Action for Happiness, January 2022

It’s the start of another new month, a new week, a new year – and so many of us are hoping that this one brings more happiness, more smiles, more relief and far less of the overwhelming worry and burn out that so many of us have been experiencing in recent months.

I hope that Christmas and the New Year holiday have given you all some real peace and relief, and that the stress that can come with those ‘festive’ days has been managable.

As always, we start the month with the Action for Happiness Calendar – and this month’s theme is a happier January; there are prompts each day to take a little time to make a smile – your own or someone else’s – and feed into the happier experiences so that they grow and thrive.

 

Remember that if you are struggling, there is no shame, no stigma, in asking for help. I am here to support you and can signpost you to the right services, or offer my own counselling support for some personal, one-to-one help. You can contact me here. – and there are a number of channels to help on this page.

Neuroception – or listening to our instincts

I have been reading a new book by Stephen Porges, called Poly Vagal Safety. It covers lots of different knowledge about how we detect stress and feelings of threat. Without going into the theory in too much detail, one of the things that Porges is known for is creating of the word ‘neuroception’, which defines the ability for our bodies to detect danger and feelings of threat before we come into conscious awareness that something is off.

Polyvagal Safety: Attachment, Communication, Self-Regulation (IPNB) by [Stephen W. Porges]

Click the image to find the book on Amazon

To explain this more, interoception skills are where we notice body sensations; we might be aware when our body is feeling anxious, and we may go into a fight or flight response. Neuroception means that we can still be experiencing responses to threat when we are unaware of the signals or causes, and have no memory of the events (this is particularly true for young children, where they may have no memory or language for events, but their bodies and brains store and recall trauma). So, as an adult there will be issues with threat response, but an inability to put a finger on why.

Some people may experience this as a ‘gut feeling’ – as intuition that something is off, but they are not aware of any clear signals or obvious indicators of threat.  Others have no conscious awareness, but their body has detected something. Sometimes in this instance their body moves into a shutdown response, or even into states like disassociating, panic attacks and fainting.


Thinking about trauma, and the responses our bodies have to feelings of being unsafe, could potentially be a trigger point for the individual. The sense of being on full alert mode has not left. So, what does this mean for the individual, both physically and mentally?

Acknowledging what happens to humans when they are in prolonged situations of stress is important. We know that prolonged exposure to stress increases cortisol and adrenalin in the body, putting us at increased risk of anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, muscle tension, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep problems, weight gain and memory and concentration impairment – and that isn’t an exhaustive list! The short and long term impacts of stress on our bodies can lead to chronic illnesses, increased risk of life limiting diseases, and significant trauma.

Whilst it may be unclear whether an individual does have PTSD, we would do well to assume that certain situations may leave the individual experiencing symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In thinking about this ongoing exposure to stress and anxiety, there are some steps we can take to reduce the likelihood of a trauma response:

  • Acknowledge it – and be aware of the possibility of negative instinctive responses or increased stress
  • Take a pause or break from any work or important tasks you’re involved with
  • Make time to relax and focus on self-care
  • Have compassion for the individual in this situation (including yourself)
  • Practice controlled and active mindfulness and mindful breathing
  • Explore any feelings and thoughts through journaling/art
  • Find reasons for gratitude throughout the day
  • Avoid alcohol – which doesn’t cheer you up, it just makes whatever you’re already feeling seem bigger, so stress and anxiety will increase
  • Speak to a friend or loved one, or someone you trust
  • Get outdoors
  • Exercise

Finding a way to distance yourself from the stressor or to just ground yourself in the moment helps to put things into perspective, and gives your body and mind time to recognise that you are safe and in control.

If you would like more support and a safe space to speak about your experiences, and to process past trauma, I can help;  contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 (you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person) I may not be able to answer right away, if I am in session, but please leave me a message and as soon as I’m able to, I will respond.

World AIDS Day – December 1st

Today marks World AIDS day – a day where we focus on the ongoing support of those living with HIV and AIDS, and on funding further research and medical advances which protect people and save lives impacted by the disease.

I have worked for many years with people living with HIV and AIDS, and there has been a huge amount of change, progress and advancement in the medical treatments available, but many people still fear the stigma which comes with the diagnosis.

Today the UK Government unveiled their HIV Action Plan for England, which was largely based on the HIV Commission report from the Terrence Higgins Trust (find out more here) which sets out the planned goal of ending all new HIV transmissions in England by 2030.

Red ribbon held by four hands

There has also been an additional £20 million promised to improved testing in areas with the highest prevalence of infection, which will help to find people with undiagnosed HIV – which is a good start, but still rather light on details about how more people can access PrEP and support.

I know from the work I do with clients who are living with HIV or AIDS themselves, or who are supporting a loved one who is, that PrEP is a life changing drug; for those who don’t know much about it, PrEP is a medication which can be taken by HIV negative people before (or after) sex which significantly reduces the risk of transmission – and it is now available for free from NHS sexual health clinics. This investment into medication which is proven to prevent the transmission of HIV is going to save a great many lives, and allows those living with HIV and AIDS to continue having safe, loving relationships and sexual experiences without fear.

Though AIDS is not the terrifying, death-sentence diagnosis it once was, and a large proportion of those living with HIV and AIDS are symptom-free and healthy, there is still a lot of work to do. Further increasing the support and treatment for those who are ill, for those who want to remain well, and preventing transmission with medication and education, is an ongoing battle.

As well as supporting the fundraising which allows for these (and you can support the cause here) it’s also vital that education and awareness continues to grow, so that people can live safely and openly, without any shame or fear around the diagnosis.

Currently, there is still a lot of fear around AIDS; a lack of understanding about what it is, how it can be transmitted, and how it can impact someone’s life means that many living with a diagnosis of HIV or AIDS are doing so in secret, without the support of their friends, family and community. The fear of judgement, of alienation, even of physical harm, is overwhelming.

That’s why – with knowledge, with compassion, and entirely without judgement – I will continue to support those bodies raising awareness and increasing education, and I will continue to work with those people who need a safe place to process the news, to adjust to a new diagnosis, to build their own knowledge and confidence in a changed life.

If you, or someone you love, have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, or you just need somewhere safe to speak, contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 (you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person)

Action for Happiness – December 2021

It’s December – yet another month has passed, and we are at the fresh beginning of a new one. This month is one which many people can find difficult and painful in some ways – but, as this Action for Happiness calendar shows, it’s the very small things which can make a difference to others, and which can turn around a day (or a month!)

These small kindnesses also help us – doing something for another, an act of kindness, of services, of love and support, is a wonderfully healing and uplifting thing for the one doing, as well as for the one receiving.

Still birth and infant loss, grief and trauma – counselling for grieving parents

 

I, among many others, had some time of quiet reflection this month. November 17th was World Prematurity Awareness Day, a day which marks both hope and heartbreak in the lives of so many families, and one which I personally mark every year.

There are so very many personal stories, those of clients I’ve helped to support, those of family and friends, my own journey into motherhood. So many high points and low points, joyous celebrations and devastating losses. The path to becoming a parent is never as straightforward as we may have anticipated, and can be very difficult to come to terms with, no matter which outcome we find ourselves living.

Those who are blessed and take home a healthy baby are often told that they ought to feel lucky, that so many others don’t get that ending, but though they may have the ending we all hope for it doesn’t undo or erase the grief and trauma they may have experienced along the path.

We still understand so little about the mysteries of childbirth – and there are still a great many people experiencing miscarriages who are expected to simply try again, and told “it’s God’s plan” or that “These things happen for a reason” when there is no reason that could possibly make it ok.

There are still births happening every day, even in the most medically advanced nations, which may have been avoided, which may never have an explanation. Infant loss and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome taking lives, and devastating families, with no way to ever understand how or why it happened.

For every mother who takes a baby home in her arms there are others who cannot – who may never – do the same with their own children. Many who do have living children, but who continue to mourn the loss of other babies, and are told to “feel lucky” as if a healthy baby ‘makes up’ for loss.

These are very difficult feelings to manoeuvre through. The combination of grief and joy, of love and guilt, of sorrow and hope. I faced my own pain along the way, so am in a position of unique empathy when I support someone through processing these feelings. My work as a counsellor means I can guide people through the complex and contrasting emotions, and with specialised training in bereavement for those mourning infant and baby loss I offer unique insight and support which those who haven’t faced the same issues can’t quite offer.

If you have experienced miscarriage, still birth or infant loss, or are struggling to conceive, and need someone to help you, please don’t feel you need to face your grief alone. I am qualified in bereavement therapy, and specifically in infant and baby loss, and I can be there with you as you move through these challenging times.

If you need support you can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 (you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person)

 

National Stress Awareness Day

The phrase ‘Stress Awareness Day’ always makes me laugh a little; after all, who on earth is unaware of their stress? But that’s not what it really means; stress awareness day is more about being aware of the stress others might be experiencing – and how we can do small things to help alleviate it.

There is a wealth of advice online (and available from your Doctor, Counsellor or a mental health representative in your workplace, as well as via charities like Mind) about how to better manage and reduce stress – and some things work better than others, and for others, so the best advice I can give is to try a few different methods and keep doing what works for you.

The obvious first steps are to speak to someone you trust (a friend or loved one, your manager at work, a counsellor or your doctor, if things are really getting on top of you) and to make a plan for changing the things that are stressing you out. If you’re overworked, your manager could help you to move things around and get more down time. If you’re financially stretched, a partner could sit and do a new budget with you to reduce the pressure. If you’re just fizzing with anxiety, some exercise and a decent meal will go a long way.

Exercise is the one that usually annoys me; when I’m feeling overwhelmed and someone suggests I go for a walk, get some fresh air and get my body moving, my blood pumping, and just take a break from computer screens and work, it often irritates me. What’s more irritating is that when I do that, and get the fresh air and a good stomping walk through some woodland, it always helps. Every time. And whoever suggested it was right. How annoying!

The strange reluctance of the stressed to avoid the things we know will help is common – so don’t think you’re alone, or that you’re the only person who grumpily slips into a little bit of self-destruct when you’re overwhelmed. We’re all guilty of it to some extent – and that’s why it’s so important to be honest with how you’re feeling, and how you’re sometimes reluctant to change anything.

But stress can have a hugely negative impact on our health (mental and physical) and can have serious repercussions on our future success, health and potential for contentment. There are always steps we can take to reduce stress – and even when we don’t really want to admit it, we know they help and that we should be giving ourselves a little break.

Breaks, rest and down time

Too many of us are guilty of pushing ourselves too much, for too long. Working long hours, eating lunch at our desk, committing to too many things that burn us out.

It’s absolutely vital to take breaks, regularly and consistently. Take proper breaks, away from your desk, from your screens, from the bombardment of information we are subjected to in our everyday lives. Step outside, sit somewhere peaceful, breathe real air and give yourself chance to just exist outside of what you’re doing or achieving, and just be.

Exercise

I know. I KNOW. Ugh. But, as I said above, it really does help – even (if not especially) at the times we least want to do it. Now, I’m not saying you need to commit to a gym routine and build yourself a solid 6 pack with bulging biceps – but a ten minute stroll in the outdoors can make a huge difference in your mental wellbeing and your ability to manage stress.

Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and in our busy modern lives it can be hard to find a way to fit that in, but making your own needs a priority means that you’ve got more in the bank to give to everything else, so really there’s no good enough excuse.

Walk to work, walk the dog, get the couch to 5k app, buy a mini trampoline, follow a YouTube yoga video, join a dance class – whatever it is, pick  something that makes you smile, and try to make it a regular part of your routine so you are getting your heart pumping and boosting the happy hormones that keep your body and mind running smoothly.

Sleep

Hands up who has lain awake late into the night, thinking about mistakes made in the past, worrying about things we should have done and haven’t, or dreading tomorrow’s to-do list…? Yeah – me too, and it’s so damaging.

Sleep is the best ingredient for mental (and, again, physical) health – and it’s vital for our bodies to recover from the exertion of the day and heal small hurts, build new cells, process the general functions that keep things ticking along. It’s also vital for our minds to process everything we’ve been doing, store away memories, tidy up thoughts and organise everything we’ve experienced. Sleep deprivation is incredibly harmful, and over time consistently getting too little sleep increases the chances of heart disease, reduces our productivity and wellbeing, makes us irritable and disorganised, and causes all manner of problems.

Prioritising sleep means you might need to change your routine; avoid any kind of screen for an hour before bed, drink a warm herbal tea, spend some time reading a favourite book, have a warm bath, whatever it is that winds you down and gets your relaxation going so that your mind recognises that now is the time to switch off. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep, and maintain a similar schedule even if you’re tempted by a massive weekend lie in or a late night now and then.

It’s been a really difficult couple of years, and it’s no surprise that statistics show that stress levels have increased nationally, with more people than ever reporting that they are experiencing stress and struggling to manage it.

The more openly we can speak about the stress we are experiencing, and the more we can support each other with it, the better we will all cope, and the more likely we will be to thrive beyond this period of history.

If you would like me to write more articles on how to better manage stress send me a message or respond on my social media channels and I will create some downloadable content for you to use in your own lives.

If you are struggling with stress and need someone safe to speak with, please get in touch – you can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 (you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person)4rf  because I can help you to process the things you are feeling overwhelmed with and make a plan for moving through them, and building a more resilient tomorrow.

Halloween and mental health

 In years gone by Halloween wasn’t much of a ‘thing’ – perhaps there would be some candles, some treacle toffee if you were lucky, and a turnip lamp – but it wasn’t really celebrated the way that it is now.

Whether it’s from movies or a globalisation of what was once American culture, there’s no denying that Halloween is a big deal now – but not everyone is a fan.

For some people it’s a party – fun costumes, games with friends, sweets and treats, and staying up late to Trick or Treat, knocking on neighbourhood doors to ask for goodies.

But there are those who don’t get the same joy from the occasion; for whom the knocking on doors and shouting for treats is nothing but fear inducing.

Some people – those living with anxiety, those with PTSD, elderly people, people with dementia, sick people, anyone who has a heightened fight or flight response – can find their doorbell ringing very triggering.

It is an intrusion into their safe space, a jarring and fear inducing sound, a challenge to the usual security of the home. People jumping out of the dark in costumes, their faces hidden, is terrifying, their identities and motives hidden.

The trend of ‘trick’ pranks can be vandalism, causing mess and damage to their property if they don’t answer to give out sweets, and the fear of that can be overwhelming.

If you or your children are planning Trick or Treat adventures this Halloween please try to remember some of the basic courtesies which have become traditional too:

  • Only visit houses which are decorated – a lit pumpkin outside = welcome
  • If a house has no pumpkin outside, skip it!
  • Don’t stay out too late – set a curfew of 8pm, after which you shouldn’t visit homes
  • Only knock or ring the bell once – and if nobody answers, leave quietly (Maybe they are out of sweets – maybe they have smaller children who are going to bed – maybe they’ve simply had enough intrusion and want some peace)
  • Try to keep smaller children calm and quiet – no screaming in peoples doorways!

Try to remember that, although this is a fun holiday for you, and you’re having a great time in your costumes with family and friends, not everyone feels the same way – so be respectful, aware of the impact you may be having on those who are more vulnerable, and teach your children the basic rules above, so they can avoid inadvertently upsetting others too.

Another important factor to keep in mind this year, as the pandemic continues to impact lives, is that some homes may have positive Covid cases, others vulnerable people who are sheltering and could be put at risk by having a string of strangers ringing the doorbell bringing exposure to viral infections.

Many places are agreeing to skip the trick or treat traditions, and I know that’s sad for those who get so much pleasure from the adventure, and it’s yet another thing that our children might be missing out on as a result of the pandemic – but protecting people’s lives is the first priority, and it’s everyone’s responsibility. Even without Covid, you should be mindful of the impact you could be having on the more vulnerable members of your community, and of being alert to their needs.

If this time of year brings you any challenges, or triggers any kind of past trauma that you feel you could benefit from support with, please do get in touch; you can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.

National Coming Out Day

Rainbow flags, gay marriage and Queer culture are far more openly discussed, celebrated and shared than they used to be – but we still have a long way to go before the world sees the LGBTQIA+ community as wholly equal to cis, straight identities.

In just two generations we have gone from homosexuality being illegal to it being a celebrated part of mainstream culture – gay marriage legalised, human rights extended far further, and Pride celebrations lighting cities and towns around the world up with rainbows, sparkles and love.

However, there are still a lot of people who live in fear. Who worry that their families and loved ones will reject them, turn their back, if they ‘choose to be’ gay. We know that sexuality is not a choice; that it is simply how people are, from birth – the nature vs nurture debate long since debunked in this circumstance – but there are still communities who believe that they can ‘convert’ gay people into straight lives.

All this does is destroy people; it causes life long trauma and heartache, a dissociation from their true self and a feeling of emptiness and separation from a life with love and contentment – which is a very basic human need.

Love – the partnership and support of a partner – is something many people take for granted, and in denying ones own sexuality it puts a barrier between the self and anyone else, romantically or otherwise. The fear of being found out, of being ‘seen’, taints everything – and creates friction and grief in every aspect of the individual’s life.

Coming out is a daunting and life altering event; one which could be a celebration, an acceptance and welcoming of love and a lifetime of happiness – or which could be a rejection, a painful experience which sees someone shamed and disowned simply for wanting love.

If you are questioning your sexuality and looking for support, or if you had a difficult experience with family or loved ones when you came out, I can help. You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.

World Mental Health Day

I wrote last year about World Mental Health Day, and the pressures that the mental health care system was facing, particularly in response to the pandemic, which impacted people in a plethora of different ways.

https://www.amandaburbidge-counselling.co.uk/2019/10/31/world-mental-health-awareness/

I said 12 months ago that people were being left waiting for help that was urgently needed – and that I didn’t know what the solution was, but that Government needed to acknowledge the failings and gaps, and invest more heavily into providing that support long term for those most in need.

What’s changed since then?

Well – not an awful lot, to be honest. The same pressures are still sitting on the shoulders of our population, the same crisis of too many people in crisis with too little resource to support them, the same lack of funding for those most desperately in need.

But in that 12 months people have been continuing to speak more openly and honestly about their own mental health, creating safe spaces in their social circles and workplaces to support one another, to bring comfort and guidance, and to help people find channels to help themselves whilst they wait to access professional support.

This honesty is absolutely vital when it comes to mental health awareness; loneliness and shame are the biggest dangers, and those who find their mental health suffering often feel that they are failing in some way, or that they need to try and disguise or hide that struggle.

The problem with that is it leaves you alone in that dark place, with nothing but the struggle for company – and that can make it seem like it’s everything, everywhere, everywhen – and that’s when it gets too big to cope with – and that’s when the danger of taking drastic steps increases.

Instead, speaking honestly, openly and discussing the ways we are finding things difficult, the things we find overwhelming, releases a huge amount of the pressure – meaning that we feel lighter and freer, that we have those challenges in common and are all experiencing similar situations, so we aren’t alone with them. Sharing problems is a powerful way to ease them.

Not everyone can access care and support at the moment – so the pressure is on everyone to find ways to lighten the load and support one another as a community, and to speak more honestly with our friends and family, with our employers and colleagues, and with the services which we can access for help.

If you are looking for support and want a safe place to speak to someone experienced and qualified, and feel ready to work through the challenges you’re currently struggling with to make all of your tomorrows easier. You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.

National Do Something Nice Day

Kindness is an underrated trait – one which is so very important, and still regularly dismissed as making a person ‘weak’ or ‘a pushover’ because there are those who will take advantage of that kindness.

Kindness – the act of giving something of oneself for the benefit of another, however that manifests – is a beautiful thing to live by, and small acts of it can have an enormous impact on the day, if not life, of the person receiving it.

It’s also something that you need to put into practice towards yourself; kindness – and forgiveness – which encourages you to keep going when things are hard, praising yourself for the things you do well, forgiving yourself for mistakes and using them as a chance to learn, rather than punishing yourself.

The world has become something of a challenge for many people – anxiety and mental ill health are increasing, thanks to the pressures of a global pandemic, extremism, right wing politics and the strain on the economy – and it’s no surprise that people are tense and struggling to maintain a balance in their lives, with all of that to contend with.

Times like these show that kindness is more important than ever. False information runs rampant on social media and people are quick to judge and to throw blame or even anger at those who don’t share their views. Kindness is pushed aside as we see more people struggling – and that’s the time to take a step back, to take some deep breaths, and to think how you can react with kindness to the situation.

Sometimes that kindness needs to be for yourself – which means stepping away from the situation or people altogether and creating some boundaries which protect you from future harm.

Doing something nice – for yourself or for someone else – isn’t something which should require an awareness day, but when we are still in survival mode (because of a very frightening pandemic, for example…) we can lose track of the small ways we impact on others – so take a little time to do something nice. Anything. Big or small. It could be taking biscuits into the office, helping someone carry their shopping, buying a friend a coffee. It could be as simple as just smiling more and asking people how they are – giving them a few minutes of your time and attention when you’re usually too busy.

And above all else, do something nice for yourself – cook your favourite dinner, have a soak in a bubble bath, watch your favourite show, buy that jumper you’ve been eyeing up.

Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to cost much, but it should make someone smile, and give a little pop of happiness which could turn around an entire day.

Being nice rubs off on people.