value too. If we never experienced these sorts of contrasts, including the lows that we can find so difficult, we would never appreciate the highs or the okays. Life would be bland and dull. Every challenge you face is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, about others and about life itself. Yes it can be hard sometimes, damned hard, but this too will pass with time.

So now ask yourself the question again…. What if all the stuff you are worrying about today doesn’t really matter all that much? What if it’s just a blip on the timeline of your whole life…….