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Coping with COVID-19

With COVID-19, there is a current state of uncertainty spreading through society. It can be very easy to get sucked into a state of panic and anxiety. In times such as these, it is more important than ever to ensure that you are engaging in self-care. Below are some tips about how we can promote mental wellbeing during this time. 

What is in my control?

It is highly likely that in the coming weeks we will all be exposed to the repercussions of widespread illness and fear. This means disruption to services, social distancing, economic disruption and financial difficulties, difficulty accessing everyday needs such as food, and a healthcare system struggling to meet demand. it can be easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated with the state of things. In these circumstances, it is important to bring your thoughts back to what you can control. We cannot control the illness itself, we cannot control the economy or the behaviour of others. What we can control is what we do in this moment, and how we react.  

Grounding and mindfulness

When we are feeling anxious, our thoughts are focused on a future that we cannot control, rather than on the present moment where there is currently no immediate danger. This can impact how we engage with the present moment. When you are feeling overwhelmed and find your thoughts stuck on worries about the future, you can ground yourself by consciously directing your attention to the following:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can touch

By directing our attention to our senses, we can ground ourselves in the present moment.

Deep breathing

Another way to direct your attention to the present is to engage in deep breathing. When we start to panic, this is generally started by beginning to breathe more quickly and shallowly. By slowing down and deepening our breathing, we can slow down this physiological process. BreatheEasy is a great free phone app that can be used to aid to guide your breathing.

Be curious about news

Currently, we are experiencing an overwhelm of news and information. It is important to always receive news with curiosity and not believe everything that we are seeing. It is important to get your news from credible sources such as government and health websites rather than social media as this is not a regulated medium. 

As well as this, while it is important to remain up to date, it is also advisable to limit your exposure to the news in these times. We do not need to be constantly researching for new updates. Checking once a day will likely give you the necessary updates and also give you the space to focus your attention on other things.

Maintaining routine as much as possible

Social distancing and self-isolationmeans that many of us are thrown out of our regular routine e.g., working from home, limited access to the gym. While this limits your ability to engage in your regular routine, it is important to keep this as much as possible as this can have a positive impact on mental health. Continue to exercise in a safe way, e.g., home workouts if your gym is closed (or engaging in the recommended hygiene practices if attending the gym), walking outside (while maintaining recommended social distancing), continue your regular work hours (even though a Netflix marathon may be tempting!), wake up and go to bed at the same time each day.

Connect with others

Along these lines, it is important to maintain your contact with others. This does not need to be face-to-face if you are in self-quarantine, but ensure you are speaking to people over the phone or messaging. It is important to maintain this contact as isolation and loneliness can be very detrimental to mental health. If you are not in self-isolation but know those who are, or there are people in your life who are vulnerable (e.g., the elderly), ensure you are contacting them regularly via phone. 

Also, try to talk about regular day-to-day things to distract from COVID-19. I don’t know about you, but practically every conversation I have currently is COVID-19 related, and it is always refreshing to have a distraction from this.

Values

When things are out of our control, it is important to reconnect with our values. As long as we are acting in line with our values, then we can continue to lead a happy life. When noticing you are feeling affected by the panic surrounding the current situation, ask yourself how your current actions, whether it be sitting and ruminating on the state of things or considering panic buying (we have all thought of it!), ask yourself if this sits with your values. If we continue to engage in behaviours that are in line with our values and what we truly want for ourselves, then this will have a positive impact on our mindset. In times of self-isolation/quarantine, it may require some creativity to continue to live by our values. For example, if you have the value of “connecting with others”, this may require some compromise of connecting over the phone rather than in person. 

Take care of each other. We will get through this.

*Please be sure to stay up to date with the latest government recommendations and adjust the above accordingly 

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Let’s Be Mindful for New and Expecting Mothers: Lived Experiences and Tips for extended family and friends

Written by: Dr. Matthew McKenzie | Psychologist

This month, I thought about taking a slightly different approach to how I would usually go about generating a blog article. In a conversation with a dear friend who is expecting her second child and another friend who is expecting her very first, I was reminded that psychology is indeed about each person’s unique lived experience and interestingly about the degree to which there is shared experience among several people. As a male psychologist, I have long had an awareness that my capacity for understanding the complete depth of a woman’s experience will always be somewhat limited, simply because it has never been and will never be my lived experience. But part of our growth as human beings should be about learning how to enter into the world of others (whether it be the other gender or some other facet of identity that differentiates us) and make an effort to understand their experience and moreover, respond to it in a helpful way.

Just in time for International Women’s Day 2020, I had the opportunity to sit with 5 new or expecting mothers from different countries and varied cultural backgrounds to ask about some of the things they thought about, perhaps worried about leading up to and just after delivery and what advice they would give to an audience who was interested in hearing their concerns. Most women will agree that bringing a child into the world is hard work – not only because of the physical demands inherent in pregnancy and delivery, but also the often-silent anxiety (amidst the burgeoning excitement of course) that comes from being responsible for a new little human in its most vulnerable period. Surrounded by friends and family who are equally excited about the child that is on its way, mothers can often be concerned about how these individuals show their well-intentioned support. As many of us are frequent members of this pool of extended family and friends – let us hear some of the ways that expecting mothers would like us to be mindful for them.

  1. While families appreciate the show of love, support and excitement to meet the newest member of the family. These mothers wanted others to be mindful of the massive ordeal (the delivery) which mother and child just experienced. Time is needed to allow mother and child to rest and recover. Do not be too quick to visit (home or hospital) and if you are unsure about whether it is the right time, then ask. The timing can be highly variable from one family to the next and from one pregnancy to the next. Every pregnancy and delivery is its own journey, some with more challenges than others, so it is important that we respect that the time of readiness to have visitors will vary as well. Once enough time has passed, if unable to visit then call to check in – having a newborn can feel overwhelming and well-timed breaks can be good for the mother’s mental health.One mother shared an important point, that visitors may want to especially think about how close they are to the mother of the child rather than the father. The new mother may be particularly sensitive and may appreciate more time before having visitors that she may not be particularly close with (e.g., a few weeks rather than a few days).
  2. Read the room, know when it’s time to go and do not overstay your welcome. Many of the mothers (some more than others) expressed that it was challenging to be assertive about this with extended family and friends. Some mothers are not afraid to let visitors know ahead of time what duration they can accommodate, or they may set specific times for visiting – this is a great way to establish a boundary. Other mothers have used the rough 2-3 hour feeding schedule to guide ongoing visits to a polite end with mother and child leaving the visiting space for nursing and napping in private.
  3. Do not visit expecting to be served or entertained, instead, it would be nice if it were the other way around – expressing willingness to help with something or serve in some small way. There can be so many balls in the air to juggle with a newborn in hand – offer to help wherever you think you might be able to (laundry, washing up a few dishes, etc.). Even if the mother declines, she will indeed appreciate knowing the willing support is there.
  4. Many (certainly not all) women may have had a baby shower where friends and family would have brought gifts for the baby in advance of its arrival. This is a tremendous help for many parents. Though this may have been the case, and especially if it was not the case – check to see if there is any little thing that the parents may need for the child before you visit. Once again, even if the mother declines, she will indeed appreciate knowing the willing support is there. Two of the expecting mothers I spoke with smiled and added that sometimes an offer to bring breakfast, lunch, dinner or just some special food or drink the new mother may be longing for would be warmly welcomed.
  5. For very close family members and friends be mindful that sleep and time to self is an expensive and scarce commodity in their first few months of taking care of a newborn. Offer to hold or keep a watchful eye on the baby to allow the mother some time to have a bath or shower, eat or take a nap. Additionally, when the baby develops a routine (in 3 to 6 months) very close friends and family who are willing to babysit when needed, is indeed a priceless gift.
  6. Not only in this current season of serious illness, but ALWAYS – be mindful of your own health and consider whether you are well enough to visit the baby and moreover to hold the child. If you may have a virus/cold/cough, it’s best to stay away and visit another day. Babies’ immune systems are a far cry from our own as adults, so if your health conditions are not appropriate, show your love from afar until you are certain things have changed. Even when you are well, ensure that you wash your hands and sanitise appropriately before coming into contact with the newborn and seek permission from the parents to pick them up/hold them.
  7. In this day and age so many of us are connected to various social media platforms, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, please respect that some parents do not want their children on social media. Asking permission before sharing a photo or post about their child is a common courtesy we should all exercise. Do not be offended – the culture of social media use is varied, and we are all entitled to adopt different stances.

Thanks again to all the expecting mothers who contributed to these thoughts – we hear you; we are listening. Let us take this on board and be mindful for family members and friends who are expecting. For more information on navigating adjustments and the inherent challenges of parenting, please feel free to contact us at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic.

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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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