for July, 2016

Three four check the door….Nine, ten and again…

Posted on July 28, 2016 in Anxiety & Depression - 0

By Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

Many of us from time to time have turned back to our house or car to check if we have locked or have wondered if we have left the iron on only to find later that these concerns were unwarranted. We also from a young age play out some superstitious beliefs by not walking on the cracks in the pavement, not walking under ladders or taking our lucky pen to our exam.

For most of us, these thoughts about something bad happening if we do or don’t do something are not given too much credence. We are able to push that element of doubt from our mind about something bad happening and be able to move on with our day.

Unfortunately, a small percentage of the population (estimated 1-2%) experience significant difficulties in tolerating uncertainty. Locking the door and leaving the house in the morning for example can create significant distress and anxiety that it feels impossible to leave as they think they cannot be 100% certain and if something bad happens they will be blamed. This type of behaviour that generates significant distress and anxiety, which then goes on to interfere with a person’s day to day functioning, is often diagnosed as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder otherwise abbreviated to the acronym of OCD.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder refers to a cluster of symptoms such as anxiety, negative and intrusive thoughts which are the obsessions and compulsions frequently demonstrated in behaviour or some type of undoing ritual. For example, someone with OCD may have the thought that they have touched something that can lead to contamination. In an effort to reduce this distressing thought, they will compulsively wash their hands. The problem is, the more they wash their hands, the more they reinforce the thought that something bad may happen to them as they never collect any other evidence to the contrary. To put it in simpler terms, despite having red raw hands, they often don’t get sick which they attribute to the hand washing ritual rather than a normal experience. When they do get sick, this will often increase the hand washing ritual.

Paul Salkovskis, a well-known psychologist in the field of OCD often refers to the sufferer as having an exaggerated sense of uncertainty and an emphasis on the concept of responsibility. Performing a ritual will then go to reduce their level of distress but it is only temporary until the next negative thought occurs. Sufferers also commonly think that if they have a thought about something then this can possibly be true. Another researcher in the field of OCD (Rachman) referred to this concept as ‘thought-action fusion’. So for example, if I think that I have run someone over on my way home despite no external evidence, this may then be true. I then will feel compelled to check. OCD can happen in all shapes and forms. It doesn’t discriminate by age, social status, gender or education. Some individuals have such distressing thoughts often expressed in sexual, religious or violent forms, that they believe they are capable of committing some heinous act and they are too afraid to speak of these thoughts. Others may get stuck for hours performing one ritual. Families and relationships will often suffer. Jobs are sometimes lost. There is often a sense of intense shame experienced by the sufferer and many suffer in silence.
There is help for OCD and you don’t need to suffer in silence.

Many people with OCD respond to psychological therapy with the occasional assistance of some medication that may be prescribed by their GP or a psychiatrist. Therapy basically consists of reinforcing a healthy way to think and gradually decreasing compulsions which allows the individual to understand that often something bad does not happen if at all. If you think that you may be suffering from OCD or anxiety, maybe it is time to speak to your family and GP and raise your hand for some assistance. Remember…just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true.

Kathryn Smith is an experienced Clinical Psychologist and co-director of Psychology Consultants Brisbane. To read Kathryn’s bio and view our full team of Clinical Psychologists, visit the Brisbane Psychologists page of our website:

For further information on OCD the Beyond Blue website contains many useful resources, visit

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How to recognise stress

Posted on July 22, 2016 in Uncategorized - 0

During LIfeline’s Stress Down Day- Friday 22nd July 2016 

By Rhonda Stanton, Clinical Psychologist Registrar

The human species has evolved since prehistoric times and one system that has enabled this is the fight or flight response. In times of stress or danger, this inbuilt alarm system is triggered which releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin within our body. This prepares our body to respond to the situation by either running away (flight) or if this is not possible to stay and defend ourself (fight). Today, many of our modern day stressors are psychological in origin and are often chronic, lasting from weeks to years.

What is stress?

Stress is a reaction to the demands of life. It refers to the physical, mental and emotional reactions of people when the demands of a situation are perceived to outweigh a person’s ability to cope and/or their resources. As well as having an effect on our body, stress also affects our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

What causes stress?

Stress can be triggered by environmental stressors ie external pressures that occur from sources outside of ourself. Examples include high workloads, the death of friend or financial problems. Other stressors are internal to our self and about how a person responds to situations in their life. Examples include thoughts such as “I can’t cope” or “”Can’t they see I’m busy”.

It is important to note that triggers can be both positive and negative. Getting married, having a baby, or starting a new job are usually experienced as positive whereas experiencing financial problems or work stress would be considered negative. Both types of triggers can be experienced as stressful.

How to recognize stress

Recognising stress can be difficult because it often sneaks up on us. Although there are many symptoms of stress, how it manifests is individual. Some people become irritable and for others muscle pain is the first sign. Stress can be recognized across four areas – physical, thinking, feeling and behaviours. By learning your unique stress symptoms, you can intervene earlier.

Physical Thinking Feeling Behaviour
Headaches Forgetfulness Irritable Difficulty sleeping
Muscle stiffness Difficulty concentrating Hopeless Procrastinating
Tight chest “I can’t do this…it’s too much” Numb Increased smoking/alcohol use
Nausea “I don’t have time” On edge Clenching jaw
Weight gain/loss “I should be able to sort this out” Stressed Snapping at people
Tiredness “Do I have to do everything around here?” Desperate Staying in bed
Skin conditions “I don’t want to talk to anyone” Vulnerable Avoiding people


When does stress become problematic?

Short periods of stress or low level stress are unlikely to lead to harm. Some stress helps to motivate us and achieve goals. However, when stressful situations continue the body is kept in a constant state of arousal which can lead to a range of negative consequences for physical health and also for our mental health and wellbeing.

What can you do?

There are a number of things that can reduce life stress. Learning how to respond differently to stressful situations, taking time to relax, adding some physical activity and eating well, and having some fun are helpful strategies.

Other strategies include time management and improving communication skills.

If you think you may need additional help to manage life stress, ask your GP about a Mental Health Care Plan and referral to a psychologist. This provides a Medicare rebate for psychological treatment. Alternatively, you can make an appointment directly with Psychology Consultants as a private client.



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Stop the world I want to get off!

Posted on July 21, 2016 in Uncategorized - 0

During Lifeline’s Stress Down Day- 22 July 2016

by Clinical Psychologist, Cherie Dalton

What’s for dinner? I’m running late! Another bill to pay. Buy a gift. People coming for lunch. Have to work back late. Nothing ironed. Fitting in exercise. Getting to bed late again. Lunch boxes. Early starts. Family arguments. Fridge leaking. Stuck in traffic. Another negative news story.

Aaarrrrgghhh “STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF!” The good news is, it’s Stress Down Day and there is much we can do to reduce the stress by being aware.

Our nervous system has an accelerator and a brake! Much like our immune system, when there is threat to our health, our immune system fires up to handle the impact and returns to normal once we are well again. At times of increased demand and stress, our sympathetic nervous system accelerates to deal with the stress by producing stress hormones that assist our body to be ready to fight, flee or freeze. The result is increased heart rate, faster breathing, increased alertness, tense muscles, readiness to react, decreased appetite and disrupted sleep. Once the stress has passed, our parasympathetic nervous system applies the brakes and we return to our normal calmer selves. In other words, the parasympathetic system functions to help us ‘rest and digest’.

At times of enduring stress such as our modern, busy lives we have little down time to apply the brakes and our nervous systems are expected to continue firing with no rest. Just as we need to nurture our immune systems to support physical health, it’s vital that we recognise our bodies need to ‘control-alt-delete’ from the physical and emotional impacts of stress and to apply the brakes. Our minds and bodies need a rest from the stress and a good deal more sleep! The following suggestions assist us to apply the brakes and support our parasympathetic nervous system to cope with daily life.

  • Eat well no matter how busy you are (for some people, just remembering to eat is helpful!)
  • Keep tabs on your caffeine intake
  • Remember to keep up your water intake
  • Find a buffer between work and home life (e.g take a walk, go to the gym, put on some music, call a friend before arriving home)
  • Notice if you are taking responsibility for things you don’t need to
  • Reintroduce the things that help keep life balanced (these are often removed during stressful times)
  • Walk and notice what you can hear, smell, see and touch
  • Ask yourself what you are grateful for each morning  (just 3 things!)
  • Look at someone you care about in the eyes and notice what they mean to you
  • Ask yourself “Do we need a night out without the kids?”
  • Leave work on time and make a social arrangement or commitment to help you do this
  • Consider if there is something that can be delegated or worked on collaboratively
  • Spend time with nature – plan a bushwalk, a picnic, fish and chips and a walk at the waterfront or on the beach, take City Cat somewhere, sit on the grass, lie and look at the clouds
  • Try the free trial of the HeadSpace App to learn about meditation
  • Commit to getting to bed earlier and ensure no screen time before bed
  • Take a hot bath with Epsom Salts.

If you feel you’ve been under chronic stress for a while and you are concerned about its impact on your mood, chat to your doctor and consider a referral to a psychologist. There is much that can be done to ease and prevent the negative effects of stress. For more information on our team of Clinical Psychologists at Psychology Consultants visit our Brisbane Psychologists page.

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What is your ideal ‘waking up formula’?

Posted on July 4, 2016 in Uncategorized - 0

During Sleep awareness week 4-10th July 2016

By Dr Mark Wetton, Clinical Psychologist

For some of us, waking up is hard sometimes. But for many others, waking up is hard all of the time.

So how can we make waking up easier and more reliable? Well, the key may lie in making sure we are waking up our brain by using a specific ‘waking up formula’.

To figure out your ultimate waking up formula, we need to first review some main factors that have been found by research to influence our sleeping habits:

1. We sleep best in darkness – Bright white or blue light shining in our eyes disrupts the secretion of sleep hormones.

2. We sleep best when we feel safe – Unusual or unexpected noises, especially loud ones, tend to disrupt sleep.

3. We are more likely to fall asleep when our mind is less active, or less activated – Being consumed by anxious thoughts, or interacting with electronic devices, tends to keep us awake.

So, if we consider trying to get our brain to sleep is the opposite challenge to waking our brain up, the waking up formula becomes clear: In the morning, do the things that will stimulate the brain to be awake rather than signaling the brain to continue sleeping.

1. Switch off your brain’s sleep hormone with bright light.

2. Wake the brain from its sleep state with loud noise, and keep the noise going in the background…

3. Give the brain a reason to be active by challenging it with stimulating activities – The kind of activities that will wake you up best are likely to be those that keep you awake at night.

So this is your waking up formula, the general points to consider. But there is one final point left, perhaps the most important point. The point where most people who try to wake up usually fail:

Figure out ways to make all of these parts of the ‘waking up formula’ happen in the morning without having to actually get out of the comfort of your bed! And do it every morning until it becomes a habit…

For more information on Dr Wetton and the team of Clinical Psychologist at Psychology Consultants visit 

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