The bonus of successful ageing: Why we get happier as we get older.

Research has consistently indicated that people, on average, feel happier and more emotionally stable as they move into middle and old age. This seems surprising as this period of one’s life is when we become acutely aware that our bodies and minds are not as efficient as they were in our youth, and when we experience health-related problems and physical and psychological losses and crises.

However, it appears that in the midst of all our ageing-related challenges and problems we are nontheless more happy and emotionally stable according to an article in the journal Psychology and Aging (October 2010), as cited in New Therapist Magazine (January/February 2011)

Why is this?


Perhaps because:

As we get older we become more aware of our mortality and that time is running out. We therefore live in a more mindful and balanced way, enjoying the joys and pleasures of the everyday life, taking nothing for granted.

We become more and more aware that our time on this earth is limited and this leads to our becoming a lot more selective in what we choose to do with our time.


In my view, the take-home message from this research is : we could all live happier lives, irrespective of our age, if we make a point of living every day in a mindful, balanced way!




And that Positive Psychology and Mindfulness training should be considered integral to psychotherapy!

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Are you serious about improving your psychological well-being and your happiness in 2011?Find out what Positive Psychology and Health Psychology have to offer!

When I ask clients who visit my psychology practice for the first time what their goals are, many of them say that they want to be happy!
We all know that happiness is often an elusive emotion and difficult if not impossible to achieve when we are not in a good space psychologically and we are experiencing anxiety and/or depression.


What is Positive Psychology?
The psychologist and researcher, Dr. Martin Seligman, is well-known for his work in Positive Psychology, see:
www. and
Positive Psychology concentrates on personal strengths, positive emotions, happiness, optimism and hope and how we can work on these to improve our sense of well-being.

What is Health Psychology?
Psychologists and researchers who are interested in this field study the link between psychological and physical health. In our practice in Wynberg, Cape Town, we psychologists always emphasise with each client the importance of eating healthy, balanced meals, getting enough rest, relaxation and in exercising regularly if they are serious about improving their psychological well-being!     
Over the next few posts I will be speaking about the mental-health benefits of changing one’s mind-set to embrace the principles and practices of both Positive Psychology and Health Psychology.


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Making New Year’s Resolutions – should you or shouldn’t you?

At this time of year many people turn their minds to 2011 and what the New Year may have in store.

Are New Year’s resolutions a good idea?

As we all know, the majority of New Year’s resolutions don’t translate into long- term behaviour change. Why is this?

There are a number of reasons. First, behaviour change is not easy – we are all creatures of habit and our behaviour patterns are usually well-established and thus difficult to change. It has been said that a new behaviour has to be maintained for at least six months for it to become a habit.

Secondly, we engage in certain behaviours, such as smoking and over-eating, for a host of reasons, many of them unconscious, so when we try to change the pattern, we often find that we are extremely resistant and will rationalise to ourselves and others that we are OK the way we are and that there is no need to change – this is called the “yes-but” phenomenon!

In my view making New Year’s resolutions has merit because this activity tends to focus the mind and can take the form of a proactive, hopeful and constructive inventory of yourself and your life. However, in order to be effective New Year’s resolutions need to be realistic, achievable and something that can be maintained in the long-term.

If you are serious about keeping your resolutions it is a good idea to write them down, put a realistic time frame against each one, and track your progress throughout the year. Perhaps you could make the tracking of your New Year’s resolutions another resolution for 2011 if you are committed to achieving positive change! 



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Self-directed anger, depression and poor self-esteem? Are you a perfectionist?

At the moment I am seeing a client who says that she hates herself! Why? Because she believes that she should be the perfect employee and the perfect daughter, and she feels that she is letting herself down because she is not getting it 100% right!

As a result she is constantly putting herself down and as a result is angry, depressed and has a sense of dread and misery when she wakes up every morning.

Why is this the case? Often the seeds are sown in childhood when parents are never satisfied with the achievements of their children. A child in this situation will start to internalise these standards, and when they reach adulthood, they internalise the critical voice of the parent and it becomes an unconscious uncompromising internal driver. This often fuels the harsh critical voice (that I discussed in a previous post), leading to depression, poor self-image and even self-hatred.

So what can be done to help?

1. The first step is to recognise your perfectionstic patterns of thought and be motivated to change them.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy has been found to be an effective approach. IN CBT we work with thought patterns – when you find yourself using the words “should” and “must”  to yourself on a regular basis, this may be a sign that you being overly perfectionsitic.  I have also found ego-state therapy to be very useful. 

2. Although of course it is important to strive to achieve your goals and to feel that you are good at what you are doing, it is also important to accept that you (like everyone else) are fallable and that perfection is an ideal that can rarely be achieved.

On the other hand, being a well-rounded, balanced, happy and fulfilled person is a goal worth striving for!      

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Are you psychologically prepared for the festive season? Don’t allow stress, anxiety or depression to spoil your enjoyment of this time.

Most people look forward to this time of year, because it offers the opportunity to take some time off from work, to see friends and family, to relax and generally to have a good time.

 However, in my experience as a psychologist, I find that many people experience this time as year as extremely stressful. It is also well-known that the incidence of depression peaks during this period. So how can you prevent yourself from getting stressed-out, anxious and/or depressed over Christmas?


1. Have realistic expectations.

Don’t expect that everything will be perfect! For example, think back on previous festive seasons and your experiences with the people who are going to be present at the festivities. It is highly likely that the past will repeat itself! (This is not meant to sound pessimistic – psychologists are great believers in peoples’ ability to change, however, change is difficult and motivation is essential).


 2. Closely monitor your self-talk.

Try to maintain a constructive conversation with yourself and try not to catastrophise the situation when things don’t go according to plan. For example, if the Christmas cake flops try not to say to yourself “This is a disaster!”. Remember – this is not a tsunami we are talking about!


3. Allow yourself regular daily personal time.

At this time of year it is often difficult to find time to recharge one’s batteries. If you plan to survive the festive season intact, make sure that you find at least an hour a day to be alone – to either listen to music, do a relaxation exercise, meditate or go for a walk.


 4. Maintain a healthy routine.

 Remember that your body and your mind are closely connected – in order to “keep it all together” at this time of year you need to make sure you eat healthily, that you only drink alcohol in moderation, exercise and relax regularly.


If you have any other suggestions, please let me know!

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After trauma – PTSD is not the only outcome to consider

A recent study by Australian psychologist Richard Bryant of the University of New South Whales looked at the outcome of traumatic injuries on 1084 patients 3 months and 12 months after admission to hospital. He found that of the 33% of individuals who suffered from some form of psychological disorder following the trauma, the most common problem was depression (16%), followed by generalised anxiety disorder (11%), substance abuse (9.9%) and PTSD and agoraphobia (9.7% each). Other less frequently occuring problems were social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder. Bryan’s research  found that individuals who were suffered mild traumatic brain injury(TBI) were 50% more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD following a trauma than were individuals who did not experience a brain injury. 

What is important to note from this research is, firstly, that only a third of individuals who were subject to traumatic injury went on to develop psychological problems.  Second, psychologists and other mental health care workers should not concentrate on PTSD exclusively when they are treating survivors of trauma. Reference: American Journal of Psychiatry 167, no. 3 (March 2010): 312-20, cited in Psychotherapy Networker, Sept/Oct 2010. 

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How to prepare yourself psychologically for the upcoming exams

If you are currently a student or learner, you are probably studying hard for your exams. But have you given sufficient attention to preparing your body and mind for the task ahead?
Research has consistently found that the best and most dedicated students are prone to suffer the most from high levels of stress when it comes to exams. These students often report the highest incidence of “hitting a blank” in an exam, when high levels of stress and anxiety have the effect of blocking memory recall.
So what can you do about this?

1. Make sure that you have a reasonable and achievable study plan.
It is important that your study plan is realistic, otherwise this will be an additional source of stress when you find that you are falling behind. Put a plan together that is sufficiently flexible and affords you with enough breaks. Our brains are not designed to work for hours on end without a break. The ideal length of time for peak attention is 50 minutes.
2. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, exercise and that you are eating a balanced diet. A lot of students start to cut corners on these when they become focused on their studies. This can be counterproductive as our bodies need to be looked after if they are going to deliver optimally in terms of energy, mental acuity and health. You don’t want to be sick and tired on the morning of an exam!
3. Your internal conversation with yourself is of vital importance in the weeks and days leading up to your exams. Because our thoughts directly affect our moods, a diet of negative self-talk will cause you to feel anxious and stressed, which will directly affect your ability to perform at your peak in your exams. Talk to yourself asif you are your own motivational coach. Use positive self-statements such as “I will give this my best shot”, as well as neutral statements such as “I will approach things one day at a time”. it is important, though, that you only say things to yourself that you actually believe to be true as the unconscious mind will reject statements that we know to be false.
4. Practice relaxation training, meditation and/or mindfulness to help to control and focus the mind.

In future posts I will talk more about preparing yourself for the day of the exam.

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