The Clangers!

Have you heard of the CLANGERS? If you were older than a toddler in the 70’s or are a regular viewer of CBeebies today for the remake, then you may have heard of The Clangers (pictured). However I’m not talking about The Clangers, I’m talking about the CLANGERS.

The Clangers
BBC: The Clangers

C – Connect
L – Learn
A – be Active
N – Notice
G – Give back
E – Eat Well
R – Rest
S – Sleep

CLANG was originally a list of 5 key actions derived from a meta-analysis of 400 studies on wellness, and was designed to help people improve their wellbeing. 12 years later and studies are showing these key actions are as important as ever.

In 2018, Dr Phil Hammond added to this, neatly extending the acronym to CLANGERS. Each day add as many of these to your life and increase your physical and mental wellbeing.

C – Connect

Connect with other people, connect with nature, connect with your community, connect with yourself! It’s difficult at the moment during the coronavirus lockdown connecting with others, however for those that can’t visit friends and family, or have friends and family visit them, there are other ways to connect. There’s online video, telephone, writing letters or cards. We don’t need a reason for this stuff, apart from to connect.

Connect with nature. Even if you can’t get out and about, it’s on your doorstep, in your garden, out your window. Listen for the birds, there’s a lot of baby birds out there at the moment either chirping away for food or taking their maiden flights.

Connecting with community can also be tough at the moment as so many clubs, meeting places etc have shut down, but some new possibilities have come into play. The 8pm Thursday clap has turned as much into seeing and connecting with neighbours as it is a clap for our amazing NHS and key workers. Speaking of neighbours, do they need anything when you’re going for your weekly shop? Anything taken to the tip when you drop off the grass? This also ties in with the G in CLANGERS.

Connecting with yourself is probably the most important of all. How are you feeling? Honestly! How are you feeling? It’s ok to be worried, it’s ok to be anxious, scared, unmotivated, sad, depressed. Are you getting snappy, annoyed or angry? These are expected behaviours, but not what we want to be happening. Be honest with yourself, and if you are struggling, speak to a relative, friend, colleague or a therapist/counsellor. It’s what I did a few years ago and it changed my life!

Finally, here’s one of my favourite TED talks. It’s about a 75 year long study of happiness. You may find the result surprising!

Robert Waldinger – What makes a good life?

L – Learning

Learning new things keeps our brains active, slows down the aging process, and encourages good health. You don’t have to sit with a text book and learn about conjugated verbs or algebra. Learning could be taking on a new recipe, learning 3 chords on a guitar, watch a documentary instead of a soap opera, listen to an audio book, do a crossword or take an online course.

The open university offer a huge range of free courses, take a look:

Open University Free Courses catalogue

If like me you don’t class yourself as someone who can draw, grab a piece of paper and a pencil and take a look at this TED talk. You might surprise yourself, and there’s a great message at the end.

TED: Graham Shaw – Why People Think They Can’t Draw

A – be Active

We all know that being active is good for us, but there are a lot of small wins we can make through out the day. If you can, avoid sitting down for too long without moving around. If you’re at work use the furthest photocopier, take the stairs, do 5 squats before each cup of tea. There are numerous ways to increase your activity. Pick a few and incorporate them into your day. Here’s a quick TED-Ed on why you shouldn’t sit for too long.

And a great TED talk here on the benefits of exercise for the brain.

N – Notice.

Notice who and what is around you. Pay attention to them, put down your phone, put aside your troubles and live in the present moment. What is wrong with this very moment? The answer is usually “nothing”. We worry about the future, we ruminate on the past and that is where our minds often reside. So try living in the present, even if it’s for a short period each day.

You may have heard of Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of living in the present moment. For more information on Mindfulness, see my page in the menu above under Therapies

G – Give Back.

Giving is a win win situation. It makes the recipient happy but also it can make the giver happy too, often being referred to as the helpers high. It doesn’t need to be expensive or even cost any money at all to give. We can give our time, buy flowers for a friend, a small gift for a family member, do a favour for a neighbour, bake a cake for colleagues, buy a coffee for a homeless person or give a smile to a stranger.

Think of something you could give, and someone you could give to. Decide when and where and see the benefits for both sides.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
― Winston Churchill

E – Eat well.

Easier said than done eh? so to keep this brief, I’ll suggest instead eating better than you do already (if you need to). Look at what you eat regularly and see if you can replace it with a healthier alternative. Here’s some suggestions:

Milk Chocolate – Dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa
Mid afternoon packet of crisps – A piece of fruit
Baked beans – Reduced salt & sugar baked beans
Can of coke – drink of water
Cheerios – Rice Krispies with strawberries / raspberries / blueberries.

Put more emphasis on fruits with breakfast and snacks and vegetables with meals. Change snacks to include fruits, nuts, seeds. Each healthier substitute is a small win, and small wins add up to big wins.

What can you do to eat better?

R – Rest

This is something a lot of us aren’t very good at. There’s always something that needs doing; fence painting, house cleaning, washing, ironing, cooking, exercising, gardening, going to work. But we’re humans, not robots. Humans are animals, and we are pretty much the only animal that runs around on our own instruction to the point of exhaustion.

I’m not talking sleep here, this is awake rest. (Sleep is next). Sit down, lie down, read, watch tv, listen to music, have a massage, take a bath, have a spa day. You can’t pour from an empty cup so take time to refill the cup.
If resting or the thought of resting triggers anxiety, then you may have relaxation induced anxiety. Don’t worry, this is a common condition and can be overcome with the right intervention. It is important to remember to rest, to recharge the batteries, and you will find that you’ll be more productive after you’ve rested.

S – SLEEP

A lack of sleep is one of the biggest issues we face in Britain today. It affects both physical health and mental health. Heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression are just some of the many conditions that sleep can help with. Also something that is vitally important for all of us especially at the moment as the coronavirus lockdown starts to lift, is that sleep helps boost immunity. If there was a free tablet that had no side effects, boosted immunity and helped ward off many other conditions, would you take it?

So why don’t we sleep enough? It’s down to one of two reasons. Either we don’t prioritise it enough, depriving ourselves of an adequate sleep opportunity (burning the candle at one or both ends) or we try to sleep but can’t.

If you don’t give yourself that opportunity to sleep, you won’t get the rest you need. As adults we should be getting around 8 hours sleep each night, and waking without the need for an alarm. If this isn’t happening, try going to bed earlier.

If you give yourself the time to sleep, but are wide awake as your head hits the pillow, there are many things to try. No screens 30 minutes before bed. Use blue light filters on phone, tablets and computer screens in the evenings. Dim artificial lights in the evenings, reduce or eliminate caffeine intake in the day. Practice mindfulness incorporating progressive muscle relaxation, limit the bed for sleep and sex only. No food, tv, reading, phones or other screens. If ruminating thoughts are your brick wall to sleep then try the above. If you have no luck, then get in touch and we can assess those ruminating thoughts and do a sleep assessment.

Finally a quote from Dr Matthew Walker, sleep researcher and author of the fantastic book – Why We Sleep.

“Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain. Many people walk through their lives in an underslept state, not realizing it.”

Dr Matthew Walker

If you need any more reasons to get your 8 hours a night, watch the man himself in a recent Ted Talk.

Dr Matthew Walker – Sleep is your superpower

Home Schooling Stress

I’ve had several conversations over the past couple of weeks with parents who are struggling with home schooling during lock down. This is not at all surprising considering we are in an extraordinary situation with schools being closed for such an extended period of time. Yesterday I ran a poll to gain a bit more of an idea on how parents are coping.

Results

How are you coping with schools being closed?


Even with a relatively small number of votes, there are some interesting points here. The majority feel they are coping, but getting annoyed and there are also several who are really struggling. Of all of the options the least voted for was the stress free one. So why are we finding it stressful? I’ll be touching on different emotions such as anxiety, depression, anger, guilt and shame, and will talk about them from different angles using techniques from different therapies. Some emotions won’t apply to everyone. All of the emotions will apply to some.

Unprecedented times

Now there’s a phrase that has been used a lot over the last month. As parents, we are used to children being at home. We have the kids at home at weekends and school holidays. At the end of the 6 week holidays, social media is full of memes and jokes about getting the kids back to school, but we still cope because we know exactly when the start and end date is. The dates are predetermined so we can plan and we can count down to day 1 of the September term.

Where we are now in the lock down period of undetermined length is indeed very much unprecedented. We simply don’t know what to do. We are asking ourselves anxiety provoking questions. “What if …. schools don’t go back until …?, what if my child falls behind at school? What if I have no one to look after my child?”

Uncertainty

We have been thrown into uncertainty, put out of our comfort zones. Often anxiety is caused by a lack of control, or rather a perceived need for control. For the person who believes they need control or they need structure, anxiety will be heightened when control and structure is taken away.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

With REBT we look at changing beliefs from irrational to rational. By doing that we can get rid of unhealthy negative emotions once we have determined what the unhealthy belief is. It will include absolutist words like SHOULD, NEED or MUST, e.g.

“You MUST listen to me!”
“I NEED five minutes peace!”
“You SHOULD sit still!”
These are known as rigid demands. When a demand is broken we are left with unhealthy emotions. Ideally we will lose the rigid demands and replace them with flexible preferences. e.g. “I would prefer it if you listened to me, but I accept you don’t have to. There’s so much going on in your brain at the moment, it is understandable you are distracted”
“I would really like 5 minutes peace, but I accept that you have a question, or that you want to be near me”
“I’d prefer it if you sit still but understand you are full of energy and you’re not able to run around like you would at school.”

We are very good at lying to ourselves, holding these rigid demands which are simply not true. So when you find yourself getting angry or stressed over something imagine someone is there asking you why? Listen to your answer, recognise the demand and then ask yourself is it actually true. I can tell you already that it isn’t.

Follow on emotions

Sometimes you might get angry at yourself or someone else, then behave in a way that breaks yet another demand. The initial anger has subsided, but in the heat of the moment you flew off the handle and shouted at the kids sending them to their rooms and making them cry. A demand such as “I MUST always do the best by my children” or “I SHOULD never upset my kids” once broken can lead to unhealthy guilt. Follow on thoughts then occur such as “I am such a bad parent”, “I’m not worthy”.

Comparison

What do we do next? Go on Facebook, Instagram and see all our friends ‘perfect’ lives. Photos of smiling kids being perfectly home schooled with their perfectly placed fresh orange juice on their perfect table. That carefully choreographed split second of someone else’s life becomes our benchmark, but our life doesn’t live up to that 24/7. No ones does, not even the friend who posted it. We’re now left with thoughts such as “I SHOULD be better”, but by the time we even think this, the demand has already been broken. We now have shame. We then start focusing on next week. “How am I going to be able to cope?” That’s right, we’re now anxious. Then we focus on last week. “I was such a bad parent. There’s no point me trying to help. I just want to hide away for everyone’s sake. That should have been fun, but I just made everyone miserable”. That’s right, depression.

It’s easy to think that we can’t talk to our friends about this as they may judge us negatively, and we can’t talk to family about it as we’ll may have let them down. So we carry it alone, feeling like a fraud “I’m not the person they think I am.” “I’m not worthy of their love or friendship.”

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

The ACT (pronounced like the word act not the initials) approach looks at accepting situations for what they are, and taking committed action towards improvement. As a part of ACT therapy we look at what our life values are and how we are living up to those values, and what changes we can make to ensure we are living more in line with them. Think of a value as a direction. We can travel East, but we never arrive at East. So as a parent, if one of your values is to be nurturing towards your children, then travel that route, but accept the possibility of taking a wrong turn and veering off course. That’s OK, just get back on track.

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)

CFT as you might have guessed focuses on compassion. Compassion for ourselves and compassion for others. Perfection doesn’t exist, and therefore falling short of perfect doesn’t have to be punished. It looks deeply into human evolution and the evolution of our brains. In short, our brains are largely designed for primitive functions. What Paul Gibert, the founder of CFT refers to as the four F’s. Fight, flight, food and … reproduction. Our brains aren’t geared up to shopping in supermarkets, sending our kids off to school, being surrounded by modern technology etc. To put this into context, primates evolved around 8 million years ago, human beings developed approximately 2 million years ago. The light bulb was invented in 1885 and smart phones around 20 years ago. Our ‘tricky brains’ haven’t caught up with modern life.

We didn’t chose to be born at this time, we have found ourselves here and we have to deal with what we have. We didn’t choose to be human, or to have the brain we have. So how can it be our fault? Let yourself off the hook. Yes we have choice and responsibility over how we act, but a lot of our reactions are largely automatic. If you don’t like the way you react, that can be a good thing as you recognise you have scope for improvement. If you can’t control it, seek some therapy.

CFT advocates taking time for self-soothing. Read a book you want to read. Take a bath, sit and relax, connect with other people, nature and your own desires. Look after yourself, treat yourself with compassion and respect. But also recognise other people are in the same situation. Others may react in automatic ways. It may be the only way they know how to react. A combination of our ‘tricky brain’ that we are born with, and what we have since picked up from our parents, carers, teachers, peers, media and society.

Have you ever seen that scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams’ psychologist character repeatedly tells Matt Damon’s delinquent character “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault”? That is CFT.

Mindfulness

Both ACT and CFT advocate the practice of mindfulness. No doubt you will have heard of mindfulness, but it’s concept is largely misunderstood. Many people believe that mindfulness is meditation and that meditation is not for them. Many try it and give up because of the misguided belief they can’t do it. “My mind is too busy”, “I can’t focus on nothing, something always comes into my head”. Well that is where the power of mindfulness comes in to its own.

I won’t go too far into mindfulness here, except to reiterate, you cannot do it wrong. When you notice your mind wandering, that is the moment you are doing it right, not wrong. Mindfulness is about living in the present moment, not the past or the future and recognising thoughts as just that. Thoughts. When our minds wander chances are it will be to the past or the future. Yes we’re in lock down, you’re bored, the kids are ever present, but what is actually wrong with this moment? We will only be disturbed by our thoughts. By using mindfulness we focus on what is happening now. Watching the kids draw, write, listening to them read, watching them as we read to them. Sitting with a cup of coffee, feeling the warmth of the mug, the smell of the coffee, the sound of the birds outside, the occasional vehicle passing.

Top tips

Recognise your demands

Recognise your demands and let them go. Frustration or annoyance at your child ignoring your repeated requests to tidy up while not ideal, is ok, but reacting with anger (emotion) and verbal or physical violence (behaviour) is not.

Throw out the timetable

They’re not at school and you are not their teacher. It’s very strange for them too. At school they may have a fixed structure of a time table, dinner times, play times etc. By all means try to keep to a schedule, but if at 10.30 they are resisting maths, it’s not going to be a problem if they do some drawing instead.

Use what is at your disposal

Put the fun into lessons. Depending on the age of your child, consider some alternative lessons. I bet school teachers would love to be outside in the garden all day counting butterflies and ants. But with 30 kids it is not viable. Your garden, or the path on your daily trip out can be an ideal textbook. My 4-year-old went round the garden counting bugs. His 2-year-old sidekick followed. Both were learning. How many legs have those 3 ants got? (3 times table, six times table, biology). For the younger ones, find 5 different colour flowers. (Counting, colour recognition, speech) etc.

Give yourself a break – Part 1

Devote some time to yourself and when you have it, recognise it and be thankful for it. Read a book, watch a film, have a bath, wash the car, or whatever it may be. Accept as well that it could end in an instant, so cherish it while it is happening.

Give yourself a break – Part 2

Don’t be hard on yourself. Yes you’ve done something that you feel bad about but that doesn’t make you a bad person. It merely confirms your status as human. One event doesn’t define who you are.

You are not alone

Know that you are not alone in your thoughts. A third of respondents to the poll chose C or D and all but one of the rest gets annoyed.

Values

Think about your values around your children and act in accordance with them. Ask your self – In 10 years time, what would I wish I had done differently during the coronavirus lock down of 2020? Think of someone you admire and what values they have that you wish you had. Be like that.

Stop Comparing

Stop comparing your life with other people’s. You don’t know enough about the other people, and you’re only comparing their best bits with your worst bits.

No one is perfect

Let go of perfection. By all means strive for an appropriately high standard. If that high standard goes out of the window today, try again tomorrow. It’s not a problem. No one is perfect, so don’t demand that you are.

Sleep

Go to bed earlier. With kids, your wake up times are probably out of your control, but your bed time isn’t. It might feel like you’re cutting down on your ‘me time’ but more rested = more tolerant. There is so much science behind sleep, but in short aim for 8 hours a night, not 5 or 6. Aim for a consistent bed time (if possible) and aim for your sleep to take place in one session. The best parts of sleep come at the end, hours 7 and 8.

Mindfulness

Practice mindfulness and encourage your kids to as well. This can form part of a game, especially for younger kids as well as being a valuable life skill. How many sounds can you hear? How many colours can you see? How many shades of green are there on the trees? This is one aspect of mindfulness known as informal mindfulness. The other, formal mindfulness is what many think of as meditation. Use apps like Headspace, Calm, breeth etc, All have a certain amount of free content, enough to get you started. Headspace is currently offering lot’s of content for free for NHS staff and School staff. The links are on my Facebook page.

Become a learner

Home learning isn’t limited to the kids. Think of a subject that interests you, buy a book and learn more about it. With that will come a sense of achievement especially if replaces mind numbing tv programs or mobile phone games.

Gratitude

Be grateful. We have so much to be grateful for, it’s so easy to forget it and concentrate on the bad stuff. The shops are still open and we can still buy food. Communities have really come together and rallied around. Maybe this will last long after the lock down lifts? Be grateful for the sounds and sights of spring, for those 5 minutes of peace, that morning cup of coffee/tea. Not to mention the NHS staff and other key workers.

Turn off the negativity

Limit the amount of bad news you hear. The media provide us with what they call The News, but actually it could be renamed The Bad News. We don’t need to hear of the morbid milestones around the world, the ages of the youngest victims etc etc etc. Turn off The Bad News. Catch up once a day if you want, but forget the 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock, 9 o’clock 10 o’clock, news after the hourly or half hourly radio bulletins.

Plan for the future

When your kids start playing up, or you feel yourself getting agitated, try this…. Make a list called ‘What I want to do, and where I want to go’. You can write the list on a piece of paper or use individual pieces of paper and get get everyone to write down what they want to do and where they want to go once the lock down has been lifted. We’re lucky in our house in that we’ve not had any big holidays cancelled unlike some, but we have had to cancel a trip to Legoland for my son and daughters birthdays. So our list includes a trip to Legoland. Although upset they can’t go, this reminds the kids it’s still on the cards and gives them something to look forward to. Writing it down serves as a tangible reminder rather than just forgotten words and is something that you can go over and add to. If your kids are missing school friends, add a play date, party or sleep-over to the list.

Hopefully there will be some good tips here to help ease the pressures of being locked down (or locked-up) with the kids. I’ve only just touched on many things here, so remember if you are struggling, please get in touch with me, or a therapist near you.

Kids at home poll

posted in: David Flavin Therapy, Poll | 2
Stressed woman in library

So we’re well into week 3 of lock down and it’s probably starting to feel like the 6 weeks school holidays, except there probably seems like a mountain of school work to juggle with as well.

I know many are struggling with this, and with those struggles comes negative emotions like shame, guilt, anger, anxiety and depression. I’ve spoken to a few parents about their struggles and passed on some tips but would like to seek the views or more parents. So I’ve created this poll to see how others are coping, and then tomorrow I will write a post offering some help managing your emotions during the school closures.

Voting is now closed. Find HOME SCHOOLING STRESS POST HERE

How are you coping with schools being closed?

If you are one of those who answers C or D then don’t worry, you are not alone. This vote is anonymous but research shows people will still vote for a higher option. Please be truthful and rest assured I have no idea who is voting, nor will I be obtaining or storing any personal data. I will simply be using the results to shape tomorrows post.

If you have any comments or questions, please fill out the form below.

Look on the bright side

There’s a lot of negativity around at the moment, and it’s understandable. It’s unfortunately become a cliché, but it’s true to say these are unprecedented times. From the Oxford dictionary;

Unprecedented
adjective
1. Never done or known before.

Think Positive Sign

A lot of anxiety is caused by a fear of the unknown, a demand for control or a demand for certainty about what is going to happen. This is why so many people fear change. So when staffing levels drop, infection rates increase, schools close for an unknown length of time, shops run out of essential items, government advice and strategies seemingly changing by the day, the media providing a 24 hour shove-it-down-your-throat newsreel, we have a perfect recipe for anxiety. If that’s you, you’re not alone. As humans we are designed to worry, to be anxious. It’s in our genes passed down by our anxious ancestors. It’s how they survived. Worrying about the neighbouring tribe, sabre-toothed tiger, next meal etc, kept them on their toes. Always on the lookout!

We need to take a break. Take stock of our own individual situations. Remind ourselves of the facts as opposed to the maybes. So here’s some tips to remain as grounded as possible in the days, weeks, months ahead. They won’t all apply to you, but all will apply to someone.

  1. Turn off the news. There are plenty of internet radio stations without any news. If it comes on to the radio, turn it off or switch over. By all means catch up on the daily news, but it doesn’t need to be every hour on repeat. Our ancestors got anxious about sabre toothed tigers, they didn’t then go back to their caves and watch tv, read books and newspapers and discuss sabre toothed tiger related issues. They got on with their lives. When the media talks of panic buying, we panic, because we’ve been told others are. But do YOU need to panic?  
  2. Recognise you are not alone, other people are in the same boat as you. We’ve not done this before. So be a bit lenient. Don’t demand of them they act in a certain way. This may be colleagues, spouses, partners, children. When our demands are not met we will end up with unhealthy emotions. Try to change thoughts like “You must do this”, “You shouldn’t do that” into, “I’d rather you did this, but accept you don’t have to” and “I’d rather you didn’t do that, but I understand it’s possible you will”.
  3. How are you right now? What is wrong with this very moment? Are your worries about something that might not happen? Something you’ve heard might happen? Are you wasting worry? “Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of it’s troubles, it empties today of it’s strengths”. Try some mindfulness. There are plenty of free apps available for mindfulness. Headspace, Calm, Buddhify, Deep Meditate are just some.
  4. Join a support group. Again there’s many support groups available and you can use them as much or as little as you like. There is plenty of information on Anxiety UK website for free, but you can also join them for more content. For £40.00 a year you also get a years free subscription to Headspace, plus a lot more.
  5. Be grateful. Pick 3 things a day to be grateful for and write them down. This is homework I often set my clients. It might sound tricky in the current situation but consider the following….
    Be grateful for being alive, being healthy. Hearing the birds and nature outside, that it’s just humans affected by coronavirus and that we’re able to take appropriate measures unlike other animals would be. Be grateful if you’re looking after your children who are off school, that you have the time to listen to them read. Properly read, not just a quick 5 minutes in the morning rush. Be grateful for the TV, the radio, for music, for films, for documentaries, for books, the opportunity for learning new things, for the scientists and medical professionals doing their best to look after us, the doctors, nurses, health care assistants, porters, receptionists, consultants, cardiologists, researchers, radiologists, cleaners, kitchen staff, paramedics, control room operators, 111 operators and the volunteers who give up their time.
    Be grateful for the police who face a very uncertain time ahead. Remember they are humans too. Reduced numbers, increased workload, rushing to emergencies unsure if they’re about to catch the virus. Be grateful for their sacrifices on a daily basis, not just in these times but every day. Be grateful for the fire and rescue teams who will still be on hand in our times of need, the military, teachers, school staff, the refuse collectors, farmers, shop staff, builders, delivery drivers, TV presenters, camera operators, etc ..etc.. etc. Think of people you know and be grateful they do what they do. Be grateful that we are facing a world pandemic caused my a microscopic virus and not a world war. Be grateful that you’ve been instructed to self-isolate and not report for national service.
    So write a list of 3 things you’re grateful for daily, keep your list and refer back to it as a reminder.
  6. If you have extra time on your hands, use it wisely. Learn. Learn some foreign phrases. There are free apps and websites to help you. Read. Listen to podcasts, audio books, watch documentaries. Learn about something you are interested in. There are hundreds of free resources. Another fantastic free learning resource is from the Open University. Free courses in many subjects like Law, Environment, History, Arts, Psychology, Health, Business. World pandemic or not, I would recommend this!
  7. Don’t compare. You may have heard the phrase “Comparison is the thief of joy”. This is why so much of social media and TV can have a negative effect on our mental health. These ‘influencers’ we can watch on TV, follow on Instagram, read about on the internet and in magazines who in our minds, we are just not as good as. I’m guilty of comparing myself to others at times, and it’s unhealthy. “It’s not fair because so and so has such and such”, or “She doesn’t have to do that so why do I?” Thoughts like these conjure up negativity, thieve joy, and require an element of fortune telling to imagine the other person’s happy ending and our miserable future.
  8. Think about some future positive possibilities. We face an uncertain time, but uncertainty doesn’t have to mean doom and gloom. There are scientists working around the world and around the clock for a cure and vaccine. Communities are coming together. This could be the start of a rejuvenation of community life for many. It certainly feels like that where I live at the moment. We may take less for granted in the future and enjoy this world of ours more and appreciate the people around us.
  9. Stay Connected. Isolation doesn’t have to mean isolated. Another word that induces anxiety as it implies we’re not going to see anyone or have human contact again. But there’s Facebook, Skype, telephones, friends, neighbours, families. Make contact with a long lost friend, cheer them up as well as yourself.
  10. Laugh. Guaranteed there is something to make you laugh. There’s plenty of comedy re-runs on TV. Turn off the 24 hour news and stick on your favourite show, whether it’s Friends, The Office, Only Fools and Horses. There’s plenty of comedy films too so watch these instead of the latest drama or thriller.

These are some ideas on putting a positive spin on these uncertain times. Turn down the negative, turn up the positive and, look on the bright side.

Goals

posted in: ACT, CBT | 0

Following on from my last post, here’s a look at how to set goals. Goals are useful for everybody, and they needn’t be big goals such as publish a book, buy a bigger house, lose 5 stone or become a millionaire. Sure, these might be goals, but are they enough to keep us going? No, probably not, because the reward comes a long time down the line if at all, and can lead to feelings of failure or despondence as time goes on.

Take Brenda, a thirty-something woman who wants to lose weight. Brenda’s weight has fluctuated over the last 10 years or so, and she tends to yo-yo diet. Her weight has now risen to the point it is affecting her life, she is unhappy, has low self-confidence and anxiety. She wants to lose 5 stone to get back to where she was just after college when she was happy with her weight.

She started off well (again) on her weight loss journey, but after a few weeks her weight loss plateaued. (This happens with weight loss for several reasons.) One week she lost 1 pound which crushed her confidence as she felt so far removed from her 5 stone goal. She got disheartened, felt very low and reverted back to previous habit of eating to make herself feel better. Lo and behold she put on weight the following week and her goal seemed impossible. She gave up, and the weight piled back on.

What Brenda didn’t take into account was the amazing results she had already accomplished. She had put in a great effort and it had paid off. But because her goal was to lose 5 stone and not 1, she only saw herself as a failure. In her mind she went from being unhappy, to being a failure which contributed to more unhappiness.

Where Brenda had gone wrong was that her initial goal, while a good goal, could have been broken down into smaller steps. No one is going to lose 5 stone in a short space of time. Realistically 2 pounds a week is good, so what we could do with Brenda is a give an initial goal of 7 pounds and a realistic time frame to do it in. Then we work on the next 7 pounds. And then another. That way after her 1 stone loss, she would have accomplished two goals, two successes/triumphs on her way to her main goal. Unhappy to Success to feeling slightly happier (more motivation) to more success.

To help set a good goal, we use the acronym SMART. A SMART goal is:

S – Specific. Be specific about what you want to achieve. I want to lose weight isn’t specific. I want to lose 7 pounds is.
M – Measurable. Having a way of measuring your success is motivational. If after 6 pounds Brenda thought she hadn’t lost any weight because she threw out the scales, she may not be motivated to carry on, but knowing you’ve lost 6 pounds and only having 1 pound to go can help with the next push.
A – Achievable. In order to lose weight, Brenda tried to eat healthier, the trouble was she was still making poor food choices so was consuming too many calories AND was still hungry. What’s more, she was missing some vital nutrients in her diet which contributed to her feeling tired. Brenda had made a good choice in exercising more, making sure she got out for a daily walk, but for her goal to be achievable, she needed better education around her diet and food choices. She doesn’t need to gain a degree in nutrition before she starts, but knowing you can learn more, and how you can learn more, will help make the goal achievable.
R – Relevant. Is this goal relevant to me? Brenda’s goal to lose 7 pounds is relevant to her goal to lose 5 stone, which is also relevant to her feeling better, more confident, happy and healthy. An initial goal to gain a degree in nutrition before changing your diet might be related, but it would not be relevant.
T – Time-Bound. When am I looking to achieve my goal by? If Brenda gives herself two years to lose those first 7 pounds, she won’t be very motivated to make a start. Likewise if she gives herself two weeks, she will be despondent when she doesn’t achieve her goal. So setting a realistic time frame will help motivate her.

How do you go about setting a goal? Do you use an app? A template? scrap of paper? Diary? It really doesn’t matter, but it goes without saying, don’t download an app if your goal is to spend less time on your phone. There are online templates you can download and print, but you might find it easier to write it out in a notepad, diary or journal you can refer back to easily and that won’t get thrown out with the recycling.

Brenda of course is not alone in her struggles. If we want to lose 7 pounds, why isn’t it easy just to lose 7 pounds? Because everything we experience is filtered through our cognitive processor (Brain) and our brain is hardwired for negativity (for good reason – survival). No matter what the goal, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can help with the setting of and achievement of goals. We often lie to ourselves about being a failure, or telling ourselves that something is impossible, you can’t do it or, it will be too hard. Common thinking errors such as discounting positives, comparing, black and white thinking, labelling, mental filtering and emotional reasoning can all be motivation destroyers. Understanding our thoughts around what we want for the future and weighing up short-term costs against long-term gains can also help if you’re struggling for motivation and willpower, helping to make our goals more achievable. Other integrated therapies like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can also help you identify what is important to you to help set a relevant goal as well as accepting the tough times for what they are.

So why not set a goal or goals today. Whether it’s to write a list of characters for your first book, set up a savings account, tighten the purse strings, read a chapter, learn a foreign phrase, lose a stone or gain a skill. Be SMART!

New Years Resolutions

How are those new years resolution going? Not so good? Given up or finding it hard? Don’t panic ……

We usually make new years resolutions in December with every intention of implementing a change come January 1st. However between 80% and 90% of new years resolutions fail. Why? Because we approach them with the wrong mindset. In December we feel as though in the new year we can press a magic button at the stroke of midnight on new years eve making that resolution all of a sudden easy.

Excuses excuses ….

Do these sound familiar?

“I’ll do it in the new year, there’s too much going on at the moment what with Christmas and the New Year.”

“It will be easier in January, it will be a new start.”

“I’m really going to put my mind to it in January and make sure I do it every day.”

The problem with these statements is that if you’re busy in December, you’ll be busy in January. You’re a busy person. There’s lots to do. EVERY month

January isn’t a new start. January is a middle. December … January … February … . January doesn’t have any magical powers to make tough things easy.

If you’re going to put your mind to something. Then do it. What’s stopping you doing in today, in June, in November or December. There’s no need to wait until 1st January. You can start on 7th January if you want just as much as you can on 1st January! If by January 7th you haven’t stuck to your new years resolution, SO WHAT! Start again on the 8th. New years resolutions don’t come with a contract where you sign up to committing yourself either 100% or 0%.

Another reason new years resolutions fail is a lack of planning.

December: “I’m going to eat really healthy in January”
January: “But there’s still loads of crisps and mince pies left and I haven’t bought any vegetables yet. And now I’m starving”

So here are my tips for implementing a change (what you used to call a new year’s resolution)

1. Small Steps. Let’s say you’ve never run in your life but you want to run a marathon. Don’t plan to run a marathon next week. It’s not going to happen. However, if you want to run a marathon, then no problem, that’s a valid LONG-TERM goal. Think of a flight of stairs. In order to reach the top, you need to pass step 1 first, and then step 2 ….. So break it down into small steps. Before I can run 26.2 miles, I need to be able to run 1 mile, then 2 miles. Set a goal for running 1 mile first, or even walking 1 mile first. (More on goal setting on Friday….)

2. Set an Implementation Intention. It’s no good saying you’ll start flossing your teeth every day, and then climbing into bed every night and realising you keep forgetting. If you have the intention of flossing every day, put the floss somewhere you’ll see it every day. A good idea here would be to rest it against the toothpaste tube or keep it in front of your toothbrush.

If you’re getting into running, before you leave for work in the morning, put your running kit on the bed instead of your pyjamas, and change straight into it when you get home.

Want to read more books? Leave a book on your pillow or on top of the remote control in the lounge, or set a reminder on your phone for when Eastenders finishes.

3. Make it a habit. You’ve heard the saying ‘we are creatures of habit’ but what does that mean? A habit is a pattern of behaviour established by continual repetition. So repeat your new resolution and it will soon become easier to do, or at least, easier to remember do.

4. Reward yourself for achieving the small steps. Want to run a marathon? Once you have walked a mile, that is a great achievement if before, you couldn’t walk a mile. Give yourself a pat on the back for reaching step 1. Maybe even buy yourself those running shoes you’ve got your eye on. Now aim for 2 miles.

5. Be prepared for difficulties. A difficulty, a hic-up, an upset, isn’t a failure. 2 steps forward and one step back, is one step forward. Start running and feel ill? Can’t get yourself out the door? No problem. Look after yourself, get better, and then resume. Just because you take a week off doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Maybe use that time to research running routes, or running shoes, or local running clubs. Dental floss run out? (Doubtful, those things go on for years!) no problem. Buy another when you can and resume. Spend more time brushing until you have another 27 years supply. Lost 5 pounds and put 2 back on? Well done you’ve lost 3 pounds. Now resume.

6. Seek advice and support. Running clubs, magazines, running shops, online forums, dentists (for flossing advice, not running).

For many, a feeling of being a failure, the need to do something perfect, being obsessive, getting angry, wound up, anxious, depressed is a real consequence of not carrying out our resolutions or goals, or even in the pursuit of our goals. If life becomes a struggle or you just want to feel better about yourself, seek advice from a doctor and/or a therapist.

Setting goals is a key part of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy as we can help people achieve and feel like there is more purpose to life.

So what is your January 7th resolution? …..