Welcome to Edition 243 of Institute Inbrief! The world’s religions, most scientific literature (Treadway, 1998), and most cultures’ traditions of common sense and wisdom agree: as human beings, we need balance. In this edition’s featured article, we look at the importance of down time, self-care rituals, and relaxation/meditation for creating and maintaining balance in our lives.
Also in this edition:
Latest news and updates
Articles and CPD information
Social media review
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If you want a deeper understanding of yourself, and to use that knowledge to assist others overcome their challenges and start enjoying life again – then counselling is likely for you.
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Richard Hill MA, MEd, MBMSc, DPC is an Australian counsellor and neuropsychotherapist who is known around the world as an expert in the brain and mind. Richard is an AIPC graduate and trainer, having presented many of AIPC’s video lecture series on YouTube. More recently, Richard was awarded, at the Milton Erickson Foundation Conference, a Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award by Dr Ernest Rossi and Dr Kathryn Rossi in acknowledgement of his international teaching and writing.
Richard’s most recent venture, Your Amazing Brain 3.0, is an ongoing learning project that takes the best in neuroscience and digests it into practical bits (short videos) for application in counselling and therapy. Through this project, Richard delivers ongoing videos packed with knowledge and simple exercises to help expand and develop your brain, mind and body. If you want to know more about the brain and how it affects you and your clients, this is a great resource!
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Suicide isn’t just an older man’s problem
Suicide data for Australia released this week show rates among young people are at the highest they’ve been for over a decade, and now account for around one-third of all deaths in those aged 15 to 24. This increasing trend is particularly evident among young women, including those under the age of 14. The number of suicides by young women in this age group now exceeds that of young men. Rates of suicide among Indigenous young people are significantly higher than among non-Indigenous youth, and these too are increasing.
Balance and Stress Management
“Diseases of the soul are more dangerous and more numerous than those of the body.” (Cicero, in The Quote Garden, 2016)
The world’s religions, most scientific literature (Treadway, 1998), and most cultures’ traditions of common sense and wisdom agree: as human beings, we need balance. That is, we most capably give ourselves an antidote to the stresses of life if we have balanced, nurturing connections with ourselves, between ourselves and significant others, and between ourselves and a higher power (however we conceive it: “the universe,” “God,” “the transcendent,” or our “higher self”). Balance is essential for tending to our core needs and concerns, on all the levels of body, mind, and spirit. It is not a static thing.
Balance requires constant adaptation to achieve the state of “dynamic equilibrium” (an ever-shifting balance) wherein our needs are most well catered for. It may not be easy. We are constantly pulled to ignore the needs of ourselves in order to care for others. Yet the rewards of going for balance are big; we gain a sense of self-esteem, of mastery, and a deep trust that indeed we are capable of being the captain of our own ship. Balanced, we can navigate effectively through even the stormy waters of life (adapted from Baker, 2003). In this article we look at the importance of down time, self-care rituals, and relaxation/meditation for creating and maintaining balance in our lives.
Taking “down time” and time to replenish
A woman said recently that she had had several hours of doing nothing on the weekend. The others at the lunch table remarked that that must have been nice. She replied that it wasn’t, really, as she didn’t know what to “do” with herself! A huge stressor in modern life is the relentless time and task demands. There is always more that could be done, yet over-functioning results in emotional depletion. The antidote is to have unscheduled time: time when nothing is expected of you, time to play and renew.
Non-work endeavours such as hobbies and leisure-time activities are integral to the full expression of ourselves as human beings. We need to proactively schedule in time and energy for creative and self-expressive pursuits, play activities, and growth hobbies. Gardening, arts and crafts, music-making, and taking in concerts and museum exhibitions are all self-renewing ventures when we engage them voluntarily.
Play can be something as simple as laughing with a friend or chasing a beloved pet around the garden. Walking in nature, drumming, and dancing can all bring us to another level of awareness, which short-circuits the stress response. The goal is to recreate rather than to “numb out”, to let go of burden and responsibility rather than to demonstrate more competence or status to the world. What we choose will ultimately be a function of factors such as our stage of life, what is available in our environment to do (including cost-wise), and what our personality preferences (including introversion and extraversion) dictate that we should choose. The point is to simply enjoy ourselves, thereby refilling the emotional tanks left empty by our demanding lives.
“R and R” periods such as holidays serve a similar purpose. The absence of phone calls and, if possible, email, gives us the opportunity to gain a fresh perspective, and to better assess our needs and options. Unbelievably, some observers claim that this is harder for some people to do than the actual work which is depleting them (Baker, 2003)! Yet there is enormous re-balancing potential in “cultivating relaxation habits with the same energy and commitment that you apply to your work” (Ziegler and Kanas, 1986, p 180).
Self-care rituals span the spectrum of body-mind-spirit strategies for managing stress. They may be something that we physically perform, such as an elaborate relaxing bath, or something that we take mental/emotional space in order to do, such as a daily visualisation program. But they are organised with the idea of calming and centring ourselves to compensate for the chaotic, “hurley-burley” of life. In this, they gently bring us to another perspective. Scan your mind for such activities in your life. Which rituals might you have? Would you like more rituals? If so, of what type?
Strategies to tend to spirit
Spirituality means different things to different people. For some it is a humanistic sense of how we can collectively care for our environment, make better lives for the less fortunate, and generally connect better on a human-to-human level. For others, spirituality has to do with formal and organised religion and the rituals that are related to that. While both of those aspects are important, the sense in which we mean “spiritual” here is that of overarching “whole of life” questions.
These are concerns about the meaning and purpose of our life, the values that we live by, and the consequent desire to draw towards the “something more than”. Connecting with spirit or spiritual experiences helps us to counter the physical and mental symptoms of the stress response (Benson, 1996). Studies and objective observations of healing progress from medical procedures support the idea that engaging stillness activities such as contemplation, meditation, and prayer accelerates healing, generates higher levels of functioning and ushers in a sense of wellbeing, hopefulness, and optimism (Miller, 1999).
Relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation techniques: What are the options?
Most of the stress management techniques in this category involve learning how to control our body’s response to stress. It is about learning to consciously relax the body and still the mind. Like learning a new language, a little bit every day is far better than a mega-session occasionally. Burgeoning research studies support practitioners’ contentions that multiple advantages accrue to those who sit in stillness. Look over this summary of basic practices. How many are you familiar with? As you read through them, think about which ones you might like to try.
Meditation: Allowing you to live in the present moment, letting go of past frustrations and future worries, meditation techniques yield physical, mental, and spiritual improvements. To begin, find a quiet spot away from phone, email, television, and other people. Depending on which sort of meditation you do, you may be repeating a mantra (such as in transcendental meditation), chanting (such as in some Buddhist practices), or focusing on breathing or a particular visualisation (a component in many styles of stillness practice). In mindfulness meditation, you may be concentrating on just one thing. Even ten minutes daily can yield results and you will be able to sit for longer and longer periods as you develop your meditation “muscle”.
Biofeedback: With this method, surface electromyography electrodes (SEMG) are attached to your skin. The SEMG measures your blood pressure, muscle tension, breathing, and heart rate. A specifically trained biofeedback therapist shows you on a computer screen the ways in which your body reacts, and then teaches you skills for decreasing your stress levels.
Yoga: Combining meditation and physical exercise to achieve accelerated wellbeing, Yoga involves repeating movements that improve strength and flexibility, promote mental and physical health, and enhance self-awareness. This 5000-year-old practice includes breathing and has spiritual significance for many people.
Guided imagery: Stress reduction is achieved in guided imagery practices through the use of visualisation and mental imagery techniques. It has been used effectively with cancer and other patients, who see themselves (in their mind’s eye) without the diseased cells. Alternatively, with guided imagery, practitioners can transport themselves mentally to a restful, beautiful place, thereby calming and relaxing themselves. Proponents claim that the technique can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and glucose levels in the blood, and heighten short-term immune cell activity (Guided Imagery Resource Center, in Rakal, 2013).
Deep breathing: Also known as diaphragmatic breathing, deep-breathing exercises teach you to engage your diaphragm. If you learn this technique you are in good company; singers and actors have used it for centuries in order to generate uninterrupted song or dialogue (adapted from Rakal, 2013).
The critical aspect of any of these stillness techniques is that they must be practiced regularly. Saying that one cannot concentrate is no excuse; that’s how most people feel, even after years of practice!
The balancing act: How are you doing?
We’ve discussed the importance of downtime, self-care rituals, and stillness practices in separate sections, but in reality, some of the same activities may serve for all three functions, or at least overlap. Let’s take a moment now for you to take stock. Find a quiet place and spend a few moments reflecting on how your normal daily or weekly routine enhances or undermines your wellness through helping you to achieve a balanced wholeness (or not). Make notes in the spaces provided after the questions.
How much time do you spend each day/week doing preferred leisure activities and hobbies (such as sports, arts and crafts, music, gardening, or cultural activities? How satisfied are you with the activities you have chosen? For example, are they freely chosen, or are you just going along with someone else’s preference? Do you feel renewed after engaging them? Do you have a sense of genuinely re-creating – of coming to another level of awareness – when performing them?
What self-care rituals do you have? How often do you do them? Are there any other things you would like to do for yourself? If the answer is “yes”, make notes on what you believe is keeping you from tending to yourself in this way. For example, you might wish to have more relaxing facials or massages. Perhaps you do not get them frequently because you do not have a budget for that, but if you never treat yourself, is there something else besides a lack of money going on?
Do you have a spiritual holding: a particular way of connecting with the divine or your higher self that brings you peace, joy, higher insight, and other stress-reducing qualities? Which, if any, stress management strategies do you have in the category of spiritual practices? This could include daily prayer/contemplation/meditation periods, spiritually-oriented exercise, or other aspects of mindfulness and deep breathing. How regular are you in observing these practices?
How often, if ever, do you allow yourself to have retreat space for several days? Retreats vary widely in their orientation, from the 10-days-in-silence retreats to facilitated group events where there is much sharing of experience in addition to periods of reflection. What sorts of activities, such as journal writing, biofeedback, or visualisation might you do to supplement your regular program? As you reflect on this slice of your life, especially in regard to its stress management capacity, how satisfied are you with your overall spiritual practice? Is there anything else in this category which you would like to try? Where might you get more information on the additional technique(s) you would like to do?
If the idea of daily downtime/self-care/relaxation practice seems overwhelming (like: “Where on earth will I get the time from?” or “How do I start?”), do not despair. You can take “baby steps” in making changes. Experiment until you find a way of balancing yourself that feels compatible with the overall rhythms of your life. Like any investment, it may take time to get that “R.O.I” (return on investment), but eventually the time you invest will reap the reward of an ever-increasing dynamic equilibrium: a balance ever more finely attuned to the you of your wholeness.
Baker, E. K. (2003). Caring for ourselves: A therapist’s guide to personal and professional well-being. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Miller, W.R., (Ed.). (1999). Integrating spirituality into treatment: Resources for practitioners. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Rakal, D. (2013). Relaxation and meditation techniques. Psych Central. Retrieved on 2 February, 2016, from: hyperlink.
The quote garden (2016). Quotations about health. The quote garden. Retrieved on 19 January, 2016, from: hyperlink.
Ziegler, J.L. & Kanas, N. (1986). Coping with stress during internship. In C.D. Scott & J. Hawk (Eds.), Heal thyself: The health of health care professionals (pp 174 – 184). New York: Brunner/Mazel.
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The Best-kept Secret to Motivation
With summer holidays long gone, are you finding it hard to get back into your routines? I once resisted starting a necessary task, only to have my co-worker say “Just get stuck in. You’ll be right.” I now realise how much wisdom was buried in her throwaway line.
Volumes have been written about how to find and maintain motivation. An unmotivated person can do a number of widely-agreed things to get going. This post will remind you of some of them, but I have a takeaway point today which departs from popular advice: we don’t have to actually find motivation in order to take action. Undermotivation – not feeling like taking action – isn’t the main problem; rather, it is the assumption that we need to feel like taking action before we can act. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
First, though, let’s review common knowledge. There are both physical/action items and mental/emotional steps for when the spirit of the endeavour eludes you.
Write your goal clearly and large; post it. You are clear on the goal your task will lead to, aren’t you? If not, see my last post on goal-setting. We write it BIG so that we can be reminded of it often. A goal in our mind is a goal attracting resources and energy to it.
Take baby steps every day. Big tasks can be broken up into smaller ones. Some jobs are just too big to be positively motivational, but carved up into bite-sized slices, they might be digestible. For example, going directly from no exercise to an hour-a-day weight lifting program might be hard, but you could start bench press this week, adding in biceps curl next week, and so on, until you are working all the muscle groups.
Don’t go it alone. For group support, you could join an online forum. You could set up a support network (say: partner/friend/mum/colleague) to help pump you up. And you can take advantage of the near-universal desire not to look bad in front of others by announcing your intention publicly; the fear of potential embarrassment will motivate you to keep your commitment.
Schedule in the time for the task and turn off distractions. Especially if this is a task you aren’t naturally passionate about, program it into your diary just as you would a dentist’s appointment. Few of us like going to the dentist, but most of us get there once the appointment is booked! When the appointed hour comes, turn off email, Facebook, and all other “social procrastination sites”. It’s not fair to yourself to have your unmotivated task compete with all those tantalising notifications.
In addition to the above actions, the following can help you get up to cruising speed on your task.
Think about the benefits. Why is this important? What favourable consequences will flow to you as a result of doing this? From getting that big assignment done to toilet-training your toddler, you wouldn’t be trying to accomplish this thing if you weren’t going to be better off in some way. Note, though, that this one can backfire, highlighting the gap between the emotion you would like to feel and the emotion you are feeling (i.e. a lack of enthusiasm)
Recall other times when you succeeded. Here you can focus particularly on other times when motivation ebbed, but you somehow summoned the will energy and got through it. What did you do to prevail then? Could you adapt that strategy to your situation now?
Build on small successes. Maybe you’re having trouble motivating yourself to keep eating healthy food; those chocolate croissants are tempting! Don’t berate yourself for what you didn’t do, but if you managed one day of raw carrots for morning tea instead of croissants, see if you can build up to two days of the carrots next week.
Try to find inspiration. Might there be – online, in a book, or somewhere in your life – a person, quotation, or way of handling this from which you could take heart?
…And an alternative possibility
The above are standard suggestions to increase motivation to do a task. But there is a pitfall in following them that motivational gurus have an incentive for you not to figure out: most “motivational” advice is not about getting things done, but about how to get in the mood to get them done. I propose an alternative: don’t wait until you feel like doing something. Instead, if you are undermotivated and mired in negative emotions, don’t try to squash them down. Step back from the task, focus on your breath for a moment, and feel the negativity, without trying to banish it. Then take action, alongside the “blah” emotions.
This is a Zen alternative, known in Buddhism as “non-attachment”. Chances are that your undesirable feelings will ebb once you get into the task and you will be on your way to achievement. Self-management expert Brian Tracy observes that momentum will build once you start. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) says you will experience the “both/and”: both undermotivation and also achievement. I say that you will grow your character, will, and self-discipline, making future undesirable tasks easier. Just get stuck in; you’ll be right!
Life can be a crazy balancing act at times. Try the Wheel of Balance if you feel you need some help prioritising things.
Written by Dr Meg Carbonatto B.S., M.A., and Ph.D.
This article was originally published in Asteron Life’s Balance Blog. AIPC regularly contributes to Balance’s wellbeing blog category.
Case Study: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Marian, a psychologist who specialised in anxiety disorders, closed the file and put it into the filing cabinet with a smile on her face. This time she had the satisfaction of filing it into the “Work Completed” files, for she had just today celebrated the final session with a very long-term client: Darcy Dawson. They’d come through a lot together, Darcy and Marian, during the twelve years of Darcy’s treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and they had had a particularly strong therapeutic alliance. Marian reflected on the symptoms and history which had brought Darcy into her practice.
Motivational Interviewing and Anxiety
Alana reached the safety of home, threw the car keys down, and collapsed on the couch, exhausted. What a difficult day! She who hated going out at all had had to go to three whole things outside the house: unbearable! First she had to be at the school for parent-teacher meetings, and although her two primary-school-age daughters were doing well, it was draining to have to meet the teachers and focus on all the school program information. Afterwards, she had had to negotiate busy central-city traffic and parking for a medical appointment. Her results showed that the lump was benign, but she couldn’t help wondering if they had missed something; after all, many cases of cancer came to be terminal because of errors at the diagnostic stage… If all that weren’t bad enough, her trip to the local mall for groceries and a few other errands had ended badly.
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Five Clinical Interventions to Address Traumatic Stress
Gastrointestinal Tract, Nutraceuticals and Resistant Major Depressive Illness
Psychopathic Personality Characteristics Among Business Professionals
How to Survive the Corporate Psychopath
Adolescent Depression: A Biopsychosocial Approach
Translating Neuroscience into Clinical Practice
Treating Postnatal Depression with Interpersonal Psychotherapy
Ethical Use of Social Media in Counselling
How to Use Tapping (Psychological Acupuncture) in Schools
Have you visited Counselling Connection yet? There are over 650 interesting posts including case studies, profiles, success stories, videos and much more. Make sure you too get connected (and thank you for those who have already submitted comments and suggestions).
E-therapy: A Look at the Benefits
Most of us would not have pursued a career in mental health helping (broadly including here counselling, psychotherapy, psychology, social work, and psychiatry) if we were not aware of and keen to extend to those in need the many benefits that the face-to-face therapeutic encounter brings. Accustomed to this format, we can easily dismiss online technologies as a viable way of delivering professional health services. But let’s look for a moment at what we would be dismissing. Note: the following list of benefits does not include those emanating strictly from interactions with clients vis-a-vis social media sites.
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