Anxiety Is Programming To Survive

Human brains are wired for survival. Human bodies likewise are designed to respond to the brain’s search for survival. Survival is essential. If you don’t survive, anything else you could potentially experience won’t be experienced.

There is so much discussion these days about being happy. This is often portrayed as the natural state. But the natural state is actually survival.

The Calm State

There is one part of your body’s defence system where happiness is king. That is your ventral vagal state. When the ventral polyvagal nerve is activated you feel calm, contended, happy and very safe. This activation occurs when your brain is not anxiously seeking cues of danger.

The Search For Safety

Because humans are wired for survival and the world is far from perfect, then human brains devote a lot of time to checking for safety.

The more you feel unsafe, the more anxious you will be as you constantly search for safety. This leads to a lot of anxiety, which is not a happy place.

Places Where You Feel Calm

Meditation or having fun are two places where you can feel calm and alive and at your happiest. But those are two states where you cannot be anxious. To be in those states your brain needs to feel safe.

The Search For Problems

As part of maintaining safety, your brain searches for problems. Worry is automatic. It is that constant scanning of your environment for danger.

Research has shown that humans don’t have to learn to worry. Your brains will store all stressful events in life as general sensory information. This information is then used by your brain to pattern match information your brain senses.

The Near Enough Pattern Match

But the pattern is always near enough, not perfect, because a dangerous situation is unlikely to repeat exactly the same. If you waited for the pattern to be identical you might be exposed to life threatening danger that you didn’t recognise. So similar pattern matching is what your brain does.

The problem with similar pattern matching is that you can be triggered to believe you are in danger when you are not.

An Example of Near Enough Pattern Matching

A classic example is distant ancestor hunter gatherer Zog. He is walking through the grassland and hears a rustling in the grass. Suddenly a large predatory cat leaps out of the grass at him. He reacts with his knife and manages to fight the cat off. Wounded it slinks off. Zog has successfully fought off his predator.

Zog’s brain has stored the sensory information around that incident. His brain now recognises the danger of hearing a rustling in the grass.

A week later Zog and his friends are walking through grassland. He hears a rustling in the grass and grabs his knife and lashes out automatically. This time however, it is a friend playing a joke on him that he gets with the knife. His brain pattern matched the rustling in the grass to the danger of a predatory cat. And his brain acted automatically to protect him from the danger it had matched to a predatory cat.

This is how your brain pattern matches for safety, but imperfectly.

Modern Problems Are Not What The Brain’s Safety Circuit Was Designed For

Part of your brain checking for safety involves looking for problems. In the world Zog lived in, it was predatory animals, enemy groups, loose rocks, steep falls and so on. In the world you live in it is someone who is angry, missing the bus, the boss complaining about your work, the friends who are saying nasty things about you when you are not there. The list goes on. The physical risks of Zog’s world have been replaced by largely psychological risks.

Whereas Zog may have gone about his day alert for risks that were genuine, you spend your day checking for a lot of risks that are not physical but instead are psychological. These risks are a lot harder to spot and a lot more subtle. This means your brain is busy interpreting the behaviour of others.

Why Are Some People More Anxious?

Some people are more anxious than others. This is because they have been exposed to more stress than others. The stress that causes more damage is that which occurs in childhood while the brain is developing.

If you grew up in a war zone, you would have been exposed to more stress than someone growing up in a peaceful environment.

If you grew up in a family where the dynamic was unhealthy, such as the presence of Domestic Abuse, addictions, mental illness or difficulty coping with life, then you will have been exposed to more stress than someone growing up in a healthy family dynamic.

Regulation Is Important To Manage Anxiety

In the above mentioned family, you will also have had less opportunity to learn good coping skills such as regulation.

If other people in your childhood were anxious and impacted by the stress of the environment you will also have learned to respond to stress with anxiety.

Even if you grew up in a healthy family you can be exposed to stressful situations that impact your level of anxiety.

Those stressful situations could have been something outside your family’s control. They may even have been perceived by others to be so minor there is no memory of them happening. But your brain may remember them.

The Work Of The Anxious Brain And Healing

When you are anxious your brain seeks, and pattern matches things it observes and labels them as problematic. Even when they may not be.

It also takes work to repair and heal the causes of your anxiety.

It takes practice to learn to calm yourself.

The Future

You will always most likely be anxious, but you can work to reduce your reactivity and learn methods to calm yourself.

There are many techniques that can work there. I use a variety of techniques that depend on your individual needs. Somatic approaches, mindfulness, meditation, art and EMDR are some approaches I use.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your anxiety, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

I didn’t think I had an abusive childhood, but now I realise I did

Do you need other people to validate the things you do?

Do you need the approval of others?

Do you find it hard making decisions for yourself?

Do you find it hard feeling self-reliant?

Do you find it hard to regulate your emotions?

Are you really hard on yourself?

Do you feel you have little or no worth?

Do you do things to numb your emotional pain?

Are you frightened of rejection and abandonment?

Do you feel you are stuck in angry mode?

Do you find it hard to feel joy or peace?

Do you find it hard to get close to other people?

Do you feel lonely and seek out others to compensate for your loneliness?

Do you feel lost, misunderstood or that you don’t fit in and others are judging you for that?

Do you frequently feel anxious or depressed?

Are you frightened of social situations and fear being rejected.

Do you feel others judge you as not being good enough?

Do you feel empowered in your life?

How childhood experiences can impact you as an adult

Did you know that trauma in childhood has a significant impact on your self-worth?

If your sense of safety and belonging in childhood was damaged you are likely to have developed skills to keep you safe in that situation. As you grew up you may never have unlearned those skills, so they trap you in patterns that don’t serve you in adulthood.

Also, poor attachment between your parents and you puts you at risk of suffering from loneliness in adulthood.

Traumatic experiences in your childhood disrupt how you see your self as a person and affect your ability to regulate your emotions. All this impacts on the quality of the interpersonal relationships you have later in life.

My parents didn’t physically or sexually abuse me. I can’t have suffered trauma.

It can be hard to understand you have been traumatised in childhood. The usual picture of trauma is that of being hit or sexually abused. But trauma covers much more than just that. In fact, the worst traumas are emotional and psychological.

Neglect

Neglect is a trauma that is often overlooked. With neglect the child’s physical and emotional needs are frequently overlooked. It may involve not receiving regular meals, not having clean clothes to wear, not having your emotional needs for comfort and support met. A parent who rarely interacts or shows an interest in you is also neglectful.

Neglectful parents are also unlikely to be there to teach you skills of emotional regulation. They may not teach you how to wash yourself, how often to change your clothes.

It is unlikely a neglectful parent will see you and spend time connecting to you. This is known as attunement. A child who is not seen is a child who is not safe. Not being safe is extremely traumatic.

The clear message in this situation is that you have no worth or value. After all, you are not worth having any time or attention given to you.

Narcissistic Parent

Narcissistic parents are also very destructive of a child’s sense of self-worth.

Such a parent depends on the child to make them feel good. The child gets positive attention when they do things that serve the parent. The trouble is, there are no clear guidelines as to what the child needs to do to serve the parent. Consequently, the child lives life second guessing the parent in order to feel that the parent will care for them and they will be safe.

Narcissistic parents will also often shame their children in front of others. They will expect their child to meet their needs, to do things to make them proud. They will never teach their child any skills that will equip them for adulthood and self-reliance.

Narcissistic parents will often hold the child close to serve their needs. They want the child to stay dependent on them because the child is there to serve their needs and that is why they had them.

One classic example is of a woman who would take her child to school. The child would happily run into the classroom and greet her friends. The mother would call her back and make a fuss of her, stating it was okay for mummy to leave now and she would be okay. The child would go back to her friends and be happily talking with them. Again, the mother would call her back. This would continue until the child’s resolve was broken and she would wail and beg her mother not to leave her.

A narcissistic parent is one of the most destructive types of parent and sentence their children to mental poor health and a dependence on validation from others in adulthood.

Complex PTSD and Borderline personality disorder

These conditions develop because of chronic trauma experienced in childhood. The type of trauma most associated with these conditions is emotional abuse and invalidation. It can happen if you are neglected or have a narcissistic parent. It can also happen from other types of abuse and invalidation.

Sometimes parents are not aware that their behaviour towards their children is invalidating and can be surprised when their child develops this disorder in adulthood.

When a parent is emotionally abusive or invalidating during a child’s early years it impacts on the child’s sense of self and the child can struggle to have a strong sense of self.

You may develop self-defeating attitudes and beliefs around yourself and the trustworthiness of the world.

When raised in such an environment it is also difficult to learn to regulate your emotions. This is often due to your parents being unable to regulate their emotions. How can you teach another person how to regulate their emotions if you can’t do it yourself.

For this reason, I encourage people who had difficult childhoods to seek counselling from a trauma trained professional before having children. Many parents who were emotionally abused as children are determined their own children will never have to go through that. But sometimes things your children do can trigger reactions in you that you can’t control and don’t like doing. If you find raising your children triggers behaviours you struggle to control then seek counselling. Seeking help makes you a good parent.

Unstable and intense relationships

If you find that any type of relationship you have with others tends to be intense and over time unstable then you may be experiencing the impacts of chronic trauma in childhood. Sometimes these relationships happen because you are uncomfortable being alone and seek out anyone who looks willing to be in a relationship with you. This can result in you unconsciously choosing the wrong type of person to have a relationship with.

Sometimes when you are in a relationship you can sabotage it by clinging to the person and unwittingly pushing them away.

I think you are the best, I hate you patterns

Another impact of childhood trauma can be seen in meeting someone new and idealising them. This continues for some time then you start devaluing them and finding things wrong with them.

You are too hard on yourself

One of the saddest impacts of childhood trauma is the lack of self-worth and lack of self-compassion.

It is not surprising that children develop these beliefs. When a parent is abusive, or expects you to jump over hoops to gain their approval, the natural response is to believe this is because you are a bad person. If your parent constantly tells you that you are bad then this belief is reinforced.

The reality is that a child is just a child learning how to live life. There is no inherent badness in a child. Sadly a child doesn’t know that. Shame becomes a big part of the life of an abused child.

Ways to dull the pain

If you never learned how to regulate your emotions, and you believe you are a bad person, then you feel great pain that you don’t know how to soothe.

Many people turn to behaviours that numb the pain. These behaviours may be dangerous. A good example of this is children who steal cars then drive them dangerously at high speed. The risk and dangers inherent in this activity help to suppress their pain.

Other things people do include addictions such as substance abuse, smoking or vaping, gambling, compulsive shopping, sex addiction, exercise addiction and eating disorders.

I am lonely

If you don’t feel you are worth anything then you may not feel you are likeable. The result is that you may avoid getting close to others so that they can’t reject you.

Getting close to another person means exposing yourself to the rejection of your parents. If they rejected you, then other people will too.

When you do form relationships with others you may be frightened of expressing your needs or asking for help because your parents failed to meet those needs when you were a child. So you may feel even lonelier because you can’t turn to someone for help.

Many people who suffered trauma in childhood report feeling lonely.

Depression and Anxiety

It is very common for someone traumatised as a child to be anxious. Your childhood was an anxious time of never being sure when you would receive support, or whether you may be abused. Abusers are rarely predictable so hypervigilance was an essential part of childhood.

Hypervigilance leads to anxiety. There is the need to be constantly on your guard because you never know what is going to happen in the next minute. You never know when things will suddenly become dangerous and frightening.

When you grow up and things become safer the fear doesn’t go away because your brain has developed neural pathways that constantly scan for danger. This is why anxiety is a constant companion of the traumatised child.

Depression is another consequence of this type of childhood. Many people report feeling depressed from childhood. The sense of not being good enough, the lack of self-worth, being emotionally worn down with anxiety and fear, the rejection and abandonment of parents and the sense of never being safe all contribute to feeling overwhelmed and hopeless and lead into depression.

I constantly feel on edge

The environment of neglect and emotional abuse is a highly stressful environment. Children in this situation are being impacted regularly by the release of stress hormones in the body. This has an impact on the developing brain and will often result in an adult who is highly sensitive to stress hormones.

The result is that your brain is in a constant state of defending yourself. In other words the fight/flight/freeze response.

It is very difficult to cope with life if your brain is constantly seeing danger and you spend a lot of time with your brain taking over your life and deciding whether you are to fight, run away, or freeze.

When this defence mechanism takes over, your thinking brain switches off. You can’t control your reactions. Sadly, very few people understand this and you may find yourself judged when you get stuck in this defence response.

It is for this reason that it is important to seek counselling from a qualified trauma counsellor.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your childhood trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How do you respond when the elephant is crushing the mouse?

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Put another way, there is a wonderful analogy that staying “neutral” is like watching the elephant crush the mouse and not interfering because you are “not taking sides”. To the mouse, you look like you are siding with the elephant.

THE DAMAGE OF NEUTRALITY

This is something that is very prevalent in our society. It ranges from the children and teenagers who stand by while a friend is being bullied to adults who look the other way when another adult is being physically or verbally abused, even when they know the adult.

Being the victim and feeling totally unsupported is a frightening thing. Wired deep into our brains is the need to be supported by the group in order to survive. If you are ignored then you are not valued by the group and not protected. This means you are in serious danger.

Often victims of abuse will report that the lack of support of others was more terrifying than the abuse itself.

NEUTRALITY IS BETRAYAL AND INVALIDATION

Victims will also say they felt betrayed by the person who remained neutral.

People think they have to stay neutral, but as the analogy says, to the mouse being crushed by the elephant you do not appear neutral. To the elephant crushing the mouse you appear to be on their side.

Think about it.

Neutrality is deeply invalidating to the mouse.

Neutrality is betrayal.

Neutrality is a form of trauma.

NEUTRALITY IS TRAUMATISING

It is trauma that challenges a person’s sense of safety in the world and the trust that they are not alone and will be defended when they need it.

Neutrality harms the brain of the victim. It damages connection bonds and destroys trust in those who practice neutrality.

NEUTRALITY DESTROYS RELATIONSHIPS

I see so many couples where trust and commitment have been destroyed by one partner remaining “neutral”.

Trust and commitment are the foundation of sound relationships. Without trust or commitment relationships are destroyed.

NEUTRALITY INCLUDES SUPPORT AFTER THE EVENT

Neutrality is not just practiced when in a situation of conflict. It can also occur when you go to another person for support and validation of your hurt, and they try to rationalise the other person’s behaviour.

This can happen when a child reports bullying at school. It can happen when a friend reports being subjected to nasty comments from people at work. It can happen when your partner’s mother is rude to you and your partner takes her side.

In those situations and many more you feel scared, unsafe and in pain.

NEUTRALITY LEADS TO YOU BEING BLAMED FOR WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU

What if the response to this is “you brought this on yourself?”.

Or you are asked “what did you do to trigger them to behave that way?” In other words, it is your fault.

How many times have you tried to tell another person about a scary situation to be told to stop complaining and get over it. Or to have the other person ignore what you said and change the subject?

The end result of all this neutrality is that you can often feel shamed.

All these are examples of neutrality and its destructive impacts.

INVALIDATION STARTS AS A BABY

Many people were raised under a style of parenting where parents were taught to leave their baby to cry. But babies cry because they have a need. Failure to meet that need invalidates their right to comfort, to be nurtured and cared for. Failure to meet that need changes the baby’s brain.

Then there are the invalidating experiences in childhood. As a child growing up, invalidation occurs every time your needs are not met by a caring parent who is attuned to you.
Parents can’t always meet your needs, but they can communicate their understanding of your situation and their concern and care for you.

So many children spend time in daycare. Culture in daycare centres often treats bullying as the fault of the victim and seeks to teach the child how to avoid being bullied. Becoming neutral is something taught very early in life.

This patterns is repeated in school. Teachers are human being and they can be caught up in the toxic “neutrality” behaviour as well. Many children experience the invalidation of neutrality when faced with bullying in school.

NEUTRALITY CAN BE ABOUT SURVIVAL FROM ABUSE

For some people, being neutral is a survival mechanism. As children they learned to side with their abuser to survive. In later life, when they are in a situation with another person who needs support, they can feel very unsafe if they don’t take the abuser’s side. They think they are being neutral when in fact they are trapped in a childhood survival mechanism.

Other people grew up frightened of the bullies and survived by not intervening. For them intervening was a very dangerous thing. In adulthood they haven’t unlearned that behaviour so keep it up.

So many people think not intervening is the right thing to do because that is what they were taught by neutrality obsessive parents, teachers, peers and society in general.

YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOUR

But that can be changed. All it needs is to learn to push through that fear and intervene anyway.

Pushing through that fear can be hard if you learned it as a survival mechanism in an abusive childhood. In those situations you may need counselling to learn to overcome that fear.

CAN I HELP?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you stand up to those who frighten you, or you have been invalidated by neutrality and need help healing, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

9 Ways in Which Children (and Adults) Display Anxiety

Unless you have studied child development, it is likely you will interpret your child’s behaviour according to the way you react to things.

But children’s brains have not yet developed enough to allow them to behave in adult ways.

Children have to learn to understand their feelings. This makes it hard for them to understand what they are feeling. If they can’t understand, they can’t tell you.

As a parent, you have a role in helping your child to understand their feelings and learn how to process them in a healthy way.

To do that, you need to be able to identify what is happening for your child.

This list is of ways in which children are know to display anxiety. Adults can display anxiety in the same way if they never learned as children how to understand their own feelings.

Here are 9 ways that children display anxiety:

  1. ANGER

Anxiety can be produced by the feeling of danger or feeling overwhelmed, which is perceived as danger. Danger triggers the fight or flight response. Part of that response is anger. To have the energy to fight or run from danger, your body produces anger. As adults we often react the same way to anxiety, so it is not surprising when your child reacts the same way.

When the fight or flight response is activated, the thinking part of the brain shuts down. This means your child will be angry but can’t tell you why. Later, when they are feeling less anxious they may be able to tell you. Remember, pushing them to tell you what is wrong will just make them more anxious.

  1. SLEEPING DIFFICULTIES

Anxiety can cause worrying thoughts that will keep an adult from falling asleep, or if they wake up during the night, from falling back to sleep.

It is the same with children. If your child has difficulty falling asleep or wakes up and can’t get back to sleep, it would be a good idea to ask them if there is anything worrying them.

  1. AVOIDANCE

You may notice your child avoids completing a task, or going to a place or seeing a particular person.

Adults often do the same thing. Do you find you do this? If so, then you can understand how hard it is for your child to do the things or see the people and places that cause anxiety.

It is really important in a situation such as this to sit with your child and allow them to tell you what they are anxious about. Together you can work out a solution. It may be that your child just needs your to accompany them so they can feel safe. There are other solutions too.

It is important to remember that when children are told to do things that they feel anxious about, things their fight or flight response is saying are dangerous, that you don’t tell them they are being silly, or there is nothing to be worried about, and force them to do those things. Doing this teaches your child to ignore their intuition. Intuition is vital for their healthy functioning in life.

  1. NEGATIVE THOUGHTS

Is your child responding negatively to suggestions or outcomes. Are they saying their homework is horrible and will be marked wrong by the teacher? Are they expressing negativity around attending an activity? Negative thoughts are more often experienced when a person is anxious.

  1. DEFIANT BEHAVIOURS

You ask your child to do something and they refuse. They may throw things, or yell and scream. They are not being “naughty”. Often it is because they are feeling anxious. Often if a child is asked to do something they feel unable to do, the anxiety they feel at not being able to do the task can be expressed as defiance. Again, it is unlikely your children, having activated their fight or flight mechanism, will be able to tell you what is wrong. Give them space and time to calm down. Sit with them in a non judgemental way and offer support and understanding. When they feel calmer, then they may be able to tell you what is wrong.

Alternately, sometimes defiance can be due to the anxiety of not being in control, which feels unsafe, and it is expressed in defiance as your child tries to get some control (and therefore safety) in the situation.

  1. THE STRAW THAT BREAKS THE CAMEL’S BACK

Adults do this too. Something minor happens and your child explodes with anger. This happens when hurt and anxious feelings are suppressed for quite some time. There is a limit to what can be suppressed. Eventually something will happen that will be too much to suppress and everything will come out. It may seem your child is overreacting, but if you allow them to calm down and you then ask them they will be able to tell you about what has been troubling them.

  1. LACK OF CONCENTRATION

Your child is not paying attention to what you are telling them, to things that are happening around them, or to anyone or thing. If your child is anxious, those thoughts may be so overwhelming they aren’t noticing anything around them, including you asking them to do something.

  1. MICROMANAGING

Some children will express their anxiety by trying to micromanage everything. They overplan what should be simple. It is easy in this situation to get angry at their obsession with everything being done “properly”. But your child is most likely trying to calm their anxiety and unsafe feelings by controlling things.

  1. I HAVE A TUMMY ACHE

Feelings are not just things we experience in our heads. We also experience feelings in our bodies. It is very common for anxiety to be felt in the abdomen. Adults experience this too. Children don’t know that these things they feel in their body are associated with the thoughts and emotions they experience. Your child may experience a tummy ache and not know it is part of anxiety. So the tummy ache is genuine.

WHAT NEXT

You have noticed your child exhibiting one of the above behaviours and you have stopped and considered they may be anxious. Instead of reacting angrily or with frustration, you respond with understanding.

Now you want to understand what the problem is.

If you rush them to tell you what is happening, it is unlikely they will be able to tell you.

Sit with them. Be relaxed so they can sense your calm and not feel rushed. Maybe you can say: “You seem to be upset about something. Let’s sit for a while.”

When you observe your child seems calmer, you can try asking them what is happening for them. Listen. Let them talk. Don’t interrupt. Offer comfort and understanding. Acknowledge what they are feeling and how that is hard to feel that. It may be that telling you is all your child needs. But there may be a problem you can problem solve together.

A REMINDER

Remember, adults exhibit the same behaviours and often can’t express what is happening until they are feeling calmer. We live in a society that punishes rather then understands anxious behaviours. Many adults have never had the opportunity to learn to understand their own feelings and change their responses to them.

Understanding for your child is vital, and also for adults.

SOMETIMES HELP IS NEEDED

Sometimes your child may need professional help to untangle the anxiety they are experiencing. And sometimes adults also need that help too.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you or your child with anxiety, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

9 Steps to Managing Conversations at the Dreaded Family Christmas

Families are never completely harmonious. They are comprised of people, bound together by genetic and marital ties, who often are not free to discuss conflicts as openly as is healthy. There are often undercurrents of tension and unresolved hurts in any family interactions.

Add a family Christmas, with all the stresses that “perfect” day brings. Add to the mix some freeing alcohol. Add to the mix the proximity with people who have caused those tensions and unresolved hurts.

Mix these ingredients and you have an explosive mix.

You can try to avoid difficult topics, but inevitably something will come up, particularly if you have the mix listed above.

Below are 8 steps you can use to survive the family Christmas. 8 steps to help you keep away from the difficult topics you may not be ready to discuss in a large family gathering.

  1. PREPARE FOR THE DAY.

Are you expecting challenging topics of conversation? Plan in advance how to manage and deescalate these potential ignition points.
a) PLAN TO SET BOUNDARIES

You can set boundaries by letting family members know what areas are contentious and that you want avoided. You can practice how you will set this boundary in a positive, affirming way.

Maybe you might say something like: “I love seeing you and our time together is really great. There are just some things that we disagree on and maybe we can avoid discussing them today so that we can enjoy our time together.”

b) PREPARE AHEAD

Before you meet up, think about happy things you and this family member/s have in common. Are there happy childhood memories you can share, do you have the same interests? Brainstorm ideas of topics of conversation so you are ready to have a conversation. When you have no topic to discuss, conversations tend to follow well worn paths. If those well worn paths are the contentious ones, then that is what you are going to end up having a conversation about.

  1. REDIRECT THE CONVERSATION.

Preparing ahead safe topics to discuss will allow you to quickly redirect the conversation to a safer topic that is related to the contentious topic. It is easier to pivot if the topic is related somehow, so if someone brings up a humiliating episode when you were a child and were swimming, you may bring in a conversation about wonderful beaches to visit and direct people to that topic. In that situation, the chances are that others in the conversation are not happy to bring up the humiliating episode either and will welcome the change to change the topic.

  1. REHEARSE WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO SAY.

When you are under stress, you will tend to do what is habitual. So well used responses to others will tend to be used. This will quickly derail your intention to steer away from the uncomfortable conversations. So practise what you will say. Have imaginary conversations where the other person says something they usually say, or makes a comment about a situation they usually comment on. Imagine redirecting the conversation away from that contentious comment and what you will say. While you are doing this, imagine being relaxed and able to deflect any triggers in their words. Imagine calmly setting a boundary, or redirecting the conversation, or making a statement.

While you are imagining this conversation, practice taking calming breaths and imagine you are releasing all the tension and it is flying away as you breathe out. As you breathe in, imagine you are breathing in peace and calm.

If you have a family member who makes highly politicised comments, or makes racist comments, or expresses strong extremist viewpoints, practice a statement that acknowledges their opinion but indicates it is not up for discussion. The well tried response to this is to “agree to disagree” and have no more conversation around that.

Sometimes these statements are deliberate attempts to bait you into responding. Don’t. Set the boundary and try to change the topic of conversation. If the person still persists, walk away. Take a walk around the block if you need to calm down. Just remain calm until you are somewhere where it is safe for you to be upset. More on that later.

  1. BRING OUT THE OLD HAPPY MEMORIES.

This is another redirecting technique. Bringing out a positive family story involving a happy memory. The more family members involved in this memory the better. If you start off saying “Remember when xxx” you are inviting others to add their recollections of the memory. Not only is that fun to share in happy reminiscences, it also shuts down anyone negative due to the weight of people participating in a new conversation.

Remember, a family member who is difficult for you to get along with, may also be difficult for others to get along with. Other family members may welcome your efforts to redirect the conversation and be more than happy to jump in with enthusiasm. After all, everyone wants to have a lovely day.

  1. FOCUS ON FUN FAMILY TRADITIONS.

There will no doubt be things your family enjoy doing together on family occasions. There are families that love to gather around the piano and sing Christmas carols. Others love to play games. Others have a post Christmas lunch walk.

If your family has traditions then make sure they are carried out. If they don’t have any, then introduce some new things you think family members will be interested in. Prepare the ground for this. Talk about this “fun” idea with family members you think will be useful allies in this so that when you introduce the idea it will be supported by other people. These traditions are a great way to distract from unpleasant conversations.

  1. PRACTICE GRATITUDE.

In the lead up to Christmas, think of at least 10 things to be grateful for each day. Write them down and say them out loud, followed by three thank yous. Slowly introduce gratitudes for family members.

Don’t force the jolliness. Find things you are genuinely grateful for. They may range from extraordinary things to the seemingly mundane such as your health, your home, your job and so on.

Each day add gratitudes for family members. Start with the ones you love seeing. As you get close to Christmas think about the ones that cause you grief. Is there anything about them you like? Anything about them you admire? Try to find something to be grateful for about them. One might be that they are diligent about attending the family Christmas every year. Another might be they help with the washing up. Another might be they love their car. Find something to be grateful for.

Finding positives help you to feel more empowered and more in control of those difficult situations. It also helps to see the main protagonists as people with less power than you thought they had.

  1. FIND ALLIES.

Think about who will be at the Christmas event and identify those you find supportive. They may be the type who will speak up and support you at the time of the difficulty, or they may be someone you can speak to later to help you calm down.

It is easier to manage in stressful situations when you know you have support.

  1. PRACTICE CALMING TECHNIQUES.

One of the easiest ways to calm down is breathing. It is best to practice this technique in advance so that it is second nature when you need it. If you try this for the first time when you need it, it is unlikely to work effectively.

a) MINDFUL BREATHING

The best way to practice is to start small.

• Set a reminder on your phone for every hour if possible.

• Now prepare to breathe for 1 minute.

• Set a timer for 1 minute.

• Sit quietly with your hands resting in your lap.

• You may choose to let your focus slip or you may choose to close your eyes.

• Now breathe in while noticing the feeling of the air entering your nose and your chest and tummy rising with the in breath.

• Now breathe out while notice the feeling of your chest and tummy falling and the feeling of the air passing through your nose.

• With the next in breath, imagine you are inhaling calming air. Imagine it is a beautiful calming colour such as blue or green, whatever your find calming. See that coloured air entering your nose and lungs.

• Now breathe out all the tension and difficult emotions. Imagine the air you breathe out is the colour of tension and difficult emotions such as red, whatever you find expresses what you are feeling.

• Continue breathing in calm and breathing out tension. You can say to yourself I am breathing in calm on the in breath. And you can say I am breathing out tension/anger (name emotion) on the out breath.

• If you notice your mind wander away from noticing your breath just return your attention to your breath without judging yourself.

• Continue until 1 minute is up. Notice how you are feeling calmer and more in control of your emotions.

If you practice your 1 minute mediation as often as you can you may consider the next day practising for 5 minutes sometimes and 1 minute at others.

Practice as often as you can. When you need this calming at the Christmas event you will find it easier to slip into the practice if you have taken the time to practice in advance.

You can use mindful breathing sitting or moving around. Many people practice as they are walking. This is something you might try if you need to get some space away from the difficult people.

b) RELEASING WALK

The walk works like this:

• Don’t rush to push the emotions you feel away. Allow yourself to feel them, name them and walk them out. Stamp if you need to, walk fast if you need to. Swing your arms around. Whatever allows you to release what you are feeling.

• Once you have allowed yourself that time and you have acknowledged and released the emotions you can then walk at a calmer pace at your speed.

• Notice what is around you. What can you see, hear, smell, touch or taste?

• Take a deep in breath. Notice the sensation of that breath entering your body as you walk.

• Release that breath and notice the sensation of it leaving your body as you walk.

• Continue breathing and paying attention to your breath.

• Remember to breathe in calm and breathe out stress, anger and/or other distressing emotions you are experiencing.

• As you notice yourself feeling calmer, you can start paying attention to the beauty around you.

• Remember to just return your attention to your breath if your mind starts to wander.

• As you settle into this calming routine, allow yourself to feel your feet on the ground. Feel the ground supporting you are you walk.

• Allow yourself to feel the air around you. Feel the air wrapping you in its loving embrace.

• Continue walking, feeling the calm and feeling the support that surrounds you.

• When you are ready you can return to the gathering.

• You may decide to stay there, you may decide to communicate boundaries, you may decide to leave. Do whatever feels right for you.

  1. MAKE OTHER ARRANGEMENTS

If you feel that it is too distressing to attend the family Christmas, make other arrangements.

Maybe you would like to attend a community lunch.

Maybe you know other people who are on their own at Christmas. Perhaps you can get together to celebrate.

Maybe you would like the day alone with some lovely food and a stack of movies/games/books you would love to watch.

You may even find other family members don’t like the event and would be happy to do something with you instead.

A FINAL WORD

You have prepared yourself for the family Christmas and it is still difficult. Be okay with that. Don’t forget your strategies. Set realistic expectations of how people will be and prepare for this.

Do take the time to take some calming breaths before responding to other people. It can help to name what you are feeling. This allows you to cope better. It also allows you space to decide to not react to this person. It is in this moment you may choose to walk away, or calmly say their comment is inappropriate, or not funny, or unacceptable or anything else.

People can get to you with their behaviour and comments because you have unresolved hurts. After Christmas, review the family Christmas. What came up for you? Is there something you need to resolve. Counselling can be really helpful to explore and resolve old hurts. You can also learn helpful strategies to cope.

WHERE TO GET HELP

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your unresolved hurts, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

PLEASE NOTE PLENTIFUL LIFE COUNSELLING WILL BE CLOSED FROM 5PM 21 DECEMBER 2022 AND WILL RE OPEN AT 9AM ON 9 JANUARY 2023.

Mental Illness v Mental Injury

I was challenged by an online video by Luke Chao.

In it he discussed the terms mental illness and mental injury.

He spoke about the way we perceive accidents involving physical injury compared to accidents that involve mental impacts.

A PHYSICAL INJURY

He gave a scenario where you are walking down the street and someone runs up to you and slashes your arm. You are hurt and bleeding but you are not sick. Apart from the injury to your arm you are otherwise healthy. No one blames you for being slashed. After all, that is victim blaming, something we are increasingly aware of and seek to avoid doing.

COMPARE THIS TO A MENTAL INJURY

But someone who is suffering from a mental injury is not given the same respect. If you developed PTSD as a result of this random attack you would be described as being mentally ill. This implies that there is something wrong with you, rather than there being something wrong with the people around you or your environment. In the case of the slashed arm, something is wrong with the person who randomly decided to slash your arm.

Suddenly you are being victim blamed. But isn’t that something we try to avoid doing these days?

PHYSICAL INJURIES BUT MENTAL ILLNESS

If you have arthritis in your knee but are otherwise healthy, you just have arthritis in your knee.

If you have anxiety about social situations but are otherwise healthy, you are mentally ill.

Using the term mentally ill suggests there is something wrong with you as a person. The connotation drawn from that term is that you have something wrong with you and you are ill.

Why is there such a difference between physical ailments and psychological ailments?

WHAT COUNSELLOR’S STUDY IN THEIR BACHELOR DEGREES

Luke’s comments reminded me of the rationale behind the subjects I studied in my counselling degree. We not only studied counselling, but also psychology (to better understand behaviour) and sociology (to better understand the environment). We were always taught that we needed to understand the context of a person’s environment and the impact of the people around them to understand what was happening to them.

A HORRIBLE WAY FOR YOU TO BE TREATED

If you walk into my practice room and I just see you as mentally ill, then that implies I just see you as being wrong, at fault.

If I see you as being the cause of your suffering then I don’t look further than you. I pathologise your suffering. I look for dysfunction in you and set out to correct it.

THE WAY I TREAT YOU

But that is not what I do.

Instead, I see your suffering as the result of an injury that has resulted in a completely normal reaction to abnormal circumstances. Sometimes there is more than one injury. Sometimes the injury keeps happening again and again, or has in the past happened again and again.

I look at your environment, including the people in that environment. I look to see how that impacts on you and your suffering.

I believe every person who walks through my door is someone who has been injured as a result of abnormal circumstances. I see you as being a healthy individual who is coping as best you can with a wound.

Interestingly the Greek word for wound is trauma.

Makes sense doesn’t it.

NEED HELP WITH YOUR MENTAL INJURY?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your mental injury, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

R U OK?

Today is RUOK day.

RUOK day is not only about reminding you that you have the power to help others, but also a reminder to seek help is you are not OK.

Helping others is not just the preserve of those of us who specialise in mental health. We all can help others.

Today I am going to talk about how to ask others if they are OK.

Then I am going to talk about how you can get help if you are not OK.

Most people will not ask for help. Such help seeking is pretty taboo in our society. Have you ever been taught even the basics of a foreign language? If you have you will no doubt have started with how to greet another person. Hello. I am xxx. How are you? And you will not doubt have been taught the response: I am well thankyou.

This is the hidden message of our culture. Don’t tell others how you are feeling!

I am sure you have met people who will avoid any discussions that are hard. These are the people who will avoid responding to your tentative words reaching out for help. Or who will respond with comments designed to stop the conversation.

If you are in that position, don’t give up. Later in this blog I will talk about what you can do to be heard.

WHAT SHOULD I BE LOOKING FOR IN THOSE AROUND ME TO INDICATE I NEED TO ASK RUOK?

Because of the taboos in our society on reaching out to others, it is unlikely a person who needs help will tell you – unless you ask.

The following are times in a person’s life when they might need a little bit of extra help:

• When a relationship has ended or there are difficulties in that relationship.

• When the person is going through stressful times, or there has been an increase in the stress in their life.

• When there are financial difficulties.

• When there are major changes in the person’s life either at home or work.

• When someone/thing they care about has been lost.

• When there is a major health issue.

• Any time you notice someone is struggling.

SIGNS A PERSON IS STRUGGLING

• Things they are saying, especially if they are different:

 o    They may not be making any sense when they talk, as though they are confused.

 o    They may tell you they can’t cope or feel things are out of control.

 o    They may criticise others or themselves.

 o    You may get the impression they are feeling trapped or in emotional pain.

 o    They may tell you they feel lonely or are a burden to others.

• Things they are doing that may be different:

 o    They may seem to lack energy or be unmotivated

 o    They may be unable to switch off

 o    There may be changes in how much and when they sleep, exercise or eat.

 o    They may appear uninterested in their appearance. This may extend to their home.

 o    They may no longer be interested in the things they used to enjoy doing.

WHAT DO I DO IF I THINK SOMEONE IS STRUGGLING

If you think someone is struggling then this is the time to consider asking them if they are okay.

Before you do this it is a good idea to consider how or if you might have that conversation with this person.

If you ask the wrong way, and are not prepared for a helpful conversation, you may not help the person. If you feel you are not able to ask, maybe finding another person to ask may be helpful. This is not saying you are not going to be any good at it, but maybe the situation the other person is in , or the relationship you have with them may impact any conversation you may have.

The other person needs to feel they can trust you, or they will not open up to you. So it is wise to consider whether you have been trustworthy in your relationship with that person.

If you feel the other person can’t trust you, you may still be able to reach out to them. In this situation it is best to acknowledge the past. Maybe you could try saying something like:

“I know I haven’t been very trustworthy in the past, but I am concerned about you and I care that you may not be feeling okay.”

If your previous conversations with this person have not involved you listening very well, you can maybe try saying:

“I know I haven’t listened to you very well I the past, but I am concerned that you may not be okay and I want to listen and hear you and support you.”

HOW TO PREPARE TO ASK RUOK

First step is to be ready:

• Ask yourself if you are in the right headspace to listen.

• Ask yourself if you are willing to really listen to the other person.

• Make sure you have the time to have this conversation. It is no good asking someone if they are okay and then rushing off because you have to be somewhere else.

Second step is to be prepared:

• Acknowledge that you are not there to “fix” the other person. You are there to listen. It is okay if you don’t have any answers to their difficulties.

• Don’t rush the other person or fire off questions at them. Be prepared to sit quietly and non judgementally with the other person and allow them the space to process their thoughts and express what they want. When you are trying to survive you spend a lot of time pushing down emotions so you can get through the day. It may take time for the other person to feel able to speak about something that they are feeling very emotional about. It is helpful to bear in mind that it is often embarrassing to discuss problems.

Last step is to choose your moment carefully:

• Find somewhere private and comfortable. A busy place with little privacy is not going to be very conducive to expressing vulnerable thoughts.

• Is this a good time for them to talk? If they are busy and stressed, they are not likely to be willing to take the time out to express how they are feeling.

• You may need to choose another time if they are too busy to talk.

• Consider the way you talk. It is often less threatening when you are sitting side by side doing nothing that requires concentration, or when walking. Being side by side is less confronting than being face to face.

The last point on being side by side highlights the value of being with the other person and doing something together. This is a great time for a conversation where the other person is likely to feel comfortable and able to talk.

IMPORTANT TO CONSIDER

You may be ready to reach out to the other person. But they may not be ready to talk.

Don’t give up. The fact you reached out and expressed your concern will not be lost on the other person. It may be that when they are ready to talk they wil reach out to you.

It is better to have asked than not to have asked. If you ask and they say no, at least you asked. If you don’t ask you will never know if you gave up a wonderful opportunity to reach out to someone in need.

NOW TO ASK – R U OK?

Have a casual conservation.

Start by saying something about what has prompted you to ask.

Examples include:

• You have been quiet lately, how are things going for you?

• I haven’t seen you much lately, is everything going okay for you?

• You’ve seemed really stressed lately, do you want to chat about something?

Now listen and don’t jump in with your own stories.

THEY DON’T WANT TO TALK TO ME – WHAT DO I DO?

Just because you reach out to another person does not guarantee they will talk to you.

It may be the wrong time for them to talk. You could try asking them if it would be okay to check in with them again.

They may feel no one cares and may need to process you request before they are willing to accept you invitation to chat.

Maybe they would feel more comfortable talking to someone else.

You reaching out may lead to them reflecting on their need to talk and they may be willing to talk to or someone else at another time.

THEY DO WANT TO TALK TO ME – WHAT DO I DO?

They welcome your question and tell you about their problem.

So what do you do?

• Remember we talked about you being there to listen, not solve problems.

• Listen.

• Don’t rush to judgement. Have an open mind.

• Give them space to talk. If they pause, don’t rush to fill the silence. Silence is great. Allow the silences and trust the person will talk when ready.

• Ask questions that are open ended, that is that don’t require yes or no answers.

• Ask them to explain the things they say. Don’t assume you understand what they are saying or the impact it has on them. Do this by asking questions that allow space for them to answer in many words. No questions that just require a yes/no. They shut down the conversation.

• Every so often repeat back what you have heard them say and ask if you understood it properly. This give them a chance to correct any misunderstandings and sends the message that you are listening.

I HAVE LISTENED AND THEY HAVE TOLD ME ABOUT THEIR PROBLEM – NOW WHAT DO I DO?

It is at this point you can encourage them to explore what they might be able to do to help themselves.

This may involve someone they can seek help from. It may instead involve spending time together brainstorming ideas on what they may be able to do to change their situation.

Maybe they might see their doctor, talk to a family member, talk to a close friend they trust, see a counsellor.

They may have encountered difficulties in the past and been able to solve them. What did they do back then? Is this something that may work now?

You can also ask them if there is anything they need from you.

CONVERSATION OVER – NOW WHAT?

Once the conversation is over there is still one thing you need to do.

That is to check in with the person at another time.

Let them know you haven’t forgotten them and are still willing to support them.

This allows you to communicate to them that someone cares.

It allows them to feel less isolated.

It may be the encouragement they need to do something about their situation.

It can support them until they are ready to reach out for professional help.

I THINK THEY ARE AT RISK OF SUICIDE – WHAT DO I DO?

If you are concerned the other person is suicidal don’t be afraid to ask.

It can be as simple as “are you thinking about killing yourself?”

Asking will not plant the idea in the other person’s mind. If they are suicidal they already have that idea. If they are not suicidal your asking will not suddenly make them suicidal.

If they answer YES this is what is important for you to do.

  1. Do not leave them alone. Keeping them safe is important.
  2. Get professional help.

While you stay with them:

Keep listening to them.

Find out if there is someone they trust who can help them.

Not all people who are suicidal will actually kill themselves. You can ask if they have a plan and the equipment needed to carry it out.

Unless you feel they are in immediate danger (in which case you will dial 000) try the following:

• Call a crisis support line together.

LIFELINE: 13 11 14

SUICIDE CALL BACK SERVICE 1300 659 467

who provide immediate support and advice

• Visit an emergency department together.

• Take them to a place they feel safe where they will not be alone.

HOW DO I GET HELP IF I AM NOT OK?

Reach out to someone you feel comfortable talking to.

If someone reaches out to you, be willing to accept that offer of help.

If you urgently need to talk to someone, or you are feeling suicidal, LIFELINE 13 11 14 is a good starting point.

You can also ring the SUICIDE CALL BACK SERVICE 1300 659 467

For longer term help counselling can be very helpful.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you when you are not okay, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

RUOK.ORG.AU IS A GREAT SOURCE OF ADVICE ON HOW TO ASK RUOK

6 ways to gain control of your mind with overwhelming emotions or anxiety

You know how it is.

There are those times in life when you get so anxious you can’t think straight and find yourself saying and doing things that you wish you hadn’t.

Or there are those times when you are overwhelmed by intense emotions and can’t function, or worse still react in a way you don’t want to.

What do you do?

In the long term, counselling to find the root cause of the problems and defuse them is great.

But what do you do in the short term?

Learn how to identify the signs you are getting anxious or your emotions are intensifying. You need to be able to identify them before they get out of control.

When you feel those early signs practice grounding to help you gain control of them.

6 ways to practice grounding are:

  1. Tune into your Body. Feel your feet on the ground. Pressing your toes into the floor will help make that connection. Look at your shoes. What size are they? What do they look like?
  2. Engage your senses. put on a favourite shirt, smell essential oils, make yourself a warm drink, go outside and feel the wind on your body or gaze at a tree or clouds.
  3. Self-soothe. find an object connects you to something solid outside yourself. This may be a rock, a soft toy, a tree to hug. You might find taking a shower or a bath helps.
  4. Observe. look around you. What can you see? Choose an object and describe it in detail. What colour is it? What is its texture? What about the play of shadow and light in the object? What shape is it?
  5. Breathe deep to the bottom of your chest. Practice 4-7-8 breathing. Breathe in for 4, hold for 7 then breathe out through pursed lips for 8. This is a wonderful way of engaging your Polyvagal Nerve and calming yourself.
  6. Distract yourself. Look around the room. Find all the red objects. Find all the objects with right angles. Count backwards from 100 by 5s. Anything that focuses your attention somewhere else.

Everyone has moments when it is hard to maintain control over intense emotions or anxiety. If you learn how to spot those moments and stop them before they are out of control then you are on the path to having more control over your life.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with the long term healing of your anxiety and overwhelming emotions, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz