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Procrastination is good

Procrastination is good

Therapy is full of cycles, be they cycles of progress or the less helpful type.

One of the less helpful type is that stress hormones suppress the growth of new brain cells. The more stress we suffer, as well as expected anxiety or depression risk,the less brain development, the less brain development, the less adaptability….. and the more stress.

See what I mean…..?    Cycles.

 

In mice, if they are brought up in a solitary non-stimulating environment (not their natural setting) neurogenesis – the birth of new brain cells – does not occur.

If you put that mouse in a social setting with plenty of stimulus, it does.

I have seen in clients with depression that trying to get them to engage with their support network can be a challenge; this is the settled science that proves that that is an important step.

So let’s look at other ways that cycles of difficulty our clients face can be re-framed with the help of a little psychology.

Take procrastination.

The title of this piece, procrastination is good might seem the opposite of what our parents and teachers tell us.

Now let’s look at this not from the perspective of putting off the washing up for an hour while you watch X factor, but from that wider more insidious perspective of procrastination without time limits.

I find many clients get stuck here, often by that fear of not being good enough and that without time limits that shock the system into doing the task, they can get stuck in a never-ending loop that is hard for them to break out of.

But the plus side of procrastination is that is linked to creativity, not productivity but creativity.

Now don’t tell my students this – but starting early and finishing late is a sweet spot for procrastinators. It’s simple, and once again psychology proves it –

If you wait until the last minute to do something, you don’t get any new ideas, not enough time for creative thinking. If you finish too quickly, again original thought is lost.

By starting early and finishing late, you get the maximum opportunity for original thought and creativity.

Give yourself time to be creative…

Procrastinate just enough…

…find your perfect level.

Psychotherapy open questions

Psychotherapy open questions is another extract from my 2016 presentation at the International Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy Conference.

While as therapists we all know about active listening and open questions, I’m often asked by students and colleagues about examples of such questions.

These are the kind of questions that can open up a discourse, and help a client to reflect in an area where perhaps clarity may have been lacking.

So to try and help, I’ve prepared a short list of interesting questions that although sometimes too challenging to be used ‘raw’ as it were, can be framed more gently by the therapist.

These psychotherapy open questions  have been gathered from various sources and I’ve used them (or versions of them) in therapy for some years, if any are of use then please feel free to incorporate them into your practice or self-reflection.

In no particular order then:

Why do you matter….? This question might initially ring some alarm bells but bear with me. Apparently one of Viktor Frankl’s questions with some depressed clients was to ask them why they had not taken their own lives? From that question, Frankl , it is said, could often find a thread (however slender) to begin to explore the meaning in the client’s life that kept them from doing that. This question comes from the same place, when self-esteem is challenged or low, a question in this vein can start a challenge to the negative self-talk and open up the client to challenge perhaps distorted beliefs.

What’s happened to you….? This is far subtler and touches upon how the client sees their own story. Have things happened to them? are they taking it personally when in reality they are collateral damage in something unrelated? Is the world unfair? Where does a lack of success come from, them or the outside pressures of the world? Again this question can open up many facets that may not have been visible before.

What do you want to achieve working with me….? I’m a great believer in sticking to the brief, what does the client want to achieve? This question can help clarify and set goals. It also has an element of de Shazer’s Miracle Question in there. The client can step even if only briefly into a future where the change has happened and ‘try it on for size’. Imagination is stronger than will after all.

What feels different…..? This is about seeing less in detailed pictures and beginning to connect with the feeling. That can be helpful in terms of chunking down to the root feeling that is driving the wish to change. Are you running away from something or towards something. It’s also a nice segue into the accessing of resource states for the client.

What am I doing to make life better for myself….? Here we begin to look at psychotherapy open questions centred around where we are at the moment. This comes from a solution-focused perspective, where are we now and where do we want to go? This can identify the differences between the two places and therefore sharpen that focus and highlight what’s missing.

What’s the one thing I can do today to make my life easier….? This has roots in the power of making a change today. It also touches on the step-by-step approach, if we tick off the easy things first, the little ones, we can begin to build the proverbial ‘yes ladder’ to achieve and create movement in the desired direction.

What does that fear need…..? From John Hartland’s theory that the client will only let go of symptoms when they feel ready to do so. This question allows the client to look at self-care, and what they already know about what they need to move on. Again it feeds into allowing the client to accept that they matter and that it’s ok for them to have needs. It can allow them perhaps to access the child within them and its needs.

And saving the best until last tell me about…?  This is my holy grail of open and encouraging  questions and is the glue that binds the rest of them together. If you only take one question from this blog, then I would suggest this is the one.

So hopefully these psychotherapy open questions will be of some use, please let me know any others you have that might helpfully be added to this list by email at info@talking-cure.co.uk.

Thanks

Stuart Cale

(Talking-Cure Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy)

 

 

 

Therapy of dreaming

Therapy of dreaming… sounds odd perhaps?

Well, Freud called dreaming ‘the royal road to the subconscious’ 

We forget dreams when we wake up, and there’s a reason for this, and that is to prevent us confusing them with reality.

I remember reading from a biography of Keith Richards about the fact that he used to keep by his bed a tape recorder to record guitar riffs that came to him in his dreams. The story is that the riff to satisfaction was recorded in one of these night sessions, and he had completely forgotten that he had written it until he listened back to it on the tape recorder.

It’s this idea of Christopher Bollas’s ‘unthought known’ a phrase he coined from Freud who reported a patient saying something ‘ to the effect that he had always known something but he had never thought of it.

How many unthought knowns do you recognise in your own thinking? Those things on the edge of awareness or consciousness.

The science is therefore that dreams are the brain’s way of creating solutions to problems. That when we sleep, we process, much the same as we do in hypnosis.

The science supports this…

In dreams, if the smell of rotten eggs is sprayed into the nose of smokers directly after the smell of cigarettes, they will feel less of an urge to smoke.

PTSD sufferers have noticed a lessening of symptoms in the waking state after positive smells were introduced after trauma triggers during sleep.

So this is further evidence that memories are malleable, that they are changed as they are used, that they can be overridden.

And most importantly that they are interwoven with dreams and dream content.

A little science can serve to underpin the art of working with for example dream interpretation or dreaming in trance or the idea of the subconscious as a benevolent problem solver.

If we accept the principle of the subconscious or unconscious mind, then the therapy of dreaming must surely be worth a little more exploration?

 

Tinnitus relief

Tinnitus relief is a subject close to my heart and one that I am passionate about.

This week I have been invited to present and advise again at the Bolton Tinnitus Support Group which is a truly wonderful organisation. They help tinnitus sufferers to cope with the symptoms and the difficulties that often come along with the diagnosis.

It will be no surprise that people with tinnitus can get anxious and depressed, but it may be a surprise to know that these three issues can be chicken and egg. One thing is certain though, that tinnitus is a subjective issue which is sensitive to mood.

It’s similar to pain in that way, a subjective perception which is worse at some times and less so at others. Often when the person is distracted or absorbed (what psychology calls ‘flow state’) then the symptoms are less noticeable.

In therapy we can access states of relaxation which we call ‘resource states’. When someone is relaxed, they can’t be anxious at the same time so accessing such a state of relaxed being is an early aim of tinnitus relief.

After that, then ‘anchoring’ the resource state can allow the person to bring on that feeling of relaxation when needed by triggering a subconscious memory of it. In times of stress, this is an empowering tool for the client.

It’s often about learning to manage the symptoms and that has behavioural elements of environment and thought as well as wider elements of meaning and perception.

All of these layers of the onion, we can work on peeling in the therapy room, working towards finding your peace.

The feeling of being worn down by the tinnitus is something I also often hear and this is what can lead to low mood. Again, in therapy relief can be gained by re-framing and building emotional resilience.

If you want to discuss further then, please contact me from my website Talking-Cure

Money worries

Money worries and financial insecurity are another often hidden issue. There can be links to self-esteem and the need to be very careful about how money is spent.

While this is a different situation to someone who may have heavy debts or spend too much, it is still an issue. I see in clients that often anxiety can stretch to include worrying about security or even begin there. Constant checking, planning and looking to the future.

The fear of losing a job.

Many people see money as security but it can also be many other things.

Money can be a reward, a replacement for love, a punishment, a tool to inflict pain, the list goes on….

It’s also important to realise that how we feel in relation to money can have nothing to do with how much we have in the bank. Some very wealthy people can concern themselves with money, money, money.

Decisions about money can also cause anxiety, and therefore add to it. It can be a battleground in the mind that is constant, which is the right way to go? Can I spend on this treat?

Sometimes the opposite, ‘I deserve it’ and then regret buying it afterwards.

Viktor Frankl saw the will to money as a basic form of the will to power, caused by an existential vacuum.

We live in a society that sees shopping as a form of therapy, but is it…?

Often money worries as a source of anxiety and depression go unspoken. Sufferers don’t tell partners, parents, GPs and the worry is turned inward which increases the sense of isolation and stress.

All I suggest is that we don’t discount money from the discussion about anxious thinking and suffering.

The ‘if I win the lottery’ fantasy keeps clients deeply rooted in the future, ignoring the mindfulness of today.

In therapy, we can look at what money means to you, and then start to look at what the threat is that is driving the anxiety. Re-framing is very important, challenging the rigid black and white thinking.

Most importantly, let’s not let money worries become money anxiety…

 

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence?

What is it and how do we improve it?

We are all unique, all of our personalities are different and we have differing wants and needs. 

Some people have the ability to make you feel at ease as soon as you meet them, in any situation, either social or professional.

Others, not so much. 

Who are the people who we’re inclined to feel at ease with, and who we find ourselves gravitating toward?

They tend to be people with a great deal of emotional  intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (EI), regarded as being more important than IQ, is a complex quality. However, it can be learned.

EI is key to relating well to others; awareness of your own actions and feelings and how they affect others.

It definitely helps you to go through life more easily than someone who is quick to anger, gets upset or refuses to view themselves honestly.

Emotional Intelligence is

The ability to identify and therefore understand your emotions

Knowing how to manage your emotions in a positive way in order to

  • relieve stress
  • communicate effectively
  • diffuse conflicts

The ability to recognise what others are experiencing emotionally. It therefore allows you to understand and manage relationships effectively.

A process that, although non-verbal, will inform your thinking and influence how you connect.

There are several elements that define emotional intelligence:

Self Awareness

Being honest with yourself and acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses.

Understand your own emotions and therefore trust your intuition.

Be in control yourself rather than controlled by your feelings. 

Self Regulation 

Be able to control your emotions and consequently resist being impulsive.

People who self-regulate will think before acting,  don’t jump in with both feet and learn how to say no.

Empathy

Learning how to identify the wants and needs of others is especially relevant . People with empathy don’t rush to judge or stereotype.

Be able to recognise the feelings of others helps relationship skills.

Motivation

A high level of motivation leads to being productive, effective, hence able to enjoy life’s challenges.  

Social Skills

People with strong social skills are easy to talk to. People with good social skills find the building and maintaining of relationships easy and pleasurable.

They are keen to develop others and view a team achievement as more important than their own individual success.

How can you improve your Emotional Intelligence?

Pay attention to your emotions, they are valid. Learn to recognise them.

When you make decisions, integrate your emotions into the process.

Be present. Be here.  Don’t plan ahead or look behind.

Be aware of your body language and the signals you send others.

Caffeine panic

Caffeine panic – about 10 years ago now I cut caffeine from my diet.

Apart from a three day headache there seemed little effect at the time but I did it because I believed it would make things calmer in the long run, and on reflection, it did.

Although I can’t remember the hour or the day things felt different, they do.

It’s conspicuous by its absence caffeine.

Most people ingest a couple of hundred milligrams of this stimulant each day. The jury is out on what are the best levels, but as with many things, I think it depends on the individual.

For the anxious, it can make things a lot worse, and the anxious individual’s sensitivity is heightened.

This happens because caffeine mimics panic symptoms, it can make you jittery, nervous, filled with dread, irritable and restless. Caffeine can actually induce panic attacks.

Caffeine panic – It was this feeling of empty uneasiness and restlessness that I wondered about, and what had been causing it.

That’s the feeling that years later I no longer carry around with me.

Some symptoms of a Panic Attack include sweating, fast or irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, digestive issues. Also, it can bring on a feeling of dread, unreality, pins and needles, even chest pain. (APA, 2014)

Guess what? Caffeine can cause fast or irregular heartbeat, diarrhoea, racing thoughts, fast breathing, nausea, sweating… you get the picture, I’m sure.

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world. This is why we pay so much for it in Starbucks. It makes you alert, keeps you awake.

It can be natural or synthetic and is found in some unlikely foods and drinks, so if you are worried about caffeine panic and are anxious, then perhaps look at your consumption of chocolate, coffee, cola, tea and medicines and start to see where it is (Lucozade anyone?).

Are you struggling with anxiety, panic or stress levels?

Maybe have a look at whether that pick-me-up little helper is actually a part of the issue

 

Perfectionism or excellence

Perfectionism or excellence, that is the question….

Perfectionism or excellence is a choice.

While perfectionism can drive you towards fantastic achievements. Perfectionism can help to provide you with the motivation to keep going until you attain your goal:
Giving the perfect presentation
Doing the perfect job
Baking the perfect birthday cake
Perfectionism can really help you sustain the energy levels you need to reach your own personal challenge.

But pressure and anxiety all build when you try to be the perfect person.

Perfectionism is within you and therefore under your control.
Striving for perfectionism within yourself can lead to anxiety as you try to live up to your own expectations or how you perceive others’ expectations of you.
You will always be not quite there, not quite good enough, simply because the perfect person doesn’t exist.

Cakes, jobs and presentations are all measurable, people aren’t.

People make mistakes
People have imperfections

It’s part of what makes us human. Mistakes help us to learn.

Perfectionism, pressure, anxiety can take an enormous toll on you and your life in general.

You fear success because of the fear of maintaining success.
Fearing mistakes can be due to the fear of losing respect from others as well as yourself.
Fear of failure can mean that you never set yourself goals. Or setting goals so high as to be unattainable.
Being constantly aware and reminding yourself of your weaknesses, imperfections and failures.

Be Excellent Instead Of Perfect
Improving yourself can be an enjoyable journey.
Being great at something is an enormous achievement.
Take yourself (and life) a little less seriously, forgive yourself, be gentle with yourself.

Set small, achievable goals.
Reward yourself.
Be aware of the influence of social programming – social media, TV programmes, magazine articles.
Making the effort to change is an achievement in itself.
Just by being born, you literally won the race!

Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying.

The impact of workplace bullying increases stress, anxiety and depression. It can have a major effect on home life and take a toll on relationships too.

Bullying in the workplace and uncomfortable work situations can cause upset and turbulence at home. As a result stress levels rise, sleep is disturbed, symptoms of anxiety and depression increase.

Maybe it’s difficult to discuss work related issues at home because:

  • You may convince yourself that you can hide your feelings from your partner.
  • The bully has made you feel responsible for the situation and you don’t want to share your experiences.
  • You feel that your partner will not be supportive and as a result will probably blame you for bringing the situation on yourself.

It is very likely that increased stress and anxiety from workplace bullying will bring about a noticeable personality change and your partner will realise that something is wrong.

  • Frayed temper due to worry and bottled up feelings may mean that bullying in the workplace causes you to lash out at those around you.
  • There may be financial worries hence making you feel lucky to have a job at all.

Your partner could be incredibly supportive and help fight with you end the bullying. Finding out that a loved one is suffering bullying in the workplace is upsetting, especially if it has been kept secret.

Emotional health and personal relationships may be under enormous strain due to bullying in the workplace increased stress, anxiety and depression.

It’s really important to look after you

  • Keeping a diary will serve as a written account of events and also help you express how you’re feeling.
  • Taking some time off work may help you feel calmer. Don’t feel guilty about doing this; bullying in the workplace is not acceptable.
  • Listen to your body, it is speaking to you. It may be worthwhile booking a check-up with your GP.
  • Exercise is proven to release stress and anxiety and need not be expensive. A swim, walk or bike ride are all great stress relievers
  • Talk to a UKCP therapist (had to slip it in somewhere)

Relaxation Ease Depression

Relaxation ease depression and make yourself feel better.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that sadness and depression are one and the same.

Sadness is a natural, normal emotion that comes and goes.

Although feeling sad and cheerless is an unhappy state, it usually passes.

Depression isn’t sadness.

Depression is constant.

It can last for a period of weeks, months or even years.

Willpower alone won’t overcome depression, however, there are a number of ways that the methods of relaxation ease depression symptoms and hopeless feelings.

Connection – resist isolating yourself and talk to a trusted person like a family member, friend or therapist This can help make problems feel easier.

Exercise – the link between exercise and feeling good is well established. Exercise doesn’t have to mean joining a gym; a brisk walk has been shown to improve mood and positively affect symptoms of mild to moderate depression.

Relaxation – Anything that makes you unwind and feel good will benefit your emotional health

Again – for many of us relaxing may simply mean flopping on the sofa and maybe watching the TV, that may feel relaxing, but it doesn’t reduce the effects of stress.

These techniques can all help to relieve stress because they make you feel relaxed and hopeful.

  • Deep breathingand here’s how.
  • Guided imagery – remember imagination is stronger than will.
  • Yoga– Exercise and connection – maybe take a class

Find techniques that suit you, a massage or pedicure may be good for some but stressful for others.

Make a little time each day for something that you look forward to – like a bubble bath or a walk

These are useful ways to show how exercise and relaxation ease depression, of course, a therapist will help you to improve your symptoms and you should seek out a suitable therapist through UKCP.