Fiona Morrison CounsellingCentral Bristol

Useful stuff. Rocky road

Resilience through positive psychology and CBT

Life is difficult. This is the memorable opening sentence of M. Scott Peck's famous book 'The Road Less Travelled.' And it's so true!

How can we build the resilience needed to cope with life's obstacles? Positive psychology emphasises the benefits of gratitude. Feeling grateful for what we have is linked to feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Research has shown that people who are able to feel gratitude despite facing adversity or trauma are more able to push through their challenges.*

Giving praise is one way we can show gratitude, and it helps other people too. Focusing on the positives really does motivate people (the same is probably true of children - parents take note!). The feelings associated with this are likely to make them more resilient.

For example, one study showed that when a group of fundraisers were given a pep talk from their director who expressed her gratitude for their efforts, they made 50% more calls than a group who didn't hear the same talk.**

Giving attention to plus points is a great antidote to the negative self-talk that often sabotages resilience (the ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and ‘nevers’, like ‘I never get it right’). Cognitive behavioural therapy is one approach that helps to challenge these thoughts.

For example, if you think, ‘I’m never going to get through this,’ try to remember a challenging time in life that you did survive. Instead of automatically telling yourself, ‘I can’t’, make a conscious effort to collect evidence to the contrary. If you can't find evidence, ask yourself whether your thoughts really make logical sense, or whether they're helpful to you. Both questions are a powerful challenge to what cognitive behavioural therapy calls 'ANTs' - automatic negative thoughts.

Writing thoughts down or telling someone about them helps to undermine their hold and reinforce a change of mindset. It can take time, and sometimes professional support, but it’s worth persevering.

*positivepsychology.com/gratitude-happiness-research/
**www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude

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Useful stuff. Tree

Loneliness during lockdown

At the height of the Covid-19 lockdown, a third of UK adults said they hadn't had a meaningful conversation for a week. Two in five people said they felt lonelier because of the restrictions on social contact, and 33% said they feared their loneliness would get worse. Just under a third felt they would have no-one to turn to with a problem. Is this set to start all over again?

These figures, reported by The Guardian from a survey carried out for the British Red Cross, show just how much simply being alone for prolonged periods can affect our wellbeing. Social isolation can lead to mental distress, including anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

Even those who normally enjoy fairly robust mental health can be affected by lack of human contact. 'My mood gradually altered over the weeks,' said one woman (not a therapy client). 'At first, lockdown was quite a relief - a chance to slow down and breathe. But after a while I began to lose interest in my activities. The days started to drag. I began having negative thoughts about myself and my life.'

Why are other people so important to our mental and emotional wellbeing? There's something about being seen and validated by others that keeps us positive. We need to share, laugh, cry and celebrate with those around us in order to feel at our best.

When this doesn't happen, either through artificial constraints like lockdown, or because we don't have enough positive relationships in our life, we struggle. So building good, strong friendships is key to warding off anxiety, fear, low mood and a host of other negative mental states.

Counselling and psychotherapy can help to provide that positive, non-judgemental reflection from another person which builds self-esteem and confidence. It can also shine a light on some of the unhelpful patterns of relating that may prevent us from really connecting with others. Through the medium of a therapeutic relationship, we learn about ourselves and discover what we really need - and how to find it.

Looking for counselling in Bristol, or online counselling? Please get in touch.

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Useful stuff. Assertiveness

Five ways to practise assertiveness

Many people become stressed because they don’t know how to say no. Over time, resentment builds and self-esteem erodes. The sense of powerlessness that accompanies this can be corrosive.

But like optimism, assertiveness can be learned. Here are some simple tips to try out.

  • Don’t confuse assertiveness with aggression. Many people are afraid to speak up because they think they’ll be perceived negatively. But in fact, most people can afford to be quite strident (in their own eyes) before they’re likely to cause offence.
  • Practise speaking up in less emotive situations. Take something back to a shop, ask for a refund in a restaurant if unhappy with the service, or ask for more space on public transport. Breathe and just observe the feelings this creates (see Introducing mindfulness for more about being present).
  • Learn to hold a pause. Many people agree to something without thinking. Try saying something neutral like, ‘That could be difficult as I’m very busy right now.’ And then wait. Say nothing else. If you get asked again, say the same thing a different way: ‘The thing is, that will compromise this other piece of work I’m doing.’ And pause. People often dump things on those who offer the least resistance. Create some resistance and give the message that you’re not a pushover. You don’t even have to use the word ‘no’!
  • Don’t try to be someone you’re not. If you find it really hard to say no, cover your refusal in apologies. Say you’re really, really sorry, but it’s just not possible right now. ‘So, so sorry. Wish I could but I really can’t. I’m sorry.’
  • Think about the part negative self-talk may be playing in holding you back from being assertive. What do you believe it means about you if you say no? That you’re unhelpful? Unkind? Insubordinate? Challenge whether that’s really true.

    Looking for counselling in Bristol, or online counselling? Please get in touch.

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  • Useful stuff. Leaf

    Introducing mindfulness

    Mindfulness is an ancient practice which may conjure up images of sitting in the lotus position and chanting 'om'. Happily, this really isn't necessary to start enjoying its benefits. Mindfulness has been used in therapeutic settings to help reduce stress and anxiety, ease depression and generally improve the quality of people's lives.

    One study shows that mindfulness practice 'is associated with changes in grey matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.’* In other words, mindfulness really does impact the brain in a positive way!

    If you’ve never tried mindfulness then it’s best to get some instruction, but here are a few tips on how to start practising it.

  • Next time you do an everyday task like washing your hands, give it your full attention. What does the water feel like? Is it hot, cool or cold? What does the soap smell like? Is it slippery, hard, liquid? How is the feel of warm air on your hands – is it uniform, or does it change? Or if you use a towel, what is the sensation like? How would you describe it in detail to someone who’s never dried their hands before?
  • Whatever you're doing, pause every so often to switch off your mind and notice what your senses are telling you. Are you hot or cold? What can you hear? If your hands are touching a table, desk or keyboard, what does that feel like? Are there aches in your body anywhere? Is there any tension? Are you hungry or thirsty? And so on…
  • Do the same thing outside. Go for a walk, change the scene and use your senses to become fully aware of everything around you. What can you see, feel, hear and smell? Just list everything – it’s that simple. You’ll also be getting a lift from some natural daylight and fresh air.

    The intention is not to change anything you notice, but simply to observe it. Normally we have a constant stream of mental ‘chatter’ going on (‘I’m hungry, I need a drink, it’s my turn to make the tea, must buy some tea on the way home, never have time to do the shopping, must go to the gym….’), and this is what drains us of energy.

    Slowing down and paying attention to the small details of a single action without that running commentary teaches us to be much more present. Ultimately this leads to the kind of results shown in the study.

    If mindfulness appeals to you, please mention this if you make an appointment with me. This is something we can explore in the therapy session to support your personal development.

    *www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/

    Looking for counselling in Bristol, or online counselling? Please get in touch.

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