Sleep, or the inability to sleep, or sleep well, is not just a physical problem but can also be a psychological issue. In this podcast, Registered psychologist Sarah Piper discusses with Leigh Hatcher, why sleep is important, the various cycles of sleep, tips for helping you get to sleep, sleep hygiene and whether there is any benefit in power naps.
By Ivette Moutzouris
I recently came back from a holiday overseas and it amazed me how different the pace was there, even in a major city. It was noticeable different from Sydney where everyone seems to be in mad/manic rush to get somewhere and it appears that we are constantly packing more and more into our lives.
I often like to reflect on what I get out of a trip and what I can bring back with me and this realisation is something that is not new but that still took me by surprise. I believe that we are very goal oriented and future focused and that can be great because it allows us to achieve many things but it also comes with its negatives if we are always on the go, for instance;
- the inability to slow down and enjoy the now which is a teaching of current streams of thought in Psychology such as Mindfulness.
- the increased amount of energy and adrenaline that is constantly released in our bodies which can lead to health issues such as reflux, anxiety/stress, and insomnia to name a few.
- the inability to know how to quieten down and be still and instead feeling the need to constantly be DOING something instead of just being. This can sometimes turn into addictive patterns of behaviour.
- the ripple affect that this constant tension and activity has on others around us, especially our children, if we don’t learn how to function at a healthier pace. It seems that there is an increased amount of anxiety being experienced by children of all ages because of high expectations and constant busyness and not enough down and leisurely time.
- the need to alternate from extreme busyness to extreme down time and not learning how to find a balance in between. When we are living at a manic pace we sometimes feel that we need to just switch off to recover and activities such as social media, watching You tube/ TV can be helpful but going from these two extremes isn’t really enjoying and embracing life.
- The feeling and belief that you need to do more to achieve satisfaction, contentment and/or success in life. This comes at the expense of appreciating the simple everyday things as well as being grateful for the now. I recently heard a wise friend say that we have to learn to be happy with what we have not what we want. This really challenged me and I hope it challenges you too.
So in conclusion I guess I realised that ‘more’ isn’t necessarily ‘more in life’, is it? I have been reminded that I can’t change my world but I can change my attitude, my perspective and my priorities. I will strive to enjoy and appreciate the now more often before it becomes my past and I hope you will learn to slow down too and enjoy the benefits
Do you have a Fitbit? I guess many people do.
People nowadays tend to use a fitbit to record how much they have achieved their goals in terms of physical tasks. Have you ever thought of a device that can track your brain activities but not as complicated as doctors use to measure your EEG? Here is the news for you – there is a brain sensing headband called MUSE that can measure your brain activities and guide you through meditation.
We are living in a busy world. We don’t just work for long hours, but we are all stressed up by our work, relationships and our family. We have thought of many forms of activities that can help us relax and relieve our pressure and stress such as drinking, karaoke, yoga, gambling, playing computer games, playing sports, listening to music, etc. Some of these so-called “relaxation activities” may help us just for the short–term, and it may make us feel more tired whether it is physiologically or psychologically after doing it. We all know that meditation does help us relax and feel calm, as well as building our attention span and sense of awareness, i.e. insight, but it is difficult for us to focus during mediation. We might keep ruminating and be distracted during meditation. Fortunately, there is a new form of device that can assist us during meditation and can bring a sense of tranquillity to us. This device is called MUSE – a sensing Headband that can pick up brain signals through the use of seven sensors along our pre-frontal lobe, and transforms the signals into sounds that we can choose to listen during meditation through downloading the free app.
Just connect the MUSE headband to your phone via Bluetooth, and then wear the headband along your pre-frontal lobe, and adjust it to the right gear. Open the app on your phone and close your eyes. Take a three-minute break and let the headband guide you in focusing attention. Next you will feel like you are on an open beach. The changes of the sound reflect the state of your brain. You can try to stabilize the sound to control your mental state and enter into the meditation world.
When it is over, you can look at the app on your phone, and you can notice changes in your brain waves and breathing throughout the entire process. This headband can work with the matching Calm App, which connects to iOS or Android devices via Bluetooth. Every time before using this App, you must first calibrate the MUSE headband. The calibration method allows the App to record the activity of the user’s brain: the user must close his eyes, wear a headband, and follow the audio guidance for brainstorming tasks within a minute or so. After the app completes the calibration, it will guide you through three-minute training. The purpose is to reduce your stress and anxiety and improve your concentration. The app will ask the user to try not to think about anything, counting from 1 to 10 and counting their own breathing to start from the beginning. Of course, we can do this training anytime and anywhere. Muse allows the users to see their performance on their app. The user will notice that the brain is easily distracted during this training. A little voice or thought will interrupt the task and have to refocus. This Calm App will provide immediate feedback based on your performance.
If our brain is calm and focused, it will emit soft, breezy sounds; and the more active the brain, the louder it will be. When we reach a long period of calm and concentration, it will make birdie singing voices. How wonderful it is to guide us during meditation!
According to Ariel Garten, president of InterAxon, said that it was normal for the first time to try it on. This is to provide a platform for us to make progress. As long as we continue to use it, the ability of the user’s brain to remain calm and focused will increase. Garten continues to demonstrate other functions of the Calm App, including providing feedback on training results, recording long-term performance of the user, setting up milestones, and rewarding levels, as well as providing advice to users on how to improve performance during training. Many users at the Wearable Technology Research Show said that after trying Muse, they feel more calm and clearer.
Watch this video to see how the MUSE works .https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ern-WHr4rfI.
Research has been done by a neuroscientist Olav Krigolson and his team from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada using a Muse headband to measure the monks’ brain activity at rest, during meditation and while playing video games in the remote village of Namche, Nepal in May 2016. The data recorded through the MUSE headband indicated that the monks’ brains were still very active during meditation; however they found out that their brains were more relaxed, focused and in sync during meditation. They also noticed there was a carry-over effect that after meditation, their neurons were more responsive to visual stimuli when they were playing video games while still putting on the MUSE headband. Although it is still in the early stage, they suggested that meditation may “stave off” the effect of aging.
Another research project tried to test the accuracy of Muse, such as quietly reading a book, but it was found that brain wave calmness index was only 26%. Perhaps this was because the participants were thinking about the content of the book. After more trials, the participants were asked to take a deep breath while they were still reading the book. The results showed that it was close to the meditation test, and it obtained the highest score of 78%. This experience proved that Muse could indeed feel our brain wave changes.
The Muse Headband combines meditation relaxation with wearable technology to give users insight into their brain activity. In the same way that a heart monitor works, the external device can detect changes in the electric field in the human brain. Human brain signals can reflect their own stress levels.
How can Muse meditation headband improve our meditation sessions?
The Muse headband helps us become better at meditation and mindfulness. It assists us to improve our focus on breathing and make sure our mind does not wander off during the meditation. We can also do multiple sessions per day and analyse how our focus change between different times of the day. It was also observed during the research with a MUSE headband, that some people presented with a state of hyper excitation which in return leads to a longer meditation session.
Macquarie University Library also lends the MUSE sensing headband to their students to help their meditation in the library. The Department of Psychology has purchased a few of them and students can borrow it through the library borrowing system. The MUSE sensing headband has become a personal meditation assistant.
(I have to stress that I do not have any connection with the company who sells this devise MUSE. I have used it to help my mediation, and I would like to share with people who are interested in practising meditation.)
MUSE (2018). Retrieved from http://www.choosemuse.com/
Techcrunch (2018). MUSE brain sensing headband. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ern-WHr4rfI
Video games are much more pervasive today than many parents realise.. and while there are risks and dangers for our kids – they’re not all that bad. In this podcast on Resilience Radio, Adam Wright, a clinical psychologist at The Resilience Centre takes us into the amazing world of video games. He explains how boundaries can be sensibly set – and explores ways that parents can immerse themselves in these games with their kids!
‘Raising’ versus ‘managing’ children? Parents are more and more crying out for help and wisdom when it comes to their kids and the digital world. Our Resilience Centre Director, Lyn Worsley has passed on very practical wisdom to many parents, both at the Centre and in presentations at schools. In this podcast Lyn offers the key to it all – how to ‘raise kids to be healthy and hope-filled’ – instead of ‘managing’ them!
In an era of marriage and family breakdown – many families are doing it on their own. Davide Di Pietro, a clinical social worker at the Resilience Centre, has had a wealth of experience helping parents and children navigate this fraught arena of today’s world. In this podcast on Resilience Radio, Davide says if a family is destined to breakdown, children must have a ‘separation story’, crafted by both parents – without blame.
By Adam Wright, Clinical Psychologist.
In the context of medicine, psychological therapy is relatively new. Therapy as we know it today has really only taken off in the last 45-50 years. In Australia, the Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme, which made Medicare rebates for therapy available (and seeing a psychologist affordable for many Australians) has only been around since 2006.
As a result of its relative newness, a lot of people really don’t know much about therapy, and so approach the idea of seeing a psychologist with some trepidation. One major barrier to seeing a psychologist is still the cost. Despite Medicare making therapy more affordable than ever, therapy can still represent a significant amount of money, as usually multiple sessions are required to achieve the goals of therapy.
With any financial decision, it is important to weigh up costs and benefits. For today’s post I thought I would present three reasons why therapy can be considered a good investment.
- Therapy has been proven to be more effective than you might think.
All medical treatments are routinely researched to determine how effective they are in improving health outcomes. This is usually done through clinical trials, where researchers apply a treatment to a group of individuals under experimental conditions and monitor the effects. This has been done for the many different type of therapy that are available today.
Another aspect of medical research is called a meta-analysis, where researchers take the results of hundreds of different studies and use statistical methods to determine whether the entire body of evidence suggests a treatment is effective. In 1977 researchers Mary Smith and Gene Glass took 400 studies of therapy and found that overall, an individual who has therapy is better off than 75% of individuals who didn’t have therapy. This effectiveness statistic is actually better than what medical research has found for fluoride in terms of your dental health, and equivalent to bypass surgery for heart problems!
- You might not need as many sessions of therapy as you think.
The image of therapy that gets popularised by the media is the kind where the person lies on a couch and talks incessantly while the therapist writes notes and doesn’t say anything back. And it seems like on TV, everyone who sees a therapist is in for years at a time. This image has been helped, no doubt, by Woody Allen’s neurotic comedies of the 70’s and 80’s where his characters seem to find it normal to be seeing a therapist for 15 years!
While it is certainly possible for some people or some therapies to require many sessions, for the majority of people the amount of times you see a therapist would be much lower. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), the main treatment used in Australia, typically suggests treatments go for no more than 20 sessions. One study by Krause and Orlinsky in 1986 found that 60-65% of people felt significant symptom relief within one to seven visits, 70-75% felt relief after six months and 85% at one year. So for the majority of people, therapy is ultimately a short term process rather than a years-long endeavour.
- The cost of therapy may offset other hidden costs
A concept well-known to economists is that of opportunity cost – the idea that a cost can be the loss of a benefit a person could have received but gave up taking another course of action. In therapy, this can occur, for example with work stress and depression. Early intervention with CBT or other therapies can provide a person with the skills to manage their mental health at work more effectively, which could result in them being able to either return to work more quickly or not have to stop working at all. But later intervention when the symptoms are at their strongest could mean having to take holidays, extended leave or even leaving a job entirely, with obvious potential loss of income. In this example, the early investment in therapy can result in dividends in quality of life for the future.
Overall choosing to see a therapist is a deeply personal decision with a lot of things to consider. I hope by reading this blog it has prompted you to understand more about the benefits of therapy and help you come to the right decision for you.
Adam is a Clinical Psychologist, a practitioner at the Resilience Centre and a regular contributor to this blog. Find more about Adam here.
Letting Everything Become Your Teacher – Lessons in Mindfulness
Extracts from bestselling author Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’
Part 2 – Self-discipline, conscious intention, basis instructions
For those who want to learn more about mindfulness
Mindfulness doesn’t just come about by itself because you have decided that it is a good idea to be more aware of things in the present moment, and less judgmental. Mindfulness is not merely a good idea. A strong commitment to nurturing yourself and mustering enough self-discipline to preserve in the process is essential to developing a strong meditation practice and a high degree of mindfulness. Self-discipline and regular practice are vital to developing the power of mindfulness.
The spirit of engaged commitment to meditation is like that required in athletic training. The athlete who is training for a particular event doesn’t practice only when he or she feels like it, for instance, only when the weather is nice or there are other people to keep him or her company or there is enough time to fit it in. the athlete trains regularly, every day, rain or shine, whether she feels good or not, whether the goal seems worth it or not on any particular day.
You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.
Our lives are so complex and our minds so busy and agitated most of the time that it is necessary, especially at the beginning, to protect and support your meditation practice by making a special time for it and, if possible, by making a special place in your home where you will feel particularly comfortable and “at home” while practicing. Just making this amount of time every day for yourself will be a very positive lifestyle change and gift to yourself.
This time for formal meditation practice needs to be protected from interruptions and from other commitments so that you can just be yourself without having to do or respond to anything. This is not always possible, but it is helpful if you can manage to set things up in this way.
One measure of your commitment is whether you can bring yourself to shut off your telephones for the time you will be practicing and let them take messages. It is a great letting go in and of itself only to be home for yourself at those times, and great peace can follow from this alone.
This is where conscious intentionally comes in, the intention to practice whether you feel like it or not on a particular day, whether it is convenient or not, with determination of an athlete, but for its own sake, because this moment is your life.
Mindfulness doesn’t just come about by itself.
Regular practice is not as hard as you might think once you make up your mind to do it and pick an appropriate time. Most people are inwardly disciplined already to a certain extent. Getting dinner on the table every night requires discipline. Getting up in the morning and going to work requires discipline. And taking time for yourself certainly does to.
Perhaps the ability to function more effectively under pressure or to be healthier and to feel better, or to be more relaxed and self-confident and happy, will suffice as reasons to take up meditation seriously. Ultimately you must decide for yourself why you are making such a commitment.
Happily, once people start practicing mindfulness, most quickly get over the idea that it is “selfish” and “narcissistic” to take time for themselves as they see the difference that making some time to just be has on the quality of their lives and their self-esteem, as well as on their relationships.
To get back in touch with being is not that difficult. We only need to remind ourselves to be mindful. Moments of mindfulness are moments of peace and stillness, even in the midst of activity. When your whole life is driven by doing, formal meditation practice can provide a refuge of sanity and stability that can be used to restore some balance and perspective. It can be a way of stopping the headlong momentum of all the doing and giving yourself some time to dwell in a state of deep relaxation and well-being and to remember who you are.
For one thing, we tend to have little awareness of the incessant and relentless activity of our own mind and how much we are driven by it. That is not too surprising, given that we hardly ever stop and observe the mind directly to see what it is up to.
Ironically, although we all “have” minds, we seem to need to “re-mind” ourselves of who we are from time to time. If we don’t, the momentum of all the doing just takes over and can have us living its agenda rather than our own, almost as if we were robots.
Given all the momentum behind our doing, getting ourselves to remember the preciousness of the present moment seems to require somewhat unusual and even drastic steps. This is why we make a special time each day for formal meditation practice. It is a way of stopping, a way of “re-minding” ourselves, of nourishing the domain of being for a change. It’s a way of “re-bodying” too. In practising meditation, we don’t try to answer questions, rather we just observe the impulse to get up from the sitting, or to get caught in the thoughts that come into the mind.
Each time we become aware that the mind is off someplace else, that it has forgotten the present, we first note what is actually on our mind in that moment, whatever it is, and then we gently bring our attention back to our abdomen, back to the sensation of the rising and falling of our belly, no matter what carried it away. If the attention moves off the breath a hundred times, then we just calmly bring it back a hundred times, as soon as we are aware of not being in the present and where our mind has alighted.
By practising in this way, you are training your mind to be less reactive and more stable. You are making each moment count. You are taking each moment as it comes, not valuing any one above any other, in this way you are cultivating your natural ability to concentrate and calm your own mind.
By repeatedly bringing your attention back to the breath each time it wanders off, concentration builds and deepens, much as muscles develop by repetitively lifting weights, and by repeatedly noting. Without reaction, what is on your mind when it is carried off, you are developing greater awareness of the mind itself and insight into how self-distracting and emotionally turbulent it can be.
Mindfulness does not involve pushing thoughts away or walling yourself from them to quiet your mind. We are not trying to stop our thoughts as they cascade through the mind. We are simply making room for them, observing them as thoughts, and letting them be, using the breath as our anchor or ‘home base’ for observing, for reminding us to stay focused and calm.
When you feel connected to something, that connection immediately gives you a purpose for living.
Liberation comes not as we would like to be but accepting ourselves as we actually are.
By Joe Alberts
Clinical Psychologist, The Resilience Centre
To use interpersonal skills effectively we have to decide the relative importance of:
- Achieving our objective
- Maintaining our relationship with the person(s)we are interacting with, and
- Maintaining our self-respect
It is important for us to know what we actually want – in other words what our goal is. This is easier said than done and many interactions go off track when emotions interfere with knowing what we want.
Try this before your next “difficult interaction” with someone. Decide before hand what you want to achieve and be clear in your communication.
The key question to ask yourself here is “What specific result or change do I want from this interaction”? It may be what the other person is to do, to stop doing, to commit to, to agree to, or to understand. It is important for the objective to be as specific as possible. The clearer you are about what you want, the easier it will be to apply objectives effectiveness skills, and the clearer you will be as to whether or not you succeed in reaching your goal.
- Refusing an unwanted or unreasonable request and making the refusal stick.
- Requesting others to do something in such a way that they do what you ask.
The key question to ask yourself here is “How do I want the other person to feel about me after the interaction is over (whether or not I get the results or changes I want)?” At its best, you will get what you want and the person may like or respect you even more than before.
- Acting in a way that makes the other person actually want to give you what you are asking for.
- Focus on their needs and happiness and listen attentively. People who feel understood often wants to help in return.
The key question to ask yourself here is “How do I want to feel about myself after the interaction is over (whether or not I get the results or changes I want)?” Self respect effectiveness means acting in ways that fit your sense of morality, and that make you feel a sense of competence and mastery.
- Standing up for yourself
- Defending a friend
- Stepping forward to say something courageous.
Deciding on the Relative Importance of the Three Effectiveness Types
- All three types must always be considered
- Each type of Effectiveness may be more or less important in a given situation
- Each type of Effectiveness can be overused to our own detriment
As always balance is the key:
Objectives Effectiveness – If we always focus on achieving our objectives others will feel unimportant or even used. Choose wisely when you pick your objectives.
Relationship Effectiveness – Always subverting your needs in an interpersonal relationship does not work. You lose yourself in the relationship and also lose the respect of others.
Self-respect Effectiveness – Some individuals make maintaining their self-respect the major issue in almost all interactions. Always wanting to be on top or to have control or power, wanting to prove a point or defend a position no matter what will compromise long term effectiveness.
This key lesson in Interpersonal Effectiveness was taken from the Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT) Skills Training Manual by author Marsha Linehan and published in 1993. Dialectic Behaviour Therapy is proven to help with emotion dysregulation, including people who have traits of Borderline Personality Disorder, suicidality, self harm and addiction problems. The Resilience Centre offers a fully adherent Comprehensive DBT program consisting of Individual Therapy, Group based skills training, telephone coaching and therapist peer support.
By Ruth Fordyce
Psychologist, The Resilience Centre
Are you a driven person? Do you hold yourself to high standards? Are you rushing around trying to keep everyone happy, but with that gnawing feeling inside that you’re going to drop a ball soon and it will all come crashing down?
It may be that anxiety is actually driving these thoughts and patterns of behaviour in your life.
‘High functioning anxiety’ is not an official category of anxiety when it comes to mental health diagnosis, but it’s a descriptive term that has been showing up on websites and social media for a while now (see here for an example). Most simply put, it means that a person is functioning quite well on the outside, but is struggling with anxious thoughts and feelings on the inside.
The term ‘high functioning anxiety’ is clearly resonating for many people who may not have previously considered that they have a form of anxiety. I think it’s a descriptor that is also helping us all recognise that many successful, high achieving people have underlying anxious traits.
Some features of ‘high functioning anxiety’
- From the outsider’s perspective you are functioning well – for example, you may be doing quite well in your job, you are well organised, seen as a good friend/parent and so on
- You may be described or thought of as driven, a high achiever, a perfectionist
- Your anxiety propels you to work hard to stay on top of things, but internally you are often criticizing yourself, and worried your efforts aren’t good enough or that it’s all going to fall apart soon
- Quite often, no one else is aware that you are anxious – or perhaps only a partner or your closest family member is aware
- You are often thoughtful of others and eager to help, so frequently people think highly of you. You however, find it hard to believe their positive appraisals of you and struggle to enjoy the fruits of your efforts.
I often comment to my clients who have this sort of ‘high functioning’ anxiety that in fact, “everyone is benefiting from your life – except you!”
What I mean by this is that everyone else around you is benefiting from the fact that you are always thinking ahead, planning, preventing problems, helping and organising. However, you are the one missing out on enjoying life and actually feeling good about your efforts. Being somewhat anxious can actually lead to many helpful and productive behaviours, but it’s a matter of keeping it in check so that it does not end up costing you your peace of mind and satisfaction with life.
So what can you do?
- Engage in activities to slow you down – yoga, swimming, learning some relaxation skills, and practicing mindfulness meditation are some good examples. Each of these activities will encourage a slowing of your breathing which in turn lowers your heart rate and decreases the stress responses in the body. These activities can also help to slow down racing thoughts and help your brain to take a short ‘holiday’ from anxious thinking.If you’ve never tried meditation, Smiling Mind is a free mindfulness website and app worth trying.
- Lower your standards – it’s likely that your standards for yourself are a lot higher than anyone else would expect of you. For example, being excessively worried about making any mistakes at work when you are actually quite new to the role, or thinking that letting a friend down once might lead to your friend rejecting you. Everyone makes mistakes, and lets a friend down from time to time. It’s part of being human. If you have high functioning anxiety, it’s likely that you could lower you standards a little, and not a single person around you would even notice! You are still going to be thoughtful and hard working, just with a little more room to breathe.
- Give yourself the same compassion that you would give to a friend – this is another good way to challenge self-criticism and perfectionism. Why are you holding yourself to much harsher standards than you would expect of anyone else? Why are you beating yourself up for a mistake, when you would offer kindness and understanding to a friend in the same situation? Accept and embrace that you are ahuman, just like the rest of us – imperfect, but still worthy of love and value.
- Tell someone – granted, it pays to be wise about who you are going to tell. You need someone trustworthy and non-judgmental. Obviously a psychologist can be of great benefit but I find it also makes a huge difference if just one or two people in your ‘real life’ can also be a support to you. For many people with high functioning anxiety, half the battle is learning that people can love you, not just for your outside ‘success’, but for your whole, messy, vulnerable, self. But they can only do that if you let them in.
Options for getting more help
- See your GP and get a referral to a psychologist
- Do a course online that helps treat anxiety – This Way Up and MindSpot are two great examples
- Start small and check out our Resilience Centre seminar on decreasing stress – it’s just over an hour in length and will introduce you to some practical ideas
- If you are feeling unsure about seeking help or wary about trying some of the steps above, why not do a little reading first.
For example, if you are a fast-paced driven person, the idea of doing mindfulness meditation might seem ridiculous to you. I’d highly recommend you have a look at Dan Harris, author of “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics” (I love this title!)
If you are looking for more general information about anxiety, Beyond Blue is a great place to start.
If you have high functioning anxiety, I can guarantee that you will be trying your hardest to do things this week that will make life better for the people around you.
But what are you choosing that will make life better for YOU?
Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at The Resilience Centre in Sydney. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.