As the end of lockdown is in sight people can once again begin to plan for the future. After depressing daily news stories and regular government updates for nearly a year it’s good to have something to look forward to. But following the dreadful statistics have been dire warnings of a looming mental health crisis and many therapists have been preparing for a tsunami of psychological issues post-pandemic. So what can we expect as a nation mental health-wise?
New research conducted throughout the pandemic by clinical psychologist, Richard Bentall has shown that the nation’s mental health may not be as bad as predicted. The results of this study of over 2,000 people has shown that approximately 60% of the population has been highly resilient and shown no evidence of psychiatric distress and that 10% have actually thrived during this period. This is largely because collective trauma has a much lower impact on people than individual trauma.
Developing resilience (or coping skills) doesn’t mean that there won’t be bad days, or that you’ll be strong and positive every single day. You might have a string of bad days, but resilience is the ability to gather yourself together and find a way to go on. This will look different depending on your personal situation and if you have lost a loved one or are suffering financially it will clearly be more difficult.
Resilience doesn’t mean burying or denying your emotions. You might have noticed that your stress levels have fluctuated over the last few months; the tension of March and April easing over the summer and then ramping up again from September and into 2021. Even without the external stimuli of the news updates your own life may include situations that are stress provoking, or alternatively are enriching and rewarding.
If you’re facing multiple stressors, have experienced traumatic events during lockdown, or have a history of depression or mental health issues you’re more likely to struggle, at least in the short term. Be aware of that and be gentle with yourself and work within your capacity. While some factors that influence our resilience are out of our control, there’s a lot that we can do to boost our coping skills.
Our social support networks have been and will continue to vital during this time. Establishing and cultivating friendships and communities is also invaluable. You can improve your resilience and minimise your stress levels by reaching out to loved ones or engaging in hobbies or activities that bring you joy.
If you’re noticing that you’re continually feeling stressed and on edge it’s okay to get help. This might be talking to a friend, speaking to your doctor or seeking a therapist. Short-term help might involve learning techniques to manage your stress levels and increase your resilience. And remember, everything is probably going to be okay in the long run.
Need some help and want to have a chat? You can either schedule a call or send me an email.
Forced into inactivity by foot surgery I turned to the bookshelf for diversion. Selecting a book based on its print size and page count, I made myself a brew and turned to the first page.
‘Moving is easy. Everyone does it. But actually leaving somewhere is difficult’
(Utterly Monkey by Nick Laird)
And I stopped. And I stared at the page. And I read the words again. Then I picked up a pad and pen. I needed to speak about this. I needed to share. But most of all I needed to process...
Eight weeks earlier, in the midst of Covid I took a decision; a left-brain, no-brainer decision. My dilemma of whether to renew the lease on my London therapy centre was resolved immediately. I would close it down. I’d been toying with this for some time as the expiry of the lease approached and my desire to live permanently in Yorkshire increased. But I was hesitant to let it go.
Ten years ago after 15 years of renting rooms in gyms & health centres and two years into ‘the great recession’ of 2008, I took the plunge. After some ‘back of a fag packet’ calculations and with the belief that I could make a success of it, I signed a lease on a shop. Friends supported me knowing that when I set my mind to something I give it 110. I’m not a gambler and I can swing from risk-averse to ‘go for it’ when I truly believe in something; or myself.
I opened my therapy centre a month after signing the lease. I decorated it by day, then I’d drive to see clients at the gym close by at night. The mayor of Merton came to open it officially and my business was in the local paper. Now I know that it’s normal in stories to describe challenges on the route to success but if I had them (and I’m sure I must have done) I don’t remember them. Existing clients loved my fabulous new premises and I found new ones too. When I locked up, I saw my name on the door and I felt proud. People less brave than me told me I was lucky, but they knew, as I did that it was effort and judgement and commitment and energy. And of course, I’m pretty good at what I do.
Fast forward 10 years and I am once again locking the door on my therapy centre but this time in the final days of my tenure. I’ve emptied the cupboards and cleared much of the furniture and the decorators are about to remove the hooks where my certificates hung and the shelves where my awards sat. My therapist’s chair remains but my client chair has been dismantled to be reassembled in another room in another town far away. Then the tears started. Slow silent trickles at first followed by sobs that only stopped when I pulled my car up outside my house. Pouring a glass of pinot I sat in my self-pity. Checking in with myself I knew that this was about failure. My failure; I’d been here before.
In the late 80’s I’d given up a business I loved before I lost everything. I put the tools of my trade, magazine covers and press cuttings in the loft and went out to work. One full-time and three part-time jobs helped me keep the bank at bay before I could finally settle with them. I didn’t notify stores waiting for deliveries or factories that produced goods for me. I hid. And I worked. And I worked very hard.
As a therapist of 25 years, I now joke that I should have had bereavement counselling, but I didn’t. I bottled it up and survived. And after many ups and downs (some pretty memorable) I reinvented myself and forged a successful new career. The tears I shed in my therapy centre in Wimbledon a few months ago were the unshed tears from that earlier time. After a blub and a brew, I recognised that this closure was a choice, and back then when I gave up my first business it wasn’t. Shit happens sometimes however skilled or talented you are. And to tweak an old adage, ‘As one door closes, another one is waiting to be kicked open!’
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or emotional by changes that you need to make or have been forced on you, give me a call. I’ve got the tools and the t-shirt (thankfully now tucked away in a metaphorical drawer) and I can help you. I’ll be there to support you, encourage you, and pat you on the back when you step into your new life or business. Don’t suffer in silence or self-medicate with food or booze; call me now on 07525 012221 or email me at email@example.com to learn how we can work together.
The start of the year is the time when many people pledge to make changes. These are almost always about some kind of perceived self-improvement e.g. to lose weight, stop drinking, get fit, etc. Whilst these changes may be desired, they are often unrealistic or overly ambitious. Frequently they form part of a list of ‘self-improvements’. They are also often associated with some kind of hardship which leads to reward.
In my experience it’s the hardship or deprivation combined with the size of the challenge or the number of changes that leads to an individual giving up. I’ve also found that the person resolving to change often has no real belief that they can make the change and quite often don’t (deep down) want to relinquish their pleasures... and that’s where being realistic comes in.
I’ve been a therapist for a long time and have worked with many clients who wanted to change something – often many things – but I always start with finding out why they want that change and what they think it will do for them when they achieve it. This is crucial and is often overlooked.
Very often people are looking for improved confidence or greater self-esteem and they believe that being thinner, fitter, better qualified or healthier will deliver this. The bad (and perhaps surprising) news is that none of these things are the magic answer to low self-worth; you can be highly qualified or have a great job and feel unlovable. You can be slim or sporty and still feel rubbish.
Now I’m not saying that there won’t be any benefits to improving your diet or cutting down on your alcohol intake but there will have been a reason why you were knocking back the booze or stuffing your face with cakes, crisps or cheeseburgers. Trying to manage your mood through what you eat or drink is understandable (especially during the pandemic) but it usually makes you feel worse and leads to harsh or critical self-talk.
Working with clients who are unhappy, unfulfilled, anxious or stuck is what I do, but I’m not suggesting you seek therapy. Right now, during the pandemic, the most important thing of all is for you to be kind to yourself. I’m not suggesting you drink yourself to oblivion or eat M&S out of cake, but beating yourself up for not being perfect, not being the best home-educator, not getting out of your pyjamas some days, or not breezing through Covid without crying in the bath when the Covid rules change yet again is just no good. Cut yourself some slack. Be as kind to yourself as you would to someone else. We’re all just getting through this time as best we can and if I can be of service give me a call and we’ll have a chat about how I can help you.
If you’d appreciate a free relaxation recording to support you through these trying times, please get in touch. The only thing to resolve to do right now, is to be kind to yourself... and others.
Book a free chat at a time that suits you or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to know more.
How long does it take to break a habit?
As a regular wine imbiber I quit my routine glugging when advised to prior to a recent operation. Then, in recovery (from the op, not the booze) I stayed mostly dry, just enjoying the occasional G & T.
Was it a challenge? No, not really. I loved my FeverTree tonics with my Seedlip non-gin gin. My reflux reduced, as did my belly. I’d broken the habit of quaffing on pinot once the clock had struck seven... or so I thought.
The surgeon’s ‘good to go’ signalled a return to driving and spontaneous shopping. My first early evening purchase was milk, but my second was Merlot, corn chips and salsa. Was it a one-off treat? Sadly, not.
So how long does it take to stop drinking?
There’s no simple answer to this. With any habit change there needs to be a commitment to it and a desire to change. In my case I was aware I drank over the recommended units and cutting down would benefit me. But was I committed to stop drinking altogether? No.
Even though I’m back to buying a bottle or two of my favourite vino per week, I’ve definitely reduced my intake. My digestion is better and I know that an evening without alcohol is much the same for me as an evening with it.
There are different opinions on how long it takes to break a habit and of course everyone’s relationship with alcohol is different. If you’d like to review your drinking visit https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/advice/how-to-reduce-your-drinking/how-to-take-a-break-and-reset-your-tolerance and if you want to raise money for MacMillan Cancer Support and go sober in October visit https://www.gosober.org.uk/fundraising/top-tips
There are few things more stressful than an angry or anxious child.
So, if you’re experiencing meltdowns, explosiveness, throwing things, clinginess, fear of leaving the house, refusal to go to school or obsessive negative thinking, I understand how concerned you are.
I understand how much you want to make things better for your child and the whole family, and as fast as possible, too.
You’ve probably found yourself wondering if you should take your child to a therapist, or if there’s something you can do yourself to help your child, bearing in mind that what you’ve tried so far hasn’t worked.
Here is the distinction you need to make:
- Does your child need therapeutic support because of a traumatic experience they’ve had and/or because of a specific difficulty they have?
- Or, is your child’s challenging behaviour rather the expression of unmet needs, that could be met with some adjustments in their day-to-day experience?
Why I naturally can’t comment here and now on the particular child you have in mind, this is my view:
As a very first step, ensure you’re doing everything to meet your child’s needs in the day to day, because this, in my experience, always brings an improvement in behaviour.
Then, if necessary, once their needs are being met and your relationship is really solid, you can seek therapeutic help to support your child with any remaining difficulties - and do it in a collaborative way.
This collaborative bit is important, because it’s vital on the therapeutic journey that a child doesn’t get the message that they are a problem or that there’s something wrong with them.
Aren't I meeting my child’s needs already?
Of course you are, you meet a million of your child’s needs every day!
But unfortunately there’s little information available to parents about how to meet your child’s needs at a deeper level, so that your child is able to relax and cooperate with you.
Why isn’t this information available?
To quote psychologist Ross Greene: “a lot of the resources that are available still for parents of kids with behaviour challenges… still emphasise the old rewards and punishments, and incentive and motivational models.”
I think it’s vital that we move way from from the paradigm that children need to be incentivised and threatened to behave well.
Because children are just like us: when they feel well, they behave well.
So how do we achieve this?
In my work with parents, we address the following three areas of need:
- Connection: Is your child feeling deeply and securely connected to you, the significant adult in their life?
- Control: Does your child have appropriate control over aspects of their lives?
- Containment: Is your child’s behaviour being contained by kind limits, without a hint of punishment?
When a child’s needs in these areas are met, you get a happy child, who behaves well, naturally.
This radically loving approach is what I call the “therapy of the everyday”, to quote one of my wisest and greatest teachers, the Hungarian paediatrician, Dr Emmi Pikler.
It brings astonishing results, to the great surprise and relief of parents.
Meeting your child’s need for connection
You’re probably wondering, “How do I do it?” and so l’d like to help you with number 1, connection.
All three areas are important, but feeling deeply and securely connected to you is likely to have the greatest positive impact on your child’s anxious or angry behaviour.
Now, I’m sure you’re already doing many connecting activities with your child: reading books at bedtime, cosy cuddles on the sofa or lovely days out.
These are vital aspects of a happy childhood.
But if your child is angry or anxious, there is most likely a deeper layer of connectedness that they are asking for.
In fact, I recommend you view anxious or angry behaviours as a means of drawing your attention to this need for greater connection - this need to be seen, heard, loved and understood, at a deeper level.
Challenging behaviour is actually communication.
And so here’s one way that I recommend to help you connect more deeply with your child:
- Firstly, when your child is expressing something difficult, put aside your own point of view and focus your attention on what your child is communicating.
- Secondly, become curious about what need your child is expressing. Ask yourself: "What are they trying to tell me?” For example, maybe they don’t want to go back to school. Even if your child isn’t articulating their need in so many words, you’ll probably have a hunch - you know your child so well.
- Thirdly, express your empathy and understanding for whatever is upsetting your child. The main point here here is not to be Mr or Mrs Fix-It. Instead, stand with your child in their pain, worry, grumpiness or fear - and validate it.
This is the deeper layer of connection that your child is waiting for.
If you’re not quite sure how to validate or empathise, here’s a quick tip.
If your child says “I don’t want to go back to school”, you can repeat their words back to them, “You don’t want to go back to school.”
When you genuinely make space space for that feeling and show you’ve heard and understood, this helps your child connect with you and feel better.
The effect is huge: children are calmer almost instantly.
They’re able to let go of their anxiety or rage - and when this approach becomes a habit, family life starts to settles down.
So my answer to the title question Does my Child need Therapy? is this: “Maybe, but try the above first!”
To test the effectiveness of this approach, think of the next time your child is likely to resist something.
What are they likely to say?
Then using the steps above, think of what you will say to show you’ve heard and understood.
And then, when the time comes, empathise with your child, as authentically as you can - and notice how your child responds!
Guest blog by Oona Alexander, Radically Loving Parenting Specialist.
Oona works with conscious parents for whom a happy home is a top priority, helping them radically love their children to naturally great behaviour, so that adults and children can enjoy a relaxed and happy family life.