Walk the Thought

think it: walk it


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Fly Meditation

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” –  Norman Vincent Peale

I’ve been on a course this weekend and yesterday I learnt about CFT (Compassion Focussed Therapy); a therapy that is used to help people who are highly self critical and need help overcoming the shame they feel towards themselves.  CFT bridges the gap that can sometimes be left by CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) where people know and understand that their thoughts are irrational but don’t ‘feel’ their rational thoughts on an emotional level (if you don’t understand any of this, or care, just skip to the last paragraph).

Part of CFT is the practise of Mindfulness; a type of meditation that had been proven effective in the treatment of anxiety and depression.  Mindfulness is said to be an effective treatment because, with practice, it helps people to disengage with the negative thoughts that maintain their anxiety or depression.  In time, cutting the mind off from negative thinking relieves the negative emotions.

We were shown the animation below called ‘Fly Meditation’ by Hanjin Song to illustrate how Mindfulness works (the fly represents a thought and the battle represents the inner battle you experience if you don’t learn to disengage from your thoughts).  I thought the animation was a great metaphor for Mindfulness and wanted to share it with you.


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How to cope with Social Anxiety: Behaviour Experiments

worried woman

In Wednesday’s post (8th January), I spoke about performance anxiety and began to put together some action steps for preventative self-help. I explained the theory behind REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) which counters the common held assumption that ‘things’ make us feel bad. REBT (a form of CBT) argues that it’s not things that make us feel bad, but the irrational beliefs we have about how things ‘should’ or ‘must’ be that make us feel bad. If we can identify our beliefs and see that they are irrational, we can amend them and begin to change how we feel about a situation.

I detailed a series of questions I ask clients which highlight the beliefs that cause their anxiety and help them to realise their beliefs are irrational. Identifying and disputing irrational beliefs and re-wording them to make them rational are the first steps in relieving future performance anxiety.

Thoughts, emotions, behaviour

Our thoughts, plus our emotions cause our behaviour

If we experience performance anxiety (or any kind of anxiety), the following sequence plays out:

You’re about to give a presentation 100 people –

Thoughts = I’m dreadful at giving presentations. I become a total mess. I’m going to look stupid and everyone will talk about me behind my back!

Emotion = Anxiety
When we feel anxious, body sensations such as shaking, sweating and blushing begin. We start to focus on these and make our anxiety worse by worrying about them. To try and relieve this added anxiety, we start to adopt ‘safety’ behaviours to mask what is happening from others. While in the short term, these safety behaviours help relieve the added anxiety, in the long term they begin to add to it.

Let me show you how this plays out with an example –

Before the presentation, you anticipated that the anxiety would make your neck flush and you would sweat more. The safety behaviour you took on to relieve your worry about this was to wear more layers of clothing to absorb the sweat and to wear your shirt buttoned up to the neck to help disguise the flushing. However, during the presentation you feel hot from the extra layers of clothing and feel like your flushing is even more obvious; in the long term, your safety behaviour in maintaining your anxiety, not relieving it.
Another scenario might be that your hands start to shake during the presentation and you try to hide them as much as possible. You avoid picking up your notes or drinking any water. However your mouth begins to dry out and your become focussed on the discomfort.

Changing your behaviour, changes your thoughts and emotions

In REBT, the idea is that we can try to change our emotions by changing our thoughts first (as described in Wednesday’s post) however for some of us, changing just our thoughts is sometimes not enough to change how we feel. In this case, if we can change our behaviour, we can think differently and therefore feel differently.

Behaviour experiments

When we experience anxiety, we make predictions about things that ‘might’ happen or how we ‘might’ feel in a particular situation. When you take part in a behaviour experiment for anxiety, you put yourself in a situation where you know you will feel anxious and you purposefully ‘drop’ your safety behaviours (as they only serve to maintain anxiety in the long run). The idea is that before you go ahead and put yourself in the situation, you list what ‘safety’ behaviours you are likely to adopt how you think you will feel in the situation if you stopped yourself from using them. The next step is to go ahead and do the activity (without the behaviours) and assess afterwards how you felt; were the outcomes as negative as you had predicted?

The purpose of this is not to throw yourself in at the deep-end. Your first experiment should make you feel uncomfortable but not panic-stricken and put off.  You should aim to move further out of your comfort zone with each activity. You can begin by writing a list of activities you can do that will make you feel anxious and grade them from 1-10. Start at 1 and work your way up to 10 as you begin to realise your negative predictions are not coming true.

If you can get feedback from others, then make sure you do.  Did they see your hands shaking? What were their thoughts when/if they did? Try to get feedback from a mix of people, not just your friends.

Before you do the experiment, you may need to return to the questioning process I went through on Wednesday’s post to help recognise any irrational beliefs you hold over your safety behaviours to diminish them first.

I’ve attached a behaviour experiment record sheet, with an example to show you what to do (from http://www.psychologytools.org/).

Behavioural_Experiment


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How to cope with Social Anxiety: Irrational Beliefs

The anxiety that accompanies public speaking has probably affected most of us at some point in our lives.  Even those of us who are normally very confident in most social situations can find ourselves with sweaty palms, shaking hands and a racing heart when we are standing in front of an audience and presenting.  Take for example Michael Bay, director of the Transformers films, whom Samsung employed to reveal their latest television to a crowd of hundreds in Las Vegas this week.  Not long into his speech, the teleprompter that Bay was reading from malfunctioned.  Bay froze, became embarrassed and walked off the stage.  For most of us, having our minds freeze in the middle of a presentation is our worst nightmare; the prediction of it happening before we’ve even began is enough to give us palpitations.

This kind of anxiety is called performance anxiety and when we experience it, we often make negative predictions about what may go wrong and what people will think of us before then event has happened. The most absurd and frustrating thing for those of us who experience performance anxiety is that our predictions never come true; we put ourselves though all that suffering for nothing.  Even though we’ve spoken time and time again in public and nothing untoward has happened, we still continue to disturb ourselves the next time we do it.

There is plenty of advice on the internet about how to cope with public speaking, but much of it assumes that reading the advice alone is enough to quell your fears and much of it talks about how to cope in the moment rather than what you can do in advance.  I have recently read an article that advises to focus your thoughts on the fact that you are helping your audience and to stop focussing on your own fear.  I don’t know about you but I feel this is easier said than done.  When I work with people to address their performance anxiety, I use a process that was designed for use in REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy – a form of CBT) that uncovers and disputes irrational thoughts in order to weaken them.

Similarly to CBT, the theory behind REBT is that it’s not ‘things’ that make us feel bad, but the irrational beliefs we have about how things ‘should’ or ‘must’ be that make us feel bad.  If we can identify our beliefs and see that they are irrational, we can amend them and begin to change how we feel about a situation.

REBT identifies four beliefs that make us feel negative emotions and these are:

  • Demands: we demand or insist that something ‘should’ or ’must’ be a certain way.
  • Awfulisation: we believe that a situation is so bad that we just can’t cope with it.
  • Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT): we believe that we ‘should’ or ‘must’ always feel comfortable.
  • Depreciation: we believe that we or another is not behaving as they ‘should’ or ‘must’.

These beliefs are considered irrational because they are:

  • Inflexible (all or nothing thinking)
  • Unrealistic
  • Illogical
  • Unhelpful in goal achievement

Let me give you an example in the context of public speaking to demonstrate how I use REBT:

My boss asks me to give a presentation to an audience of 100 that comprises of people from my office and regional offices.  The request itself is enough for me to feel anxious as I immediately begin to imagine members of the audience whisper about me as they see my hands shaking.  They’re questioning my competence.  I imagine my throat drying out as I avoid drinking any water (I don’t want to show the audience my hands) and I start coughing.  I go red and feel humiliated.

As you can see, it’s not the presentation that makes me feel anxious but all the negative predictions I make before I’ve even written it.  When I help clients address their performance anxiety, the first thing I need to do is find out what prediction is making them feel the most anxious.  We then write the prediction down and see which of the above REBT beliefs the prediction is reflecting.

Let’s take the prediction, ‘if I shake, everyone watching will think I’m incompetent’ as an example of the most anxiety inducing thought in this instance.

A demanding belief could be:

‘I must never show weakness in front of others’.

An awfulising belief could be:

‘I couldn’t cope if I looked weak in front of my boss’

A LFT belief could be:

‘I must always feel calm and composed’

A depreciation belief could be:

‘I will looked stupid and incapable if I show I’m nervous’

Once we have identified the beliefs that cause the feeling of anxiety when thinking about shaking, I dispute the beliefs with my client.  By this I am trying to help them see that their belief are irrational and serve them no purpose.

REBT uses three main lines of disputing.  It asks:

  • Is your belief realistic?
  • Is your belief logical?
  • Does your belief help you achieve anything?

Let’s take ‘I must never show weakness in front of others’ as an example to demonstrate the disputing process.  First of all I will question the client about how realistic this belief is:

What evidence do you have that proves you must never show weakness in front of others?

  • What law of nature enforces the fact that you must never show weakness in front of others?
  • Do you believe that any great leader has never shown weakness?
  • With this in mind, how realistic is it that you must never show weakness in front of others?

Next I will question the client about how logical their belief is:

  • Does is make sense that because your anxious and shaking, that everyone in the audience will all come to the conclusion that you are weak?
  • What alternative thoughts could the audience be thinking?
  • What would you be thinking about someone who was shaking while giving a presentation?
  • With this in mind, how logical is it that you must never show weakness in front of others?

Finally I will question the client about how far holding this belief helps them achieve their outcome?

  •  When you think to yourself that you must never show weakness, how does this help you prepare emotionally for the presentation?
  • When you think this, how is it helping you focus when writing your presentation?
  • When you think this, how is it improving your ability to give presentations in the future?
  • With this in mind, how helpful to you is it to believe you must never show weakness in front other others?

I repeat this process with each of my client’s beliefs.  By the end of the process, the client usually as a good intellectual understanding that their beliefs are not rational, which has the affect of weakening them.

After this, I ask my client to re-write their beliefs based on the answers they gave me, which may end up reading something like this:

‘I would prefer it if I didn’t shake when giving a presentation, but it does not mean that I am weak.  It is more likely that the audience sympathise because they’ve experience it themselves’.

You must bear in mind that this a process that intends to bring about sustainable change in your thinking.  It’s not a quick fix.  You need to practice identifying and disputing your irrational thoughts and repeating your new beliefs like a mantra.  Even though most clients have a good intellectual understanding that their thinking is irrational, some client’s aren’t able to ‘feel’ their new belief and need ongoing intervention such as completing ‘behavioural experiments’ in order to help them feel more emotionally convinced of their new belief.

I will talk about behavioural experiments in more detail about in my next post.


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Is unemployment really the issue?

On the 2nd January, I wrote a post called What’s the point?  It was in response a news item I’d seen on the BBC website that morning which quoted that a large number of young people the UK feel they have nothing to live for.  It cited unemployment as the main contributing factor and stated that young people’s mental health was suffering as a consequence.  On reading around other sources and from watching the news that evening, it seemed that young people in the UK feel their lives lack meaning because a without a job they have no reason to get up in the morning and without a job they weren’t able to contribute to society.  I also had feedback that young people feel they have nothing to live for because they aren’t able to afford a house or put money by for a pension.

In my post, I felt I was being sympathetic and suggested that the reason  young people’s mental health was suffering was because they are wasting too much of their time and energy focussing on one future-oriented goal, i.e. home ownership and need to set themselves present-oriented goals to give them satisfaction in the here and now.  On reflection I would like to elaborate on that post as I feel I did not say everything that needed to be said.   What I feel is required, is a big virtual slap in the face for those who feel the Government and unemployment is to blame for young people’s ‘suffering’ mental health.

Despite leaving university 10 years ago with a first class BA degree, I am still not in a position where I have the disposable income to put aside for a deposit on a house, pay off my student loan or put any extra money towards a pension.  I have also suffered with mental health problems on and off for most of my life.  So with that in mind, I think that I’m more than qualified to have the following opinion.

I am not a fan of the current Government (I used to be a teacher) but by holding them and the current financial climate solely to blame, we are neglecting the real cause of the report’s finding that young people feel they have nothing to live for.  What I suggest is to blame is a chronic lack of self-awareness, resilience and lateral thinking amongst some young people.  It is not the lack of ownership and disposable income that causes mental suffering in this context, it is thoughts those young people have about their situation that causes their suffering.  It is their thoughts about what they ‘should’ have that cause their suffering.   It is their thoughts about what is ‘normal’ and what their entitled to that cause their suffering.  These thoughts need to change.

I would very much like to be able to own my own house without having to share part of it with the Government but just because my parents were able to (which they weren’t in my case) and my grandparents were able to, it doesn’t mean I’m entitled to it or that it is the only way to achieve happiness in life.  By holding the demand that ‘I must own my own home, it is the only way to feel successful’ or ‘I must own my own home, it is the only way to feel happy’, or ‘I must own my own home because the children I plan to have need it’, young people are setting themselves up for despair because these are demands, they are rigid, they’re all or nothing.

I’m willing to bet good money that someone comments on this saying, ‘it’s not demanding to want to own your own home; it should be a basic right’.  If they do, it will illustrate my point beautifully that some young people are chronically lacking in self-awareness.  I’m going to repeat my point from my previous post.  If you place all your happiness on the condition you achieve one future-oriented goal that you may or may not achieve, you will feel miserable; it’s a given.  Carry on with this line of thinking and you will continue feel miserable until you hopefully buy a house in 20 years’ time. Do you honestly want to delay your happiness for that long?  Stop whining about and dwelling on what you can’t get in the future and focus more closely on what you could have now that brings you satisfaction and joy.  For me, this blog brings me satisfaction and joy. I wrote a post about my experience of overcoming anxiety.  One person commented that I’d given them hope and that’s all I need.  The fact that I’ve managed to give hope to one person in the world gives me enormous satisfaction in the here and now!  By blogging about my experience in the hope it will help others helps me find meaning in the adversity I’ve faced.  I’ve made a choice.  I could have been beaten by adversity but I’ve chosen to use it for my personal growth and to support others.

This brings me on to the chronic lack of resilience in some young people.  The self-pitying whining I’ve witnessed in the press is, quite frankly, embarrassing.  I feel embarrassed because there are people in Syria and other parts of the world who have no home, no belongings, have been separated from their families and live in fear of losing their own lives.  There are people who are living through the most horrific, barbaric and degrading adversity but they carry on.  They have no choice but to carry on because they only other option is to opt out of life altogether.  When I was a teacher, I witnessed this lack of resilience in the young children I taught; I saw their defeatist attitude towards the most minor setback.  I worked extremely hard to help children build their resilience; I believe it’s one of the most important qualities we can own in life.  I had to teach them from scratch that making mistakes and learning from them is one of the best ways to learn; some lessons are forgotten but never the ones where you’ve learnt from your mistakes.  I had to teach them about acceptance; that unfairness is a part of life we will experience our entire lives and sometimes even as adults, we can’t change the unfairness, we can only accept it.

Finally, I want to talk about the chronic lack of lateral thinking.  Young people of the UK, what brings you joy and satisfaction in the here and now and how can you use it in a creative way (I don’t mean creative in as in artistic.  I’m not asking you to draw a picture of yourself playing football or baking a cake)?

I’m going to do some spoon-feeding now, because from what I’ve witnessed, it may be needed.  If you love sport or exercise, why not start a team?  Why not organise lots of teams and start your own league?  Use Facebook and Twitter to publicise it.  Make links within your local sporting community and work together; you can find them on Facebook and Twitter!  Do it to raise money for charity.  If you don’t want to start an adult’s team or league, do it for local children.  If you don’t know how to organise it, then research it and find out.  Perhaps you can start a running club or start your own boot camp in the park (pool resources with friends) and don’t be under the illusion that it all takes money that you don’t have.  Nothing I’ve suggested so far requires any cash.  Are you a poet, a writer, an illustrator, a musician, a lover of fashion or technology? Get blogging and show off your ideas and share them with other people.  Follow other people’s blogs and see what ideas you could use; get inspired!  What would you like to do as a job?  Do you need to work for someone else?  Setting up your own website needn’t cost any more that £15 a month at the most and with social media, marketing is free.  If you keep hearing ‘no’ from employers, go out and do it yourself.  Don’t think you’re good enough?  Nothing ventured, is nothing gained.  It’s your choice but just have a go at exercising some lateral thinking!


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How I overcame Anxiety

portrait of a sad girl sitting near the window

The first time I remember having an episode of anxiety was when I was 10 years old. It was more than the usual worry a child feels when faced with something new or something they don’t want to do. I call it an ‘episode’ because it is one of several significant periods of anxiety I’ve experienced. They have come and gone rather than being continuous. When I was 10, I had an allergic reaction to some new earrings which made my ears inflamed and sore. A boy pointed it out in class and laughed. That made me feel upset but I didn’t feel particularly worried at the time. It was the thoughts I had about the event afterwards which triggered my first episode of anxiety because I began worry about the allergic reaction and then my thoughts turned to my overall health. My Grandmother had breast cancer at the time too and had been in and out of hospital alot, so I suppose the two events were linked in terms of why I was worried about my health.

The symptoms of the attack began with that horrible feeling of dread, that something bad was going to happen (although I didn’t have a specific idea of what I felt was going to happen). Then I would begin to shake, feel panicky and start to cry. This all lasted for a few weeks. At the time I didn’t know what the reason for all this was, I was too young to know about anxiety and my mum, understandably, didn’t pick up on it either. My Grandmother eventually died from breast cancer when I was 11 and when I was 14 my Grandfather died from a brain tumour.

When I was 17 I had another episode of anxiety. I was studying for my ‘A’ levels and began to experience symptoms of stress such as chest pains and palpitations. I didn’t know that these symptoms were what happened when you felt stressed so I began to worry about my health again. At this point, my Dad was receiving treatment for bladder cancer. Ruminating about my family history of cancer along with my symptoms fed my anxiety and made it worse. I thought maybe I could have lung cancer or a blood clot. At this point I went to my doctor. He listened to my chest and questioned me about my lifestyle. I told him I was studying for my ‘A’ levels and there was no discussion about my family’s health. He told me I was experiencing symptoms of stress relating to my studies and sent me on my way without any advice on how to manage my symptoms. I then started to get IBS, which I convinced myself was bowel cancer and went back to the doctor. He ‘helpfully’ told me it was another symptom of my stress, recommended some over-the-counter drugs and sent me on my way again. You would hope my doctor would have looked at the notes related to my past visits and put two and two together and thought about how to help me manage my stress. I still had no idea that I had been experiencing anxiety.

After several months the level of the symptoms subsided. I would wake up most mornings feeling that ‘fight or flight’ response kick in the moment I opened my eyes, followed by nausea but it would wear off during the day. I experienced this every morning throughout my teens and into my late twenties. It was almost like it had been programmed into my brain and there didn’t need to be a reason for it. It became normal so I didn’t think too much of it, it was just ‘me’.

When I was 27, I had my worst episode of anxiety. This time it began after a series of changes in my life. I split up with a long term boyfriend, left my job, began living on my own for the first time, started a new job, met someone else and then split up with them too. This time my normal morning routine of waking up feeling panicky and nauseous got worse. I would wake up, feel panicky and vomit. I wouldn’t be able to eat breakfast as it wouldn’t stay down and my appetite became less and less. This time the feeling did not go away over the course of the morning but it stayed with me all day, every day. Eating became a chore as I could barely manage half a sandwich before I felt completely stuffed. I felt embarrassed eating in front of my colleagues in case they thought I had an eating disorder as they could see that I would never eat much and was losing more and more weight. I then began to worry about my health again which fed my anxiety and then I became anxious about being anxious which fed it even more. By this time I knew I had anxiety, I had researched it online but I felt like I was going mad. I didn’t feel like my recent upheavals were a good enough reason to feel so bad so couldn’t link these to my anxiety.

I went to the doctor and told him that I thought was suffering from anxiety. He interviewed me and diagnosed ‘free floating anxiety’ based on my explanation that I didn’t think there was a reason to feel so anxious. He prescribed beater blockers and told me to make another appointment for 6 weeks time to review my symptoms. At the time beater blockers felt like a God-send! It felt as though someone had pressed a ‘pause’ button in my brain and I was able to get a holiday away from my thoughts (probably because I was so sedated) and I no longer felt that sense of dread. Beater blockers also work by blocking the release of adrenaline so I no longer woke up feeling panicky, shaky and nauseous. I got my appetite back and began to return to ‘normal’. I didn’t want to go back to how I felt before so decided to stay on the beater blockers and my doctor didn’t discourage me from doing so. At first the idea of coming off the beater blockers was frightening because I didn’t want to return to how I was before but after three years of being on them and at a more settled point in my life, I decided to bite the bullet and stop. The dose had to be reduced gradually over time but I came off them and felt okay. The morning feeling of waking up feeling panicky and nauseous returned after a while but it was at a level I could cope with and it wore off once I got going with my day.

It didn’t take long though before I faced my next upheaval. I became a primary school teacher when I was 31. I managed my first year as an NQT well but in my second year it became clear that my head teacher and I were not going to see eye to eye. Our values as teachers were at polar opposites and she wasn’t happy that while I worked in accordance with her policies, I didn’t agree that they were the best for all the children I taught. I found myself on the receiving end of treatment from my head teacher that wasn’t particularly professional or ethical and my symptoms of anxiety began to return. I was constantly anxious of what she would say or do next, and I would ruminate over it. My own predictions about what ‘might’ happen made me feel even worse.

This time I thought about going back on the beater blockers again to ‘get me though it’ but I decided not to. They hadn’t cured me of my anxiety, they had only treated the symptoms. I wanted to fight back against my anxiety, I felt angry now and wasn’t going to let it get the better of me. I felt I had to do something more decisive to prevent it coming back again in the future. I did my research and decided that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) might help.

The theory behind CBT is that it’s not events or other peoples actions that make us feel bad (which is was most of us believe) but the thoughts we have about them that make us feel bad; we essentially disturb ourselves with the irrational thoughts that we have about things. The problem is, that without someone else drawing our attention to our irrational thoughts, we don’t see them as irrational; we think they’re completely normal. For me, when I was 10, it wasn’t the allergic reaction which caused my anxiety or my Grandmother dying; it was my own irrational thoughts about my health in response to events that caused my anxiety. As my anxiety was never picked up on and dealt with, I continued my way of unhealthy thinking. CBT teaches you how to analyse a situation you feel causes your anxiety so that you can uncover your irrational thoughts yourself. You learn how to re-word your thoughts so they become rational instead of irrational. After a while your new thinking process becomes automatic and you’re able to do it pretty much instantly. CBT takes effort and commitment and you have to practise what you learn. If you’re hoping to be ‘cured’ by someone who sits there at talks at you, you’ll be disappointed.

I haven’t had an ‘episode’ of anxiety since then. I haven’t ruled out it happening again because it might but what I know now is that I can cope with it and keep it at a level where I can control it, rather than the other way around. Also, with the problem solving skills CBT has taught me, I find myself applying it to other emotions such as anger and hurt. I felt very angry and hurt about how my head teacher treated me but now I’m fine about it. I would love it if everyone in the world had morals that match mine but there’s now law which says they have to and you can see from the news this will never be the case so I accept it.

Now I’m a very passionate advocate of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. I choose not to be a ‘why me’ person. I’m grateful for all my experiences, especially the negative ones. Now I know that I don’t have to worry about the future because, while an experience might not be enjoyable, I know I can cope with it. If it’s something I have limited control over, for example a serious illness, then I have no other choice but to accept it; the only other choice would be to not accept it and experience further misery which is a choice I’m not willing to make. I’ve also decided to use my experiences to help others by training as a cognitive behavioural coach. I’m not qualified to treat people with anxiety or depression, but I use the skills that CBT uses to help people through other difficulties such as transitions in their home life, personal life or career.

My advice to others in my situation would be that there is no shame in talking to someone; showing vulnerability shows strength, not weakness. There is no shame in taking medication; beater blockers gave me the peace I needed to feel ‘normal’ again and get myself to a place where I could think more rationally. CBT doesn’t work for everyone, in the research I’ve done, there are plenty of people who haven’t found it beneficial. However, I do advise some sort of talking therapy such as CBT to complement the use of medication; it may get you to a place where you feel you might not need medicine. If it doesn’t, then make the best choices for you and not what you feel pressured into by others.

There are some wonderful charities that will go out of their way to support you and give you advice. I have listed the websites of some of them below.

http://www.mind.org.uk/
http://www.youngminds.org.uk/
http://www.sane.org.uk/


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What’s the point?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-25559089

When I opened my Twitter feed today, I was saddened to read a report on the BBC website with the headline, Young people ‘feel they have nothing to live for’. The report discussed a study carried out on behalf of the Prince’s Trust which found that there could be as many as three quarters of a million young people in the UK who feel they have nothing to live for. The study, which interviewed 2,161 16 to 25-year-olds, found that 9% of those questioned agreed with the statement, “I have nothing to live for” and cited levels of unemployment amongst their sample as the main contributing factor. The report went on to say that, ‘[…] 40% of jobless young people had faced symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks as a direct result of unemployment.’ Alongside this, it quoted that 72% of unemployed young people felt that they had no one to talk to about it.

It seems from responses cited in this and other news sources that without a job, young people feel they have no meaning in their lives; some of those interviewed said that having a job would give them a reason to get up in the morning and that they needed to feel they were contributing to society. In my post from 31st December titled, Top 5 tips for healthier thinking, I listed ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ as one of my tips. By this I explained that to focus all your time, thoughts and energy on one goal alone was not healthy because if that goal does not pan out as you hoped, you will be left feeling miserable. Goals give our lives meaning and without them we feel as though we lack drive and zest for life.

The Government responded to the BBC report saying that it was doing all it could to get young people into employment but is that enough? Young people need guidance as to how they can find meaning. It’s all very well for me so say ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ to adults; we have the life experience to appreciate what that means but young people don’t, what I suggest the Government need to provide in the interim is greater and wider ranging sources of guidance and inspiration for young people.

It has become an increasing trend for businesses to utilize the services of executive coaches for the development of their staff, as well as train their staff in peer coaching to support colleagues. Could coaching not be an option for the Government to invest in to help young people unlock the meaning to be found in their lives? One of the reason’s I decided to train as a cognitive behavioural coach is because in my previous career as a teacher, I worked with a wonderful coach who helped me find my own way out of a terrible time. Coaches are not employed to advise you, or tell you what to do, their skill lies in asking questions that give you greater access to your own understanding and knowledge; being coached is an immensely empowering experience. Why not send coaches into schools, job centres or even teach young people peer coaching as part of the curriculum so they can support each other?

It is distressing to be unemployed and it’s distressing to feel that you are being held back from achieving independence, having your own income, transport or home but life doesn’t need to be pointless without it. Everyone has at least one interest or skill that gives them enjoyment, they just need to realise it and how to use it. Using and expressing your skills doesn’t need to be expensive; whether you’re a footballer, artist, musician, writer or baker, volunteering in schools, youth centres or charities is free plus you get to use their materials and equipment; blogging is free, tell or teach the world about something you’re passionate about; start your own community project; pool resources with friends to use; use the camera on your phone to present an interest or idea and put it on YouTube.

Viktor Frankl argued that creative thinking and creativity was one of the most important factors in helping us to find meaning. What do you think? What creative ways can you think of that are free and would enable young people to express their interests and give them purpose? Or do you have a completely different point of view all together you’d like to feed back?

Top 5 tips for healthier thinking

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Peace of mind.

I really enjoy researching and learning about what it takes to develop healthier thinking and have been privileged to have listened to some very inspiring and motivating speakers from various areas of psychology this year. As it is the last day of 2013, many of you will be reflecting on your year and what changes you would like to make in 2014. So in my final post of 2013, I would like to share with you the most helpful advice I have learnt and which I have found the most beneficial myself (they are by no means in order of priority).

1. Take personal responsibility: Who do you blame when things go wrong? If you look deep down, does your critic have a valid point? Insensitive words may have a good intention behind them. If so, swallow your pride and ask their advice on how to improve. If they are in fact a complete idiot that is not worthy of your time, then set about changing your situation. Yes, this may mean some temporary discomfort if you have to leave a job or a relationship you’re in, but nothing worth having comes without some sort of sacrifice.

2. Develop a flexible attitude: Many of our negative emotions come from inflexible expectations that we hold; usually over how other’s should behave around us. Have you ever been left feeling irritated because someone has pushed their way onto the train without letting you off first? We are all guilty of holding rigid expectations, ‘how dare they not wait for me to get off the train, everyone knows it’s polite to let people off first!’. Yes, in an ideal world, everyone would be polite and considerate but unfortunately there is no law that enforces this. Getting angry isn’t going to make your feel any better about it. Practice thinking in a more flexible way, ‘I really would have preferred it if that person/idiot had been polite and let me off first but they didn’t have too’.

3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: How many friends do you have (if you’re not guilty of it yourself) that pin all their happiness on their relationship or career? All their happiness is dependent on one factor and one factor only; you hear them say that without it, they just couldn’t bear it? Well that’s a recipe for disaster! Call me negative, but there are no certainties in life. If that one thing were to be taken away, they would have nothing and they would feel miserable. For your mental health, if nothing else, have a variety of goals or interests that give you an equal amount of satisfaction. You may be left feeling sad without one but at least your life will not feel empty and meaningless.

4. Don’t let anger fester and certainly don’t feed it: One of the most absurd things I’ve heard all year is that in Argentina, people (especially women) go to places where they can smash up office equipment to ‘relieve’ their anger. Upon first inspection this may sound like a good idea. I feel angry so I’ll take my anger out on something and then I’ll feel better. Fantastic but does that actually solve the problem or does it just treat the symptom? That amounts to taking painkillers to treat a whole in your head. How many of you when angry, instead of trying to resolve the issue, swept it under the carpet but went away and replayed the scenario in your head over and over again? Did it make you feel better or did it just feed your anger? Did it solve the problem? Do what you can to resolve the issue by talking about it to those concerned. If it can’t be resolved then change your attitude or your situation.

5. Recognise the difference between fact and prediction: Hands up if you’re a worrier. Hands up if you’re worried about something that hasn’t happened yet. You’ve probably heard this before, but I’ll say it again. The vast majority of our worries are based on something that we predict will happen, but in fact, never does. If you’re worried, write a list of all the evidence that you have to support that this worry will actually happen. How far did you get? Now write a list of all the ways that worrying is helping you? I bet that list was shorter than the first. Now think back to the last time you were worried, and the time before that. Did the thing you were worrying about actually happen as you imagined it? I bet not.

Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve: celebrate the good you’ve experienced this year, learn from the bad and do wonderful things in 2014!