Christmas: Festive or Frantic?

Christmas can be a time for celebration but for many people it can be a time of stress, anxiety, disappointment or loneliness, especially for those going through difficult time. My family loves Christmas but I often enter the festive season with a little trepidation… 

Christmas comes with high expectations of perfect, happy families enjoying wonderful celebrations and gifts, but not all of us are able to live up to these ideals, and often many people are disappointed as these are hard expectations to live up to. 

Whatever this festive period means to you, it’s important that everyone feels able to manage their mental health throughout the holidays. Whether you’re unsure how to cope with the family descending on you, the loss of a loved one or the Christmas party is making you feel anxious, here are some ideas for looking after your mental health and keep you happy.

My Top Tips…

Plan ahead. Master the ‘to do list’. I am a planner and I love a list as this helps me to empty my mind of all the stuff that is filling me with anxiety and worry: Shopping, things to do by certain dates and of course your social calendar. Keep it in one place so that everyone can see it. And of course crossing those things off your list is very satisfying. 

Be Realistic.  Keep your expectations realistic, this can include setting a budget, working out where the stress trigger points for you might be, and remind children of all ages that Christmas is about being together and not just about the expensive gift – manage their expectations too. 

It’s OK to say no. You’re not being selfish by saying “no” to some things or asking for some help. As well as talking to your family about what they want to happen at Christmas be honest about what you want to do too. If you want to turn something down, explain why you don’t want to do it, and have a suggestion ready for an alternative. And delegate so that you can have some time to enjoy Christmas too. 

Make time for you! It is that selfcare word again, take time for you and have a look at this blog for some advice. I suggest go for a walk, ring a friend, find a quiet space to relax, put your headphones on and close your eyes. Remember If you are broken then you won’t be much use to those around you. 

Avoid comparisons, Don’t look at what other people are doing, everyone’s idea of a perfect Christmas is different. Also try and avoid being sucked in by social media and the perfectly shaped world that it portraits – Try not to be influenced by others peoples vision- It is your Christmas- your way!

Avoid overindulging  ‘ Tis the season for indulgence, and whether it be at a festive party or a family dinner, we are surrounded by extravagant foods and alcoholic drinks. Its true that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. 

Excessive stress raises appetite and cravings for sugary and fatty foods, and chronic drinking can further exacerbate stress by raising levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Keep active and get outside:  As I have said before in my blog on winter blues It is a fact that our mood is lifted by getting more sunshine and natural light. Try and spend some time outside every day. It can be hard to motivate yourself to get out but by exposing yourself to natural light you will naturally boost your Serotonin levels which will have a big effect on your mood. This one is obvious as exercise causes the release of feel-good endorphins in the brain. Go for a walk with your family or even on your own.

Get enough sleep. Sleep can have a huge effect on how you feel both emotionally and physically. Not getting enough can even cause major health issues. But stress and other distractions can wreak havoc on our sleep, so take care of your sleep environment too.

Finally if it all gets too much talk to someone. 

Christmas can be a very difficult time for some people and its always worth being mindful of this. If it all becomes too much for you please talk to someone about how you feel. That could be a friend, a colleague or a member of the family or your GP. Just reach out and talk. 

Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123

Enjoy, take care of you and let the festivities begin…

The Self Care Question…

How do you look after you when you have so little time?

I am always talking about self-care. We understand how important it is, but also how tricky it can be. How do you look after yourself when you have so little time?

Self-care is far from easy. When our self-worth is on the floor, we are over worked and lifes stress’s are all consumimg making time to nurture ourselves feels like an unnecessary effort.  We tell ourselves we don’t need it, that it’s pointless and self-indulgent, that it’s selfish.

But self-care isn’t selfish, it’s essential. We can’t do or be all the things we want to without taking care of ourselves. If your not on top and happy how can you be there for everyone else?

Of course, we may feel resistance around practising self-care.  We’ve spent so long putting our own needs below others whether that is as a mum, dad, friend, partner, or at work. Putting ourselfs first might feel at odds with your usual way of life.

We may also find that as we start to bring self-care into our lives, some of the people around us seem unsettled too. Change can be uncomfortable for us all – but that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary.

There are many blogs and articles on self-care on line and you have to find something that works for you and will fit into your life and family, but here are my top tips  to put you first

Make sleep part of your self-care routine.

Sleep can have a huge effect on how you feel both emotionally and physically. Not getting enough can even cause major health issues. But stress and other distractions can wreak havoc on our sleep, so take care of your sleep environment too. 

Exercise daily as part of your self-care routine.

We all know exercise is good for us, but do we really know how good it is? And if your like me a reluctant participant it can be hard to get on with it. But exercise can help you both physically and mentally, boosting your mood and reducing stress and anxiety, not to mention helping you shed extra weight, so even just a little bit is better than non at all.

Say no to others, and say yes to your self-care. 

Learning to say no is really hard; this is something that I have had to learn to do. Many of us feel obligated to say yes when someone asks for our time or energy. However, if you’re already stressed or overworked, saying yes to loved ones or co-workers can lead to extra stress, anxiety, and in my case irritability! It may take a little practice, but once you learn how to politely say no, you’ll start to feel more empowered, and you’ll have more time for you.

Get outside.

This is my go to self-care, when life is overwhelming or I need some space and peace and quiet I head straight outside rain or shine. I celebrate the silence! Spending time outside can help you reduce stress and help you sleep better at night.

Reflect on the positives.

In the evenings I write down the three best things that happened that day “what I am grateful for” they things that make you smile or go ‘yay!’ This puts me in a state of appreciation and gratitude. This will help you recognize things going right in your life instead of focusing on the negative.

Accept what is.

Sometimes you have to accept things as they are, the things you can’t change. Give yourself a break, take a breath and accept it. You can’t control everything so sometimes you have to trust that you will get to where you where you need be.

Finally be a bit selfish… do one thing today just because it makes you happy.

Whether it’s binge-watching your favourite show, getting lost in a good book, or zoning out to music, whatever “nothing” means to you, do it!

With the nights drawing in how can we feel happy when we maybe SAD?

With the clocks going back on Sunday 27th October there’s not much we can do about the changing weather and long, dark nights. But we can fight back against seasonal mood slumps. Light plays a huge role in our moods and daily rhythms and this is where the two chemicals in our brains really come in- Serotonin and Melatonin.

the science part…

“When night falls our bodies react to the lack of natural light entering through our eyes and the pineal gland in our brain produces a chemical called Melatonin. Melatonin makes us feel sleepy and lethargic and prepares us for going to sleep for the night. In the morning bright daylight entering our eyes signals to the gland to stop producing melatonin which helps to wake us up and make us feel refreshed. At the same time, the light boosts production of the chemical Serotonin which is our ‘feel good’ hormone.”

This is why when the darker nights arrive the that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the production of melatonin and serotonin and the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) 

As someone that is affected by the lack of light – I believe that I should have been born as a hibernating creature – I really understand the need for looking after ourselves in the autumn and winter months 

So here are my top tips for helping us to feel better in the darker months…

Practice positive thoughts

Positive thoughts release endorphins and a positive attitude improves these brain chemicals. So my first recommendation is to treat a positive attitude as an asset and work on it- starting with some self-care. Pamper yourself with a massage, sit down with a box set or even learn relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or meditation, this will all have a positive effect on your mind.

Try and avoid isolation 

This time of year I just want to crawl into bed and avoiding human contact. That’s one of the worst things you can do for your health. When you’re in this mood it is easy just to get into a habit of isolating yourself, and that exacerbates the winter blues. Keep talking and keep in touch with those important to you, even if it is just through a text!

Eat right 

There is no “superfood” that will cure a mood slump and winter blues can make you crave sugary foods and carbohydrates such as chocolate, pasta and my favourite bread- but this can actually leave you feeling lethargic and tired. Plus they can lead you to gain weight which can lead to feelings of frustration and depression.

Committing to a healthy eating pattern will make a difference. There are individual foods that might be especially good for our brain chemicals like foods with antioxidants in like blueberries, kale and pomegranates. So don’t forget to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet.

Get outside

It is a fact that our mood is lifted by getting more sunshine and natural light. Try and spend some time outside every day. It can be hard to motivate yourself to get out but by exposing yourself to natural light you will naturally boost your Serotonin levels which will have a big effect on your mood.

In people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD basically the most intense variety of winter-blues) doctors often prescribe ‘light therapy’ where you sit in front of specialised lights that mimic natural sunlight. I have used one of these and I can recommend them although nothing beats real sunlight, even if it is just for 10 minutes. 

Get exercise

This one is obvious as exercise causes the release of feel-good endorphins in the brain. It is proven that exercise 3 times a week is effective against depression too. And the bonus is that If you have a tendency towards Seasonal Affective Disorder, outdoor exercise will have a double benefit, because you’ll gain some daylight and vitamin D too.

As a counsellor this time of year brings a steady stream of clients both young and old who present with symptoms of depression, which include low mood, anxiety. So if you’re one of the many people who recognise that your mood and wellbeing can take a nosedive over the darker months ahead, please do take comfort in knowing you are not alone, help is available.

Myth Busting-Counselling Myths and Misconceptions

The truth is counselling is purely about having time devoted to helping yourself, for whatever reason, it is about self -care.

I remember when I was first told that I would benefit from counselling, I was 19 years old during the early 90’s and had just moved away to university. I was incredibly homesick and was feeling down and after a visit to the GP it was suggested that I see a therapist. I remember thinking to myself  ‘why do I  need counselling I have lots of friends and family to talk too’ and ‘that counselling is only for people with mental illness’, ‘why do I want to talk to a stranger’. We all have misconceptions and pre-conceived ideas. 

This was a time when mental health wasn’t in the public domain and it certainly wasn’t something that was discussed as freely as it is today, so with this in mind I am going to try and break down the myths and pre-conceived ideas that I had and that you might have around counselling.

It’s easier to talk to friends and family about my problems.

There is a common belief that seeking the support of your friends and family is just as good as getting professional counselling. But while being able to share your problems with your friends and family is obviously helpful, it is very different from the relationship with a trained counsellor who has specialist skills in exploring and treating a range of cognitive, behavioural and emotional issues. What’s more, counselling is confidential, meaning you don’t have to take the feelings of your loved ones into account when you speak. This is something that I personally found invaluable!

Counselling is only for people with serious mental health issues.

© simpsons

Many people believe that in order to see a counsellor, you need to have a psychological disorder or be seriously mentally ill, of course the reality is entirely different. Counselling can be beneficial for everyone. Whether you seek support for everyday matters such as stress management or relationship issues, mental health challenges like depression, or life events such as a bereavement, counsellors are expertly trained to help people with a wide range of concerns. There are lots of reasons speople choose counselling, it is a very positive step to take.

I have found in my client work that some people just need a few sessions to gain clarity about a specific issues, and for other counselling can take a lot longer, but it is always driven by the client’s needs. 

Going to a counsellor is a sign of weakness.

The reality is sometimes we think strength is about keeping everything in and not being effected by difficulties, it’s a very British way to “man up and get on with it’ However I believe that it shows enormous strength to face your problems and try to improve ourselves and our lives. Counselling is a positive step towards helping yourself, and it is all about self care. 

The counsellor will tell me what to do.

Professional counsellors do not give advice. I may give you information, but don’t expect me to say whether I think you should do A or B. It is my job to help you explore issues, so you can make up your own mind about what you choose to do. You know yourself and your stuff better than anyone else, and you know what’s best for you, its’ my job to help you discover that.

And my personal favourite myth…I will have to lie on a couch.

Thanks to countless cartoons, TV programmes and movies a lot of us wrongly believe that a counselling session involves lying down on a couch, staring at the ceiling!

© simpsons

Counselling is an active process that requires the client to be just as engaged as the counsellor and for the client to commit they need to be involved in the process.  Sitting in a comfortable chair or on a sofa is a more appropriate position and is adopted by the vast majority of clients, and the counsellor will typically sit opposite their client in a similar way. I have worked in many different settings, school offices, doctors surgery’s, therapy rooms and even in clients own homes. Where ever you are it is important that you feel comfortable and if you are not, just say so to the counsellor!

The key for me is that you need to feel comfortable with whichever counsellor you choose as it’s the quality of the relationship you have that is important – all counsellors are different and have different personalities, styles and approaches.

So don’t let myths about counselling prevent you from getting help! 

New Beginnings, Is September the new January?

Do you feel inspired to turn over a new leaf in September? Or is this just me?

Following on from my blogs on ‘goodbyes‘ and ‘change’ I feel inspired to think about self-care and what better way than to think about new beginnings! September seems to be a great month for a fresh start, new resolutions and to make a change for the better. 

September is traditionally a month for new beginnings. From a young age we are programmed to accept new starts from September with the beginning of the school year, everything starts here. New pencil case, new uniform and very shiny school shoes, exciting times for most but it can also be very scary!. 

I have just moved house and I am settling into a new area, meeting new people and starting new work. My children are back to school and life settles into a routine, holidays and the lazy days of summer are over and the days are shorter and nights are cooler. This could be time for me? 

Let’s make September a time for self-evaluation and reflection. To make it clear what is important to us and perhaps focus on what needs some attention. This could be a relationship, our health, some more self-care, a new job, or just some simple re organisation of priorities. For me simply returning to comfortable or ‘normal’ routines that give predictability to the days and weeks ahead makes me feel happy.

With a change in routine and more time for reflection it is important to be aware that things that have been troubling you, stuff that you may have put to the back of your mind may spring back to your immediate thoughts. Maybe it is time for some self-care and counselling can help you re-establish what’s important to you, and manage the issues that are causing you  anxiety .

Make September exciting and do the things you want to do, maybe you could:

  • Gain a new skill.
  • Form a new habit.
  • Or finishing something important to you.  

So by thinking of September as a time of new beginning it can bring a sense of anticipation. Everything feels fresh.  It’s an opportunity we don’t dare to waste!

So what is your September resolution? 

Accepting change, a personal battle…

A new home, a new part of the country to familiarise myself with, new friends to make and new work to focus on. This is my New Leaf. Change is something that I am very familiar with as I am part of a world where I have to move on every few years. I often leave good friends and colleagues behind and places that I have loved, but doing it regularly doesn’t make it any easier for me to accept it!

Change is hard and can be scary, but we should not be so fearful of it.  Why is it scary? Because it is unknown. Humans naturally crave comfort, thrive on routine and only think to change when something is not right.

Change is part of life, it is inevitable and one thing I can’t control. By accepting it in a way that is beneficial to me is now the only way that I can deal with it in a positive way. Part of my process is too stop the ‘blame game’, it is no-ones fault it is just the way it is. People move on, loved ones pass and every year the leaves fall off the trees. When change occurs it is easy to blame ourselves or others for the way we are feeling but that doesn’t help our stress and anxiety levels.

Change is a natural part of life

In order to accept change and not be afraid of it, we have to be comfortable with the unknown. We don’t always know the outcome of certain things, and when a change initially occurs, it can feel like we are losing something—a friend or a job. But you don’t know what will happen in the future.

What feels like a loss now could end up being a win later.

Life is constantly moving forward, often I will look back and think, “Thank goodness I made that change, it was so hard at the time, but it was necessary to lead me to the better, more positive place I am today.”

Let’s all embrace the change for a better future

My 5 steps to accepting change...

  1. Embrace your feelings about change. Whatever type of change is unsettling you, embrace that feeling. If you embrace your feelings, it will be a lot easier to accept and move on.
  2. Understand that change is an inevitable part of life. It is necessary for old things to go and new things to come. Simple as that!
  3. Try to put change in perspective. Try to reframe the situation, are the worry’s and concerns you have about the impending change realistic or accurate?
  4. See the positives. Use this as an opportunity to turn a loss or negative change into an opportunity or a way to improve your life
  5. Why does the change unsettles you so much. It’s hard to accept change, if you’re unclear about why it makes you so uncomfortable or unsettled. Think about when change has happened in the past and how this made you feel then. Understanding where these habits have come from helps us to understand why we fear them.

Finally some self-care tips- It is important to manage managing the stress and anxiety that change brings. 

  • Talk about it with those close to you. 
  • Set some goals and address the challenges that it brings.
  • Take up mindfulness or other relaxing exercise.
  • Keep busy! 

Mother guilt: My nemesis…

Mother’s guilt is only natural and is the consequence of wanting to be a good mother to your children. However, in the end it won’t do us any good..

The summer holidays are well under way and this is a time when I tend to reflect on the past year, how much my children have grown emotionally and physically and how proud I am of what they have achieved. But with this comes my own internal battle am I a good mum?

I truly believe that being a mum is the hardest job in the world, children don’t arrive with an instruction manual, just as you get over one ‘phase’ another one arrives to surprise you and we are constantly faced with enormous expectations from society, media, family and friends about what mothers “should be like” and what we “should do.” Then there is the ‘mum guilt’

Maternal guilt is the feeling of guilt, doubt, anxiousness or uncertainty experienced by mothers when they worry they’re failing or falling short of expectations in some way.

As a mother of two boys and with my own experience of serious mental illness I know only too well what mothers guilt is and what it can do to our self-confidence and self-worth. There are many issues I have felt guilty about with my own children but by talking to a counsellor and sharing with close friends I have learnt to accept that some things are just out of my control, and that my kids are wonderfully happy and secure with the choices I have made. 

I believe that all mum’s at some time will experience it, the feeling that we aren’t good enough, or that we are not doing the best for our children. Whether it is the choices we make for them, going back to work, not being able to attend a school play or event or even serving fishfingers and chips for tea instead of ‘freshly made home grown food’, it’s the constant battle we have to be the perfect parent and this is exhausting for us all. 

We wonder if choices we have made, such as what school to send our kids to, have not had far-reaching negative consequences, if a different path would have resulted in happier, more well-adjusted and secure kids. The choices we make are often very considered, but it still doesn’t stop us worrying about them. 

The truth is that no matter what we do right as parents, we tend to more often focus on our failings. Mothers then become their own worst critics.

The guilt and resulting feelings of shame drive feelings, thoughts, and behaviours and can show up in some of the following ways:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Negative thoughts. 
  • Massive amounts of time and/energy focused on social media.  
  • Overdoing, overworking and overscheduling.  
  • Addictive behaviours.  

Counselling can help with understanding these feelings and finding the root cause of the ‘guilt’

If I am realistic I know that mother’s guilt isn’t going anywhere in a hurry, it is part of being a mum. When I think about my own mother, she has shared her memories of parenting and what she believes she could have done differently, so she stills has her own mum guilt and I am 45 years old! Maybe embracing it is the way forward? Or trying to ease it might be a better solution.

So here are my top tips for easing the mum guilt :

  • Be realistic– being perfect isn’t achievable, we all make mistakes and this is where we get the best learning experience. 
  • Look out for the ‘should’s – these come from other people’s expectations not your own. 
  • Pick your battles and don’t stress over the little stuff.
  • Stop judging yourself – your best is good enough- don’t compare yourself to other mums either, the chances are that they are struggling with mum guilt too!
  • Acceptance of what you can’t change and learn to laugh at things when they go array 
  • Be honest with your children, explain why you feel guilty. They will appreciate your openness and it will keep that all important communication open between you. 

It’s also worth remembering that guilt can also be positive, a catalyst to stop a damaging pattern of behaviour. As a Counsellor I often see women who wouldn’t instigate change for themselves, but will for their children, out of a desire to be a better mother than their own.

Finally remember that guilt means you care and that you are a good mum, all children really want is to be loved and supported – remember that you are trying your best and this is good enough. We’ve got this!

“It’s not about how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts.” – Mother Teresa

Goodbye, farewell, adios – it’s all about endings…

How are you with goodbye’s?

Saying goodbye is the hardest thing that most of us do. Endings by definition are final and are therefore something that most of us find difficult. 

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” 

So with the ending of my time in Somerset just round the corner I have been saying goodbye to people that I have become close to -new friends and colleagues, people that I see every-day– and- of course -the clients that I have worked with over the last few years.  It is tough, but I feel ok with the sadness that this brings. 

Relationships end all the time and most often we don’t have the ability to choose how to end relationships. People stop turning up, stop responding to communications. People fade away, people move, or other things happen that prevent the relationship from ending the way both parties would prefer. 

In today’s world staying in touch has never been easier, but is staying in touch the right thing to do? A question I often ask myself when moving on. The chances are, many of you have people you used to spend time with- and even the ones you attempted to stay connected to often faded away with time and distance. That’s because it takes a significant amount of energy to sustain emotional connections while confronting the demands of everyday life. 

I am ok with goodbyes, it is something that I am familiar with and a way of life for me, I have moved on so many times it has become part of my every-day, but it is emotionally draining and for me it is hard to watch those people who I am leaving behind struggle with the endings that I am inflicting on them – being ok with planned endings has made me stronger and more resilient to life’s unexpected endings. A skill that I feel will be useful in the future.

So acceptance of goodbyes feels like a way to be kind to yourself, making sure that you give yourself space for the relationships you can manage to maintain. 

Finally – is there an art to saying goodbye well? Here are my top tips for managing those difficult moments… 

  • Focus on the positives and what have you gained from the relationship. 
  • Embrace the present and live in the now, try not to dwell on what has been.
  • Understand that sometimes endings are just out of your control.
  • Exit with kindness and grace, this is the last time many people will see you so leave a positive impression. 
  • Finally instead of pulling away from the emotional discomfort, embrace it. 

While there’s never going to be a perfect way to let go of the people you’ve grown accustomed to having in your life,  goodbyes are something we all must face. So let’s do it well and make them as positive as possible.