How to stress-proof your Christmas

baby_3143423bThe run-up to Christmas can be difficult– demands on your time and money coming from left, right and centre, tricky family relationships to navigate and expectations running high.

However, it is possible to reduce the pressure on you, before it boils over, by following these simple tips:

Attend to your relationships.

How can you minimise the impact of Christmas on your key relationships? Communicate – keep talking and be honest.

  • If there are simmering disagreements bubbling away under the surface, sort these out now.
  • Talk to your partner about what’s really bothering you – there’s no point taking the huff if it isn’t clear why!
  • Arrange to meet fractious family members and work things through now before you have to face each other over the turkey.
  • If you dread having certain members of the family round, then suggest you get together at a different time. Replace what you think you should/must do with what you would like to do.

Divide up the chores

  • Don’t be a martyr, (or a control freak), and take everything on yourself. Divide up tasks and things to do between the family. It’s amazing how much children can do, despite what they may lead you to believe!

Think about what you really need to do to enjoy Christmas

  • Do you need to buy a whole new set of crockery? Yes – really? Are you sure your usual set won’t do the job? Will your Christmas dinner be ruined if you don’t hoover under the sofa?
  • Think about what you would like Christmas to be like, and it doesn’t have to be perfect – perfect is impossible!

Don’t be tempted to blow the budget

  • Christmas is a time of financial overload which is a leading cause of stress. If the spending looks set to get out of control – stop, take stock and see where you can make changes. Most adults are happy to forego a present, and it’s ok to say “no” sometimes……

Learn to say no

  • There are lots of competing demands, requests for help and invitations over Christmas. Don’t push yourself to burn-out. It’s a holiday remember.
  • If you think one more thing will push you over the limit reply ‘thank you I’d love to, but I can’t’.

Don’t drink to excess

  • Alcohol can make everything seem worse and make you feel much worse – and eventually things will be worse. So alternate between alcoholic and soft drinks.

Build in some chill time

By the time you’ve delegated, organised things you want to do and planned the day how you would really like it to be, you will have time to put your feet up, relax and enjoy your Christmas.

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The benefits of positive emotions & how to boost your own feel-good factor.

water lillyA Professor of Social Psychology, Barbara Fredrickson studies positive emotions like love, happiness, inspiration and tranquillity. Nice job!

Professor Fredrickson has found through various research studies that feeling positive not only makes us feel good, but it helps us to build resilience and strength. This means that we can bounce back quicker from adversity when we have experienced stressful and hard times.

She also found that positive emotions help us open up to relationships, new opportunities and new possibilities.

Even in times of high anxiety, stress or depression, letting ourselves experience a positive emotion can will have some benefit.

So what are her tips for boosting the positive emotions of happiness, love, tranquillity…..?

  • Instead of a to-do list of tasks, arrange your day to include feeling positive about something.
  • Remember to be grateful for what you have.
  • Spend your money on experiences, not things.
  • Volunteer
  • Nurture your relationships
  • Spend time in nature
  • Encounter new people and places

 

 

 

 

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Teenagers, social media, mental health & sleep – the latest research findings

There have been a number of news stories this week reporting studies into teenagers, access to social media and the effect on their mental health and sleep.

So what does it all mean for you as a parent, and for your teenage son or daughter?

There were 2 studies reported.

  1. Survey on sleep & social medialooked at the bedtime and sleep patterns of 400 12 – 13 year olds and 400 14 – 15 year olds.
  2. Another Glasgow uni study on teens & social mediaasked 460 teens aged 11 -17 about their social media habits, especially at night.

Here are the headline findings:

Study 1

  • More than 20% of teens say they “almost always” wake up during the night to check or to post messages.
  • More than half of those who do wake up in the night said that they “almost always” go to school in the morning feeling tired. This was a higher percentage than for those who don’t wake up to check their phones.
  • The Welsh study concludes that waking up to use social media in the night has a greater effect on how tired the teen is than how long they have spent in bed.

Study 2

  1. Overall use of social media affects the quality of sleep for all teenagers, especially for those who log on at night.
  2. Many teens feel under pressure to respond immediately to posts and messages.
  3. Use of social media was related to lower levels of self-esteem, and higher levels of anxiety and depression in the teens surveyed.

So what’s the advice?

  • The author of the Glasgow study recommends introducing a “digital sunset”. just as the sun goes down before bedtime, so should the use of mobiles/tablets and social media. Allow an hour free before going to bed.
  • Mobiles and the social media they carry, stop teens from sleeping. Keep mobile phones out of bedrooms at night.
  • Be aware of your son or daughter’s use of social media. You don’t need to friend or follow them, but if you pay the bill, ask to see what they are looking at and posting every now and then.
  • And lead by example – turn your phone off at night too, have some down time from it and leave those texts, posts, messages and tweets till the morning!
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Can’t sleep? New research suggests you could try getting less, to get more!

alarm clockA recent article outlined new research suggesting that trying to get less sleep will actually help you get more.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but Sleep Restriction Therapy (SRT) aims to help you break the connection you can build up between being in bed, lying awake and failing to get to sleep. The harder you try, the less successful you are.

The basics of SRT are:

1. Choose a time to get up in the morning and stick to it. For example, 7am.

2. Over the next week, work out how much sleep you actually get each night on average. Keeping a sleep diary can help (see here for an example). You may find that although you spend 8 hours in bed each night, you actually get 5 hours sleep.

3. Then, the aim is to stay out of your bedroom until 5 hours before you are due to get up (in the example this would mean going to bed at 2am). Then go to bed and sleep for 5 hours.

4. Keep doing this for a week. You are likely to feel pretty tired but you will find the quality of your 5 hours sleep improves and sleeping becomes easier. Then you can gradually bring your going to bed time forward and start to increase the amount of sleep you’re getting.

5. This is because you are breaking the association between bed and battling to get to sleep. Instead, you are building a new association for body and mind that bed = sleep.

NB: speak to your GP before trying SRT if you are taking any medication.

Good luck. If SRT seems too challenging for you, try these sleep tips at http://westendcounselling.co.uk/cbt/sleep-tips/

 

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Can’t get a good night’s sleep & counting sheep really isn’t helping? Try these exercises to relax your mind & body.

  • sheepDo you lie in bed worrying about tomorrow’s meeting with the boss at work?
  • whether you annoyed your friend by not returning their text?
  • who’s going to look after the kids whilst you’re at the doctors?
  • is that a rash or just an itch?
  • did you turn the oven off?
  • ‘why can’t I get to sleep – I’ll be so tired, how will I ever cope tomorrow’?

Try these simple exercises. Practice will help sleep come more easily.

Take 10 minutes in the evening to put your day to rest and feel more in control.

  • Go through your day and think about what has happened, what went well and what didn’t go so well and how you feel about things.
  • Then write it all down – putting your thoughts on paper can help put them to rest.
  • Write down a to-do list of unfinished business from the day.
  • Think about tomorrow – what’s coming up? Things you are looking forward to and things you are worried about.
  • Write down your schedule for tomorrow in your diary or check that it’s already there.
  • Write down the things you aren’t sure about – make a note in your diary for the morning when you’re going to find out more about it.
  • Close the book on the day. At bedtime, if these things come into your mind, remind yourself you have already dealt with them or have a plan for tomorrow.

Distract your mind and your thoughts
If you start worrying again, or start planning that meeting tomorrow, you need to block those thoughts. Try these simple exercises:

ABC of everything

  • Start with A and go all the way through to Z on a chosen subject. You need to come up with a word for each letter of the alphabet. For example, animals, countries, towns, boys names, girls names, chocolate bars, football teams.
  • The idea is that you are giving your brain something neutral to do but your brain is engaged enough to distract you from your worries. If you reach Z, start a new category.

7:11 breathing

  • Deep breathing stimulates the body’s natural relaxation mechanism. Counting whilst you are breathing also focuses your mind on your breath, and distracts you from worrying or over-analysing.
  • The trick is to make each ‘out’ breath longer than your ‘in’ breath.
  • A simple way is to count to 7 when you breathe in, and to 11 when breathing out.
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The latest evidence on video gaming & children

video-gameVideo games are commonly believed to make children who play them more aggressive, irritable and unable to concentrate.

However, a recent review of the evidence by Paul Howard-Jones at Bristol University found this not to be the case.

The key messages from the research shows:

  • Since the mid-1990s, children have become less violent – fewer children are convicted of assaults every year, even though video games have become more violent.
  • Video gaming can bring older children some advantages including stress relief, social benefits (having something in common with their peers, giving them a common language for conversation) and some cognitive benefits (developing visual skills)
  • However, this is for low amounts of gaming a day. All the research studies were based on subjects who were gaming for less than 2 hours a day
  • For those that are gaming for more than 3 hours a day, there is a small increase in the likelihood of getting in to fights and being hyperactive. Although the research stresses that factors such as poverty, drug use and parental abuse were much more influential.
  • Screen time can disrupt sleep and learning, so it’s advisable to set times and limits for your child.

So the message is – video gaming is OK for kids, but like anything, keep it in moderation. If your child is gaming to the exclusion of everything else, then that can become problematic.

But if gaming is part of a wider range of interests and activities, and screen time is limited to 2 hours for entertainment and isn’t right before bedtime, there doesn’t appear to be a problem.

(research taken from All in the Mind, BBC Radio 4, broadcast 22nd April 2015)

 

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Surviving revision & exams – 3 easy steps to help you stay calm

calmExams, and the period of revision beforehand can be stressful. However, there are some things you can do to ease the pressure and help you cope better with the stress.

Part One – TIME MANAGEMENT

  • Draw up a revision timetable. Make sure it’s realistic for you and then stick to it. Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing – even if your friend has read Sunset Song 14 times, don’t panic and do what works for you.
  • When do you work best? Are you an early bird or a night owl? Plan your timetable to take this into account.
  • Do you need to sit at a tidy and ordered desk or do you prefer to sprawl out on the duvet surrounded by your notes? Wherever is comfortable for you is the best place to be.
  • No one can concentrate for 6 hours straight, so plan smaller chunks of revision and include lots of breaks. See the Pomodoro technique for some great tips on time management.
  • Vary your timetable so that you don’t get bored. No one can survive 4 hours of flat out biology! Mix up the subjects so that your brain doesn’t switch off.

Part Two –LOOK AFTER YOURSELF & RELAX

It’s important to build some relaxation and down time into your revision timetable.

  • Reward yourself – Build regular breaks and rewards into your revision timetable. Maybe take the afternoon off to go to the cinema with friends. Allow yourself an hour of telly/Xbox/PS4 in the middle of maths revision. How about going for a walk before tackling history? Plan something to celebrate the end of exams with friends or family.
  • Talk – Virtually everyone finds exams stressful – there won’t be many of your friends who breeze in and out of the exam hall with no worries at all. So you aren’t alone. Share your worries with friends, family, teachers etc and get some support.
  • Look after yourself – eat well, eat healthily with plenty of carbs to fuel your brain. Avoid tonnes of chocolate and litres of caffeine-heavy energy drinks – this will only make you more jittery and nervous.
  • Exercise – Get outside and do something to clear your head, move your body and release any physical tension that has built up whilst you’ve been hunched over your books.
  • RelaxIf you are feeling stressed, find a calm and quiet place to sit and practice deep breathing or even try a visualisation.

 Part 3 – SLEEP

  • Try and get plenty of sleep and avoid staying up to the small hours revising. After a certain time at night, your brain just won’t be able to absorb any more information.
  • If you have difficulty sleeping, there are lots of good tips on getting a good night’s sleep here.
  • If you really can’t sleep the night before an exam, don’t worry. Adrenaline will get you through the day much better than you think.

If you are finding things difficult to cope with, Westend Counselling can provide lots of tips and support in the run-up to and during exams. Contact us here.

 

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I’m worried I am anxious – how to recognise & reduce anxiety

worry-in-sandA client asked me the other day what is the difference between worry and anxiety? How do you know that you are anxious and not just a little worried? Here’s a quick guide to help.

Worry

Worry is a natural response to a problem, a difficulty or a challenging situation. The worry can help us get through the situation or find a solution to the problem.

  • People who worry tend to do so for less than 1 hour a day.
  • Your worrying doesn’t interfere with your work or social life.
  • Your concerns are controllable and can be dealt with fairly easily and in the short-term.
  • Worry is usually about specific topics. Eg. A job interview coming up, how to pay that big credit card bill, wondering how you can help your child with school work.
  • Worrying can cause you mild distress, but you can identify a specific cause of your worry and why and when you started to worry.
  • Worry usually goes once the situation has passed or the problem has been sorted out.

Anxiety

Anxiety is when worry lasts for a long time and the feelings associated with it, such as fear and unease, feel too strong and uncomfortable.

  • Anxiety develops when you worry about things for several hours, every day, and have been excessively worrying like this for months.
  • Your worrying feels like it’s out of control and is getting in the way of relationships, work and your social life.
  • Your worrying is all consuming – it’s there all the time and can be very distressing.
  • You worry about a broad range of subjects and a lot of it involves ‘what if….’ thinking.
  • Your worrying is accompanied by other symptoms – you are finding it hard to get to sleep or stay asleep, you feel tense and are irritable with those around you, you feel on edge and restless, you have difficulty concentrating and have a feeling of being on constant alert.

Tips to manage your anxiety

Anxiety is very common and can be successfully treated. Try these self-help steps first.

worry1. Understand your worry

  • Anxiety is caused by your thoughts and the internal dialogue running inside your head.
  • This thinking usually involved ‘what if…’ thinking about the future, and trying to find a solution to a problem that hasn’t happened yet.
  • Worrying like this is unproductive and saps your emotional and mental energy, without the prize of any solid problem solving.
  • Worrying isn’t helping and once you recognise this, you are on the first step to reducing your anxiety.

2. Relaxation techniques

  • Practice deep breathing  – see here for a breathing exercise which helps your mind and body relax.
  • Try meditation – here’s a guide to a quick and easy meditation.

3. Connect with others

  • Talk about your anxiety and worries with those close to you – family and friends.
  • Reach out and ask for help and support.

4. Change your lifestyle

Some simple changes can really help your anxiety reduce.

  • Limit caffeine and sugar intake – both are stimulants. Sugar causes blood sugar to spike then crash which can magnify physical feelings of anxiety such as shaking and nervousness, and caffeine can interfere with your sleep.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid alcohol – it’s a depressant and relying on it to reduce anxiety may lead to drinking too much or dependency.
  • Get enough sleep. See here for some sleep tips, including how to settle a racing mind.

If the anxiety doesn’t subside despite taking some self-help measures, then professional help may be needed.

Your GP may be able to make a diagnosis and refer you to a counsellor, or you could seek help from a private counsellor.

Westend Counselling works with clients successfully using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to treat anxiety. We work together to identify what’s causing the anxiety, look at the ‘what if..’ thinking, and devise strategies to move forward and cope with anxiety-provoking issues in the future.

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Don’t see red – how to understand & manage anger.

anger managementWhat is anger?

  • Anger is a normal emotion just like any other such as happy, sad, anxious, excited.
  • However, anger can get us into more trouble than the others because if it boils over and we lose control, it often leads to aggressive or violent behaviour. For instance, hurling abuse at someone, punching someone, shouting expletives in someone’s face, or yelling a series of punishments and threats at your child.
  • To understand anger either in yourself or someone close to you, it is helpful to recognise what lies behind it. And someone is angry because they are either hurt or frightened.
  • For example, we can feel angry because someone has crossed a line in terms of our own rules or acceptable standards of behaviour; we aren’t being listened to and our needs aren’t being met; or we may feel out of control and decisions are being made which we aren’t happy about.
  • Anger can then build up inside  – it’s like a volcano, and the pressure becomes too much, we lose control and blow our top.

So it isn’t the anger which is the problem, it is the behaviour which follows the anger.

And this is where anger management techniques are really helpful.

Anger management

  • Learn to recognise your anger – what does it look like, what does it feel like?

Many people get a red face, form their hands into fists, start to shake or raise their voice.

What are your warning signs? Take note of your warning signs and learn what you need to do.

  • Take a time-out

Leave the situation. If another person is there, explain what you are doing and why. Only return to the situation when you feel calmer and your anger has subsided to a manageable level where you can stay in control.

  • Deep breathing

Take a minute to breath. Count to 4 when breathing in, hold your breath for the count of 4, then exhale for 4.

  • Express your anger

Once you are calmer, talk to someone. Tell them how you feel, why you are angry and what you need.

  • Exercise

Exercise is great for relaxing and releasing any pent-up energy. The endorphins produced will help you feel better.

  • Think of the consequences

What will happen if you blow your top? Will you be any happier if you take anger-fuelled action?  Generally, the one whose top has blown usually bears the negative consequences in the long run.

  • Seek professional help

Cognitive behavioural therapy works really well in treating anger because it helps a client get to know their anger (feelings), why they are angry (thoughts) and what helps them to manage their anger (behaviour).

Westend counselling works with many clients who are finding it difficult to control their anger including teenagers, young people and adults. See here for case studies of successful therapy outcomes.

 

 

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Self-harm & teenagers – it’s time to talk openly. You aren’t alone.

Self-harm is still a taboo in society and self-harmers and those close to them often keep silent out of shame and embarrassment. A recent study found that 1 in 5 teenagers say that they self-harm. You aren’t alone and it’s important to speak out and get support.

What is self-harm?

  • Self-harm is when someone hurts themselves on purpose.
  • Most commonly, this involves physically hurting the body by cutting and scratching.
  • There are other less obvious ways of self-harming, such as putting yourself in a dangerous situation or not looking after yourself, perhaps by over or under eating, exercising excessively, abusing alcohol/drugs, hitting walls, or getting into fights.

So why does someone self-harm?

  • There are many and varied reasons why someone chooses to harm themselves. It is often because it provides a physical demonstration of the emotional distress or pain that the individual is feeling, such as fear, anger, anxiety, sadness.
  • It can be a cry for help to show how much they are hurting inside, or the harming can relieve tension that has built up.
  • Others may harm themselves as a punishment for something they think they have done wrong, or for something bad that has happened to them.

Who self-harms?

  • People who self-harm, particularly teenagers, tend to do it in secret, and don’t tell anyone. This makes it difficult to say how many young people hurt themselves on purpose.
  • It is estimated that around 20% of teens harm, and come from a range of backgrounds, family situations and schools.
  • Girls are more likely to harm than boys, although boys may express their distress in other ways often through violence and aggression.

How can self-harming behaviour be helped?

  • In my work with teenagers who self-harm, we spend time understanding the behaviour, and looking at what lies behind it.
  • What triggers the self-harm? What thoughts and feelings are attached to it?
  • We’ll work on devising techniques to distract from the urge to harm, and on strategies to cope with the emotional distress.
  • We then work on the underlying problem – for example, it could be bullying at school or online, family breakdown, childhood abuse or low self-esteem.

I am in my teens and self-harm, what can I do?

  • Don’t feel alone. You are not the only harmer. There is lots of support out there.
  • Talk to someone you trust – your parents, a trusted teacher or your pastoral care teacher, school nurse, a friend.
  • Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about your behaviour – it is an expression of your emotional distress, and a way of coping with the way you feel.
  • See the links below for sources of more information and support.

My teenage daughter/son is self-harming, what can I do?

  • If your teenage child is self-harming, don’t panic and don’t feel alone – it is more common than you think. Try to be sympathetic and not critical or angry even though you may feel bewildered and blame yourself.
  • It is important that you speak sensitively to your child and ask them about what is happening for them. They may be struggling with a family crisis, being bullied online or at school, or finding the pressures of being a teen too much.
  • Encourage them and help them to get support and help from a professionally qualified person. Your GP may refer you to CAMHS, or you could find a private counsellor.
  • Asking your child to stop the harming behaviour often won’t help and can increase the behaviour and/or force the child into greater levels of secrecy.
  • There is lots of support out there for you as a parent too. See the links below.

For more information and support for teens and parents:

  • Youngminds – a charity dedicated to improving the mental health of teenagers and young people. Website for teens and parents.
  • Childline – a private and confidential counselling service for young people up to the age of 19. Available 24/7
  • Parentline – a confidential helpline providing information and advice for anyone caring for or concerned about a child.
  • Selfharm.org.uk – dedicated to supporting young people impacted my self-harm
  • The Counselling Directory  – to find a local counsellor/psychotherapist
  • westend counselling  – providing confidential face-to-face counselling for teenagers & parents.
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