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This article appeared in the Chiswick Herald on the 21st December:

Someone upsetting you? Here’s what to do about it.
 
In this article we will look at getting upset with other people, how we can usefully think about what is happening and what are some of the options available to stop this from happening.
 
Before getting into the main part of the article it is really important to acknowledge the times when relationship problems are serious and have serious consequences for the health and safety of ourselves and/or others. Some people find almost everyone else difficult and they can find therapy really useful in understanding how their own expectations are causing conflict and find new ways to improve their relationships. And some people are in abusive relationships and they need to get out of them. If you think you might be in an abusive relationship, and abuse can take physical, sexual and emotional forms, there is lots of really helpful information available. For example this page of the NHS website https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/getting-help-for-domestic-violence/. If you are in either of these terrible situations there is a lot of help out there and whilst it might feel hard to take the first step to get help you will be glad you did. Finally, particular in close relationships patterns of destructive and painful behaviour can really put a relationship under strain and often people can find couples therapy helpful. In all these situations the important thing is not to suffer in silence.
 
Now back to the main part of this article. Most people have difficult relationships with others at some point or another. Sometimes it is something a partner, family member, colleague or friend does that annoys on a regular basis or it might be something that has happened that you are really shocked or stunned by and can’t find a way to deal with it. 
 
Step One - Relax
 
Relax - this is something that happens to everyone. And it is not all bad - it means your psychological defences, designed to keep you safe, are functioning.
 
Step Two - Look at this objectively
 
Sounds easy and it is likely that your hurt feelings will not want you to do this but being able to be objective will enable you to find a way through. Think of an area of your life where you are strongest at being objective - for some people its work, others with their children, for others with authority - identify yours.
 
Step Three - Own your feelings
 
In the spirit of being objective it is valuable to remember this fact. Other people do not make us feel bad, we feel bad as a reaction to others - we make ourselves feel bad! 
 
Step Four - Review the facts
 
Recall exactly what happened and write it down. Then edit what you have written to remove all interpretation and subjective wording. For example a friend is late - you might write:
 
They are so annoying. They were late as always, they knew how important it was to me, we missed the train and they couldn’t even be bothered to apologise - they said nothing. It is so typical, never take responsibility for anything and doesn’t care about anyones feelings except their own. They ruined my day.
 
To rewrite this factually:
 
They were 20 minutes late and we missed the train. I had said not to be late, they said nothing when they arrived. They have been late before. My thoughts were that they don’t care about anyone else’s feelings. My day was ruined and in my thoughts I held them responsible.
 
Step Five - Review your interpretations and subjective responses. 
 
And question them as follows:
 
Are they always annoying?
They are always late?
You told them not to be late but how can you know they understood it was important to you - did you use those words?
When people do not apologise does that always mean they do not care? Isn’t there another explanation?
Do they really never take responsibility for anything? How can you be certain? Also how can you be certain they do not care about anyone else’s feelings? If so how do they manage in life? 
If they don’t manage in life then why are you taking this personally when you could have anticipated this happening?
You think they ruined your day - does that mean you were powerless to salvage your day - how come?
 
Step Six - Decide what to do.
 
By now three things will have happened:
  • You will feel calmer - you are taking back control of the situation and your feelings
  • You will be starting to think about what happened differently
  • You may now want to just forget about what happened or maybe you will want to talk to the person about what happened
  • When you replay things in your mind you might now find that the other person was even upset that you were upset - so maybe they are feeling bad too now?
Step Seven - If you decide to talk to them
 
If you decide you would like to speak to the person then use this simple framework:
 
State the facts - “you were late and I had asked you not to be so we missed our train and I did not enjoy the rest of the day”
Say how you felt - “I felt angry and upset”
Say what thoughts you had - “I was thinking it means you do not care about me and I remembered when you were late before”
Say what you would like - “I would like you to be on time in future”
 
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Our article - "Reduce conflict and stress in relationships" published in the Chiswick Herald on the 9th November. Please read below:

Reduce conflict and stress in relationships
 
Conflict and stress in relationships often come from misunderstandings and poor communication. We cannot expect others to change how they communicate but we can change ourselves and when we find communications of others upsetting then having a better understanding can help.
 
In this article I’m going to look at how, by paying attention to our thinking and the words we use we can become more relaxed, have less conflict with others and become happier. Initially, I will explain how we have a natural tendency towards the negative, the role of our thinking, how the words we use can make things worse for us and how we can also apply this when we find the communications of others upsetting.
 
Recognising the difference between interpretation and fact
 
For example, a friend who you had agreed to let know whether you would or would not be able to make it for coffee, replies saying 
 
“You are late contacting me! Bad behaviour from a friend?” 
 
As you can see the response contains judgements which are negative towards your actions namely, “late” (no date or time had been agreed for confirming) and “Bad” (a subjective interpretation) - with such wording it is likely that you will have had a negative reaction to these words?
 
Beware - negative interpretations cause escalations in both yourself and others
 
Your feeling response to these judgements is likely to be negative. What feeling it evokes in you will depend upon your current situation and also how you to tend to respond to negative comments. Importantly your own negative reaction to the judgements may well lead you to negative judgements in return. For example, if you have been really busy and not very well you might feel upset and then your own negative judgement will be to think you are being misunderstood, if you have a history of disappointments, you might feel anger and think they are unfair, if you have had critical parents you might feel anxious or nervous and think you are in trouble?
 
So likely responses you send in these three scenarios might well be something like:
 
“You just don’t understand and are not being nice”.
“You are unfair, I know what it is like to feel disappointed and you have no right to feel this way”.
 
With these first two responses your friend is likely to be respond with further negative judgement and accusation. A third possibility and just as harmful to your friendship would be the following:
 
“I am sorry, I’ve changed my diary so I can make it”.
 
In this response you are dismissing yourself and doing what the other person wants just to avoid conflict, ultimately the cost to you of doing this is to have inauthentic relationships that bring you little in return!
 
Facts, facts , facts
 
So what can be done?
 
When you receive something from someone that results in a negative feeling here is what to do:
 
  1. Pause - It can be tempting to allow your thinking to take over but this is also unlikely to be helpful as your thoughts will be based upon your negative feelings.  Also when you have allowed your thinking to gain momentum you may find it hard to avoid taking action that has negative consequences.
  2. Take a breath and then ask yourself “what is factual here?”, with this example it can be helpful that having spotted there is little factual content and noting your negative reaction, that the important message from this interaction is that your friend is upset but not able to communicate this to you in a helpful way?
  3. Now develop a response with the following parts: first - state the facts, two - explain what thoughts it brings up for you. For example:
 
“I felt upset when I received your message and I do not remember us saying a time by which we would confirm whether or not we would be able to meet. As I felt upset, I am thinking that maybe you are upset that we are not able to meet”? 
 
Such a response is factual, offers a suggestion about what is going on and invites further communication. Unless you are in a friendship with someone who is abusive, in which case their response is likely to contain further judgements and criticisms, it is likely your friend will see that a misunderstanding has occurred.  Also if in the future difficult situations arise, this interaction will have helped build trust so that your friends initial response will itself be factual. They might for example say:
 
“I feel upset because I was looking forward to us meeting and I have not seen as much of you as I would have liked lately”.
 
And if you now note your reactions to receiving this kind of message, I imagine you feel upset for the other person and rather than defensive and wanting to avoid them, find yourself wanting to reach out and get something new organised?
 
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Our latest article on reducing anxiety was published in the Chiswick Herald on page 31. 

View article Or read it below:

Feel happier - reduce stress and anxiety - here’s how!
 
Stress comes from being under pressure, anxiety comes from prolonged stress, anxiety reduces our happiness - so anything we can do to reduce pressure will have a direct impact on happiness!
 
In this article I’m going to look at how, by paying attention to our thinking and the words we use to describe things we can become more relaxed, have less conflict with others and become happier. Initially, I will explain how we have a natural tendency towards the negative, the role of our thinking, how the words we use can make things worse for us and then offer an experiment to help you start to make changes. This article will deal with events that we might come across everyday - in the next article we will look at relationships.
 
When we experience being under pressure the experience is one that is alerted to us by a combination of our feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. Neuroscience is showing that our feelings are something over which we have very little control - our bodily sensations and feelings will be triggered in response to a perceived threat or pleasure and then our thoughts will try to make sense of what is happening and if it is a threat, to seek a solution.
 
Under pressure it is our thinking which often proves to be the weak link. 
 
Thinking happens through our language, thoughts are the assigning of words to our experience and the biggest single problem with our language is how it contains so much scope for subjectivity combined with its tendency to see things as either positive or negative.
 
Being first and foremost concerned with our survival, negative judgements take precedence. For example, when we have a feeling we see as “good” we do not tend to dwell, analyse and procrastinate because there is nothing to be done, we are not under any possible threat. However when we have a feeling that we see as “bad” we naturally tend towards needing to find out what is “wrong”. The issue here is that we are already looking for something “bad” - we are starting with a bias. 
 
Our experience of living may be made up of equally good and bad feelings but the importance given to the bad means the way we can end up looking at the world will be skewed towards the negative.
 
In addition, the difficulty of feelings that we experience as bad can mean we do not feel as though we have time to understand whether our judgement is correct. Instead our in built risk assessment systems will urge us to think about the worst scenario, draw upon our previous bad experiences and allow our adrenal systems to kick in and allow physiological action designed to save us. 
 
Our very sensitive but not necessarily accurate systems are great for saving us when we really need it - where our safety is at risk - but it also influences us in low risk everyday situations where we find ourselves reacting to things and making negative judgements. I am not saying we stop judging but we recognise when we do this and how it has the potential to make us unhappy.
 
 
Here is an everyday example:
 
Imagine you are walking down the street - you narrowly miss stepping on some dog faeces. Whilst you are pleased you missed it you remember a previous time when you stepped in some dog “mess” and how annoyed you felt and the extra work involved in cleaning your shoes and the entrance hall carpet at home. The word “mess” combined with the previous memory triggers irritation and you think about how “irresponsible” people can be, that reminds you of how you found a new scratch on your car the previous week, you think “vandalism” and now you feel angry but also a little frightened. In turn that fear then reminds you of what you saw on the news about an increase in muggings in another part of the city. Now you think about how the city is changing and how crime is getting worse, how people are “dangerous” and you now feel unsafe. 
 
Instead imagine this possibility:
 
Walking down the street you narrowly miss stepping in some dog faeces. Whilst you are pleased you missed it you remember a previous time when you stepped in some dog “mess” and how annoyed you felt and the extra work involved in cleaning your shoes and the entrance hall carpet at home. 
 
NOW at this point - at the time of your initial reaction - try to train yourself to pause. You do this so that you can now look at the reaction and look firstly for words which are not purely descriptive - so ones that contain a subjective / judgement - in this case “mess” and secondly look at how this event today is triggering past negative events.
 
Now, having fully understood how you are reacting in a way that is amplifying the event and its negative impact on you, recall how you were feeling before this happened, take a second or so to fully experience yourself as you were.
 
Obviously it is unrealistic to expect yourself to do this every time something generates a negative thought and feeling however if you can start to do this occasionally you will start to understand how set backs, surprises, misunderstandings, disappointments etc end up with much more power than they fully warrant and how that can sabotage your happiness. In our next article we will look at how to apply this to relationships.

 

 
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Our latest article was published on page 29 of the Chiswick Herald on the 22nd June, click here or read below:

I’m a therapist because of loneliness.
 
For me, therapy works because the person struggling with something on their own no longer feels on their own! 
 
People come and see me because they are depressed, anxious, having panic attacks, having relationship problems, drinking too much, having problems becoming pregnant, have PTSD, are diagnosed with a mental health disorder, are suicidal, having trouble managing their anger but the baseline is they are coming to see me because they are alone with a struggle. 
 
No longer feeling alone brings a sense of relief and hope. 
 
The change, no matter how subtle brings new energy and makes it possible to express something that has previously been impossible to express. Feeling more relaxed means we can start to see the wood for the trees, be more rational, think about things more clearly, which in turn helps us to feel better.
 
It is only once we can express our difficulties we can start to understand them and once we understand them we have a chance of fixing them.
 
Although loneliness has been much in the news lately, the importance and scale of it is I think,  vastly overlooked. In my experience people find it hard to identify that they are lonely or even if they do feel lonely fail to see the importance of it.
 
When a person finds it hard to make sense of something, be it their thoughts, feelings or how they are experiencing themselves they can get stuck in their internal world. So they will find their thoughts going round in circles, have ever increasing and overwhelming negative feelings, have bodily symptoms - and the more they try to get out of the struggle the worse it gets.
 
This is a really lonely place to find yourself in.
 
When people find they cannot rely on themselves to find a solution they may move towards other behaviours, initially as coping mechanisms, that only act to escalate the problems and isolate them further - drinking, drugs, eating disorders, avoiding friends and family, giving up their hobbies, faith, work. 
 
It’s a natural response because once someone starts to focus inwardly they have already discounted, not thought about or had experiences which have led them to believe that they cannot be helped. 
 
But what is help?
 
The important thing about seeing a therapist is that you are meeting with someone who you do not know and who does not know you. This means that the problems you might experience in trying to talk to friends and family do not exist - you can feel more relaxed and speak freely, your conversations will be confidential, you do not have to worry about the therapists feelings, do not have to worry that they might not cope with you being upset, might change their opinion of you, be sure that they are there because they are focussed on helping you and as you are the client you are in control. 
 
One of the common problems people experience about sharing their struggles is a worry that somehow control might be taken away from them - with a therapist that is not the case.
 
Crucially though finding the right therapist for you is essential. Research consistently shows that the single most important factor in finding therapy helpful is the quality of the relationship someone has with their therapist. 
 
It is true that we go through years of training, undertake our own therapy, have experience in talking about things often not talked about in everyday life, so we might have some new way of looking at things, be able to share a wisdom but to know if you have found the right therapist I suggest you ask yourself “Do I feel lonely now I have my therapist to talk to?” If the answer is no, or not so much then I think you have found the therapist who is right for you. 

 
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Our latest article published in the Chiswick Herald on the 1st December on page 21, to read it click here. Otherwise the article is detailed below:

 
Is work affecting your mental health?

 I have been thinking about how many of our clients are routinely impacted on stress that comes from work, either from the pressure of the work itself and or difficult relationships at work. And too much stress can so easily have a significant impact on a persons quality of life. Stress can lead to anxiety and depression that brings with it many symptoms that can prevent people from getting the most out of life.

 And did you know that employers should be thinking about whether your work is well designed, organised and managed? Employers in the UK have a legal duty of care to protect the health, safety and welfare of all employees and yet according to research conducted by the mental health charity Mind in 2013, work was given as the most stressful factor by 34% of respondents saying they found their work life either very or quite stressful. Other research quoted by the Health and Safety Executive also shows that workers in the public service industries tend to have higher incidences of stress.

 It can of course be difficult to attribute stress to just one source and yet if you find yourself saying that work is stressful, or if you notice that someone else tends to exhibit signs of stress in relation to work then it can be helpful to keep in mind that there are ways to manage and reduce stress. It is also helpful to remember that if you are stressed at work then your employer has a responsibility too.

 Bullying continues to attract much attention in the media for example, if you are struggling at work whilst it might be your first thought to think about how you are failing that might mean you fail to recognise that you are the victim of bullying. Instead of focusing on what you are doing wrong take a step back and think about the environment and context in which you find yourself. Examples of bullying can include overbearing supervision, constant criticism, exclusion and maybe you are working an a culture where this is routine but it doesn’t mean you have to put up with this. 

 But it is not just adults in the workplace who are suffering from stress. It seems this is an increasingly recognised problem for children too. In August 2015 The Guardian reported that English children are among the unhappiest in the world and again there seems to be a significant link with bullying. Head Teachers have been calling for improved mental health care and yet for some time now the news has been full of articles on how much stress teachers say they are experiencing.

 Marybeth Mendenhall, our Senior Associate and a Systemic Psychotherapist told me “The dynamics within organisations can usefully be likened to those that occur in families -  dysfunctional organisations are like dysfunctional families. For the members belonging to the group harmful behaviours may easily become so familiar that it is only when a new member joins or an outsider gets to see and experience being part of the group that the harmful dynamics can be identified”. 

 

Ia Tollstam, our Consultant Supervisor for business services told me “many medium and large organisations have services in place to help managers think about stress and employees deal with stress. Access to counselling is commonplace in many organisations but not so much for those that are smaller”. She added “there is so much an organisation can do to support its staff and the value of a workforce who feel looked after is something the most successful employers understand.”

 

As Marybeth says “Just like with a family, members can really help each other out when trouble strikes and good communications and strong relationships can build resilience that minimises the impact of difficult times or events.” 

 

In talking to my colleagues about stress at work and in families I have found myself thinking about how more and more of our work is with children and adolescents. It seems that stress is affecting everyone? Stressed parents equals stressed children, stressed managers a stressed workforce and stressed teachers stressed pupils so to end I guess I am thinking about just how useful it can be to think about the different roles you have in life - parent, manager, partner, friend, colleague, teacher - when you think of that role can you recognise stress and if so what impact might that be having on those who count on you?