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Label the behaviour, not the person

Thursday, July 25, 2019

“You’re selfish.” 

When you label your partner instead of their behaviour, that’s 

If you do it from a position of superiority, that’s 

Both are damaging to the health of your relationship.

Instead, describe their specific behaviour and how it made you feel. And tell them what you need.

“I was upset when you were late and I didn’t hear from you. I need you to text me next time.”

Read more about the Four Horseman that can damage your relationships at

If you can't change a situation, change your mind.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Things were going according to plan, until they weren't…. You have second-guessed all of your choices and assume that everyone else has it all figured out. You count the ways you feel cheated: 

  1. Your job has started to lose its luster; 
  2. You don’t have the bank account you want;
  3. You don't like the way you feel on the inside, which translates to how you feel about how you look and how you act. 
  4. You are moody and irritable ... a lot. 
  5. You are tired of seeing friends’ accelerating through life while each day feels like a challenge to overcome. 
  6. You are sad from top to bottom and from the inside out.

If you recognise any of these statements to be reflective of your life then if you can’t change a situation maybe its now time to Change your Mind?

The New Science of Couples Therapy

Saturday, March 30, 2019

By John GottmanJulie Gottman

In their featured address, the Gottmans explored what research has revealed about the crucial role the brain’s seven different command systems can play in enhancing the quality of couples’ emotional connection.

In our research, we’ve found that successful couples turned toward their partner’s bids for connection 86 percent of the time. A bid can be something as simple as saying to a partner, “Wow, look at that beautiful boat out the window.” Then the partner can turn away by either ignoring the bid or responding, “Would you stop interrupting me? I’m trying to read.” Or the partner can turn toward the bid with even a simple acknowledgement, like “Huh, look at that.” Every time people turn toward each other in relationships, they’re building up an emotional bank account.

Jaak Panksepp, who wrote Affective Neuroscience, detailed the seven different emotional command systems in the brain. We’ve found that when you’re helping couples turn toward each other, you have to help them do so in all seven of the emotional command systems that are hard-wired into the brain.

So let me describe each one of these in our terms. The first is The Sentry, which is all about the fear system. When one partner feels afraid to go to the grocery store, for example—maybe a shooting just happened near there—what does the partner do? Does the partner turn toward them and say, “Okay, I’ll go instead,” or “I’ll go with you”? Or does the partner say, “Get over it” or “Just go to another store,” essentially turning away. In other words, how do people respond to each other’s need for protection or help with fear?

The Nest Builder is all about nurturing: that’s when one partner needs warmth, connection, and nurturing. How does the other partner respond to that? The Explorer is about adventure, discovery, and The Jester is about having fun. John and I have a gigantic difference here, and that’s what you’ll see in many couples. My idea of fun and adventure is going to Antarctica, and John’s is sitting in his chair, reading about differential equations. So when he tries to explain these to me, I make an effort to turn toward him and say, “Tell me all about it,” which is a huge stretch for me. But it’s important that we help couples who have different ways of having fun turn toward each other’s preferences.

The Sensualist is all about passion, romance, physical intimacy, sexuality. So how are couples doing in terms of turning toward each other and speaking about their preferences, their fantasies, what they really love in the bedroom as well as on the kitchen table? It’s really helpful for us to support couples in turning toward each other in that arena as well.

The Commander in Chief is at the center: it’s about power struggles. Who’s going to have power? Who’s going to decide things? Are they going to share power, or are they comfortable with one person being more powerful in this area and another in that area? It’s important to help people create what they’re comfortable with. Finally, The Energy Czar is really about our own metabolism and basic needs for sleep, food, nutrition, exercise. In this arena, it’s all about partners supporting each other’s energy needs.

Now let’s talk a bit more about turning toward bids in the sensual system. There’s a fabulous book called The Normal Bar, in which the authors conducted a study with 70,000 people in 24 countries, asking what helps couples have a great sex life. The couples they asked were from all walks of life, all classes, all different socioeconomic statuses, all different ethnic and racial origins. What they found across the board were that people who have a great sex life say “I love you” to their partner every day and mean it. They kiss one another passionately for no reason at all, give compliments, give surprise romantic gifts, know what turns their partner on and do it often, are affectionate in public, play together, have fun—and they cuddle, cuddle, cuddle. Cuddling is good; nurturing is good for sex. These people make sex a priority, talk about their sex life, have weekly romantic dates, take romantic vacations.

In contrast, the Sloan center at UCLA found that couples who have a bad sex life spend very little time together with each other: they become job- and child-centered. They talk mostly about their huge to-do lists during the 35 minutes they spend together a week. Think about that: they talk 35 minutes a week on average. They make everything else a priority, rather than their relationship, and they drift apart, live parallel lives, and are terribly lonely.

So the keys to great sex aren’t rocket science, right? Although a few differing theories are floating around out there, these keys are pretty much what you’d expect: warmth, building trust, attunement, talking about preferences, and lots and lots of connection.


John Gottman, PhD, is cofounder of The Gottman Institute. The author of hundreds of journal articles and 48 books, he’s received numerous awards for his marriage and family research.

Julie Gottman, PhD, is cofounder and president of The Gottman Institute. The author of five books, she’s cocreator of the The Art and Science of Love weekend workshops for couples, and the Gottman international clinical training program.

Kindness & Empathy

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

What do you think are the most important traits to encourage in a child’s development?

This is an inherently personal question, one that will provoke a wide variety of answers from parents, educators, and researchers around the world.  There are so many traits and abilities that can add to a child’s likelihood of success that it’s hard to pick just a few.

Not only are there seemingly endless traits that could contribute to a child’s success, everyone has their own unique view on the ideal traits for a child (and, eventually, an adult) to possess.

I certainly don’t intend to tell you that the two traits I am about to discuss are the most important, but it could be argued that these two traits are among those most in need of encouragement in young people. Many assume that they will develop naturally in children, so any extra time spent encouraging them is time that could be better spent on studying math, practicing the piano, or playing basketball.

Fortunately, these two traits do often develop without any special attention paid to them but imagine how different classrooms, offices, organisations, and homes around the world might be if they were specifically targeted during childhood development?

I don’t think anyone would argue that the world would be worse off with more of these two traits, kindness and empathy, so why not give them a shot? 

While it’s important to begin instilling kindness and empathy early, it’s never too late to learn how to be more empathetic. 

Accurate Listening Exercise

The list below details the seven steps for accurate listening, a practice which is an important first step in showing empathy and compassion for others.

The steps are as follows:

  • You must concentrate on not talking, while the other person is talking.  Be sure to pay attention and to look directly at the speaker.
  • Be sure you are listening to the other person when he or she is talking, instead of preparing for your reply.
  • Make sure you are paying attention to how the person is behaving.
  • Be aware of the body language of the other person.
  • Let the other person know that you’re listening – for example, by shaking your head.
  • When the other person stops talking, try to paraphrase or translate what he or she said. Reflect what you think you have heard. This technique helps to ensure if there is a clear understanding.
  • Try to recognise the individual’s feelings – for example: “You sound angry” or “You seem to be upset,” etc.

Listening sounds like an easy thing to do but there is a big difference, in both process and outcomes, between simply “listening” without paying much attention and active listening.  Active listeningis the best way to connect with another person and is a vital piece of healthy relationships.

How to apply accurate listening to your life.

The instructions are as follows:

“Consider, for example, a person in your family or at work you have a different opinion to. The next steps below describe how you can practice reflective listening and really hear the other person in real-life situations. You can use this tool whenever you have to deal with, for example, a discussion or conflict between people.”

The five steps to applying accurate listening to a real-life situation are:

  1. Choose a person with whom you are having relationship difficulties or a person that you know holds different beliefs from your own, and really try to step into those shoes for a period of time. For example, try to imagine you are doing someone else’s work. You can note whether your ability to empathise changes based on seeing the other’s point of view.
  2. Think about the conversations that you have had with that person. Consciously check your own interpretations of what that person is saying.
  3. You can begin by focusing on them, and before moving forward, think about what would happen if you framed the conversation from the perspective of “I just want to make sure I understand you. Can I clarify?” Rarely do people say no to this.
  4. Clarify what you’ve heard by reflecting the meanings and feelings of the other person. You can check if you fully understood the other by asking.
  5. When you are speaking you can also ask the other person if he or she wouldn’t mind sharing what they’ve heard you say. Then, you can consider how you would correct the other if you feel misunderstood.


3 Steps to Resolving Conflict Within Your Family

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Perspective Triangle Strategy allows you to master your emotions.

The most intense conflicts generally happen at home, within our family, with the people closest to us. They are the conflicts that bring us the most pain, make us suffer, and distress us.

Whether it’s yet another shouting match with your teenage child, or a disagreement with your spouse, conflicts at home are the most challenging to face because it’s so easy to be held hostage by your own emotions.

How then, can we turn a difficult moment at home into an opportunity to build rapport with the people that are dearest to us?

A strategy that works and has helped many to shift from an unproductive state of mind to one that is more resourceful. It helps not to escalate the conflict further, which happens when you let raw emotions take over. 

It’s called the Perspective Triangle Strategy

When you need to set yourself free from negative emotions, negotiators suggest that you metaphorically "go to the balcony" and look at the conflict with some detachment. It’s easier said than done. But the perspective triangle strategy allows you to detach yourself and get some clarity. To get clarity is important, if you want to resolve a conflict and avoid escalation.

Here are the three steps of the Perspective Triangle Strategy.

Step #1: Your Own Perspective.

This step requires you to achieve a higher degree of self-awareness. You do so by asking yourself what’s really bothering you.

What pain are you trying to avoid? What are you protecting yourself from? Through the emotions and the behaviour you are displaying, what needs are you trying to satisfy? Are you looking to be significant to the other? Or to feel secure? Are you trying to connect with the other, or to feel connected with yourself (especially if you feel down, sad or depressed)?

Inquire, go deep into yourself, and clarify what the conflict is really about for you.

In fact, chances are that while the fight is about a specific issue, in reality you are after something that lies at a deeper level. So, what is it? Get clarity, and you will be able to come up with different options on how you can get what you really want.

Step #2: The Other’s Perspective.

This step is fundamental. It requires you to have empathy and through empathy to widen your understanding of what’s really going on.

Put yourself in the shoes of the other. For a moment, suspend your own judgment and do your best to see the situation you’re confronting from the perspective of the other.

What might influence the position taken by the other? What experiences shape his or her understanding? What’s going on in the life of the other? What needs is she or he satisfying with a particular behaviour? Is the other looking for significance? Or rather for love and connection? Is it a way to feel secure? In other words, what’s the real intention of the other party?

Go deeper and ask yourself: how might the other interpret my own words and behavior? What can I do differently, in order to meet the underlying needs of the other and at the same time satisfy my own?

When you combine the insights you gained from considering your own perspective as well as that of the other, you can have a better understanding of the issue at hand and the ways in which you can resolve it.

Step #3: The Third Party’s Perspective.

Often, someone from the outside can give us a fresh perspective about a problem you are trying to resolve.

In this step, you put yourself in the position of a third party observing the situation you are involved in.

So, imagine you’re sitting in a movie theatre, watching your conflict projected on a screen as if it were a movie. What is it all about?

What does the spectator tell you about your own behaviour and judgment? What is he or she seeing? What advice does the third party give you? What would she or he tell you about the other’s real intention? And so on…

Providing three different lenses, the Perspective Triangle Strategy allows you to get necessary emotional detachment, to gain valuable insights, and to have a broader and deeper understanding of the conflict. It allows you to shift from a victim position to a leadership position. By making you stronger, it empowers you.

Here is what you need to remember…

Change doesn’t start with the other. Change begins with you…from within you. In this sense, conflict can always be an opportunity: for better communication, for a dialogue about issues that matter, for a more authentic relationship, for self-growth…

Conflict is part of our life. It cannot be avoided. But it can be resolved, transformed, and experienced as a gift from life to become deeper and wiser individuals. Everyday you learn a little bit more about how to love….and how to be loved.

Risky Business: Internet Addiction

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Internet is a wild and wonderful place which has forever changed the way we live, learn, and work – but when a person can’t find a balance between their time online and their time offline, it can mean problems for their mental health.

Some online statistics

  1. 88.5% of us are Internet users.
  2. Yet less than 40% of the world has Internet access.
  3. 40% of young adults (ages 18-24) use social media in the bathroom.
  4. An estimated 75% of us use a smart phone, tablet or mobile device to get online.  

For some people, going online becomes an addiction

There is no one definition for internet addiction; however, it is generally agreed upon that people who are addicted to the Internet have trouble filling personal and professional obligations because of their online activities, and their use of the Internet causes strain on relationships with family and friends. People who are addicted to the Internet often experience negative emotions or withdrawal symptoms when their Internet access is restricted.

Internet Addiction may also be called computer addiction, compulsive Internet use, Problematic Internet Use (PIU), Internet dependence, or pathological Internet use. Researchers estimate that 6% of people are addicted to the Internet.

There are 5 types of Internet addiction:

  • Cybersexual: Cybersex and Internet porn
  • Net compulsions: Online gambling, shopping, or stock trading
  • Cyber-relationships: Social media, online dating, and other virtual communication
  • Gaming: Online game playing
  • Information Seeking: Web surfing or database searches

Why do people become addicted to the internet?

Accessibility: Most of us can get online easily and almost immediately, at any time of day or night.

Control: People can go online when they want and without other people knowing, causing them to feel in control.

Excitement: Going online gives people a sort of "high." The suspense of bidding in online auctions, gambling, or playing games can be especially thrilling.

The combination of accessibility, control, and excitement make the addicted person want to continue going online.

How is internet addiction related to mental illness?

Adolescents who struggle with Internet addiction often have other mental health problems like alcohol and substance use, depression, suicidal ideation, ADHD, phobias, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and/or aggression.

Adults who are addicted to the Internet are also likely to have depression, anxiety, alcohol problems, compulsive behaviours, sleep disorders, ADHD, anger issues, and/or dissociative experiences.     

There is debate about which comes first for people, Internet addiction or the co-occuring mental health problem.

Are you dealing with Internet addiction?

If you agree with most of the statements below, it may be time to seek help:

  • I think about being online almost constantly. If I'm not online, I'm thinking about the next time I can be or that last time that I was.
  • I need to online longer and longer each time before I feel satisfied.
  • I have tried to control, reduce, or stop my internet use, but haven't been able to do so successfully.
  • I feel irritable or depressed when I try to reduce the amount of time that I am on the Internet or when I can't get online.
  • The way I use the Internet has threatened a relationship with someone I care about, my job, or my school work.
  • I lose track of time when I'm online.
  • I sometimes lie to important people in my life about the amount of time I spend, or the types of activities I participate in on the Internet.
  • Being online helps me to forget about my problems or improve my mood when I'm feeling sad, anxious, or lonely.

How is Internet addiction treated?

Some professionals classify Internet addiction as an obsessive-compulsive disorder, while others liken it to an impulse control disorder. Therefore, there is no one specific treatment for Internet addiction.

Internet addiction treatment aims to create boundaries and balance around Internet use rather than eliminating it entirely. However, if there is a certain app, game, or site that seems to be the focus of the addiction, stopping its use may be part of treatment.

Therapy is almost always incorporated into the treatment of Internet addiction. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and group therapy are common.

Medication may be used to manage symptoms of underlying mental illness and control intrusive thoughts about going online.

Exercise may be incorporated into Internet addiction treatment to ease the effects of reduced dopamine in the brain resulting from restricted Internet use.

Take control of Internet use

  • Take breaks. For example, try to take a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of Internet use.
  • Fill your free time activities that are physically intense or require a lot of concentration to distract you from thinking about going online.
  • Don’t bring your smart phone or tablet with you when you leave the house.
  • Keep track of non-essential Internet use (use that isn’t related to school or work) to see if you notice patterns. Do you go online when you are bored? Are you going online to relieve feelings of loneliness or depression?
  • Make a list of things of things that you enjoy doing or need to get done that don’t include the Internet. If you feel tempted to go online, choose an activity from your list instead.

15 Things You Should Give Up to be Happy

Monday, November 12, 2018

How to Find Happiness

Here is a list of 15 things, which, if you give up on them, will make your life a lot easier and much, much happier.  We hold on to so many things that cause us a great deal of pain, stress and suffering – and instead of letting them all go, instead of allowing ourselves to be stress free and happy – we cling on to them. 


1. Give up your need to always be right

There are so many of us who can’t stand the idea of being wrong – wanting to always be right – even at the risk of ending great relationships or causing a great deal of stress and pain, for us and for others. It’s just not worth it. Whenever you feel the ‘urgent’ need to jump into a fight over who is right and who is wrong, ask yourself this question:

“Would I rather be right, or would I rather be kind?”  Wayne Dyer.

What difference will that make? Is your ego really that big?

Would I rather be right, or would I rather be kind?

2. Give up your need for control

Be willing to give up your need to always control everything that happens to you and around you – situations, events, people, etc. Whether they are loved ones, coworkers, or just strangers you meet on the street – just allow them to be. Allow everything and everyone to be just as they are and you will see how much better will that make you feel.

“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond winning.” Lao Tzu

3. Give up on blame

Give up on your need to blame others for what you have or don’t have, for what you feel or don’t feel. Stop giving your powers away and start taking responsibility for your life.

Allow everything and everyone to be just as they are.

4. Give up your self-defeating self-talk

Oh my.  How many people are hurting themselves because of their negative, polluted and repetitive self-defeating mindset?  Don’t believe everything that your mind is telling you – especially if it’s negative and self-defeating.  You are better than that.

“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive.” Eckhart Tolle

5. Give up your limiting beliefs

Give up your limiting beliefs about what you can or cannot do, about what is possible or impossible. From now on, you are no longer going to allow your limiting beliefs to keep you stuck in the wrong place. Spread your wings and fly!

“A belief is not an idea held by the mind, it is an idea that holds the mind.” Elly Roselle

Give up your limiting beliefs about what you can or cannot do.

6. Give up complaining

Give up your constant need to complain about those many, many, maaany things – people, situations, events that make you unhappy, sad and depressed. Nobody can make you unhappy, no situation can make you sad or miserable unless you allow it to. It’s not the situation that triggers those feelings in you, but how you choose to look at it. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking.

7. Give up the luxury of criticism

Give up your need to criticise things, events or people that are different than you. We are all different, yet we are all the same. We all want to be happy, we all want to love and be loved and we all want to be understood. We all want something, and something is wished by us all.

8. Give up your need to impress others

Stop trying so hard to be something that you’re not just to make others like you. It doesn’t work this way. The moment you stop trying so hard to be something that you’re not, the moment you take off all your masks, the moment you accept and embrace the real you, you will find people will be drawn to you, effortlessly.

 We are all different, yet we are all the same.

9. Give up your resistance to change

Change is good. Change will help you move from A to B. Change will help you make improvements in your life and also the lives of those around you. Follow your bliss, embrace change – don’t resist it.

 “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” Joseph Campbell

10. Give up labels

Stop labeling those things, people or events that you don’t understand as being weird or different, and try opening your mind, little by little. Minds only work when open.

“The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” Wayne Dyer 

11. Give up on your fears

Fear is just an illusion, it doesn’t exist – you created it. It’s all in your mind. Correct the inside and the outside will fall into place.

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fear is just an illusion, it doesn’t exist – you created it.

12. Give up your excuses

Send them packing and tell them they’re fired. You no longer need them. A lot of times we limit ourselves because of the many excuses we use. Instead of growing and working on improving ourselves and our lives, we get stuck, lying to ourselves, using all kind of excuses – excuses that 99.9% of the time are not even real.

13. Give up the past

I know, I know. It’s hard. Especially when the past looks so much better than the present and the future looks so frightening, but you have to take into consideration the fact that the present moment is all you have and all you will ever have. The past you are now longing for – the past that you are now dreaming about – was ignored by you when it was present. Stop deluding yourself. Be present in everything you do and enjoy life. After all, life is a journey not a destination. Have a clear vision for the future, prepare yourself, but always be present in the now.

Life is a journey not a destination.

14. Give up attachment

This is a concept that, for most of us is so hard to grasp and I have to tell you that it was for me too (it still is) but it’s not something impossible. You get better and better at it with time and practice. The moment you detach yourself from all things (and that doesn’t mean you give up your love for them – because love and attachment have nothing to do with one another, attachment comes from a place of fear, while love… well, real love is pure, kind, and selfless, where there is love there can’t be fear, and because of that, attachment and love cannot coexist), you become so peaceful, so tolerant, so kind, and so serene.  You will get to a place where you will be able to understand all things without even trying. A state beyond words.

15. Give up living your life to other people’s expectations

Way too many people are living a life that is not theirs to live.  They live their lives according to what others think is best for them, they live their lives according to what their parents think is best for them, to what their friends, their enemies and their teachers, their government and the media think is best for them.  They ignore their inner voice, that inner calling.  They are so busy with pleasing everybody, with living up to other people’s expectations, that they lose control over their lives.  They forget what makes them happy, what they want, what they need…. and eventually they forget about themselves.  You have one life – this one right now – you must live it, own it, and especially don’t let other people’s opinions distract you from your path.


Forgive to Give

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Often we think that forgiveness is something we do for someone else, but actually forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. Because it takes more energy to hold onto hurt, guilt, anger, resentment than it does to forgive. When we forgive, we experience peace of mind and free ourselves to move on and move forward.

Stop Being Judgmental, Start Being Compassionate

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Have you ever thrown dirty looks at a parent whose child is throwing a tantrum? Stared in horror as someone bites into a greasy cheeseburger? Nodded mutely at a friend's tale of career/relationship/family woes and thought she was making a crazy choice?

We've all been there. Frankly, anyone who says they haven't been judgmental is probably lying or in denial, since few of us are so self-evolved that we don't pass judgment on others.

In fact, it's often healthy foodies who are some of the worst offenders. A research study recently found that people exposed to pictures of organic food made harsher moral judgments than those who were shown photos of comfort or neutral foods.

The thing is, being judgmental is not a behaviour that serves us. Let's face it: we judge others because we need to feel better about ourselves. It may make us feel superior or secure in the short-term, but the long-term stress of never feeling good enough can lead to a host of health issues.

Being non-judgmental, can lead to lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress-related illnesses.

13 Signs You’re a Judgmental Person

Here are some signs to look out for:

1. You believe that everyone is out to get you.
2. You expect other people to be consistent all the time.
3. You struggle to see beyond a person’s flaws.
4. You easily skip to conclusions.
5. You struggle to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty.
6. You’re intolerant of people unlike you.
7. You’re generally pessimistic about life.
8. You tend to believe people are either ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
9. You struggle to truly appreciate or see the beauty in others.
10. You have low self-worth.
11. You feel anxious around other people.
12. You’re suspicious and untrusting.
13. You have a strong inner critic who judges you.

So here are a few handy ways to tame the judgment.

1. Explore your self-talk and journal about it!

Your self-talk involves all the thoughts you have about yourself in waking reality. Take some moments during the day to tune into what types of thoughts you’re having. Good opportunities to do this often happen while interacting with others, going to work, looking at yourself in the mirror, or making a mistake. You can also use your emotions to hook yourself into your inner talk. Whenever you’re feeling upset, depressed, insecure, or anxious, try to pause and focus on your inner talk. What thoughts or assumptions are behind your feelings?

Next, in a journal, record your self-talk. Do this every day, without fail! Try to find common themes or patterns that reveal your underlying core beliefs. For example, you might discover that you often think about how “stupid,” ugly, worthless, or weird you are. These beliefs will give you something to work with.

2. Accept the ugly, weird, messy parts

Easier said than done, right? But by slowly and steadily working to accept yourself, you become less critical of others as well. Self-acceptance is about honouring and allowing space for all that it means to be human. Instead of putting yourself up to high standards, self-acceptance is about realistically looking at yourself, understanding why you are the way you are, and embracing who you are at a core level.

Some powerful places to start with self-acceptance include:

  • Taking care of your body and health
  • Writing your own affirmations
  • Journalling about how you feel
  • Making a list of everything you appreciate about yourself
  • Getting in touch with your inner child
  • Removing toxic people from your life
  • Surrounding yourself with supportive people
  • Reading self-help books
  • Doing one self-loving thing each day
  • Learning how to forgive yourself
  • Exploring the nature of toxic shame

Commit to any number of these practices every day and you will begin to see the results soon.

How anxiety has become a modern epidemic

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Everybody feels anxious at some point in their lives; starting a new job, trying to impress a date, sitting an exam, we expect to feel agitated and nervous, the butterflies fluttering in our stomachs. But for those suffering from anxiety or panic disorders such feelings are much stronger and more frequent. There is usually a sense of danger or threat, of not being able to cope with what might happen. Or it could be more of an ‘irrational’ fear - a “what if” – or what some people call ‘nameless dread’ that can take in every catastrophe imaginable.

And anxiety is more common and harmful than we may want to admit, according to the findings of a major University of Cambridge report, published in the medical journal Brain and Behaviour. More than 8 million people in the UK suffer some sort of anxiety disorder and women and people under 35 are especially affected.

We viscerally respond to perceived threats, just as our ancestors did, when hunting for food was a life-threatening excursion. These days the most dangerous thing most of us do is drive a car but our brains will still default to “fight, flight or freeze” when faced with danger and that’s what causes our cortisol levels to rise to unhealthy levels.

“These reactions are instinctive,” “they aren't the result of conscious thought.” But the symptoms feel very real. People suffering from anxiety disorders often experience irritability, dizziness, nervousness and sleep badly; they may get breathless, sweaty, shake and have nausea and diarrhoea as their bodies respond to the cortisol washing through them.  At work they might steer clear of any chance of confrontation, or shy away from taking on anything difficult in case they fail. Socially they may opt out of arrangements at the last minute, assuming that no one will want to talk to them.

People can also end up simply ‘fearing the fear’. Some clients who are doing well with their therapeutic treatment but can’t stop themselves thinking: what will happen if the anxiety returns? “This type of anxiety is actually the most threatening of all because it often appears when everything seems positive, and as such it can be extremely destabilising.”

Until now conversations around mental health have tended to focus on depression, but the report last week, which was a review of 48 studies from across the world suggested anxiety could be a much bigger problem. The US scored the highest number of people affected by anxiety - 8 in 100 - while in East Asia the figure was 3 in 100.  It found that more than 60 million people were affected by anxiety disorders every year in the EU.

People with anxiety tend to be hyper-vigilant to negativity and worry excessively about the future whereas those with depression tend to dwell on bad things about themselves. Many researchers now believe that a lack of dopamine – linked to reward and pleasure – is related to depression, but not anxiety.

But the big question is why it is becoming such an issue now, specifically affecting those born since 1980. One theory is that we are while we are digitally connected, we are less connected to each other.  Daily life is also less communal and collaborative particularly when compared with life a few hundred years ago. And yet, we all want to be accepted and liked. Being excluded from a group to which they want to belong is a real terror for many young people today. Millennials may call it FOMO (fear of missing out) but it is also fear of being left out.

Added to this are millennials’ fears about the future: will they be able to find a good job, afford to live independently, buy their own homes, so they too can have marriages and families like their parents did?

So what can be done to alleviate anxiety? Therapy.  It isn’t always comfortable or easy, but it certainly helps people to find a happier place.

NICE recommends that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is suitable treatment for people with anxiety or panic disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). But this is largely because CBT is the style of therapy that has the best research data behind it. The Counselling Directory statistics on mental health say that anxiety is the most frequently stated problem by people seeking therapists, and many different types of therapists and counsellors treat people - adolescents and adults - for anxiety and panic disorders. As one therapist told me ironically, “It’s anxiety-depression - almost one word, and it’s everywhere.”

But if weekly therapy sessions are not for you, there are many small changes that can help move the dial on your anxiety.

  • Take time out to relax;
  • Learn to breathe through your panic;
  • Try mindfulness meditation;
  • Don’t try to be perfect. 

Also take a hard look at your diet and exercise regime. Australian clinical psychologist Dr Lynette Roberts at the UTS Graduate School of Health in Sydney said this week, ”There is a lot to suggest that imbalances in gut bacteria are linked with changes in mood and behaviour. Studies involving probiotics are already showing they can arrest the thought processes that make people more vulnerable to mood disorders.”

Exercise is another good defence often lessening the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. And that’s just what’s available now.

There may be more anxiety about, but we are constantly coming up with new ways to combat it. The important thing is: if you don’t deal with it, anxiety can be seriously life-limiting, and that’s no fun at all.


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