By Tehani Gunsekara (Clinical Psychologist)
I don’t know about you but often my head can be buzzing with a gazillion things. Things I need to do, things that happened and things that may happen. Ideas, hopes, dreams, fears and doubts can rush through my mind all at once. This can make it difficult to focus on one thing, and can lead to a sense of overwhelm and exhaustion. Trying not to think about it only makes things worse! The harder you tell yourself not to think about .... the more you find yourself thinking about ..... So, if thinking about it leads to overwhelm and not thinking about it is just not possible what can you do? Try out this 3 minute breathing space excercise.
First, some background. The original 3 minute breathing space was developed by John Teasdale, Mark Williams and Zindel Segal (Segel, 2016). They designed it as a technique that could be used quickly and easily in everyday life. The technique trains us to direct our attention on purpose. Instead of our mind and attention getting stuck, we intentionally take the wheel of our attention and direct it ourselves, working with, rather than against our minds. You start with a fairly broad focus and then narrow your focus to one thing ( in this case the breath) before broadening your focus again. A bit like an hour glass. This way we get unstuck from the overwhelm without fighting it.
Here's how to do it:
You can set the timer on your phone for this or simply guesstimate the time.
1. Sit in a comfortable position with your legs uncrossed and feet planted firmly on the ground.
Close your eyes. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. For approximately 1 minute simply notice your inner experience. Let your thoughts wander, let your feelings come and go . Let all the worries, To Dos etc flow through your mind. Rather than trying to stop them, just notice them. You are simply noticing them, you are not trying to change your thoughts or feelings.
2. After approximately 1 minute shift focus. This time notice your breath. Don’t change your breathing. Simply notice it. Notice the rise and fall of your stomach as you take air in and breathe it back out. Notice the air on the tip of your nose before it enters your body. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice the air as it leaves your mouth. Is it warmer or cooler than the air you took in through your nose? Notice the air travelling down your throat and into your stomach.
3. In the final minute start broadening your focus onto your body. Notice Your spine supporting you as you sit in the chair. Notice your feet on the floor. Then notice your environment. Notice what you can hear and what you can feel in contact with your skin. Finally, open your eyes, look around and notice where you are. Take it all in at once, what you can see, hear and feel on your skin.
Now that you’ve dropped the overwhelm get up and do something on your To Do list, or, even better, do something nice for yourself.
by Janine Taylor
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress (Holland, 2018). In today’s world, stress is unavoidable. Therefore, everyone experiences anxiety, it’s just the degree of anxiety that differs from person to person. This differential is based on numerous factors ranging from varied environmental stressors, support systems, or lack thereof, health factors, neurology and resilience levels.
Neurologically, a brain will transmit distress signals with varying intensities. Some brains will send severe distress signals when they feel unsafe, whereas others will send mild distress signals. Because of these differentials, some individuals may suffer more from intense bouts of anxiety than others. Learning to become more self aware of your body and identifying which type of environmental stressors burden your body, will help you to identify your anxiety triggers and work with them rather than work against them. Here are 5 practical tools to help your body comfort your brain:
1) Notice the first area in your body that your brain warns when it feels unsafe, eg tight chest, difficulty breathing, perspiration or an increase in heart rate. Embrace this as your ‘red light’ for action.
2) Stop what you are doing and focus on getting air so that your body can receive more oxygen. Excuse yourself from wherever you are. Go outside and take slow deep breaths and count to ten. Then re-evaluate and keep repeating until the symptoms are less intense.
3) Always keep water with you. Preferably cold water. As your brain feels unsafe, it sends distress signals to your body which increases your body’s basal temperature (Leonard, 2018). Cold water will assist in hydrating the body and cooling it down so that it feels less distressed and it will be less clammy.
4) Identify what is happening in your environment that is making you feel unsafe. This will be a situation that feels out of control. Take active steps to get control by answering the following 4 questions below:
4.1 What am I feeling? (identify feeling)
4.2 Why am I feeling this way? (what is the reason? What happened?
4.3 What do I need? (what do you need in order to feel better/safer?)
4.4 How can I satisfy this need? (what do you need to actively do to fix this situation?)
5) Action step 4.4 and then encourage your brain that it is ok and that you are safe. After all, your subconscious brain is the ‘Child’ signalling distress and it needs your conscious part of your brain to be the ‘Parent’ to reassure it that all is ok. Once reassured, all will be ok and your brain will reduce its distress signals.
If your symptoms persist and the above do not alleviate it, then it is time to seek professional help in order to learn the origins of your anxiety as well as how to access helpful tools. You can start by talking to your local GP or a psychologist.
So from now on, don’t fight your anxiety, work with it and it will work with you. After all, its just a part of your mind that needs gentle and calm reassurance and in today’s world, don’t we all!
by Janine Taylor
Financial stress is the number one stressor in relationships today (Slatkin, 2018). Spending money is a part of everyday life. It’s important as a couple to be on the same page in terms of spending habits. Being ‘in sync’ depends on collaboration, discussion and mutual permission. The ability to spend with freedom and know your partner trusts your choices is liberating. Choose to have financial discussions that highlight spending priorities: what is considered valuable versus invaluable will help each other to identify limits.
A survey conducted on Australian relationships in 2018 (Woolcott) indicated that more than 50% of respondents acknowledged that they did not discuss their own or their partners’ financial situation or history before entering into a relationship. This highlights that essential conversations that should be taking place before couples start relationships are not happening.
Here are 5 tips to assist couples build financial boundaries with each other:
by Janine Taylor
A plant only thrives if it is watered. However, some plants need more water than others. Relationships, like plants, need invested individuals to survive and thrive. Similarly, some individuals may require more attention and conversation than others. Understanding your and your partner’s needs within the relationship is key to feeling secure and building trust. This is built on 5 cornerstone acronyms of TRUST:
This is an essential ingredient. Asking honest questions and receiving honest answers builds security. It eliminates the element of doubt or duplicitous behaviour.
Respect conveys the message that your partner has value and enhances their wellbeing.
Taking the time to listen attentively and ask questions shows a vested interest in their everyday life.
Showing others through your behaviour and your conversation that your partner is one of your most important priorities blocks the relationship from any potential threats or predators.
Sharing your everyday life with your partner facilitates a greater feeling of connection and integration which fosters future growth and planning.
Under all of the above conditions, a relationship, much like a succulent, can withstand tougher conditions and still continue to bloom…
by Tehani Gunasekara
Pregnancy is usualy considered to be a happy time. You are eagerly anticipating the birth of your little bundle of joy and are positively glowing with happiness. While this may be the experience of some, it is certainly not the experience of all mums-to-be.
Pregnancy involves a lot of change and many thoughts about the future. For some this can result in increased stress and even Anxiety.
Anxiety refers to feelings of fear or dread about the future. It is a normal and useful response when triggered in the right context; namely when one's life is in danger. However, when it is triggered in the absence of physical threat it can be counterproductive and cause much suffering.
During pregnancy women could become anxious about the safety of the baby, giving birth etc. A pregnant woman may be anxious about eating the wrong thing or she may be hypervigilant about her baby's movements. Equally a mum-to-be may be anxious about the changes to her body or how she will cope once baby comes along. This anxiety may continue when baby is born, morphing into anxiety about the baby’s ongoing safety, the mother’s ability to cope and being a 'good mum'. This can compromise the wellbeing and adjustment of the mother and baby.
The good news is that you are not alone and there are highly effective therapies for Anxiety.
Research shows that approximately 20% of pregnant or new mums experience depression or anxiety. Dads-to be and new dads can also experience depression or anxiety. Furthermore, studies have found therapy to be highly beneficial. In addition, social support and self-compassion have also been found to help reduce anxiety during this period.
So, if you are pregnant and anxious I strongly recommend you talk to your GP and / or consult a Psychologist as soon as possible. In addition the following tips may be helpful:
Don’t go through it alone – as a mum-to-be / new mum it’s easy to feel the pressure to be happy and you may be afraid to open up to anyone. Yet, as we've already seen you are not alone, so don't go through it alone. Talk to one or two people whom you trust will understand and support you. Talk to other mums who may have already been through this and have got through it. Ask trusted family and friends for practical support once baby comes along and even put a plan in place for support post birth.
Take care of yourself – it’s easy to get so busy planning for baby that you lose sight of yourself. Yet making time to take care of yourself can make a big difference to your experience. One way of doing this is to make time for brief periods of rest, go for walks, ensure adequate sleep before baby comes long and ensure you are engaging with friends and family.
Be your own best-friend - if your friend was anxious would you simply tell them to "toughen up" or "get over it"? I hope not! So, if you are experiencing anxiety treat yourself with the same compassion that you would extend to a friend. The first step here is to notice and acknowledge your feelings. Acknowledge that it is difficult and then extend kindness to yourself. Speak to yourself kindly and compassionately and do something nice for yourself such as a soothing activity or a self-care activity.
Practice mindfulness- Anxiety is about the future. You expect something bad to happen in the future, no matter how near that future may be. So grounding yourself in the present can be helpful. There are several helpful apps out there such as Smiling Mind or Mind the Bump to help with this.
So if you are pregnant and anxious, please remember you are not alone, you are simply human, speak to your GP or a Psychologist and try out one or more of our tips above.
by Tehani Gunasekara
Finishing school, starting university, starting your first job, having a baby,.. all of these are positive changes. They are changes people pursue. So, it can be quite a surprise when you start feeling anxious about these changes. We usually associate anxious feelings with negative experiences and it can be a rude shock when a positive change brings about an anxious response in you. So why does this happen?
Anxiety is the body’s defence mechanism. It is the body’s response to our brains believing that we are in danger. When faced with something new, no matter how badly we wanted it, our brains can perceive it as dangerous. The fear of things not turning out as hoped, the fear of the unknown and doubts about our ability to meet the new demands are just some of the reasons that positive change can trigger anxiety in humans. So, how can you manage these transitions well?
by Tehani Gunasekara
Resilience is a concept gaining in popularity as people become increasingly aware of its importance. Resilience has many definitions, but they all have one thing in common: adversity! Resilience is experienced, expressed and evidenced in the face of adversity. No challenge = no proof of resilience.
So what is resilience? Resilience is the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity. It does not mean that you don’t feel pain, sadness, hurt, anger etc. Nor does it mean that life never gets on top of you. It does mean that you bounce back, recover and don’t get stuck in life’s sticky places. There are many factors that increase resilience and one of these is optimism. Research has repeatedly found that the optimistic are generally more resilient. If you think that your child is naturally a “glass half empty” kinda kid then take heart; optimism can be learned and here’s some simple steps to cultivate optimism in your child:
1. Teach your child to stick to the facts and not over-generalise
When something bad happens the words we use both in our thinking and speaking can impact our response to the event and our ability to maintain an optimistic posture. Imagine for example that your child has a disagreement with a friends at school. If your child says something like “nobody ever wants to play with me and bad things always happen to me” they are over-generalising. Instead help them to be more accurate and specific in their description of the challenge for example “My friend and I didn’t get along today, and I’m sad about this, but on most days we play well together”. This is realistic because you are not denying the facts, nor the pain of the experience, but you are doing also avoiding the pitfall of exaggeration.
2. Stick to the present, don’t fortune-tell
Worrying is a normal human practice and children worry too. There is no need to stop a child from worrying. However, it is important to teach your child the difference between thinking about the future and being absolutely convinced that their negative predictions will happen. Considering and preparing for realistic possibilities can be quite helpful; being overly confident in our ability to predict the future can be quite unhelpful. Imagine your child is starting High School and worries that their teacher will “mean”, the work will be too hard and they won’t have any friends. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns. Title one column “Bad things that could happen”. Title the other column “Other things that could happen” Then in each column list as many possibilities as you can come up with. Help your child to recognise that they don’t know what their teacher will be like yet, they may “mean” , and maybe they will be “kind” or “interesting” or even “fun”. "Yes, you may not have any friends when you start High School and on the other hand you may meet some interesting people and you may be about to meet your future bestie in High School". This approach does not deny the possibility of bad things happening, but it recognises that your child doesn’t know the future and has just as much reason to expect things will go well as they do to expect things to go badly.
3. Zoom out - don’t get stuck looking through the microscope
Our brains are amazing problem solvers and when faced with a problem our brains naturally zoom in and focus on the problem in an effort to find a solution. This is really helpful when the problem can be solved. Regardless, keeping the problem in perspective helps your child remain optimistic. When faced with a problem, talk it through with your child and help your child accept their feelings as valid, problem-solve with them and then help them also notice other things in their life that they care about and are grateful for. For example, “You may be finding maths hard right now, so let’s do some extra practice on the weekends and also notice how well you are doing in reading, how kind your teacher is and how much fun you had at sport today.” Alternatively, after discussing the problem / challenge with your child ask your child about the good things that happened in their day or the things they are thankful for.
Optimism is the ability to maintain a sense of hope for, and confidence in the future. Teaching children to be specific about their challenges, entertain possibilities for the future and notice the gold among the challenge helps cultivate optimism and therefore resilience in our children.
by Tehani Gunasekara
Mindfulness has captured the world’s imagination. So I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Perhaps you've even given it a try, or maybe it sounds like a great idea but you haven't got around to trying it yet.
As a Clinical Psychologist and a mum, I both practice and teach Mindfulness. However despite its popularity, or perhaps because of it, there is still a lot of confusion about what mindfulness is in the first place, and there are quite a few myths about mindfulness that could stop you from experiencing the full benefits of it.
Myth #1 – You need peace and quiet to practice Mindfulness
Not quite! The whole point of mindfulness is simply to be present, whatever your present may look like. In fact, this is one of the biggest reasons I like mindfulness. Let’s face it, how many of us mums have 2 minutes to brush our teeth in silence, much less 20 minutes to meditate each day? The good news is you don’t need to sit still in complete silence to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness comes in various forms and shapes, including informal mindfulness that you can practice on the go. You can drop anchor and channel your attention to the here and now anywhere, at anytime. I often find it most helpful in the busiest moments of all, to simply draw a breath and intentionally focus my attention.
Myth #2 – Mindfulness involves emptying your mind
Not so! It’s called mindfulness not mindlessness or mind-emptiness for a reason! Rather than emptying your mind, mindfulness helps you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, as well as your external environment. This in turn can help you to make informed choices about your behavior. For example, you may become aware that your heart rate is increasing, your muscles are clenching, you are feeling angry and you are having thoughts such as “he's being an idiot!” Being mindful of these thoughts and feelings means that you can then make an informed choice as to what you do with these thoughts and feelings. Do you: Give full vent to them? Walk away? Draw a breath and speak in a calm manner? Get some help to learn how to manage such thoughts and feeling? The choice is yours (perhaps with a lot of practice).
Myth #3 – It is important to be mindful all the time
Again, not quite! Our minds have the ability to dwell on the past and ruminate about the future for a reason. There are benefits to reflecting on the past. We can learn from it, modify future behavior and make changes to our environment by reflecting on what worked and didn’t work in the past. Thinking about the future also has significant benefits, such as helping us to anticipate and prepare for barriers to our success or wellbeing. However, it isn’t always helpful to get caught up in our thoughts about the past and the future, and mindfulness can help us take a break from the seemingly constant buzzing of our minds by dropping anchor for brief periods of time.
Myth #4 – Mindfulness is a cure-all
If only! There is no such thing as a panacea when it comes to mental health. While mindfulness has been found to have tremendous benefits in helping to manage stress, improve concentration, improve sleep etc it is not a cure-all. If you suffer from Depression or Anxiety for example mindfulness can actually bring up painful thoughts and feelings and without knowing what to do with these thoughts and feelings it can worsen rather than improve your suffering. Mindfulness can be a great part of the therapeutic process for mental health concerns, but it will not necessarily work as a stand-alone intervention. If you think that you may be experiencing depression or anxiety talk to your local GP who can point you in the right direction.
Got any questions about mindfulness? Enter them in the comments below and I'll get back to you.