for November, 2017

How to stress less about Christmas

Posted on November 20, 2017 in Uncategorized -

Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

Let’s talk about Christmas stress. Stress is a serious matter and a major cause of physical and mental health issues in our country. According to the Australian Psychological Society’s ‘stress and wellbeing survey’ (2014); financial issues and family issues remain the leading causes of stress amongst Australians. So, the precarious combination of Christmas and family can for some people, open the flood-gates, with a stress-nami of financial and emotional stressors, getting in the way of what should be a fun-filled, happy time of year. Now if someone can please tell Ebenezer Scrooge to leave the room, while we put a more positive spin on Christmas and how to stress less about it.

Christmas brings with it a lot of expectation. As a child, we eagerly anticipate Father Christmas’ arrival and go to bed dreaming of what the big day might bring. Fast forward however many years and many of us still have fanciful ideas and expectations of Christmas day and whether you are playing host or guest, there can be a lot at stake. If you break it all down, they are by-large first world issues based on material things, that at the end of the day, don’t really matter.  “Will the turkey be perfectly browned; will Grandma comment on the miss-matched Bon Bons; have I bought enough beverages; and will there be an encore to last year’s family political dispute”; can all amount to a large serving of unnecessary stress.

Getting back to basics by thinking about what really matters means leaving stress boxed up somewhere next to the infuriatingly tangled fairy lights. And if it’s not you that stresses, but perhaps a particular family member (no names mentioned), passing on this helpful advice may lead to a more relaxed time for all.

Destressing tips:

  1. Make a list and check it twice. (Sorry, couldn’t go past it) Planning takes the stress out of most events, Christmas is no exception.
  2. Make a budget and don’t exceed it to avoid financial stress.
  3. Exercise! Consistently shown to be a proven stress reliever.
  4. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Remembering that no-one is going to starve to death or be horribly disappointed if the napkins don’t match may help you keep things in perspective.
  5. Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to stress, especially when there is more pressure.
  6. Crank up the tunes. Another great way to reduce stress is to play music that makes you feel relaxed…and that may not be ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’

Of course, some people experience stress at Christmas that is warranted due to more serious issues, like financial hardship or illness and during this time, may benefit from an extended network of support and professional help.

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Parents- Just Breathe- How to get through schoolies week

Posted on November 17, 2017 in Uncategorized -

For thousands of teenagers across the nation, this week marks the start of their free life, leaving school and experiencing the real world.

Equally for thousands of parents this week brings a great deal of stress and anxiety as their children set off for schoolies week. As difficult as it can be to communicate with your broody teen, talking to him about setting boundaries, peer pressure, drugs and drinking is an absolute must.

Clinical Psychologist, Dr Stan Steindl, director of Morningside practice Psychology Consultants provides some useful tips to parents on dealing with schoolies week and the challenges that lie ahead.

“Open communication is key, talk about what to expect during schoolies week and try to set some boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour,” said Dr Steindl;

He comments that although it’s unrealistic to expect your teen to not drink, studies show that adolescents drink less and have fewer alcohol-related problems when their parents discipline them consistently and set clear expectations.

“It is also important to emphasise the negative effects of drugs and alcohol. One finding of a recent study showed that if we, as a society, “expect” teens to experiment with alcohol, they likely will,” he said.

Dr Steindl stresses the importance of being savvy. Knowledge is power and your teenager will love to think you are clueless.

“As a parent, you need to balance firmness without being a micro-manager. It’s important to not overreact if boundaries are crossed and mistakes are made”, he said.

According to the Australian Medical Association approximately 90 percent of people have tried alcohol by the age of 14, and most Australians have consumed a full serve of alcohol before the age of 16.

In 2004, people in their 20’s were more than twice as likely to have consumed alcohol by the age of 14 than were people in their 40’s and 50’s.  There are indications that early initiation to alcohol use is related to more frequent use, higher consumption levels and the development of alcohol-related harms in adulthood, including mental health and social problems.

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Recognising signs of depression in chronic health patients

Posted on November 15, 2017 in Uncategorized -

During National Psychology Week 12-18th November

Patients with chronic health issues, like diabetes, stroke and heart disease are at higher risk of developing depression, the difficulty is in recognising when typical symptoms, turn a dark corner, writes Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist: Psychology Consultants

Chronic illness can be debilitating, particularly for patients experiencing ongoing pain. Feelings of being trapped with negative thoughts that influence mood, memory, function, sleep and appetite are quite common for chronic health sufferers.  However, it’s this unsavoury side order of chronic illness, that can have clinicians questioning; “Is this ‘normal’ or does my patient have depression”?

Taking into account the typical side effects of chronic illness, namely sleep disturbance, changes in appetite and avolition, the most reliable predictors of depression are anhedonia (lack of pleasure) and an inability to make future plans or look forward to something.

Extracting the right information from patients to make an accurate assessment of their mental state can be challenging, especially during a short consultation, when physical assessment is the focus. If a patient has expressed changes in their sleep and appetite and you also notice low mood, taking a few minutes to engage in a conversation about life in general, may allow the patient to open up and express how they are feeling emotionally.

Below are a few conversation starters that may help you make an assessment of their emotional and mental state.

1. “So, Bill, are you still enjoying your weekly bingo session at the RSL?” OR

“Jane, how’s your garden looking this spring, have you been enjoying the fruits of your labour”

SUBTEXT: Does the patient enjoy his/her usual activities that typically give him/her pleasure.

2. “Tom, tell me what you do for pleasure, what are your hobby’s/interests”.

SUBTEXT: Does the patient find it difficult to be interested in something/anything.

3. “Paula, have you got anything planned for Christmas or the holiday season. Is there anything you are looking forward to in the near future”?

SUBTEXT: Is the patient looking forward to anything?

Many people find it difficult to accept depression, and chronic health patients may resist strongly, reluctant to take on yet another illness. Unfortunately, denial is counterproductive and will only prolong the symptoms of depression and potentially worsen the chronic illness that the person is suffering from. Accepting depression as an illness and working towards managing it, like you would a physical ailment, can bring great long-term value to the patient and their outlook on life. For more information and articles on depression visit

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Need a digital cleanse: Here’s How

Posted on November 14, 2017 in Uncategorized -

During National Psychology Week 12-18th November 2017

This week is National Psychology Week, an initiative of the Australian Psychological Society, aimed at raising awareness of the importance of mental health and the role a psychologist can play in improving wellbeing and happiness. This year’s campaign focuses on ‘thriving in the digital age’ a pertinent issue affecting people of all ages from all walks of life.

If ‘all things in moderation’ is your life mantra then this article will serve you no good because when it comes to your digital gadgets, you will have things completely under wraps. If, however, you are like the vast majority of us and have develop a slightly un-natural obsession with your phone, ipad, laptop, fitbit or other amazingly smart devices, it might be time for a digital cleanse.

Here’s how…

Write down what you would like to achieve from your cleanse. Think of what you’d aim for it was a physical cleanse and then relate this to your emotional and psychological wellbeing. Would you like to be more present, less anxious, less dependent on your device or more sociable with your partner? Perhaps there is also an overlap into the physical, for example, improved sleep or more time for exercise.

Once you have set your goals, the next step is to set some boundaries around times spent on devices vs offline. According to Business Insider, 90% of 18-29 year olds sleep with their phones. Not only does this promote unhealthy sleeping habits, when the sun rises, it is all too enticing to greet your phone before your partner. 

Share it! Sharing what you’d like to achieve with your partner and friends (even if its via social media) makes you more likely to commit and follow through. They can also offer support if you are slipping up and engaging with your device more than you set out to.

Replace the habit  Like any habit you are trying to break, replacing the undesired behaviour with a healthier habit, will make it easier to find something to do with your hands and time. Eating or drinking is not recommended as you may end up needing a physical cleanse after your digital cleanse! Aim to do something that will help you reach the goals you have set. For example, if improve memory is your goal, choose a cross word or sudoku (the printed variety) instead of Facebook scrolling. Or if you have kids, replace the time spent on your phone by reading them a book or engaging in play.

Commit and Go! Set a start date and go! Unlike physical cleanses, there need not be a finish date. You might even find your newfound lease on ‘real time’ reaps enough reward that this becomes your new norm.

If you are struggling with digital addiction or would like some advice on improving your wellbeing, our team of psychologists are committed to helping you on your journey to wellness.

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Feeling free to share

Posted on November 12, 2017 in Uncategorized -

Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist, Psychology Consultants

During Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Week 12-18th November

As the age-old expression goes, ‘sharing is caring’ and this notion is the center of this year’s Perinatal Depression & Anxiety Awareness week campaign. The ‘It happened to me’ campaign encourages people (not just mum’s) who have been affected by perinatal anxiety or depression, to share their stories by starting a conversation about the illness.

Being vocal about your experiences by sharing what has happened in your life, helps to reduce stigma associated with mental illness, by saying, it’s okay to talk about this. And although group therapy is not for everyone, it’s effectiveness in treating many types of mental illness, is testament to the power of being free to openly share your feelings with others.

Perinatal anxiety or depression can be a difficult illness to acknowledge and accept with perceptions that this time of your life, should be filled with wonderment and joy at the little person you have created. Unfortunately, the reality can be quite different to the fanciful images that represent motherhood. In fact, the illness affects 100,000 Australian families annually, with 1 in 10 women experiencing anxiety or depression after having a child. It is also important to note that men are not exempt from the woes and struggles of parenthood, with 1:10 men experiencing depression during their partner’s pregnancy and 1:20 men experiencing depression after the baby is born. (Source PANDA)

Symptoms of perinatal anxiety or depression can include;

  • Heart palpitations, shortness of breath or feeling detached from your surrounding
  • Constant and overwhelming feelings of worry, particularly with reference to the baby’s wellbeing
  • Obsessive compulsive behaviours
  • Hyper-sensitivity to noisy environments
  • Obsessively eating or abstaining from eating
  • Insomnia or sleep problems unrelated to baby’s sleep
  • Lack of motivation to complete every-day tasks
  • Feeling overwhelmed with household chores and needs of the baby
  • Extreme emotional and physical lethargy

The good news is, this type of illness is temporary and the sooner you seek help or support, the sooner you can start your journey to recovery. If you are experiencing these symptoms for longer than two weeks, speak to your GP about a referral to a psychologist. For more information or to share your story during this week of awareness, head to

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Mind the booze if you want a good snooze

Posted on November 2, 2017 in Uncategorized -

By Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist, Psychology Consultants

Silly season is just around the corner and for many of us this means kicking off the heels and having a bit of fun. In essence, this means more food, more booze and less sleep. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right…for some, it absolutely can be.

At risk of sounding like a major kill joy, alcohol is very bad for sleep health, coupled with decadent festive food and a change in evening routine and you’ve got the trifecta of sleep inhibitors. But like all things in life, moderation is the key and one or two bad night’s sleep is not the end of the world, especially if you had fun in the process. In fact, stressing about sleep, is the very opposite of what we preach through our insomnia program ‘Towards Better Sleep’. It is, however, important to recognise, that if you are already struggling with your sleep, be prepared to accept that the festive period may bring some additional challenges.

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not lead to the mother of all sleeps and this is due to a number of reasons. Whilst having a night cap, may help you drift off into la-la land, your slumber will be rudely interrupted, by an alcohol withdrawal effect. Alcohol has been known to prevent a deeper state of sleep and wakes us earlier than usual, throwing your sleep cycle out of whack. Combined with a higher than usual intake of sugar and fat, albeit via delicious festive treats, and you can kiss a good night’s sleep goodbye. Considering these nights as a bit of a write off, is a reasonable approach, as stressing about how you are going to feel and cope without sleep is counterproductive.

Burning the candles at both ends for weeks on end, however, is not our recommended guide to the festive season. Making some responsible drinking choices and carefully selecting which Christmas function you really want or need to attend, will give you some time to catch up on sleep and resume a healthier regime.  Keeping up the exercise, drinking plenty of water and otherwise eating a healthy diet will also help keep things in kilter.

After a long year of work, it’s important to take some time to rest, recoup and prepare for the new year ahead. Partying like its ‘99, might not be the best way to do so, with an inevitable full body burn out likely to prevail. Although, the festive period can be fun, it can also bring a great deal of stress with family and financial commitments and end of year work deadlines. Being kind to yourself by getting plenty of rest, taking time to reflect, plan and project, will do amazing things for your mind, body and soul.

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