By now, we’ve all read about the benefits of gratitude in terms of positive mental health and even improvements to physical health. There is plenty written about how gratitude is good for you and there is a booming market in gratitude journals, apps and playlists. (Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade have a look here, here, here and here for a starting point on the benefits of gratitude!)
I was very pleased to heard some nice words from two patients in the last month within days of one another – one wanted to touch base and ask my opinion on an activity she was interested in trying, the other had turned his world view around significantly in recent months.
Both said ‘thank you for being my stepping stone’.
Those. Exact. Words.
I found this to be both a tremendous honour, incredibly humbling and, at the same time, powerfully uplifting. Here were two people who came to me for vastly different issues (although both were physical rather than psychological worries), but who came away feeling so much more empowered to change their lives for the better. They were always capable of doing so, but just needed that first step in the right direction to be guided by someone else.
It’s a very humbling experience to be the person who can hold someone’s hand as they take that step in the right direction which leads them to change their entire lifestyle or world view and to watch them bloom into their new self – happier, healthier and better able to continue to grow.
I think I’ll keep being a stepping stone for a little while longer 😉
I am seeing a patient this month for unexplained weakness and perceived weight loss. In the course of six months, he lost his mother and best friend (both overseas), cut his alcohol intake and started an almost vegetarian diet and very small portion sizes.
He’s not stressed, he tells me – he’s just a little sad. I can see right away that he is more than just a little sad. He looks exhausted and drained and burdened. As we talk, he reveals that he is sleeping fine – a few hours a night. That his appetite is fine – for one or two small meals per day. That his mood is fine – except that he last felt happy months ago. That his energy levels were fine – except he was so tired. He eventually concedes that maybe things are not all that fine after all.
I ask him about whether he’d considered grief counselling and he laughed and said he ‘doesn’t believe in that stuff’! On the other hand, he did listen carefully to how much ‘that stuff’ can affect him not only physically in the here and now, but also when looking back at his life and reliving many of the moments triggered by the passing of two people so close to him. He carries the memories and emotions of these experiences as heavy weights which have only seemed heavier in the last few months. Is it truly any wonder he was feeling weaker?
I had set him a difficult task this month – to actively pay tribute and explore those memories, and to reframe them. Some of the guilt, anger and sadness he has been carrying for decades will lift as he is able to see the events and the people involved from a different angle. He cannot change the events, but he can change how he feels about them. By changing his feelings surrounding these events, he is able to change his thoughts. What’s more, by practicing this skill, he will be better able to assess future experiences and reframe them at the time, rather than (at times) years later after they have had time to become an almost permanent fixture in his psyche.
At the end of the month, he has filled pages in his journal with moments from the last 40 years that he can look back on now with a completely different vision. It was not easy, but it was essential. He will be able to carry those memories far more easily.
What appeared to be on the surface a simple case of nutritional inadequacy had a far deeper component. I often mention that the mind and body are so closely linked that changing something small in one can have tremendous effects on the other – why not guide those effects in the best direction possible?
The last year has been one of tremendous growth, change and defining who I am as a person, mother, wife, daughter, friend and practitioner. I’ve had the opportunity to try many new things and work out where I fit in grand schemes. Most importantly – I’ve had the opportunity to work out where I DON’T fit!
The example that jumps straight to mind is that of a group practice that I joined. I was full of enthusiasm and energy about working in a great space with wonderful people. On the surface, it seemed like this was where I was supposed to be! Unfortunately, as time went on it became obvious to me that it wasn’t the right fit. It was just little things at first, but it was more and more clear that what I considered crucial to effective therapy was not the same as what management considered important. I was faced with a tough decision – change the way I worked to fit the mould of the group practice, try to continue to work in my own way and never mind how others worked, or accept that sometimes it’s just not going to happen and there are surely other places that will fit better.
In the end, I chose the last option – I couldn’t see myself changing my practice style when this is what I was good at and what achieved good results. I know that in the past, I would likely have tried to change myself in a desperate attempt to fit in with my surroundings, but not anymore. Now I look for surroundings that fit me – not the other way around. It’s not always going to be perfect, but much like finding the right pair of shoes, there’s no point hurting yourself if it’s just the wrong fit.
As it turned out, while that practice was not the right fit for me, it did give me the opportunity to meet some fantastic people and opened doors that I would otherwise have not even known existed. As such, there is value in a ‘wrong fit’, as long as you can see where you are and where you need to go.
Going through those periods of ‘wrong fit’ is unpleasant at the time, but they are absolutely invaluable when it comes to learning about yourself. Reframing negative experiences to move from being angry or upset about what’s happened to being able to see the lessons therein can be difficult, but it is certainly worthwhile. I’ll write about reframing next month, but this month let’s just look at where we are and whether you’re giving yourself blisters by staying in a situation that definitely is a poor fit for you!
I made a big move this month – literally! For the last two years I’ve been building my practice in Logan in a *ahem* cosy room with a variety of other individuals. I enjoyed working with the other people there and I liked the routine I had, however we were all in the same boat. We weren’t getting very far, but we were comfortable in our ruts and routines – they were familiar and felt safe.
There was no risk.
There was no uncertainty.
And there was no growth.
There comes a point for every person when they need to evaluate their current situation and think about whether it is the best place for them. This can be in relation to their physical location, their career path, their relationships or even their own personality. Making that kind of evaluation, however, takes a certain brutal honesty. You really need to look at the reality of your situation and think about whether this is the best you can be, or whether you are just cruising along comfortably without any real change. This point may come after a traumatic event or after a period of calm – there is no right or wrong time, however it is important that it comes.
True growth can only happen with change, but as we all know – change is hard. Change is scary. Change is risky. Change is uncertain. Change is necessary. Look at how babies change with every passing week and grow into delightful little children, then challenging adolescents, then wonderful adults. Babies don’t worry about the changes in their lives – they simply accept them, learn as they go and grow into their next stage. As we get older, we become more set in our ways and change becomes harder, but perhaps if we looked at change simply as a way to move onto the next stage it would be less stressful. There is still uncertainty and risk, but the stress that comes with it could be mitigated.
Right up until I moved all my furniture into my room (and even bought two plush red armchairs!), I was uncertain that I was doing the right thing. My room is huge, but I’m alone. Was I making a terrible mistake? Should I have just stayed where I was, comfortable in my tiny room with barely enough room for two adults?
I am comforted by the thought that change leads to growth and growth leads to change – I am embracing the uncertainty and grabbing the opportunity to launch into my next stage with both hands…. …and a fast beating heart!
“Hi, how are you?”
“Great! I’ve been so busy! You?”
“Oh yeah, I’ve been so busy, but I’ve been good. So tired, though…”
“Yeah, I get that. I need a holiday, but it’s just too busy at work and everyone needs a piece of me…”
How many conversations have you had like this? How many times have you equated being busy with being successful? How many times have you sat down to take a breath, then quietly castigated yourself for wasting time, doing nothing or being unproductive?
I recently had a conversation about productivity, taking time to do nothing, the very finite number of hours in a day and how we live in a society that rewards us for simply spending time at work rather than necessarily being productive at work. We are praised for ‘putting in the hours’, but not necessarily recognised for the actual output of those hours. More than that, as a society we look down on time spent doing nothing or time spent on the self and call it wasted. This couldn’t be further from the truth in my mind – time spent on the self is incredibly important.
I find myself repeating to people that self care is not a luxury – it’s a necessity. This means that time spent on the self if certainly not wasted – it’s essential for all aspects of health. Physical, mental and spiritual health all rely of having time available for rest and personal development. When that time is restricted, when we are encouraged to spend close to half our day at work, the opportunity for personal growth, proper rest and true health are severely restricted as well.
I’d love to see a time when a better work-life balance is truly attainable for the majority of people, when time spent on the self is seen as valuable and necessary. I think that will be a time when mental and physical health improves for all.
Raise your hand if you made a new years’ resolution on Dec 31st?
Keep your hand raised if you’re still sticking with it……. good work!!! Go enjoy your reward and see you next month!
Now, for the rest of us… what happened?
Many people make resolutions in the hope that the new year will fill them with some amazing new sense of motivation and will that allows them to hit the gym five days per week, or completely give up sugar or alcohol, or make sure they check off their lists each day to keep on top of their life. And it works for a little while! But sadly, the ticking over of a giant clock on a tower doesn’t imbue us with any new magic – we’re still the same people we were at one minute to midnight as we are at one minute after midnight. So how can we change that person into someone who enjoys 5am runs or completely abstains from coffee and cake?
The sort answer is: with great difficulty.
You can change your habits, but you need to know WHY you want to change them. For change to stick, the reason behind it has to be truly valid for you, otherwise excuses start to creep in and it all starts to crumble.
For example, say you want to start going to the gym more often. On the surface you may just want to lose weight, but that’s the kind of reason that is quickly toppled by excuses (it’s raining! it’s cold! I’m tired! I’m hungover!). If your reason for losing weight carries more weight, however, those excuses seem more flimsy by comparison and are less likely to work. Reasons such as preventing heart disease which might run in your family or wanting to be able to engage with your kids for more than 3min at a time tend to be the reasons that keep people on the right track far more effectively than a vague sense of wanting to weigh less than they do now.
Finding someone to help you work out the ‘why’ of your habit change can help make that change achievable long term. Sometimes it will simply be a matter of spending an hour or two hashing out what’s really important to you, where your priorities lie, what you’re willing to give up or put on the backburner and what you truly want to achieve.
Once you have that worked out, you’ll be better able to plan your changes and set yourself up for success, rather than setting yourself up for failure.
I was consulting with a patient when she mentioned she is working on herself to be more patient with others. That she often finds it difficult to work with people who she feels are wrong or who insist on completing tasks in a way she views as incorrect. That she has trouble tolerating the idiotsyncracies of others.
It was an accidental word, a slip of the tongue and the mind, but I loved it. She had meant to simply say ‘idiosyncracies’, but I think she actually wanted to say ‘idiots’. The result was a beautiful word that describes exactly what she feels she needs to tolerate in her life: the idiosyncrasies of idiots.
At this time of year especially, everyone can become a little unreasonable, irrational and downright ridiculous. The end of the year often spells increased pressure for people to finish things off, plan for the coming year, spend a lot of time and money doing things they may not really want to, all whilst dealing with temperature extremes (it’s been incredibly hot and stormy here, which I’m sure doesn’t help with rational thought!) and diets that have probably been filled with Christmas party staples and champagne.
Perhaps if we stopped and took a moment to consider the idiotsyncracies of others, we would be better able to handle some of these pressures. If we acknowledged that yes, we think other people are idiots – they are irrational, stupid, demanding, unreasonable, or any other term that fits our feelings about them – but they are still human. As such we need to also acknowledge their idiosyncracies – they are probably also innovative, enthusiastic, creative, industrious, big picture people who just do things differently to us or need a different routine to what we need.
By taking into account that others simply have different needs and requirements to get through their day, while acknowledging and allowing for that pang of pride in our own rational and superior selves, perhaps we’d all find ourselves getting along with less stress and more happiness in our lives.
Unless they’re driving in front of me ……….. in which case, did that idiot get their license out of a cereal box???
Last week I did my Level 1 Compounding course (more on that later!) and given that I needed to be on the Brisbane northside by 9am, this meant crossing from Ipswich through the city in peak hour traffic. There’s no way I was going to do this by car (the amount of fuel and time wasted for peak hour journeys through the city with only one person in a car makes my heart ache), so I decided to take my bike….
…that I hadn’t ridden in nearly 18 months…
As a motorcyclist, there are certain challenges I’ve faced – bikes being very tall and heavy, protective clothing that doesn’t really fit properly, trying to fit glasses into helmets, but the most challenging has been balancing childbearing with riding. Having babies has meant several breaks from riding – it’s hard to put on a helmet when morning sickness makes being upright a challenge or plopping an 8mth pregnant belly onto a bike comfortably!
With my first pregnancy I stopped riding early on and due to a difficult pregnancy and birth, I didn’t get back on the bike at all until nearly the start of my second pregnancy. I was so fixated on my pain that I didn’t enjoy riding and used any excuse to put it off. I eventually sold that bike because it made me sad to see it sitting unused in my garage.
I ended up buying another bike. It was smaller, lighter and an astonishing shade of purple! After my second pregnancy I was a bit more confident about getting back on the (mechanical) horse, but I still put it off for months because I was terrified about getting through a certain turn on a particular hill. My fear held me back so much and I knew it wasn’t rational, but when I finally took the bike out for a twilight run, I wondered what it was that had held me back? What was all the fuss and internal noise about? There was really nothing there.
This last pregnancy, I stopped riding at about 3mths when nausea made it almost impossible to wear a helmet, but I knew the bike wasn’t going to be neglected for long. I had thought after a nearly 18 month break I should probably do a practice run, but I was keen and I felt more than ready. I ran through the elements of riding and the route I would take over and over in my head in the preceding days (“Cool Runnings” came to mind!) and that morning, I pulled on my husbands Draggins (baby belly is taking a bit longer to reduce this time around…), strapped on my tiny backpack, took a deep breath and kicked into gear without a single hesitation or doubt to hold me back. I’d done this for a decade.
I knew how to do this.
I could definitely do this.
How was it? Is was just like riding a bike… you never really forget 😉
I’ve had this conversation six times this week with various people and each time there has been a pause, a moment of silence, then a slow nod of understanding. The conversation was about regular psychologist appointments as part of preventative medicine for good mental health.
All too often, we look at therapy as a band-aid solution to a crisis – something we do when things have gotten beyond our control and we’re absolutely, positively not coping. This is how we are expected to deal with significant unanticipated events, such as grief following a sudden and unexpected loss or other trauma, but what about all the little things in our lives that add up to tremendous stress and trauma that doesn’t seem so bad, but might be a growing issue?
I see patients come into my practice with a focus on looking after their bodies – the exercise, they eat well, they want to keep their heart, liver, kidneys, uterus and skin healthy. They want to do whatever they can to protect their body from future damage and are already putting in the hard work now to prevent problems down the line.
Except for their brains, of course. Sadly, the brain (the most important organ of all!) is often forgotten among the other aspect of what is seen as ‘healthy’ living. We often don’t think about how to protect or recharge the brain, how to prevent problems of the mind down the line.
This past week I’ve been speaking about the analogy of seeing a psychologist as a last resort as being similar to major surgery – it’s done when absolutely necessary in unforgiving circumstances. An amputation or stent placement – a last resort in dire circumstances. We don’t think of needing anything for a paper cut. Or two. Or three. Or even ten. But what about a hundred paper cuts? A thousand? How many of these tiny, seemingly insignificant events would it take before we’re bled dry? And how many should we endure before seeing help?
When I suggest regular therapy as part of a preventative health routine, I’m suggesting that a regular debrief or feedback session is a way of dealing with those thousand paper cuts so they don’t end up becoming critical. Therapy can reinforce coping techniques or give a safe space to explore potentially difficult feelings and conversations.
If everyone went to therapy regularly for those mundane events, I feel there would be far less need for crisis therapy when those same mundane events overwhelm us.
Guest Blogger – Andrew Browne
I was going through the back catalogue of one of my favorite YouTube channels the other day and came across this video and it really struck a chord with me as both a passionate gamer and the parent of three beautiful children under 5. The video is a touch over three years old now, but it’s still relevant today – perhaps even more so. I recommend all parents with young kids, regardless of whether or not you are a gamer yourself, stop reading this now and watch the video.
Now, if you’re not a gamer and pay any attention at all to the news you may be under the impression that video games are only for antisocial losers who are on the fast track to committing a mass shooting. While this isn’t the place to discuss how inaccurate this is and why the media do this, what it does do is promote misunderstanding and fear of video games. And that can be very harmful to your relationship with your children.
Gaming culture is now so mainstream and intertwined with modern culture worldwide that, no matter how hard you try to stop them, your children WILL be exposed to video games to some extent and it will start from when they’re toddlers. You can either chose to embrace this and participate alongside them, helping to guide their first steps from when they’re old enough to stop dribbling on the controller. Even if they leave you behind as they get older, it’s still something positive you shared and can help open conversations when your children need it.
Or you can be afraid and negative, either making it something your child feels alone doing or attempting to outright ban your child from them. That will create a divide between you, a sore point used as ammo to provoke or prolong an argument.
The non-gamers reading this may be going “That’s all well and good, but I only know Grand Theft Auto and/or Call of Duty from the News and neither are suitable for my toddler”. Well, I’m here to help! Here’s a few examples of games I play with my kids:
Abzu – available for PC and Playstation 4
An undersea adventure of a game that came out only a week or two ago at time of writing. It’s stunningly beautiful, both visually and musically, and simple enough that both my two and four year are able to control the action with minimal assistance. They’ve learned heaps about marine animals, things like the difference between fish and whales/dolphins or that there are sharks that eat plankton.
Spintires – PC only
A bit of a surprise, but my two year old loves this one and has christened it “Bumpy Truck” (which is very cute!). He sits up on my lap steering while I work the pedals at his request for “forward” or “back”. He’s worked out how a steering wheel works and that running into trees/rocks/deep water is bad.
Slime Rancher – PC only
A bit too complex for the two year old, but the four year old loves it. Bright, colorful and the slimes make cute, if odd, farm animals. She’s learning a lot about about farming practices, like planting crops and feeding domestic animals, plus a bit about economics when selling the produce of different types of slimes. There’s also an element of physics as you can vacuum up slimes then shoot them out so they bounce around.