Life is full of challenges and sometimes we all need extra support. Below you will find some helpful information about issues that may lead to difficulties. If you are experiencing any of these issues or you need a confidential, safe space to talk with a counsellor in Fulham, please contact me.
Returning to School
Some children have gone back to school this month and it may bring up difficult emotions for them, as well as for those who are still at home. NHS England have offered some advice for concerned parents.
However challenging you may be finding lockdown, it's not unusual to feel additional stress now that the restrictions are starting to lift. Here are some practical tips for handling this anxiety as the weeks go on.
Thoughts on the Corona Pandemic
Following guidelines from the government, I closed the doors of my private practice on the 20th of March. Most of my clients agreed to continue working with me online. I knew it was inevitable, still, I was surprised by how strongly I was affected. I thought of all my clients who, week after week, brought their lives into my therapy room; the journey some of them have gone through, and with them, me too. All the people they have brought into my practice through their narratives. So many thoughts and feelings explored by the two of us. I felt sad and somewhat anxious. When will our lives return to “normal”? While I had considerable experience of working online, I questioned whether seeing a high number of clients a week through Skype would affect my work. Would I be able to provide support during these unprecedented times and take care of myself so that I would be mentally and physically OK to work? Would I be able to earn enough money to keep my practice?
A Month On
A month later, I am reflecting on my experience of the lockdown and the psychological affect Coronavirus has had on my clients and on me. Never before in my clinical work have I felt the sense that “we are in this together” so strongly. Therapists keep a therapeutic framework in our work by trying to see clients at the same time each week, in the same room, for the same amount of money. We set boundaries and keep the relationship professional. I believe it is OK to disclose some aspects of our lives to clients but only if we do it for the benefit of the relationship and the client. This has been challenged with many of my clients and I understand the importance of flexibility during these times. I have disclosed more about how I am feeling and what I am doing to cope. I see rooms in my clients’ homes, I hear the noises their family makes in the house. Some clients want to show me what they are creating, which could be anything from knitting to painting. I have “met” a client’s cat, a creature I have heard so much about. We have stepped out of my room! And I feel that in many cases my relationships with my clients has deepened.
Whether we are aware of it or not, major existential questions are being asked of us. It was Irving Yalom who described four “ultimate concerns”: death, isolation, loss of freedom and meaningless. All of these concerns are raised at the moment which makes us all anxious on varyingly deep levels. How can we cope?
Fearing death is a universal human experience. When we are scared, we try to control our environment and create as much safety as we can. Buying unnecessary amount of food at the beginning of the outbreak was a way of controlling the uncontrollable and through that, decreasing the underlying fear of death. It is very difficult not to get sucked into the constant exposure to the news and reports of death. However, I believe it is incredibly important to reduce the time we devote to the media. Therapists talk of the “window of tolerance” (Ogden, 2006), this is a zone of arousal that allows a person to function healthily and live life without much difficulty. However, when we have too much to process (e.g. difficult news) we step out of the healthy zone and either become anxious or depressed. There are many things we can do to stay in the healthy zone (meditation, mindfulness, sport, etc.) but at the moment, turning off the news, putting on your favourite dance tune and having a little kitchen dance might just be the quickest option. Having boundaries that keep some the outside world at a healthy distance can help to reduce our stress levels.
According to Gabor Mate, there are two basic human needs: attachment and authenticity. We are born into attachment and most of my work as a relational therapist is about attachment. Isolation can take away our sense of belonging, the feeling that we are important for others. Isolation from others has also reduced the number of roles we perform outside our homes. Usually, our personalities are constantly reflected back to us by others and our identity is strengthened. Losing this mirror can lead to a withdrawal into ourselves. Being alone, and with less distraction, some people are having to face difficult questions about themselves, their relationships, their lifestyle or work. The emotions that come up can be overwhelming. Having more time just to be has allowed more time for reflection. I encourage my clients to engage with this process, even though it can sometimes be difficult, and explore what comes up. Staying in touch with others is tremendously important and it is interesting to see who comes into our lives during these tough times. Long lost friends may reconnect, or we might realise just how much we love someone. On the other hand, the lockdown has provided some people with physical distance from someone with whom they want to cut the psychological connection. Use this transformative time to make choices around your relationships.
Our freedom has been curtailed by the rules of the lockdown. On some level I completely agree with this statement. I cannot get on my bike and go to the swimming pool - how I yearn for the smell of chlorine - or spend half an hour standing in a shop deciding which cheese I fancy trying. Sadly, like many of my international clients, I cannot get on a plane and visit my elderly parents. However, there is another side to this coin. The “shoulds” of my life has also been taken away. I should go to the gym…I seem to be able to keep fit doing yoga in my bedroom and going on a half hour bike ride. Who planted it into my head that I needed to pay for a gym membership, and when did they do that? I find that a lot of things I considered to be my choice, and thus fundamentally the execution of freedom, are activities I believed I had to do. I don’t. Has the lockdown given us back the freedom to follow our own hearts? Watch a small child engaging in their favourite activities. I remember picking up my son from nursery and being told that he spent three hours playing with sand. The teacher thought he should have played with other things. I thought he looked happy and probably had a great morning learning about sand. So, it is fascinating to see how my clients engage their inner child and enjoy making clothes, crocheting, writing, doing puzzles or playing computer games. I personally have reconnected with my creative inner child and produced colourful collages. Enjoy the freedom of being allowed to be.
Finally, meaninglessness. This is a difficult one, especially for those who are not working at the moment. I deeply empathise with those who have lost their jobs and income or who are experiencing uncertainty around it. Having purpose and motivation to achieve goals gives meaning to our lives. However, for many of us, work and achievement has become the sole motivating factor in our lives. Many of my clients are expressing a wish to readjust their work/life balance or work from home to have more time for themselves or loved ones. In many ways this pandemic is about surviving and rebuilding. Perhaps it is also about finding new meanings in our lives. Maybe it’s not what we do but who we are and how we relate to others and the world around us that matters. Maybe being kinder to ourselves and others, including the environment, is what we will learn.
The one thing that stands out for me after four weeks of the lockdown, is the importance of self-care. As trainee counsellors we are taught to look after ourselves and at some point I felt, “If I hear the word self-care one more time I will scream!” I also thought that I practiced self-care in my life. The truth is, I worked too much and believed that going swimming four times a week was self-care. Finally, the gift of more time and a slower pace has allowed me to fully practice self-care by doing yoga, doing art, reading, watching documentaries, sleeping more, spending less, thinking about my diet, talking more to people. I intend, like many of my clients, to stick to this new and kinder regime as much as I can when I finally re-open my room.
Yalom, I. D. (1980) Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books
Coronavirus and Mental Health
News of the Coronavirus has been impossible to miss over the past few weeks, and it can be unsettling. I was pleased to see that the Mental Health Foundation has put together some useful information on taking care of your mental health during this time. If you are feeling stressed or anxious about the Coronavirus and you would like some support, please contact me.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
January and February are difficult months for many of us, thanks to darker days and difficult weather conditions. This article has some good strategies for coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can make you feel low in winter.
The Impact of Emotional Abuse
I have been following the case of Sally Challen, who had her murder conviction for killing her abusive husband quashed under coercive control laws. This article by David Challen, Sally's son, shows how emotionally abusive relationships can impact on the entire family.
Christmas can be a Challenging Time
Christmastime is meant to be a celebration, but it can also be a challenging time for many of us. These tips on how to look after your mental health at Christmas may be helpful. If you need further support, please contact me.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
You may have heard about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and how it can lead to emotional abuse. If you have been in a relationship with someone who has NPD, it can take time to recover and to heal. There is some good advice here and you can contact me if you would like further support.
World Mental Health Day
World Mental Health Day was on 10th October 2019 and it was good to see so many new campaigns, like the mental health awareness audio tour at the National Gallery, a suicide prevention text service from the Kaleidoscope Plus Group and even a range of clothing at Topshop in collaboration with Campaign Against Living Miserably.
Back to school anxiety
Going back to school can trigger anxiety in young people and it can be difficult to know how to help your child. This article gives some good advice for parents who are concerned about their child's mental health.
Heads Up Campaign
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. After my recent post about the effects of competitive sports on emotional wellbeing, I was pleased to discover this article about Heads Up - a new campaign from The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's mental health charity Heads Together and the Football Association - to raise awareness and support players.
Competitive Sports and Mental Health
I have a background in competitive swimming and I know first-hand the pressures involved in being a sportsperson. So I was glad to read this article about how professional athletes are being more open about their mental health. If you would like help dealing with the effects of competitive sports on your emotional wellbeing, please get in touch.
The Benefits of Meaningful Conversation
I understand that when something is worrying you, it can sometimes be difficult to talk to your friends and family about it. I have been reading about some new research which shows that 82 per cent of us believe that having a meaningful conversation can be beneficial to our wellbeing. Yet nearly a third of us are afraid of opening up because we do not want to be judged. Counselling can provide a safe, accepting space to talk about any issues that you may be facing.
Cyberbullying in Schools
As a counsellor, I believe it is important to understand the issues that affect my clients. One of those issues is cyberbullying in schools, which is a constant worry for parents and teenagers. Our children face online pressures that did not exist when we were young and they can have an impact on the whole family. This article explains how important it is for a young person to have a safe space to speak about what's going on. If you're concerned about cyberbullying, contact me for counselling support for yourself or your teenager.
When Anxiety Strikes
Anxiety can be crippling. It is an overwhelming fear that can take over your body and mind, sometimes making it difficult to go to work, have fun with your family or even leave the house. If this sounds familiar, this article about coping with anxiety attacks may be helpful.
Recovering From Abuse
You may have heard about a type of domestic abuse called coercive control, which has been in the media recently. It is a crime, and it can leave you feeling isolated, intimidated and frightened. However, with counselling, it is possible to rebuild your self-esteem and your life.
You can learn more about coercive control here.