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Encouraging Positive Body Image

We might not be fully aware of it all of the time, but diet culture is constantly present within our society. We are bombarded with messages that our bodies are not good enough or do not meet a standard of “beauty”. Through advertisements on television, radio, the internet, and social media (especially social media!), we are presented with unrealistic images and messages that we see as the “norm” and that we are failing in some way if we do not look like these people. This can be very damaging to the relationship we have with our body, as well as impacting the developing self-image of young people. Due to this, it may be helpful to actively implement strategies to combat these messages and create a positive body image. Here are some top tips to encourage positive body image:

 

1. Model a healthy relationship with your own body

It is common to focus on and highlight all of the elements of ourselves and our body that we do not like. This models to others that it is okay to talk negatively about ourselves, and that it is self-involved to speak positively about oneself. Our children and other people around us learn by listening to what we say and observing our behaviours as adults. If you are frequently talking about dieting, disliking your own body, or trying to lose weight, this models to others that this is normal behaviour. Instead, model what you would like for other people – highlighting what you like about your body.

 

2. Do not label food as “good” or “bad”

 

When we label food as “good” or “bad”, we assign value to food. As well as this, we start to label our own behaviour or ourselves as “good” or “bad” based on the foods we have eaten. This sets up an unhealthy relationship with food and creates judgements around the foods that we eat. Food is neither good nor bad, it is just food that provides energy and nourishment for the body. The key to a healthy relationship with food is to be able to listen to what our body wants and needs and to be able to eat flexibly, from a diverse range of food groups. Food is fuel!!

 

3. Appreciate what your body can do

 

Instead of focusing on all of the negative aspects of your body, appreciate your body for what it allows you to do. For example, you can run, jump, swim, walk, play with your children.

 

4. Remind yourself and others that we are not just a body

 

A lot of people place their worth solely on their external appearance, but there is so much more to us than simply the way we look. For example, when describing what you like about your closest friend, I doubt the first thing you say is “I love how skinny they are” – you are more likely to describe their internal qualities because that is what truly matters. Highlight this to yourself and others in your life.

 

5. Limit exposure to negative information about body weight and shape

 

There is a lot of media content that enhances problems with body image. Most advertisements you see encourage the idea that you are only worthwhile if you look a certain way. Some of these messages are hard to avoid (e.g., television and radio advertisements), but we can limit our exposure to these by unfollowing social media accounts that encourage weight loss or control, or whose messages only serve to distort your own relationship with your body. Follow accounts that build you up instead or bring you down.

 

6. Notice the thoughts that you have about your body

 

In cognitive behaviour therapy, we know that our thoughts influence how we feel and then how we behave. It is common for people to have negative thoughts about the way they look, which then leads to feelings of dissatisfaction and sadness. A lot of the time, a lot of us do not take notice of the automatic negative thoughts that we have about our bodies and how these impact our feelings. We listen to these thoughts without being fully aware, even though they may not be true or helpful for us. If we tune into these thoughts, we can start to challenge and change them to help us start to see our body in a more positive light.

 

7. Show your body compassion and love

 

Your body has done an amazing job of carrying you through life up until now – show it the love it deserves! Do things that celebrate your body and makes it feel good e.g., exercise that you like, yoga, stretching, get a massage.

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Meditation and Stress Reduction

Everyone has experienced STRESS in their lives. We usually experience stress when there is an imbalance between demands and our resources to cope with those demands. These resources can be physical, financial and even emotional or mental. Everyone deals with stress in different ways. For instance, one person could have the financial resources to cope with a situation but may lack the emotional resources – while this could be the other way around for the next person. For both people, stress is still being experienced, just in a different way. An event that may be extremely stressful for one person can be a mere hiccup in another person’s life.

Stress is not a diagnosis, but rather an ongoing normal part of human life that we all have to deal with. Stress can cause increased levels of the stress hormone ‘cortisol’. This produces many of the harmful effects, such as the release of inflammation-promoting chemicals. If not appropriately managed, large amounts of ongoing stress can detrimental effects to our mental health, and correlates with anxiety, depression and anger. It can also affect our thoughts (e.g. poor concentration, forgetfulness, hopelessness) and may lead to risk-taking behaviours for an outlet (e.g. drinking, smoking).

So, how can we reduce stress? One of the most commonly used techniques is MEDITATION. Meditation is the practice of training attention and awareness in order to achieve mental and emotional clarity. Some techniques include mindfulness, body scanning, breathing awareness and loving-kindness meditation. Research shows that meditation can assist in the reduction of stress after only 8 weeks of consistent practice.

Meditation is a skill that needs to be practiced in order to benefit from its effects. It can be difficult, uncomfortable and even boring when starting out. So, start small and ease into it. Try 5 minutes a day for a few days a week, then increase the duration and frequency the more comfortable you get.

It can be difficult to know how to start your meditation practice. However, there are now some excellent, free apps that you can download that can assist you with guided meditation. Some of these apps include:

  • Headspace
  • Calm
  • Aura
  • Stop, Breath, Think

Alternatively, ask your psychologist and they might be able to provide you with some MP3s or other useful links for guided meditation.

There is even new technology out there that can assist your meditation practice. The ‘Muse’ device uses EEG to monitor the electrical activity of the brain and to help guide your meditation. It translates your brain activity to weather sounds so that you know when your brain is settled or overactive. You hear peaceful weather when your mind is calm and stormy weather when your mind is busy, which indicates that you need to draw attention back to your breath.

If you are interested in finding out more about stress relief and meditation, then like Natalie Turvey’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NATnurturinghealthycommunities/) and keep an eye out for her upcoming FREE 5 DAY STRESS REDUCTION CHALLENGE. Natalie’s challenge will teach you the tools she uses with her clients in her practice.

 

Resources:

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/stress

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#section1

https://choosemuse.com/

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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. 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. You could comfort yourself with a physical gesture

3. Develop compassionate language toward yourself and use these phrases in times of stress or distress

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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Mental Health Considerations for the Australian Bushfire Crisis: The difference between Traumatic Stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The recent bushfires have certainly been a traumatic time for our country. Over 5million hectares of land have been scorched, destroying thousands of homes and killing over 20 humans and almost 50 billion wildlife. For those directly affected by the bushfires, the damage is not limited to the loss of loved ones, possessions or community – mental health and emotional wellbeing can also be negatively impacted. Disastrous events such as this can influence certain emotions, feelings and thoughts, which can be challenging to deal with. Although some of these responses are normal, it is important to notice when your mental health is at risk so that you can seek additional support. In this month’s blog, I will explore the difference between normal responses to trauma, known as Traumatic Stress and a more serious clinical diagnose, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After reading this blog, you should understand the difference between the two so that you can identify whether yourself or someone else should seek psychological support in light of these traumatic events.

The bushfires are likely to cause people (both directly and indirectly affected) to suffer from Traumatic Stress symptoms. Traumatic Stress is considered a common, normal response to experiencing a traumatic or stressful event (such as a car crash, or a natural disaster). Most people who experience a scary situation will show some signs of Traumatic Stress. This is because the ‘fight-or-flight’ response kicks in when we experience something that is mentally or physically terrifying. The fight-or-flight response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare our bodies to either stay and deal with a threat (fight) or to run away from a threat for safety (flight). This response pumps more blood and oxygen into the body, causing us to tense our muscles and breathe faster. Other symptoms include shaking, sweating and feelings of nervousness. The fight-or-flight response is a normal, and usually temporary, survival response experienced during and sometimes after, a traumatic event, which is why Traumatic Stress is considered a normal reaction and not a mental illness.

Traumatic Stress differs from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is a clinically diagnosed condition. It is a group of stress reactions that can develop after we witness a traumatic event, or series of events, such as a death or serious injury. PTSD can affect people who are a victim of the event, a witness of the event happening to someone else, or even learn about an event that has happened to a close family member or friend. It is still unclear why some people develop PTSD while others don’t.

Although Traumatic Stress and PTSD share similar symptoms, that main distinction is the intensity of the PTSD symptoms. PTSD symptoms are more severe and persistent, often interfering with day to day functioning. PTSD symptoms also last for a longer length of time (i.e. over a month), while Traumatic Stress Symptoms are usually temporary.

People with PTSD often experience a reliving of the traumatic event (i.e. through nightmares or flashbacks). During this time, some of the Traumatic Stress symptoms outlined above may be experienced in the body again, as if they are experiencing the traumatic event again firsthand. People with PTSD may also engage in avoidant behaviours, such as avoiding situations or people that remind them of the event. For example, if someone has experienced a traumatic car crash, they may avoid driving or even getting into a car. PTSD can also cause people to feel anxious for long periods of time, even when there is no potential threat close by. People with PTSD may also turn to coping strategies, such as alcohol or drugs, to distract themselves from their symptoms.

If you believe that you, or someone you know, is experiencing PTSD, the best treatment is to seek psychological support. PTSD is a medically diagnosed condition that should be treated by a clinician. However, therapy is for everyone, so if you feel like you are not coping due to a traumatic event, or would like more information, then please contact the clinic.

Drop of Life is offering no gap sessions for people directly affected by the bushfire crisis. If you believe that your mental health has been affected by the recent bushfires, then please do not hesitate to contact our clinic to book in with one of our psychologists.

Sources:

Beyond Blue (2019). Retrieved from www.beyondblue.org.au.

Bender, J (2013). Retrieved from www.brainline.com.

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Mindful Parenting

In today’s society, our lives can become hectic and busy with the expectation that we have to be and do everything. To be the perfect friend, parent, sibling, employee… As a parent in this world, those expectations appear to be heightened, sometimes to the point that we may become so busy in our lives that the richness of raising children becomes reduced to the management of children and the family, instead of simply being with them. This can lead to us parenting on auto-pilot. Due to having an endless to-do list inside of our heads, parenting can become just another task on that list. We start to lose touch with our experience of being a parent and of being in the moment with our children and our families.

The constant pressure to be giving our absolute all to every role in our life leads us to be in a constant state of stress. When our brain is in this state, it is hardwired to act as if we are in a life-threatening situation. Our brain is wired this way to protect us and to ensure our survival. The problem is that, in today’s society, our brain tells us we are in life-threatening situations when we are not. Being late to work, or running late for school drop off, is not life-threatening (although stressful!) but our brain tells us that it is. This is a problem because the brain then tells us to act as if our life is in danger. Stress causes us to take the “short route” in our brain. Instead of taking time and accessing the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that uses logic, thinks rationally, directs attention, engages perspective taking, plans, and organises, it bypasses this and goes directly to the limbic system, where emotion is processed. This means that as opposed to thinking through our decisions, we act on instinct and impulse. While this is helpful in a situation that is life threatening (e.g., jumping out of the way of a moving car), it can lead us to act in ways we would not normally during stressful situations. In parenting, stress can have a negative impact including decreased attentiveness and more impulsive reactions.

I am sure you are all now picturing how this works in a parenting scenario. Imagine you are getting ready in the morning. Two of your three children are ready and waiting in the car, but your youngest child is still upstairs re-doing their hair for the ump-teenth time even though you have called upstairs three times asking for them to come down. You have recently spoken to the teacher who is concerned about your children’s constant lateness to school, and your boss has already given you a warning for being consistently late to work. You decide enough is enough and you really have to leave. You go upstairs to give your youngest child their final warning. You open the door and they fling themselves on to their bed screaming that they don’t want to go to school. In this scenario, what bodily sensations do you notice? What thoughts are going through your head? What feelings do you notice? I am sure reading through this you can resonate with this being a stressful situation. We can all think of what we would like to do in an ideal world - be responsive to our child, see what is happening for them. But in the reality, with pressure from work and school, we are more likely to act on our stress and impulsively yell, drag them to the car, etc.

The problem with the above incident, is that while we are in this state of stress, it is difficult for us to see the pattern that has arisen until we are mulling over the incident hours later. In mindful parenting, the goal is to become more in tune with our emotional reactions and use this to adjust our behaviours. Mindfulness is all about the direction of our attention. In a busy world, our attention is often divided between tasks, especially as a parent. For example, while reading your child a bed time story, mentally you are thinking about all of the things you need to do once you are finished, e.g., “I need to do the dishes, fold the washing, do the ironing, maybe I will have time to watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy before bed…”. In mindfulness, the aim is to notice that our attention has drifted from what we are doing presently (reading to our child) and redirecting our attention back to that task. This can be done by noticing our 5 senses. What can you feel (your child leaning against you, the feel of the paper), hear (your child breathing, you reading the words), smell (soap from the shower), see (the pictures on the page), or taste (the mint from your toothpaste). By doing this, you can be fully present with your child and enjoy the moment with them. This is a new way of doing things, so you might find that when you first start to mindfully do these types of tasks, that your mind keeps drifting off, and that can be frustrating. Like any new skill though, the more you practice, the better you will become. Through this type of practice, you will notice that you become more mindful in other areas of your life. Eventually as well, you will begin to notice when you are stepping in to the automatic stress response when you are under pressure, which will give you time to step out of auto-pilot and act differently.

If you are interested in becoming more mindful in your parenting, start off by picking one task a day that you would like to do more mindfully with your child (e.g., mindful playtime, mindful reading, mindful dinner time, mindful walking) for the next week and see the difference it makes!

If you need more assistance with increasing mindfulness in your parenting or everyday life, or any other advice on parenting strategies, contact us at Drop of Life.

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