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Superman or Broken Man – The importance of evaluating your personal expectations

Posted on June 15, 2016 in Uncategorized - 0

During Men’s Health Week 13-19 June 2016 

By Dr Mark Wetton- Clinical Psychologist

As a clinical psychologist, I speak to many men who clearly have unreasonably high expectations of themselves. It is almost like these men perceive themselves to be some kind of super hero, or as the expression goes, “10 foot tall and bulletproof”.

Well perhaps this is an exaggeration, they usually don’t believe that they are bulletproof, but they might believe that they should be able to:

• Work 12 hours a day, six days a week, and do this for the foreseeable future without consequence.

• Complete any challenge that comes their way, despite how many responsibilities they currently have on their plate.

• Sleep the bare minimum every week.

• Consume large amounts of alcohol or drugs weekly, or even daily, without consequence.

• Prioritise work or personal interests above everything else.

• Solider on independently, regardless of whether they are struggling.

But by the time I talk to them, usually via a referral from their doctor, they are struggling. They have discovered that they can’t meet their own expectations… and they can’t accept this to be true – they interpret this as failing at life in some way. These men often report many of the following experiences:

• They are baffled as to why their body and brain won’t let them keep fighting on as they have been.

• They are frustrated by why they can’t sleep properly because their brain won’t shut off.

• They are sad that they feel more distant or isolated from friends and family.

• They are uncomfortable about the fact that they now avoid certain situations when they never used to.

• They struggle to get out of bed, when this never used to be a problem.

• They realise that they are now drinking alcohol every day, when they used to only drink on the weekend.

• And they might feel worthless.

And most alarmingly for everyone that genuinely cares about their welfare, they might feel like life is not worth living anymore.

What these men are likely experiencing is an over-extension of their capacity to cope. What men need to know is that this is a well-understood scenario that reliably contributes to mental health issues for many men.

The reality is that men, just like women, are humans. And decades of scientific research into humans leads us to one fact that cannot be ignored: Each human has a limited capacity for many things, and if we extend over and above our capacity in any area for too long we are likely to break down.

So I suggest that it is helpful for men to consider themselves as humans first, and to set their personal expectations accordingly, rather than aspiring to be ‘super men’. This is a crucial first step in managing mental health.

After all, the hero who can ‘leap buildings in a single bound’ is actually an alien from another planet, not a human…

For more information on Dr Mark Wetton and the team of Brisbane Psychologists at Psychology Consultants, visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

 

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Social Anxiety- More Than Just Being Shy

Posted on May 27, 2016 in Uncategorized - 0

By Rhonda Stanton, Psychologist

“I can’t do this… why did I agree to do come to this party… I look fat in this dress… my mind has gone blank… they will think I’m an idiot… I can feel my cheeks burning… I feel sick…”.

For many of us, being asked to deliver a speech or meeting new people for the first time is likely to cause anxiety. It is normal to feel a bit nervous or uneasy in situations where we are likely to be scrutinized by others. However, social anxiety is a condition where people experience an intense and irrational fear of social interaction that is excessive and beyond simple nervousness.

Social anxiety usually begins in adolescence and can be attributed to being introverted or shy. However, social anxiety is much more than this. Some characteristics include:

  • Having a persistent fear of one or more social situations where the person is exposed to unfamiliar people, or potential scrutiny by others
  • Feared situations are endured with significant distress or avoided altogether
  • The person realizes that the fear is irrational
  • It interferes significantly with daily life

Physical symptoms can include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Blushing
  • Stammering
  • Perspiration
  • Dry mouth
  • Shallow and fast breathing
  • Tense muscles

As a consequence of the thoughts, emotions and bodily symptoms, people may begin to change their behaviours such as avoiding social situations or increasing alcohol consumption to numb symptoms. A vicious cycle begins. The good news is that social anxiety responds well to treatment. If you think you may have social anxiety, ask your GP about a Mental Health Care Plan and referral to a psychologist.

Rhonda works from Psychology Consultants Morningside on Monday, Friday and Saturday. To read more about her click here. 

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Silence: Offer your brain a daily dose

Posted on May 25, 2016 in Uncategorized - 0

By Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist

The world is becoming increasingly loud and cluttered. The noise around us can help to accentuate the noise within us. As a result, people often find themselves looking for silence inside and out. And the science is starting to show that silence is much more important to the brain than we might think.

Silence has important benefits for the brain and the mind.

A recent study by Kirste et al (2013) found that mice who were exposed to two hours of silence per day developed new cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory, learning and emotion. Silence, quite literally, allows our brains to grow.

Even from a practical level, silence helps us restore cognitive functions that have been impaired by too much noise. Hygge et al (2002) found that attention, focus, and problem solving, strongly affected by too much noise, can all be restored by offering ourselves periods of silence.

When the brain is “resting”, as in times of silence, it is much more able to engage in self-reflection, which is a psychological task of reflecting on one’s own personality, values and characteristics. Moran (2016) explores the processes behind self-reflection. Silence allows us to think about profound things in an imaginative way.

Noise has been found to cause stress and tension in humans, even at levels that does not cause hearing loss. Silence, on the other hand, can prove to be relaxing, sometimes even more relaxing that listening to “relaxing music”.

Silence: A powerful tool to help cultivate compassion?

If silence can (1) help our attention and focus, (2) create a state of calm and relaxation, and (3) allow us to move into a mode of self-reflection, then perhaps silence is an additional component to providing the focused inward attention necessary to develop the values and abilities to care for one another, and prevent or relieve the suffering of others. Thus, perhaps silence can be a powerful tool to cultivate compassion.

For more information on Dr Steindl and the team of Psychologists at our Morningside and Newmarket practice; visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

References
Hygge, S., Evans, G.W., Bullinger, M.A. (2002). Prospective study of some effects of aircraft noise on cognitive performance in schoolchildren. Psychological Science, 13(5), 469-474.

Kirste, I., Nicola, Z., Kronenberg, G., Walker, T.L., Liu, Robert C., Kempermann, G. (2013). Is silence golden? Effects of auditory stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Brain Structure and Function, 220(2), 1221-1228.

Moran, J.M. (2016). Cognitive neuroscience of self-reflection. In J.R. Absher & J. Cl

outier (Eds.), Neuroimaging personality, social cognition, and character. (pp. 205-219). San Diego, CA, US: Elsevier Academic Press

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Contemplative Aerobics – How Mindfulness Reduces Stress Levels

Posted on May 19, 2016 in Uncategorized - 0

by Rhonda Stanton, Psychologist

Many of us are familiar with the benefits of aerobics for the body but what about aerobics for our minds?

It turns out that there is such a concept and it is called mindfulness.

Humans have the capacity to reflect on the past and think about the future. While this is a useful skill, it takes us out of the present moment. This can result in increased stress levels. For some people, too much rumination spirals into anxiety or depression.

Mindfulness has been defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the moment and non-judgmentally” (Jon Kabat Zinn).

Mindfulness is a practice that has been shown to be effective with clinical disorders including anxiety, depression, chronic pain and substance misuse. It is also an effective strategy to manage stress.

It is important to note that mindfulness is not the same as relaxation, although often relaxation is a beneficial side effect. Just as there are many different sports or types of music, there are many types of meditation – there is no one size fits all. Whether you choose yoga or a meditation based approach, there are numerous benefits of mindfulness practice.

Neural plasticity is a new concept that simply means that the brain changes in response to experience. By learning to bring your attention back to the present moment, it has been shown that in as little as eight weeks of daily meditation practice, changes can be observed via fMRI studies (Farb et al, 2010).

Benefits include:

  • Improved self awareness
  • Learning to deal with difficult emotions
  • Reduced rumination
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved focus
  • Improved cognitive flexibility

If you think you may benefit from mindfulness based therapy, ask your GP if you would be eligible for a Mental Health Care Plan and referral to a psychologist. A MHCP enables you to access a Medicare rebate for psychological treatment. Alternatively, you can make an appointment directly with Rhonda Stanton or the team at Psychology Consultants as a private client with no referral required.

 

 

 

 

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Mum’s the Word

Posted on May 4, 2016 in Uncategorized - 0

Kathryn Smith- Clinical Psychologist

With Mother’s Day fast approaching it can be a timely reminder to speak about a topic which is not often spoken about. We are bombarded with ads on TV depicting how wonderful motherhood is, and whilst it is for many, for some it is a daily struggle.

Recently I was asked to speak at a Perinatal Mental Health Forum. The main topic of focus was Postnatal Depression and how can we help these women deal with this problem and why are they continuing to fall between the cracks?

It is estimated that 1 in 7 women will experience post-natal depression and 1 in 10 men will also experience this.  This is not the same as the “Baby Blues” typically experienced within the first week following birth but quickly resolving. This consists of depressed mood, loss of appetite, exhaustion, poor sleep, often poor attachment to the baby and sometime suicidal and homicidal ideas. Tragically, some of these ideas are acted on if the symptoms are so severe and the parent cannot see any other way out.

Most that experience post-natal depression, often feel guilty for having these symptoms and are too scared to reach out due to the fear of perhaps losing their baby. They also feel like such a failure as “everyone else” seems to be coping and they are constantly reminded of this at Mother’s groups and Facebook posts. They are not filled with a sense of wonderment that is portrayed in the media and feel everyday as a constant struggle with no enjoyment.

Prevention of this is often better than a cure. A topic of discussion at the forum was how do we assist couples with transitioning into parenthood and really prepare them for the relentless demands a new baby will bring? Also when they are beginning to struggle how do they reach out and who do they talk to?

For any parent that is relating to this, it is important to realise that you are not alone and this is not because you are inadequate. It is important to begin a conversation with someone about how you have actually been feeling and to be brutally honest. This can be with another family member, friend or even your GP. It is important to ask for help, even if they are not the person to do it. There are also some organisations that have phone support and resources, they can also direct you to an appropriate service provider. PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) is one such organisations that offers such support. If depression is left too late, it can have dire consequences on a relationship and the family functioning.

If we begin to speak about Perinatal Depression more, and reach out more, we may be successful in building more programs and gathering more support for this often untreated and debilitating condition. Instead of “Mum’s the Word’, let’s spread the word and make this everyone’s business.

For more information on PANDA visit www.panda.org.au

Clinical Psychologist Kathryn Smith works at Brisbane based practice, Psychology Consultants, her bio can be viewed at www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

 

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Catching Your Forty Winks

Posted on April 20, 2016 in Uncategorized - 0

Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

We all know how it feels when you’ve not had enough sleep- tired, cranky, irritable, unproductive and overwrought. Even the simplest task can seem overwhelming and this is largely due to the fact that your brain and cognitive function is not operating at optimal levels.

Although bouts of bad sleep are normal and to be expected in our fast paced society, chronic sleep problems and ongoing insomnia (difficulties with sleep for 3 months or more) should not be ignored. According to the National Sleep Foundation, evidence suggests that people with insomnia have a ten-fold risk of developing depression and an increased risk of other co-morbid conditions.

So how do you break this vicious cycle of bad sleep, poor health and its myriad of negative repercussions? Research suggests that the most effective long-term treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a psychology based treatment that addresses behaviour and thinking around sleep. Sleep Specialist, Dr David Cunnington recently conducted research into CBT as treatment for insomnia. His research, as conveyed on his website, Sleep Hub revealed that on average people went to sleep 19 minutes faster and stayed asleep 26 minutes longer after CBT-I.

Clinical Psychologist Kathryn Smith and Psychiatrist Dr Curt Gray have been effectively treating insomnia with CBT through their long-standing group programme, Towards Better Sleep. Unlike sleep medication, CBT is not a quick fix and takes time to work, which is why the programme spans across 6 weeks, focusing on education, behavioural techniques, correcting faulty thinking and relaxation strategies.

A group setting has proven an effective setting to treat people with sleep problems, allowing participants to share their experiences and learn from one another in a more cost effective way.

The next Towards Better Sleep programme commences on 19th May from our Morningside office. For more information or to register your interest in the programme, visit www.towardsbettersleep.com.au or email tbs@psychologyconsultants.com.au

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Self Compassion – Acceptance of All of Yourself

Posted on March 7, 2016 in Uncategorized - 0

Dr Wee Hong Tan, Clinical Psychologist

“If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.” – Dalai Lama

It was 1990 in Dharmasala, at the Mind and Life Conference when Dr Sharon Salzberg (known for her work on Loving Kindness) asked the Dalai Lama about self-hate. This startled the Dalai Lama very much and he was unable to comprehend how people could come to hate themselves. Yet when we look around us at friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances, we see self-hate being manifested.

I recall a client (let’s call him Jason) who had been hit by a taxi late at night whilst trying to cross the road at a marked junction and as a result had developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What struck me and made me winch was that he constantly pinned the fault on himself. He should not have been in the driver’s blind spot. He should have checked before crossing. He stepped out too abruptly. He should not have developed PTSD and caused his parents so much grief; not to mention how much they have to pay for him to see a psychiatrist, a psychologist, an orthopedic surgeon for his fractured femur and a physiotherapist. He was at fault and shame on him – that was the message that constantly came out from him. The interesting thing is that Jason had no difficulties being empathetic and compassionate to others. He just had a problem being compassionate to himself; somehow he has left himself out of the compassion equation.

What are some of the signs of self-loathing or self-hate:

  • Constant self-criticism leading to poor self-esteem (e.g., “You dumbass! It’s your fault”)
  • Perfectionism or excessively high standards
  • Constant self-policing in the belief that human nature is inherently flawed and dark (e.g., “You should have smiled without showing your teeth!”)
  • Rejecting or censoring parts of ourselves (e.g., “You should not be sad! You need to love your parents not hate them!”)
  • Neglecting self-care or excessive self-sacrifice to the point of compromising our own well-being with the related belief that we don’t deserve to care for ourselves

Imagine if you would, that you are surrounded by people who constantly put you down, who point out your faults, who shame you, who bully you. What would that do to you? I would guess that you stand a good chance of being very anxious and tense and perhaps even become depressed. The same thing can happen when the bashing comes from within us!

What can we do to be more compassionate to ourselves? Clinical Psychologist, Tara Brach provides us with the answer:

“Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what I call Radical Acceptance. If we are holding back from any part of our experience, if our heart shuts out any part of who we are and what we feel, we are fueling the fears and feelings of separation that sustain the trance of unworthiness. Radical Acceptance directly dismantles the very foundations of this trance.” – Tara Brach

Radical acceptance in this instance means making space within ourselves to accept every aspect of ourselves. How can we do this practically?

Here are some proposed steps that I would urge you to try out:

Step 1. Make a list of the different parts of you (the shy one, the critical one, the quirky one etc.)

Step 2. List down the characteristics of each part in detail – if it were a person, what personality does it have? What does it typically say to you or do to you?

Step 3. Turn your attention inside yourself and observe mindfully all the parts that come up. As they arise, notice how you tend to react to them. Instead of rejecting them, imagine making a space in your mindscape and allow them to be there. Give each part of you its own space in your mindscape.

With repeated practice of these steps, you might find yourself feeling more compassionate with yourself.

 

Dr Wee Hong Tan is a bi-lingual Clinical Psychologist practicing at Psychology Consultants Newmarket on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday mornings. Click here to read more about Dr Wee Hong Tan.

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