The Voice inside our Heads

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The Voice inside our Heads

Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be” – Eckhart Tolle

As I sit down to write this article I look out my window and watch the snow outside and wonder how it is impacting on peoples mental health.  I wonder about the different feelings people have towards the snow. Some love it, some feel anxious, some worry, some hate it, others feel frustrated at the limitations it puts on us.  Either way the snow seems to elicit an emotional response of some kind from everyone.  So what makes it a pleasant experience for one person and not for another?  Is it the snow or is it actually our thoughts around the snow?
And of course its our thoughts.  Yes the snow causes a little havoc but its our response to the havoc that creates the unpleasant feelings.  This follows through with everything in our lives.  Its never what is happening but our thoughts around what is happening that can either please or disturb us.  

So what can we can we do to make life easier come hail rain or snow?

Firstly, recognise that it is within our power to decide how we are going to react to something.  We are all in control of our thoughts although at times it does feel like they are controlling us.  Begin by observing your thoughts.  Observe how quickly negative thoughts grow and how we often indulge the negative thoughts more easily than we do the positive ones.  Thoughts will arise but it is within your power to make a decision not to indulge the negative ones.  Observe how the negative thoughts make you feel and decide ‘ I’m not going to think like that today’.  Find something positive to think about and make that your dominant thought. Take control of your thoughts as opposed to letting them control you and remember they are just thoughts not facts. 

We all have inner chatter going on all the time.  Will I do this or that?   I should have said this or that.  I should have done things differently.  Am I going to be able for this?  What if I say the wrong thing?  Should I wear this or that?   Should I stay or should I go?  The questions are constant and we are constantly trying to answer them.  But often our inner criticism in just as constant telling us what we should or shouldn’t be doing or saying.  Observe this internal critical voice.  Don’t let it be the boss of you.  You are not the voice or your thoughts.  You are the observer of this voice and the observer of your thoughts.  Knowing this allows you to take more control of what you are thinking and how you’re allowing your thoughts dictate to you.  

Take some time today to sit and be with yourself and your thoughts in silence. Instead of finding silence you’re going to listen to incessant internal dialogue.  Observe this, observe how your thoughts drag you into thinking about the future or the past and so often we lose the only moment we have which is the present moment.  Try today to spend some moments with yourself in the present.  Sit down, take a breath, focus on your breathing.  You might hear your internal chatter saying “why am I doing this, I’ve more important things to be doing, this is such a waste of time, what’s this all about anyway?”  The wonderful Michael Singer in his book “The Untethered Soul” refers to this voice in your head as your inner roommate.  
“You may have a clear intention to be quiet inside, but your roommate won’t co-operate and you don’t generally notice because you don’t step back from it.  You’re so close that you don’t realise that you’re actually hypnotised into listening to it.  If you haven’t reached this awareness yet, just start to watch.  Spend a day watching every single thing your roommate does.  See if you can notice whats its saying in every situation, every time you meet somebody, every time the phone rings, just try to watch.  You’ll be shocked by what you see,  It just jumps from one subject to the next”.

Now imagine if this roommate had a body of its own.  Imagine it as a person talking to you and that this person is saying everything that your inner voice would say and now spend a day with this person.  Every time you want to make a decision it questions you.  If this was your roommate you wouldn’t last a day living with them.  You’d have moved out or asked them to move.  But yet we allow this internal roommate to remain with us on a daily basis.  So how do we move out from our own internal roommate?

Try to spend some mindful moments in each day. When you’re eating focus on your food, focus on the sensation your food makes in your mouth.  Focus on the taste.  Spend some time thinking positive thoughts.  Think about what you have rather than what you don’t have.  Think about what your are grateful for.  Take time at the beginning and end of every day to feel grateful, for your warm bed, your friends, family, carers.  Feel grateful for your body, your ability to walk, to talk, to breathe easily.  Feel grateful for the small things for these are indeed the greatest gifts. 

I‘ll finish with an excerpt from a book by a renowned psychologist Steve Taylor called The Calm Center.  Taylor refers to the inner roommate as the voice inside your head and in this reflection he calmly suggests how we can begin to ignore it;

The Voice inside your head
One day you’ll grow fed up with the voice inside your head
with its constant murmurings of discontent
its fearmongering thoughts of the future
and its questioning of every choice you make

One day you’ll turn to it and calmly say, “I refuse to listen”
then stand back and look away
turning your attention to your surroundings
or to a quietness and spaciousness you can sense
inside you, just behind the voice.

The voice is so self-absorbed
that at first it won’t even notice its being ignored
and will carry on chattering away to itself.
You’ll still hear its complaints and criticisms
but they wont convince you anymore —
you’ll doubt them, laugh at them, reject them.

And gradually, without the fuel of your attention,
the voice will become more hesitant
will stumble and slow down, leaving space;
until eventually that self-assertive drawl that demanded to be heard
and seemed to submerge the rest of reality
will be no louder than a whisper, like a gentle breeze
that seems to be part of silence. 

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Christmas with Family, Frightful or Delightful?

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Christmas with Family, Frightful or Delightful?

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful......

While this song conjures up a magical Christmas image, for many the thought of Christmas is more frightful than delightful.   For most, family plays a pivotal role in our collective and individual lives.  The ideal family is usually a group of unconditionally loving supportive people but very few families are ‘ideal’.  Research shows that nine out of ten adults are virtually estranged from and don’t see their family all year but still get together on this one day and everyone is expected to get along. As we all know family members can push your buttons in ways no one else knows how so the following are three tips for dealing with your loved ones over Christmas without going crazy!!

1.        Try not to take things personally. Remember, it’s not about you!

If someone has said something hurtful to you it says so much more about them than it does about you.  If you can look at another persons’ behaviour towards you as a reflection of their relationship with themselves, rather than a statement about your value as a person.  Try not to take offence but rather listen to their words.  They are telling you how they see the world.  One can only see what already exists inside.  Try to let go of the need to defend or justify yourself but instead try to evaluate the insults as an insight into who these people are and what they are struggling with.  And remind yourself of the mantra;

“What people think of me is none of my business”

2.       Focus on your Familys good points

Get into the holiday spirit by making the decision that you are going to be as kind, compassionate, helpful and loving as possible this Christmas. If you want happiness over the holiday season, be the happy person.  Want fun? be fun.  Want cheer? be cheerful.  Set the tone and the example!  People learn so much more by observing others than by listening to them.  Everyone has at least one good point, even that sullen sister, stingy brother or grumpy dad.  Find the good traits in each of your family members and try to stay focused on these.  And remember the saying;

“Be kind to unkind people, because they need it the most”.

3.       And last but not least, be good to yourself and enjoy yourself

Christmas is a time for celebration.  It is a time for family getting together and exchanging gifts as a sign of their love for each other.  So make it your mission to enjoy it and don’t forget to treat yourself this Christmas.  Do something nice for you to nurture your inner self, whether that’s buying yourself a gift or taking some extra time with loved ones.  The more you look after yourself the more you will be able to enjoy time with others. So remind yourself each day to;

Do something today that your future self will thank you for”

Struggling with family or relationships this time of year? Contact Elaine in confidence on 087-1046880 or email ehanlonpsychotherapy@gmail.com

 

 

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Inside Looking Out - A teenagers journey from Panic to Peace

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Inside Looking Out - A teenagers journey from Panic to Peace

Chapter 1.

         Footsteps rustle, heart races, figures gather, hands sweating.  Grasping for air I look around.  No escape, no exit.  Sounds intensify.  Children’s laughter is now like a drill racing inside my head. The smell of freshly baked brownies now turns my stomach.  As I try to engage in conversation, the ability to focus loses all meaning.
        There is a stampede of elephants inside my brain, consuming every sense.  Frantically searching, for what i’m not sure.  I’ve lost all sense of reality.  With trembling limbs in a spinning world I run.Although now having raced through what feels like the length of the Sahara with an already deoxygenated body.  I must stay standing.  They can’t know.  I won’t let it show.  I hear my name, followed by a repeated question, how are you today´?  Great I respond.
        I am far away now back in the comfort of my car.  The black speckles cease, my heart now pumping blood back to my organs.  As my left hand finds my right, they hold each other rubbing my fingers as I breathe.  The fog has cleared, perception has returned.  I am safe for another few hours.

           In a world of presumptions and accusations, find what makes you happy and don’t let go.  It’s a virus I was told, inner ear problems they concluded.  After a year of bloods, doctors, two hospitals and many consultants, the building that was once full of snowball fights in Winter and walks with friends in Spring and the often hilarious student teacher relationship is now a diminished petrifying memory. Every morning, I open the car door moving against every natural instinct to get my bag of rocks that I heave over my left shoulder, rotating me slightly, forcing me to shut my safe place behind and continue on.  At the time I never knew two brown doors with a silver rectangle with the black paint ‘Pull’ engraved on it would mean so much.  My brain somehow sends a message to my arm to do as described on the entrance.  In my head I repeat, today will be better, followed by the classic saying, sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.  But somehow my instincts know this is not true.  
        Now feeling a sense of accomplishment  for getting this far i’m walking towards the classroom.  My eyes focused firmly on the ground and my hands welded to the shoulder pads holding my rocks inside.  My legs carry my body to the top left corner, where I now breathe and look around.  Being so early I see on average only three to five fellow school goers, who also see me back.  With my books organised subject by subject I sit at a desk in the top left corner and wait for my friends.  As weeks pass which feels like months, I fear my instincts were right.  It can get worse.  I no longer wait at my desk in the top left corner, but now for the high pitched frequency which when heard everyone reluctantly moves.  For now class is good, although awkward when my name is called and I am expected to respond. 
      Instincts continue to prove my head wrong after what at this stage must be a year, but sadly it’s only been two months, three weeks and twenty odd painful days.  No longer do I wait for anything but the end of the day, now I wait for the usual racing heart, sweaty hands which have gone dry and sore from the constant rubbing and incredible dizziness.  I think of what you're doing.  On a walk?  Asleep on your bed? Or galloping through a field? Now I can get through the next forty minutes until it begins again. Now walking is even a task in itself.  Moving sends the room into a continuous spin. How is this my life now?  Will it ever be the same? Eventually the problem is found.  Little did I know this was just the beginning of the tall mountain of anxiety.   

Chapter 2.
       Anxiety is like living with a voice you don’t understand.  It knows all your fears and uses them against you.  Soon it’s the loudest voice you hear, soon it’s the only voice you hear.
        Weeks I am locked in invisible chains.  Unable to enter the world as the repercussions are not worth chancing.  It is now I realise all the phrases I use inadequately, as I am at this moment at my wits end.  I have lost half of my safe haven. No longer will I feel the freedom of when we used to run on the beach, no longer will you be waiting for us behind the door.
         At this stage I am physically unable to enter the building where I once somewhat enjoyed an education and after a much wasted Summer, I make the move to a new building, a new start.  Both anxiousness and excitement battle in my head as I swing my books over both shoulders and willingly yet terrifyingly push the entrance.  
         A week has passed and I soon realise the stampede is still there.  Unable to explain why, I grow frustrated. The teachers are helpful, the students friendly but this feeling still torments me.  As soon as I wake I long for the evening, my hours of freedom when my concerns are not will I faint on the spot but instead are you tracking up or is that stride correct for the jump.
        The next week I am sick and rushed in an ambulance to a place that physically cures you but mentally plagues you.  I was kept here for a week.  I believe this is where my semi-insomnia began.  For hours I stared expressionless into a vacant void. On day four I grew impatient, defiant of how many times I have been poked and prodded.  An infection grew, (which I won’t lie I wasn’t entirely sad to see) in one of the many vines coming out of my arms.  They were removed and under no circumstances were they being put back in.  Although this is my experience I know I am selfish to think this way as many suffer much worse in these places.  Eventually I am home feeling defeated and conquered.  From this point on things get that bit harder again.  The progress I once made is a distant memory.  
          The last thing I want is to be the centre of a conversation. To observe from the outside is what I prefer although recently it doesn’t seem to be working out this way. A large brick house with a stone paved drive and flowers in an array of colours. A scent of pot pourri sweeps through my nose as I enter the tall dark brown oak doors.  I sink into an old green couch observing the small room.  Now she is looking for eye contact, so I focus.  This was not the normal chit chat you would have with your neighbour. This woman did not hold back on the tough questions.  For months I go to this large suburban house and i have grown accustomed to the smell of lavender in the room.
         Progression is slow and for every left foot I put forward, my right disagrees soon followed again by my influential left.  It is frustrating, not enjoying adventures, trips, simple everyday tasks.  It is at this moment I realise progress is not about enhancing what is right now, but advancing what is to be.  Will power and a mixture of motivation and stubbornness is needed and definitely tested throughout this journey.  
          Summer is approaching and I am certainly ready to feel less of an outcast who sits at home to do school work. Confidence grows as the show jumping season begins, as I am more than ready to put this whole experience behind me.  Naïve is what I was to think this was true.  It’s not all bad however.  The gymkhanas have begun and happily I only feel slight panic in the small crowds.  On the other hand once the shows start in, the larger crowds are somehow more intimidating. I am far from what I once was but not yet what I aim to be.  

Chapter 3.
           Disappointment creeps in as the season is not going completely as planned.  Four wheel drive along a dirt track in the middle of a field, we park alongside a similar box and jeep.  At this point I have three choices give in, give up, or give it all I’ve got.  In a wave that makes me feel as if I’m floating I somehow have entered and returned to the jeep looking back at a blur.  Now I can breathe as we tack up and wait.  The rubber in my left hand, silver steel beneath my left boot, with the suspension in my right leg I leave the ground and am safe.  We move through the crowds again, except now I can start to relax.  My heart still trying to break out of my chest starts to come back to reality.  In the warm up arena I am concentrated and only partially anxious about our surroundings.  Left hind, left front, hind right, front right.  As blades of grass fold beneath us, piercing the earth with your studs.  Contact is gathered as my leather glove slides down your rubber reins, gliding over each bump.  My left boot moves back behind your girth, pressing against your side.  We look at the first jump.  The crowd no longer matters, I am in a bubble free of all panic.  
           As per usual though, I always make a mistake. A wrong line, in too deep, chipping in a stride.  It is fair to say this is not the best season.  Week in week out improvement is limited.  If you’re ever at a loss, just remember why you first began.  
           Many places I go I want nothing more than to enjoy it, I want to say yes without playing twenty questions.  From little things such as going into town to bigger things like the Dublin Horse Show or music venues, it is a constant push and pushing myself to go.  Sometimes I fail but you have to learn to take the losses as well as the wins.  Wanting to shake off the panic but also fearing to let go is one of the most difficult things to do.  Outside I smile, jump, laugh and without a doubt this is authentic but in challenging times this is not what is reflecting on the inside.  Inside I may be riddled with the fear of an attack, inside I usually want to run away.
       

   It’s great to be surrounded by family and friends whether they are human or pets. Now I am starting to feel a turning point.  I see you need to talk even though this took me a while to figure out.  After experiencing new buildings, new methods, I have learned a new mind set.  The fear of feeling exposed, the thought of being vulnerable, letting people see you're struggling is nothing to fear.  Accepting help is not a sign of weakness but strength.  Anxiety is a feeling, a thought no different to any other.  The more it is talked about, the less we fuel our fears until, it is no longer capable of using our fears against us, it is no longer the only voice we hear. Controlling the stampede is becoming easier.  Enjoyment is returning to the simple things and I know and believe in time life does recover even stronger and more improved than before.
          Dreams and goals are important but it is more important to turn your dreams into goals.  You should not have to hide away and miss opportunities and experiences.  Take those steps no matter how small and just don’t give in.  I may have lost some battles but I cannot back down or cave in because I want to win the war. If you feel your goals are drifting, if you can no longer remember why you’re training, practicing, striving for your opportunity ask yourself…
          How bad do you crave it?
           How bad do you need it?
            Do you eat, sleep and dream it?
              Because if it is all you want, you have to give it all you’ve got. 

 

 


I find quotes inspiring and motivating. So if you are having a bad day look in the mirror and say these to yourself aloud;

I am far from what I once was,  but not yet what I am aiming to be

When I feel I’m at a loss,  I remember why I started.

Today I will do what I think I can't so tomorrow I will do what I know I can

If my dreams don’t scare me they're not big enough

It’s not whether I get knocked down, it's whether I get back up

 I acknowledge how far I have come, and have faith in how far I have to go
                                              

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The Necessity of Change - in seasons as in life

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The Necessity of Change - in seasons as in life

A walk in the mountains yesterday inspired this blog.  As I chatted with friends about changes in our lives we observed the changing landscape around us and acknowledged the parity between our surroundings and our conversation.  Change is just a necessary part of life.  It appears to happen so eloquently and seamlessly in nature yet in life change can be difficult, painful and challenging.  

This got me wondering what our resistance to change is about.  Is it that the place of change is unfamiliar territory? Is it sometimes easier to live with what we know even when what we know is causing us pain.  If you’re used to feeling that people hurt you and let you down, that you’re unattractive, that you’re not clever or that you’re always broke, then you know how to feel those things.  You know exactly what that feeling is like, and though it may not be a desirable feeling, it’s highly predictable. Letting go of what’s familiar to you is like transporting yourself to a new country where you don’t speak the language.

And sometimes, unbeknownst to us, we keep ourselves where we consciously don't want to be because subconsciously we know it so well, we know it's safe, we know the pain and we know how to manage it.  And stepping outside the walls of this safe place into the unknown can feel way too scary.  

So if change is so difficult at times how do we overcome our fears to take the first step and the answer is you don't.  You feel the fear and take one step at a time.  You don't need to wait for the fear to abate.  In the words of the wonderful Buddhist Pema Chodron “Usually we think that brave people have no fear, the truth is that they are intimate with fear”. 

I'll leave you with some more food for thought in two more of my favourite quotes around change;

‘Jump and the net will appear’   and

‘Sometimes you gotta leap, and grow your wings on the way down’

Thanks to my walking buddies for your contribution to this blog – you know who you are💗

Photo courtesy of me and my iPhone 

If you're struggling with change and feel you need help working through it you can contact me, Elaine, in confidence on 087-1046880 or email ehanlonpsychotherapy@gmail.com

 

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Relationships - what draws us to each other?

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Relationships - what draws us to each other?

Usually the first few minutes of contact between two people is enough to allow each person assess a physical attraction.  As shallow as it may seem we all make this assessment with people of both sexes, young and old.  However, upon meeting and getting to know the person, this attraction can either increase or decrease depending on how attractive we find their other attributes.  These include sense of humour, kindness, intelligence, level of social status and whether or not we feel a connection.  

But men and women tend to look for different things. Women are more likely to prioritise emotional intimacy while men tend to prefer sexual and experiential intimacy.  “Intimacy is generally viewed differently by males and females in relationships, and this may impact on the development of it in a relationship due to the differing expectations.  Women like to discuss emotions and are able to identify when their emotional needs are not being met, whereas men tend to be more pragmatic looking for solutions to problems as they occur. 

Often two people  can be physically attracted to each other but don’t emotionally connect.  Connection, often referred to as chemistry, because adrenaline-like neurochemicals are released into the body, is one of the first steps towards intimacy.   Another is mental stimulation.  While you may be physically attracted to someone, do they stimulate you mentally?  Mental stimulation is a factor that can help a friendship develop into intimacy but is also a factor that can help maintain the friendship within the relationship long term.  A good sense of humour and equal or great intellectual ability are examples of what can stimulate the other person.   

‘Opposites attract’ has been the old adage bandied about and repeated for generations, but is it no longer true?  When we meet someone with similar interests, opinions and tastes, does it not endorse our own personality and in turn heighten our self esteem?  Recent work challenges the ‘opposites attract’ approach claiming that individuals who are more alike will end up together creating a new ‘likes attract’ approach.  This new research shows that if an individual rates him or herself high on physical attractiveness for example, then they will desire a partner who also scores high in that area.  

In his best selling book ‘Getting the love you want – a guide for couples’, Harville Hendrix says when we meet we “size each other up as coolly as business executives contemplating a merger, noting each others physical appeal, financial status and social rank, as well as various personality traits such as kindness, creativity and sense of humour.  With computer like speed we tally up each others scores and if the numbers are roughly equivalent the trading bell rings and the bidding begins”.  He calls this the ‘exchange theory’.  He says that we select mates who are more or less our equals.  As we are attracted to those who make us feel good many of us also like those who simply like us and make an effort to get to know us. 

Not all relationships are meant to last forever but every relationship will help you grow and learn more about yourself. The one relationship that will last forever is your relationship with yourself.  Nurture this and watch all your other relationships flow.  

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Workplace Wellness – Being Happy at Work

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Workplace Wellness – Being Happy at Work

The average person works an eight hour day and sleeps an eight hour night.  Including holidays and weekends that means that we are in our workplace for a quarter of our working lives and if you're working from 25 to 65 that's ten years worth of working hours in a job you either love hate or are indifferent to.  That's a lot of time so it's important to ask ourselves are we really enjoying what we do.

A lot of factors can affect the enjoyment of our work and one of these is getting the appropriate work life balance.   For most of us work provides a structure to our day, an opportunity to socialise and our accomplishments at work can provide a  sense of achievement. For others work is just the necessary part of the juggling act between family, home, friends, hobbies and social life.  

A certain amount of stress is good and is required for us all to perform well and everyone would admit to feeling stressed at work on occasions, but very few people perhaps are aware of just how stressed they are. The impact of stress can often be cloaked in other symptoms, for example, physical ailments. If you have trouble sleeping, feel run down, eat irregularly or have lost a lot of your enjoyment in recent times, the chances are that you could be suffering from work related stress. 

Another factor is that with work comes work relationships and the potential for conflict which can in turn cause stress.  How we communicate has a large part to play in conflict.  A recent study showed that good communication depends just 7% on the words we use, 40% on our voice and 53% on our body language.  That's quite sobering considering most preparation and thought goes into the words we use and very little if none at all into the voice we use or our body language.  

So what can we do to make work life better?  Try to be more aware of your work environment.  The more we invest in anything the more we get out of it.  Try to be more aware of how you are communicating with your work colleagues and the people you are dealing with.  Focus more on tone of voice and body language.  Recognise when work is getting too much and is affecting the other parts of your life and look for help.  Many large companies today have HR departments with staff trained in dealing with work stress.  More and more employers are recognising  stress as a factor in the work life balance and have teamed up with EAPs (employee assistance programmes) to offer free counselling sessions to their employees. If your company doesn't provide either of these most private counsellors are trained in working with work related stress issues.  Don't be afraid to reach out. 
 

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All By Yourself - Coping with Loneliness

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All By Yourself - Coping with Loneliness

Loneliness is that feeling of being alone and feeling isolated. It can be a vicious circle of emotion as loneliness can create social anxiety, fear and negative feelings which can in turn lead to less interaction with the outside world thereby intensifying that feeling of isolation.  Recent studies have suggested that chronic loneliness belongs amongst health risk factors such as smoking, obesity or lack of exercise.  It leads to higher levels of the stress hormone Cortisol, a poorer immune function and high blood pressure.  And the stark reality is that many of our society are struggling with loneliness. 

Interestingly research has shown that people have significantly fewer close friends and confidants than those a generations ago. This is perhaps due to the fact that as a nation we are busier with less time to spend amongst friends and family.  Also we are more distracted by social media which can give a temporary false sense of community and friendship.  

So what can we do about it?

There are many different reasons why people feel lonely.  Many have social phobia which inhibits their mixing with society in general, for others it can be triggered by depression or negativity (a nobody likes me, who would want to hang out with me mindset).  Some highly sensitive people find it easier to be alone that to be amongst people who press their buttons and whose throwaway remarks they find hard not to take personally, and some people have just never had the opportunity to  learn the social skills necessary to create and sustain lasting friendships.  But more often than not that feeling of loneliness can come upon us for no apparent reason.

In this case it's important to realise that loneliness is a feeling not a fact.  When you are feeling lonely it is because something has triggered a memory of that feeling, not because you are actually isolated and alone.  A natural tendency can be to withdraw into that feeling and indulge the negative thought process that may follow.  This is not helpful.  Reach out when you feel lonely, call a friend or a family relative.  Do something that you enjoy, cook a nice meal, go for a walk, meet someone for a chat. 

Having a daily routine that incorporates things you like to do can help alleviate loneliness.  Work out when the feeling tends to rise, if you live on your own and you find the mornings lonely  arrange to leave the house and meet someone for breakfast.  If you find it difficult arriving home to an empty house have a plan to do something nice for yourself.  Have a bath, go to a gym or yoga class or watch a feel good movie.  Preempting your lonely periods will help you manage them better. 

And finally remember help is always at hand.  Through therapy people who are highly sensitive can learn skills to manage their own feelings and be more tolerant of others responses.  Therapy can help you work through phobias, recover from old hurts and build self esteem.  Some bibliotherapy (reading self-help books) is also a helpful way to learn about yourself and new ways to function in relationships that may serve you better.   
If you feel you could benefit from therapy you can contact me in confidence on 087-1046880 or email ehanlonpsychotherapy@gmail.com

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Anxiety - Are you a silent sufferer?

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Anxiety - Are you a silent sufferer?

Often when we think of those suffering with anxiety we have images of panic attacks, people not being able to sit still or be calm, with heart palpitations and shortness of breath.  What I've described here is a full blown panic attack.  But many people are suffering from daily anxiety that doesn't present these symptoms but is still inhibiting their lives.  

What is anxiety?
Anxiety is fear caused by a sense of doubt and vulnerability about future events.  The focus of anxious people tends to be always on what's lies ahead and the prospect that it could be bad.  The phrase “what if” is a common phrase triggered by anxiety.  What if I fail my exams, what if I don't get the interview, what if I can't become pregnant, what if I can't pay my mortgage,  what if I never meet anyone?  We can torture ourselves with what ifs and often we get into a pattern of thinking that spirals us into negative thoughts and anxiety.  There are times however when the what ifs are necessary in order to prepare and plan.  The leaving cert students who collected their results this week would have had to ask themselves what if I don't get enough points for the course I want.  Often it is important to ask the what ifs in order to have a strategy or plan B in place.  But most of the time the what ifs won't require a plan B until they actually haven't happened.

Is anxiety the same as depression?
This is a question I often get asked.  And while they may be closely linked depression and anxiety are quite different states.  In today's world, no one is immune from the ill effects of stress, whether it manifests in anxiety, depression or physical illness.  A person whose primary issue is depression doesn't tend to be preoccupied with worrying about what might happen to them in their future.  They tend to harbour very definite negative thoughts about their future whereas someone who is anxious tends to experience uncertainty about future events which can be more debilitating in itself as uncertainty can be often more difficult to process than certainty.   

Action kills Fear
Three simple words and a valuable mantra for anyone who struggles with anxiety.  Fear can freeze you but sitting around indulging anxious thoughts will just foster more anxiety.  When you feel anxious do something, go for a walk, arrange to meet a friend, change your environment.  Anxiety is a form of fear and the best way to alleviate this fear is to take action.  Most counsellors and psychotherapists today offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as part of their therapies.  Known as CBT cognitive behavioural therapy has been proven to be a very effective treatment for anxiety.  Anxiety therapy unlike anxiety medication treats more than just the symptoms of the problem.  It can help you uncover the causes of your worries and fears and develop better coping skills for the future.  

The importance of exercise and diet
The exercise you do and the food that you eat play a vital role in your positive mental health. The “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind” expression has firm foundations. Exercise releases natural feel good hormones into your body and boosts your natural energy supplies.  Also the foods you put into your body have an effect on your overall well being.  Superfoods are not called that for no reason.  It is because they play a vital role in not only giving your body the nutrition it needs but in aiding your digestion and in turn improving your energy levels and your overall health.  Caffeine and Sugar are the opposite to superfoods so should be limited as much as possible.  

And remember you can't change certain things but you can always change the way you think about them.

If you have found this article helpful and feel you would benefit from some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions you can contact me in confidences on 087-1046880 or email ehanlonpsychotherapy@gmail.com

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Finding the Strength to be Vulnerable

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Finding the Strength to be Vulnerable

Strength and Vulnerability are two words that many may feel don't go together but in reality they go hand in hand.  Resilience and perseverance don't come from undying strength, they are born out of failure, disappointment and hurt.  An example are this years Olympians.  None of these amazing athletes have got to where they are without failing time and time again.  What makes an athlete of this standard is their resilience, their ability to get up and try again and again.    

What ultimately stirs the feeling of vulnerability is shame.  We feel shame when we feel we are not accepted.  Not accepted because our business idea fell on its face, not accepted because we are not as clever, pretty, slim whatever it may be, it's that feeling that we are not enough.  Vulnerability as an emotion is discouraged in the business world and this often extends into society as a whole.  Failure is often looked upon negatively when actually the opposite is true.  

We have all felt hurt and disappointment.  We have all failed at something in our lives.  And yet so many of us feel embarrassed when we fail, feel we are going to be judged, that others might see our vulnerability.  There is an unspoken shame that lingers with many of us when we feel vulnerable.  And why?  Setbacks, pain, failure and heartbreak can leave us feeling powerless and we all tend to feel vulnerable when we are powerless. 

Things we are personally responsible for generate much greater feelings of shame and vulnerability because there is no one else to help share the blame.  The closer we are to the situation the more shame and vulnerability is attached to it.  For example if a person's business venture fails they can feel more embarrassed than if their partners business venture failed.  Or if your children are misbehaving you often feel more embarrassed or
powerless than if they were your nieces or nephews.  

Failures and setbacks, and the vulnerability, powerless and shame we feel as a result are the creators of our resilience and strength.   It is the struggle and in turn the recognition of our weaknesses coupled with a willingness to change and adapt that fosters strength.  It's time to embrace your mistakes and failures, to learn from them in order to ultimately make life easier and more peaceful.  

So I'll finish with the words of Diana Nyad, the first person to successfully swim the channel from Florida to Cuba;  “No one ever gets through this life without heartache, without turmoil, and if you believe and have faith, and you can get knocked down and get back up again, and you believe in perseverance as a great human quality, you will find your way”.

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How our Mental Health can affect our Physical Health

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How our Mental Health can affect our Physical Health

Have you ever had a bad nights sleep which has impacted on your job performance the next day which in turn caused you to feel anxious which in turn affected your sleep the following night?   And so the vicious circle begins.  

In the world we live in looking after our bodies and our physical health is much more talked about and accepted than looking after our mental health.  Of course there are many that read self help books, go to counselling, do yoga or meditation but we tend as a nation not to give our mental health the same energy and air time as our physical health.

And yet our mental health is so important.  It affects how we cope with day to day stress and how we relate to others.  When we are in good mental health we are much more able to maintain positive healthy relationships and manage the regular challenges we face. 

Try to think of good mental health as a skill, like learning to play football or learning to cook.  It takes coaching and practice to perform well.  And the more you practice your learned skills the better you get. A mentally healthy person is able to feel, identify and express a wide range of emotions, they usually have very clear thoughts and as a result can use controlled behaviour to deal with any uncomfortable feelings that might arise as a result of challenges in work, home, sport or intimate relationships. 

There is so much pressure in the world we live in to have it all under control, to be on top of things and on top of your game.  We admire really successful people without thinking about the sacrifices they may have made to get to where they are.  Today there are so many socially acceptable ways to distract ourselves from our uncomfortable feelings.  Many people throw themselves into their work, others drink, others watch endless TV or play videogames, all in an effort to keep so busy that they won't have to think about what they are feeling.  But uncomfortable feelings don't just disappear.  


Mental Health and Physical Health are so closely connected.  How we deal with challenges can cause us stress.  This stress has a large affect on our physical bodies. It can cause tiredness, headaches, high blood pressure and can also affect our digestive system.  Many experience stomach and digestive problems when they experience stress and ongoing stress can lead to serious health problems like heart disease. But there is a way to deal with challenges that doesn't cause us stress.  How to do so is the ‘learned skill’ I spoke about earlier.  

Counselling is a way of learning these skills.  With the professional guidance of your counsellor you can look at the tools you are currently using to manage the challenges in your life and perhaps assess what tools are no longer serving you and find new ones that will.  And you don't have to wait until you are in crisis. Equip yourself with the tools and skills you need today to manage tomorrow's crisis.  Finding a counsellor to help you through issues to keep your mental health functioning at its best is as important as finding a good doctor to help keep you physically healthy. Just like a car needs a mechanic to keep it serviced and in good running order our mental health needs a check up every now and again too.

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What is Ego?

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What is Ego?

I shared a post recently on Facebook that said ‘Apologising doesn't always mean you are wrong and the other person is right.  It just means you value your relationship more than your ego’.  While most people understood the meaning of this some asked me to define ego.  What does ego mean exactly?  To explain it well is not a short answer so I've decided to dedicate this weeks blog to Ego and what it really is.

Ego is your self image of who you are, not your true self but the ‘I’ that you think you are including the thoughts and the emotions that you identify with.  When we create an identity based on an image, that is the Ego eg;  I am a successful businessman with two companies a lovely wife, two kids a big home and a fast car.  This is not who you actually are, this is what you have identified with, this is your Ego. 

Ego is the false idea of believing that you are what you have or what you do.  Strip away the possessions and the job and you're left with the real you.  Every experience you have had in your life from your childhood right to this current day has added something to who you are and also to your ego.  When you don't know yourself your Ego exists to tell you who you are but the moment you fully know yourself no ego is found.  

Ego and anxiety
The source of all our anxieties is in our mind because the future does not exist anywhere but in our minds.  All these future events that you are worrying about don't exist.  People with high ego control tend to feel anxious in new situations.  Bringing ourselves into the moment we are in frees us of our ego and of our worrying thoughts.  Those with high anxiety tend to care a lot about what others think of them.  This is their ego at work.  They have created an image for the world and put themselves under undue pressure to maintain this image.  They have decided who the ‘I’ is that they want the world to see and know and they work hard at maintaining this perception.  They identify very strongly with the image and feel anxious when it proves challenging to maintain.  The Ego is working very hard here and the harder you work your ego the stronger and larger it becomes.  Letting go of your ego can be difficult and painful but is the only way you will ever fully know yourself.

How to let go of your Ego
Are you dependant on your external environment to feel the way you want to feel?  Is your locus of evaluation outside of yourself, in your job, your family, your possessions?  Then you are identifying very strongly with your ego and your external environment is controlling how you feel as opposed to you.  As cliched as it may sound happiness can never be found in external things but yet when we don't feel happy we tend to always look outside of ourselves as opposed to inside.  So find a way to feel the way you want to feel without it being dependant on those around you.  When you rely on other peoples perceptions to feel good, then you’re going to fear judgement and you’re going to fear failure. Just be yourself, not who you feel the world wants or needs you to be. 

And to finish with a quote I read recently “Don't confuse having less with being less, or having more with being more. Who you are is far more important than what you have or what you do.”

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