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Posted by on in adults
Top 5 Tips Understanding The Teenager

Top 5 Tips Understanding The Teenager

Most people are aware or at very least can remember their own teenage years and know that this period of time is a HUGH time of change. One of the reasons is the massive amount of change that goes on inside of the teenage brain. Our brains continue to change throughout our lifespan, but never as much as during these years. The teenage brain is under massive influence of new hormonal messages as well as the overwhelming need to have new experiences. These changes start to reshape and reconstructed the brain and a period of PRUNING occurs which is a scientific term that means some pathways are closed down and some are rerouted and reconnected to other destinations. As with anything massive change there is bound to be issues with things not running smoothl!! We are now starting to understand why there is a change in personality and the basic stability of our child because the new perspectives (pathways) and reactions are flying left right and centre. So, it is always important to bear in mind amongst the teenage chaos years that they are still in a developmental stage of their life and this stage affects the rest of their lives. Those experiences and current needs are shaping the pruning and sprouting process in the brain. Let’s look at what to expect from my humble experience –

1. EXPLOSION OF NEURAL PATHWAYS - Right before puberty the brain is blossoming and there is an overabundance of neuronal connections, so this now becomes a critical period of development. This structural reorganization is thought to continue until the age of 25, which is probably just as well given some of the experimental experiences they get up to eg drinking to excess, drugs etc.

2. PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT - The most obvious is the awkward growth spurt, and physical changes that occur. It sometimes looks like teenagers themselves cannot control their bodies, becoming clumsy and not realising their new found strength. Puberty is the beginning of major changes in the limbic system, meaning among other things there is a change in the circadian rhythms (which are physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a roughly 24 hour cycle) this looks like the teen sleeping in and going to bed later. Which means they start to rack up sleep debt!!! This is really bad because sleep is thought to help reorganise the teenage brain. As we all know sleep deprivation leads to an exacerbation in moodiness and cloudy decision-making!! The hormone changes at puberty have a huge affect on the brain, one of which is to spur the production of more receptors for oxytocin, (bonding hormone). This may result in an increased level of sensitivity and leading to feelings self-consciousness, making an adolescent truly feel like everyone is watching them. This may make a teen seem self-centered (and in their defence, they do have a lot going on).

3. IDENTITY – forming and storming their identity - Teens have this overwhelming urge to figure out who they are and what they believe and stand for. This is often formed through their peers who become VERY important throughout this stage. They will experiment and work out with the different groups what they do and don’t like. Parent s and other role models play a role too.

4. NEW THINKING SKILLS – As mentioned now we have lots more brain development to access, so it will start to interconnect an gain more processing power. So they START ..not there 100% yet access more complex decision making skill. So for awhile this does not always work out for them. Based on the stage of their brain development, adolescents are more likely to: #Act on impulse, #misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions, #get into accidents of all kinds, #get involved in fights, #engage in dangerous or risky behaviour. AND LESS likely to: #think before they act, #pause to consider the consequences of their actions, #change their dangerous or inappropriate behaviours. Which leads us to - DECISION MAKING PROCESS! – The teenagers newly found emotions and brain development tend to affect their decision making processes. This will mean that their decisions can be overly influenced by their emotional part of the brain (limbic system) rather than our more rational prefrontal cortex. This will often leave a lot of adults around them going…’what the!’ as they will do silly things like drive too fast, drink and drive, punch walls/jump off high things and hurt themselves, when they clearly know better. Basically cause and effect is hindered, as the teenage brains is simply put wired to seek reward making them vulnerable to engaging in risky behaviours. According to many researches by late adolescence, say 17 years on, the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and long-term perspective taking is thought to help them reign in some of the behaviour they were tempted by in middle adolescence. PHEW!

5. SOCIAL – As mention we have this Hugh amount of brain development and skills which the teenager is still trying to figure out how to work with. I like the analogy of when you get a new cadet, you kind of just experiment with it until you figure it out… well that’s our teenagers in a nutshell!! This is why teenagers need to experiment with new situations, friendships and challenge pretty much everything. In most cases teenagers will try this out with their parents (as it’s a safe environment – meaning you will love them anyway, most of the time!) and NOW we have parent child conflict to add to our mix of chaos. Conflict becomes like an experimental ‘self expression’ if you will, this is even more complicated by the issue of the ‘Ego Centric Brain’ meaning it can be difficult to understanding another’s point of view. again parent child conflict! So as hard as this might be to believe this behaviour is not actually a personal thing. Keep in mind that we need to be the bigger, stronger and wiser person, so as to help them to stay calm, listen and basically be good role model. We need to show them HOW we want them to behave. They need to learn and practice how to develop those underdeveloped abilities. Until these areas are fully developed there is the possibility of them misreading teachers, parents and others. Just a little word to the wise - The more you yell at a teen, the worse they will likely behave, often not matter how careful you are there is always the possibility that it will end in tears or anger because they will have misunderstood what you have said, … Its tough, dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t.

6. INDIVIDUATION - One of the jobs of a teenager is to start to separate from their family and establish some autonomy, both emotionally, physically and financially. Don’t worry just yet because they still need their parents to provide them with the well needed stability and structure. So even when your 15/16yo is trying to act like an adult and do adult things if you treat them as an adult you may be setting them up unfairly for failure in the future. They still need you even if they say they don’t. One of the BEST ways to parent your teen, other than being reliable, predictable and a good listener, is to be a good role model, especially when dealing with stress and other tough life events. The teen is trying really hard at this stage to figure our their own way of coping and they are always watching you. "It is the first time they are seeing themselves in the world," meaning their greater autonomy has opened their eyes to what lies beyond their families and schools. They are asking themselves, for perhaps the first time: What kind of person do I want to be and what type of place do I want the world to be?
Our job as parents is to help them explore the questions, rather than give them answers.

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Posted by on in adults
How Self-Compassionate are you?

How Self-Compassionate are you?

This month we will be focusing on Self-Compassion!! While we are all familiar with the term Compassion, we might not be as familiar with the idea of Self-Compassion. In essence while we may be kind and compassionate toward others, many of us struggle to be compassionate toward ourselves.

We may judge ourselves for our perceived failures, speak harshly to ourselves when we make a mistake, and feel separate and cut off from others during times of suffering.

By taking a more Self-Compassionate stance toward ourselves, we can be more open to our experiences of suffering, be kind and caring toward ourselves, view our shortcomings non-judgmentally and see our suffering as part of the human condition (Neff, 2003).

We can also become aware of our critical voice. You know, that voice that tells us that we are “not good enough,” that we are unlovable, that we will fail or that things won’t get better.

There are three parts to Self-Compassion. The first is being kind and loving to oneself instead of judgmental. The second is accepting that suffering is part of the human condition, which helps us to stay connected to others rather than isolating ourselves. The final important component of Self-Compassion is mindfulness, that is, contact with the present moment and one’s own suffering, as opposed to avoiding experiences of pain and suffering.

Research has shown that people low on self-compassion tend to struggle with depression, anxiety and other problems, while those high on self-compassion tend to have improved psychological well-being, satisfaction with life and overall coping strategies.

So, if you want to increase your Self-Compassion, you could try the following:

    1. 1. Consider how you would treat someone else, like a friend. What tone of voice would you use? What would you say to comfort them? What sort of language would you use (i.e. supportive versus blaming)
    2. 2. You could comfort yourself with a physical gesture
    3. 3. Develop compassionate language toward yourself and use these phrases in times of stress or distress
    4. 4. Practice meditation or mindfulness

If you would like more information on Self-Compassion, or you would like to find out how Self-Compassionate you are, ask to see Claudine at Drop Of Life for an appointment! 

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A message to parents and carers about the importance of caring for yourself.
A message to parents and carers about the importance of caring for yourself.


Much has been written on the subject of positive role modelling. In all facets of functioning children and young people seek and need positive role models. Now here comes the good bit – parents and carers your mission, and I so hope you accept it, is to actively and purposefully care for yourself whilst your child is engaged in therapy… And even if they’re not.

Being the front line support person for a child is an incredibly important and rich role. Being available, being patient and kind, being able to meet their many and varying needs requires energy, enthusiasm, commitment and at times great stamina.

Taking time to rejuvenate, recover, rest and care for yourself demonstrates the importance of self -love and care. Taking time to connect with family and friends, to have fun, share a laugh, be silly and playful. We all know that actions speak louder than words so taking time out for a cup of tea with a friend, a soak in the bath or a walk on the beach is showing that we value and prioritise care for self and makes us better able to care for others.
Those who have travelled on a plane will be familiar with the safety message – please put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Parents and carers commitment to their child or young person’s therapeutic plan for self-care can result in their own plan falling by the way side. Consider your therapist as flight attendant offering you the same sound and evidence based advice – care for self means we are better able to care for others.

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Posted by on in adults
How Can I Manage Stress

Christmas has great significance for many people and it also provides an opportunity to reflect on the year that has been. There are opportunities to catch up with friends and spend time with the people in our lives who are closest to us. This can be a positive experience, however many people can feel overwhelmed by time demands, commitments and financial pressures that arise during this season.

It is also a time of year where we find ourselves (willing or unwilling) to partake in the superficial aspects of buying expensive gifts, hosting parties and attending social functions.

It can mean, overindulging, staying up later, breaking routines as well as the good habits we may have worked hard to put in place throughout the year.

At a time when everyone celebrates, we can also be reminded of what hasn’t been working well in our lives, such as relationships or goals that we have set out to achieve uneventfully.

There can be a sense of obligation to see people with whom we no longer have much in common and a tendency to overcommit.

For many, this is also a time of year when people grieve the loss of loved ones and can be overwhelmed with feelings of isolation, disconnection, sadness and depression.

The Stress Response

When we are under stress there are different areas in our brain that become activated, acting as our ‘smoke detector’. When this happens, our brains automatically send a signal to our bodies to get ready to defend itself or hide. This is called the fight-flight-freeze response.

In the short term the stress response helps us to stay alive in dangerous situations; however when stress is chronic, it can play havoc with our physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Common physiological symptoms of stress can include tension in muscles, aches and pains, clenching jaws, gastrointestinal problems, difficulties sleeping, chest pain, dizziness, excessive sweating, tiredness and fatigue.

Cognitive effects can include difficulties concentrating, poor memory, overthinking or excessive worrying, and negative thoughts.

Emotional aspects can include irritability, hyper-vigilance, feelings of doom, helplessness, loneliness and a general sense of being overwhelmed.

People can sometimes avoid social contact and lose interest in things that were previously enjoyable, change their eating patterns, or engage in risk taking behaviours or self harm.

How Can I Manage Stress?

Learn to recognise your warning signs of stress. Take notice of the common physiological changes that occur in your body when you are stressed. Learn to recognise that these are the symptoms of stress, the signs that warn you that stress could be taking over.

Identify your triggers. Triggers are external events or situations such as for example loud noise or being ignored. It can include places such as crowded places or a person who reminds you of someone you dislike. A trigger results in an unpleasant and usually unexpected emotional response.

Taking the time to notice and then making a list of your known triggers can be helpful in preparing you to manage situations that may increase your response to stress.

Observe your thoughts. When we are stressed there is a tendency to engage in unhelpful thinking such as blowing things out of proportion, becoming rigid, believing that everything is bad or that nothing positive ever happens. There is a direct correlation between our thoughts and the types of emotions we experience as a result.

Engage in mindfulness. Taking the time to pay attention to the present moment can be an extremely effective way of managing overwhelm. When stressed our minds tend to focus on the past (often what hasn't gone well) or focus on the future (predicting or imagining), so essentially we are story telling. When this happens, we lose our opportunity to experience our current reality.

Practice self-compassion. Understand that no one gets it right one hundred per cent of the time. As explained by Dr Kristin Neff, this means recognising and acknowledging that you are having a hard time dealing with your feelings of overwhelm and asking yourself a question such as..what can I do in this moment to take care of myself?

Increase physical activity. Physical activity is an essential in the management of stress. It releases endorphins which are often referred to as the ‘feel good hormones’, relaxes muscles, and helps with concentration, focus and tolerance. Choose something that you will enjoy and preferably gets you outdoors. Try a brisk walk, jogging, yoga, dancing or anything that makes you move.

Practice breathing. Take the time to stop and breathe. Breathe in to the count of five seconds, hold it for five seconds, breathe-out for five seconds, then hold again. Repeat this for one to two minutes.

Stick to a routine. This is especially important if you have children. As much as there will be many outings and staying up later than usual at this time of year, routines (such as bedtimes, or particular activities you do together as a family) and clear boundaries (what is ok and not ok) will help children to feel secure and understand expectations.

Build in some down time. Regain some balance by spending time involved in enjoyable activities.

Develop a Plan. Once you have a good understanding of your body’s stress signals, triggers and thoughts, put together a list of strategies to help you cope when you are overwhelmed.

Practice prevention first but if all else fails and you are feeling far too overwhelmed, then have some quick strategies up your sleeve. Leave the room, take time out, do something quirky or completely the opposite of what you would normally do when feeling overwhelmed. Instead of yelling…sing!

Ask for help. Talk to family, friends, neighbours or agencies if you need support. There are 24 hour helplines that can provide support and point you in the right direction.

However if you find that winding down is becoming increasingly difficult and that stress seems to have a bigger part to play in how you feel or react to situations then it might be helpful to talk with a Psychologist.


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Posted by on in adults
Conforming to the Norm

While I was at university (many years ago!!!) I was always amazed by some of the experiments that were conducted, these studies were clearly done before ethics truly took hold in Psychology. Experiments that really looked at some of the things that humans will do and how they will act in certain situation that you truly would not expect. Experiments such as:

The Halo Effect: When Your Own Mind is a Mystery

How and Why We Lie to Ourselves: Cognitive Dissonance

War, Peace and the Role of Power in Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiment

Our Dark Hearts: The Stanford Prison Experiment

Stanley Milgram: Obedience to Authority Or Just Conformity?

Why We All Stink as Intuitive Psychologists: The False Consensus Effect

Why Groups and Prejudices Form So Easily: Social Identity Theory

How to Avoid a Bad Bargain: Don’t Threaten

Why We Don’t Help Others: Bystander Apathy

The study that I thought I would discuss is the one that looks at how we conform to the nom. This is repeated over and over again in our society especially when we are bombarded by the news and others opinions. The study by Asch, 1951and several more after him shows that the majority of the population (identified by the sample group that represents the population) will deny their own sense of judgement just to conform with others. We all know that humans as a whole will copy each other’s dress sense, ways of talking and attitudes, often without a second thought. However it’s very interesting how far our need to conform goes.

The classic psychology experiment conducted in the 1950s subjects were asked to compare the line on the left with the three lines on the right:

They were asked which of these three lines was the same length as the single line on the left? The answer is quite clearly C. However this study found that 76% of people denied their own judgement at least once, choosing either A or B. The fascinating thing about this experiment was that its creator, renowned psychologist Solomon Asch, set out to prove the exact opposite. A previous experiment by Muzafer Sherif (see his well-known Robbers Cave experiment) had found that when people were faced with making a judgement on an ambiguous test, they used other people’s judgements as a reference point. This makes perfect sense, typically when we are not sure about something, we will check with someone else, but usually ONLY when you are not sure. This situation is quite different the answer is quite clear so WHY is this so!!!!

This is how this experiment was conducted and repeated over and over again. Male undergraduates were brought into a room one at a time, with eight others who were supposedly fellow participants. These young men were shown the above picture of the three lines. All of the participants were asked to call out which line – A, B or C – was the same length as the reference line. This procedure was repeated 12 times with participants viewing variations of the above figure. What the young men didn’t realise was that all the other participants were in on the experiment, they had been asked to give the wrong answer. The young male undergraduates were the sixth in line to give their answer. Surprisingly they found that 50% of people gave the same wrong answer as the others on more than half of the trials. Only 25% of participants refused to be swayed by the majority’s blatantly false judgement on all of the 12 trials. 5% always conformed to the majority incorrect opinion. As I mentioned this experiment has been repeated over time over and over again and over all the trials the average conformity rate was 33%.

Intrigued as to why participants had gone along with the majority as you would be! The participants were interviewed after the experiment. Their answers are probably very familiar to all of us: All felt anxious, feared disapproval from others and became self-conscious. Most explained they saw the lines differently to the group but then felt the group was correct. Some said they went along with the group to avoid standing out, although they knew the group was wrong. A small number of people actually said they saw the lines in the same way as the group.

Back to my question of WHY? While there’s no surprise that we copy each other, it’s amazing that some people will conform despite the evidence from their own eyes. The research states that those who are ‘conformers’ typically have high levels of anxiety, low status, high need for approval and often authoritarian personalities. People from cultures which view conformity more favourably – typically Eastern societies – are more likely to conform as well.

Conformity itself is something of a mixed blessing, because in many situations we need conformity, life would be chaos if we didn’t have some level of conformity such as abiding by the law, social norms, queues etc. The dangers of conformity however are only too well-known, just take a look at Hitler for a start. It does make you think how our own lives would be different if, one day, we decided not to conform, or even to suddenly start conforming. Would things get better or worse for you? Many people find their inability to conform is a real problem in their lives while others find it more difficult to break away and do their own thing.

CHALLENGE - I would like to set a challenge for those who are reading this to try really hard to think for yourself rather than relying on what others say and do. Gather information from a variety of different sources to form your own option.

GOOD LUCK and remember to be kinder to yourself than anyone else can be.

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