“Till Death Do Us Part” – the marriage journey

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

 

Marriages and partnerships are hard work and many people enter it without exploring some of the necessary ingredients to make it work and thrive. Sometimes however it is life’s challenges such as having children, financial hardships or health issues that disrupt our once happy and connected partnership to the point where we are left wondering – “who is this person and do I want to spend the rest of my life with them”. Have you ever had these thoughts or doubts about your relationship?. It is not uncommon but I would like to suggest that you persevere and start to reflect on the aspects of the relationship that you would like to change as well as focusing on the parts that are functioning well or at least used to be.

The following is by no means comprehensive but it is a taste of the ingredients that you may need to invest into this sacred partnership.

  1. Your attitude = I encourage you to explore what it means to be working in a partnership. Does it mean that you always get what you want? Does it mean that you compartmentalise your life into different segments? Do you continue to behave the same way with your partner even if it is yielding negative results? In your opinion it is almost always the other persons fault?

I would like you to really understand what the word partnership means because your marriage is an important partnership like no other. I looked up the meaning of the word partnership and these are the synonyms for this word= collaboration, alliance, union, compact, fellowship and connection to name a few. You need to consider the fact that a marriage is not just about you and your needs, there is a significant other involved and their needs also need to be considered. You should not withdraw when it gets tough and hope things will sort themselves out…you need to get more involved in creating positive change. Now at this point you may think that yes you are willing to do this but your partner isn’t. May I suggest that even change from one partner can have a positive ripple effect so don’t feel discouraged if you are taking the first step. It is an indication to yourself and your partner that you value this partnership enough to reflect on its condition and move forward. You want to get it to a place where it was functioning better and hopefully beyond. Individuals in the marriage need to truly give, just like in work relationships it is healthy to consider and take on board the other persons views, desires, skills, strengths and so on. Your partner is not you and you are not your partner but together you can become a loving team that functions well.

 

  1. Communication = Connection. Again using the example of a work relationship what do you think would help the team members to feel included and valued? Maybe if they felt heard and believed that what they said and contributed mattered. This of course doesn’t mean that you always get what you want when you share but it does help create connection when you know the other person is willing to try and sees things from your perpective. Arguing is a negative form of communicating so I would suggest instead to try talking things through when emotions are not running so strong and when you can see that you other person is ready to listen. This is healthy communication. Also avoid playing the blame game, this is never helpful and is just puts your partner in a defensive position. It is much better to communicate what your needs are and how you would like things to be and how you are feeling instead of attacking. I know this is often difficult to do but nothing will change if you don’t share what is going on for you. Your partner cannot read your mind!!!

In regards to communication I also want to point out that there are various forms of communicating. Some people are better with words, others with touch and affection, and others communicate through their actions. This brings me to my next point which is to look out for what your partner is trying to communicate.

 

  1. Listen– You need to work on your listening skills in order to get to know your partner better. Listen to their words, observe their actions. Mindfully consider the other person. Are they trying to communicate something about how they feel, their day, their concerns? It is helpful to make time to pay attention even though you are dealing with another adult. We often make more time to listen to our kids or our colleagues and friends and encourage them to talk but we may not make time for our partners. Be humble. What I mean by this is listen even if you are struggling to understand or agree. If you take a humble approach you will learn more about your partner. You will learn about what motivates and excites them, what brings them down, what their values are, what their strengths are, what their hopes and dreams and expectations are, what their fears are. This then leads to better understanding which helps you to be a better partner as you respond to their needs.

 

  1. Patience/Perserverence – You are not perfect and neither is your partner which means that you will both need to be patient with each other as you explore healthier ways of partnering through the challenges of life. Helen Fischer, a renowned anthropologist, who has done extensive research into human behaviour and specifically human love, describes the various stages of relationship and the chemical changes that occur in our brains as a result of love feelings. Basically these initial chemical reactions stabilise but this does not mean that our relationship should be less meaningful as a result. We need to create meaning as partners and work to together through the various stages of life and use the years as an opportunity to explore and learn more about each other.

 

  1. Strengths– We also have strengths and weaknesses and too often in our relationships we focus mainly on what is not working. I am not suggesting to ignore this I am only saying that a lot more attention needs to be directed at what is good and functioning or what has been good. Try to reflect on this as you consider your partnership and share how you would like this to continue, that is, what you would like to see more of or like to continue. Remember we are talking about your individual strengths that you bring to the relationship (probably what helped to create initial attraction and attachment) as well as your strengths as a union. You are in partnership but you are also individuals and you need to acknowledge and celebrate both of these aspects of the union.

 

  1. Forgiveness – Forgiveness isn’t easy and can take a very long time but the truth is that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. We are not always going to get it right, in fact we are destined to make some mistakes along the way. Forgiveness is one way of working through those times and even if doesn’t result is a repaired relationship it will result in a freer, wiser self. I encourage you to work on presenting the best version of yourself to the relationship as well as helping your partner to be the best version of themselves. If we have this attitude in our relationship then surely positive and lasting growth and change will occur.

 

 

If you have issues working through some of the above I suggest that you seek help from a professional.

Alternatively below is a list of reading material that you may also find helpful.

 

Johnson, Sue.  Hold Me Tight – Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Little, Brown and Company. 2008.

 

Fisher, Helen.  Why We Love. The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2004.

 

Weiner-Davis, Michelle. Divorce Busting. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. 1992.

 

What is Mindfulness and How is it Useful?

 

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

Mindfulness appears to be the new fad at the moment. It has become so popular that it is even being called ‘the mindfulness movement’ and has expanded beyond the therapy room and into everyday life. I thought it would be helpful to explain its origins and some basic core beliefs underpinning Mindfulness because there is so much talk about it and a mixed response about its effectiveness.

 So What is it?

Mindfulness is basically the process of being intentionally aware of the moment, with acceptance and with a non-judgemental attitude. The way in which this is achieved is through a set of strategies/meditative exercises and also by understanding and practicing a more mindful lifestyle.

It has been practiced in eastern/buddhist traditions for over 2500 years as a form of meditation and inorder to simplify and create a more meaningful life experience.

In the late 1970’s Jon Kabat-Zinn (known for his work as a Scientist, author and Meditation Teacher) introduced Mindfulness into a Medical clinic which was treating patients with chronic pain symptoms. Jon Kabat-Zinn refined Mindfulness practices and used these strategies to treat his patients and the results were very positive. From this point it was applied to treat other psychological issues such as Anxiety, Depression, Personality Disorders, Addictions and Chronic Pain.

How Do I Practice It?

Mindfulness is Experiential – it involves learning to be more present in the moment by increasing your skill of attention and focus.

An example of this could be sitting and closing your eyes and noticing the sounds around you for at least 10 minutes or more. There are many variations of Mindfulness exercises but the key to Mindfulness is to slow down and notice what is be happening around you and also within you– i.e. to connect more with your world and to find meaning and enjoyment from it. In therapy we also use it to help notice the internal emotions and thoughts and decide whether to accept, reject, defuse or challenge our internal dialogue.

Mindfulness is an Attitude -It is a lot more than just exercises. It involves learning to have a big picture perspective when you approach issues/hardships and life in general. By this I mean learning to not just notice (and even obsess) about the problem but also notice what else is going on in your life. A mindful attitude helps you to see the positives and the simple joys of life that we often neglect or miss when we are preoccupied, worried or constantly busy.

Some people think that Mindfulness is about being positive and/or ignoring issues but it is actually the opposite. It is about accepting and learning to cope with the hard times by slowing down and working through the issues instead of either automatically reacting or avoiding.  Mindfulness teaches you to be ‘more reflective’ and ‘less reactive’ and when this occurs we are better able to come up with solutions or accept our situation.

Mindfulness is Educational – this occurs as you slow down and begin to notice how you respond to situations. It also teaches you about other people as you nurture more mindful relationships and learn to listen and understand others better. It encourages us to be less focused on ourselves and to have better connection with others. I recently heard an interview with Tara Bach, who teaches and writes about Mindfulness and she mentioned the difference between Illness and Wellness, i.e. the ‘I’ is in illness and ‘We’ is in Wellness. We are relational and it is often helpful in recovery to connect with other people.

 Why is Mindful helpful?

Mindfulness is helpful because as you focus more on the ‘now’ you are less caught up in the past and situations that cannot be changed and also less focused on the future and all the worries about what may or may not happen. Being caught up too much in your past or your future can cause Depression and Anxiety because they are situations that you cannot control. Mindfulness instead teaches you to find meaning in the ‘now’ and even when you are going through a difficult time learning to not avoid it but get through it. It encourages you to look for your strengths and resources and to calm down the automatic emotional reactivity.

When you learn to slow down and observe it not only helps you to alter the emotional intensity of your reactions but also increases your attention, memory, problem solving skills, empathy and compassion. Research has shown that people who practice mindfulness exercises daily for 2 months experience these benefits and brain scans show that other parts of the brain are more active, for example the prefrontal lobe which is responsible for activating positive emotions.

 

Siegel, Ronald.  (2010). The Mindfulness Solution. Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems. New York: The Guildford Press.

Harris, Russ. (2012). The Reality Slap. Finding Peace and Fulfillment When Life Hurts. CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Williams, M., Teasdale, J., Segal, Z., Kabat-Zinn,J. (2007). The Mindful Way through Depression. New York: The Guildford Press.

www.mindfulness-solution.com

How the internet is changing us and what we can do about it.

 

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

 

A few decades ago studies in Neuroscience believed that the brain was hardwired, that is that the way a person thought and acted was largely dependent on genetics and childhood experiences and therefore there were limitations on what you could change. A breakthrough in research in the late 1960’s led by neuroscientist, Merzenich, proved otherwise. He found that the brain could be restructured at a cellular level which proved that it was ‘plastic’ and not hardwired. Since his initial experiments many other experiments were conducted which continued to provide strong evidence for the neuroplasticity of the brain.

So what does this actually all mean and how does it affect us?

Well it means that we can re-program the brain in a sense by exposing it to new information consistently. As we do this we are creating new connections in our brains that over time become deeper connections. What we also know is that if neurons don’t repeatedly fire together then the information gets lost. So in a sense you can learn new behaviours and ways of thinking and unlearn old ones. This does deteriorate somewhat as we get older but we can still learn new things that change our neuron connections, basically the saying that ‘An old dog can’t learn new tricks’ is not true. This is of course very good news because it gives us hope when we are wanting to change behavior or thinking patterns that we feel are set in.

Another big change that has occurred in the last couple of decades is the use of the internet to obtain information and connect with others socially. On a surface level the internet has connected our world in   regards to information and how quickly we obtain it and this has been very useful. It does however come with a new set of challenges which appear to be affecting the way that our brains are wiring and how we live our lives. The following are a few of the changes we have noticed.

Firstly, the amount of time we spend on the internet has increased dramatically. This is partly because the internet now allows us to do practically everything, for example, watch television, obtain information, socialize, learn new skills and so on. A research study in 2009 showed that North American young adults spend more than 19 hours a week online and this figure excludes time spend texting on phones and other devices. I’m sure that this figure would be much higher now. Surprisingly TV time has not reduced as a result but has actually increased which means a large proportion of the week is spent in front of a screen!. How does this shift in how we spend our time affect us? It means that we are less active, less time spent outdoors, less time spent being creative. It reduces the serotonin levels in our brain which needs to be higher in order to feel emotionally healthy. We need to connect more with the real world and less with the world from our screens. About 15 years ago I read an article about teenagers in Korea and  China who were being hospitalized because of their addictive  behaviours with internet usage. They were neglecting to eat regularly, sleep, maintain any form of physical activity and rarely spent time in the sun. Clearly this is unhealthy and even though it is an extreme example it does illustrate clearly what is being given up at the expense of time on the internet. We need the balance of a variety of activities in our week to help us maintain mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. It is important to have a holistic approach when It comes to our health and well-being.

Another problem that scientists and psychologists has noticed as an outcome of internet use is the way our brain is learning to process information. It appears that we are learning to process quick and scattered information which produces distracted thinking. Even when we are trying to stay focused there seems to be an array of alerts, advertisements and visual interruptions. You combine this with quick typing, instant responding, and constant swiping and you end up with someone who has disjointed thinking and the brain is trying to juggle this all at once. It’s exhausting just thinking about this! Which brings me to another point, the internet does not encourage reflective thinking.

As mentioned earlier the brain is soft-wired which means that if we choose to spend less time on the internet and more time stimulating our brains in a variety of ways then we can learn to be more attentive again. Being more attentive increases capacity to reflect which enhances problem solving skills and helps with regulating emotions. I would suggest practicing Mindfulness exercises/activities daily as a way of learning to slow down and minimize scattered thinking, and increase reflection. The outcome of this is a calmer self.

Another issue which has evolved as a consequence of continued internet use is the obsession with the self. The social aspect of the internet encourages self- promotion. In moderation this may not be a big issue but since it appears that moderation is occurring less with many internet users then we have to address the overall affect this is having. Nicholas Carr an author and researcher into this topic says that we are getting our psychological and social nourishment from the internet. He describes how the internet delivers positive reinforcements in the form of ‘likes’, ‘clicks’, ‘comments’ and so on which tempts the user to continue to advertise their thoughts, pictures, comments. As mentioned earlier if this was occurring only occasionally it wouldn’t have any negative effects but it appears that people are learning to depend on and even live through their profiles. For some it’s even been used to create an alternate reality where they portray a version of themselves that is far from the reality. For a lot of younger users it causes anxiety if they feel that they are not up to date and included in social interactions. The internet can feed addictive behavior, impulsivity and an obsession with the self. It allows people to cross boundaries they might not usually contemplate, such as expression of offensive thoughts without inhibition as well as sending sexualized images of themselves just to name a few. With continued exposure to this an individual not only becomes desensitized to what is healthy and appropriate but it can also affect their view of yourselves.  Basically you are training yourself to believe that your worth and value as a person is based on likes, images and responses.

As a response to this I would suggest that we learn to find value in ourselves and others by having real life relationships and connecting with each other on a personal level. I would also encourage challenging yourself to spend less time surfing the net, commenting, posting and so on. Instead spend more time reading, educating yourself, exploring your world, have mindful conversations off screen and basically just live life in your real world.

If you would like to read more on this topic I would suggest the following :

“What the internet is doing to our brains- The Shallows”, by Nicholas Carr, 2011.

“Virtually You -The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality”, by Elias ABoujaoude, 2011.

What Happens When We Forgive

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

Forgiveness is an important aspect of moving forward and experiencing healing from previous hurts and pain. It is often difficult to do and can involve a slow process whereby we cognitively and emotionally forgive only to have negative memories or insecurities trigger sadness again and make us question whether we have truly forgiven.

The negative consequences of not forgiving has been documented in studies that show that it can lead to emotional pain of anger, hate, hurt, resentment, bitterness and so on and as a consequence can create health issues, affect relationships and stop us from experiencing the freedom that forgiveness enables.

When we don’t forgive and experience symptoms of sadness, depression or anxiety the serotonin levels in our brain are lower than they should be which can also lead to other issues such as obsessive thinking. This can then lead to increased levels of stress hormones (cortisol) being released into our bodies because obsessive thinking is usually not a relaxing exercise.

It is difficult to forgive and it can take a very long time to get to that point and some of us may never get there or refuse to do so but hopefully our goal in life is to be healthy in every aspect of ourselves. If this is the case forgiveness can play an important emotional part in releasing us from the grips of our past. It isn’t an act that is just for the receiver but is equally if not more important for the person forgiving. It helps you to process a pain and see it in a different way and is in a way saying that “…my life is bigger than this pain”.

Does forgiveness involve forgetting? The Christian faith for example describes a God who both forgives and forgets the wrongs of people but I think that human nature makes it difficult for us to achieve this. However I do think that once you do forgive the positive consequences of releasing this pain and leaving it in the past can help you to move on better with your life and the sting of the pain can diminish. This in turn can lead to a healthier view of the future in which you aim to live well without being defined by the past hurts. Yvonne Dolan, a Solution-focused therapist alludes to this by suggesting that we transition from identifying as a victim, then as a survivor, and then moving beyond. She isn’t specifically talking in the context of forgiveness but she suggests a way forward which again is not defined by the problem.

Forgiveness also needs to occur with the ‘self,’ that is when our emotional pain and struggle stems from a lack of forgiveness to ourselves. When this happens we can become stuck in life and start to believe that we don’t deserve happiness, that’s it’s just not possible. This way of thinking is unhelpful and sets you up to look for negativity in your life and to not expect or initiate change that create a better, healthier future. This way of thinking is disempowering.

Forgiveness is rarely easy and as mentioned earlier is a process that can appear as if you take two steps forward and one step back but it has proven to produce positive changes that occur in the brain which are linked to emotional, physical and spiritual health.

 

2008, The Neurochemistry of Forgiving and Forgetting. Science Magazine.

Purdon, Christine & Clark, David. (2005). Overcoming Obsessive Thinking. New Harbinger Publications

Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, you have to meet certain criteria to be diagnosed with this disorder. It is important to understand this because increased awareness of OCD has also been met with more people thinking they have OCD when in fact their obsessions and compulsions may not be frequent enough for the diagnosis.

OCD is essentially characterized by the existence of obsessions and compulsions but not necessarily both. In regards to Obsessions they usually are recurrent, persistent and intrusive and lead to increasing degrees of anxiety because these thoughts are not usually welcomed. As a result most people will try to reduce or suppress these intrusive thoughts through avoidance behavior or engaging in a behavior they have grown to believe will neutralize the thoughts and reduce the anxiety.

Another component of OCD is of course the presence of compulsive behavior. These rituals or compulsions are often repetitive behaviors or mental acts and can include behaviors such as hand washing, repeated checking, repetition of words/prayers and a need for pattern and symmetry. Another significant obsession which is less common but still present is the existence of obsessions around unwanted sexual thoughts, blasphemous thoughts, and acts of violence. It is important to remember here that these thoughts are unwanted by the individual and in no way means that they will act out on these thoughts. In fact the opposite is usually the case and that is why these thoughts can cause an increasing amount of anxiety and distress. It also is a reason why individuals with OCD will often avoid getting help because they are embarrassed or ashamed of these thoughts.

Another characteristic is that the obsessions and /or compulsions take up a large amount of time. Usually more than 1 hour daily but on average can spend up to 6 hours a day on obsessions and 4 hours daily on compulsions.

There are also related disorders to ODC which share obsessive/compulsive characteristics and they include Hoarding disorder , Exoriation (Skin Picking) Disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Trichotillomania (hair pulling) Disorder.

It is important to note that we all experience intrusive thoughts and some of these thoughts are similar to thoughts that people with OCD struggle with. However the difference is that we learn to ignore or dismiss the thought if they are irrational and if the thought does cause distress/anxiety it is because it is rational in nature needs to be addressed. In comparison OCD thoughts are irrational and at the core they are ‘ego-dystonic’ which means they are not in line with core beliefs about the self and others.

OCD doesn’t only involve an internal struggle and a behavioural problem but it can also impact your ability to work effectively, socialize appropriately and generally interfere with day to day functioning.

The causes of OCD are still not definitive but the general idea is that it could be related to neurobiological, behavioural, cognitive and environmental factors. It can begin in early teens although children may also exhibit some signs of the disorder and it can last a very long time.  With adequate treatment which may involve a combination of medication and therapy a person with OCD can learn to rewire the brain and challenge some of the irrational beliefs that keep the behaviors and thoughts alive. We know that about 80% of people diagnosed with OCD are unlikely to improve without some type of help. At present the best non-medication treatment to help with OCD symptoms appears to be a cognitive behavioral approach. This involves challenging the irrational thoughts by a combination of cognitive and behavioral strategies. Medication alone does not appear to have long lasting effects compared to this therapeutic approach.

 

Purton, Christine & Clark, David. 2005. Overcoming Obsessive Thoughts. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Adam, David. 2014. The Man Who Couldn’t Stop. Macmillan Publishers Limited.

 

 

 

Finding Hope in Your Relationships

By Ivette Moutzouris

Registered Psychologist

I am a strong believer in hope. I wouldn’t be working in this field if I didn’t believe that change is possible and looking forward is definitely part of the process.

If I had to put it in my own words it means looking forward with a desire and yearning that things can get better. Without hope we are stuck and oftentimes we are stuck looking at what we don’t have, what hasn’t worked out and if you remain in the frame of mind long enough you can start to feel down and lose the very thing that can propel you forward……hope!

We need to believe that things can get better so that they do get better. But this doesn’t mean that life becomes perfect with this attitude. It means that we search for the meaning and sometimes the acceptance of what was and what is. By making some sense of the past and the present we can learn to improve, to make better choices, to change our expectations. We can also see what has worked (even if this didn’t happen often) and take better control of our immediate future by reproducing it again and again. In Psychological terms this perspective is called Solution Focused Therapy. It is the idea that change occurs when we focus on solutions rather than the problem. This doesn’t mean we disregard the problem(s) it simply means that solving our problems involves focusing on what’s working or has worked in the past instead of over focusing on what hasn’t. I have recently been reading a book on marriage- saving techniques which has this focus and in the first few chapters I was impressed by the author’s strong conviction that marriages can improve. She often had hope for her clients even when they seemed to have lost hope and she taught them how to look for exceptions in their marriage (i.e. times when things were going well) and to work on building on what already existed that was good. She found that this approach not only encouraged more immediate change but it also gave her clients a more practical and hopeful way of looking at their relationships. She also stressed that if something wasn’t working then adopt a different approach. This may seem obvious and simplistic but she did point out that in our relationships we often get stuck relating and reacting a certain way and this becomes a habit.

This approach is not only proactive but it is also reflective and hopeful because it is making a decision that things can be different and learning how to put this into practice. Once we experience a positive change it gives us hope into our future. It is an encouraging way of looking at your life. Instead of focusing on the negative we learn to be wiser as we reflect on the past, live in the now and look forward to the future.

 

Weiner-Davis, Michelle.1992. Divorce Busting. New York. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Managing Anxiety

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

Anxiety…..this is a word we often hear now. Many Counsellors and Psychologists would probably agree that a large proportion of clients we see exhibit symptoms of anxiety. I’ve even heard primary and high school teachers say there are more stressed and anxious kids now than there used to be a few decades ago. So why the increase in people reporting feelings of anxiety and stress and what can we do about this?

There are probably many factors but I think part of the issue (particularly in western culture) may be the busyness of life and the expectations we have about life and ourselves. That is that we are constantly on the go with little time to rest, slow down and quieten the noise in our lives and in our heads!!! So how can we manage and get through life with less anxiety and stress?

Firstly I think it is unhealthy to expect that we can maintain constant busyness all the time without having times of rest and learning how to slow down. I have seen the  benefits not only personally but also professional from my clients when they learn to say ‘no’ sometimes, when they delegate some responsibilities, when they learn to set boundaries, when they take some much needed time- out for themselves. Some of my clients who have presented as feeling very stressed and anxious have gone on holidays or have changed their lifestyles and as a result I have seen a fresher, happier, calmer version of themselves. Why? Because we all need rest and believe it or not we need it regularly. It is part of our make-up. Physiologically we sleep for this reason, we also have a calendar which includes weekends and holidays so that we can hopefully rest from school and work. The problem is that we have largely forgotten how to rest and have a tendency to use these times unproductively. If I asked how many of you do leisurely activities regularly on your time off to wind down how many of you would say that you do? Or instead do you spend time working on your laptops or browsing the internet for long periods of time when you should be resting, talking to your family/friends, reading a book, exercising, going outdoors etc. We live in a fast paced society but we are in control of our own lives and we need to learn how to slow down and make healthier choices.

The benefits of this lifestyle is a calmer self, and a calmer self is usually a version of you that has time to reflect instead of react and has time to learn, grow and enjoy life more fully.

Anxiety symptoms are not always bad and sometimes they can help us to be more alert for situations such as a performance or an exam. It is also our body’s way of preparing us for danger or a threat. It does however become problematic when we experience anxiety over a prolonged period of time or when our mind perceives a threat that does not exist. When this occurs it is important to learn how to calm our minds and our racing thoughts and challenge any unhelpful thinking patterns. As mentioned earlier it may mean that we take stock of how much we are trying to pack into our lives and make some necessary changes whilst also learning the value of ‘quiet’ time either through calming activities such as walking, yoga, reading and so on. This doesn’t necessarily mean that our problems are solved but it does help us to become calmer so that we can cope better with life’s challenges. Research in the field of neuroscience supports this by showing how our brain activity changes when our bodies are in a relaxed state. This is the reason why activities such as ‘Deep Breathing’, ‘Mindfulness’ and generally anything that we do that slows us down is so important. This calmer state helps us to think more clearly and then we are in a better position to work at finding solutions to problems or seeing situations in a healthier way.

Regular exercise has also proven to be an effective method for reducing anxiety. This is because of helpful chemicals that are released in the body and brain that can act as a defence against the physiological symptoms of anxiety.

Maintaining a healthy diet is important because of the effects that certain foods can have on our bodies and our emotions. For example drinking caffeinated drinks and high sugar foods can seem emotionally helpful when we are stressed but they in fact make our stress levels and anxiety worse because they stimulate an already highly wound up self. Even skipping breakfast has shown to be associated with a higher release of stress hormones.

Trying to maintain healthy sleep habits is beneficial as it allows our bodies to rest and our minds to consolidate and process our thoughts. Feeling rested generally helps us emotionally to not be as reactive during the day and helps with clarity of thought and increased concentration levels.

In general when dealing with anxiety symptoms it is important to deal with both the mind and the body. When you focus on working on these two aspects of the self you can make changes that will benefit you long term and help you to feel calmer and become more resilient when challenges occur.

 

Bourne, E. & Garano, L. 2003. Coping With Anxiety. New Harbinger Publications.

Arden, J.B. 2010. Rewire Your Brain. John Wiley & Sons.Inc.

Siegel, D.J. & Bryson, T.P.2011. The Whole-Brain Child. Bantam Books.

Do I Have an Addiction?

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

Anyone can develop an addiction or exhibit addictive patterns of behavior. In our current society of instant gratification it is probably easier now more than ever to develop an addiction. There’s a lot of information and support available for more common addictions such as drug, alcohol and gambling however we can become addicted to many other things and that is what I’ll be focusing on.

Recent studies show that there is an increasing number of people who exhibit signs of internet addiction usually in the form of pornography and gaming. I’ve also noticed that even used as a social means of communication it can become addictive to the point where you feel that it is extremely difficult to disengage or set limits to the behavior. This of course affect us and our society in many ways. It changes the way we socialize, it affects our self -sesteem, sleep hygiene, eating habits, priorities, emotional responses and it even changes our brain chemistry.

Food and shopping can also become addictive. They are easily accessible in our culture and are basically a quick fix when you feel down or stressed. It is therefore important to deal with negative emotions appropriately, by doing this you learn to become more resilient and develop healthy habits that increase your ability to cope with life’s challenges.

You may engage in some of these activities and receive some degree of pleasure and enjoyment from them and it may not be a problem. However for others it is important to understand and recognize the signs that an addiction is on its way.

The following is a general list of some of the features of an addiction. It is however important to discuss it further with a professional if you feel that you have a problem.

  • Preoccupation and persistent desire/craving to engage in the activity.
  • A considerable amount of time is spent on the activity which may increase overtime to experience the initial thrill (i.e. tolerance).
  • You may feel that you are out of control. This means that initially you maintained control over the behavior with healthy limitations but overtime you have noticed an overriding need to engage in it often.
  • There is a decrease in the amount of time spent doing other enjoyable activities that you used to do.
  • There is an initial positive emotional response to the activity (e.g. excitement, relief) but it is usually followed by a negative emotional response (e.g. guilt, shame, anger, depression).
  • You experience repeatedly unsuccessful attempts at trying to create healthy limitations or stopping it all together.
  • There are withdrawal symptoms when trying to disengage from the activity.

 

What can I do about it?

  • The first step is to admit that there is a problem and that you may need some help.
  • Recognising the triggers. That is asking yourself- when and where am I doing it, who am I with, how am I feeling just before I engage in this addictive behavior.
  • Don’t keep it a secret. One of the reasons why an addiction becomes so entrenched in our behavior is because we try to handle it on our own without accountablility or help from a trusted other and so it continues for longer.
  • Set boundaries and limits. Recognize the pattern and avoid or restrict access to it.
  • Engage in health alternatives. Make a list of healthy ways you could be dealing with temptation or negative emotions and do this instead.
  • Get help sooner rather than later. If you leave it for too long your brain learns to engage in it automatically and it becomes harder to stop.

Remember these are just some tips to help you get started but you may need to get some help from a professional in order to change your addictive habits.

Arden, John. (2010). Rewire Your Brain.

Australian Psychological Society. (April 2015, Volumne 38). InPsych.

Worry Free Living – Is it Possible?

 

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

Probably not, but there are certainly some changes that you can make that can minimize persistent worrying.

At the core of worrying is the idea that I am not in control and therefore am afraid of the unknown. I was talking to a group of young adults recently about the fact that we have an innate desire to be in control. The reality is that we aren’t in control a lot of the time. We just have to watch the news to see that this is true on a global scale and look at our own lives to see that the hurt, disappointments, sadness, stress, anxiety and worry that we experience usually come from events that are out of our control.

Worry Free Living therefore has to begin with an acceptance and acknowledgement of what is the reality….that is that I can’t control everything and can’t predict what my future will hold. Once we get to this place there is a sense of peace as we become more accepting and hopefully learn to enjoy the ride of life with its ups and downs and twists and turns. Equally as important is a clear understanding of the things that I can control…..that is ‘I can control what I will do as a response’, ‘I can make goals’, ‘ I can choose to admit that I am wrong sometimes’, ‘I can choose to say yes or no’, ‘I can choose to try and move forward’, ‘I can choose to focus on my achievements whilst learning from my mistakes’, ‘I can choose to be the best me’, ‘I can choose to accept the things I can’t change’ . Understanding what I can control vs what I can’t is therefore very important and liberating. It helps us to be proactive when it’s needed but also accept the things we can’t change.

Simplify your life. We often try to do too much and sometimes this can contribute to increased levels of stress, anxiety and worry. Reexamine your commitments and what you are actually able to fit into your life. Ask yourself questions such as ‘Am I taking time out to take care of me?’, ‘Am I learning to find pleasure in the things I am committed to?’ or ‘Am I choosing to do too much at the detriment of my health and well- being?’. If the latter is true then it would be helpful to make some changes or to get some help.

Create a Worry and Problem Solving Time. This helps to break the habit of ruminating or persistently worrying about things all day and night. It enables you to create a special time so that you can problem solve and think through the problem clearly. It also helps to free up the rest of day to do things with a more focused approach but knowing you will attend to your problems/worries later. Remember that when you do this try to assess the things you can control vs what you can’t.

Nurture Yourself. This is important because ultimately you live in the ‘here and the now’. It is important to make goals for the future but it is also important to focus on what you are doing now and how you may want things to be different. For example you may realise that you are not taking proper care of yourself and need to make positive health changes in the form of a healthy diet, exercise and better sleep.

We cannot completely escape worrying but we can definitely learn to approach life’s challenges without carrying all the burdens on our shoulders and we can also learn to value and enjoy what we do have.

 

Forsyth, John., & Eifert, George (2007). The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety. Canada. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Bourne, Edmund., & Garano, Lorna. (2003). Coping With Anxiety. Oakland, C.A. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Inner Beauty

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

Inner Beauty is a concept that is not celebrated enough in our society of instant gratification and remaining forever young!

I saw a movie recently where an elderly man was describing his wife and he stated that her inner beauty never aged!!! How wonderful it would be if our youth and some of us adults could celebrate and value inner character as opposed to outward appearances.

The danger of over focusing on our outside appearances can be detrimental to our overall self- esteem, particularly since we cannot remain young and inevitably change physically. There is a growing trend in modern society to look perfect….that is flawless and air brushed, no or minimal wrinkles, a toned and slim physique and even how we look under our clothes appears to be of importance! It is unhealthy to make this the focus of beauty at the expense of what really counts, which is  good character that can be nurtured and does not fade with age.

I have counselled many females (but I am sure this is an issue for men) who feel depressed or unhappy because they do not live up to ideals that are either unrealistic or superficial. The truth is that we are all individual and we can’t be someone else. In order to have healthy self- esteem we need to value inner character and inner strength and what makes us who we are. Everyone is unique and special regardless of how they look on the outside and it is extremely important that we teach this to our children from a very young age. As a modern society and as adults we need to encourage inner growth of character not false perfection of the external. Characters traits such as respect, integrity, honesty, compassion, empathy, love and so on. These traits need to be demonstrated and valued in a superficial world where youth are being bullied for how they look and are learning that this is what gives someone their worth. Researchers have noticed that plastic surgery is occurring in increasingly younger ages and the obsession with the outside self is overriding the search for the inner you.

I encourage to you to help reverse this trend by thinking of yourself in terms of inner character and uniqueness and not fall into the temptation of comparing yourself to others. I also encourage you to make an effort to value the traits that last a lifetime and do not fade with age but can become more and more beautiful!!!

If you would like to read more on this topic of self-esteem and the values our youth are adopting I would recommend authors such as Maggie Hamilton and Melinda Tankard Reist.

 

Maggie Hamilton, ‘What’s Happening to Our Girls?’ 2008.

Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray (Eds), ‘Big Porn Inc –Exposing the Harms of The Global Pornography Industry’ 2011.

Dr Patricia Weerakoon, ‘Teen Sex By The Book’ 2012.