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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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Benji’s Tip’s for Reducing Stress at Christmas

Hello humans, it’s Benji here!

Soon it will be Christmas, which is my favourite time of year! It’s the time of year that all of my favourite humans are around me, having fun, and giving me all their left-over turkey and ham! Yum!

But I’ve noticed that Christmas can be a stressful time for humans. It’s the time of year when people are running around, frantically getting presents, food and other things organised for the big day. Talk about exhausting! So, here are some tips for how humans can KEEP CALM this holiday season!

  1. Give yourself permission to do what you want to do. The holiday period can be filled with social gatherings and events, and it can be stressful to attend everything or see everyone. Acknowledge that it's ok to say NO and take time for yourself. But be careful that you are not isolating yourself from everyone too.
  2. Set boundaries. Let family and friends know when you will be available and when you will be unavailable. This will give you time to look after yourself and do the things that help you reduce your stress levels, like meditating or taking your dog for a walk! Woof.
  3. Set a budget. If you have a budget set, this will reduce overspending and the stress associated with worrying about finances. Unless you want to spoil your favourite furry friend, in which case overspending is ok! Hehe.
  4. Practice self-compassion. Understand that it is normal to be stressed during the holiday period. If Christmas is a time for loving and giving gifts, then we should be able to practice this kindness on ourselves. When you get stressed, remind yourself that it’s understandable to feel this way around Christmas.

I hope these tips help you during the busy holiday period. My humans at Drop of Life and I hope that you have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year! Woof.

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On regulating your emotions: A key ingredient for enhancing psychological well-being

Emotions are a central part of the human experience, and when individuals are challenged by the stressors of life and attend therapy for support emotions are also a key component of the work that is done in therapy. In my clinical work with individuals across the lifespan, one of the most common issues I have observed is the challenge individuals may have with regulating their emotions. Interestingly, this challenge with regulating emotions seems to manifest in several different mental health concerns, with some concerns being more commonly associated with specific emotion regulation difficulties. But, what is Emotion Regulation?

Well, to keep it as simple as possible, think about emotion regulation as a process whereby individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them and how they experience and express them (Gross, 1998). These efforts at modifying emotional experiences and expressions typically have, as a part of their goal, the individual trying to respond to their environment in a healthy and acceptable way. Therefore, one’s ability to regulate their emotions impacts on their ability to adapt successfully to their environment and maintain a sense of psychological well-being.

On the other hand, when individuals are not able to do so effectively, they may be more vulnerable to challenges with their mental health. Moreover, it may not be surprising that there are several different strategies that people use to regulate their emotions – and while it’s tricky to say that a strategy is “good” or “bad” (since it really depends on the situation), there are some strategies that are more adaptive/healthy and others that are regarded as maladaptive/unhealthy. While there are probably too many different strategies for me to cover in this blog, I thought I would highlight some of the more helpful and less helpful ones that I speak about most frequently in my work with clients.

Less Helpful Emotion Regulation Strategies

Suppression – At times, individuals may engage in suppression of their thoughts and emotions, this means that they try to hide how they are feeling internally or push the thoughts and feelings as far out of their awareness as possible. But does out of sight really mean out of mind? Unfortunately, not in this case. What decades of research tells us is that when individuals suppress their emotions their experience of the difficult emotion is more intense than if they had not suppressed at all. This means that it might be more effective for us to develop pathways to working through an emotion rather than trying to “get over it” or otherwise push it aside.

Rumination – Many people may become trapped in a cycle of rumination, whereby the individual may engage in repetitive thinking about a situation and its causes which fuels the negative emotions that have arisen. This regulatory strategy is probably the individual’s best effort to try to analyse or solve a problem that is causing them a great deal of distress, except no solution emerges – especially in cases where the problem is “unsolvable”. To understand this strategy, I often use the metaphor of watching a washing machine – where all the thoughts and emotions just continuously go around and around and around and…well you get the idea.

More Helpful Emotion Regulation Strategies

Cognitive reappraisal - refers to changing the meaning or interpretation of an experience to manage the emotional response. The reappraisal is typically centred on the situation itself or the individual’s capacity to manage its demands. In other words, HOW we think about the situation and our ability to manage it can very much change the emotional experience we have while going through it or change the way we feel about what has already happened.

Acceptance - The individual is aware of the thoughts and emotions they are experiencing, and they remain open to these internal experiences without feeling the need to change the thoughts or emotions that are present. There is a recognition here that neither thoughts nor emotions are dangerous, and we have control over how we respond to them. Developing acceptance as a strategy can be challenging, especially when we are so used to wrestling with thoughts and emotions that come up in response to life’s challenges. However, we can indeed develop a more accepting style of coping. When individuals view thoughts and emotions as inherently negative, they are more likely to engage in problematic behaviours like avoidance and withdrawal.

The role of parents in developing a child’s capacity to regulate their emotions

From the very beginning of life, parents have a crucial role to play in children’s development of healthy emotion regulation. Early aspects of a child’s emotional life are guided by their parents’ selection of situations for them, especially while they are infants. Parents take the lead on deciding what children can and cannot manage emotionally, simply because at this stage children do not know enough about the world to make such determinations for themselves.

Parents generate routines that are comfortable for the child. Such practices are a normal part of the early parent-child dynamic. However, as children get older and mature, and their pool of life experiences expand, they are expected to take more responsibility for such regulatory processes and parents are expected to oversee and guide this self-regulation. Therefore, as children mature, they learn which situations to avoid or approach, when they can modify situations externally, and when they may need to make internal modifications in order to cope. Parents ideally model healthy emotion regulation as well, by way of their responses to situations which children observe and learn from overtime.

If you would like support with developing more healthy strategies for regulating your emotions and reducing the tendency to use unhelpful strategies contact us at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic.

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Self-esteem in Teens

A common underlying theme that I notice when working with teenagers, especially teenage girls, is problems with self-esteem. Self-esteem can be described as someone’s opinion of themself. Those with high self-esteem think positively of themselves, are not as judgemental of themselves and value their achievements. Those with low self-esteem tend to lack confidence, feel unhappy and are highly critical of themselves. Self-esteem is terribly important because it influences our decision making in day to day life, encourages us to look after ourselves and allows us to challenge ourselves so we can discover our full potential. Low self-esteem has also been shown to correlate with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Self-esteem is especially important in the adolescent years, as this is a time for children to explore their limits and discover who they are as a person. If they are held back by a fear of their own shortcomings, then they miss out on discovering what they can achieve, which may limit success (professionally and personally) later in life. Low self-esteem can also lead to other problems like relationship troubles and early sexual activity. Unfortunately, when you look at data that compares across the lifespan, there tends to be a drop in self-esteem during the teenage years, presumably due to maturational changes and complex social relationships.

So, how do you know if your teenager has low-self-esteem? Here are some signs:

  • They avoid new experiences and opportunities
  • They are unable to deal with normal levels of frustration
  • They find it difficult to socialise and make friends
  • Their motivation levels are low
  • They get uncomfortable when they are given a compliment

The good news is, self-esteem can be re-built. Here are some tips that you can do with your teen to improve their self-esteem:

  • EXPERIENCE NEW OPPORTUNITIES. Encourage your teen to try lots of new activities and hobbies. This will help them to discover what they are good at and enjoy. They will also learn that not everyone is good at everything, which is a normal part of life.
  • ENCOURAGE AND PRAISE THEM. If your teen fails or is reluctant to try something new because they think they might fail, keep gently encouraging them to try. It is important to learn that even though we may fail at something, the fact that we tried is the main thing. Praise your child, regardless of their performance, so that they are encouraged to give it another go.
  • BE A MODEL OF CONFIDENCE. The teenage brain is predominately overrun by the amygdala, which is the part of the brain linked to survival instincts. Therefore, your teen’s brain is constantly scanning their environment, studying people’s behaviours, including yours. This is the perfect time for YOU to be a good model of confidence, so that your teen may follow suit. You can do this by being acting confident in day to day activities and by reflecting with your teen about what you did to succeed at something, and they ways you bounced back when you didn’t succeed.
  • PRACTICE SOCIAL SKILLS. Social skills and self-esteem go hand in hand. You can teach your child basic social skills, like body posture, smiling, giving good eye contact etc. You can practice this with your teen in role-play scenarios.

 

If you or your teenager are struggling with low self-esteem and would like some more information on how we can help, call us on 55 207 705 to make an appointment with one of our psychologists.

 

References:

Brown, G., Bifulco, A., & Andrews, B. (1990). Self-esteem and depression: Effect on course and recovery. Social Psychiatry And Psychiatric Epidemiology, 25(5), 244-249. Retrived from https://link-springer- com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/article/10.1007/BF00788643

Confidence in teens. (1st Oct 2019). Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/development/social-emotional-development/confidence-in-teens

Robins, R. W., Trzesniewski, K. H., Tracy, J. L., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (2002). Global self-esteem across the life span. Psychology and Aging, 17(3), 423-434. doi:10.1037/0882-7974.17.3.423

Self-esteem and teenagers. Retrieved from https://parents.au.reachout.com/common-concerns/everyday-issues/self-esteem-and-teenagers

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Benefits of knowing and understanding your family

When people are asked about what really matters in their lives, relationships are usually mentioned. After our basic physical needs are met it is the quality of our relationships that most influences our quality of life. How do we think about this? Is it just the current relationships we are in that matter to us and to our mental health?

In my previous blogs, I have discussed the benefits in terms of mental health of knowing your intergenerational family story. Here we delve further into this drawing on Dan Siegel’s research into how our brains and minds work.

Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine with training in pediatrics and child, adolescent and adult psychiatry. He is a pioneer in the field of interpersonal neurobiology an interdisciplinary field that invites all branches of science and other ways of knowing to come together in order to understand the human experience.

His research has led him to conclude that:

1. we are profoundly interconnected

2. relationship is essential to our development

3. interpersonal relationships shape our brains from infancy to old age

4. mind is not something you own, it is shared between people

5. mind is a relational process that essentially regulates the flow of energy and information

6. identity is not contained so much within an individual but between individuals

It has long been thought that our early experiences define who we are. The relationships we have with our parents have a big influence on our development. The research on attachment between parents and children shows that the nature of this attachment influences how a person relates to others and their relationship with their child, passing on patterns through generations.

Dan Siegel points out something really interesting about this: the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to their parents as children, but rather how their parents made sense of those childhood experiences.

This highlights how knowing and understanding your family is shaping both your own relationships and that of the future generations. This challenges the long-held idea that our early experiences defined who we are. Interpersonal neurobiology holds that our brains are constantly being reshaped by new relationships.

I think this is good news we can change our brains, lives, and relationships as well as the relationships of the future generations by working on understanding our families and relationships.

I would like to leave you with something to think about. People seem to think of anxiety as a personal quality, something within them. When you think about how profoundly interconnected we are, how does this impact on your thinking about anxiety?

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Anger Issues

 Some of the most common issues seen in children who come in to the clinic are behavioural. Aggression in the form of yelling, throwing things, and hitting out are the most common complaints.  

Such behaviours cause frustration at home, damage to items, loss of friendships and at more extreme ends can result in the loss of school placements.

So what can you do about it? 

The first thing to understand is…that all behaviour serves a purpose. That means, that in the absence of an alternative, the ‘undesirable’ behaviour will rear its ugly head…to get a point across - loudly!

Of course, there are many reasons why children (and adults) show anger, frustration, and other challenging behaviours; but notwithstanding more serious causes, the most common reasons children use challenging behaviours are:

-    As a way to communicate: “I don’t know how to express my inner feelings using words, so if I yell… I will let you know about the anger I feel!”

-    To escape an overwhelming situation: such as “I can’t handle all of the busy-ness of the classroom and I need to leave - asap! When I begin to scream or throw things…i can predict that someone will get me out of here.”

-    To have a need met: such as “I am tired….and I don’t want to keep shopping….so if I have a tantrum in the supermarket… then you will take me home.”

Parents are often lost as to what is causing their child to behave in ways that result in so much chaos. They can blame themselves, or experience a loss in confidence. Difficulties in a child’s behaviour can sometimes also be a reflection of what is going on around them, at home or at school. A good way to begin solving the behavioural puzzle is to understand the way our brain works. As Dr Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson describe in their book “The Whole Brain Child”, the following formula will help.

Left Brain = Logic

Right Brain = Emotion

Upstairs Brain = Thinking (Reasoning)

Downstairs Brain = Safety (fight-flight)

Some tips for using the whole brain child approach include:

1. CONNECT (left brain) before REDIRECT (right brain):

Listen to your child’s feelings, empathise…”I can see that you are sad…”, use touch “let me give you a hug”. Once they have calmed down because they feel understood, cared for, seen and heard by you - then they are more likely to comply. Only then, involve them in problem-solving.. “so what could you try different next time to help mummy /daddy understand what you need?”… offer some solutions using minimal words if they are stuck. If they begin to get upset once again, then try connecting again. Wait 20-30 minutes or so before approaching the subject again.

2. Name it to tame it: help engage the logical (upstairs) brain - tell them what is happening so they understand and develop the emotional language to talk about it again in future. “ I can see that you are angry because you had to put that toy away…your arms are crossed and you are scrunching your face”.

3. Use it or lose it: giving your child opportunities to practice their problem solving skills will build their rational brain and help them to gain confidence in their ability to come up with good solutions.

4. Engage don’t enrage: remember, that once calm, it is possible to accidentally trigger another reaction (downstairs brain). Therefore use logic to keep the upstairs thinking brain engaged.

5. Move it or Lose it: use exercise and play to keep their bodies moving, get rid of excess energy from the downstairs brain and help them to stay calm.

6. Rewind and Remember: Later that day..but whilst still fresh, try “replaying the movie”. Talk about what happened, pause, rewind and fast forward to the parts that you need to process with them.

7. Remember to remember: Help your child by practicing the new skills they have learned. “Remember when we get angry…we can try to breathe in through our nose and out through our mouth”.

8. Feelings come and go: use mindfulness skills to teach your child to let go of thoughts…by watching them float by. Make it a game.

9. Sift: What sensations…images…feelings….thoughts….do you notice..when…you are happy?…..sad….angry…..

10. Exercise mindsight: practice self regulations skills - deep breathing, relaxation…make it fun. Give them tools they can use when needed.

11. Enjoy each other: Connection is the most fundamental human need. If your child and you do not feel close to each other, then your influence will not be well accepted. If you have a good relationship then discipline is easier.

12. Connect through conflict: When experiencing conflict, use it as a teaching moment…

b2ap3_thumbnail_SummaryofTheWhole-BrainChildbyTheMontessoriNotebook.png

 

Seeking support when normal strategies do not seem to make a difference is important. There is no parenting manual…there is only a school called life. Remember each day that as long as what you are doing is ‘good enough’, then you are doing great. Children are resilient and will blossom given the right circumstances - as Dr Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson teach “Connection before Redirection” can result in many difficult behaviours being avoided!

Credit: Montessori Notebook and Shutterstock for the images.

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The Teenage Brain

Last month, I attended a seminar hosted by Dr Kate Owen called ‘Understanding your Teenager’. Dr. Owen discussed practical and useful information regarding how to communicate effectively with teenagers, as well as information regarding how the teenage brain works.

There are two crucial times in your child’s life when they require your attention the most – the first 3 years of life and the adolescent years. However, your child requires different types of attention in these two periods. In the first 3 years, they require you to help them develop basic learning and cognitive skills. In their teenage years, your child requires emotional support and guidance. The teenage years are a time for learning values, developing personal characteristics and a sense of ‘Who Am I?’. All of this is critical for who they will develop into as an adult.

Although your teenager may be looking and trying to act more like an adult, their brain is far from being a fully developed adult brain yet. In fact, the brain does not fully mature until the age of 25 (on average). During the teenage years, the ‘thinking’ part of the brain shuts down to re-wire itself for roughly 3 years. Therefore, the ‘emotional’ part of the brain (the amygdala), which is connected to impulses, emotions and, aggression, takes over. This is the same brain of the brain which is dominant that your child from the ages of 3-7 years old. So those tantrums that happened when your teenager was a child are about to make a comeback!

This ‘emotional’ part of the brain being dominant explains why your teen's behaviour might sometimes seem more erratic or emotional in their adolescent years. The amygdala is on high alert but lacks a filter for reasoning. So, if you have a blank, expressionless face, your teenager may interpret this as hostility or aggression. This is also why your teenager may struggle to express how they are feeling. They could be acting up and you may ask them “What is wrong you?” or “Why are you acting like this?” and they will not have the ability to articulate how or why they are feeling or acting that way.

Every parent is bound to have some difficult times with their teenagers. Here are some tips for effectively improving communication and navigating those difficult times with your teenagers:

  1. Adjust your expectations: You need to be realistic about what your teenager can emotionally understand. Remember, the reasoning part of their brain is on shut down, so complex decision making and emotional regulation are not their strong suit.

  2. Communication: Communication is key! Talk to your teenager like you did when they were 3-7 years old, as they are now dominated by that same part of the brain. Give them simple instructions (one thing at a time) and lots of eye contact.

  3. Body language: Remember that your teenager’s amygdala is on high alert, so they are scanning their environment for ‘danger’. Make sure you have an open and friendly facial expression, tone of voice and body posture.

  4. Calm the body and mind: Teenagers are better at communicating when they are calm. Try practicing some heart focused breathing techniques to regulate the body.

    Heart-focused breathing is about directing your attention to the heart area and breathing a little more deeply than normal. As you breathe in, imagine you are doing so through your heart, and, as you breathe out, imagine it is through your heart. (In the beginning, placing your hand over your heart as you breathe can help you in directing your focus to your heart). Breathe in about 5 to 6 seconds and breathe out 5 to 6 seconds. Be sure your breathing is smooth, unforced and comfortable. Although this is not difficult to do, it may take a little time to become used to it, but eventually, you will establish your own natural rhythm.

    If you find that your teenager is agitated and worked up, try going for a walk or throwing a footy with them. This will help to release cortisol and regulate the body.

  5. Look after yourself: You cannot be emotionally present for your teenager if you are not calm yourself. Remember, your teenager is scanning you, and emotions can be contagious! Make sure that you practice self-care for yourself so that you can have effective communication with your teenager.

If you are struggling with your teenager and would like some more information, call us on 55 207 705 to make an appointment with one of our psychologists. For more information regarding Dr. Kate Owen, visit https://www.drkateowen.com/

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How Trauma Affects the Brain

Earlier this month, I attended training conducted by Blue Knot which focused on how to work therapeutically with complex trauma clients. It astounded me just how much trauma can affect sufferers; not only in emotional and behavioural aspects, but in neurological aspects as well.

So, what is trauma? Trauma is a state of high arousal in which normal coping mechanisms are overwhelmed in response to the perception of threat. There are many types of trauma, such as attachment trauma, developmental trauma and, single incident trauma. The training that I attended focused on the effects of complex trauma, which is when someone has endured multiple types of trauma. It is the product of overwhelming stress which is interpersonally generated. Examples include ongoing abuse (e.g. by a family member), community violence, war and, genocide. Complex trauma has long term impacts on the victim, as well as their family, friends, children and future generations.

Complex trauma has profound effects on the brain. Specifically, the emotional part of the brain (the amygdala) is overactive due to constantly being in survivor mode. As a result, the memory part of the brain (the hippocampus) is constantly activated which means the client is always running on adrenaline. For those clients who cannot remember their trauma, their hippocampus may have shrunk as a result of their trauma. Because the amygdala and the hippocampus are constantly running a hundred miles an hour, this affects the thinking and planning part of the brain (the cerebral cortex) and can cause it to go offline. This means that for some trauma survivors, they struggle to plan and make decisions in meaningful aspects of their life.

Because the brain operates a differently for trauma survivors, they may find themselves being in a state of hyper-arousal (rapid heart rate; shaking and can’t sit still) or hypo-arousal (flat affect; feeling numb or like they might collapse). If you are a trauma survivor and you think you might be hyper-aroused, try standing up and ‘shaking it out’ by shaking your arms, legs and, body. This will help to release the cortisol in your body. You can also practice doing long exhales, which will help to slow your heartbeat down. If you feel like you are in a state of hypo-arousal, try going for a leisurely walk to increase your heart rate. You can also practice increasing your inhale by taking a long inhale and taking short outbreath. It may help if you make a short ‘ha’ sounds when exhaling.

If someone has endured complex trauma, it is important that they seek support from a professional who can engage in trauma-informed practice. The five key principles of trauma-informed practice include safety, trustworthiness, collaboration, choice and, empowerment. A lot of these principles pose an emphasis on giving the client a say in their therapeutic process, as it is important that they feel involved in choice-making and have a sense of control over their life.

If you would like to book an appointment with one of our psychologists for trauma therapy, call us on 55 207 705.

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Farewell Drop of Life!

It is with mixed emotions that I write this letter. As some of you know, I will leave the clinic this week as I am moving back to the Netherlands to be closer to my family and to continue working there in the mental health field. This was not an easy decision to make because Drop of Life has meant so much more to me than just a workplace.

Let me take this moment to express my gratitude for all the support and kindness that I have received from all of you. I am so lucky to have met you all and to call you my friends.

A special thanks to Natalie Turvey, who has been my supervisor for the last 1.5 years. Under your guidance, I have learnt so much more. I can honestly say that you have been the main source of my significant growth in the field of psychology by inspiring me to challenge myself and take on new opportunities while working under the roof of Drop of Life.

It has been such a pleasure to work with you all!

 

You and I will meet again, When we’re least expecting it, One day in some far off place, I will recognize your face, I won’t say goodbye my friend, For you and I will meet again.” -Tom Petty

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“Don’t Worry About a Thing”

As my home country, Jamaica, recently celebrated 57 years of Independence I celebrated with them – putting on some Bob Marley music that the whole world knows and loves. One of the songs (Three Little Birds) had lines therein that inspired the title of this post. He sang, “don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is going to be alright”. For so many of the clients I see who experience high levels of anxiety (the emotion), there is often the accompanying experience of worry (the thoughts). The combination of the two often leads to the individual’s experience of significant levels of distress and can result in a number of serious mental health concerns.

In psychology, there are different ways in which we understand the nature of anxiety and worry thoughts and there are as many varying viewpoints on how we treat with them. Anxiety is most simply defined as an internal experience of stress, which may involve feelings of nervousness, fear, worry and apprehension. It is also important to know that Anxiety is a future-based emotion – meaning that the focus is always on something that has not happened yet. You may reflect, for a moment, on an experience of anxiety (it can be recent or one further in the past) and notice that while it may have been triggered by something in that moment it was really about something that you believed was going to happen or that you believed could happen.Anxiety is an emotional experience created and made stronger by the nature of the thoughts that we have and usually these thoughts are negative.

But, is all anxiety BAD?

The truth is, some amount of anxiety can be useful in that it gives us information about things in the future that are important to us. Take a job interview, for example, and the anxious feelings about that which may arise. First, we acknowledge that the anxiety is present in this situation because of our thoughts about the future (we might be concerned about whether we will get the job). Secondly, it is giving us some information, which is that this is a job you really want, or it is important to you. Some anxiety can help us to perform well, but too much anxiety can get in the way of us being our best selves in the present.

Worry takes a toll!

Worry tends to go hand in hand with anxiety and it is the thought process, the self-talk that keeps running on a loop in our mind when we are anxious. Anxiety can also result in physical symptoms and these tend to vary across different people. Noticing what happens in your body is an important first step in coping with anxiety, because you can be alerted to the warning signs of when you are becoming anxious.

 

Get out of your worry loop and back into your body

To get out of the mind, sit or lie down in a quiet place. Close your eyes and feel your body – focus on where the sensations are and bring awareness to them (you do not have to do anything about them, all you have to do is notice them). Even though these sensations are not pleasant, rest assured, they want to go out. Take deep breaths. Draw the air down into the pit of your stomach, then easily and slowly release it again.

Dealing with anxiety and worry can be a challenging experience and there are different approaches and tools that can support you towards living a better quality of life. If you believe you could use support in terms of managing your own experience of anxiety and worry, contact our team at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic.

 

By: Matthew McKenzie, B.Sc. (Hon.), M.Sc. (Dist.)

Registered Psychologist, Drop of Life Psychology Clinic

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The Impact of our own Attachment Style on our Relationships

Each of us has a certain style of attachment, that impacts on how we find a partner and the way we behave in our romantic relationships. This is the main reason why recognizing our attachment pattern can be important as it can give us the opportunity to understand our own strengths and vulnerabilities in any relationship.

So, what is attachment exactly? Attachment is a deep personal connection that we have with another person who will protect and help to organize our feelings. It consists of two concepts namely care-seeking and exploration whenever there is a safe base to do so. As adults, we will remain attached to our caregivers though we also form attachments to our romantic partners and close friends.

The attachment theory is a well-researched theory in the field of relational psychology. It describes how our early relationships with a primary caregiver, mostly a parent, creates our expectations for how love and relationships should be.

There are four main attachment styles that can help us to identify our own and also help us to understand how this can affect our relationships.

Secure attachment
This is an organized attachment style that occurs when children feel they can rely on their caregivers to attend to their needs of proximity, emotional support and protection. This in return makes the child feel safe and secure. A secure attachment style is important when it comes to creating healthy relationships as an adult. In a secure relationship, we know that we can feel that our needs are met and that we can rely on the other person.

Insecure attachment
This is formed when children cannot rely on their caregivers as they are unresponsive. There are three different insecure attachment styles:

  • Anxious attachment
    Attachment style in which a caregiver has been inconsistent in relation to their availability and responsiveness to the needs of their child. This leads to confusion for the child as it does not know what to expect. These children turn out to be adults that find it difficult to trust their partners and have a high need for attention.
  • Avoidant attachment
    This style develops when a child is neglected by their caregiver and therefore has too much opportunity to explore. While having to opportunity to explore is an essential key to parenting, an underemphasize on the safe base causes children to feel that they are left on their own and do not have an adult to rely on whenever they need help or safety. As adults, they usually will view themselves as highly independent.
  • Disorganized attachment
    Occurs when there has been trauma or abuse in childhood. These children do not feel as if they have a safe and secure base to draw upon and fear their caregivers, or their caregivers are frightened of the child. Children with a disorganized attachment usually exhibit a breakdown in behaviour when the child needs to seek comfort and protection from their caregiver. They learn that they cannot rely on their caregiver regarding care and safety. Instead they know that their caregiver will abuse them regardless of what they do. As adults, they usually will have partners that will show similar behaviour as their caregivers as they are used to inconsistency when they seek connection. Usually these adults will behave in certain ways that will confirm their own negative beliefs that they have formed as a child. These adults that have a disorganized attachment style are at increased risk of anxiety and depression compared to the other insecure attachment styles.

As mentioned previously we know that our attachment styles that we have formed in our childhood usually impact on our behaviour in close relationships as an adult. However, there is good news, we can change and work on our attachment!

The first step to changing an insecure attachment style is to identify sources of our anxious, avoidant or disorganized attachment style. A therapist can help to recognise moments in our life when we experienced certain attachment related behaviours. For example, for people that have disorganized attachments styles there will be most likely past trauma or maltreatment that needs to be addressed in therapy in order to make sense of these past events. The second step will be to identify and focus on our negative thoughts or core beliefs that we have formed in our childhood on basis of our past interactions with our caregivers. In attachment-based therapy, a therapist can support by examining our thoughts that have been formed about ourselves and evaluate these and conclude if these thoughts are true or rather exaggerated or incorrect. Additionally, people who have had caregivers that failed to take care of them, usually struggle to communicate their needs in a relationship. Through counselling, it is possible to improve our communication skills and to learn how to express feelings and needs more clearly.

Eventually, we can notice that an increase in communication can be helpful in our current relationship, or it might be realized that we will never get our needs met in this relationship.

Overall, attachment-based therapy can be really helpful if you feel that you are experiencing issues in your current relationships that might stem from your childhood.

So, if you think that you might have underlying issues related to attachment that might affect your current relationships, feel free to book in with one of our experienced psychologists at Drop of Life!

Sources

Ainsworth MDS, Blehar MC, Waters E, Wall S. Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1978.

Ainsworth MDS. Attachments and Other Affectional Bonds Across the Life Cycle. In: Attachment Across the Life Cycle. Parkes CM, Stevenson-Hinde J, Marris P, eds. London: Routledge; 1991: 33-51.

Bowlby J. The Nature of the Child's Tie to His Mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis.1958;39:350-371.

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Is it really about the Skeletons?

In my last blog I talked about trauma in previous generations of the family and how knowing about this can be helpful for the current generation. Now let’s talk about the benefits of knowing about family, not just about the traumas.

Psychologists Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush of Emory University in Atlanta Georgia asked children from 48 families 20 questions about their family history. They called this the “Do You Know” scale. Marshall Duke points out the major criterion for inclusion in this set of questions was that they test knowledge of things that children could not possibly have learned firsthand, thus relying on having learned these through the telling of family stories or other indirect sources. What they found was that children who knew more had:

  • a stronger their sense of control over their own lives
  • higher self-esteem,
  • lower levels of anxiety,
  • fewer behavioural problems
  • improved chances for a good outcome if the child faces educational or emotional/behavioural difficulties

They also found that the families of the children who knew more functioned better. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush reassessed the children in these same families shortly after the tragedy that was Sept 11. The families they studied had not been directly affected by the events, but they had all experienced the same national trauma at the same time. They found that the children who knew more about their families proved more able to moderate the effects of stress, were more resilient.

Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong “intergenerational self.”, a sense of their history and that their identity stretches back 100 of years giving them connection, strength and resilience.

The research shows that children who have a strong “family narrative” in particular one about the ups and downs of life and how the hard times were overcome, enjoy better emotional health. Dr Duke asserts that negative family stories can be even more important than the positive ones for fostering children’s emotional resilience.

So this is good news right, all we have to do is teach our kids the answers to the “Do you know” questionnaire and they will have all these benefits. An easy fix is really appealing but of course there is more to it than that. We need to look at how it is that some children know more than others and what are the factors in the family that contribute to this.

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Tapping to Help with Stress?

I recently attended a workshop on Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), also known as Tapping, and was amazed to learn about the benefits of this technique.

To be honest, I was somewhat dubious before I attended this training and questioned how tapping could bring about benefits for so many types of emotional and physical problems. But I saw firsthand the benefits of tapping doing this workshop and also saw that it was backed up by empirical research!

So what is EFT / Tapping?

Tapping combines principles from Chinese acupressure and psychology to treat both physical pain and emotional distress. Tapping with the fingertips on specific meridian endpoints of the body, while addressing negative emotional experiences or bodily sensations, can calm the nervous system, thereby reducing stress and providing healthier ways of responding to daily stressors.

How does EFT work?

EFT recognises the connection between mind and body. Whilst ancient Chinese populations have known this for a long time, we are now beginning to find and have discovered through research, that our bodies are equipped with an energy system that runs along pathways known as meridians. It is believed that EFT helps to stimulate these pathways, and when we verbally or mentally target the cause of distress, energy that is stuck or blocked can begin to flow naturally.

The basic technique involves tapping with the fingertips on 12 of the body’s meridian points, whilst addressing negative emotions, bodily sensations or physical pain, and repeating this sequence between 5-7 times. At this point, and having done tapping on myself, you start to notice a shift and a reduction in the experience of distress or stress. It is truly phenomenal!

What can it be used to treat?

Another incredible thing about tapping is that it can be used to treat so many types of emotional problems and pain. It can be used for stress, anxiety, phobias, chronic pain, addiction, weight loss, negative core beliefs and even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD).

Benefits of EFT

Along with reducing emotional distress, tapping can improve memory, increase positive feelings, lower stress (cortisol), control inflammation and immunity genes and down-regulate heart and blood pressure.

Probably one of the most amazing features of tapping is that, once the process and sequence has been fully learned, it can be practised by anyone, at any time and is FREE!

I would like to express a word of caution in this regard, if there are complex psychological problems (such as PTSD), it is best to undertake EFT with an experienced mental health provider or psychologist.

So if you are interested in trying out EFT, feel free to book in with one of our experienced psychologists at the Drop Of Life!! J

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3 Things you Absolutely Need to Know About Finding your Sense of Self

How do you define who you are?

Do you rely on the different roles and relationships you have, eg mother, teacher?

Or

Is it more about your thoughts, emotions, and knowledge of the world that you live in?

Or

Is it about your Self Esteem and how you view yourself and what you look like?

Or

Is it about if you LIKE yourself?

 Or perhaps

 Is it what you think you can achieve and accomplish in life?

GUESS WHAT! Its ALL of these things!

SENSE OF SELF is the way we think and view ourselves, our traits, values, and it incorporates what we believe and our purpose in the world and how we interact with those around us and the world in general. SO, ITS BIG!

Our Sense of Self is a very complicated concept because it’s both the inner and outer working models of self. We cannot separate how the two interact with each other. Its WHY we do what we do and choose the things we choose.

Often however, sometimes we get lost in the outer world and other opinions and ideas and lose that feeling of being connected with our actual self!   This is not hard to do as we are continually changing. You are certainly not the same person your parents brought home from the hospital! Yet you are still you! We are meant to GROW and LEARN and as a result, so does our Sense Of Self (or SOS as I like to call it because it’s our beacon in the dark to give us direction!)

1.   Self-Image – This typically relates to how you view yourself and includes things like your personality traits and physical description eg I Identify with being loyal, a Psychologist and tall, and a certain age (which will remain a secret for the moment ;-) ) . It is usually the first thing that we identify with when we are young. You will often hear a little child tell you with great pride “I am 3”, or I’m a big sister, I am good or bad etc. At its lowest level, our Self Image affects how we think and feel and also how we interact within our world, Self-image affects how we think, feel and behave in our world. It is basically all that you know about yourself.

2.   Self Esteem – Is basically how we view ourselves and what we think is true of ourselves. This is typically established in early childhood with what is mirrored to us by our parents. So, can often be faulty as they were set up from the eyes of a child and an immature brain. As adults, we are continually drawing on these sometimes-old faulty beliefs and deciding on how we are supposed to act and behave within our world around us. As you would imagine if you have flawed negative views of your self or are very critical of yourselves, this will impact on your self-esteem and how you view yourselves. Therefore, it is necessary to challenge old faulty beliefs, so they do not continue to impact on your life.

3.   Ideal Self - This basically the concept around the person who we would like to be. It is where our aspirations and goals about our future are, and it is always moving and changing.   For example who you thought you were as a child is not the same as when you were a teenager or today.   There is always a struggle between our ideal self and the way we behave because let’s face it, we can all act poorly at times and out of character with who we identify with being. This very real struggle comes from the need to fit in and be part of the bigger social world. We are continually adjusting and comparing and deriving information from our social interactions. We all seek external validation and comparison of how to respond and behave, and as a result, we are continually changing to meet these social roles. This means that we are continually struggling to match and align with our Ideal self. What we present to the world and who we think we are and how we should behave often don’t match. This will result in fear and self-doubt, which makes us feel lost.

This is the reason why I have developed courses and workshops that deal with this specific concern because it is constant within everybody.

Imagine if you could be more aligned with yourself and act according to your values more than you don’t. Imagine if you could be aware of the faulty belief systems that are continually sabotaging your behaviours and moving you further away from that ideal self.

Thank goodness this is achievable and not as hard as you would think.

If you are curious simply fill out the quiz to see if you would benefit from some insight and tools to help you.

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Skeletons in the closet. To know or not to know. That is the question.

What do you know about your family history? Often difficult or traumatic things are not talked about, this was particularly so in the past. These things then become the skeletons in the family closet. Is it worth the effort of finding out about the previous generations?

Some of us would prefer to leave the past in the past. This is understandable, it can be anxiety provoking and painful to explore family history and build the connections we need to do so. Not only that but often there is the belief that what is done is done and that the influence from the past is fixed and unchangeable.

The study of trauma has documented ways that human biology carries stress reactions into future generations. Trauma can lead to disturbances in stress hormones, the immune system, metabolism, the development of inflammation and disruption in brain connectivity. These effects play their part in the symptoms of depression and anxiety, obesity, heart problems, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and other chronic illnesses in adult survivors and their descendants.

So yes the past of your family has an effect.

However the effect of the past is not fixed. Research on epigenetics has looked at the various ways that stress reactions are passed down over generations through biology, as well as through the ways family members relate to each other. This processes in the relationships of the family members’ influences whether these genes associated with vulnerability to stress are expressed or silenced. The expression of these genes then influences the next generation.

Ok what have we got so far, trauma in a previous generation can affect the current generation, however these effects can be moderated through family relationship and epigenetic processes. What are the kinds of family relationship processes that can moderate the effect? Well that is a big question.

One of the things that plays a part is knowing about the family history. Researchers have looked at the intergenerational impact of trauma. Eileen Gottlieb has done work with the descendants of Holocaust survivors. Katherine Baker has studied the descendants of the survivors of Stalin’s purge. Both have found that those who were able to get in contact with family and know the facts of the family history had better health and healthier family lives that those who remained cut off from their family and past.

Knowing about the skeletons, the trauma’s experienced in previous generations certainly seems to be helpful. How it is helpful is a topic for a future blog.

What I would like to explore next is whether there is value in knowing about family history, generally, even if you don’t find too many skeletons.

 

Nicole Hinchcliffe 

Psychologist

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How to Support your Teenager with Depression

As a parent, you are used to taking care of your children, especially when they are ill. But when kids are transitioning to their teenage years the parenting role changes to a more supporting role. This can be difficult and is even more so for teens who are struggling with depression. Depression is a serious mental health condition that has an impact on someone’s social life, work and physical and mental health. The number of children that are diagnosed with depression has been increasing every year. Statistics show that in Australia, one in 35 young Australians aged 4-17 y old have experienced a depressive disorder. Teenagers who experience depression need support, though they have to want that support.

So how do you know if your teenager has depression? The following are signs that your teenager might be depressed:

  • Your child has lost interest in the things he usually enjoys doing.
  • They have been sad or irritable most of the day, and most of the days for at least two weeks.
  • Eating or sleeping habits have changed.
  • His/her energy levels have dropped, and they experience a lack of motivation.
  • Your child is feeling worthless, hopeless about their future and experiences feelings of guilt.
  • Your child struggles at school caused by difficulties in concentrating.
  • He/she might have experienced suicidal thoughts. If this is the case, it’s key to have your child evaluated by a mental health professional.

Professional attention is advised when your teen has more than a few of the signs above. As a parent, there are a couple of things that you can do to support your teen. The most important thing is to simply be there for them and be accepting. So, how can you achieve this?

Strengthening your relationship
Strengthening your relationship with your teen is one of the main things that you as a parent can do for your child. This can be achieved by validating their emotions, instead of their unhealthy behaviours. In order to be able to validate their emotions, it’s important to be empathic, listen to your teenager and try to understand them by putting yourself in his shoes. For instance, you can say to your child: “I sense that you have been really down the last couple of weeks, is that right?” Key is to make it clear to your child that you are willing to understand what’s going on for them without trying to solve their problems.

Positive reinforcement
It’s important to focus on the positive things that your teenager does. These can be small things such as going to school, doing their home-work or cooking a meal. It’s key to notice these positive behaviours and to praise your child for doing them as this will ensure that your child feels valued and experiences a feeling of achievement. Similarly, avoid reinforcing your child in a negative way by highlighting their downfalls or the things that they are not able to do anymore because of their depressive mood as this can cause your child to feel more frustrated and down.

Find professional help
When you suspect that your child has depression, it’s advised to seek professional help. However, some teenagers will be resistant at first to the idea of therapy. If this is the case, try to be patient and acknowledge them by addressing that they must be going through a difficult time and that you have some ideas that could help them. Also, let them know that they can talk to you about these options whenever they feel the need to. Eventually, ifyour child agrees to see a therapist, it’s key to find a therapist that your child is feeling comfortable with as this usually leads to better therapy outcomes.

A variety of evidence-based treatments are available that can reduce the symptoms of depression. For instance, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Family-based Interpersonal Therapy have all been shown to be effective for teenagers who suffer from depression. While therapy alone might be effective for teenagers who have mild to moderate symptoms of depression, evidence has shown that a combination of medication and therapy usually obtains better results. In order to receive medication, a specialised child psychiatrist needs to be consulted first.

Self-care
Finally, it’s necessary that you also take care of yourself by making sure that you receive support from your friends or other family members and also keep on doing things that you enjoy, as it can be emotionally challenging to be a parent of a teenager that deals with depression.Know that you are not alone and that you can find the support you need. 

If you or your teenager would like to receive help book an appointment with Wendy or another psychologist at Drop of Life! 

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