Meditation is way more than just relaxation

Do you ever feel like you’re constantly chasing after life? As though you’re not quite there yet, not quite where you want to be. Sure, there’s good things about your life, things you enjoy, things you appreciate. But there’s a lingering feeling that there’s always something else to do, someone or something that needs your attention? You hold your breath until the weekend or until some sort of release comes, but no sooner it comes, it goes. And maybe you’re left with an empty feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on, so you scroll through Facebook, put the TV on or just get on with the next thing. 

For me it can feel like being in a never ending relay race with myself. I’m holding the baton and there’s another version of me up ahead impatiently waiting to take it, so I can run on to the next point. Think back to the relay race on sports day at school, picture yourself in your brightly coloured P.E. kit for a moment (yes really, sorry). You’re standing on the spot, glancing back at your friend waiting for them to get to you. Maybe you’re looking back thinking they could probably hurry up or change their technique because that weird hop thing they’re doing isn’t really working. They probably would have got to you quicker. Then all of a sudden you’ve grabbed the baton and you’re off, trying with all your power to reach your mate up ahead, whose looking at you with that same look you gave your other friend a moment ago. Notice how in that race you’re either looking back or looking ahead, your mind was over there or over there. Notice how you felt (and yes, probably a very different feeling depending on your love or hate for P.E.) but no doubt your heart was beating pretty fast. You knew you couldn’t stand there for long, that wasn’t the aim of the game. So whether it was mixed with excitement or with dread, your heart rate went up, your body responded and your mind was everywhere but the place you were standing in. 

Our society is focused in this way, we’re geared to moving forwards. We’re good at moving forwards, it’s how we’ve survived. We’re so great at inventing, creating, fixing, solving, producing. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Until we live in this place of 'doing' so much that we aren’t here. When most of our thoughts are spent outside of where we are and we start to feel a constant backdrop of anxiety. Our physical bodies can be here but our minds might be elsewhere. And I totally get it, meditation can feel like a pointless exercise when you’re focused on ‘doing’. It can feel pretty alien to be in a state of receptiveness rather than action. 

When you ask somebody how they spend their ‘down time’, chances are they might tell you they have all sorts of ways of relaxing. They go for dinner with friends, they watch TV, read a book, go to the pub. But this relaxation is still a form of ‘doing’ and often they’re things that are externally focused. What I mean by externally focused is that they’re a chance to escape, to look out towards something that brings us joy. And again that’s great, sometimes. But with that comes a sense of losing touch with ourselves, with what’s really going on in our internal world.  

Meditation brings your mind, your body and your emotions to the place you’re at in the relay race, it brings you into the present moment. When you practice this, you’re not focused on looking back or looking forward but instead you’re here. In the present moment, the only place that actually exists. Not only that but you’re here with you. Not with the TV, or your friends or the external world, but with the internal, living, breathing thing that is you. A place of internal consciousness. A place that can seem pretty strange if you’ve spent most of your time elsewhere.   

There’s a lot of information out there on what practicing meditation and mindfulness can bring and I’ve seen these benefits not only in myself but in my clients too. The more you practice the more you can experience anything from stress relief, lower blood pressure, a decrease in anxiety, improved concentration, increased creativity, increased self-awareness, the list goes on. It’s worth remembering that it’s unrealistic to be in this state 24 hours a day. I might be a meditation teacher but I’m certainly not in a constant mindful state, if I was I probably wouldn’t be human. Everything that we’ve learnt, we’ve learnt for a reason. The way we behave is often a perfectly intelligent response to our situation, it’s helped us cope, it’s helped us survive. When life feels crap it’s nice to escape into something else. When we’re trying to work out what happened or what’s about to happen our thoughts go elsewhere. But what can happen is that we can get caught up in that relay race. Feelings of emptiness, numbness or anxiety can creep in, our selves can get lost amongst it all. What I teach is that meditation is way more than a form of relaxation- it’s a way to re-connect and re-awaken to yourself. 

 

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“There’s nothing rare, strange or shameful about our mental health”

I’ve been so eager to write a blog for mental health awareness week because this subject is so close to my heart, yet I must admit I wondered where on earth to start. Like so many people, I have experienced times when I’ve felt incredibly low. That grey cloud of depression, draining my energy and convincing me that I couldn’t possibly get out of bed. The heart palpitations of anxiety that at times left my mind and body on edge. A host of internal voices that can subtly criticise me throughout my day without me even realising. 

Mental health problems, for me, have taken on many different forms- some have been easy to recognise, others not so. Experiencing these difficulties can be a lonely place and we can convince ourselves that we are absolutely alone. When we continue to be alone in our pain without support, these tormenting thoughts and feelings tend to thrive. For me, counselling was a place to be heard and felt, to make sense of my internal dialogue and confusing emotions. Whichever route of help you choose (and it might be several), what I want to share with you more than anything is that if you’re facing difficulties, support isn’t as far away as you might think, you’re not alone in this.

With the work I now do, it’s impossible to not peek behind the veil of my mind, my ego- into my emotions, my subconscious, to get to know myself on a deep level. Training to work in the field of counselling and mental health has been life changing for me. I’m continuing to learn how to help others and forever learning about myself. MHAW is working to raise awareness of mental health issues which is fantastic, yet if I’m honest there’s a part of me that’s a little bit baffled. Raising awareness of a rare disease, or things that we otherwise wouldn’t know about, this is what comes to mind when I think about raising awareness. But here, this week we’re talking about our health, our mental health.

Just like our physical health, our mental health is part of us, it’s a real thing and more importantly it’s a ‘thing’ for each and every one of us. Some people are effected by the common cold, for others it’s flu, for some it’s cancer or heart disease. These illnesses don’t define us but they are the problems that as humans we experience. Sometimes the ‘recovery’ is a few days or a few weeks, sometimes it’s months, and other times we’re in an ongoing battle. We might not have the flu all our lives, but we have the potential to experience it. We all have the potential to experience common mental health problems- in fact 1 in 4 of us will. This week I hope we can take a step towards understanding our mental health better and a step away from the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’. ‘Us’ who don’t have this so called mental health and ‘them’ who do.  There’s nothing rare, strange or shameful about our mental health. We’re human and our mental health (and mental health problems) is very human and very real.

Thought of the Day- Emotions Quote

So often in our culture we think of our emotions as being a weakness. Something that threatens our strength of character. 

But what if we started to recognise that our emotions are our body's intelligent way of communicating to us? I think it's incredible that we have the ability to FEEL. A whole sense that we have access to that can help us, rather than hinder us. 

Our emotions might not always make sense to us and sometimes they can be painful, but they are there for a reason. They are part of a wonderful and powerful internal system that makes us all human 🌏💪✨ #emotions #strength #health#wellbeing #counselling #therapy

Sometimes just getting out of bed is a huge achievement

Perhaps it’s something that you take for granted, or simply something that you see as the least triumphant part of your day. Yet, if you’ve ever experienced depression or are currently experiencing it, getting out of bed really can be a huge achievement.

Many psychologists believe that achievement or progression is a natural human instinct. In fact, Carl Rogers suggested that self-actualization is a motive that drives us all: we all want, and attempt, to reach our potential. Try picturing recent images of Olympic athletes, reaching the peak of their ‘athletic-ness’ through their profession. In the same way, Rogers believed we all want to reach our peak ‘humanbeing-ness’.

With such high expectations of what we can achieve as humans, it’s easy to see why getting out of bed wouldn’t rank high on our list of accomplishments. Yet, the truth is, depression can often feel like we’re running a psychological marathon as we attempt to get up in the morning. Symptoms of depression include; persistent low mood, fatigue, insomnia, feelings of guilt and worthlessness… the list goes on. At it’s mildest it may be felt as a low mood or struggle to do everyday tasks, at its most severe it can be life threatening.

Depression affects 1 in 5 of us at some point in our lives, so with that in mind, why aren’t we appreciating our small achievements as much as the larger ones? In fact, I would argue that getting out of bed is not a small triumph at all. If you’re experiencing depression, know that getting out of bed really is an achievement to appreciate.

For more on this subject, take a read of ‘How to get out of bed when you’re depressed’ via Everyday Health

The Difficulty with Simplicity

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The trouble when something becomes a 'buzzword' is that we start to lose or complicate it's meaning. 'Meditation' has been buzzing around for a while now and it seems to be attracting more attention than ever. But if meditation has been around for hundreds of years, why now?

My hunch is that meditation is something we're talking about more than ever because our world's become more complex than ever.  Our days are spent navigating our way through a bombardment of information. Waking up to the call of our phone’s notifications, our mind multitasks it’s way through to do list’s, facebook posts and news filled political scandal. The hum of Trump, Brexit, tragedy or technology complicates even our quietest days.

Meditation helps us come into a state of relaxation and awareness. It relieves stress, lowers anxiety and enhances our self-awareness. Yet, meditation can also be challenging. In fact, one of the biggest hurdles for beginners is often its simplicity. The more complex our world becomes, the more we come to expect complexity.

If you meditate yourself, you’ve probably realised there’s hundreds of different techniques you can use. Yet, at the root of the practice you’ll find the same principles and it’s these principles that can often seem too uncomplicated to our sophisticated minds. For anybody beginning the practice here are 4 simple values at the heart of meditation and really they’re all you need to begin:

1.     Breathe

Your breath is always with you, which is why it’s the ideal focus in meditation. Listen to your breath rather than your mind for a moment. Try closing your eyes and notice how your breath is moving, where in your body you can feel it? Connecting with your breath helps you to relax and brings you into the here and now.

2.     The Present Moment

How much of your time is spent thinking about what you’re about to do next or what happened earlier? How often are you actually living right now? Try focusing your attention on what's happening right now in this moment. Notice your breath. Notice your thoughts. Notice the sensations in your body. The sounds your can hear. Notice that the present moment is all that's ever really happening. 

3.     Observation

One of meditation’s myths is that we have to empty our mind of thought. Considering the average person has over 50,000 thoughts each day, that’s a pretty high expectation. Instead, try taking a few minutes to simply observe your thoughts. Use your breath to center you whilst you do this. Notice your thoughts and see if you can watch them, almost as though they’re passing by like clouds in the sky. By practicing this, you’ll notice how you can be in a place of stillness rather than consumed by thought. By observing your thoughts as they pass, you can start to recognise that you’re more than just your thoughts.

4.     Non-judgment

It’s easy to judge the thoughts that come into your mind, to judge the things around you, including yourself. We use our judgment to keep up with the world, but in doing so we can over-judge, over-complicate. During meditation, try observing your thoughts just as they are. See what you can let go of in doing so.

We live in a time and culture that reward ‘getting things done’ and multitasking…to the extent that we’re not fully present as we live our life, a good portion of our life passes away unlived
— Steve Hagen, Meditation now or never

5 Common Myths in Counselling

 

Working for a counselling charity is a diverse job- one moment I might be answering the phone, the next minute I’m planning a fundraising day, or by the evening I might be networking at a charity event. It’s fair to say that through this diversity I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a lot of people about the subject of counselling this year. Surprisingly, one of the things that stands out to me the most is a sense that many people still feel confused about what counselling actually is, or what really goes on in the therapy room.

I remember back when I was at university, people would ask with enthusiasm, “what are you studying?” Each time I’d respond with the interesting yet apparently terrifying word, ‘psychology’. This usually prompted a whole host of, ‘I bet you can read my mind?’ jokes, followed up with a translation that I was of course a mind reader who could detect their deepest darkest secrets simply based on whether they order a vodka and coke or a glass of pinot! Unfortunately, I still often have to explain that telepathy is not on my CV and that fantasy guessing is not one of my party tricks.

Yet all anecdotes aside, it seems that the subject of counselling can still cause confusion and misunderstanding for many. With so much stigma still attached to counselling and mental health, it’s no wonder we’re left asking what it’s actually all about? To shed some light on the subject and to hopefully bring a little clarity, here is what we’d describe as the 5 most common myths in counselling:

  1. I’ve tried it before- it didn’t work

It’s true that counselling can often take time. Sometimes this means trying counselling for a few sessions before making a decision as to whether to continue. Other times it may be that you’re simply not connecting with that counsellor, in which case, it may be worth seeing somebody different. Remember that different counsellors have different styles too. It’s worth checking out if your counsellor specialises in one specific type of counselling, such as psychodynamic, person centred or CBT, or if they use an integrative approach.

  1. I don’t want somebody to read me

To me, ‘reading’ somebody goes hand in hand with judging them and this is totally not what counselling is about. An intrinsic part of counselling ethics is that a counsellor does not assume they ever know exactly what the client is thinking or feeling, nor do they judge them based on what they say or do. Remember that in a professional counselling setting you can choose to tell a counsellor as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. Ultimately a professional counselling setting will create a safe place for you to talk at your own pace and absolutely not somewhere you’ll be ‘read’.

  1. It’s too expensive

Yes, counselling can often be expensive and usually NHS waiting lists are extremely long. If you’re looking to go private, some counsellors may offer concessionary rates and it’s worth noting that their prices do vary. However, Westmeria Counselling Service offers professional counselling for up to 24 sessions on a donation only basis in the Bromley borough. This gives clients the opportunity to decide how much they can afford. If you’re not sure if our service is available to you give us a call, otherwise it’s worth checking out if there’s a similar service in your area.

  1. I’ll just be asked, ‘how do you feel about that?’

This may be the generic phrase you’re used to hearing when it comes to therapy but it certainly isn’t the only thing a counsellor will ask. Although counselling naturally looks at emotions, a question like this may be totally irrelevant to your current circumstance. A good counsellor will work with you on an individual basis and may use a wide variety of techniques.

  1. My problems aren’t severe enough

I find that a lot of people who enquire about counselling worry that they are not depressed, stressed or even traumatised enough to seek counselling. Especially because we are a charity, people will often say that they’re worried they’re taking up our time when somebody who ‘really needs help’ should have their space. Yes to a degree there are different levels of mental and emotional problems; but if you feel that you may benefit from counselling you’re probably right and this is valid enough. I believe that our mental health should be a priority and by no means should we devalue our own emotions or problems by comparing them to someone else. Again, this is the reason why we are a generic service, meaning that what you’re struggling with does not have to fit a specific category in order to seek help.