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Always Connected?

The Cov-19 pandemic has meant that many of us have been working from home for some time. But this has been a mixed blessing. While there is more time to spend on yourself and family due to not having to commute, the line between working time and leisure time has become blurred. Take email for example. You take a long lunch because it was a nice day and the dog was really enjoying her walk. So you log back into work for an hour after the kids are in bed. There is an email from the boss, do you reply? It’s going to take more than an hour to research the answer and reply to him.

The culture of companies can have an enormous impact on the mental health of employees. Some companies have an “always on” / “always connected” culture. Meaning it is expected that you are available at all hours of the day or night. I personally believe a balanced approach to extra hours is fair and reasonable. So, there are busy times (the end of a project, month end, year end, etc.) and an employee should expect to have to work harder / longer at these times. Correspondingly, when there is less demand employers should redress the balance (added time off, leaving early, etc.). An employer that always wants you to work at 100%+ all the time will only be rewarded with high sickness levels, high staff turnover, stressed employees and burnout.

Recently, some European countries have passed “right to disconnect” laws. These laws mandate that employers must have a policy for email use after working hours. The idea is to reduce the number of employees having to use email after work and over the weekend.

Today, email is an integral part of business and is an incredibly powerful communication tool. So much so, that employees often feel pressured to check email out of work hours. According to one recent study, the average employee spends 28% of their working day on email and 45% of employees check their work email out of hours.  This means you never properly switch off from work to recharge, recover and relax. And this, in turn will impact your relationships with friends and family. As Jacqueline Leo (American magazine Editor and media Producer) said, “One look at an email can rob you of 15 minutes of focus. One call on your cell phone, one tweet, one instant message can destroy your schedule, forcing you to move meetings, or blow off really important things, like love, and friendship”.

And Jacqueline Leo’s point is supported by research. Soviet era Psychologist, Bluma Zeignarik, found that people can recall tasks that are uncomplete or were interrupted 90% better than tasks that were completed without interruption. This Zeignarik effect means that uncompleted tasks stay in our minds much longer than completed tasks. Our minds see emails as mini-tasks and so email can be on your mind 24/7. As the inbox begins to pile up, you can’t stop thinking about all of those incomplete tasks. 

So what can we do? Well here are some suggestions.

  • Learn to switch off, unplug from work and be strict with yourself.
  • Develop a non-digital hobby – physical sport, a craft or gardening.
  • Use the features of email to help you. Set an auto reply when busy or unavailable, block spam, Inbox rules (auto file some emails in folders without reading them immediately).
  • Unsubscribe from unnecessary newsletters, mailing lists, etc.
  • Allocate and block out time for email, for work, for lunch, etc.
  • Use the calendar and set reminders to do things.
  • Follow and encourage other to use good etiquette – Avoid reply all (should this be a meeting?), send emails in normal working hours, think about who you copy in, etc.

As Gretchen Rubin (American Author) said, “Technology is a good servant but a bad master”. Make technology work for you – be its master, not its slave.

Hypnotherapy can be an effective way to help you with stress, anxiety and burnout. If you feel this could be for you, then contact me.

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World Mental Health Day

The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day as 10 October every year. The objective of World Mental Health Day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and help mobilise efforts in support of mental health. It’s also an opportunity for those working in mental health to talk about their work and the issues they face.

It’s important to realise that being mentally healthy isn’t just the absence of a mental health problem. To be truly in good mental health, you must be able to make the most of your potential, cope adequately with life and be able to play a full part in your family, workplace, community and among friends. Further, good mental health is characterised by a your ability to learn, the ability to feel, express and manage your emotions, the ability to form and maintain good relationships and, finally, the ability to cope with and manage change and uncertainty.

The theme this year was set by the World Federation for Mental Health and is ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’. As Jagmeet Singh (Canadian Politician) said, “To me poverty, mental health, and addictions don’t sound like criminal justice problems. They sound to me like a social justice problem”.

The last few years have highlighted inequalities due to race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and the lack of respect for human rights in many countries, including for people living with mental health conditions. These inequalities have an enormous impact on people’s mental health.

It is thought that between 75% and 95% of people with mental disorders in low and middle income countries are unable to access mental health services at all. Access in high income countries is not perfect either. Lack of investment in mental health compared to the overall health budget contributes to a significant mental health treatment gap.

I have written before about the stigma and discrimination experienced by people who experience mental ill health. It not only affects a person’s physical and mental health, stigma also affects their educational opportunities, current and future earning and job prospects, and also affects their families and loved ones.

The 2021 World Mental Health Day campaign ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’ will enable us to focus on the issues that perpetuate mental health inequality, both locally and globally.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health and you think they could benefit from hypnotherapy then contact me.

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Uncertain times

It seems we are living in uncertain times. I try to remain positive and not worry too much, but worrying is an aspect of who I am. I have had some moments of pause and reflection on the world as it is now. Winter is on the way, COVID is still with us, the NHS is near breaking point, there are fuel shortages, potential food shortages and a spike in energy prices.

While these problems are real and should not be downplayed, I realised I was experiencing a period of anxiety. And this is understandable, normal and nothing to worry about in itself. But having a great deal of uncertainty about what the future holds is a challenge to our mental health and can lead to anxiety and depression. This is all the more so for those already dealing with issues as the fear of being out of control and unable to deal with uncertainty are common characteristics of many anxiety disorders. As Rosie Weatherley from MIND (UK mental health charity) said, “A lot of anxiety is rooted in worrying about the unknown and waiting for something to happen”.

So at times like this it’s good to remind ourselves how to protect our mental health and look out for others who may not be coping as well as we are. Firstly, make sure you have access to high quality, truthful information. If you are going to worry about something make sure it’s real.

Consider when you want to consume information. Checking the news first thing in the morning and again in the evening is probably better than being constantly bombarded all day long. Also, try to avoid things that trigger your anxiety. There are some media outlets that seem obsessed with alarming people and are always trying to predict the next big crisis.

Stay connected to people you care about and people who care about you. Limit your time with those who are very pessimistic or negative. Also, having a routine can be good to remind you that life, day to day, goes on.

Anxiety UK (UK charity for those with anxiety) suggests practising the “APPLE” technique to deal with anxiety and worries.

• Acknowledge. Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty when it comes to mind.
• Pause: Try not to react as you normally. Pause and breathe.
• Pull back. Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts, they are just thoughts or feelings. Remind yourself this is just the worry talking. The seeming need for certainty is not necessary.
• Let go. Let go of the thought or feeling. You don’t have to respond to them. They will pass. You can perhaps imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.
• Explore: Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Practise mindfulness – notice your breathing, the sensations of your breathing, notice the ground beneath you. Look around and talk in what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Once you have centred yourself, shift your focus of attention to something else. Focus on what you need to do now, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry.

Hypnotherapy can be a powerful tool to help with anxiety and other disorders. If you feel that hypnotherapy can help you then contact me.

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Stopober

Stopober is the UK annual quit smoking campaign organised by Public Health England. It encourages smokers to make an attempt to stop starting on 1 October. It runs for the whole month because research shows that if you can stop smoking for at least 28 days you are five times more likely to stop permanently.

The campaign provides inspiration and resources to help you stop smoking. This year is all the more special as it the tenth anniversary of the campaign being launched. It’s thought that more than two million smokers have used the campaign to make an attempt to quit. So, if you are thinking about quitting, perhaps now is the time to give it a go.

Quitting smoking is probably the best thing you can do to improve your health and those around you. Even if you’ve smoked for a long time, quitting will reduce your risk of many heart and circulatory diseases. Reducing the number of smokers will help the NHS as well. As David Byrne (Scottish Musician) said, “The true face of smoking is disease, death and horror – not the glamour and sophistication the pushers in the tobacco industry try to portray”. It’s never too late to quit and you will start to see the benefits almost immediately. And it’s not just your health that will improve, your finances will too.

Smoking also effects those around you. Second-hand smoke, or passive smoking, is when you breathe in someone else’s cigarette smoke. Passive smoking increases your chance of getting heart and circulatory diseases, cancer and breathing problems. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of second-hand smoke as their bodies are still developing.

Once you start smoking it’s hard to stop because nicotine is so addictive. Consequently, stopping smoking is, put simply, very difficult. It’s thought only about 1% of all people who try to quit without any support will be successful. But, remember you are not alone. Make sure to enlist the encouragement of friends, family and colleagues. The NHS has a number of ways to help and support you. The Stoptober mobile phone app is available on the App Store and Google Play. It shows you how much money you’re saving, and sends you a daily email to boost your motivation. You can also join a community of fellow stop smokers and receive more personal support.

Also, the NHS Stop Smoking Services are free, friendly and can massively increase your chances of quitting for good. Your GP, Asthma Nurse or Pharmacist can advise you, talk to yours about treatments and aids, such as Champix or nicotine patches.

Hypnotherapy can be an effective way to help you stop smoking. If you feel this could be for you, then contact me.

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Ask a Stupid Question!

28 September is Ask a Stupid Question Day. It started in the 1980s in the US as a holiday for schools and teachers. It was designed to encourage students to ask more questions in the classroom as it was thought that kids sometimes hold back, fearing their question is stupid and they may be ridiculed. But I think it’s a lesson we can all learn from regardless of our age. As Carl Sagan (American planetary scientist, cosmologist and astrophysicist) said, “There are naïve questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question”

So, in the spirit of what Carl Sagan said, what do you want to understand or understand better? Something that I have always wondered about is what the first person to milk a cow was trying to do? But seriously, take a moment to find out things you should know. For example, if you are on prescription medication, do you know the possible side effects?

It can also be a chance to ask yourself more fundamental questions about your life and how you live it.

* Am I happy? If not, why not?
* What are my values? Am I living my values?
* Looking back over the last five years, what did I do right?
* Looking back over the last five years, where did I go wrong?
* What scares you or causes you to procrastinate or hesitate?
* How can you take better care of myself?
* Do I have the right people around me?
* Am I improving the lives of others?
* Do I need to forgive myself?
* What do I need to accept and embrace about myself?

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Are You Sabotaging Yourself?

“If you don’t believe in yourself, somewhere or another, you sabotage yourself.” Jason Day (Australian Golfer)

So, what is self-sabotage? Some say it’s Self destructive behaviour, such as smoking or drinking excessively. And while that can be the case, that’s not quite what I am talking about here. I am thinking more of self-limiting beliefs and behaviours, such as “I have no will power” or “I am unlucky in love”.

As with any problem or concern it’s important to not let it define you and explore the root cause of it. Often these self-sabotaging behaviours stem from a lack of self-love, lack of self-worth (self-esteem) or a lack of self-belief / confidence. Another way to express this is the thought that ‘you are not enough’, not deserving (of love, success, etc.) or I am lucky to have got where I am now and that’s enough for me. All these are self-sabotaging thoughts. Hypnotherapy has a range of techniques to help explore the reasons for these thoughts and address the resulting unwanted behaviours.

Despite what you may think this is not your mind playing tricks or trying to damage or harm you. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Your subconscious tries to keep you safe, happy and away from pain. Your conscious mind would pull your hand away from a flame without a thought. And your subconscious does the same with physiological pain. But often this is not a conscious process. So, for example, perhaps you want to stop smoking, but you feel you have no will power. Well, to spare you the embarrassment, anxiety or shame of failing to stop smoking, your subconscious tells you it not possible because of your lack of will power. It doesn’t realise that you want and perhaps really need to stop smoking for health reasons.

Another strategy the subconscious uses to protect you is to bury unhappy or unpleasant memories and traumas. And while this can be a good thing in the short term, having unresolved problems or buried traumas can bring different problems in the long term. Not least because, your subconscious will analyse the buried memories and draw conclusions and learn lessons from them. All this without your conscious mind knowing. These lessons and conclusions may not be correct or are contrary to what conscious mind it trying to achieve.

For example, one aspect of self-sabotaging behaviour is the inability to deal with and process the stress stemming from your lack of self-confidence. So, in a relationship you might wonder, how can they love someone like me? Self-sabotaging people tend to lack healthy coping strategies. So, they may feel that showing they are incompetent or unworthy is a way to untangle themselves from emotional, personal or work demands.

Even successful individuals may have self-destructively or sabotaging urges. This may stem from a feeling of anxiety, unworthiness or from an impulse to repeat the process that made them successful. As Mitski (Japanese Musician) said, “I always have strong urges to sabotage myself. Whenever someone says they like something about my music, I tend to not want to do that anymore. It’s not even that I don’t like it anymore: it’s that I keep trying to find ways for people to dislike me”.

Hypnotherapy can be a powerful tool to speak directly to the subconscious and ask it to change and support the changes you want to make in your life. If you feel that hypnotherapy can help you then contact me.

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Suicide Awareness

10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day. The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) was started it in 2003 and is co-sponsored by the World Federation for Mental Health and World Health Organisation (WHO).

Suicide is a growing problem in the world and especially amongst the under 30s. The statistics are truly frightening. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every 40 seconds someone successfully takes their own life. That equates to approximately 800,000 people every year (globally) or one in a hundred of every death. And for each successful suicide it is estimated that there are 40 attempted suicides. The sad thing is, as Phil Donahue (US media personality) put it, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. Suicide is largely preventable as undiagnosed, or untreated, mental illness is the largest contributor to it.

Each suicide is a tragic waste of life and devastating, sometimes life changing, to those left behind. So, by raising awareness, addressing the stigma around suicide and encouraging well-informed action, it is hoped that the instances of suicide around the world can be reduced. World Suicide Prevention Day is an opportunity to do these things and reduce the number of suicides and suicide attempts. There are five key messages:

1. Creating hope through action. This is a reminder that there is an alternative to suicide. Our actions, no matter how big or small, may provide hope to those who are struggling. Through action, you can make a difference to someone (as a parent, as a friend, as a colleague or as a neighbour) in their darkest moments. We can all play a part in supporting those experiencing a suicidal crisis or those bereaved by it.

2. Suicidal thoughts are complex. The causes of suicide are complex and many. There is no one size fits all approach. We know that certain life events can make someone more vulnerable to suicide. Also mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression can also be a contributor. People who are suicidal can feel trapped or a burden to their family and those around them and thus they feel as though they are alone and have no other options. The COVID-19 Pandemic has greatly contributed to increased feelings of isolation and vulnerability. By Creating Hope Through Action, we can signal to people experiencing these thoughts that there is hope and that we care and want to support them.

3. You can help give someone hope by showing that you care. We can all play a role, no matter how small. You do not need to tell them what to do or have solutions, just make the time and space to listen to them. Small talk can save lives and create a sense of connection and hope in somebody who may be struggling.

4. Stigma is a major barrier to help-seeking. I have written before battling stigma and prejudice around all forms of mental illness. Changing the narrative around suicide through the promotion of hope will help to create a more compassionate society where those who need help feel comfortable in coming forward.

5. The insights and stories of people with a lived experience of suicide. Personal stories of someone’s experiences of emotional distress, suicidal thoughts or attempts, and their experiences in recovery can inspire hope in others. It illustrates that they too can move through the period of crisis. Also, individuals sharing experiences of being bereaved by suicide and how they came to live their ‘new normal’, can help others experiencing suicidal loss make sense of their devastation and believe they will be able to live through and with the loss.

So, if you know someone who make be anxious, depressed or suicidal help them to get the professional assistance they need. And be an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on.

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Youth Mental Health Day

7 September is Youth Mental Health Day (YMHD). It’s an awareness day founded by the leading young person’s mental health charity stem4. stem4 is a UK charity that promotes positive mental health in teenagers. They work with individuals, their families and carers, education professionals, as well as school nurses and GPs through the provision of mental health education, resilience strategies and early intervention. This is primarily done digitally through their education programme, pioneering mental health apps, clinically-informed website and mental health conferences.

YMHD encourages understanding and awareness of mental health in young people with a view to enabling them to live happy and healthy lives. Each year, the day aims to get young people, and those who care for and support them, talking about how to improve mental health.

This is all the more important with the covid-19 pandemic disrupting the lives of young people more than you might realise. YMHD 2021 focuses on how young people can #StrideForward with their mental health.

Missed classes, lack of social interaction, missing friends, cancelled exams and university lockdowns – the last 18 months have been rough. This time has seen many decisions made on behalf of young people and without their input. But as Vikram Patel (Indian psychiatrist and researcher) said, “There is no health without mental health; mental health is too important to be left to the professionals alone, and mental health is everyone’s business”.

Looking to place young people’s voices at the forefront of the conversation once more, YMHD 2021 invites young people across the country to reflect on how the last year has impacted their lives and share how they will #StrideForward and move towards positive mental health.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, one in six young people aged 5-16-year olds had a mental health disorder. The crisis will no doubt have worsened the situation. These disorders include anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders and addictions. Mental health can often be overlooked at the symptoms are not as visual as other health concerns. As Kate Middleton (member of the British Royal Family) said, “A child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health and deserves the same quality of support”.

Youth Mental Health Day seeks to help by engaging young people in discussions and activities about how to improve their mental health. YMHD looks to go beyond awareness and breaking the stigma surrounding mental health into tackling the heart of the issue.

As a Hypnotherapist, I do not work with people under the age of 18. But if you are worried about someone who is, stem4 is a good place to start to look for the help and support you need.

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Mental Health First Aiders

I recently qualified as a Mental Health First Aider. The idea is to be a point of contact for any employee who is experiencing mental health issues or some form of emotional distress. Normally, this ranges from having a friendly chat through to directing them to expert, professional help and supporting someone while they get the help they need.

While I am a qualified hypnotherapist, it is not essential to have any former of prior healthcare training. Typically, Mental Health First Aiders are just regular employees and are not part of the management team or Personnel / Human Resources. This is very important as many employees can feel a sense of guilt or shame at admitting they are suffering with a mental health condition and organisational attitudes and culture can be less than ideal. I have written in the past about reluctance of people to seek help and the perceived stigma of suffering with mental health concerns.

Mental health has long been the Cinderella of the health services both within the National Health Service (NHS) and in the workplace. Being given equal status would be a significant step towards acceptance of mental health issues.

The statistics around mental health are frightening. It’s thought as many as one in six of people at work have symptoms of a mental health condition at any one time. A survey by MIND (UK mental health charity) found in 2018 that 50% of the 44,000 employees surveyed had suffered some form of mental health problems at some point. These conditions are typically, anxiety, stress, burnout and depression. If you suffer from any of these and feel that hypnotherapy can help you them contact me.

A government commissioned review, published in 2017, put the cost to the economy of these conditions at between £74bn and £99bn a year. Having a system to support employees is clearly the right thing to do and makes good business sense. It also fits with the employer’s duty of care. And, when people feel supported and valued, it contributes towards a motivated and efficient work force.

The employees of an organisation are its life blood. When we have a sense of well-being we function so much better. From a business perspective, it’s incredibly short-sighted to ignore mental health issues. As Richard Branson (British Entrepreneur) said, “By putting the employee first, the customer effectively comes first by default, and in the end, the shareholder comes first by default as well”.

Having Mental Health First Aiders is relatively new and so it’s unclear how effective they will be. If an employer used them as a tick box – ‘We really care, we have Mental Health First Aiders’, without addressing the underlying causes of health problems the initiative will be worthless. Furthermore, from a humane perspective, to be forever increasing pressure on employees and not properly caring for them seems immoral. It indicates that some companies think only of shareholder value, profits or service level agreements, which is very short sighted and is nothing short of foolish.

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Grief Awareness Day

30 August is National Grief Awareness Day. If you have not experienced grief yet in your life you have been very fortunate, but it’s highly likely you will at some point. This day is about examining grief and raising awareness both of how to cope with grief yourself and how to help others.

Grief is a complex response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone you loved. Although usually less extreme is can be a response to the loss of something else, such as a large amount of money, a job or a cherished pet. Grief is usually thought of as an emotional response but it can have physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, cultural and philosophical dimensions as well.

Many believe in the five stages of grief and this is a good way to describe the process. The stages are;
• Denial. The first reaction is disbelief. Some sort of mistake must have happened. It is natural to cling to some hope no matter how unrealistic it might be.
• Anger. When denial has run its course then frustration and anger at the situation is common. Responses such as ‘Why has this happened?’, ‘Who is responsible?’, ‘Why me?’.
• Bargaining. This involves the hope that the crisis can somehow be avoided. This may include negotiation with god to have time to achieve something, perhaps attend an important event, in exchange for a lifestyle change.
• Depression. You despair at the reality of the situation. In this stage you may become withdrawn, sullen and mournful.
• Acceptance. You embraces the reality of the situation and the inevitability of the outcome. In the case of people who are dying, this acceptance often is reached before the loved ones around them.

What these steps don’t convey is that the stages are not always sequential. A grieving person may not always go through them once and you can bounce between them for minutes, hours, days or even months. For example, when my Partner’s father died, he was extremely busy with work. He dealt with practical aspects, arranged the funeral, etc., but did not really grieve. It was the first anniversary of the death that triggered a grieving process. Each person is different, as is their methods of grief and coping.

Grief is a normal reaction to a loss and in most cases will lessen over time and not cause any lasting problems. The amount of time spent grieving and in each stage of the process can vary from person to person and depend on the nature of the loss. But, some people find it difficult to move on and this can cause problems that may need some additional help. Hypnotherapy can help to:
• Reduce the symptoms of grief
• Organise their grief so that you can grieve but not all the time
• Find a way to grieve that doesn’t overwhelm you
• Change your perception of the loss
• Deal with feelings of (survivors) guilty or regret
• Reconnect to memories of the person, without painful feelings or distress
• Allow you to access feelings of calm and strength
• Assist you to socialise and reintegrate into society
• Empower you to achieve necessary goals and tasks

When someone has experienced a loss it can be hard to know what to do or say. I know when I have lost close relatives, some of friends withdrew not knowing what to do or say and not wanting to make things worse. But in fact, a helping hand, a laugh and a joke or a comforting presence can go a long way. So, offer that helping hand, lend an ear or a thoughtful message and be there for them. Help, how and when you can, and if they are struggling then encourage them to seek expert help. If you or someone you know could benefit from hypnotherapy then contact me.

And finally, remember, as George Elliot (British Author) said, “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them”.