Beating Back the Winter Blues

Given that we’re heading into the final month of winter before things start to warm up and the days start to get a little longer, I’ve been reflecting on the seasons and how they can make a difference to the way we feel and the way we behave.

Summertime in Australia is a beautiful thing, and it’s clear how much of our national lifestyle is geared towards that extra heat and those extra long days. It’s not uncommon for after a hard day’s work to come home and then spend time in the outdoors, whether it’s a barbecue outside, or a swim, or playing (or just as likely watching) sport.

But when it gets to the height of winter, it’s a different story. The days’ sunshine has ended before the majority of commuters have gotten home. Once you’re off the train or the bus, it’s straight inside the house. For those who work a 9-5 day 5 days a week, winter can make the working week that much more of a drudge, leaving the weekend to cram in everything else. It’s not surprising therefore, that winter can come to be associated with lower moods.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a fancy clinical name for depression that cycles throughout the seasons, leaving people feeling okay in the summer months but depressed during winter. In Australia it’s less common, as we don’t have the situation our more northerly neighbours can experience in winter time – freezing temperatures, only a few hours daytime and little to no sunshine for days or weeks on end. That’s not to say however, that living a winter lifestyle that we have in Australia can leave us more vulnerable to lower moods and depression.

How can winter relate to feeling depressed?

As psychologists, one thing we have found consistently is that depression can start to form a spiral. Naturally as humans when we don’t feel 100%, we tend towards doing less things. Especially less pleasurable activities. As one of the key symptoms of having depression or low mood is a tendency to interpret events in a negative light, we can then turn this inactivity back on ourselves – “I’m so depressed I can’t even go for a run” for example. These negative thoughts about ourselves can then lead to further low moods. And the cycle continues from there.

For people who are currently experiencing depression, this spiral is made worse due to two key symptoms experienced by sufferers –

1. A tendency to feel less pleasure or interest in usual activities

2. a tendency towards increased feelings of tiredness

Both of these contribute to that lack of motivation, leading to more inactivity and thus lower moods. So when we think about winter, and how there is less opportunity to do activities, it can become the starting point for this vicious spiral.

So what can I do to beat back these winter blues? 

The key to breaking this cycle is the fact that while we tend to not do things when we feel down or motivated, there is usually nothing physically stopping us. The blocks we have are most often mental in nature. What research into depression has shown, is that a deliberate focus on pleasurable activities can help lift moods and fight the symptoms of depression.

While the idea is simple, the execution is difficult. It is very difficult to push through and do pleasurable activity when the motivation is simply not there. But there are a few things you can do to make the process easier.

1. Think of the things you found most pleasurable when you weren’t feeling down.

What were your normal activities you took pleasure in that you’ve stopped doing them? Ask yourself, Why were they pleasurable for you?

2. Re-commit to these activities in a reduced fashion

Sometimes when we try to get back into everyday activity when we feel depressed, we hold ourselves to our previous standards before we were feeling down. Getting back into a 5 kilometre jog every morning might seem too overwhelming if you haven’t done it for 6 months, and that is going to lower your motivation. Start small, with a mind to getting bigger. But most importantly, schedule the activity in at a specific time, don’t wait for when you feel better or more motivated. The hardest part is often starting the activity.

3.  Pay attention to how you felt before you started, how you feel afterwards and compare the results

Try to treat each activity like an experiment. Do the activity despite not feeling like it, and see if there is any difference in your mood as a result. Most likely you will have the sense that you achieved a goal, however small, and that thought is usually a rewarding and comforting one. It’s handy to keep a journal of this, so you have some actual information to refer to when you’re feeling at your worst and activity levels drop to their lowest.

Whether it’s winter or summer, long days or longer nights, the vicious spiral of depression and low motivation can be difficult to break out of. But following these initial steps can be the first ones towards reclaiming your old life back.

 

Recommended Reading

For more information on self-help tips for depression, be sure to check out the following websites:

The Black Dog Institute webpage: www.blackdoginstitute.org.au

Beyond Blue: www.beyondblue.org.au

Adam Wright is a practitioner at Alpha Psychology. Feel free to check out his bio for more information or call Alpha at 9869 0377. 

The positive effects of Teachers talking to Parents

Parent and Teacher Communication in Schools:

By Lyn Worsley

Clinical Psychologist

This past week I have had the privilege of working along side Dr Ben Furman, a psychiatrist from Finland. We were both presenting at the Strength and Resilience conference in Singapore.

Dr Furman runs the Helsinki Brief Therapy institute, in Finland, and brings a refreshing outlook to the discipline of psychiatry. Of his many books, Dr Furman’s “kids Skills” puts forward the notion that children don’t break rules, they rather “forget” the rules. Children don’t have bad behaviour it is rather they don’t know the skills to have good behaviour. Children don’t need to address their problems rather they need to address the skills needed to solve their problems.

Dr Furman’s refreshing outlook can also be transferred to adults. In Solution-Focussed Therapy, it is a common practice to help clients to learn the skills needed to move them in the direction of their preferred future. Solution Focussed therapy is practiced most successfully when the therapist asks the client about a miracle and together they begin to scale the progress towards the miracle.

What I found most interesting from Dr Furman’s talk was his practical exercise in helping key adults in Children’s lives to communicate.  These key adults are the teachers and parents. He noted that parents and teachers play the blame game when they think something is going wrong with their child. The teachers quickly find fault with the child’s home life, looking for a cause of the behaviour change. The parents quickly find fault with the style of teaching, the type of school, and the teacher’s poor judgement. This “blame storming” sends both the supporting parties into a defensive zone rendering them both unable to support the child to find solutions to the problem.

Using the fingers on both hands, Dr Furman referred to two ways of doing things.

On one hand he had the “Old school” and on the other hand he had the “new School”.

The old school had five points of communicating for the teacher to the parent.

  1. The teacher asks the parent to meet them.
  2. Mention the problem:
  3. Show the consequences of the problem
  4. Warn them of longer term consequences
  5. Threaten with punishment if the problem isn’t addressed.

The new school also had five points

  1. The teacher inquires of the parent as to the most convenient time to meet to discuss the child’s progress
  2. Mention the successes and strengths of the child
  3. Note some new skills that are needed to enhance these strengths
  4. Ask “what helps” at home so far
  5. Collaborate on a plan to help the child build the skills.

The outcome of each of these styles of communicating is profound.

What was most telling is the effect of the teacher-parent interaction on the subsequent parent-child interaction.

In the old school, the parent feels the shame and is more likely to go home and blame the child for their poor behaviour. Perhaps resorting to punishing them, and the child doesn’t learn the skills they need to solve their problem.  The “Blame Storming” continues.

In the new school, the parent goes home and mentions their teacher has noticed the child’s strengths, and that there are a few things they could do to help their strengths to develop further.  In the new school the parent feels more positive, and acknowledged for their part in helping their child to succeed. This communication style has a flow-on effect to the child, often resulting in collaborating with the parent to find a solution.

Asking questions about “what helps” is a great way to elicit a collaborative response from anyone.

Perhaps if we all took this approach when we communicated in our workplaces, as well as our schools and homes we may find we too will learn skills to solve our problems.

References:

Furman Ben (2004) . Kid’s Skills. Playful and practical solution finding with children. published by St Lukes Innovative Resources

Battle Scars – Self Harming in Adolescents

By Hazel McKenzieSad-Girl-l

Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre

Working with young people is never dull. Far from it. It is humbling, inspiring, frustrating, terrifying, rewarding. Adolescence is complex. It is, at times, emotionally polarised and intense despite the age old cry from teenagers that life is soooo boring. Some young people find they sail through, others find it difficult to put one foot in front of the other some days. Almost all are overwhelmed at some point.

Regulating emotion is a skill that some adolescents lack. There are those whose ability to problem solve is limited; they cannot see a way out. There are those who cannot tolerate negative emotions or see them as transitory. Frequently, when one or more of the above skills are in short supply, adolescents turn to other means to cope with emotions.

Deliberate Self Harm (DSH) can be used by some people to alleviate emotions or cope with painful experiences. DSH can take many forms and includes: cutting, burning, skin picking, hair pulling, scratching, head banging and hitting; infact any behaviour that is direct, intentional and receptive which results in mild to moderate physical injury. It is different to the indirect harm which results from other serious conditions such as Eating Disorders or more social or culturally sanctioned behaviours such as tattooing and piercing.  Research suggests that there is a relationship between self harming behaviours and other mental health issues, especially in girls. Some young people however, engage in this behaviour without having any other symptoms or afflications. They may infact appear on the surface to have near perfect lives.

Parents and concerned friends can be shocked when they discover self harm and associate it with suicidality. Mortality rates for self harmers are higher than for non self harmers, due to the fact that they are more likely to engage in risky behaviours, including suicide attempts. Suicidal thoughts can be a feature and must be taken very seriously, however, it is important to note that suicide is not the desired outcome for the majority of adolescents who self harm. Non Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI) has now been formally recognised as a disorder separate and distinct from other mental disorders. The criteria is specific and not all adolescents who self harm should be labelled with a ‘disorder’. Indeed, research speculates a very small percentage of adolescents will be. Despite this, we need to recognise that self harming behaviours DO indicate that the young person is experiencing psychological distress that they are unable to process or express in a healthy way.

Australian research suggests that around 1 in 11 to 15 young people between the ages of 12 and 25 report self harming at some point in their lives. The numbers are increasing and the age of onset is decreasing. A typical high school class in every high school in every suburb would statistically therefore contain someone who was self harming. They may be obvious, they may not.

Gone are the days when self harming was a thought to be a feature of the ‘emo’ subculture. School captains, athletes, performers, gifted students, all just as likely as the quiet girl at the back of the class to have scars. Some self harmers appear to be functioning well socially and emotionally. There is NO stereotype here that we can look for to try and identify and then support young people who are suffering.

It can be difficult to understand why if someone DOESN’T want to die, they inflict such pain and suffering on themselves? The question of ‘Why?’ is one that many parents and friends struggle with.  It may seem at odds with the perceptions of many but many self harmers do not see their behaviour as ’harmful’, quite the opposite. They describe it as providing relief from and release of negative emotions. It can be spontaneous but can also be planned. For some it enables them to feel alive. One client commented to me that ‘dead people can’t feel, it reminds me I’m alive’. It can be a form of expression, of inner turmoil or self loathing. Identity can be wrapped up in the behaviour and some clients I have worked with identify it as their ‘thing’ , and they don’t want to give it up. Some self harming can be a result of trauma or abuse. Guilt, shame and disgust are common in sufferers, and create barriers to communication and support.

Kneejerk reactions that question the motive of the behaviour and conclude that it is attention seeking are not helpful to share with the sufferer. It may well be, but if this is the method that a young person uses to cry for help you should take it seriously. Sometimes experimentation passes quickly but all too quickly it can become a habitual coping mechanism. A negative reaction (be it over or under reaction) that labels the behaviour as repulsive and attention seeking may shut down the likelihood of healthy communication further. It is important to look beyond the scars of self harm to the reasons behind it and offer support. Understanding is the one thing that young people complain they don’t receive and this often forms a barrier to help seeking. Most often it is friends who are the first to know, they are more likely to be confided in and/or discover the evidence. Most suffer in shameful silence until they are discovered. Some deliberately offer more public signs to make people notice and feel uncomfortable as a form of revenge.

Self harm is treatable and recovery is possible. Research has shown that the longer the behaviour goes unchallenged the greater the likelihood of it becoming an ‘addiction’. The brain releases feel good chemicals that reinforce the calming effect of the behaviour and stopping can result in ‘withdrawal’ urges and ‘cravings’. Treatment is a more complex process than simply deciding or agreeing to stop. Just like with any addiction forward planning is essential and setbacks are inevitable.

Engaging with a professional sends an important message to the sufferer, that their problems (be they the cuts or the reasons behind the cuts) are being taken seriously. Concerned parents can see their GP first of all or contact a psychologist or psychiatrist directly. It is important to find the right mental health professional. Someone who has experience working in this area and with young people is vital. An experienced therapist will engage with sufferers despite their apathy and initial reluctance.

A thorough mental health assessment is needed to identify risk and enable a tailored and effective treatment plan to be formulated. Treatment can be lengthy, depending on the severity of the presentation. The longer the behaviour has been around the more resistant it will be to change. The presence of other mental health issues can be a factor in treatment and recovery. Some programs recommend group AND individual sessions to teach and reinforce skills. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is seen to be the most effective treatment modality. It is skills based and focuses on controlling emotional responses in a variety of ways.

The journey can be an emotional rollercoaster for parents and friends and talking to others who have survived the ride themselves can give comfort. Dealing with your own fears, discomfort and questions is important. It is important to check in on those who may be finding it difficult to cope, especially young friends. Courageous conversations with family and school are part of the process.

To those who see a mirror reflected in these words I implore you to reach out for help. To those who feel these words are irrelevant to them I implore you to set down your judgement and listen. To those who have lived these words I offer you my respect and understanding and I implore you to love yourself, battle scars and all.

 

(If you are concerned about someone or need support yourself please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or contact your local Accident and Emergency Department)

References

Lundh, L. G., Wångby-Lundh, M. & Bja¨rehed, J. (2011). Deliberate self-harm and psychological problems in young adolescents: Evidence of a bidirectional relationship in girls. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 52, 476–483.

Zetterqvist M, Lundh LG, Dahlström O, Svedin CG. (2013) Prevalence and Function of Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) in a Community Sample of Adolescents, Using Suggested DSM-5 Criteria for a Potential NSSI Disorder. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2013 Jul;41(5):759-73

Martin G, Swannell SV, et al. Self-injury in Australia: a community survey. Med J Aust. 2010 Nov 1;193(9): 506-510.

 

Websites

Young People and Self Harm http://www.selfharm.org.uk

National Self Harm Network http://www.nshn.co.uk

American Association of Suicidology http://www.suicidology.org

Suicide Prevention Australia http://suicidepreventionaust.org/

Just “Be happy” ?

by May Lim
Registered Psychologist
Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre

 

happiness

When someone says to you “Be happy”, does this actually help you to feel happy?

I think it is much more helpful to think of and engage in activities that promote happiness and a positive wellbeing.

Helping others

Have you had that feeling of ‘good’ when you have given a helping hand to another person? Call it satisfaction, sense of pride, glee, contentment, delight or appreciation. Whatever it is, there is a positive experience when help is given to a need identified. It feels nice to know you are able to impact someone else’s moment in a helpful way that is genuine and sincere.

This may involve providing companionship to another person.
Helping with a practical task.
Asking someone “Are you okay?”
Showing generosity towards someone just because.
Being available, interested and attentive to someone needing support.
Connecting people to others who can help in a more specific way.
Giving a hug or two…or three
Doing that important task that nobody wants
Sharing what you have or know with others

Deliberate acts of kindness adds to the wellbeing of many…yourself included.

Being good at giving and accepting compliments

When you notice something you like, admire or respect about someone, tell them.

Perhaps someone you know has a new haircut that makes you do a double take. Maybe you are pleasantly surprised by a new attitude someone has developed. You may have just witnessed newfound courage in another being. Someone you know has completed a project that they worked tirelessly on. You have just tasted a home-cooked meal that is so.good.you.need.to.have.the.recipe.

There is nothing wrong with being quietly impressed but there is certainly something positive and pleasant that happens when you articulate this in the form of a compliment to the person you’re impressed by. Maybe it’s the look of their face when they light up; the smile they break into; hearing it’s their first experience of being complimented or even your experience of wanting the other person to know your positive thoughts about them.

How good are you at accepting compliments? When someone gives you praise, do you feel embarrassed; politely dismiss it; create distraction by automatically highlighting something less positive about yourself or even reverse the attention by pointing out a positive element about the other person?

When you are on the receiving end of a compliment, do well at accepting it.
It means someone has noticed something positive about you.

Be in the company of kind and optimistic people

Wherever and whenever possible, surround yourself with others who are kind to you. The way someone treats you will usually leave imprints on your wellbeing. When you experience kindness, it’s likely you will feel something positive whether it be happiness, encouragement, gratitude, care, pleasant surprise, feeling blessed or even a desire to reciprocate that kindness in return to others.

Gravitating towards optimistic attitudes also adds to one’s wellbeing. When you are in the company of people who are hopeful, encouraging and give more attention and weight to past, present and future positive events, your own attitude will usually see an increase in optimism too. Optimistic thinking can be contagious; it breeds hope especially through challenging times though it needs to be practiced and experienced continuously for it to stay. Therefore, keeping optimistic company will contribute to the growth and maintenance of your own optimism.

Do something you enjoy

It is no surprise that most people’s wellbeing and happiness are enhanced during holidays. No alarm clocks ringing at some ungodly hour. Work and school schedules can take their own holiday. All of a sudden, time seems to work in your favour more often than not. Thinking of each tomorrow brings greater feelings of anticipation, relaxation and joy.

The message being conveyed here is to carve out regular time for yourself to do something that you enjoy. This can take the shape of whatever brings you pleasure. Take that holiday, day-trip or one hour break that would do wonders for you. Bake that chocolate molten cake. Watch a funny YouTube video clip. Go for a jog listening to your favourite music. Play a game with your family. Spend the day in your pyjamas at home. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a picturesque view. Whatever it is, making a regular priority for things you enjoy can help to give you experiences of reward, respite, excitement, rejuvenation and change.

Grateful Reflection

If there’s time for eating, driving, showering or other aspects of your daily routine, consider setting aside time for grateful reflection. This is when you think of things you feel grateful for and reflect on their place in your life and its’ meaning for you. More importance should be placed on the quality of your reflection time rather than on its quantity. What aspects of your life give you a sense of gratitude? What are your positive qualities? Who are the people in your world you appreciate? What past, current and future events in your life contribute to any feelings of gratefulness you have? What are the highlights of your day/week/month? Who said something nice to you and what did they say? What are the things/experiences/people you have in your life but take for granted at times? What wishes and goals did you have in the past and eventually managed to fulfil?

Reflecting on such questions can create mental shifts and magnify areas of your life that you truly feel fortunate about.

Be forever young

Growing older can bring a multitude of blessings, some of which may include wisdom, growth and experience. There are aspects of youth that one can retain or revive at any age, perhaps with more meaning and added confidence as time passes.

Take chances in life. Change the scenery in your life if that is something you have been wanting.

“Dance like nobody’s watching”. Leave self-consciousness behind. Take that last slice of cake without any guilt. Live life the way you want it. Run your own race. Create your own happiness. Being different is completely fine.

Be curious. Continue your exploration and learning in any form you like. Ask questions. Read widely. Strike up conversation with people from different ages and backgrounds. Visit places old and new. Learn a new skill. Reminisce on fond memories from your past.

Have fun. Follow that urge to play on the playground and swing on that swing. Maybe it’s time to revive an old pastime. Laugh lots and out loud.

What will you do today to look after your happiness and wellbeing?

May Lim is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre.
Visit her site @maylim

How to apply Hypnosis in psychotherapy?

How to apply Hypnosis in psychotherapy?

I would like to share some misconceptions or myths about hypnosis as we seldom touch this topic – hypnosis unless we go to google and search for it.

I have been using hypnosis in the past to work with many clients who have presented a variety of problem situations such as panic attack, anxiety, back pain, PTSD, depression, alcohol addiction, quit smoking, work stress, immune system disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, examination performance, etc.  I always feel amazed, as well as my clients that after each session of hypnosis, not only do they feel relaxed, their problem situation has also been resolved or reduced.    I have tried it on my son who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis a few years ago, and the blood test after a few days indicated that the inflammation index went down from 16 to 6.  It was a big improvement after one session.

What is hypnosis?

There are two elements in hypnosis, namely, trance and suggestion.  Trance is a special state of mind where the conscious mind is less active and the subconscious is more dominant.  It is a bypass of the critical faculty or the conscious mind.  During hypnosis, there is a process of implanting of selective thinking.  The hypnotizer will influence the recipient through the presentation and acceptance of an idea or opinion given by the hypnotizer.  The recipient will cooperate and comply with the suggestion.

It is a physiological phenomena, but it works like magic.  I was so thrilled when I first learnt hypnosis and applied it on people.  It is an altered state of consciousness not unconsciousness.  It cannot be forced against a person’s will and requires a consent.  Hypnosis happens everyday in our daily life, e.g. day dreaming.  Any one who can daydream can be hypnotized.

Applications for hypnotherapy

It can be used to help improve concentration, clear thinking, memory enhancement, confidence, confidence boosting, overcome nail biting, anxiety, phobias, stress and to enhance performance, e.g. sport, study, exams, i.e. any activity of the human mind can be altered with hypnosis.  Hypnosis can also be used to treat depression, PTSD, sleep disorder, the mind/body conditions, manage pain, manage anger, etc.   No ill effects will occur after hypnosis.

Sometimes hypnosis can be happened in a waking state, and we call this a state a waking hypnosis.  When hypnotic effects are achieved without the use of the trance state, such hypnotic effects are called waking hypnosis.  In every case, it involves a bypass of the critical faculty or conscious mind and the implanting of selective thinking.  During this time the subject has to like the idea and be interested in what is going to happen.  The minute the subject thinks of that, his/her critical faculty is bypassed, and substitute judgment is used.  The mind of the subject must lock itself around a given idea.  For instance, the crying child is certain that if his/her mother kisses him/her the pain will disappear or reduce.  To cause the human mind to lock around a given idea, suggestions in the waking state must be given with complete confidence and absolute assurance.  If doubt creeps in, the suggestion usually becomes ineffective.  Firstly, the mind of the subject must lock itself around a given idea.  Secondly, the suggestions must be one which the subject wants.  Dental patient is an excellent example, i.e. ready for waking hypnosis.

A waking suggestion is a suggestion given in a normal state of consciousness which does not precipitate a waking state of hypnosis.  For example, someone in the room yawns.  Someone sees him yawn, and he yawns too.  Another person sees him yawn, and the third person yawns, and pretty soon you have a room full of yawning people.  That is waking suggestion.  Everyone of us has seen this occurs.  There is no bypass of the critical faculty involved.  In therapy, I always give clients some positive suggestions, and invite them to give some positive suggestions to themselves before they go to bed and when they get up in the morning.  An example of these would be: I will be able to face some unnecessary or inappropriate fears; I will be able to enjoy doing today’s tasks, etc.  This is very effective and overtime they will change their perspective and look forward to live a better life.

Day by day, in every way, you will be getting better and better.

Gabriel Wong

Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Hypnotherapist