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5 Top Tips for Minding Your Mental Health

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  by Lyn Duff, Counsellor & Psychotherapist at Johnstown Therapy Centre

Life is more demanding now than it was when we were children. The speed with which computers, electronics and the internet have taken over our lives has made this world a very different place than it was 40, or even 20 years ago. There are many advantages of the electronic age, for sure, but one of the areas where I feel we have lost out, is in our personal time. Me-time, some like to call it. Our families, jobs, phones and other priorities constantly demand our attention. If you have babies or teenagers, or you are minding someone whose health is not the best, this can be a significant drain on your internal resources. This can be very challenging and make time-out for yourself difficult, even with the best of help from other sources.

These days we are constantly reminded to look after our physical health. Everywhere we look, it seems, there are special offers on gym memberships and boot camps, suggestions for healthy eating plans, encouragement to get our 5-a-day. We are also becoming aware of the links between physical, mental and emotional health and the value in finding a balance between them. While physical health is fundamental, looking after your mental health is equally important.

Have a look at my 5 top tips for minding your mental health, then take some time to consider how much you prioritise this part of your life.

1. Mindful cup of tea

Next time you take a break, get a drink of your choice (it doesn’t have to be tea!), find somewhere that you won’t be disturbed and set your phone to silent. Take a look at your drink, inhale its aroma, taste each mouthful, notice each sip. Then take time to appreciate your surroundings. If they aren’t pleasant, notice one thing that you might enjoy: a plant growing out of a crack in the paving, a colour you like, the sky and how it reflects the weather, the sounds around you, a breeze against your skin. Use your senses to experience the moment. Use this short time to step out of your busy-ness and into yourself.

2. Get in touch with nature

Nature is a great healer, somehow managing to both energise and relax us. Exercise is a great way to get out into the fresh air. Take time to go outdoors during breaks in your daily routine or just open the window beside you to let in the outside. Make time to be amongst trees, wander in a meadow, sit beside the sea, walk along a river or canal, relax in a garden. Even in winter we can wrap up warmly and go out to enjoy the crispness of an icy day or go for a drive with the heater on and the window down. Allow nature to work its magic.

3. Take time out from your phone/electronic device

Turn you phone off or onto silent, put it in a safe place where you won’t be drawn to it and do something that uses your time and attention differently: read a book, invite people for a picnic, play board games, visit with friends, take up a hobby or work on your existing hobby. The list is endless, and if you do something you enjoy, the benefits are doubled! Not only are you changing gears, you are getting in touch with yourself and others.

4. Have fun! Relax!

Linked to the tip above, this doesn’t necessarily entail turning off your electronic devices – it may even incorporate using them! Do something that you love to do but haven’t had time for: go dancing, watch a movie that makes you laugh, play in the snow, plan a party, bake with the kids, go for a massage or spa treatment. Maybe do something new that you might not have previously considered trying: learn a skill, take up a hobby, train in a sport. Fun and relaxation contribute hugely to our general wellbeing.

5. Keep in touch with people

Spend time with a friend, chat with a family member, tell your troubles to someone whom you trust and who really listens. Invite someone to try out some of these top tips with you! Good relationships can provide relaxation, support and connection in our increasingly busy lives. If you find that your troubles are too much for you to bear, link in with a counsellor or psychotherapist.

With Christmas just around the corner, the pace will certainly be picking up for most of us, so why not take some time out and mind your mental health? After all, you’re the only one who can do this for yourself, and by bringing extra resources into your life you can better mind not only yourself, but others around you

Corporate Wellness Programme Now Available

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We have just launched our new Corporate Wellness Programme which may be of interest to your company. This Programme can be adjusted to fit the needs of any individual organisation or company, all you have to do is let us know what you are interested in and what will fit the needs of your company and we will do our best to facilitate . The programme includes a range of talks on Mental Health and Wellbeing combined with Holistic Therapies  – see our new Corporate Wellness Programme section for more info

Stop Dieting and practice Self Care instead!

This weeks’ blog is from Elaine Garrigan, Johnstown Therapy Centre’s  Health Psychologist

If you have spent years losing weight but find it difficult to maintain your weight it may be time to try something very different. Stop dieting and focus on yourself instead! There are different reasons why some people find comfort in food including low self esteem. If you find yourself in a year after year cycle of losing weight, then regaining weight coupled with feelings of worthlessness, which triggers comfort eating then it may be time to deal with the real issues behind your relationship with food and whether you are an emotional eater?

What emotional eating refers to is eating in response to emotional cues- eating when you are feeling stressesed, lonely or sad. The first step is to be aware of emotional triggers to overeating- Identify them and then when you are faced with the decision to eat or not you can learn to recognise and respond in a different way. STOP, take a breath and ask yourself – ‘what am I reacting to? ‘- Am I stressed, tired, anxious, or feeling down? What am I thinking?.

Be Mindful – Be present – Stop and breathe

  • Identify your triggers and have a plan – if you are aware of what triggers you to overeat then you can develop coping strategies to respond. Am I physically hungry? Be mindful of situations or people that may trigger you to eat and have some pre planned coping strategies.
  • Watch out for negative and critical thoughts – It is these thoughts that will cause you to overeat! Many of these thoughts are very self critical. If they are – Maybe label them as ‘Is this my internal bully speaking again’?!
  • Question your thoughts – Can I handle this craving? If something bad does happen, how will I prepare myself to handle it? or – Is this worry realistic?, Is this likely to happen? What advice would I give to a friend?.
  • Practice a non judgemental approach (to yourself and others) and show some self compassion.
  • Use positive self talk! For example ‘ These cravings feel bad but I have strategies to deal with them – ‘I can distract myself by doing some activity or call a friend’.
  • Focus on the here and now -If you are feeling emotional or stressed then take a moment to be aware of your thoughts and feelings- acknowledge them without judging them!

Make a fresh start for 2015 – There are also some very effective practical commitments you can do to help control emotional or binge eating.

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  • Commit to healthy eating
  • Practice Mindful Eating
  • Get Regular Exercise – (Start with 30 mins for 3 days a week)
  • Practice Mindfulness mediation for just 10 minutes a day

This year try being kind to yourself as the first step in managing your weight. Be mindful of self critical voices that triggers emotions of guilt and thus the cycle of feel bad- eat- feel guilt – eat more begins.

What is Family Mediation?

This week’s blog is from Psychotherapist and Mediator Judi Coyne

When a relationship breaks down, or families find themselves in conflict over ongoing issues, mediation can offer a supportive and impartial environment for resolving conflict and devising agreements. Agreements that will allow the parties involved to move forward and be happier with the choices they are making.

It is important to know that the mediation process is voluntary – you can leave at any time if you want. No one can make you participate. Mediation works best when all the parties really want to be there and really want a resolution to the conflict. You remain in control of the decision making – nothing can be imposed on you.

Separating couples can work out agreements without having to resort to the legal process, where sometimes the opposing ‘sides’ are pitted against each other and problems may seem to get bigger. Parenting plans can be decided on by the most important people – the parents and their children. Financial affairs remain your own to work through – not driven by the demands of opposing legal teams. You can come up with workable agreements that you are both happy with.

Family groups can also find themselves in conflict. Maybe over how to care for an elderly parent, or how to deal with a difficult situation between family members. Sometimes families simply can’t agree on issues and can’t find a way to work towards what they do agree on and what to do with the rest of the problems. Mediation allows all the people involved to talk about the conflict from their perspective and then to look at ways to move forward.

While working as a mediator I have seen very stressed ex-couples begin to relax as they realise that they can still have some control over their affairs and make decisions for themselves. I have seen family groups that are distressed by conflict in the family recognise that there are lots of ways to resolve the problems – once they find a way to get talking to each other. Mediation can run from one session to six or eight. It depends on the conflict. But it is definitely worth giving it a try as the research shows that agreements made in mediation have a much higher chance of working long term.

To contact us about Family Mediation, click here

Emotional Eating and Weight Management- A Psychological Approach

This weeks’ blog is from Elaine Garrigan, Johnstown Therapy Centre’s new Health Psychologist

Is emotional eating a symptom of dealing with stress and emotions? Well the research would suggest yes- for quite a large amount of people their relationship with food is impacting on their weight. Understanding this relationship, losing and maintaining any weight loss can be a constant struggle with individuals on and off diets for a lifetime.

Recognizing the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger is the first important step in regaining control. There are many benefits of incorporating mindfulness into your daily life and by adapting the principles of mindful eating you can learn to increase awareness and eliminate cravings that lead to comfort eating. Emotional hunger differs from physical hunger as it tends to come on suddenly, accompanied with cravings for comfort food (food high in sugar or fat) and is not satisfied with a full stomach.

vicous-cycleWith emotions such as shame and guilt quite common after eating, individuals may feel they are stuck in a vicious cycle. Identifying triggers for eating means focusing our attention how we feel or situations (family or social) that trigger us to eat. Understanding the relationship between feelings (such as I feel stressed) and a behaviour (overeating) can be challenged very successfully once you have the right tools. This can also help break the “eat – guilt – eat more” cycle. The impact of stress and emotions can have a very profound impact on both physical (our immune system) and psychological aspects (feeling stressed, depressed or anxious) of our lives – when we learn to listen to our bodies first we can ask ourselves how do I feel and what do I need and respond healthily.

AIH_MindfulEatingwithCopyright-272x300My work as a Psychologist is therefore focused on supporting clients on working through any emotional attachments to food, psychological blocks to losing weight, identify triggers to eating and adapting healthy coping strategies for dealing with negative emotions and stress. Coupled with a healthy eating plan clients can successfully lose weight and maintain a healthy weight that’s right for them.

A Personal note on Preserving the Spirit by Anne Burke

spiral symbol“A man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him.
Soren Kierkegaard” 

The spirit as I understand it is a part of me that relates to my belief system, what I value and how I motivate myself, the very essence of who I am.  It symbolises for me the quality of one’s life and how much you allow yourself to live and enjoy that life.  To have a thriving spirit I think you need to really understand yourself and know yourself physically, mentally and spiritually.  The spirit can be impacted by the things that we experience in life; these experiences can  be negative or positive and each will have their own individual impact and without doubt it is always interesting to see how we develop and grow from these experiences.

 

My spirit that I have come to know and love is something that I cherish dearly.  It keeps me motivated, helps me enjoy life, builds relationships, develops friendships, motivates me to work, it helps me learn and experience life and continuously challenges me in that learning.  I worry sometimes that life and the very difficult challenges it brings could ever break my spirit.  However I believe that my spirit is a great source of containment and support to me even when times feel very fragile.  It’s not to say that a wounded spirit can be extremely hard to mend, there have been many challenges to me and my spirit but luckily it continues to thrive, despite the bruising and hurt at times.  I wonder what it is that keeps one’s spirit alive and nurtured; no doubt it can be different for everyone, religious beliefs, personal meanings, life experiences, what the world and living means for each individual is of course part of that.

 

I am forever thankful that I can “bounce back” from challenging experiences and for that I am eternally grateful.  What helps me is a deep determination in me not to allow my spirit to be broken; there is a part of me that no matter what the challenge is that I know somehow I will survive it and eventually make meaning of it.  It may have a huge impact on my life but to remind myself that I will get through it and that I will continue to grow, develop and challenge myself through the experience helps.   Knowing your strengths, and acknowledging your weaknesses is a sign of maturity.

 

 I know that part of what keeps my spirit going is the people that are dear to me, the people who I truly value in my life,  the relationships I have with them, the love and the kindness that they show to me.  In a funny way the people who haven’t shown that kindness are also people that I do eventually feel grateful for because they have also shown me something too and reminded me of what I don’t want to be like.

 

I also believe that to have something to work towards, to find something that you like to work at is an important motivator to have in life.  My own work as a psychotherapist brings me into contact with so many people and their stories; I continue to feel amazed and privileged by the stories and the very personal journeys that I am honoured to share and witness.  What people have come through, the challenges, the abuses, and the struggles and yet their stories and their will to survive and work towards a good quality of life are so inspirational.  The work of Psychotherapy continues to make me curious, curious about life, the people living those lives, the learning, and the challenges and drive to understand. When I think about it, it is really what life is all about – transitions.  We continue to change, to grow older, life changes, people change around us, and societies, cultures, and the world we can be sure will never ever stay still.  Living life to the full brings with it challenges risks and opportunities.

 

Developing resilience is certainly something that helps, being able to support ourselves, trust ourselves, acknowledge our emotions, look for support when we need it are certainly things that assist us in that.  Self-care and mindfulness are two more things that we need to adhere to.  How we learn to value and respect ourselves is also something that we need to continually nurture.  We will not allow anyone else to devalue or disrespect us if we hold those two things dear.  I believe our need and our right to fight for what is right is also an asset to the survival of the spirit, knowing how to use our anger in a constructive way is well worth its weight in gold.

 

To always remember that you have choices, options and freedom no matter what – something one should never let go of.  Find time to do what you love, something that is healthy and nurturing, walk, sing, dance, paint, laugh, swim, whatever it is, whatever “floats your boat”  they are the kind of things that we should always make time for.  If all else fails take a “leap of faith”.

 

Lastly I think of Viktor Frankl who survived some of the worst experiences anyone should have to endure in their lives.  His contributions to the world from his experience and his determination to make meaning out of one of the most horrific experiences one could ever imagine is an inspiration to the world and a reminder of why we should keep our spirit alive and well no matter what the situation is.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”