7 Tips on How To Maintain Your Mental Health

You are the most important person in your life. It may sound selfish, but you need to take care of yourself first before you can take of other people. Self-care is a combination of looking after your body and looking after your mental health – the two work hand in hand. There are a number of ways to take care of your mental health to ensure that you are in a good space.

 

Talk about your feelings

Something as simple as talking about your feelings can benefit your mental health immensely. A lot of people don’t like talking about their feelings and so they bottle everything up and try to deal with it themselves. Doing this will make your mental health deteriorate until you get the point where you just can’t cope with your emotions.

Continue Reading No Comments

Psychology and discriminating psychotherapy: The importance of finding an effective psychologist.

The importance of finding a solutions-focused psychologist.

One of my gurus, Michael Yapko, published a new book today called “The Discriminating Therapist” which is available as a download on Amazon.

Dr Yapko is a seasoned therapist, hypnotherapist and presenter. You can find his website and his new book at http://www.yapko.com/the-discriminating-therapist/

He came out to South Africa a few years ago and I was fortunate to be able to attend a hypnotherapy workshop that he presented in Pretoria. His approach to therapy is so practical and useful that I use his ideas and his strategies routinely in my therapy with clients, both in individual and in couple’s counselling.

Why is his approach so useful? Ironically, Dr Yapko would disagree with this question but would no doubt restate it it this way: how can the therapist be of help in enabling their clients to reach their stated goals? The client’s goals may involve achieving a desired state, such as becoming calm and content (if they suffer from depression or anxiety) or gaining mastery over some aspect of life, such as conquering procrastination or improving communication in their marriage.

Dr Yapko maintains that, in life, “how” questions are more useful that “why” questions.

Why does he say this? If you think about it, we can look for reasons for our behaviour until the cows come home! However, this doesn’t help us to identify, and change whatever behaviours (or patterns of behaviour), thinking patterns or thinking strategies that maintains our problems, such as depression or anxiety. Once the therapist has helped the client in this regard, positive change can be facilitated. 

This brings me to the topic of choosing a therapist that will be right for you. Dr Yapko would ask “How do you go about choosing an effective therapist”! 

I would ask a psychologist upfront whether or not you could have a short, free (15 minute) introductory session with him or her so that you can have an opportunity to assess whether or not his or her approach seems to be right for you in terms of how you relate to each other and also in terms of whether or not you are both on the same page regarding their focus, approach to therapy and envisaged time frame for the achievement of your desired goals for therapy.

Continue Reading No Comments

Anger and anger management: What anger can tell you about yourself and your relationship…

And why this is important.

 

What tends to make you really angry?

How do you behave when you get angry?

What happens between you and your partner when one of you gets really angry about something the other one did or didn’t do? How does the argument tend to proceed? Does anger escalate or can you both usually get to some agreement or resolution of the issue without there being an unpleasant scene?

 

Anger is, of course, a universal and necessary emotion. However, anger is also a unique experience as each of us will differ on what we get angry about and the way in which we express our anger.

We reveal a great deal about ourselves through our expression of anger and we invariably see another “side’ of our partner (and our friends and family) when we get the opportunity to witness the way in which they handle anger and conflict situations. I notice this time and again in my couple counselling sessions when partners are in unhappy and troubled relationships. Often a partner will report to me that they have been “turned off” by their spouse after witnessing how he/she behaves in a high conflict situation.  

Your anger will reveal to you (and to others) what issues you feel intensely passionate about. Anger tends to be triggered within an individual when there is an (often unconsciously) perception that their integrity has been challenged and/or deeply held convictions and values have been disrespected or undermined in some way.

In addition, the way in which a person handles their angry feelings has a significant impact on their relationships and also on their health. Individuals tend to fall into two groups: those who like to confront and deal with issues as they arise and the other group who tend to “bottle up” their anger and to avoid potential conflict situations.  I have found that individuals who are experiencing problems in their relationships usually often become more extreme in the way in which they habitually handle conflict.

Both approaches can thus be problematic, especially when goodwill, mutual understanding and respect have been eroded. Couples in this situation usually report that communication has become a serious problem in their relationship. 

What is the “take home message” here? I believe that we could all benefit by paying more attention to the role that anger plays in our lives – what makes us angry, how we express that anger, what impact our anger has on our relationships and whether or not work needs to be done (on either an individual or relationship level) to improve on anger management for the sake of  personal well-being and the important relationships in our lives.

 

Continue Reading No Comments

Do you have mental health goals for 2015?

When considering New Year’s resolutions, most people think about their physical health or career goals. I contend though that without sound mental health it will be very difficult to achieve one’s other goals!

I therefore suggest that you consider your mental health for a moment….

If you had to rate your current happiness and contentment with life on a ten point scale, with ten being total contentment, where would you place yourself at the moment? Perhaps for a moment you could think about why you have placed yourself where you have on this scale. Some interesting, and revealing questions that you may pose to yourself might include the following existential questions:

What makes me happy in life? What matters most to me and what do I want to achieve in the areas that count, such as in my relationships and my quality of life? What stands in my way of making the necessary changes so that I can live a truly authentic life? (Here I am referring mainly to internal, psychological barriers, such as depression, anxiety and procrastination).

Often, as you know,  we tend to spend our time grappling with immediate concerns and short-term deadlines, with the result that these important questions often get ignored until some huge crisis such a death or a divorce forces a reappraisal of one’s life. I suggest that it is a good idea to do some psychological housekeeping on a regular basis in order to make sure that you have the psychological resources and resilience to tackle all the challenges that will come your way in 2015.

 

In my next post I will expand further on this topic!

 

 

Continue Reading No Comments

Do you plan to be healthier and happier in 2015?

Give yourself a sporting chance of keeping those important New Year’s resolutions!

How recent findings from psychology can inform our efforts when it comes to goal-setting and successful behaviour change.

 

A recent article in Time magazine outlines the steps that each of us should take when we are considering a health-related behaviour goal for 2015, such as becoming fitter, eating more healthily or giving up smoking. This behaviour change process is based on psychological research findings.

 

First, it is advised that you start immediately as the start of a New Year provides us with a boost of optimism and a sense of renewal. Tomorrow would be an ideal day as research indicates that this is the most popular day of the week to initiate a behaviour change initiate such as starting with a new eating or exercise plan.

 

Second, work out a detailed plan. You are much more likely to be successful if you have made a detailed plan (written down), with short, medium and long-term goals listed as well as (realistic) time frames.

 

One shouldn’t, however, have a back-up plan! It appears that the existence of a back-up plan signals to our unconscious that failure is an option, which weakens one’s resolve!

 

Then in order to really commit to the goal you could promise to donate a certain amount of money to a worthy cause! And tell someone else about your plan. Social support is invaluable and also it is more difficult to relapse without losing face!

 

And finally – conserve your willpower for the really important behaviour changes! Research findings indicate that our willpower is a finite resource – only a certain amount is available at any one time, so if we resist temptation in once area it is very hard to marshal the necessary willpower for something else.

 

It is therefore advisably not to try to change too many things in one’s life at one time!

 

Best wishes to everyone who is going for a healthier and happier 2015!

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading No Comments

New Year’s Resolutions Aren’t For The Faint-hearted!

If you really want to make some positive changes in your life during 2014 you need commitment and single-minded determination!

We always get told that change isn’t easy – but do we really take this fact on board?

At this time of year we invariably think about the New Year ahead and promise ourselves that we will finally make those changes we have had in mind for so long – maybe to give up a bad habit or to lose weight and to get fit. It all sounds to wonderfully positive and optimistic, and we tend to feel better immediately, asif we have already succeeded!

However, as we also know, New Year’s resolutions rarely survive until the end of January. They are extremely difficult to maintain. Why is that?

We are all stuck in our comfort-zones, to a greater or lesser degree. Our lives are governed by rituals and habits, which work for us on some level, otherwise we would not have incorporated them into our lives along the way. Making changes to these patterns is equivalent to swimming upstream against a strong current – you need to have sufficient energy and staying power for the long marathon swim!

So what can you do to improve your chances of success when it comes to positive behaviour change?

First, it is important to think through the change/changes you want to make very carefully. What are your goals? Why do you wish to change this behaviour? What are your reasons for wanting to change? What will it involve? How motivated are you to make these changes? What are your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to self-control? Are you sufficiently committed and determined?

If we try to change our behaviour often and constantly fail for whatever reason, this can seriously affect our self-esteem. So before embarking on a programme of self-improvement, thorough preparation is key.

Second, identify people in your life who will be supportive and who will encourage you, particularly when your motivation falters. Sometimes the people in our lives actually undermine our efforts at self-improvement, either consciously or unconsciously. It is important that we confront this behaviour if at all possible as it can easily undermine our behaviour change efforts. Let the poeple in your life know what you need from them in order to help you succeed.

In my psychology practice I advise clients who wish to change some aspect of their behaviour to get an exercise book or a journal and write down their goals and the steps they need to take, (short, medium and long-term) in order to successfully achieve these. It is a good idea to use columns for this purpose, and to have a column in which time frames are noted. A “comments” column is also useful, where insights or problems can be recorded.

And when your goals have been successfully achieved, be very aware that you will need to maintain, and practice the new behaviours for at least four to six months consistently for these to be incorporated into your life as an unconscious, self-sustaining behaviour.

 

Best wishes with all your endeavours in 2014!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading No Comments

Why is it easier to be anxious and depressed rather than happy and relaxed?

It appears that we can blame it on evolution!

 

Why is it so difficult to stop our minds drifting to unpleasant and anxiety-provoking topics? Often this happens in the middle of the night, especially to insomniacs who often find that their thoughts prevent them from getting back to sleep.

Well, evolutionary psychologists put it down to the way in which our brains are wired, says Ronald Siegel in his article entitled “West meets East” in the September/October edition of Psychotherapy Networker (in which he discussed the link between psychotherapy and Eastern spiritual practices, such as mindfulness).

The arguement goes that the human beings of today have survived through natural selection only because, through thousands of years, they are the ones who were constantly on the lookout for danger and needed to be extremely adept at anticipating possible risks and life-threatening situations. So anxiety and fear kept you alive whilst happiness and complacency got you killed.

So, although the world has changed a great deal since the days of our cavemen ancestors, our physiology and the wiring of our brains have remained more or less the same, causing us to react to (usually) benign life events, such as traffic snarl-ups and work pressure, asif they were of the magnitude of a tiger hiding in the shadows, waiting to pounce.

So if we are wired for anxiety and stress, what can be done about it?

First it is necessary to develop an awareness of the problem. Then with the help of cognitive-behavioural techniques (CBT), relaxation training and mindfulness techniques it is possible to gain control of one’s thoughts and to calm down the mind. It is important to take on board that one’s thoughts are merely a product of one’s mind and are not necessarily accurate. It is quite possible to substitute more balanced thoughts for thoughts that lead to anxiety, stress and depression. This will help to calm the mind, paving the way for a more measured, focused and appreciative approach to life, including one’s relationships.

And this can only lead to an inhanced feeling of happiness and contentment!

Continue Reading No Comments

If you are a student are you starting to feel stressed about the upcoming exams? Stress management is actually pretty straightforward!

Yesterday I conducted a stress management workshop for a group of Grade 11 and 12 learners. They were saying that they are feeling a great deal of stress and pressure at this stage because of their work-load and the thought of the upcoming exams.

I wish I could talk to all other learners and students out there about the importance of keeping their thoughts focused and not to dwell on the possibility that they might not do well! I use the analogy of the trapeze artist on the high-wire. If he/she allows him/herself to think that they might fall, this will probably happen (it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy).

It is therefore crucial for students to monitor their thinking and alter their thoughts if they notice themselves becoming negative.  A pattern of “what-if ” thinking, for example “What if I can’t answer the questions in the paper and I fail” should therefore be banished and replaced by thoughts such as “I will do the best I can”. These ideas come from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). “What-if””thinking, if not controlled, can lead to runaway feelings of anxiety and stress.

I also spoke to the students about the importance of practicing relaxation and mindfulness exercises to help with focus and to calm the mind. It is also essential to pay attention to one’s body and health at times of pressure and stress – to eat well, exercise and to get sufficient sleep.

By keeping your stress levels in a zone that is optimal for you by doing the above, you will be well prepared, physically and psychologically, for the road ahead. All you will need to add to this recipe for success is a great deal of focused study!

Please contact me if you have any questions about the above or any other aspect of stress management.

Continue Reading No Comments

What do you do if you experience erectile problems? The psychology of sexual dysfunction and risks of a medical model of treatment.

Why thirty six hours of freedom can lead to a lifetime of sexual insecurity!

A recent ad on the radio for a variant of the “little blue pill” suggests that as soon as a man experiences the first hint of erectile problems he should not worry about identifying a cause (or causes) but should immediately go to his doctor for a prescription.

I believe this is shortsighted and extremely dangerous psychologically! (I am not saying that this type of medication has it’s place – what I am suggesting is that it is important that a full medical and psychological assessment be undertaken first).

An erection failure is invariably a highly stressful and anxiety-provoking event, often causing an immense sense of insecurity and self-doubt. Unless this is addressed through counselling or psychotherapy, the anxiety and doubt will remain, making it extremely difficult for the individual to take the chance to “fly solo” again, without the “help” of medication.

What impact will this have on one’s self-esteem and confidence!?

I therefore strongly suggest that anyone who is experiencing sexual problems first get themselves checked out, both medically and psychologically, and then, whether or not medication is considered, that a course

of counselling or psychotherapy be taken – not necessarily on a full stomach!

Continue Reading No Comments

How good is your anger-management?

anger and frustrationAs a psychologist I find that its all about frustration tolerance and managing your expectations!

I have clients who report that they have days when they feel more and more frustrated, to the point where they are ready to explode!

Often their frustration results from problems in their relationships, either at home or at work, or it arises in certain situations, such as when when driving in traffic.

I talk about frustation being a sign that one’s expectations of a person or situation are unrealistic – we have an idealised idea of how a person or a situation should be (in the perfect world!) and then feel frustrated and angry when things don’t turn out as we would wish.

How would you rate your anger-management (on a scale from nought to ten – ten being perfect!)?

If  you find that you need to improve in this area – what can you do?

 

1. Examine your internal dialogue  – the conversation you have (hopefully silently!) with yourself throughout the day. If you are tending to wind yourself up, you can work on this. Listen to the conversation, and change the self-talk to a calmer, problem-solving tone.

2. Examine your expectations. If they are tending to be unrealistic, alter them to match reality. For example, if you are caught in a traffic jam thirty kilometres away from your office, rather than fuming about not being able to get to the meeting which is to begin in five minutes time, estimate how long it will take you to get there and perhaps consider how you could let people know that you will be late.

Of course it is important for each of us to work on our anger-management skills for a number of very good reasons – such as to preserve our relationships, our jobs and our sanity!

It is important to note that an ongoing pattern of anger and hostility can seriously affect your health. Research has consistently found that A-type personalities who are competitive and also angry and hostile are much more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and have higher rates of heart attacks than people who are driven but not angry.

So being a lover not a fighter is better for one’s health too!

Continue Reading No Comments