Tag Archives: Self-Help

May mental health awareness month: toxic positivity

 

You have probably noticed more conversations around mental health in the media and on social media streams this week. That’s because May is Mental Health Awareness month – and all month (particularly the week of May 10th to 16th in the UK) people are raising funds to support mental health across the UK, and raising awareness with honest, open conversations around the mental health challenges we all face.

There are times when it seems like speaking about mental health is a bit trendy, and buzzwords fly around as people remind each other to be kind, to be mindful and to focus on their positives – but I’ve noticed, especially speaking with clients, that this relentless positivity can actually become very toxic too.

Toxic positivity seems like a contradiction; how can being positive be bad?

Let’s dive into that; what do I mean by toxic positivity?

It is the belief that people should put a positive spin on all experiences, even those that are profoundly tragic. Toxic positivity can silence negative emotions, demean grief, and make people feel under pressure to pretend to be happy even when they are struggling. In some cases, it may be self-imposed.

  • Medical News Today, March 2021

Basically, in pushing people to ‘find the silver lining’ in everything, it doesn’t allow us to grieve. To process. To experience and work through pain.

In truth, the only way to truly grow and move past trauma, anxiety and negative experiences is to move through them. Not to skirt them, to bury them, to dismiss them with ‘look on the bright side’ or to cancel them out with ‘focus on the positive things in your life’ – because in reality, the one cannot and does not cancel out the other.

In a month when we are being more open and raising awareness of mental health issues it’s vitally important to recognise that we have all been facing challenges. That we have all been living with stress, worry, fear. That many have lost people – lost loved ones or colleagues or neighbours. That our lives changed shape. That, since this time last year, life is not the way it was. And that it’s ok to say that absolutely sucks. It’s crap. It’s painful, difficult, utter rubbish.

We don’t have to just accept that it is different without feeling all of our feelings about that.

Living through historical events means we have stories to tell; stories which shape us. It means that, in years to come, those who follow us will have questions and we will know the answers, because we were there.

But right now we are here – and here isn’t always that great.

So please, when someone speaks to you about that, when someone opens up to you, when someone is vulnerable and trying to voice that vulnerability, bite back the temptation to smile and tell them to look on the bright side. Don’t brush off their feelings and point them at happiness. Don’t fall into the toxic positivity trap of always looking for a reason, a solution, a positive slant or something happy to distract from the pain.

Of course it’s important not to wallow – to move through into acceptance and happiness. But it’s just as important to acknowledge the hurt you might feel, to experience it and to understand what the hurt is for, and from, and how you work with it to heal.

There are so many ways to speak about your mental health; support groups, supportive friends and family, social media where you can perhaps find others who feel the same and speak with them about your shared experiences. It isn’t something we need to face alone, isolated with our pain.

But please don’t feel guilty for seeing the dark side. Don’t berate people, or respond with “others have had it worse” because all that does is add more difficulty onto the already heavy burden some are carrying, and make someone who is vulnerable feel guilty for feeling that way.

If you are looking for somewhere to speak about that burden, and to truly work through your hurt, to understand the root cause of the challenges you’re facing and your own behaviour in response to those challenges, and you’re ready to work through your experiences, you can contact me through this website, through Facebook, LinkedIn 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.

Anxiety as lockdown lifts in the UK

 The date is marked on our calendars, and social media channels are full of talk about ‘freedom’, about getting back to social lives, meeting friends in pubs and bars, hitting the shops and getting together with friends and family after many months of isolation.

Understandably a lot of people are very excited, and counting the days down until they can see people again and pick up the pieces of a life we had to drop so suddenly and unexpectedly when the pandemic first began to impact our lives.

But the past 12 months have seen a huge increase in reports of anxiety, depression, mental health difficulties and health problems unrelated to the virus. The pressure of worry about loved ones, about the outside world being rife with dangers, about an invisible enemy we needed to be on constant alert for, and the isolation of being forced to stay home alone will have a knock-on impact on people’s wellbeing for years to come.

It’s no surprise that a great many people are also reporting that leaving lockdown is making them more anxious than being locked down ever did. Stepping back into the world, entering crowded public spaces and being physically close to strangers in those spaces once again feels dangerous, and carries the weight of all the many warnings we’ve had to heed.

The worry that we are putting our health at risk, or that of the people we come into contact with, is one which will take longer to shake off than it took to pick up.

Living through a pandemic means that we have all been functioning in ‘survival mode’ – and our bodies have been running on a higher than usual level of adrenaline and cortisol – the ‘stress’ hormone. This is vital in emergency situations, giving us the clarity and quick responses that could save us from danger, and is a remnant of the prehistoric world we originated from. However, as a lasting and long-term situation this causes damage to our physical health, as well as keeping our brain functioning on a limited, reactive plane. That reactive state means that we aren’t able to be creative, relaxed free or engaged with the world around us in the way we ordinarily would. We are alert at all times, leaving us exhausted and irritable. We are shorter tempered, less patient, less able to enjoy the things that used to bring us peace and joy.

As you are preparing for the time you’ll leave lockdown, and make plans to see loved ones and meet in public places again, don’t feel pressured to jump right in (or out!) and to move fully from the life you’ve adjusted to, to the way things were before. Listen to your body and the instinctive reactions you have to each situation, and though I would never want you to ‘live in fear’ you can trust that you can take things slowly, adjust over time, and introduce new routines one at a time. Meeting some friends doesn’t have to mean a huge gathering, it can be coffee and a walk with one or two, somewhere secluded. Re-entering public spaces can be done carefully. Even the return to work can be managed gradually – and the proven success of remote working is likely to remain an option, at least part time, for most industries.

Frankly, nothing ever will be ‘the same it was before’ because the world has been changed permanently by the impact this pandemic has had on us.

Many of these changes are positive – the flexibility of remote working, the reduced pressure for face-to-face meetings which include travel, expense and high-stress timescales being switched for video conferencing, more autonomy in our working schedules and workloads.

I have also seen a massive public outpouring of kindness, community spirit and small gestures of love between strangers throughout the pandemic. These small moments – artwork in windows, applause on doorsteps, colourful painted stones in public parks – bring light to so many lives, and smiles to so very many faces. It has warmed my heart to see these little, thoughtful events over the past year, and I know that it has helped others too.

Kindness is a hugely important factor in any life – and it’s something I will remind you to treat yourself with as you ready yourself to leave lockdown.

Patience, kindness and love. Listen to your inner voice. Let your instinct for preservation guide and protect you, and remember the lessons we have all learned; take care of family and neighbours, protect your own needs, focus on the positives.

If you need support for any anxiety or negative thoughts that you’ve been battling in recent weeks and months, please don’t suffer or struggle alone. I can help. Contact me today to set up an initial consultation, and let’s discuss how I can help to make those burdens lighter, and open you up to the full potential of your best life.

You can contact me through my Facebook page, through this website, email me on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com or you can call, message or WhatsApp me on my mobile on 07849 037095

 

Action For Happiness – Active April 2021

The prompt from Action for Happiness for April is activity. I know that when we feel low, or are struggling and feeling overwhelmed, it can be difficult to motivate our bodies into being active. I also know that the days I least feel like being active are the days I feel the most benefit from pushing myself to do something – even just a stroll around my garden, if I can’t face anything more.

Challenge yourself this month; try to add just a little more physical activity to your routines. You don’t need to go all-in and start training for a marathon, but being more active has a huge amount of benefits for body and mind. Now that some of the Covid restrictions are lifting and we are able to meet in small groups outdoors it’s the perfect time to meet a friend for a walk, or a bike ride with a loved one.

Burnout and self care

Many people find that their mental health and mood dip through winter. The darker days and nights, less hours of light, gloomy weather and isolation can have a huge impact on our wellbeing.

 This year that impact is worse than usual, as so many of us have been stressed or isolated with lockdown, restricted time with family and friends, and the pressure of working through a pandemic or of losing work because of the virus.

 Self-care is never the first priority for many of us, but it’s more important than ever before that we find ways to care for our own needs, to protect our health and emotional wellbeing, but also to enable us to have reserves to continue supporting others.

What I am seeing a lot of, from clients, friends, family, from everyone to some extent – is burnout.

What is burnout?

 Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. (From HelpGuide)

In other words, burnout is what happens when you have been fighting for months to stay safe and keep your loved ones safe, to work in unusual circumstances, to pay bills with reduced income, to feed your family through a pandemic, to maintain happiness and health whilst home-schooling, working, social distancing, being isolated, separated from support networks – burnout is what happens when you live through a pandemic, economic collapse, political upheaval and the constant threat of harm.

Burnout is what you’re very likely experiencing when you stare at your to-do list and have no idea where or how to start, and are kicking yourself for not being able to achieve as much as usual.

This is normal – at least, it’s normal as a response to this very far from normal year you’ve lived through. It’s common, it’s expected, and it’s okay. You aren’t alone, and you need to reframe your expectations.

Managing burnout.

 The first thing to accept is that this is not normal – this year, this experience. So expecting a normal level of productivity, of activity, and of output is simply impossible.

Your body and mind aren’t in a productive mode; you aren’t in a place where creativity, action and future planning are really possible.

When you are under the kind of stress and pressure that we have all been experiencing, your mind is in defence mode. Your body and brain are finding ways to protect you, to survive, and to simply get through the day – not to achieve anything beyond simply surviving.

When your subconscious mind is working so hard on survival, there is little energy left for creativity or productivity. When your body is in survival mode, any focus you may ordinarily have for training, exercising, working towards goals, is almost impossible to tap into; your body doesn’t have the energy to fight, survive and keep you going and commit to new goals or targets – so if you’ve struggled to work towards any long-term health or exercise goals this year, that’s okay; it’s normal. Your body and mind simply can’t right now. So don’t be angry with yourself, or disappointed; forgive yourself for where you are, due to a situation that is completely outside of your control, and focus instead on what you can control; forgiveness, kindness and survival.

Steps to take

 Recognise and acknowledge the signs

  • Set smaller goals
  • Structure and routine in your day
  • Wind-down time
  • Self-care
  • Support network
  • Ask for help

 Recognise and acknowledge

 We are all great at berating ourselves and criticising ourselves for what we fail to achieve – but when did you last listen to your body, and acknowledge where you are and how you feel right now?

 Acknowledging the signs of burnout is the first and most important step in overcoming it.

Set smaller goals

 So perhaps you haven’t achieved what you dreamed of this year, but look at what you have achieved – and focus on the small wins. You have been subjected to enormous and very complex changes, completely outside of your control. The pandemic has robbed you of many freedoms and opportunities – but it hasn’t completely stalled every thing you are and do. So list the things you’ve achieved – and count even the smallest things as a success. Getting out of bed and dressed is the most you can do sometimes – so take that little win.

Structure and routine

 If you have lost your work or the activities you usually participate in, it’s easy to slip into a rut and to live in your pyjamas, with no shape to your day and time.

Create some structure; set an alarm and try to stick to a regular sleeping and waking schedule, get washed and dressed, keep meals at the same times each day, and start to add in more things over time – getting out for a walk, calling someone, applying for jobs, reading a book, anything which you feel is a proactive and positive use of time.

Wind down time

 Without structure and with less need to leave the house many fall into a habit of distraction; watching tv or films, gaming, scrolling through social media – but often these mindless blue screen activities keep your subconscious brain stimulated and agitated – so ensure that you get some time each day – at least a couple of hours – away from these devices, reading or outdoors in nature, meditating or finding another way to relax.

Self Care

 Personal hygiene, time doing something you enjoy, soaking in the bath, exercising, grooming, styling your hair, picking out an activity which you love to do – whatever it is that give you small moments of joy and which gives your mind and body some healthy nourishment is vital. Even small things – washing your hair, changing your bedding, replacing one pair of pyjamas with a fresh clean set – can make you feel better in small ways.

Support Network

 The isolation of lockdown and social distancing has made many of us very lonely. It’s a painful and frightening experience, so please do take time to reach out to your support network. Call family and friends, make time to video call when you can, and where you’re able to get out of your house to meet others again.

Ask for help

 None of us need to be alone. Nobody needs to fight on, without help and support, struggling and battling burnout and overwhelm; you deserve to be supported and find help, no matter what has happened in your life, and no matter how lost you feel.

If you think that having someone you can speak with in confidence could help, and you would like support in processing the trauma and stress you’ve experienced – whether that’s as a direct result of the pandemic or there’s other experiences you are struggling with – call me to arrange a 10 minute assessment call, where we can have a chat about what you need and whether I’m the right person to help you.

Call me on 07749 499783 or email amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com or you can message me via Facebook or this website. You can also speak to me on video call via WhatsApp, which is how most of my sessions have been carried out through the pandemic. You don’t need to struggle alone any more.

Your personal boundaries are so important

An area that many people struggle with is setting personal boundaries, and with maintaining those boundaries in their relationships, day to day without letting others influence them.

If you have no boundaries in place, it could stem from never having learned how, never being enabled to, or being afraid to. It could be because your self-worth has been eroded through neglect, control or abuse, or that you never had the emotional support needed to value your needs.

How does losing – or not having – boundaries impact us?

 First and foremost – it’s painful. It’s painful, because we are always giving too much of ourselves away, with no regard for our limits, and people take without giving in return.

It is also exhausting, draining – emotionally, mentally and – as a result – often physically too. All of the energy and drive we have is poured from us into others, or taken from us by others, and we have nothing left in reserve for caring for ourselves or meeting our own needs.

If you keep finding that an environment is leaving you feeling drained, emotionally bruised and demotivated, it’s likely that it’s because your boundaries aren’t in place in that environment, so your energy and emotional health are being depleted by those around you.

 Your boundaries are personal to you – and they may change or move over time

 We all grow and change in time, and that’s a normal and healthy part of life.

What is also normal and healthy is to have views, values and emotional responses which determine our personal boundaries, and what we are and are not comfortable doing.

If you have been subjected to any kind of controlling behaviour, oppression or abuse then it can be even more challenging to identify your own boundaries, outside of that environment – and all the more difficult to enforce them with the people within that environment. Even once you have left those situations or environments behind, establishing and maintaining your boundaries is difficult, because you’ve not had an opportunity to build and live with them before – so you are unsure even how to start.

 Enforcing your boundaries is important

 It can be challenging and daunting enforcing your boundaries. Saying “no” to someone who is used to only hearing “yes” from you, and standing firm despite their reaction, is hard – and they may push back and be angry. If they are, that shows that they have been taking advantage of you, and that they are willing to override your wellbeing for their own benefit.

Sometimes when we begin to enforce our boundaries we find that some relationships may be lost – and that can be terribly sad. Unfortunately, some relationships have to be a learning experience for us, and be left behind as we build on our own self-worth and growth – and if someone can’t learn to respect and value your boundaries, and grow with you, then you may need to let them go in order to protect yourself.

I can help you to identify, establish and reinforce your personal boundaries

If you would like some support with boundaries – whether you simply need to build your resilience in order to stand more, or whether you need to start from the beginning by identifying what your boundaries might be, I can help you with the process.

You can also read more about personal boundaries – how they could be eroded, what situations show whether you are being taken advantage of, how to begin to identify and build your own boundaries, and whether it’s ever ok to change your mind (it is!) – on my boundaries website page, where you can also find resources and activities which might help you.

Get in touch with me – you can contact me through this website, on my Facebook page, on my phone number – 07849 037 095 – either as a phone call or via WhatsApp video – or email me on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com   – and let me help you to be a happier, more confident self who believes in their own value.