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Stress a leading cause of mental health issues

Posted on July 23, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

Today, Tuesday 24th July is Lifeline’s Stress Down Day, an important reminder of the importance of SLOWING DOWN.

For most Australian’s, our daily lives operate at a frantic pace and with smart phone in hand, we can be contacted (or harassed) anywhere, anytime, so it’s little wonder that as a nation our stress levels are at an all-time high. According to a study into stress and wellbeing run by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) in 2014; “Almost two in five Australians reported experiencing at least some depression symptoms, with 13% of these Australians reporting depression symptoms in the severe to extremely severe range [and] more than one quarter of Australians reported experiencing at least some anxiety symptoms, with 13% of these Australians reporting severe to extremely severe levels of anxiety.”

But rather than sit back and accept these statistics, let’s take charge, make a change and start reducing daily stress levels.

Here are 5 practical ways to regain work life balance and improve your health and wellbeing…

  1. Set boundaries around work time and location

Making a rule around not bringing work into the home can be difficult, especially with the expectation that we must be accessible 24/7. But by leaving the laptop at work you may also be more likely to leave the stress of work there too. If you work from home or it is simply not feasible to do this in your position, allocating set times that you work and areas of the house that you work from, may help you ‘shut off’ and stop work stress seeping into your home life.

  1. Put the Smart Phone Down!

According to a Roy Morgan Research study, 45% of Australian smart phone owners (14+ years) say they can’t live without their mobiles. Our obsession and absolute dependence on our smart phones are making it even more difficult to walk away from work with emails accessible at a swipe. Forming some healthy habits around when and where you use your smart phone may help you switch off, allowing you to relax, be present and enjoy home life. Research also shows that the blue/green light omitted from smart phones impacts negatively on sleep, so keeping phones and laptops away from the bedroom is a must.

  1. Share and commit to the plan

Sharing your plan to ‘leave work at the office’ with loved ones or friends will help make your commitment real. Give them the power to call you on it, if you are sneaking in one more email before bed or taking calls when you should be relaxing with the kids. Sharing your ‘de-stress plan’ and forming a good support network will also help share the burden of stress or help manage the symptoms.

  1. Form an End of Work Ritual

Making a cue or signal that works has finished for the day may help your brain switch off. Whether it is going for a run, hitting the pilates studio or listening to music on the way home, these are simple ways to say to yourself and others, ‘I am done for the day’!

  1. Exercise

There really is no better de-stressor than exercise. This can be time just for you to unwind, work on your fitness and have a bit of “me time”.  Exercise has been clinically proven to increase serotonin levels in the brain and is a natural mood enhancer. It can also help you think things through, decompress and work through any baggage you may have taken on for the day.

Achieving the right work life balance can be a challenge in our fast pace society but by learning how to manage stress; you can significantly improve your health and wellbeing. If you are struggling with stress, talking to a professional can help. Psychology Consultants have a team of Clinical Psychologists based at Morningside and Newmarket, who are experienced in stress management. Visit the Brisbane Psychologists page of our website to view the team and their areas of specialisation.

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Combatting irrational fears by making them boring!

Posted on July 3, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

Feeling fearful is natural, an inbuilt human survival instinct; stemming from our caveman times when survival really was a matter of life and death. Modern day fears though, are often irrational fears or phobia where little or no realistic threat exists. The reality of the posed threat however, is irrelevant to those suffering from irrational fears, and often those afflicted are imprisoned by avoidance behaviour, preventing them from enjoying life and often leading to depression.

Some fears or phobias are less constrictive to everyday life, like a fear of snakes when you live in the city, whereas other phobias, like a fear of driving or social situations, can impede on everyday function. Interestingly, above fear of heights, snakes or flying, social phobia is reported as the most commonly held fear. Avoiding the feared situation is a natural response to reduce feelings of anxiety in the short term, however in the long term, the severity of the fear will only worsen. When fears are putting the hand-break on your life, it’s time to enlist professional help to kick those fears to the curb by challenging them to a duel.

One of the most well-known psychological practices for overcoming irrational thoughts and anxieties is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This involves challenging irrational thoughts as they enter the mind and shutting them down as to change action and behaviour. Once the thoughts are being cognitively challenged, the next step as a part of CBT is to overcome the specific phobias is by facing them front on. For many people, confronting the fear in real life situations, as stressful as it may be, is the only way out.

Exposing people or animals to things repeatedly so that they become so familiar and unstimulating, is what psychologists refer to as ‘Exposure Therapy’. This form of therapy is widely considered the most effective treatment for anxiety disorders and specific phobias. Essentially, the theory is based on facing your fears directly, not only by challenging the thoughts but by carrying out the feared action or immersing yourself in the feared situation to gradually decrease your sensitivity to the fear; in the end make it ‘boring’.

There are several variations of exposure therapy and your psychologist can help you determine which strategy is best suited to you. Exposure therapy can be a stress provoking experience and is best practiced under the guidance of a psychologist who will create a safe environment for you when undergoing this treatment. A gradual approach is often recommended with each confrontation or experience revealing new realities, building confidence and gaining power over those irrational thoughts and fears.

However difficult confronting those fears may be, the long-term benefits, far outweigh the short-term discomfort, setting you free to live life to its fullest. If you are a prisoner to your fears, take action today by seeing a psychologist. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

 

 

 

 

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The Healing Power of Sleep

Posted on June 29, 2018 in Uncategorized - 0

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

When you skimp on sleep, your body goes into overdrive and operating on an empty tank can have some pretty heavy side effects. Here’s three reasons why getting better sleep can heal your mind, body and soul.

1. You eat less when you have slept better

A recent finding from a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, revealed that people ate up to 300 fewer calories when they had adequate sleep and there are many reasons for this. One being the part of the brain that controls sleep, also plays a part in appetite stimulation. It is also true, that when you are tired you are more likely to crave carbohydrates and have less will-power to resist food. The obvious link between weight and sleep is simply based on the fact that you spend less hours awake consuming calories.

2. Better Sleep improves mood

It’s no secret that we have our cranky pants on when sleep has fallen to the wayside. Over time, this can have an accumulative effect and low mood can result.  Evidence suggests that people with insomnia have a ten-fold risk of developing depression compared with those who sleep well (National Sleep Foundation). Sleep helps to restore the body and mind and in turn we are able to have a more positive outlook on life.

3. Sleep helps to repair the body physically

While you are snoozing, your body is busy repairing itself, tissues and muscles (including out brain) are being rejuvenated, helping your wake up, ready to take on the world. Sleep, also helps the body defend against disease, as you make more white blood cells when in la-la-land, meaning you are less likely to get sick when well rested.

If you are struggling with ongoing insomnia and sleep difficulties, Towards Better Sleep, group insomnia programme could be the long-term solution you are looking for. The next programme starts on 12th July from Psychology Consultants Morningside. Groups run with a maximum of 9 people so places are limited .Register today by calling (07) 3356 8255 or email newmarket@psychologyconsultants.com.au

For more information on the programme visit: http://www.towardsbettersleep.com.au/

 

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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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