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Living with uncertainty!

16th January 2019

Wow! We are living through times like no other at the moment, and as a nation we are struggling with collective anxiety, but why is it so unsettling?!

Well, as human beings we have a very basic need to feel safe, secure and in control. At the moment, the uncertainty and “not-knowingness” of the immediate and long term future is causing all those things to wobble a bit.

Whatever decisions are made on our behalf will affect us all – indeed are already; jobs, industry, financial and housing markets all “on hold” waiting to see what happens next – we are holding our national breath.

This anxiety coupled with the fact that the people we chose (and trust?) to make those decisions, seem to be just as insecure and out of control, is very unnerving (and frustrating)- we feel vulnerable, so we ready ourselves for fight or flight ...... but this poised waiting on the edge is exhausting!

So how can we help ourselves live through this or indeed any other period of uncertainty and not-knowing? Well the serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr sums it up nicely, regardless of belief or faith.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”

Whenever we feel we have no control – look for the choices. Sometimes you are unable to change what is happening, but somewhere there is always a choice which is within your power to make. The ability to find it, take control and make an active decision will empower you and enable you to control the impact the “uncontrollable” situation is having on you.

And of course, take solace in the fact that you are not alone! For better or worse, we really are all in it together!

(I have today broken the two golden rules – never discuss religion or politics! Whoops! This is not intended to be a commentary on either, or a statement of my position; it is merely an observation and a wish to offer something constructive! Thank you)

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Happy New Year!

4th January 2019

So It’s January! And social media will be full of “New Year, New You” posts. Well I don’t like being predictable, so instead I thought I would talk a bit more about that buzz phrase SELF CARE. It’s everywhere at the moment - we are all being told we should do more of it (and those of you who know me know what I feel about “should”) but many of us don’t know how to put it our lives.

So what is it?

How do you take care of your physical, emotional and mental health? Many of us can answer the first one (exercise, eating well etc) but we struggle more with the other two. Self care essentially is doing the things that recharge us. The trouble comes with a) identifying what those things are and b) fitting them in to our lives

What can I do?

It HAS to be individual to you, doing something because you think you should is never going to work. Ask yourself the following; When do you feel at your most relaxed? energised? excited? What do you like doing on those rare occasions when you get free time? What do you do occasionally that feels good but sometimes feels self indulgent? Which brings me onto my next point:

The enemy of self care is guilt!

We all too often feel guilty about anything that we do for ourselves because we are programmed not to be “selfish” and we feel we "should" (ugh!) put others before ourselves.

But to revisit the previous analogy; we eat regular meals to replace the energy we use - we also need to recharge our emotional and mental “batteries” so that we have the power to draw on when we need it.

A word of caution.....

Self Care is at one end of a spectrum, the other end of which is Self Harm. Whatever you use to recharge and feel good is extremely important but only whilst it is at the right end of the spectrum. Whether it is exercise, sleep, a glass or two of wine, escapism - these things could all be harmful if taken to extremes; the key is BALANCE so that the scales don’t tip the other way.

So if your resolution this year is better self care - identify what you need, banish the guilt, recognise the value of fitting it into your life, and keep it in balance!

(if you find something is blocking you from this, or you need help with your other resolutions - please get in touch!)

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Do what you are doing

10th December 2018

Christmas - a time of juggling more balls than ever!!! In addition to the usual family / work knife-edge balance that we all struggle to attain, there are extra challenges. For me it’s things like finding gifts, planning food, attending plays and performances, finding costumes, social engagements, booking babysitters….it’s manic.

We put great value on being able to multitask, but here’s something to bear in mind (pun intended!)…. Every time we switch task our brains use energy to flip from one thing to another (think changing train track). The more we do this, the more energy we use. And when we think we are doing several things at once, we aren’t - what we are doing is rapidly, and repeatedly swapping tracks. Result: massively depleted energy reserves.

The answer: Do what you are doing! Conserve your energy. Engage in one task at a time, and do it fully. You will get things done faster, more efficiently and feel more rewarded by it. Everytime you feel everything getting on top of you hit PAUSE, take a breath and choose the thing you are going to focus on next.

The nitty-gritties of how to help yourself with this are down to individual preference - write lists, diary your time into chunks, put all your tasks on paper in a jar and pull one out at a time. Find the one that suits you and make it work for you.

As I mentioned at the start - I too get overwhelmed at this time of year, but to show that sometimes I do practice what I preach; this blog has been written whilst at a business group, which I booked myself on specifically to enable me to “do what am doing” and focus on my business whilst removing the distractions of Christmas, housework, etc. It is a relief to focus for a morning, get all the things I have been “meaning to do” done, and then I can skip out the door into the Christmas chaos once more, with more energy and space in my brain!

I wish you all health and happiness for the festive season xx

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I cannot know you until I know your no.

19th October 2018

Huh? I hear you say. Took me a while the first time I heard it too, but the more I rolled it round in my brain the more I liked it. It is about healthy relationships, it is about boundaries, it is about self respect and self worth, it is about communication and it is about intimacy!

I used to be afraid of saying no; to friends, partners, bosses, people involved in organisations I was a part of - and for lots of reasons; what would people think of me? I must put others needs first, I should / ought to say yes. This resulted in me feeling burnt out, spread too thin, I ended up doing things I didn’t want to, didn’t enjoy and felt like things were piling up on top of me. I also began to resent the fact that people would just assume “don’t worry, Sharon will do it!” Argh!!! In hindsight you can’t blame them really; I always said yes!

After hearing this in a presentation by Clayton Barbeau I got brave enough to try saying no sometimes. The world didn’t fall apart, my friends didn’t disown me, my partner didn’t leave, and I didn’t lose my job. This is what I found:

  1. I was no longer doing things I didn’t want to do
  2. I had way more energy to spend on the things I DID want to say yes to!
  3. People started treating me with more respect (and less like a doormat)
  4. I started treating me with more respect – and valued myself and my time.
  5. It felt nice to OFFER my time and energy to others, without feeling like they were taking it from me
  6. Once people knew I didn’t say yes to everything, they really valued it when I did say yes.
  7. Those closest to me understood more about me, about what was important to me and where my boundaries were.
  8. I was healthier, my relationships were healthier.

There was a period of adjustment, people were surprised and taken aback sometimes – because they expected me to say yes, but then they simply shrugged and asked someone else! There was one individual who could not handle the fact that I said no sometimes, but that opened my eyes to the fact that the relationship was not a healthy one – that person was not prepared to accept me or respect me for who I was, as I no longer fitted with their agenda. What a relief to walk away from that “friendship” having seen it for what it was!

So, look at what is important to you. Say yes often and enthusiastically, but have courage and say no sometimes too!

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Suicide Prevention Day

10th September 2018

Today is Suicide Prevention Day, and it is a tough old subject to talk about because it involves such strong beliefs and strong emotions for people. On average 18 people a day in the UK and ROI take their own life (samaritans.org) and then there are the survivors of suicide attempts, and those who haven’t attempted suicide but are thinking about it, and all the friends and relatives of those people. That is a LOT of people whose lives are affected.

Those of you who have read other blogs of mine, know I am passionate about breaking taboos. And this is a biggie still. There are so many judgements, preconceptions and misunderstandings about suicide and those who think about it or attempt it which need to be challenged. And, at the risk of repeating myself the way to break these taboos is to talk, talk, talk.

Mind are a fantastic charity and have excellent information and resources for anyone who is affected by suicide or suicidal thoughts, or indeed for anyone who simply wants to learn more about it and chip away at those taboos. www.mind.org.uk

Lastly and VERY importantly. If you suspect someone you know is thinking about suicide, please talk to them about it (arm yourselves with the info above if necessary). There is a fear that by talking about it you might somehow encourage them to act on it, but in fact the opposite is true. Enabling someone to talk about their deepest feelings openly without being judged can be a really valuable first step on the road back.

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September, a time for new beginnings

7th September 2018

Apologies for the radio silence, I am back! And that got me thinking. Whilst New Year is traditionally a time for new beginnings, I reckon September gives it a run for its money. There are many reasons for this:

  1. Our school system teaches us from a very early age that there is a big “start” in September. It’s a time for new classes, new teachers, new challenges, new shoes, new clothes, new friends and new stationary!!! And this can be true from the age of 3 or 4 to finishing uni in your 20s!
  2. Traditionally, the farming year (something very close to my heart!) begins with the planting of next year’s crops in September, following the culmination of harvest. The very definition of new starts!
  3. Many people wind down or take time away in the summer months whilst the weather is good (or because of the break in school) and come back to work more fully in September.
  4. There is the change in the seasons, and that very ingrained feeling of preparing for winter and all the challenges that may bring.

All these things leave us with mixed emotions similar to New Year. There is the need to say goodbye to the summer and what it brought us before turning towards autumn and winter and what is to come. For some this is really positive and motivating, but for others it can be really disheartening and full of anxiety. Whilst these emotions may be about returning to work, or sending the kids back to school, it is very possible that there is also a layer to these emotions that comes directly from what September meant to us when we were small. It can help to look at this and work out which emotions belong to now, and which to back then, to make sense of them and turn September into what you want it to be.

I like to see September as a second chance at a new beginning. What were your goals at New Year? Have you achieved them? If so, how can you celebrate that or expand on them? If not, what has held you back or got in the way? What can you do to get back on track / change direction?

.....and if you would like help with this, you know where I am!.....

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FAQ#8 Am I broken?

4th June 2018

No!!!! (shortest post ever!)

But seriously, This is not intending to dismiss anyone’s experience. Some people are in a place where they have been badly damaged or are seriously ill and it can be a very bleak and scary experience. They may have felt overwhelming, frightening thoughts and emotions that they seem unable to handle, and unable to see a way out of.

At this point, it can understandably result in feeling broken. However I would never use that word because it implies a finality, being “unmendable” and a lack of hope - and there is always hope! The solution to the issue may well be found through therapy, sometimes it may not be that the problem goes away, but that you live with it in a very different way, sometimes it may require referral or signposting to other services, but there is always something that can be done.

So in summary; you aren’t broken, you are human - but being human can sometimes be really really hard.

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FAQ#7 There’s got to be so many people who are worse off than me. Why can’t I cope?

25th May 2018

A lot of people who sit opposite me berate themselves with “why I am finding this so hard, I know someone who...(tells story of something awful that has happened to someone else)” or “I don’t know why I can’t pull myself together, you read horrible stories on the news of people who...(tells story of something awful that has happened to someone else)” And very often they go on to give that judgement to me: You must have clients who are much worse off than me, I bet you wonder why I am wasting your time….”

There are a couple of things that I notice when people say this:

Firstly it suggests there is a secret list of problems somewhere ranked from easiest to hardest to deal with! How can you rank divorce / loss of a family member / crippling anxiety / caring for a disabled relative etc in relation to one another? They are all very unique situations and the person going through it is unique too. Everyone has varying levels of resilience and coping mechanisms that allow them to deal with a lot, but sometimes these are not enough - and that is when they seek my help.

Which brings me to my next observation: Beliefs around coping. We all have beliefs that will have been shaped by family members, society, and our previous life experience about what it means to cope. What we “should” be able to handle or how we “should” respond to certain situations. When our actual response doesn’t match these, it can feel like somehow we are getting it wrong. If we then tell ourselves off for this, we end up feeling worse!

Lastly it tells me something about how that person values themselves. it implies that they do not see their experience as as important or valid as someone else's. Again this can go back to early messages about ourselves that we have absorbed. “Don’t bother people” “Don’t complain” “no-one wants to hear that”

So what I tend to say in response is: If you are struggling...you are struggling! That’s it! I do not compare your struggles to those of others, I see YOUR struggle in YOUR context, it is as valid and as valuable as anyone else’s and that’s our starting point to help you get what you need.

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World maternal mental health day

2nd May 2018

Today is world maternal mental health day. There is soooooo much I could say on this topic as a therapist. But instead, today I am posting as a mother. To any mum who is struggling I want you to know:

  1. It is tough, but so are you (even if you don’t feel it right this moment).
  2. You are doing a much better job than you think you are, and the fact you worry about whether that is true shows how much you care.
  3. You are NOT alone. It may feel like everyone else seems to have motherhood sorted but somehow you can’t seem to get it, but I promise you – there are mums out there who feel just the same as you and have exactly the same struggles. Find your tribe!
  4. It is REALLY ok to talk about it or ask for help (family / friends / health visitor / GP / counsellor) They will get it, they will want to help you not judge you, and it does not mean you are not doing a good enough job!

Please don’t struggle on your own.

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Stress Awareness month

20th April 2018

April is Stress Awareness month and that got me thinking; When does stress become something else? In other words;

HOW DO I KNOW WHEN I NEED HELP?

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is your stress disrupting your sleep? (struggling to get to sleep, waking early and being unable to return to sleep, recurrent or exhausting vivid dreams)
  2. Are you relying on alcohol or food to control your mood?
  3. Do you find yourself unreasonably short tempered and snappy with those closest to you?
  4. Are you experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, stomach or digestion issues?
  5. Are you struggling to maintain focus on tasks that need doing because you are so preoccupied?
  6. Are you getting less enjoyment from things that you used to love doing?
  7. Have your usual standards of self care slipped regarding eating well, tidiness, hygiene etc?

Stress is not necessarily a bad thing - it can motivate and drive us, it can help us step out of our comfort zone and achieve things we didn’t know we could. However when it is impacting our physical and mental health it maybe something that needs talking about, and if you answered yes to one or more of the questions above, then it may be something you want to look at further.

Often stress is a part of our life because of the roles we fill - at work, or as a parent for example, and because we cannot remove the source of the stress it can feel there is nothing you can do about it. However, there IS always something that can be done. Sometimes just understanding your triggers and providing some self care can be enough.

If you would like to know more, please contact me!

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FAQ#6 What I am struggling with happened a long time ago. I can’t change what happened so how can therapy help me?

11th April 2018

We are all products of our past. It is what makes us and shapes us – for better or for worse!

As we move through life we pick up messages about ourselves and our environment, we develop coping strategies, and we do what we need to in order to survive when things are tough.

But what has happened to you does not need to define you (or your future). It is impossible to turn the clock back or change what you have been through, but what counselling WILL do is give you a safe space to look back and explore the impact of past events on you, and how they are continuing to effect you.

Counselling then empowers you to choose. How do you want the past to inform and feature in your future? Together we look at what you need in order for that to happen and work on getting you to a place where you are much more comfortable with the part the past plays in your life.

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FAQ#5 Is there any mind-reading / voodoo / scary stuff involved?

28th March 2018

Let me reassure you about what happens in my therapy room!

There is always a fear of the unknown and because therapy isn’t widely talked about, people can understandably be nervous about the process. And I have to say, it’s not helped by some of the portrayals in the media!

The vast majority of my work is listening! You tell me why you are coming to see me and I listen, and I mean REALLY listen. Not just to the words, but the emotions behind the words. As you talk I try to understand what it is really like to be you. I may notice patterns or themes in what you tell me, and I offer these back to you. Between us we explore your issues, and shed light on areas that may have been hard for you to see.

Occasionally we may work in a creative way, in order to look at things from a slightly different angle. This engages our brains and our emotions in a different way and can often provide amazing insights and alternative perspectives which can be very enlightening. This may be writing something down, drawing something, or using some of the objects in my room BUT (and this is the really important bit) I would only ever do this if it felt appropriate to our work and I would never force anyone to do anything they were uncomfortable with. Sometimes clients hesitate because they are afraid of being analysed, but there are no “right” or “wrong” answers, and there are no trick questions, it is ALWAYS a collaborative exercise which we do and look at together.

All therapists are unique, so again this is about MY way of working, and others may do it slightly differently. But all the therapists I know would be only too happy to describe their way of working, so if you or someone you know is contemplating therapy, but nervous about what it involves. Please ask!

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International Women’s Day

8th March 2018

Today is to International Women’s Day! As women we are fed a lot of “shoulds” (sometimes disguised as “oughts” and “musts”) about what it is to be a woman by friends, family members, society, religion, and the workplace – amongst other sources. We internalise them and without thinking make them the rules for living our lives.

Adhering to some of these “shoulds” can tie in nicely with our personal morals ethics and beliefs, however adhering to others may repress and squash our true selves or cause us inner conflict.

My call for international women’s day is that every woman should be free to pay attention to their “shoulds”, evaluate them, challenge them, and chose whether to keep or dismiss them!

My top tip for evaluating “shoulds” is; re-word the sentence in your head! If you are hearing “I SHOULD......” change it to “I WANT TO......” and see if it still applies? You then have the choice whether you are going to act upon it, or take a different approach.

Let me know some of your “shoulds” that you struggle with.....and we can challenge them together!

Disclaimer: I am aware that there are also a lot of “shoulds” around what it means to be a man too, and my advice is exactly the same. Listen to the inner voice, evaluate it and challenge it!

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FAQ#4 Why would I tell a complete stranger my deepest, darkest thoughts!?

2nd March 2018

Good point! It can feel weird telling a stranger things that you may have not told anyone else – but in some ways it is easier. I don’t know you, your life, your family or friends. You don’t have to impress me or pretend to be something you’re not; you can just be you. I don’t have any other information about you apart from what you tell me, which can be really freeing. You can tell me as much or as little as you like. Hopefully as the trust begins to grow, you will tell me more and more. That helps me to understand you better, and I can therefore help you more effectively, but the important thing is that you chose what you say, when you say it and the words are yours.

It can feel risky putting yourself out there in front of someone else like that. My role is not to judge or tell you what to do, but to help.

Everything you tell me is confidential so you can tell me whatever you like safe in the knowledge that I am not going to be talking about it to my family, friends, or people in the corner shop. (There are a few exceptions to this due to certain legal and ethical responsibilities I hold, but these are made clear the first time we meet)

Then of course there is the fact that I am a fully trained professional who deals with similar issues on a daily basis, and knows how to help you. I won’t give you platitudes or tell you to pull yourself together – and that can be the big difference between telling me and telling other people in your life.

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FAQ#3 How does Counselling work?

19th February 2018

The answer to this question is really simple and yet really complicated! It is simple because research has shown that the most accurate predictor of how successful therapy will be, is the quality of the relationship between the client and their therapist. It is complicated because every client is different and every therapist is different and will approach the cultivation of that relationship in a different way. There are various different schools of therapy (I will try and address this in a later FAQ) and even two therapists who trained on the same course will work very differently because of who they are as individuals.

As a consequence I can only speak for how I work, rather than all therapists. But my first goal is to get to a point where you and I can work together. For this to happen, I need to get to know you. I need you to trust me enough to tell me things that you may never have had the ability or opportunity to say before, and in return I will always try to be real and honest in my responses. I am a great believer in the fact that YOU are the expert on YOUR life, so I will not try to guess or interpret what you have been through, or to tell you what to do. Instead I want to work WITH you; a true team effort! You put in your experience, I put in my expertise and together we work on a solution to your issue. The analogy of a journey is a common one in therapy – but I will never try to push or lead you down a certain path, but to walk along with you, providing support, and helping you to move any obstacles blocking your way.

Sounds simple right?! If only! Building a safe relationship can be hindered or complicated by things we have experienced and developed throughout the relationships we have had with all the people who matter in our lives – be it family, friends, or partners. Therefore the time it takes to get to that therapeutic point can vary, but when we do, it can provide immense amounts of healing – which then filters out into those outside relationships for the future.

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FAQ #2 How many sessions will I need?

9th February 2018

Ah.... I get asked this a lot! And it’s almost impossible to answer! The first thing to say is; you can have as many sessions as you like - I will keep working with you for as long as you feel you need me. Sadly there is no prescription as to how many weeks that will take. Everyone is different; some find that once they have got everything off their chest, they feel a lot better, whereas others find that what they thought was a one-dimensional issue, is actually more complicated and needs more work than they had first anticipated. My approach is to ask when we first meet what you hope to achieve, and then approximately every six weeks we can review how you feel it is going, and of course you may stop at any time.

One of the reasons I am asked this question is because of the cost, which is perfectly understandable. Paying an extra £45 per week can seem like a big commitment, particularly when I cannot tell you how long for! If money IS tight, what may help is to work out how many sessions you can afford to commit to at the beginning (eg 6,12 etc) and then we can work with that time frame in mind.

There is probably a cynical perception that of course I want you to keep coming, because you are paying me! Yes counselling is my business but in all honestly, I would NEVER tell someone to keep coming if I didn’t think there was a therapeutic need. Firstly it is against my ethical beliefs (and the professional code of conduct I adhere to) but also, if someone is there when they don’t want to be – it quite simply won’t work!

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Conversations: Mental Health vs Dental Health

1st February 2018

Today is Time to Talk Day – set up by the charity www.time-to-change.org.uk whose mission is to get people talking about Mental Health and begin to chip away at the stigma surrounding it.

This is something I am REALLY passionate about. My analogy is that I would love to hear people talk about Mental Health the same way they talk about Dental Health! Dental Health conversations go a little like this:

  1. “My boss understands I’m going to be a bit late this morning because I have a Dentist’s appointment”.
  2. “I’ve been really struggling with toothache, I think I might need to go and see someone”
  3. “Can you recommend a good Dentist?” “Oh yes, mine’s great, been going there for years, let me give you the details!”
  4. “I made an appointment with my Dentist because things were getting bad”.
  5. “I have regular check- ups to ensure I stay on top of my Dental Health”.
  6. “I talk to my kids about the importance of Dental Health”.

Judgement free! No fear! Just Imagine how wonderful it would be if the same was true for THESE conversations:

  1. “My boss understands I’m going to be a bit late this morning because I have a counselling appointment”.
  2. “I’ve been really struggling with anxiety, I think I might need to go and see someone”
  3. “Can you recommend a good Therapist?” “Oh yes, mine’s great, been going there for years, let me give you the details!”
  4. “I made an appointment with my therapist because things were getting bad”
  5. “I have regular check-ups to ensure I stay on top of my Mental Health”
  6. “I talk to my kids about the importance of Mental Health”

You get the idea! Mental Health struggles are hard enough without having to worry about what people will say, whether your boss will find out, or keeping it a secret from friends. Please help start these conversations and banish the stigma! #timetotalk

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FAQ #1 Who can benefit from therapy?

26th January 2018

Well the glib answer is; ANYONE can benefit from therapy! But in all seriousness a lot of people think that you have to be suicidal or sectionable to have therapy (“oh I’m not that bad!”).

Now, absolutely I can and will help those who are really ill, or at a real crisis point in their lives, but they are not the only people who benefit from therapy. There are lots of things that can make day to day life unbearable: It might be feeling low, not being able to motivate yourself or enjoy things fully. It may be anxiety about a certain event or situation you find yourself in, or it may be problems in a relationship with someone in your life be it a parent, child, spouse, sibling or colleague.

Lots of people who sit opposite me say something along the lines of “I feel a bit of a fraud because there must be loads of people in worse situations that me” but my reply is always this; if there is something you are struggling with, which is preventing you from living your life the way you want to, then that is as valid as any other struggle - and I am here to help.

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