Today we looked at things that are sentimental to us. It dis not have to just be a physical object it could a time or a place. Some things people chose were;
- Letters from loved ones
- Jewellery from loved ones
- 90’s ‘curtains’ hair style and flares
- 80’s hot pants
- 70’s Bell-bottoms and ‘New wave’ styles
It was an interesting and emotional experience to hear the reasons behind the sentimentality even if we do look back now and cringe at some of our fashion sense!
While preparing for our group programme in advance we are always mindful of the need to make sure it is finely balanced between light topics and others that are a bit heavier. After having a few deeper sessions it felt nice to mix it up today having a session on fun! It’s something that is so important for our well-being which sadly at times we can all too readily dismiss as un-important.
We did an exercise using spiritual cards and asked group members to choose a card that meant something to them. People found this useful as it provided an outlet to communicate how they felt. After this we played the card game adaption of the popular game show, ‘Catchphrase’. By the end of the game the scores between the two teams were fairly equal!
We finished with a look at what people’s favourite movies where and why. This evoked a discussion about the emotional attachment certain films held for people. Some of the films chosen were, ‘Cinema Paradiso’, ‘Kung Fu Panda’, ‘Back To The Future’, ‘Riding In Cars With Boys’, E.T., ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’, ‘Mary and Max’ and ‘The Godfather’ It was so nice to feel the passion and energy this brought to the conclusion of todays’ group!
We posed the question to people in the group as to whether receiving a mental health diagnosis had been a helpful experience. For those who had experienced a correct diagnosis and accessed the right treatment, this was extremely helpful as they could now understand what was happening and what to do to best look after themselves. For people where it had taken a bit of a journey to make a correct diagnosis, and where treatment for a condition which was not theirs was given, this was unhelpful and distressing and in some cases caused more damage. We talked a little about the diagnosis of BPD-Borderline Personality Disorder, this is a bit of a controversial diagnosis; it suggests that there is something wrong with a person’s personality. Using the term ‘disorder’ can leave people feeling upset and stigmatised. The diagnosis is confusing and little understood; it is a clinical diagnosis based on a collection of symptoms, which are often parallel to the effects of trauma. However, it is not an actual defined disease or condition, more possibly a reaction to adverse life events, and therefore not a permanent condition or state of being.
We talked a bit more about how people sometimes felt stigmatised or defined by some of the words used to describe some mental health conditions:
People felt that some of these were quite descriptive, sometimes in an unhelpful way leading to assumptions and stigma and a lack of understanding. Others felt that the not so descriptive terms could be helpful as they had experienced that if someone genuinely cared and was interested they would ask about the persons mental health condition in a way as to understand how it actually affected them.
Receiving a diagnosis can feel helpful and liberating for some while for others it may be another way of keeping stigma and unhelpful terms used in society alive.
Anxiety is part of our make-up as people, it’s built deeply into our brains to protect us. At appropriate times and in the right measure it is necessary and helpful to us. But it can get stuck, leaving us feeling uncomfortable and overwhelmed with life. In recent groups we have looked at some practical ways of managing difficult feelings with self-compassion and managing stress .
Today we looked at some other ideas to combat anxiety, or at least to feel calmer. Starting with our senses, specifically we looked into, or rather had a good inhale of some essential oils. Top of the recommended list for anxiety is Lavender, there is some small-scale research finding that lavender lowered anxiety levels for people at the dentist and for watching scary movies. Also recommended for anxiety are Rose, Vetiver, Ylang Ylang, Bergamot, Chamomile and Frankincense. We also tried smelling Geranium, Peppermint, Citrus and interestingly Thyme-not an immediate go to for anxiety, but because it helps to open up respiratory functions which become restricted in anxiety, this can help.
Following the sensual start, we turned again to self-compassion meditative exercises. Focusing on deeper breathing is immediately helpful for calming anxiety. But a new practise we are learning is how to sit with uncomfortable feelings. Our default reaction to feeling horrible is to kick against the feeling, get rid of the thought and just get out of feeling uncomfortable. However, in this exercise, in a hopefully slightly more relaxed state of deeper breathing, we felt where the anxiety maybe sitting in us, we may feel it in our stomach, or rising to our chest, even blocking our throat, in our heads, behind our eyes or in a generalised tense state of tight muscles and high shoulders. So we paid attention to it, focused on where it was, visualised it, could we start to soften the shape of it? Conversely, focusing on it did seem to have a calming effect! Maybe we do feel a little bit braver and able to handle things better when we find the courage to face them head on.
The other huge assistance which group members reported in being able to manage anxiety was the friendship and support of the group. Knowing that people are there for you, understanding how you feel without judgement is a huge support for people, knowing that this group very much holds people who face regular challenges in life.
This is an interesting article on anxiety from huffington Post
In line with this years Mental Health Awareness Week focus on stress, we had a discussion on this topic.
“The word stress was originally an engineering term. It referred to how much pressure a building could take before it collapsed. These days a lot more people are collapsing from stress than buildings.” Joyce Meyer
“Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure.
Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope. People have different ways of reacting to stress, so a situation that feels stressful to one person may be motivating to someone else.” (NHS inform)
Another way of understanding stress as brought in the group was a picture of a jug of water, and more and more water was being poured into it and it just overflowed; we really can only take so much until we spill over.
People in the group shared their experiences of what this could look like for them, from having an angry outburst to excessive shopping trips, or becoming unable to make a decision about anything, or going over and over and over situations.
Typical signs of stress include the following:
Emotional signs: anxiety, fear, sadness, frustration.
Behavioural signs: withdrawn, indecisive, inflexible, irritable tearful.
Physical signs: sleep affected, sex drive affected, changes in eating patterns, use smoking, alcohol or drugs.
Bodily changes: headache, nausea, indigestion, shallow breathing, sweating, palpitations, aches and pains…if prolonged stress, sleep and memory are affected, along with Irritible Bowel Syndrome, ulcers and cardiovascular disease.
People in the group were able to recognise their signs of stress and realise that this is really important in order to look after themselves. We talked about different ways to deal with stressful situations in life:
For those who like writing, or making lists, it can be helpful to write down all the stressful things, see which ones can be attended to and prioritise, which can be delegated, deleted or cancelled and which are out of our control, recognising that sometimes unresolvable situations are very stressful and we have to find ways of accepting them. Group members talked about the difficulty of long term suppressed emotions in these types of situations.
People also talked about recognising what their bodies needed, such as saying no to something and getting a rest, or going out for some fresh air and a walk.
We looked at who can support you?-are some relationships stressing you? This led us onto a big conversation about boundaries. We needed a bit of help understanding how it looks when we take ownership of other people’s issues that actually aren’t ours to carry, but then end up doing things we’d rather not because we’d feel guilty if we didn’t.
Mood helping food is something we have had a few group topics on over the years, and it’s worth remembering that good choices of what we eat, and how often we eat can help reduce stress. Cutting down on smoking, alcohol and caffeine, can also help to reduce stress.
When stressed you are negatively reacting to a change. All earth’s creatures are subjected to stress. There is some research to suggest that serene nature scenes reduce stress, as little as five minutes a day of walking in nature can have a positive effect. You don’t have to be in nature to enjoy the benefits, a nature scene painting or photo can calm the mind and feel relaxing. Nature scenes can buffer you from stress and when you are less stressed you have more emotional reserves for coping with real and imaginary threats.
We discussed feeling able to take time-out and practise self-care. The idea of accepting that this is ok takes some working on, as people think it’s selfish, but if you look after yourself properly you will probably look after others more attentively too. Some people talked about how they had found mindfulness and meditation to be helpful.
Ultimately, don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Try to keep things in perspective.
- Remember that having a bad day is a universal human experience
- When your inner critic or an outer critic finds faults, try and find truth and exception to what is being said
- If you stumble or feel you have failed, don’t beat yourself up
- Act as if you were your own best friend: be kind and supportive
- Take a few minutes each day to appreciate yourself
Today was the first part of the new programme. As with every programme we try to make it varied with a wide mixture of content. For today’s group we did an exercise where everyone was asked to write down places that meant something for them. These places did not necessarily have to be holiday destinations, they could be any place which hold an emotional attachment. Some of the destinations chosen by group members were; Japan, Arthur Seat (Edinburgh), Arizona, Spain, Italy, Jersey, Alaska, Texas, North Wales, Portobello (Edinburgh), Tibet and former Czechoslovakia just to name a few.
One of the most fascinating things about doing the exercise were the emotions that were invoked . It was really nice to feel the positive energy and passion shown throughout the room. The exercise seemed to help facilitate group members into have a different perspective on ways to deal with things which they find challenging.
Kristen Neff describes self compassion as giving the same kindness and care to ourselves that we’d give to a good friend. Self-compassion.org
This isn’t actually very easy to do because our brains and thoughts seem to be hardwired to be negative. This is because, at a very primal level, our brains are looking after us by being very vigilant to threat and danger; if we are aware of danger, our brains rev into gear releasing adrenaline and cortisol preparing the body to take action against the threat, this is known as the body’s threat system, reptillian or old brain, survival mode, or fight or flight. We experience this as anxiety and sometimes even panic attacks. It is our brain looking out for us, to protect us. So to be relaxed and taking some time out to be kind and loving to self is a bit worrying for this old brain which needs to constantly be looking out for whats wrong. And since we are no longer fleeing for our lives from things which might eat us, the brain has a look elsewhere for whats wrong. And it turns in on our very selves, attacking and critical of self. A quote that sometimes resonates with the group is:
When we are bullied our body will activate the threat system. Our critical voice will create anxiety. Our worrying thoughts have an impact on our wellbeing;
“…the mind is your ultimate battleground. It’s the space where the greatest and fiercest conflict resides. It’s where half of the things you thought were going to happen, never actually happened. It’s where your inner resistance buries you with negativity. And, when you allow these thoughts to dwell in your mind, they gradually succeed in robbing you of peace, joy, and ultimately your life. You think yourself right into nervous breakdowns and bouts of depression, time and again.” (from marc & angel, Hack Life)
Owen Fitzpatrick in his Ted talk ‘Mind Control’ talks about this voice as being a dictator with damaging propaganda.
This coupled with the idea that our brains are wired to the negative as suggested in the Ted talk ‘Getting stuck in the negative’…and very importantly ‘(and how to get unstuck)’ by Alison Ledgerwood.
we could think that we are screwed (yes, ironic negative mindset) particularly when we also throw emotions into the mix, because unbound feelings that we think are valid will properly screw you over!! They can be so powerful and overwhelming that we just kind of follow where they lead:
“We sometimes feel we can’t control these things, so we just go with the flow…It’s like finding ourselves in a canoe on a fast moving river. The more you ruminate about your anxiety and dwell on your fears and how terrible it will be if you fail, the more anxious you will become.” (Paul Gilbert)
The is that we can manage our brains and our emotions, we start by becoming aware of how we are thinking, and then we can employ strategies which help us to be compassionate to ourselves, to speak kindly and to discover gratitude as a way of thinking which helps to deflect the negative default. As a group, on a weekly basis we make a list together of what has been good in the previous week. This can sometimes be a powerful exercise in showing us that it’s not all bad and when we do focus on a good thing it can help shift that negativity.
So, what is self-compassion?
Self-compassion involves feelings of warmth and care towards self when faced with our own failings and short comings. And when we experience negative emotions to be able to accept them and be caring to ourselves in them. (Kristen Neff-full definition here)
Kristen Neff also helpfully describes the three elements of self-compassion. These are outlined in the link above.
- Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment; being kind when we get it wrong rather than criticising.
- Common humanity vs. Isolation; understanding that many people feel the same as us in any particular struggle, we are not alone.
- Mindfulness vs. Over-identification; acknowledging how we feel without falling headlong into that negative story
We had a bit of a discussion as a group as to what people thought self-compassion might look like for them. For some it was a bit hard to get to, but it is about allowing yourself to be human, be kind to yourself in mistakes. For others it was acts of kindness towards self, like taking good self care and baking a cake to eat….in fact just like the way you would treat another person!
We tried a couple of self-compassion exercises where we just acknowledged that things can feel hard, but that we are not alone in that, others feel the same as we do, and how then can we be kind to ourselves in that moment. To be accepting, compassionate, forgive ourselves. We can then extend this out to how we may be feeling about another person and extend compassion and kindness to them also.
We also thought about where we feel our negative emotion, where is it in our bodies? Maybe we can hold ourselves or touch that place of pain in a soothing way, and be mindful of how we feel, allowing it to happen without fighting to get away from uncomfortable feelings but to be kind to ourselves in it.
These exercises and many more like them can be found on the self-compassion website.
We will end with marc & angel’s excellent summary:
“…you were not born feeling this way….[At] some point in the past some person or experience sent you the message that something is wrong with you, and you internalized this lie and accepted it as your truth. But that lie isn’t yours to carry, and those judgments aren’t about you. And in the same way you learned to think negatively of yourself, you can learn to think new, positive and self-loving thoughts. You can learn to challenge those false beliefs, strip away their power, and reclaim your self-respect. It won’t be easy, and it won’t transpire overnight, but it is possible. And it begins the moment you decide there has to be a better way to live, and that you deserve to discover it. Make that decision for yourself!”from marc & angel, Hack Life