Share the Journey

By the Resilience Centre Team

October is Mental Health Month and the theme is “Share the journey”. This is recognition that it is our connections to others which gets us through the hard times and make the good times even better. “Supportive relationships can motivate us on our journey to better mental health and can improve our ability to cope with life’s challenges” WayAhead Mental Health Assoc NSW

Connecting with others improves resilience. Positive connections with family, friends, at work or school, in the community, with groups which share common interests, or perhaps even with the local shopkeeper who always has a nice word to say, help us to better deal with life’s challenges.

Because “life’ happens!

Sharing our stories with others who face or may have faced similar challenges and experiences, help us to connect, give us hope and build relationships.

We would like to share with you our own observations, tips and strategies for strengthening your social connections and relationships:

• Make the effort. Often we’re all waiting and hoping that someone else will initiate. Be that someone. Start a conversation or invite someone to have coffee.

• When you feel overwhelmed, remember that a small effort is still better than none at all. Sending a short text message or smiling and saying hi takes only a minute and a little bit of energy, but might really make a difference to someone.

• Don’t be fooled by the idea that everyone else is confident and has plenty of friends – scratch the surface and most of us worry about whether we really belong, are truly liked or whether we have enough ‘real’ friends. This is why most people are delighted if you take an interest in befriending them.

• If you’ve ever seen someone take the plunge and speak up about something, or even just speak in public, you’ve probably felt that person is really brave and courageous. If you do it, other people are probably thinking the same thing about you.

• Sometimes we are in situations where we just don’t know what the right thing to say is. It’s better to say we don’t know what to say, than to not say anything at all.

• Come and sit at the table of humanity where we all have one thing in common – imperfection. When we are struggling with something, open up to someone and connect. We all struggle but we’re stronger if we share in it together.

• Small connections count and they build over time. Who knows where they might go? What are your small connections? My dog Zoe greets another neighbourhood dog so I, in turn, greet that dog owner. Day after day, week after week, we share just a minute of that morning space on our walk.

• Stay attuned to signs that others would appreciate social connection and encouragement. Catching the eye of a frustrated shopper and offering a smile, holding the door of a lift open for someone clearly running late and in a flap. These actions have the byproduct of enhancing our sense of affinity and connection with others in our community.

• Keep a gratitude journal to train yourself to notice small kindnesses in the every day.

• Alone-ness is over-rated in tough times…We’re stronger when we are sharing the journey.

We thank our clients for sharing their journey with us.

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.

10 Achievable Ideas For a Lighter & Brighter Start to 2017

In light of the new year and the cliché discussions of “What do you want to achieve in 2017?”, I decided to do a Google search on the most common new year’s resolutions. There seems to be a general consensus amongst the surveys that people have given most weight to this goal (even more so than to happiness, finance, relationships and travel): to lose weight/ eat healthier.

Paradoxically, the saying “to bite off more than you can chew” seems like something that is easily accomplished, in the context of food consumption. Larger packages, plates, serving bowls and food arrangements have been found to increase the amount a person serves and consumes by 15-45% [1].

Extensive findings in this field have established that environmental factors – especially the abovementioned ones – influence eating, because they increase consumption norms and decrease consumption monitoring [2]. Increased consumption norm is the phenomenon in which we are perceptually convinced that the amount of food served is normal and reasonable, even if it is objectively larger than the regular serving. Naturally, the increase in plate size would mirror the increase in portion size, which in turn increases the availability of food. The fact that the average size of dinner plates have increased over the past century by 22% from 9.62 inches to 11.75 inches [2], while the obesity rate in America has increased 8-fold since 1900 [3], are testament to this upward trend that is unfortunately associated with a decline in good eating habits and thus health.

A study by Wansink, Painter & North (2004) elucidates this phenomenon [4]. In their experiment, participants were asked to simply eat the soup from their bowl until they felt full. Participants were randomly assigned to Group 1 (in which they unknowingly ate from a ‘bottomless bowl’, created by attaching the bowl to a table with soup pumped from underneath, such that the bowl would be subtly refilled to the participants’ oblivion) or Group 2 (in which they ate from a normal-sized bowl). Participants who unknowingly ate from the self-refilling bowl consumed, on average, a staggering 73% more soup than participants who ate from the normal-sized bowl. When asked if they felt full, a common response was “How can I be full, I still have half a bowl left?”. This highlights that our eating behaviours are more driven by external cues (such as the visibility, size and accessibility of food), which can lead us to mindlessly turn a blind eye to our internal cues (such as hunger and satiety) [5] – ‘counting calories’ with our sight rather than with our stomachs, so to speak. This notion is substantiated by findings that people who are overweight are more reliant on external cues in determining their eating behaviour, while people within normal weight are more reliant on internal cues [6].

While overeating is influenced by environmental factors that have increased our consumption norms and decreased our consumption monitoring, the good news is that we can mitigate this dilemma by the converse: decreasing our consumption norms and increasing our consumption monitoring [2]. Here are 10 research-based recommendations on how to take action – I hope it serves as some food for thought:

Decreasing our consumption norms

Size of packages, plates and portions
1. Just as consumption norms can be increased by larger serving sizes, you can reduce consumption norms by doing the opposite – plating your food into smaller bowls/ plates. This will likely reduce serving sizes, which reduces consumption, and therefore weight.

2. Keep in mind that while you can make the desirable choice of eating low fat foods, you can over-consume it until your caloric intake exceeds what you would have otherwise consumed from a regular non-low fat meal [8]. With that, here is a fairly obvious yet understated consideration worth chewing on: it is important to be mindful of what you eat, as well as how much you eat.

3. Be wary of the horizontal-vertical illusion. For example, in bars, narrow highball glasses generally hold the same volume as short wide glasses, however even experienced bartenders are deceived into thinking that the latter holds less volume, leading them to pour an average of 29% more alcohol if it is served in the short wide glasses [7]. Hence it may be beneficial to replace short wide glasses with tall narrow glasses at home.

Salience of food
4. As vision represents 80% of our perception [9], we can ‘manipulate’ the visibility of things in our environment in order to reduce mindless snacking on unhealthy foods. Place healthier foods at the front of the fridge or pantry, and less healthy foods towards the back. Also, keep the counter clear of foods, unless they are healthy. For example, replace the cookie jar with a fruit bowl. It can be just as peachy, if not better.

Size of food packages and portions
5. Repackage foods/ frozen goods into smaller containers. It also helps to pour foods into a small bowl or plate, rather than eat from the package.

Stockpiling food
6. Instead of stockpiling food on the counter or pantry, reduce their visibility and convenience by putting them into a cupboard or fridge right after purchase. You see, there is some truth in the old adage “Out of sight is out of mind”.

Increasing our consumption monitoring

Set goals and accountability
7. It takes at least 28 days to replace an unhealthy habit for a more desirable one. Create “The Power of Three Checklist” [2], by setting a calendar featuring a month’s worth of days, writing down the 3 personally relevant changes you would like to implement on a daily basis for that month, and ticking off each change at the end of each day. The checklist can be accessed here. Set up a system with someone who could provide regular support and encouragement, and with whom you can report your rate of adherence at the end of each week. Even if you are unable to implement all 3 changes every day, ticking off at least 35 boxes (out of the highest 90-93 possible checks in a month) would be enough to create a small but noticeable difference [2]. The process of tracking change and progress is rewarding, which provides extra impetus towards reaching your goals.

Monitor caloric intake versus caloric expenditure
8. When presented with a plate of food, people of all sizes – including trained nurses and dieticians – were generally inaccurate in their estimation of the amount of calories contained [10]. Fortunately, most products come with their nutritional information.

One of the determinants of weight is the proportion of caloric intake (calories from what you eat) to caloric expenditure (calories you have burnt through activity). Typically, if caloric intake exceeds caloric expenditure, weight gain occurs. And the converse – if caloric expenditure exceeds caloric intake, weight loss occurs. Monitoring this will allow you to be more mindful of each factor. These apps may be a fit choice for this: Lose It! or Noom Coach.

9. Eating one less bite every meal could save about 75 calories a day, which equates to weight-loss of around 8 pounds in a year. Also, drinking water gives you a full feeling without the calories.

Deliberately make healthier choices
10. For example, instead of going for the alcohol, opt for some oolong, if that’s your cup of tea.

Wishing you a fantastic 2017,
Constance H (Registered Psychologist)

 

References:

  1. Wansink , B. (2006). Mindless eating — why we eat more than we think. New York: Bantam-Dell
  2. Wansink, B. (2010). From mindless eating to mindlessly eating better. Physiology & Behaviour, 100(5), 454-463. 3.
  3. McDermott, R. Epidemic obesity: where did it come from, what does it mean and where do we go from here? Retrieved from the University of South Australia Website: https://www.unisa.edu.au/Global/Health/Sansom/Documents/CRE/Epidemic%20obesity%20Public%20Lecture%20Cairns%20May%2021%202014.pptx.
  4. Wansink, B., Painter, J. E., & North, J. (2004). Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size influence intake. Obesity,13(1), 93–100.
  5. Wansink, B., Payne, C. R., Chandon, P. (2007). Internal and external cues of meal cessation: the French Paradox Redux? Obesity,15(12), 2920–2924.
  6. Barkeling, B., King, N. A., Naslund, E., & Blundell, J. E. Characterization of obese individuals who claim to detect no relationship between their eating pattern and sensations of hunger or fullness. International Journal of Obesity, 31(3), 435-439.
  7. Wansink, B., van Ittersum, K. (2003). Bottoms up! The influence of elongation and pouring on consumption volume. Journal of Consumer Research, 30(3):455–463.
  8. Roberto, C. A., Larsen, P. D., Agnew, H., Baik, J., & Brownell, K. D. (2010). Evaluating the impact of menu labeling on food choices and intake. American Journal of Public Health,100(2):312–318.
  9. Matamalas, R. L., & Ramos, M. S. (2009). Marketing strategy of the supermarkets. Retrieved from http://hh.divaportal.org/smash/get/diva2:239801/FULLTEXT01.pdf
  10. Chandon, P., & Wansink, B. (2007). Is obesity caused by calorie underestimation? A psychophysical model of fast-food meal size estimation. Journal of Marketing Research, 44(1),84–99.

 

Separation and the ‘T’ word: Can separation be experienced as trauma?

Davide Di Pietro
Clinical Social Worker | AMHSW

When we think of trauma, we think of events that involve threats of death or serious injury. A traumatic experience might be one of war, a serious accident, physical assault or natural disaster. In our day-to-day life we are exposed to words, stories and images of such traumatic events through the media and internet. Most people will at some stage experience firsthand a traumatic even in their lifetime, and in Australia the most common traumatic events are: 1) having someone close to you die suddenly, 2) seeing someone badly injured or killed, or unexpectedly seeing a dead body and 3) being in a life threatening car accident.

Traumatic events cause emotional distress for most people, and although most people seem to recover in the first week or two following a trauma with help from their friends and family,  for others the effects can be much longer lasting and impactful. Fiona McIlwaine and Kerry O’Sullivan (2015) shape the term trauma into two main groups, they refer to ‘Big-T’ trauma as the experiences involving actual or perceived threat to life as described above, and ‘Small-T’ which they refer to as non-life-threatening but distressing non-the-less, for example: discrimination, racism, bullying or parental separation. Although this distinction can be useful, it is important not to make the mistake of thinking that an individual’s experience of a ‘small-t’ trauma is relatively less in their effects. For children and adults alike, parental separation means redefining ‘family’, which for much of our lives is at the very core of who we are as individuals. It is therefore not too much of a stretch to consider that this experience leaves us feeling threatened, feeling traumatised.

In the past 15 years we have learned so much about the human brain, how it works and how it is affected by trauma. What we know is that one of the main ways that trauma affects a person is in the capacity to regulate emotions. After going through a traumatic or distressing experience, the brain becomes primed to react when it senses danger and can get lodged in the primitive state of the fight, flight or freeze responses. What we see when this happens is poor impulse control, that can result in a range of behaviours such as verbal abuse, physical aggression, withdrawal or dissociative responses. It is important to acknowledge that children are particularly vulnerable to experiencing trauma because their brains are not fully functioning yet.

Distressing experiences affect the whole family system. Dr Murray Bowen, a renowned family therapist believes that individuals cannot be understood in isolation from one another, and he believes that we exist in a system of complex emotional and behavioural interactions. Of course then a big challenge for families going through separation is managing their own reactions and responses to difficult situations when interacting with their children and ex-partner.

The Family Clinic at the Resilience Centre is dedicated to supporting separating families through what can be a traumatic experience for adults and children. We work with adults, children and families at all stages of this adjustment. We understand that taking care of yourself is the first part of keeping safe and helping your family to co-regulate.

Practical tips for looking after yourself through separation:

  • Good communication
    • Check how you react to other people. A good portion of your communication occurs non-verbally, i.e. through your facial expression and body, tone and voice volume.
    • Be open with your friends about what you need in order to maintain your friendships. Agree not to discuss or criticise your child’s other parent.
    • Keep things business-like with the other parent. Avoid making things about each other and focus more of what your children need.
  • Look after your body
    • If you have trouble sleeping, a pre-sleep routine, often referred to as good sleep hygiene can help.
    • If you notice that you have lost your appetite, try to eat smaller portions more regularly and choose foods that you like.
  • Ask a friend to teach you how to cook if this is not a skill that you have had much practice at.
  • Talking to a professional about some of the challenges that you may experience in regards to going through separation can be helpful in providing you with information about what is usual and what to expect, as well as helping you to work towards rebuilding your sense of self and your family.

 

References

Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health (2013) Recovery after trauma: A quide for people with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. University of Melbourne..

Commonwealth of Australia (2004) What about me? Taking care of yourself. Practical ideas on looking after yourself after separation. Child Support Agency, Looking Glass Press.

McIlwaine, F., & O’Sullivan (2015) ‘Riding the Wave’: Working Systemically with traumatised families. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 36, pp. 310-324.

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

A Problem with Praise

Praise has become the most commonly cited tool in the toolbox for Parenting 101. From toilet training accessories that chime “you’re so great, you’re a star” to monogrammed reward charts modern parents are pretty creative when it comes to finding ways to praise and reward their kids for just about anything.

Concerned about your child’s confidence, motivation, self-esteem, or NAPLAN performance? Our culture sees praise is seen as the sure-fire way to increase kids motivation to do just about any worthwhile activity. And if the praise doesn’t work- parents can rest in the belief that because it’s nice- it surely can’t do any harm? Right?

While its true that carefully applied praise and encouragement can make the world of difference to a child facing a difficult challenge- the type of praise we give our kids matters immensely.

Carol Dweck, an American psychologist has been researching praise and educational outcomes for over 45 years. Her research identifies two types of praise and explores the links with persistence, perseverance and creative problem solving.

She says praise that focuses on traits such as intelligence and talent creates hidden obstacles to life long learning. “Praising students’ intelligence gives them a short burst of pride,” says Dweck, “followed by a long string of negative consequences.”

When kids are praised with classic ‘smart kid praise’ such as “I knew you could do it, aren’t you clever” they don’t go on to face challenges with more confidence, perseverance or motivation. Instead the ‘smart’ identity creates an obstacle to persistence and creative problem solving.

When kids are praised for qualities they see as fairly fixed- such as intelligence, sporting prowess, or musicality they also internalise the understanding that being smart means you should expect to do things easily. If success meant they were smart, then struggling meant they were not. While these kids might perform ok when things are comfortable- when they are faced with something new, or competition they aren’t used to- the smart label comes back to bite them.

Instead of bringing confidence and creativity to new challenges, kids praised for being smart were more likely to avoid learning situations that they fear could be hard for them. Dweck found that kids in this situation put more of their energy into keeping up the appearance of being smart- and less energy into persevering, applying creative strategies or problem solving. As a group, the kids who had been praised for being smart lost confidence and enjoyment as a task became challenging. In fact, when kids had recently received praise for their intelligence they feared being found out so much that they were more likely to lie about their results.

So what’s the alternative? How can we use praise to be a helpful and effective motivator for kids?

Dweck identifies a second type of praise that is much more effective at enhancing learning and motivation. Process praise tells students what they’ve done to be successful and helps them draw the links with what they need to do to be successful again in the future.

Process praise focuses in on the particular strategies or qualities the child applied to succeed at a problem. It might sound like “I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it” or “You really studied for your English test, and your improvement shows it. You read the material over several times, outlined it, and tested yourself on it. That really worked!”

Kids in Dweck’s research who were praised for their process of learning developed a ‘growth mindset’ instead of a ‘fixed mindset. This shift allowed them to see challenges as things that could be overcome with effort and utilising a range of strategies. In this mindset kids aren’t satisfied with just ‘learning in order to get good results’ but experience learning as a life-long process and improvement as something they can always attain if they are willing to participate in the struggle.

Two tips for praise with a growth mindset:

  1. Demonstrate a growth mindset by talking to your kids about your own history of learning and improvement. Tell your kids about the skills or competencies you have had to work to improve and how you did. Identify with them as they experience the struggle involved in deliberate learning.
  1. Praise the process not just the result. Reflect back to your child that you noticed them using special perseverance, creativity, problem solving or planning to achieve a goal.

Here are two web resources for considering effective praise.

Good material for thinking through helpful praise at different developmental stages.

https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/families/about-behaviour/curiosity-and-confidence/encouraging-and-praising-children

A wider perspective on praise and motivation.

http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Good-job!-Is-Praising-Young-Children-a-Good-idea.aspx

by Kristen Bayliss
Psychologist, The Resilience Centre

 

 

 

 

 

What is Meditation? and How to do it?

Meditation is a topic that has recently received a great deal of attention for its benefits, especially those pertaining to mental health. Historically, meditation was considered to be an alternative health care practice originating in the East. However, with the advent of programs incorporating meditation such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction by Jon Kabat-Zin and subsequent scientific studies, there is now a large body of research to support its health benefits. Currently, it is common to find meditation courses in hospitals, psychology practices, rehabilitation clinics and other multi-disciplinary facilities.

Despite the rising popularity of meditation a lot of confusion still exists. Common questions include: How do I meditate and does it work? What type of meditation should I practice? How long and how often should I practice for? What should I expect from a regular meditation practice? Meditation is simply a way of calming down the monkey mind observing thoughts, feelings, sensations without judgement. Historically, the monkey mind has kept us safe. Back in hunter gatherer days we needed scattered attention to  survive, scanning the environment for predators. In modern western society we receive information through the internet, social media, television and other forms faster than our nervous system and brain can handle. The result often takes a toll on our mental health with conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression and on physical health with illness such as cancer and heart disease.

If you are new to meditation it can be helpful to try a few different styles to ascertain which method works best for you. There are many different styles of meditation usually classified by the way they focus attention. For example:

  • Passive meditation (sitting in stillness where the focus point can be the breath or a single sound) All perceptions internal (thoughts, feelings, memory) or external (sounds, hearing, smell) are recognized and seen for what they are. The participant is encouraged to experience their perceptions in a non-reactive process from moment to moment. For example in breath meditation you are encouraged to pay attention to the breath. When you notice the mind wandering and thoughts arising you are encouraged to focus your attention back on your breath as a focus point. Eventually the mind is calmed by attention to the breath and the ability to focus attention becomes easier with practice.
  • Active meditation (Using sound, guided meditation, walking meditation) For example, guided meditation involves a process where participants meditate in response to the guidance provided by a trained practitioner either in person or via a sound recording comprising of music or verbal instruction, or a combination of both. This type of meditation is ideal for visual learners  or people who learn best through sight. In contrast, walking meditation is ideal for people who are typically restless and with high energy types or for people with injuries that prevent them from sitting comfortably. It involves slow walking paying attention to all five senses.

Some benefits of meditation include:

Emotional Wellbeing:

  • Lessens worry, anxiety and impulsivity
  • Lessens stress, fear, loneliness and depression
  • Enhances self esteem and self acceptance
  • Improves resilience against pain and adversity
  • Increases optimism, relaxation and awareness
  • Increases mental strength and focus
  • Improve memory retention and recall
  • Better decision making and problem solving
  • Improves overall mood and emotional intelligence

Physical Wellbeing:

  • Improves breathing and heart rate
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • More longevity
  • Lessens asthma and inflammatory disorders
  • Lessens premenstrual and menopausal syndrome
  • Improves immune system and energy levels

So how does meditation work?

Firstly, meditation helps to switch from the stress response in the body (fight or flight), where the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated, to the rest and digest response activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Our SNS helps us to respond to stress by speeding up our heart rate, constricting blood vessels, decreasing digestive activity, raising blood pressure and sending adrenaline throughout the body. The stress response prepares the body to fight or run which can be helpful if there is an actual emergency however, this often isn’t the case and often the stress response is activated where physical action is unnecessary. Prolonged stress can result in chronic supression of the immune and digestive systems and trigger anxiety and depression. The good news is we can learn to switch to the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) by activating the vagus nerve, through meditation and slow breathing.  

Secondly, our diaphragm is connected to a nerve group called the vagus nerve also known as the 10th cranial nerve. This nerve group connect to various parts of our system including the belly, the heart, the throat, and the end of the diaphragm. The main function of this nerve group is to active the PNS or we could say bodily functions leading to relaxation. When this nerve group is not active or well toned managing stress is extremely difficult. As we breathe deeply into the belly during meditation the range of motion increases in the diaphragm, which stimulates the vagus nerve sending a message to the brain to activate relaxation and calm. The vagus nerve is also connected to the heart. When we breathe into the belly and the vagus nerve is activated, one of the direct consequences is that the heart rate is slow down.

Thirdly, meditation positively influences heart rate variability (HRV) balancing the SNS and PNS.  This important because steady, rhythmical fluctuations in heart rate and good heart rate variability are the basis of well being. When our autonomic nervous system (ANS) is well balanced, we have a reasonable degree of control over our response to minor frustrations and disappointments, enabling us to calmly assess what is going on when we feel insulted or left out. Effective arousal modulation gives control over our impulses and emotions. As long as we can stay calm we can choose how we want to respond. Individuals with poorly modulated ANS are easily thrown off balance, both mentally and physically. Since the ANS organises arousal in the body and the brain, poor HRV (that is a lack of fluctuation in heart rate in response to breathing)- not only has negative effects on thinking and feeling but also on how the body responds to stress. Lack of coherence between breathing and heart rate makes people vulnerable to a variety of physical illnesses such a heart disease but also mental health problems such as depression and PTSD.  

Typically, most meditation techniques advocate a daily practice of least five minutes in the morning and evening, building up the duration of meditation over time. However, in the early stages of learning meditation, roadblocks can be common, with people reporting:

“My mind is always racing, so I can’t do it”

“I’ve tried to meditate and it didn’t work”

“It’s just too difficult”

“I don’t know what to do, just sit there?”

Regular practice with an experienced meditation teacher and attending group classes can be helpful to overcome these obstacles.

For further details on links to scientific articles on the benefits of meditation:

http://liveanddare.com/benefits-of-meditation/

—YouTube Link Vagus Nerve https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpCdqoWRoD4&list=PLPSPqfuv_mRhpEhYr1kF0XWrRxrM8wLca

—B. A. van der Kolk, et al., “Yoga as an adjunct treatment for PTSD.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 75, no. 6 (June 2014): 559-65

—B. A van der Kolk The Body Keeps Score (Penguin: London, 2014)

—P. Ogden, Trauma and the Body (New York: Norton, 2009).

—I. Kabat Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living. How to Cope with Stress, Pain, and Illness using Mindfulness Meditation (Piatkus Books: London, 2013)

For regular meditation classes and training:

http://stillnessproject.com

Author: Angela Curtis (Provisional Psychologist)

Email: angela@theresiliencecentre.com.au

NOBODY’S PERFECT!!

Perfection. Wouldn’t it be nice? We have all heard of it and many of us desire it, but what are the consequences of embarking on a pursuit for perfection?

Firstly, it is important to distinguish between adaptive (helpful) and maladaptive (unhelpful) perfectionism. We have all heard the words, “yeah they’re a total perfectionist”. Maybe this was in reference to a school assignment being handed in the day before it was due or perhaps a night out with the fellas was missed in order to get a good night’s rest for an early start the next morning. These are examples of adaptive perfectionism, which reflect motivation, forward planning and self-belief. In contrast, maladaptive perfectionism involves self-criticism and unrelenting standards that can significantly impact ones performance, professional attainment and social and emotional well being.

Let’s think about Jack, who is in Year 11 and trying to start his English essay due next week. Each time Jack sits down to start his essay he feels his stomach sink and muscles tense. His hands start to tingle and he notices his heart beating in his chest. Jack’s mind starts racing and he finally says to himself, “I can’t do this”, and slides his books off the table. We can see that Jack’s essay has triggered a strong emotional reaction, which may suggest unhelpful perfectionism characterized by several common negative thinking patterns:

Crystal-balling: Jack predicts what will happen next, that is that the work won’t get done.

Generalizing: Jack attributes his present difficulties to reflect poorly on his global capabilities.

Catastrophising: Jack believes that he may get dropped a class, receive a detention or never achieve admission into TAFE or University.

Black/white: Jack thinks that his assignment will either come together easily and he will “succeed”, or he will fail miserably.

Emotional reasoning: Because Jack feels anxious, it must be a disaster!

Ultimately, in this moment Jack has forgotten the times when he handled similar situations and his ability to engage in work now has been impaired by worry about what may happen later.

Perfection may be characterized by:

  • A tendency to put off important things, even when this causes distress;
  • Avoidance of unfamiliar or challenging situations where performance may be evaluated;
  • A sensitivity to feedback and evaluation;
  • Becoming upset, irritable and anxious about making mistakes; and
  • Giving up on tasks easily or getting delayed by a tendency to start things over.

Now, we can ALL relate to the above examples from time to time, however when unhelpful perfectionism becomes a problem one may experience:

  • Heightened stress, anxiety and low mood;
  • Decrease motivation;
  • Procrastination and avoidance;
  • Guilt for putting things off;
  • Poor time-management and disorganisation;
  • Needing frequent reassurance from others;
  • Reduced immune system and more frequent illness;
  • Reduced productivity and goal attainment.

So how may we reduce unhelpful perfectionism?

  • Be mindful of your ‘self-talk’. Particularly when under stress, don’t hesitate to take out your metaphorical magnifying glass if you need to challenge the evidence and helpfulness of your thoughts;
  • Never forget the many shades of grey in life. Keep perspective and acknowledge that failure is a healthy and necessary part of life;
  • Celebrate success, but regularly praise and reward your efforts;
  • List the benefits and consequences of your perfectionism;
  • Set SMARTY goals, (i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Framed and Yours!)

A note on reducing perfectionistic thinking and behaviour in children:

  • Encourage perseverance and reward effort. This enables children to push themselves beyond their comfort zone by reducing the perceived consequence of “failure”, therefore fostering emotional resilience and helping a young person to keep some much needed perspective;
  • Discourage competitiveness and foster individuality. For example, bolster personal strengths and interests;
  • Promote balance between social, academic, physical health and recreational activities;
  • Teach systematic problem solving, planning and organizational skills; and
  • Be mindful of what you are modelling through your direct and indirect communication, because children are extremely observant!

And remember…..

“YOUR ONLY COMPETITION IS YOURSELF YESTERDAY”

Greatness can only develop by successfully responding to adversity. Our role models teach us that risk is necessary for learning and thus, failure partner’s success. It takes courage to step into the unknown, perseverance to stay there and humility to graciously accept defeat with self-kindness. So how will you celebrate the achievement of your next ‘failure’ and look upon this as undisputed evidence of your own pursuit for excellence?

Mathew Pfeiffer, Registered Psychologist at The Resilience Centre

 

Rhythm

Recently I have been personally challenged by the concept of rhythm.  Rhythm in many different parts of my life; personal relationships, physical movement, spiritual growth and professional development to name just a few.  It’s not a word I’ve generally associated with these activities but for some reason, at present, I’m drawn to it.

As a psychologist in private practice, I often notice that periods of low mental health can often be characterised by a lack, or a loss, of rhythm.  This may be due to an unforeseen or tragic circumstance which has thrown us off course or a life transition such as starting university, retirement or becoming a parent.  It may also be due to sheer exhaustion, cumulative stress or a loss of meaning in one aspect of our life.  And let’s not forget the small things; a physical injury that alters our exercise routine,  a change in the way things are done at work, a close friend moving away. All these, and more, can contribute to a loss of rhythm.

We all live to our own beat.  A beat that changes as we change, that adapts to the activity and is unique to you. Whether it be fast, slow or syncopated, it is somewhat repetitive; a pattern that regularly re-occurs.  Similar to hearing our favourite song, there is a certain comfort in being able to anticipate the rhythm as it gives us a fair idea of what comes next.  When we can see a short way ahead, it helps us to “know”. This knowing gives us a sense of control and allows us to plan.  When we know how some things in our day or week look, we can initiate them automatically, almost without thinking; for example starting each day in the same way or allocating Monday for this and Tuesday for that. Such a routine would significantly decrease how much thinking we do about the future and enable us to be more mindful of the existing moment.

To consolidate, think about the experience of lacking routine when a new year begins. After returning from a holiday break, we find various demands and opportunities abound. The mornings may feel a bit chaotic or uncertain with questions like “how will today work?” or “what should I do next?”  After a while, once we’ve bumbled around in a stop-start sort of way, we work out what is essential and what is simply nice to do.  This forms our two contrasting elements which are also essential for rhythm.  Just as music will have an upbeat and a downbeat or long and short notes, our life rhythms require opposites like “need to do” and “want to do”.  Both are important; they provide enough fluctuation to keep life interesting.  If we only do what is absolutely necessary and never allow time for ourselves or plan enjoyable activities, then we are left with a fairly dull or exhausting beat.

This then begs the question: is there a difference between rhythm and routine?  To this, I would say “yes”.  A life that is balanced with both work and play (need to do and want to do) is often a practical base for positive mental health.  Routine is the regular procedure, the unchanging, steady beat,  sometimes described as “the daily grind”.  Rhythm, however, is what syncopates this beat; it gives our life momentum, interest or challenge, and keeps us moving forward.   If we are to see rhythm in our lives, we need to ask ourselves “what energises me?”, “what gives my life meaning?” or “what is it that I really LIKE to do?”.  Perhaps it is friends or family, keeping fit, playing music, learning new things, having fun or giving to others.  We are all unique in what brings us joy and motivates us…what is it for you?

Take a moment here to identify these for yourself.

Then…of course, because these things make us feel good, we want them to keep happening so we can rely on them.  So plan some ‘want to do’s’ into your routine.  Maybe daily, weekly or six-monthly – it will depend on what it is.

Go on…plan it.  If you don’t, then quite possibly it won’t happen.

My sense is that we enjoy and appreciate the good things in our life when it’s not the only thing we do.  We need that steady beat in the background that gives our life structure and predictability.  Yet we make it more interesting and purposeful when we add our personal flair to it.  May you discover your own personal rhythms, giving life to your routines.

 

Definition sources: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/routine  http://www.thefreedictionary.com/rhythm                                              http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/syncopate