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Expressing your feelings in a letter

Image result for writing a letter

The group had suggested that we could do a session on letter writing to process difficult emotions.

We had an outline for a process to follow if this would be helpful:

We recognised that each persons situation was very different, some issues are maybe in a current relationship, some may be with people from whom we are now estranged or may be deceased. Actual contact with the other person may or may not be possible or appropriate depending on the circumstances.

Some letters had dealt with anger or being controlled and realised some new things through writing it out. Other letters addressed betrayal and forgiveness. Some had written a letter to self, recognising that they were deserving of self-care and were worthy of value. Some people had written to a person in their life that had previously bullied them and realised that they now felt sorry for this person.

Through this process we acknowledged that there could be conflicting feelings, for example feeling angry yet loyal, or hurt yet had hope for reconciliation. People noticed that there was something helpful in the act of writing things down, that in the flow of that there could be more clarity. Some people saw that their process was still very active and that there were further layers of processing to do.

During the letter writing exercise we enjoyed having Neil Young’s song on about writing a letter!

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Who are my true friends?

The group said that the qualities which made a good friend were loyalty, that means that someone can be trusted to not repeat what was shared in confidence. People enjoyed common interests but also different interests in friendship. A good friend would be understanding, encouraging, and able to tell you hard things even though its difficult because they care about you and what is in your best interests.  Good friendships are encouraging, growing, equal and mutual which means support is given both ways when needed.  Boundaries are understood and respected, as are values.  Honesty, authenticity and being genuine were seen as important qualities in a friend.  We also discussed ‘the eggshell factor’ meaning that there was balance in the relationship about being to directly tackle ‘anything in the room’ and an ability to break tension and awkwardness and the freedom to be honest and not having to play games around each other, able to have a dialogue about what is going on.

Good friendship qualities are being discreet, kind and fun and sharing humour. It was highlighted that the importance of friend relationships can be a bit underrated in society because there is such a focus on dating and marriage when actually friends are so important and no less necessary even  if you are in a relationship! Some of the group recognised that sometimes a lack of friends is to do with circumstance and not an individuals ability to make friends. We may look at how to make friends in a future group, as this can feel difficult in some seasons in life, for example moving to a new place, following the breakdown of a relationship or having low confidence.  A shared history was also seen as a good contributor in a friendship, and especially shared values as people thought it would be quite difficult to be friends if someone had extreme views which conflicted with closely held values. 

Things which people thought were not indicative of true friendship were abuse, control, belittling, sarcasm, not really caring but exploiting and taking advantage and someone who is not genuinely interested in how you are but is all about their own self interest.

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Expressions through poetry

In this group we talked about poetry. What is a poem? Maybe it rhymes, maybe not but it probably has a rhythmic quality, and perhaps it will use symbolic language; speak to us in metaphors and veiled imagery, maybe it will be able to talk about difficult and taboo subjects in aesthetic and acceptable ways. An ordinary topic gets made mysterious, or a difficult one becomes beautiful, emotions can run, flow more easily into wistful, torrential linguistic expressions.

Some members shared poems which they had written, others remembered poetry from childhood and we looked these up. And together the group wrote a poem:

Ups and Downs

What’s the difference between up and down?

We come from all over the town

We might wear a smile or we might wear a frown

What’s the difference between up and down?

Up is light and down is shite,

Mixed emotions, spinning head

I’m glad I got outa bed

Come to the group and deal with all the things inside ma heid

Or suffer Paul’s bad jokes instead

Or was it better staying in bed?

Liz’s calm meditations led

It’s great to see our Thursday friends

‘cos my week’s been driving me round the bend

If I miss three weeks I make amends

Why does the darkness precede the dawn?

We offload all our thoughts and grief

Feeling better as we leave

After check out we can breathe

Feel strong to tackle the week ahead

Now it is time to get fed

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How to become more positive

Today the group began talking about some of the stuck places we can find ourselves in. This may be due to circumstances; difficulties with health, finances or repetitive disappointment. We acknowledged these factors but began to acknowledge that the way we speak to ourselves about events could be changed for a different mindset allowing more potential, possibility and optimism. Some of the group shared about ways in which they had dealt with negative thinking patterns. One of these ways was by noticing what the thoughts were rather than just operating from feeling and doing. By becoming aware that it is the ‘Think’ which influences the feel and do, the person had made big life changes and was more positive. Another person shared about ‘fake it til you make it’ and how this had helped them to force themselves through difficult situations, ultimately this was helpful as in the end they did feel ok. This was about sometimes adopting a state of resignation or acceptance of a difficult, unchanging circumstance because in the end this served the best interests of those involved rather than fighting.

People chatted about the positive energy it takes and the force required to make changes, even getting out of bed some days when energy or mood is low takes an incredible amount of force, however we concluded that in general people do not regret getting up or getting up earlier so it is worth the discomfort. Mel Robbins speaks about this too in the Ted talk below.

We also considered the mind body connection, our low thoughts can make our bodies heavy and vice versa. Altering a state in one may well alter the other. Another tip from the group was to think of 3 positives for a negative as they had found this very helpful. Each time there is a negative thought about something, or one of those pesky ‘What-if’s’ think of three to counter it.

Some other regular themes of discussions in our group were revisited too as ways to become more positive, such as finding things to be thankful for, being aware of the stories in our heads, the content of our conversation with others, be kind to yourself-which includes being able to say no things and assert boundaries. We talked about commitment to following ideas through too even if we don’t feel like it . People talked about Mel Robbins (above) 5 second rule whereby it’s important to follow an idea with some kind of action within 5 seconds otherwise we lose the impulse.

We know that it is not as simple as swapping a negative for a positive. However, from our discussion and people sharing their experiences of what has worked for them, there are some proactive steps we can take to introduce our negative bias to an alternative perspective.

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When relationships with food become unhealthy

Over the years we have done a good number of sessions about our relationships with food; healthy food, how food affects mood-specifically the link between gut health and mental health and changing our eating habits. In this session we looked at what happens when our relationship with food becomes the behaviour through which we try to manage difficult emotions and thoughts.

We looked at three specific types of eating disorder; anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating and a syndrome called authorexia which can sedge way into anorexia.

Much of the following information is adapted from a webinar from SMART Recovery calledBehavioural Addictions — A Look at Gambling and Eating Disorders with Dr. Chris Tuell and Ms. Ann Hull ‘

Anorexia is an inability to maintain weight and the body goes into starvation mode. The body craves carbohydrates but these messages are ignored. The brain produces opioids creating a high .  The experience of starvation becomes a high due to the numbing effect from the opioids. Anorexia can take many different forms from not eating, eating but then vomiting and also over-exercising as well.

Anorexia often starts in adolescence. The way out of disordered eating is through eating, so it’s complicated to recover from something you have to do every day. Research shows that the average adult makes 226 food related decisions every day. It’s important to remember that it’s not about the food.  People talk about the food, but it’s not about the food.

Bulimia is a pattern of binge-eating and then purging in order to prevent weight gain. It’s not a fear of food, it’s a fear of weight gain. Getting rid of the food creates a high, people start out purging so they can eat more food, but in the end it morphs very quickly into eating more so you can purge.

Binge-eating is defined as eating much more rapidly than normal until feeling uncomfortably full. Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry. Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating and feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating.

Authorexia is defined as a syndrome, it is a focus on clean or healthy eating, or only organic etc which has become obsessive. It becomes time consuming, expensive and very restrictive meaning often the absence of food options, coupled with weight loss it may morph into anorexia.

People use relationships with food to cope with emotions in the same way that people self medicate with drugs or alcohol.

When eating starts again, just like any addiction-when you give up, all those feelings come flooding back, and they’re never the feelings of joy, peace and happiness they are usually resentment, anger, unhappiness , disappointment sadness so no wonder people want to give them up.  So we have to learn to sit still with all those uncomfortable feelings, about our bodies, who we are, about our life.

People in the group were able to talk about their own experiences of having difficult relationships with food at times. In thinking about what can help it is worth remembering that eating disorder is a symptom of emotional dysregulation. People say they feel fat, but fat isn’t a feeling. We focus on food and weight so that we don’t have to feel emotions because sometimes we have been conditioned from childhood to suppress these feelings for various reasons.

Because discorded eating is rooted in emotional pain it is helpful to find healing and supportive relationships. Also, because we take less care of ourselves when we are stressed we talked about a particular breathing relaxation method called vagus breathing.

The vagus nerve connects your gut to your brain, and is an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system which allows us to “rest and digest”, the opposite of “fight or flight”. A way to reduce stress or improve decision-making, is by doing a few rounds of vagus nerve breathing based on four breaths in and eight breaths out which stimulates the vagus nerve. Participants in a research project who focused on breathing patterns with longer exhalations for two minutes reported lower levels of stress. They were also able to do significantly better in answering test questions. Researchers concluded from the study that breathing patterns reliably increase heart rate and improve decision-making.

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Healing Flames and Gratitude Mandalas

For a more relaxed session today and informal conversation we held an ‘arts and crafts’ session-well loosely anyway. Having started with a mindful breathing exercise we had a couple of sheets to focus on something in particular if that is what people wished. One was ‘the healing flame’ helping individuals track a recovery process. This could be from past abuse of any kind. As a group we have witnessed members grow, grieve, become stronger and back to themselves having had abusive situations in their past. The other was a mandala prompting thoughts of things to be grateful for. Individuals chose different exercises for personal reasons. For some, tracking the linear process of recovery was helpful and for others a more circular idea of coping made more sense as life cannot always be tracked in linear process as anyone living with recurring anxiety or depression may well know. Whichever way we view our own recovery, our emphasis here is that movement is always possible; from the despair to hope and from broken dreams, hopes and crushed spirits to new growth, strength and contentment. Conversation was shared among the group as we worked on these exercises about how people managed, coped with and perceived life’s difficulties, leaving people feeling heard and understood.

The Healing Flame we found on a website called ‘Letting Your Light Shine’.

“Let Your Light Shine”
Developed by Alexandra House 2014
Adapted from the Healing from Abuse Wheel by Kate Cavett

The following mandala was found on a website called ‘Today’s Inkling’.

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Body Image and Self-Reflection

This session’s topic was in line with Mental Health Awareness Week’s topic of body image. How we view our bodies can positively or negatively affect our mental health and contribute to eating disorders. It is a rising issue in a social media dominated generation where definition by selfie has become very important.

We had a think about what our bodies say about us, whether we connect what is happening in our body to what is happening in our mind, feelings and choices. We also thought about what is our relationship like with our mirror?

What some people noticed is that they didn’t really connect body to other things, however some were aware of eating habits, or clothes choices being affected by mood. Mood can be affected by how we feel about what we look like and we can accordingly dress or eat in ways which communicate that, either looking like we aren’t caring about ourselves much or we do dress to feel good.

As part of mental health awareness week, ‘Mental Health Foundation provided these Statistics on body image .

The following poem was also performed for the awareness campaign: You’re more than a reflection