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More than a case of the Winter Blues

Posted on June 19, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

Ever noticed a yearly pattern of feeling sad and depressed during the winter months? While its normal to experience a change in mood during winter, some people, especially those living in very cold climates, experience what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is defined as pattern of major depressive episodes that occur and remit with seasonal change, usually seen in the winter months in cold and dark climates.

People experiencing SAD will show symptoms of depressive behaviour including hypersomnia, changes in appetite including craving carbohydrates that inevitably leads to weight gain as well as a lack of social engagement.

There is some debate over the validity of SAD, after all its natural for people to slow down in winter as days grow shorter and colder. The condition is less commonly seen in northern parts of Australia where we experience a milder, shorter winter. However, in colder climates where light is limited and days are short, SAD can occur and statistically young women are at higher risk.

Research continues into the exact cause of the disorder but theories around the reduction of sunlight during winter affecting serotonin and melatonin, natural chemicals that regulate sleep and mood, are likely causes.

SAD is considered a specific version of major depression and symptoms are therefore quite similar. Below is a list of common depressive symptoms that may be experienced with both SAD and clinical depression.

  • Depressed mood
  • Changes in sleep, either too much or not enough
  • Changes in appetite and weight gain
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Lethargy
  • Heaviness in arms and legs
  • Difficulties focusing on tasks
  • Loss of pleasure in activities you usually enjoy
  • And for some, thoughts of death or suicide

Whether its summer, autumn, winter or spring, how you feel inside is real and it’s important not to sweep it under the carpet and hope your mood improves. Enlisting the help of a psychologist or mental health professionals can help people who are feeling depressed to assess the thinking patterns that may cause negative thoughts and behaviours.

So, for those of you who do experience a yearly cold snap slump, or if you have been struggling with prolonged depressed mood, seeking professional help is the best way forward.

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Don’t believe everything you think – teaching kids the power of positive thinking

Posted on June 18, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

The human mind is like a complicated road map, complete with wonderful journeys, total dead-ends and routes that are fraught with danger. Learning how to guide our internal navigators to take the path less ravelled, is no easy feat, especially for our pint-sized counterparts.

By educating our youngsters in positive thinking and mindfulness, we can help develop a generation of resilient, liberators, empowered by a robust sense of self-worth. Teaching mindfulness is helpful when reinforcing positive thinking, as the first step to dispelling negative thought, is to stop and recognise it when it pops into our head. It is important to remind our children (and ourselves); ‘Don’t believe everything you think.’

Setting an example, by talking positively about yourself, sends a very powerful message to children. Practicing mindfulness, being aware of your own negative self-talk, and talking positively about life in general, provides an environment in which your little mimic can thrive. Recognising the core values that define you as a person, and talking about your own strengths and weaknesses, will help your child understand that everyone, adults included, have different strengths and weaknesses and that despite, status and material commodity, it is these core values that really matter.

This leads to the next point, of not falling into the comparison trap. Teaching children to avoid comparing yourself to others is an important lesson of self-acceptance, but also best led by example. This is not only true of material things, like cars, houses and clothes, but also of our personal differences, strengths and weaknesses.

Learning that it is okay to fail, as this means you tried, will help children experience life with a hands-on attitude. Teaching self-compassion can be a useful way to dissipate feelings of invalidity or inadequacy when children fail or fall-short of personal expectations. An easy way to put this into practice is to think about how you would treat your friend in the same situation and apply those words of praise and kindness to yourself.

Children should know that we are all born with the potential to achieve and succeed. By learning to short-circuit our inner critic from an early age, we are paving the path to ultimate personal fulfilment.  Like Christopher Reeve once said, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable”.

If you or your child needs help with controlling negative thoughts, visit the website to peruse our team of Clinical Psychologists and their individual areas of expertise.

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Letting go of the Green Eyed Monster

Posted on May 25, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

“Jealousy is a curse” as the saying goes, and how true that is; it causes feelings of anger and anxiety and when unleashed can destroy relationships. Unfortunately, this corrosive feeling, is in-built, a natural human response and something we experienced from a young age. Take yourself back to your sister’s 5th birthday party, feelings of jealous may have raged as she opened a mountain of gifts and was centre of attention all day. Many years later, you may still find yourself feeling jealous over slightly different prized possessions, but by now you have learnt how to control it, or at least disguise it. Or maybe not? If the green-eyed monster still plagues you, it may be time to reflect on the underlying cause of jealousy, then learn how to accept it and finally, let it go.

Jealousy often stems from feelings of mistrust and insecurity. Social media is notorious for creating feelings of jealousy and inadequacies. Be careful not to compare your ‘real’ life to the showcase reels of Instagram and Facebook; it is fraught with danger. Take time out from social media if you find feelings of jealousy or inadequacy bubbling and remind yourself that this ‘feed’ is not reality.

If your insecurities are based on a lack of self-worth, embracing a more self-compassionate perspective, by learning to love yourself, will enable you to love others more wholly. You can read bout self-compassion here. Talking to a psychologist can help, if feelings of jealousy are fuelled by lack of self-worth or insecurities that may be based on past experiences.

It is important to reiterate, that if you are feeling jealous, there is nothing wrong with you, it is normal. What you need to master, is how to how to accept the feeling and then let it go before you have time to act on it. Sometimes it is helpful to name the feeling ‘the green eyed-monster’ for example, as to detach yourself from this feeling and stop it from controlling your actions. Reflecting on the reasons why you are feeling jealous and responding by making changes to your life, can be very empowering. For example, if feelings of jealousy creep in when you see your friend looking fit and healthy, why not join them for a run, or commit to a new fitness regime. Similarly, if your colleague was successful in getting that promotion, let this feeling motivate you to work harder or enlist in professional development. Learn from feelings of jealousy and act on it positively.

Lastly, let it go. Once you’ve recognised and accepted the feeling, reflect on why you feel that way and make positive changes to improve your outlook. Take a deep breath and visualise the green-eyed-monster taking a deep plunge off a cliff. Perhaps that cliff is your mountain of reflection.

 

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Insomnia driving you up the wall?

Posted on May 11, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist and facilitator of insomnia program Towards Better Sleep recommends the following:

  1. Stay up later rather than going to bed earlier

Going to bed when you are not sleepy can start a vicious insomnia cycle. You feel anxious and frustrated that you can’t fall asleep, and then you lie awake while the problem perpetuates. It is important to differentiate sleepiness from just feeling tired. We can experience tired throughout our body, but sleepiness is simply dictated by our eyes closing and literally “getting the nods”. Sleepiness will come in waves and when we get this wave at an appropriate time at night, we need to take this cue and catch it.

  1. Avoid napping during the day if you suffer from insomnia

Whilst napping might be desirable for those that are not sleeping well during the night, a nap for those suffering from insomnia can significantly reduce your sleep drive and will make it harder to initiate or maintain sleep at a desirable time. If you are tempted to nap, try increasing your level of arousal to counteract feelings of tiredness, this can be as simple as standing up.

  1. Develop a regular exercise regime

We all know that exercise is good for us and will help maintain a healthy mind and body. Exercise also has the added benefit of deepening and extending our sleep. The exercise that works best for this is weight or resistance training. So start pumping that iron or turn up the exercise bike. Anytime of the day is fine however it is best to keep it a couple of hours clear of bedtime.

  1. Learn a relaxation procedure

Having balance in our lives is important. We often neglect relaxation and use the excuse of being time poor. If you are having trouble sleeping, learning a relaxation procedure can be invaluable. We only enter sleep from a state of relaxation. So if we go to bed and make relaxation our goal, sleep is likely to follow, if needed. Whilst alcohol can help us relax and maybe sleep initially, it will typically disrupt our sleep later in the night. So maybe saying no to that glass of wine or two in the evening will pay off.

  1. Keep your evenings free of technology

The main regulator of our sleep is light. It dictates when we wake and when we fall asleep. With increasing use of computers and smart phones we are exposed to more light in the evenings than we have ever been. Computers and smart phones throw out a lot of blue/green light, which can delay the onset of our sleep phase. We can combat this by wearing amber or red glasses, or simply turn off a couple of hours before bed.

Psychology Consultants run a group sleep programme, called Towards Better Sleep, designed to help people with long standing insomnia and other sleep problems. The next programme commences 12th July 2018 from our Morningside practice. For more information on the Towards Better Sleep programme visit  the programme page here or email newmarket@psychologyconsultants.com.au 

 

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Why new mums should be taught self-compassion

Posted on April 30, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

Entering the world of motherhood for first time is a monumental shift in a women’s life. It can lead to permanent changes in your outlook on life and for many provides enrichment beyond all expectations. It can also be an absolute baptism of fire, as parents enter unknown territory and the challenges that lie within.

Expectant mothers (and often their partners), spend nine months caring for their changing pregnant body, preparing for birth and learning how to care for their pint size arrival. Most hospitals and birthing centres offer peri-natal courses that prepare women for birth, demonstrate how to bath, feed and care for a baby, while briefly touching on postnatal concerns, like the risk of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Having a baby can bring a range of emotions to the surface. It stands to reason that more could be done to help prepare new mothers for what to expect emotionally and psychologically when entering motherhood. By equipping women with effective techniques to practice self-compassion, maternal health and wellbeing could be improved postnatally and in the long term.

A recent study conducted by a group of researchers from the Compassionate Mind Research Group at the University of Queensland, including Dr Stan Steindl, examined the relationship between mother’s self-compassion and the outcomes for child and mother with respect to difficult childbirth and breastfeeding experiences ( . The sample group of women who were roughly 24-months post-patrum were provided a variety of compassion-focused therapy online resources outlining techniques for increasing self-compassion. 96% of study participants agreed that self-compassion is helpful for women experiencing birth or breastfeeding difficulties.

Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) “is a system of psycho-therapy specifically designed to help individuals cultivate compassion, in order to reduce high levels of self-criticism and shame (Gilbert 2014).”

In practical terms, self-compassion is the act of being kind, wise and courageous with ourselves when we suffer, as one would to anyone who is suffering. When enduring life’s challenges, namely becoming a new mum, it is not surprising that reducing self-criticism and increasing self-compassion has positive and rewarding outcomes for mother and child alike. It’s not easy to change self-critical patterns of thought and feeling, but with appropriate resources, tools and professional help and advice, teaching mothers to practice self-compassion could become as standard as teaching a nappy change.

If you are a new mum this Mother’s Day, think about the words of kindness, reassurance, and encouragement you would offer other new mums, then turn around, take a look in the mirror and repeat the message of self-compassion to yourself.

References: (Feasibility and acceptability of a brief online self-compassion intervention for mothers of infants Amy E. Mitchell1 & Koa Whittingham2 & Stanley Steindl3 & James Kirby3   https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00737-018-0829-y

 

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Food Swings

Posted on April 24, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

Ever noticed that your food choices are directly linked to your mood? When mood is low, we often crave carbohydrates, sugar, or junk in an attempt to feed the foully. Contrastingly, when feeling content, we often make healthier choices, considering the long-term health benefits of the food, rather than its immediate effect or release! Its commonly known that carbohydrate and sugar cravings are due to a dip in serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain affecting mood and something carbo/sugars help fuel. But when low mood is more than a passing wave, a healthy diet is absolutely paramount.

It is difficult to make healthy food choices when depressed, and often people in this state of mind fall into a trap of making poor food choices in an attempt to improve mood, all the while impairing physical health, brain function, motivation levels and capacity to exercise. After a binge of junk food, feelings of guilt and disgust often creep in and exercise can fall to the wayside, as energy levels plummet. All in all, the attempt to improve a low mood was completely counterproductive.

Being aware of your relationship with food and eating behaviour is an important first step to making healthier choices. Taking a moment to ask yourself ‘why’ before you eat, will help you become a more mindful eater. The next step is finding a distraction or an alternative ‘comforter’ to food. What do you love doing? What is another indulgence that can replace the habit of eating to improve mood?

Mindful eating is a good practice to be in, whether you are suffering from depression or not. Although, it may be coined as the latest craze, in actual fact, it’s more traditional than trendy; our grandparents would have eaten this way. It involves simple things like, sitting down to eat, not eating on the run, enjoying your food, guilt free and appreciating the nourishment it provides your body. Read this article for more on mindful eating.  

Eating well may also improve energy levels, giving you the motivation to exercise, the best non-pharmaceutical drug going around, with benefits too long to list. But in short, exercise will improve cognitive function and mood by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, whilst recuperating self-esteem with its positive cosmetic effects.

If you are experiencing low mood or depression, the first step to better health, is to seek professional help. On your journey to wellness, taking a holistic approach by considering all of your lifestyle choices and relationship with food, will help you make good changes, for life.

For more information on our team of Clinical Psychologists visit www.psychlogyconsultants.com.au

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Putting Kids to the Test!

Posted on April 17, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

Surviving NAPLAN: By Miranda Mullins, Clinical Psychologist- Psychology Consultants

NAPLAN is fast approaching and so is the annual debate about whether this kind of testing is putting young kids under too much pressure.

Whatever your opinion, the fact of the matter is, come May, children across the country in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 will sit the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests.

Although the education department considers the tests essential, as a psychologist the pressure and anxiety the testing can cause children is a concern. It is also one of the many opportunities for kids to develop resilience and the necessary skills to face the challenges of life. And for some children, it is a time when they can learn about the normal nervousness of facing a challenge, whether it be running a race or doing a test.

Children face more daily pressure than ever before with statistics revealing roughly 1 in 10 Australian kids are suffering from some form of anxiety disorder. It is important to manage the pressure and stress felt in the lead up to the tests as this is essential to avoiding an overly anxious child.

Remember that the importance of NAPLAN can be over-emphasised by schools and teachers and who also feel under pressure to perform so as a parent, ‘playing it down’ can help to subside some of the pressure.

If you child is anxious, try to understand the sources of anxiety or the specific concerns and develop coping strategies that are tailored to their needs. You may be surprised at the unrealistic fears your child may be facing.

It is important as a parent to acknowledge any anxiety that may be felt and not dismiss it as silly or unnecessary. After all, it is normal to feel a little nervous before sitting a test. This is human nature and most adults sitting the test would feel a similar level of pressure.

If you feel your child is overly anxious about the test, or has learning difficulties, speak to your teacher about ways to manage the testing process. Psychologists can also provide ongoing strategies for both parent and child if anxiety is affecting your child’s daily life.


 

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Wellness is the new black!

Posted on April 11, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

‘Wellness’- it’s the green smoothie of the health industry, a buzz word that has provoked a movement and attitudinal shift towards health in general. As Psychologists, we are more than guilty of using the word and rightly so, it is central to our cause and what we hope to achieve for all of our clients.

So, what does ‘wellness’ actually mean?

According to the World Health Organization, wellness is; “…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

When asked “Are you well?”; most people think of their physical state and the absence of illness when responding. But wellness, encompasses a holistic approach to health, recognising emotional and psychological health, as instrumental to one’s overall health. Impaired emotional and psychological health, ultimately leads to ill physical health through stress and lack of sleep, sparking a vicious cycle. And so, unlike other buzz words or societal fads, wellness deserves every bit of air time that it gets.

In the wellness pie of life there are 8 interrelated dimensions; occupational, emotional, spiritual, environmental, financial, physical, social, and intellectual. It’s no easy feat ensuring all 8 dimensions are always fulfilled, and it’s unrealistic to expect the scales will always sit neatly. However, by consciously striving for optimal wellness, you are already one step ahead by establishing the foundations for a positive life trajectory.

It’s all well and good to preach this in principal but what do each of these dimensions mean in real life; let’s break it down:

Occupational: The majority of the week is spent working, so gaining fulfilment from your job is a pretty big piece of the wellness pie. This doesn’t mean working your dream job, but rather gaining enjoyment and enrichment from your occupation. This may not necessarily be paid work, it may be raising children, or volunteer work; whatever it is, it is important to either enjoy it, or make a change.

Emotional: Understanding how you feel and coping with life’s challenges is integral to wellness. Practicing mindfulness and being in tune with your emotions will allow you to respond to personal needs and reduce stress.

Spiritual: Not everyone has the same beliefs system but having one is important. Having a strong sense of purpose and meaning for life is enriching.

Environmental: Being in harmony with your environment. Work, home and natural environments that are pleasant, mutually respected and stimulating, will help you thrive.

Financial: Like occupational, this doesn’t mean landing your dream job and reaping fiscal wealth, this arguably will not bring happiness. This dimension is about managing your finances efficiently and being satisfied, to reduce stress and anxiety that financial turmoil brings.

Physical: You are what you eat. Sleep is the pillar of health. Exercise is medicine. This one sounds pretty simple, but life’s schedule and temptations can throw it out of kilter. Strive to keep it on track and you will reap the rewards.

Social: People naturally crave connectivity and building a strong sense of belonging and social support network helps this cause.

Intellectual: Feeling stimulated and responding to our natural inclinations and abilities supports the need to expand skills, knowledge and offering to the world.

Gaining and maintaining the right balance as to achieve optimal wellness is all part of the ongoing, fluid and ever-changing game of life. At times, equilibrium is thrown off balance and we need the help and support of friends, family and sometimes professionals to guide you back on track.

If you need help developing wellness strategies for life, speaking to a psychologist can equip you with positive coping strategies for the challenges we all face. To view our team of Psychologist visit this page. 

 

 

 

 

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Plan on travelling over Easter? Here’s how to avoid the dreaded jetlag!

Posted on March 26, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

By Towards Better Sleep Facilitators, Clinical Psychologist, Kathryn Smith & Psychiatrist, Dr Curt Gray

Most of us at some stage of our lives will experience the suffering of jetlag, a temporary condition caused by air travel across time zones. Our body clocks are “out of whack” resulting in a temporary circadian rhythm sleep disorder or sleep-wake schedule disorder.

Fatigue and insomnia are the most common signs of jetlag, however some people experience more severe symptoms including anxiety, confusion, headaches, digestive issues, dizziness, and mentation difficulties such as memory loss.

If you have traveled with a child or baby, they are not immune and can also suffer from these symptoms.

Although jetlag is somewhat unavoidable, there are ways to help your body recover more effectively without prolonging the inconvenient symptoms brought on by international travel.

Here are a few tips:

  1. As much as you will feel like napping-don’t! Napping with upsets your normal sleep pattern and will make it more difficult to fall asleep at the adjusted sleep time.
  2. It sounds obvious but caffeine and alcohol should be avoided if you want to catch your zzz’s. Although alcohol may put you to sleep, it won’t result in quality sleep.
  3. Stay well hydrated by drinking lots of water.
  4. Relax! Stress is the number one cause of sleeplessness, so find ways to unwind and de-stress during and after your flight. Meditation is a great way to achieve this.
  5. Don’t stress about losing sleep, this will only cause you to be more uptight.
  6. Avoid heavy food close to bed time, both on the plane and after you arrive at your destination.
  7. Avoid strenuous exercise nearing bedtime, although light exercise during the day can be very helpful.
  8. Get some fresh air and soak up the sun. Exposure to daylight is a powerful biological cue for our bodies so it will help in adjusting the circadian rhythm.
  9. Operate within the normal sleep and wake times for your newly adjusted time zone.

If you are struggling with ongoing sleep problems, you may be suitable for our Towards Better Sleep program with the next group starting 12th April 2018 from our Morningside practice. Find our more here.

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Breaking the cycle of bullying: On Bullying No Way Day

Posted on March 16, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

Today, Friday 16th March is ‘Bullying No Way’ day, a national mark of united effort to stop bullying and violence in our country. The organisation’s key focus is early intervention within the school environment where bullying generally begins. Without this intervention victims of bullying enter adult life feeling wounded and bullies replace the school-yard with the workplace. The effects of childhood bullying can and often do persist into adulthood with depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder resulting. It can also cause follow on problems such as difficulty holding down a regular job and poor social relationships. Stopping the cycle early and understanding the behaviour of both the bully and the victim is imperative to achieving the organisation’s goal of, ‘a world without bullying’.

So why do bullies act the way they do?

Understanding this negative behaviour and addressing it, is just as important as treating the victim when aiming to stop the cycle. Theoretically speaking, early intervention generally reaps positive reward and like an out of control weed, nipping it in the bud before it grows into a thorny bramble, may prevent bullying from continuing into adult life.

There are many reasons why people bully; cultural, social and domestic environments often contribute but the underlying goal is to gain power, acceptance and approval. And with digital platforms integral to everyday function, bullying has never been more accessible. Cyber-bullying is indisputably the most cowardly form, with no interpersonal confrontation required, the bully’s message is broadcasted to platforms with ten-fold reach of the playground or workplace.

Bullies more often than not, have a plethora of emotional issues with studies showing that bullies are often socially inappropriate and have limited natural ability to understand other people’s feelings. They often have dysfunctional relationships with parents and peers and so bully others in an effort to regain the acceptance they are yearning for.

It is important to note, that by no means is this a defence. Bullying and violence is completely unacceptable at any level. Victims of bullying are often left permanently scarred with emotional and psychological wounds, requiring ongoing professional help to live a functional life. This must stop, however, to break the cycle, we need to understand the behaviour of both parties, and intervene when issues are in their infancy. If you are the victim of bullying or you need help with social and behavioural problems, seek professional help today and help build a world without bullying.

Below are some useful resources relating to bullying and violence prevention.

www.bullyingnoway.gov.au

www.bfaf.org.au

www.ncab.org.au

https://www.humanrights.gov.au/violence-harassment-and-bullying

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