Taking Back Control After Lockdown

After three months in lockdown you may be greeting the gradual easing out of restrictions with joy and celebration as you take back control. You can’t wait to head down the pub and see your friends. Or you might be feeling anxious. Is it too much too soon? Do you feel safe?

Understanding Control
Illustrating what is inside and outside your control

Control During Lockdown

There is a Cognitive Hypnotherapy model I use with my clients called ‘Locus of Control’. Bear with the jargon because this can be very helpful. If you have an external locus of control (ELOC) you believe that control over situations lays outside of yourself.  That means that there is not much you can do to make any situation better. You feel powerless. It becomes very stressful.

If you have an internal locus of control (ILOC) you believe that there is always some action you can take in any situation. You understand what is within your control and what is outside and take action accordingly.

The first stage of lockdown was very ELOC. There were tight rules around what you could and couldn’t do. If you have an ILOC approach you understood the limits of your control. You could decide to stick to the rules, wash your hands regularly, stay indoors, keep your distance, exercise regularly and eat healthily. If you have an ELOC approach it might have felt like there was nothing you could do but worry and wait for things to get back to normal.

Moving towards ILOC

Now we are in a stage where individual control is being handed back to us. We are being asked to be more ILOC and make decisions about what we are prepared to do and not do. That may feel comfortable or very uncomfortable.

Illustrating what is inside and outside your control

Control Post-Lockdown

A risk management approach can help you to get worries about the future into perspective.  If you find yourself worrying about a future event, think about the benefits associated with the event and then the risks associated with it.  For example: meeting your friend at the pub.

Assess the likelihood of the risk you are worrying about happening. For example: Is the risk of you catching the virus by meeting your friend low, medium or high?

Assess the impact of the risk happening. For example: would the impact be low, medium or high?

If both your responses are in the medium to high range it’s time to assess the benefits of what you are considering. For example: Would you rate the benefits from meeting your friend low, medium or high?

If the benefits are medium or high and you want to go ahead, what can you do reduce the impact or likelihood of the risk occurring? For example: could you wear a face mask, sit at least 2 metres apart, sit in the pub garden, go at a time when it won’t be busy?

Finally, you can decide whether the benefits outweigh the remaining risks.

If you need more help taking back control and managing your risks, talk to me.

How to Maintain Good Mental Health

This week, 18 – 24 May, is National Mental Health Awareness Week, an opportunity to understand more about how to maintain good mental health.

The theme this year is Kindness because research has shown that kindness is connected mental health. When you are kind, your brain rewards you by releasing hormones into your system that make you feel good.

5 Top Tips for maintaining good mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Week

We are in the ninth week of lockdown and it can be very challenging. Most of us are spending more time online and on social media. That can be a dangerous place if you are feeling emotionally fragile. It is easy to become over-exposed to news bulletins that raise your levels of stress and anxiety.

#Tip 1 Limit your exposure to news programmes. Cancel your daily newspaper. Stop watching news bulletins after 6pm so that your system can be relaxed at bedtime.

Another problem with social media is that it can lead you to comparing yourself with other people and how they are living their lives. You might see friends who are coping really well with lockdown and even seem to be having a good time cooking and home-schooling their children. Or you might see people who are sharing how bad they feel.

It is important to recognise that what you are seeing is what others choose to share and it is just a glimpse of what they are experiencing. Don’t judge them or yourself. Your experience is unique to you and you need to acknowledge what you are feeling, positive or negative.

#Tip 2 Stop comparing yourself to other people. You and your experience are unique

If you are following the activities of friends and connections on line you may be thinking that there are things you ‘should’ be doing. You may be seeing people fundraising or making face masks or running online courses and feel bad that you are not doing something similar.

‘Should’ is a word that is loaded with guilt. There is nothing you should be doing if you don’t want to do it. Follow your bliss and do the things you enjoy doing. Maintaining your own good mental health is the best thing that you can do for other people.

#Tip 3 Let go of the ‘shoulds’.

Once you are aware of your feelings, don’t try to push them down or ignore them. Those feelings are sending you a signal that there is something in your life that needs attention. There is a saying that ‘what you resist persists’.  If you bury your emotions they will find another way to pop up.

#Tip 4 acknowledge your feelings.

If a negative feeling stays with you, find somebody to talk to about it. It’s not a sign of weakness. We all have times when we get tired or overwhelmed. Family and friends can be good, supportive listeners. You may need to find support outside your social circle such as from a counsellor or therapist.

# Tip 5 Seek help and support from people you trust.

I wrote this poem a couple of weeks ago to express how I was feeling that day and to encourage readers to recognise and admit to how they were feeling too.

Today is a day for crying

Today is a day for crying

I don’t know why

It just is.

 

The sun rose as usual

In a blue sky with fluffy white clouds.

Spring is progressing

The flowers are blooming to their inner schedule.

The trees are shedding their blossoms

and filling out their new bright green leaves

 

My home is still safe and comfortable

The village and fields a delight.

The cupboards are stocked,

the freezer is full

and the bathroom has toilet rolls.

 

My loved ones are well

I am healthy and fit

My heart and lungs are strong.

My friends are okay and staying indoors,

just getting older, one lock-down day at a time.

 

I’ve counted my blessings

Been grateful every day

I know that all will be well.

I’m finding the positives

I’ve meditated and journaled.

I’ve baked and gardened and painted

I’ve posted pictures of it all.

 

But today is a day for crying.

I don’t know why

It just is.

Some days are just like that

And it is alright if you feel that too.

 

There are more resources and suggestions available on the Mental Health Foundation website

If you would like to talk about what you are experiencing or need some support, you can contact me for a free 30 minute consultation.

Kindness v Covid-19

Have you noticed how many more acts of kindness are taking place at the moment? We see the amazing work being done by nurses, doctors and carers. People are shopping for vulnerable neighbours, communities are coming together to support each other, and friends are finding new ways to reach out and provide comfort.

The Physical Benefits of Kindness

Kindness is contagious

Our brains are hard-wired for kindness. When you act kindly towards another person, that person benefits from it and your brain rewards you by releasing the hormone oxytocin into your blood stream. Oxytocin helps wounds to repair by aiding capillary growth. It protects the cardiovascular system by reducing blood pressure and clearing blood vessels of inflammation.

Couples in long-term relationships who are kind to each other have less hardening of the arteries than couples who are not kind. They are literally more ‘soft-hearted’.

There are also emotional benefits to performing kindness activities. Regular kindness increases levels of happiness, reduces stress and anxiety.

Kindness is contagious.

There is a measure for understanding how contagious an epidemic is. It that is used by epidemiologists. It is known as R0, pronounced R-naught, and measures now many people an average person with the virus infects. The R0 of Covid 19 is currently measured at between 2 and 2.5. That means that the average patient infects at least 2 other people.

There have been studies on the contagiousness of kindness and the R0 figure is estimated at 5. That means that each act of kindness gives rise to 5 more acts of kindness. And it doesn’t stop there because your act of kindness flows out through three degrees of separation. In other words, the person you are kind to (one degree) is then likely to be kind to someone else (two degrees) and that person will be kind to someone you have never met (three degrees).

So kindness travels out in positive waves. It is potentially more powerful than this virus. Let’s find more ways to spread kindness.

Be Kind to Yourself

Kindness begins with you and how you look after yourself. You know that saying ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’?

  1. Be compassionate. Acknowledge your emotions without judging yourself. If you notice self-critical thoughts, let them pass. Say something positive to yourself such as ‘I am good enough. I am doing great. Keep going’. Talk to yourself in a kindly tone of voice.
  2. Eat well. Boost your immune system by eating a balanced diet including lean protein, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. Avoid highly processed foods such as sugar, white flour and white pasta. Limit your consumption of stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol.
  3. Exercise Daily. Take advantage of your opportunity to get out once a day for a walk. If you have a garden it’s a great time to be out there in the ‘green gym’. Take part in online exercise programmes. Use an electronic exercise machine such as the WiiFit.
  4. Have Regular Good Sleep. Keep to a sleep routine by going to bed and getting up at a set time. Make sure your bedroom is a sleep haven by removing electronic equipment such as lap tops and smart phones. Go to sleep in a good mood by watching or reading something funny. Don’t watch or listen to news bulletins after 6pm.
  5. Meditate. If you are not used to meditating start by sitting comfortably and focusing on your breathing for 3 minutes every morning. Gradually increase your quiet time to 10 minutes a day or more. Try using a meditation or mindfulness app. Join an online meditation group.

Be Kind to Others

  1. Connect. Even though you can’t visit people there are lots of ways that you can connect with friends and neighbours. You can chat over the phone or using the variety of online options such as Skype, Zoom, and Messenger
  2. Send a message. It is always good to receive a positive message. You could write a text or send a letter or card. How wonderful to receive a beautiful or funny card through the post.
  3. Smile. Smiling at someone in a shop or as you talk to the on line prompts their brain to release serotonin and oxytocin into their blood stream bringing beneficial emotional affects. Even if you are wearing a face mask, people can see your eyes smiling.
  4. Say thank you. Expressing gratitude is such a simple way of being kind. Say it to delivery people, shop staff, neighbours, nurses – whoever you come into contact with. Before you go to sleep at night send out waves of gratitude to everyone you know.

I am currently broadcasting every weekday at 2:15pm on my Facebook Page. Join me there for breathing techniques and tips for dealing with stress, anxiety and poor sleep.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, contact me and let’s talk about how I can help you feel better and back in control quickly.

Stay well.

References

Hamilton, David R., Why Kindness is Good For You, Hay House, London 2010

J H Fowler and N A Chistakis ‘Cooperative behaviour cascades in human social networks’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010, 107 (12)

Shifting Anxiety and Fear the RADICAL way

There’s a lot of anxiety and fear in the air at the moment because of the challenging times we are experiencing. Human beings are generally resistant to change and we dislike uncertainty. Our brains like habit and routine but both have been disrupted.

The power of your thoughts

How we think about things, the sense we make of our situation, affects how we experience life and the emotions we feel. If your thoughts are negative and pessimistic you are more likely to feel stressed and worried, unable to make good decisions. The more you think positively about this situation, understanding that it will pass and some good may come from it, the more able you will be to think clearly and act logically.

There is an added health benefit to being able to think positively because it boosts your health and your immune system. Anxiety and worry cause the release of the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Those hormones inflame your body and, in the long term, lower your resistance to illness.

A RADICAL approach to changing your thoughts

Thinking negative thoughts and feeling negative emotions such as anxiety is natural at times of massive change. As my friend, the Shamanic Healer, Daniel Guttierez says, ‘It’s alright to go there. It’s not alright to stay there.’ You need techniques to address unhelpful thoughts and move on.

Here is my RADICAL approach to shift anxiety and fear developed from Positive Psychology, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, The Work of Byron Katie and Radical Mindfulness

Recognise that you are thinking an unhelpful thought.
  • Is the thought positive or negative?
  • Does it give rise to a pleasant or unpleasant emotion? Does it give rise to anxiety or fear?
  • Will the thought move you forward or keep you stuck?
  • Does this thought lead to growth or contraction?
Acknowledge the thought and the emotion that arises.
  • Without judgement, notice what you are thinking and feeling.
  • Notice where in your body you are feeling it.
  • Accept it with compassion and kindness for yourself. It is temporary and you will take action to deal with it.
  • Be aware of the trigger for the thought. Was it something you heard or saw or felt?
Do something physical to change how you feel.
  • Shift your mood by tricking your brain into thinking you are smiling. Put a pen between your lips sideways. Lift your chin. Roll your eyes upwards and move them from side to side five times.
  • Stand in the superhero stance for two minutes. Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Put your hands on your hips. Beam your gaze out directly. Do it with superhero attitude.
  • Do your happy dance for three minutes
  • Put on your favourite happy song and sing along.
Identify a new more helpful thought.
  • What could you think differently?
  • What would ‘best you’ think in this situation?
  • What would someone you respect think?
  • If a friend was in this situation what would you say to them?
Capture the new thought(s).
  • Write down the new helpful thought(s)
  • How much do you believe the new thought(s)?
  • Notice how the new thought changes how you feel.
Amplify the new thought
  • Picture yourself believing the new thought(s).
  • See yourself looking more positive.
  • Make that image big and clear and colourful.
  • Spend a few minutes enjoying that best version of you.
Learn and Laugh
  • Notice what you have learned from the experience.
  • How could you use the new thoughts in the future?
  • How could you use this technique again?
  • Can you avoid the triggers you identified?
  • Laugh! You got through this and dealt with it.

I have talked through this technique on my Royston Hypnotherapy Facebook Page.

If you need any help with this technique or to deal with your anxiety or fear contact me.

Stay well.

Pat

 

Further reading:

The Work by Byron Katie

Radical Mindfulness by Daniel Guttierez

Thrive by Rob Kelly

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Dummies

Habit or Addiction?

I was recently asked to be part of a radio discussion about social media addiction. There has been so much in the news recently about social media, particularly Facebook, and people trying to decide whether to delete their accounts and whether they feel they can do without that contact. How easy is it to stop the habit of checking your Facebook account or is it an addiction?

Pat Duckworth, Royston Hypnotherapy, Addiction

Pat Duckworth with Chris Mann, BBC Radio Cambs

 

We use the word addiction a bit too freely. It is a serious medical condition that can ruin lives.  It’s often used in a way that demonises the behaviour of young people. When I was young, parents were worried that kids would be addicted to television. Now they are worried about social media.

So what does it mean to be addicted? You can become addicted to anything that affects the reward circuitry in the brain. It’s not about the substance or the behaviour, it’s about the way the brain responds through changing structure and releasing hormones such as dopamine and endorphin. A person experiencing an addiction carries on repeating the habit or behaviour regardless of the negative consequences.

Someone with a social media addiction would feel compelled to check their social media sites frequently and be unable to control the amount of time they spend online. This is likely to be accompanied by feelings of anxiety. The negative impacts could include:

  • Losing track of time
  • Procrastination
  • Stress
  • Need for instant gratification
  • Reduced self-esteem
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Being emotionally unavailable

Stopping the behaviour for a short period of time may be quite easy. The challenge is not going back to it or taking up a new addiction to replace it.

If you recognise any of this in yourself or someone you know, the first step to recovery is to admit that you have a problem and that you need help. Don’t let it ruin your life.

If you think you have just developed a habit that is wasting your time there are some steps you can take to break the habit:

  • Leave mobile devices outside the bedroom so they do not disturb your sleep.
  • Turn off message alerts
  • Limit your exposure. Decide how much time you are going to look at the website and stick to it
  • Delete sites from mobile devices so you don’t get tempted. Or make them password protected to make it harder for you to access the sites quickly

If you need help, don’t put it off, contact me now

Step Away from the Buffet

Buffets are the enemy of weight control. But what is that about?

Lose Weight

Mindful Weight Loss

I was on a cruise ship recently. Breakfast and lunch were buffet meals and every day was like a battlefield as passengers elbowed each other out of the way to get to the plentiful food. Plates were piled high with a strange mixture of fish, meat, salad, hot vegetables.

You would never order those combinations from a menu so why do we do it at buffets?

Your Caveman Brain

Our human brains formed when we were cave people. When you were a cave person, (it’s a long time ago, you won’t remember it), all food was seasonal. You ate whatever was available because you didn’t know when you would be able to have it again. If it was summer and there was a lot of variety, you ate some of everything. You brain was hard-wired to make the most of all the variety of nutrition.

We may have evolved over the intervening thousands of years and food may now be available all year but our brains are still structured in the same way. And that’s why buffets are so dangerous if you are trying to get rid of unwanted weight.

Develop a Buffet Strategy

If you want to shift those pounds, avoid eating out at buffets. If you can’t avoid it have a strategy to deal with the temptation and keep your willpower strong:

  • Only visit the buffet once
  • Pick a smaller plate
  • Avoid the carbohydrates such as the potatoes, rice, pasta and bread
  • Choose the lean proteins such as fish and chicken
  • Enjoy the vegetables and salads
  • Put any sauce or dressing on the side of the plate and limit how much you eat
  • Eat it all slowly and mindfully aware of the textures and flavours
  • Be prepared to leave food on your plate if you realise to have eaten enough
  • If you want a dessert, choose one and enjoy it.

If you need any help with losing weight contact me and we can discuss how I could help you.

What do you predict for 2018?

As I look back over 2017 I realise what an unpredictable year it was. Who could predict all the major events that happened in the world in the past twelve months?

And if I review my own year I know that I couldn’t have forecast half of what I have experienced back on 1 January 2017. I have been to so many different places this year, worked with amazing clients and met some wonderful people. There were bumps and obstacles along the way but they passed and life went on.

Also, if I had used my experience of 2016 to predict what would happen in 2017 I would have been way out. You can’t use your past to predict your future.

So my thought as we approach 2018 is that it is good to have a plan and a vision for the new year. It is good to set intentions and resolutions, and take action to achieve them. But build plenty of wriggle room into your plans for all the good stuff that is going to surprise you.

A final thought from Abraham Lincoln ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’ What do you want to create this year?

Contact me if I can help you with your resolutions or plans.

A very Happy and Peaceful 2018 to you and your loved ones.

Pat

 

 

Are you addicted?

These days it is possible to become addicted to anything. You might be thinking about common addictions such as alcohol, drugs and gambling but you can also develop an unhealthy habit around sugar, shopping, social media, computer games, pornography – the list goes on and on.

Addiction is defined as ‘the compulsive repetition of a habit/behaviour, regardless of negative consequences’.  The American Society of Addiction Medicine says, ‘Addiction is what happens in a person’s brain when they are exposed to rewarding substances or rewarding behaviour’.

I am not sure that I am addicted to the Internet and Facebook but I know how upset I become when my broadband connection fails or is weak. When it happened recently I got stressed and then angry. I also know that sometimes I start looking at social media sites for ‘5 minutes’ and then time passes and I feel guilty that I have got nothing done. Guilt, stress and anger are all symptoms of addiction.

Some of the developers of the apps and programs we us in everyday life are now concerned about how addictive they have become. These men (mainly) who are now in their 30s and early 40s are having children and are starting to worry about the impact of tech on the next generation.

There were some useful tips in The Guardian Magazine about how to stop tech from stealing your time:

  • Turn off notifications which are not from a real person, such as Twitter updates or news bulletins
  • The only easily accessible apps you should have are those with a clear endpoint such as National Rail, TfL, Maps or Notes
  • Do not have your phone or tablet in your bedroom. Use an external alarm clock
  • Create custom notifications for special people, so you don’t feel tempted to check your phone whenever it vibrates or chimes
  • Scramble your apps regularly by rearranging your screen, so you don’t click on time-sapping apps out of habit

You can read more at http://www.timewellspent.io/take-control/

So, what might you be addicted to? What is stealing your money, health, time or attention? What one change could you make today that is going to make a difference?

If you need help to make a change contact me today.

Are you feeling anxious?

I am feeling anxious about you. So much has happened in the last 12 months that has raised levels of anxiety. First there were all the issues raised around the Brexit referendum. Then there was the American Presidential election.  Now we are in the process of another General Election which is stirring up fears around elderly care, the economy and immigration. All of that against a background of terrorist incidents and war in other parts of the world.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you were feeling a bit anxious but do you know what? It isn’t doing you any good and it’s not making the situation any better.

Our human brains formed when we were cave people and the environment around us was dangerous and life threatening. We had to forage and hunt every day just to stay alive. Add to that there were predator animals that wanted to kill us. Our brains became very sticky for bad news as a survival mechanism. That’s why your brain notices negative information far more than it notices positive good news.

When you watch scary stuff on the TV news or read it in newspapers, your brain imagines you having to deal with that scary situation. In response, your brain releases the hormones that prepare you for fight or flight or freeze. Those hormones inflame your system. That’s ok if you only get anxious in short bursts and not too often. Persistent levels of anxiety can lead to physical symptoms such as poor sleep, lack of concentration, weight change, headaches and raised blood pressure.

So what can you do about? Firstly, acknowledge bad stuff happens but it is not personal to you. It’s not the stuff that is happening that causes the anxiety, it is the thoughts that you have about it.

Secondly, stop reading news reports and listening to or watching the news, particularly in the evening and before you go to bed. There is nothing you can do to make those situations better so stop exposing your brain to them. Remind yourself of all the good things that are happening, the millions of people who will go to sleep safely tonight, the beautiful babies that have been born, the things of nature just outside your window.

Thirdly spend a few minutes each day calming your body and your mind by just focusing on your breathing. If you can, make your out breath longer than your in breath for even more relaxation. Even better, go for a walk and breathe deeply.

If you need more help, contact me today so I can find out more about what you are experiencing. You are welcome to book a free 30 minute consultation with no obligation.

Are you feeling SAD?

The clocks have gone back, the trees are turning colour and Christmas decorations are appearing in the shops. Autumn is here and for some people this is the season of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Are you feeling SAD?

Are you feeling SAD?

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Lack of energy and feeling sleepy during the day
  • Poor quality or interrupted sleep.
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in normal activities
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings, irritability and low mood
  • Cravings for carbohydrates leading to weight gain.

These symptoms are the result of lower light levels during the winter months which causes an increase in the production of melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy at night), and a reduction of serotonin (the Happiness hormone). These changes disrupt your internal body clock which regulates important bodily functions such as appetite, digestion, sleep quality and mood.

I have experienced mild symptoms of SAD since I was a teenager. Every year it creeps up on me and I wonder why I suddenly feel miserable and have no energy.

One way to boost your exposure to natural light and reduce the effect of SAD is to use a full spectrum light box.  These lights provide summertime levels of light and have been shown to be effective in up to 85% of diagnosed cases of SAD.  Light boxes are available from specialist retailers.

If you are experiencing mild symptoms there are other practical things you can do to improve your mood:

1 Take a 30 minute brisk walk outside around the middle of the day.  The exercise will make you feel better and you can get the best of the daylight.  Research has shown that a 15 minute walk can significantly reduce daytime snacking.

2 Boost your mood with healthy food. The food you eat can have a negative of positive effect of your mood and can increase or decrease mood swings. Some simple guidelines:

  • For an energy boost include lean proteins in your diet such as: cheese, milk, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses, beans, fermented soya products (miso, tofu and tempeh), white poultry and seafood.
  • Avoid eating simple carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread and sugary foods. These foods will cause your blood sugars to spike and fall rapidly causing mood swings. Instead eat complex carbohydrates including vegetables and fruit.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake. Caffeine suppresses the production of serotonin and stresses your nervous system. Remember that caffeine is not just in coffee, it is also in black and green tea, chocolate and energy drinks.
  • Consider taking a vitamin supplement. At this time of year you may need to supplement your diet with vitaminB12 and D. Vitamin D is predominantly made by your body when it is exposed to natural sunlight which is in shorter supply during the winter months. Low levels of Vitamin B12 in the blood have been linked to depression, though the exact cause is still unknown. You can top up by eating fish, shell fish, fortified cereals, eggs, yoghurt, and milk.
  1. Maintain your social contact during the winter months. People with strong social contacts tend to stay happier and healthier and cope better with life’s challenges. Being on social media is not sufficient so contact your friends and arrange a regular get together. If your friends live at a distance, could you enroll for an evening class or get involved in a hobby group?
  2. Commit a random of act of kindness every day. Showing kindness and compassion to others is an excellent way of boosting your own feelings of well being and strengthening your emotional resilience.
  3. Do something that makes you smile or laugh for five minutes three times a day as this will help to boost your levels of serotonin and immunise you against stress. You could watch a funny video on YouTube or your favourite comedy on the television. But the best method is to have a laugh with a member of your family or a friend or colleague.

If you are experiencing prolonged or intense symptoms of SAD it is important to consult your medical practitioner.

For practical techniques to help with SAD contact me to find out how I can help you.

For more information on SAD see http://www.sad.org.uk/