A different perspective

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This weekend I got to see my city from a different perspective. This is not a metaphor (but be sure it will soon turn into one!) but a literal statement. I went to explore Williamstown for the first time.

Sure, I have been there once before, but we only walked along the main street before getting the train back. This time we explored. We walked along the sea front, greeted a number of happy dogs out for a walk, and took in the scenery. This is a view of Melbourne I have never seen before and it got me thinking.

It seems that recently, I have had a lot of clients come to me with anxiety about the ‘what ifs’. And more specifically, the ‘what if’ I get anxious. Anxiety is insidious, it breaks you down, it lies in wait until the perfect moment and then it grabs you. It is your most familiar companion, and yet your most unpredictable. And so it is no wonder that people begin to fear panic attacks.

One of the items on the DASS21, a helpful screener for Depression, Anxiety and Stress is:

I was worried about situations in which I might panic and make a fool of myself.

This worry about worry is always fruitless and leads to a cycle of avoidance, greater fear and increased anxiety. And it manifests its own self; it makes itself true.

One of the tools I like to use when I am working with these clients is, at the end of the session, to retell their own story in my words. It usually goes something like this:

Their story:

I was really anxious, so I didn’t go. But then I went later but the whole time I felt like I needed to leave. And I managed to stick it out but I was freaking out the whole time. And when I left I collapsed into bed so exhausted. I really didn’t cope.

My version:

I was worried that I would have a panic attack, so I stayed home for a while, but eventually I thought I could cope, so I went. And when I got there I felt really worried, and thought I would have to leave. But I found some strategies that worked, and I managed to self-regulate enough that I stayed until the end. I kept thinking I would have to leave (I point out that this is a thought, not a feeling) and that I wouldn’t be able to cope. But I did. It was exhausting so I engaged in a lot of self-care afterward. But next time I know I can do it. 

All day long we tell ourselves stories. Some of these are helpful and some of them are not. When you start telling yourself a story ask ‘is this helping me, or holding me back?’. If it is holding you back, acknoweldge that, name the story (ah, my ‘I can’t cope story!! I know that one) and move past it. Remember- you can always change your thoughts!!

If you allow yourself a different perspective, you may actually find that you’re doing better than you realise.

My mental health aim for the month of March is to catch my own stories and change the perspective.

My crafty aim for the month of March is to dust off the camera and start finding a new perspective of the city I live in. The inlaws are around so I will be touristing anyway!

Stuart and his parents on the beach! A reason to be tourists for a day.
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Making History

Yesterday we made history.

For the first time ever, women have been given the opportunity to play Australian Rules Football at an elite level. The inaugural AFLW match took place last night at Princes Park, and I was there to witness it.

This event was momentous. Not only for women in sport in general, but particularly in this sport. The AFL is famously and notoriously laden with misogyny. There has not been a season where a player, coach or commentator has not been involved in violence against women (actioned or threatened – although they may claim they were only ‘joking’).

And when the inaugaural AFLW season was mooted even those in the higher echelons of the AFL stated that it would only be popular if the women ‘wore lycra’ to make it more interesting.

So this was the weekend where Melbourne got a chance to prove the haters wrong. And they did!

Over 24,000 people turned up to see Carlton defeat Collingwood. I couldn’t get a tram from work and had to walk 4km with hundreds of other people to get there. Once I did arrive, I only just made it through the gates before they shut them. They ran out of beer 8 minutes into the first quarter. People gathered outside the ground and waited, patiently, for security to confirm whether they would be allowed in.

The organisers underestimated us. They didn’t take account of the power of the people and they lost sight of this city’s sentiments. We love sport. We love competition. And we (increasingly) love equality. Admittedly there is still a long journey ahead of us but at least we are now having the conversation.

If you do anything over the next few weeks, get to a game. Support women in sport. Show the powers that be that we are passionate about equality of opportunity (and not only when they wear Lycra!). Let’s make this a success.

View from the old stand at the inaugural AFLW match. Feb 3 2017.

How (not) to store your wool…

As Karen alluded to in her last post (a super helpful tutorial!) this blog post is about Type A vs Type B personalities.

Personality Psychology is a huge area of psychology and this is not the space to dissect, or even explain, what it is about. Wikipedia is always your friend so if you are interested in learning more please feel free to head over here for more information!

For brevity (and wit) today I will be focusing on one particular personality theory: Type A and Type B Personality Theory.

You may have heard of this theory before as it is a common one. What you may not know is that it was developed not by psychologists but by cardiologists! Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman conducting a longitudinal study into risk factors for heart attacks and found that more competitive, ambitious or aggressive men were twice as likely to have a heart attack than those that are more relaxed. They labeled these as Type As and Type Bs respectively.

Since then these personality types have been researched extensively and Friedman even went on to write a book about Type A behaviour as something that can be pathologised and treated.

So here we come to wool.

I think it is safe to say that Karen would define herself as a Type A personality: organised, sensitive, anxious. While I think I could safely define myself as a Type B personality: reflective, impulsive, disorganised. And there is no better place that this manifests than in our approach to knitting.

Karen has a beautiful craft room with everything in its own place, she keeps here WIPs (Works In Progress) in bags so that they can be stored tidily, and she sometimes even winds her skeins of yarn more neatly before knitting with them!

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I, on the other hand do none of the above. My friend Molly does a lovely impersonation of me storing my knitting. It looks a bit like a person scrunching up a piece of paper and ‘shoving’ it in a bag. She even uses the word ‘shoving’ to describe what I do. Invariably this leads to frustrating tangles that take hours to unwind, but I never learn. Because I am spontaneous, I rarely think ahead and so I keep doing it because it’s easier and faster in that moment.

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This is where I depart from Friedman and Rosenman. They saw Type A as a problem and Type B as desirable. However, they were cardiologists, not psychologists (and definitely not crafters). I can definitely see the merits in being more organised and more of a planner. While I am often less stressed in any given moment, I would probably (definitely) save more time if I was organised.

As with anything, maybe it is about balance. It’s probably just a behaviour that I could choose to practice (because by now you all know that behaviour is a choice!) and so I continue to work on it. In the meantime I will continue to be a source of much mirth to all my friends and my husband as, interestingly, they are almost all Type As.

And to inspire me to change my unhelpful behaviours, if anyone has any wonderful wool-spiration or craft rooms-to-die-for, please comment and show me a photo or a link below!!

Interested in finding out what personality type you are? click here for a quiz

If you want to know more about different personality theories check out:

The Personality Project (http://www.personality-project.org/index.html

Simply Psychology (http://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-theories.html)

Group work: Or ‘How to Knit a Dress’

‘It takes a village to raise a child’
Or apparently, to knit a dress for one.

For almost all of us working in a group is a part of every day life. Whether it be in sport, at work or in our leisure time. In my work I often do group sessions as well as individual therapy, and the two are completely different tasks. In trying to achieve an outcome as part of a group we are often more exhausted than if we had done it ourselves (in fact, a lot of the time we will do things ourselves just because of this!). But is there value in group work?

I would like to think so. When we work as a group we open ourselves to new viewpoints; we access new knowledge that can give us an advantage or lead to innovation and we can achieve more in the long run.
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Caroline, collaborator and knitter-extraordinaire-in-the-making

My most exciting piece of teamwork recently was a knitting project. Caroline is part of our informal knitting group but is a new knitter and as is often the case, can lack the confidence to throw herself into new challenges. She is incredibly committed to only ever knitting in the round- but has produced some incredible hats!

I tend to try a new knitting technique with each new project. This can often lead to disasters and abandoned projects, but it keeps me out of trouble!
So together we agreed to knit a dress for Rose (daughter to a mutual friend in the UK, Tori). The idea was that Caroline would do the bottom bit because it was all knit in the round, and I would do the top bits. In the end I also got to pass on the joining and sewing in the ends, which was perfect as it’s my least favourite part of knitting.

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The pattern we followed was taken from Fawn Pea over at blogspot (www.fpea.blogspot.com.au) and was her ‘Apiary Jumper’. The wool I used was a variegated yarn in 8 ply (sadly I have forgotten the brand, it was bought from Baa Baa Wool in Warragul, Victoria). It was super simple to knit and didn’t require much finishing. I think everyone will agree she looks adorable in the dress!

But what did I learn from this experience and how does it relate to what we already know about group work?

Firstly, yes, I could have done this dress myself, but it was so much more fun doing a group project! And Caroline even had a go at a new decrease so it pushed her out of her comfort zone.

Secondly, I do work wonderfully well to deadlines. I finished the straps in a shop just before seeing Tori for lunch. Literally 10 minutes to spare. Caroline did the finishing in the pub while we ate lunch! (Thank goodness she always carries a tapestry needle with her.)

And finally, I learned that, even when you think your group is small, you often have to draw on outside resources to get a project completed. It turns out this project needed not only me and Caroline but also three friends just to unravel my very messy wool (I’d blame the kittens but it’s not all their fault), Tori’s mum to sew the buttons on and our team of support knitters (especially Karen) to help us decode the unfamiliar bits of the pattern!

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Steve, PK and Polly (not pictured) all chipped in to untangle the wool! Thanks 🙂

I want to leave you with a bit on what we do know about group work:

In this project one very important idea was the concept of team cognition is important; this includes not only what the group knows, but also the idea that everyone in the group knows what the others know (i.e. they don’t assume people have knowledge when they don’t), and how they share what they do know. During the knitting stage Caroline, Karen and I communicated regularly to help each other with fixing mistakes we made (dropped stitches etc), as well as reading the pattern. Having this network is so helpful in any project or skill.

Other important factors in effective teams identified in the literature are autonomy, participation, cohesiveness/cooperation, increased diversity and shared norms (standards shared by group members). Interestingly rewards and presence of group conflict often do not lead to reduced group effectiveness. In this project we worked wonderfully as a team and the reward was seeing Rose in her dress. (If you want more information on the above feel free to do further reading, maybe start at DeChurch & Mesmer-Magnus, 2010, or Cohen & Bailey, 1997 for a meta-analysis and further detail.)

And don’t forget to tune in next week to find out just why my wool is such a mess.
(hint: this isn’t the only reason…)
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Gratitude

This post has been a while in the coming, which will be evident if you know anything about Australian music. But I wrote this plane on the way to London for Christmas when I had a chance to actually sit down and do something for myself and now that I am back from holiday it was time to get blogging!

This is a post about gratitude. There is no doubt that gratitude is one of those ‘buzz’ concepts that is everywhere. Lots of shops sell gratitude journals and there are now a huge range of courses on gratitude. But what is it?

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The obvious answer is that it is the act of being grateful for the things that are in your life. The ‘why does it work’ is slightly more complex. No one quite understands yet what predisposes people to being positive or negative thinkers (or whether it is nurture or nature) but the implications for happiness are vast (think back to my first post on CBT for an explanation as to for the reason why).

The most interesting thing about this is that it is relatively simple to retrain your brain to think more positively. One study showed that simply thinking about something for which you are grateful for 20 minutes (this was repeated weekly for three weeks in the study) led to profound neurological changes in the medial prefrontal cortex months after the intervention (see Kini et al., 2016 for details).

I work with my clients on this consistently; and have taken to starting every session by asking my clients to ‘name three good things that have happened this week’. The hope is that they will then find it easier to identify the positives in their life once they leave the room.

Recently I was in Sydney for the most amazing experience. My friend, Molly, invited me up to Sydney to see the Crowded House concert. This was a reunion show following their farewell show in the same place 20 years earlier. The position was on the steps of the Opera House, which was amazing!   

We got to watch the sunset over the harbour and then to see one of the most iconic Australian bands play an incredible set. The band are fantastic showmen and the gig was relatively small and intimate. In addition to this Molly’s uncle is actually in the band so we got to go backstage after and I got this signed shirt for my dad (who is a huge fan!).

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Needless to say I am grateful for the experience, for having friends who invite me to these things and for having the means to be able to fly up to Sydney to go to the show. It was an incredible experience that will not be forgotten in a hurry.

But it is important to focus on the small things that give you pleasure as well.

While I was in Sydney I picked up these adorable Gratitude cards from Kikki K which I have been using (almost) every day. They encourage you to be grateful for tiny things (one of my favourites was ‘what texture are you grateful for?’ – I was wearing a new hoodie at the time and that warm fuzzy new hoodie feeling came straight to mind!) and to practice retraining your brain to be more positive. 

So take away lesson for today is: practice gratitude, think about what you have that you are grateful for, not what you don’t have. It can be an amazing experience or a tiny sensation. But practice daily positivity. While writing this blog post the following quote captured my attention:

‘what if you woke up tomorrow with only what you were grateful for today?’

Guest Blog: Self-compassion

I have recently come to realise that I don’t treat myself as gently as I do others. And I wonder whether this is a common theme in our lives. Why do we expect so much of ourselves and often much more than we do of others? Is it some subconscious superiority complex? Do we overestimate our own abilities? Or, is it that we simply don’t feel like we have another option?

I began evaluating this when I came to the realisation that my inner monologue was a lot harsher than anything I would ever say to anybody else. Part of me was willing to brush over it – I mean a bit of tough love never hurt anybody right? The other part was intrigued. After some introspection I have a theory (for myself at least).

When you give advice to someone else, they weight it up with their own ideals and eventually make some sort of a decision as to how they are going to act, think, feel etc. Sometimes there is opposing advice from other people, sometimes there isn’t, but at the end of the day you are put in a position where you have to recognise that the decision is theirs and you can’t necessarily know or understand all reasoning behind it.

On the other hand, most of us have a fairly intimate knowledge of our own thoughts and experiences. So when it comes to giving ourselves guidance, we are less accepting of our own apprehensions and concerns. And with this comes the sting of words we would never say to anyone else, a sting that becomes a normality after long enough.

From my own experience this reaction is most often due to a lack of patience. I find that if put in an emotionally taxing scenario that I know other people have also gone through, or which I deem to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I end up telling myself that it is unreasonable for me to take time to process or resolve the issue, or at the very least to be upset. ‘Just get over it’ has become a bit of a mantra, one that I think I need to change.

So how do we begin to treat ourselves more gently? Well that’s something I plan on working on over the next few months. I think that it will be a bit of trial and error, because it’s generally pretty ingrained to expect a lot of yourself, but hopefully this is another instance where practise makes perfect. I’m going to start by trying to recognise each time I expect more than is fair, and then try to be objective, as if I was giving advice to someone else. After all, I think we need to sometimes remember that we should treat ourselves with the same patience, acceptance and respect with which we aim to treat others.

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If you’re looking for some support with self-compassion, try Dr Lydia Brown, a leader in mindfulness-based self-compassion in Melbourne: http://www.lydiabrown.com.au/

When things fall apart…

I am sure it has not escaped anyone’s attention that yesterday was Election Day in the USA. As the world watched on America voted for change (I am being diplomatic). I was just one of the millions of people around the world who watched the results closely and experienced the range of emotions that such an event precipitated.

It was a great chance to practice all the skills I teach my clients. Those of noticing emotional responses without engaging with them; those of distraction; those of acceptance.

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I did this by throwing myself into a project and focusing mindfully on the task. Paying attention to my own behaviours, rather than getting frustrated by other peoples’. I am often reminding clients that they cannot control other people, they can only control their own thoughts and behaviours (I remind them that the first ‘automatic thought’ is often not helpful but what they do with this is their choice). It is important that we are not complacent and accepting of everything, there is a need to fight for and live within our values. But there is also a need for acceptance at times, of letting go of the unhelpful thoughts and behaviours and moving beyond the unpleasant emotions.

 

I have become interested in a branch of psychology called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and will be undertaking training in this early next year. It is my understanding that this focuses on the above. Identifying your values, observing your emotions without too much ‘holding on’ and accepting unpleasant feelings rather than seeking perfect happiness.

So yesterday I got to live my own advice. I threw myself into making a party dress. I am calling it my ‘Trump-may-be-POTUS-but-I-have-a-pretty-dress’ dress. I used it as a distraction away from both medias (press and social) so that I did not become emotionally wrapped up in circumstances I could not control.

I used a Simplicity Pattern and a 100% cotton fabric. Magpie helped me with the cutting.

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Because it was a quick project that I needed to complete in a day (I have a horrible habit of not completing things if they are left overnight), I set up the electric sewing machine on top of the old Singer. Sometimes shortcuts are fine!

The kids watched me from the window as I worked!! I guess it’s been a bit long since i did any sewing as they had no idea what I was doing.

 

Now, I have had clients ask me in the past if distraction is acceptable. ‘Is it not just ignoring the bad stuff?’ they want to know. The answer to that is that it is often an important step as it helps us to distance ourselves from the immediate emotion. When emotions are big, it is hard to challenge the thoughts that come with them. However, emotions change over time so taking some time out and giving yourself space helps the emotion to become manageable before you do the cognitive work. And it can be productive too!

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I just want to leave you with a little quote that I have always loved. It is a prayer, and although I am not particularly religious, the message is a poignant one. Feel free to change the word God or remove it altogether, I hope it is helpful to you!

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A productive day

I love getting a ‘free’ day off. On Tuesday it was the Melbourne Cup public holiday. I know there are controversies around horse racing and I don’t want to use this space to discuss them. So I am going to share with you how I spent my day!

This probably falls outside the realms of ‘craft’ (and I’m not sure there was any mindfulness involved) but Stuart and I spent the day gardening. We ripped out a very overgrown hedge/creeper thing that had overtaken most of the front fence, and was slowly working its way around the tree, then planted Jasmine instead.

We also planted some Camellia out the back and painted the wall in order to make the outside space more of an ‘entertaining’ area and less of a dark, cluttered mess. It still needs a table, but once the Camellias are flowering it should look nice and colourful!

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After doing this on Tuesday, we then spent Wednesday night playing with the cats out in the front garden. It was enough to kick start a change in our routine (although I’m sure the longer nights help!). This reminded me of a basic tenet in solution focused psychology:

Small changes lead to bigger changes

This is such a simplistic quote that I actually went searching for something more meaningful, but it sums up so much. The small change of removing something we didn’t want and putting in something we did, has caused us to want to spend more time in the space. This led to us soaking up the day’s last rays rather than our usual routine of ‘TV on, mindless watching’. We felt better, we connected, and the kittens loved it!

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I think that surrounding ourselves by beauty is great, but taking pride in our surroundings is probably greater.

It’s time to communicate, effectively.

I do a lot of work with adolescent clients on how to communicate effectively and recently I had to draw on this for myself. Believe it or not, this is another story about bookshelves, but without the crafting!

In case you missed it, I have been waiting on bookshelves to be installed since January. And it has still not happened.

I have tried the patient thing, I have tried the humour thing, I have even tried the getting-someone-else-to-also-put-pressure-on thing. And yet I am still waiting on bookshelves. Now the problem with all of these things is that underlying all of my behaviours is the thought that ‘he must be really busy’. This goes back to a little bit of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy as described here. In reality the diagram is a little bit more complicated than shown previously…

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This figure is taken from Dummet (2010) in the Advances in Psychiatric Treatment Journal and is a nice, clear way of seeing how our thoughts are triggered by early experiences, conditional assumptions and core beliefs. Now, I’m not going to give you a free psychoanalysis of my own core beliefs or assumptions. But I did come to the realisation after 8 months that my thought ‘he must be really busy’ comes with an underlying conditional assumption that ‘his busy is more important than my busy’. I too am busy, but if I failed to deliver a report after 8 months, the client would (rightly) walk away. Additionally, I have a (reasonable) expectation that if someone agrees to do something they will follow through.

This led me to think about how I teach communication styles to adolescents.

There are three communication styles (I tend to teach ‘Passive Aggressive’ communication as a type of ‘Aggressive’ communication):

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Back to my assumption that ‘his busy is more important than my busy’. This clearly fits right in to a passive communication and thinking style. And it wasn’t getting my anywhere. Because passive communication doesn’t tend to get you anywhere (incidentally, nor does aggressive communication, as people tend to put walls up).

Once I had realised this, I was able to challenge my thinking. Are his needs more important than mine? If he is too busy to do this, why hasn’t he told me he can’t? Is it reasonable to expect this to be done?

Once I had challenged my thinking it was time to change the behaviour! So I sent an assertive email stating what my needs and expectations are and that if these could not be met I would need to find someone else who could meet them. It was obviously important to include assertive messages, not aggressive ones. My message was short, to the point and used the following guidelines:

  • Try using a no-blame approach. It is important not to start out by flinging accusations or opening with grievances. Allow yourself to feel anger at the situation but don’t expect the other person to carry this for you.
  • Make clear, assertive requests. It is important you let the person know exactly what it is you expect or want. Don’t hide this in ‘aggressive’ language (e.g. ‘if it’s not too hard for you…’ or ‘It’s obviously too much trouble, but….’)
  • Include a ‘why’ or a ‘because’. I can remember a study from my undergraduate days that showed that people are more likely to comply if you include the word ‘because’ in your request. This worked even when you did not include an actual reason (i.e. ‘can I please use the copier first because I need to make some copies’ was just as effective as ‘can I please use the copier first because I am in a rush’).
  • Validate the other person’s feelings and efforts. Make sure you acknowledge that their needs are as important as yours, tell them you appreciate the effort.
  • Be willing to negotiate. If the person cannot meet your expectations, be willing to negotiate with them. If needed you can always find another person to do it, but they are more likely to be helpful in the future if you do this in a respectful way.

These tips worked for me! And I have an installation date for the bookcases one week!

 

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Spending time in my comfort zone

As a psychologist I am constantly working with my clients on the idea of ‘Distress Tolerance’. This is important in our lives as we do not want to be too tolerant to unpleasant sensations or emotions as we won’t then be motivated to change them; nor do we want to avoid distress as then we will withdraw from any negative experiences (which can lead to depression, substance misuse and OCD behaviours).

This is also a concept with which I am engaged during my yoga practice. It is said that the yoga mat is a reflection of your life and I think this is where they can be evidenced best. If you can remain in a pose that is not comfortable (but is not painful) and notice how the sensation changes over time, you can apply this to life too. But you must be aware of your limitations as well and not push yourself until you do damage.

Mindfully paying attention to the sensation, without judgement or labels, allows you to notice more and tolerate more both in yoga and in life.

With all of that being said, sometimes we just have to know when to stay put and not push ourselves.


I like using Maslow’s Hierarchy to explain this to clients. Maslow posited that we must meet the basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid before trying to engage in tasks further up the pyramid.

This week I have been working right at the base. I have been ill and have needed a lot of rest. Thursday I put myself first and left work, needing to reschedule my clients (which is a huge deal to me) so that I could rest and feel better. And this got me thinking about comfort.

 When I went home I went immediately to comforts and rest. I binge watched my favourite guilty pleasure TV show (One Tree Hill), found a bar of Green & Blacks chocolate in the back of the pantry and pulled out my knitting. It was bliss! It also helped me to recover from my illness and not to prolong it.

Chilling with the kids on the sofa.

When we are ill this is an easy thing to do. We know that rest will do us good. But are we as good at doing this at times when the stress is emotional or mental rather than physical? Do you put yourself first and focus on building from the base upwards?

While it isn’t always best to slow down and rest, I think we need to recognise in ourselves what we need in any given moment. Is it time to push our boundaries and pursue new or creative ideas? Or is it time for old favourites and woolly pijamas?

We need both in our lives. And part of living mindfully is accepting our needs without judgement and meeting these in a healthy way.

Pedicures are a part of my looking-after-myself routine and so I went for one as soon as I could leave the couch! Bliss.