More tips to help survive Christmas!

imagesWell, we say ‘survive’ but really it is all a matter of planning, arranging and agreeing to a festive season that suits your needs whilst supporting other family members and friends who might also find Christmas a difficult time.

December, for example, is a month in which many relationships struggle as the stress of organising who goes where when and with what becomes simply overwhelming. Jane Gotto here at The Terrace has always worked to pull together all the best Christmas tips that she has used over many years of working in relationship and couples counselling and today we wanted to share a few more, as we approach the last week before the ‘big day’.

Today we want you look at whether you are a classic Christmas ‘grump’ ‘Grinch’ or Ebeneezer Scrooge. 

Is there  a reason (either in the recent past  or back in your family history) why Christmas lowers your mood. Were you ‘made’ to feel the Christmas Spirit, or forced to continue in a particular ritual without enjoying it?  Or was there an event which still evokes difficult memories? These are all ‘Christmas Spirit killers’ and understandably so.
You might want to create your own ritual – one that is personal and authentic and connects you to who you actually are, rather than joining the Christmas mad rush.

Pay particular attention to what is important to you; you may want to see special friend(s) or spend time with one member of your family rather than all of them.

Think about planning and preparing a meal you enjoy, or creating your own spiritual practice – meditation or quiet time can be important as a hectic day threatens to overwhelm. There is nothing wrong with taking time to read a book or watch a film that interests you or simply spending time alone.

Remember, getting it right for you often gets it right for others too.

Do you have any Christmas tips you can share with us here at The Terrace? We would love to hear from you.

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Beating the stress of exams with the NSPCC

CaptureEach year we nominate a charity to benefit from our fundraising events and because of our commitment to ending of child abuse and the need to support the mental health of children and young adults we have, for the past three years, supported the NSPCC. Their campaigns are always targeted and committed to the prevention of cruelty to children and the support they offer in practical terms is fantastic. So, as we were looking to add to the previous posts we have written on dealing with the stress of exams we were pleased to see that the NSPCC has produced a leaflet for young people facing a tough few weeks of GCSEs and A Levels, as well as University examinations.

‘Beat Exam Stress ‘ is a colourful brochure filled with top tips to get anyone through May and June as healthily and successfully as possible. It is also brilliant for parents, who can watch out for signs of overload and perhaps take steps to intervene if things get tough.

Of course it includes the obvious (so much easier to swallow from the NSPCC that from a parent one suspects!) – don’t leave revision to the last minute, don’t cram the night before, don’t avoid subjects you find tough and so on. But there are some less obvious hints which need support from the adults in the household:

‘Try to talk to your family about how they can make studying a little easier for you – for example, by agreeing times when you can have your own space, when they will try to be a little quieter around the house and when you’d rather not be disturbed (except perhaps for the occasional treat,such as a drink or snack)’

This is so important  – many adults forget how worried they were when they took their own qualifications and a little thought can make the environment for revision so much more positive. As can avoiding confrontation – it is likely that exam stress will shorten fuses and as an adult, stepping back and remembering that exams are over in a few short weeks can be the best thing you can do for a child.

The leaflet also offers hints for the big days themselves, with checklists of things to remember and strategies for ensuring you can answer the questions on the paper to the best of your ability. Tips for dealing with anxiety sit alongside healthy eating and learning to pace yourself.

So we think this leaflet is terrific, covering all the practicalities without ignoring the emotional impact of exam time. The last page offers websites and helplines if further support is needed.

Here at The Terrace we have written about ensuring you pamper yourself, take a break and eat healthily over the next few weeks, as well as dealing healthily with the end of exams, when it is tempting to adopt destructive behaviours in the name of celebration.

The best thing to remember is, however, that exams don’t last forever!

Children’s Mental Health Week – why it is so important to listen & learn…

The Duchess of Cambridge launching Children's Mental Health Week 2015

The Duchess of Cambridge launching Children’s Mental Health Week 2015

Here at The Terrace we nominate a charity each year, to which we make donations from funds raised at our events and open days. We also raise awareness – which in many cases is more important than money. For the charity we have supported for the past two years – the NSPCC – that is especially important as only now is society beginning to recognise how mental health issues are affecting children and young people in the UK, and how services should be tailored to their needs, rather than tagged on to adult care.

Late last week the ChildLine Review was published, showing that four out of ten children contacting the Helpline are doing so because of a mental health issue. Two thirds of online counselling sessions offered by the charity relate to self-harm, suicidal feelings, low self-esteem, unhappiness and other mental health concerns. You can read the full report here. It makes for reading that should be of interest to parents and professionals alike.

Yesterday the Duchess of Cambridge released a video to mark the beginning of the very first Children’s Mental Health week. Filmed at the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School in Kent, it highlights the issues many children face as they grow up in a society that is ever more pressurised and which can leave them vulnerable to depression, anxiety and self-harm. It calls for the better provision of early intervention to ensure children get the support they need as a matter of urgency, that being the very best way to make sure they move into adulthood with the resilience they need to cope. You can watch it on the BBC News website here.

Children’s Mental Health Week was launched by Place2Be, a wonderful charity that offers emotional support within schools. Their website offers some, frankly frightening. statistics:

  • 3 children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health problem
  • Half of those with lifetime mental health issues first experience symptoms by the age of 14
  • Depression and anxiety amongst teenagers have increased by 75% in the past 25 years

iStock_000022060638SmallBut it can also say that more than 80% of parents felt their children’s problems were better after receiving counselling, and research suggests that children are less likely to experience mental health problems in adulthood if they get this early support. Here at The Terrace we offer counselling for children and teenagers with three of our most experienced psychotherapists. Find out more here.

We have written about issues facing our children many times on this blog. Sexting, abuse, exam pressures, FGM, the use of police cells to incarcerate young people – it seems there are so many new things for adults to worry about as their youngsters grow up. But we know from the terrible cases relating to historic sexual abuse that dangers have always been there, and can be countered if children are encouraged to speak out about things that concern them and are listened to. Properly listened to and believed.

Children’s Mental Health Week is a great idea. Let’s hope we can continue the conversation, and support, all year round.

So what is ’empty nest syndrome’? ‘let’s talk!’ on how to cope…

740_empty_nesters3It is that time of year again. Autumn, when many of our children fledge, leaving their homes to start a life apart from their parents at college or university. They will experience all sorts of new things; challenges aplenty and excitement, as well as the inevitable hangovers.

But what about the parents and carers they leave behind? Their lives go on, on the surface at least the same as before, but there will be something missing….

‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ can be defined as ‘feelings of depression, sadness, and even grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes.’ (Psychology Today). It is an inevitable step that we want our youngsters to take but that does not always help. For women, other life changes are often happening at the same time – the menopause can itself cause depression and feelings of loss so the lowering of mood is exacerbated and they may re-evaluate their relationship with a spouse or partner. Women are now likely to be working, rather than staying at home with a nurturing role, but that does not always help. Men are not immune, as they too feel a loss.  Even the knowledge that many young people return home for financial reasons doesn’t offer solace, as they come home changed, more independent and with the potential to cause greater friction in a household no longer run to suit their needs.

So is there anything we can do to avoid the grief at the gap the fledging of our children leaves in our lives? The answer is, of course, ‘yes’, but we must acknowledge first that it requires some effort from everyone involved. In this post we will look at how to make the step itself easier, and in the next post we will start looking forward and noticing how we can appreciate the benefits without losing that bond with our offspring.

Firstly, make the whole event something of an adventure. Acknowledge that the young person may be nervous and the parents worried, but that doesn’t mean the preparation can’t be fun. Shopping trips, preparing meals, washing, budgeting – all can involve the young person in those weeks up to the leaving date. There may not always be enthusiasm for the tasks, but having at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to look after themselves will help a child in the first weeks way and offer a crumb of comfort to a parent.

Then, if a child is unhappy at first, do not make it too easy to run home. This is a tough one, as secretly (and we have to admit this) many of us might be pleased to feel our child needs us again. But what they need is our support and encouragement, to know that they have our love; not the feeling that they needn’t try to manage for themselves. Home is always there for them, but not as a base to escape from responsibilities they have taken on.

kitThirdly, do have a strategy for keeping in touch. Mobile communication is so much easier now, and Skype allows us to keep in touch face to face. Arrange to chat once a week perhaps, with texts or emails as a stop-gap in between. If money allows, you can offer a decent Smart phone contract. Brief text chats can keep the emotion out of discussions and offer the opportunity just to send a quick tip to solve what might seem an insurmountable problem at the other end (the ‘Mum I put red pants in with my white t shirt’ call perhaps!)

Finally, recognise that you might feel teary and low, but if depression starts to affect your day-to-day living you should seek professional help, or at the very least open up to friends about how you are feeling. Similarly, you might also have to admit to feeling a little envy at the new opportunities opening up to your child, who may be posting lots of excited Facebook updates, making new mates and seemingly having the time of their lives away from home.

So next time, we will offer a few tips on how to make sure it is not only the kids who can take on a new stage in life and have a great time!

 

 

Dealing with anger in angry times (1)

angerDo you sometimes open a newspaper, or turn on the television and almost immediately feel your blood boil? Does the language used by politicians and presenters seem designed to raise your blood pressure? Does the shouting, drama and fear expressed in TV soaps or reality shows make you feel ‘on edge’?

Sometimes it seems we have become an angry nation. Some papers seem deliberately divisive; they blame immigrants, benefit claimants, bankers. At the weekend one paper used the headline  ‘NHS to fund sperm bank for lesbians: New generation of fatherless families… paid for by YOU’ above a piece that when read closely described a sperm bank that was also for heterosexual single women and couples. In fact it was a sperm bank for everyone to use, managed carefully to ensure those approaching it had thought carefully about starting a family, but the headline was deliberately inflammatory and designed to induce anger against a particular group. It is not a one off. Footballers get angry and bite other players; Jeremy Clarkson makes remarks about shooting striking nurses or uses racist language and claims his right of free speech; politicians continue to blame one another for the country’s problems and shout across the House at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Isn’t this all very unhealthy? What does it achieve and how does it spill over into our own lives?

We cannot necessarily influence what is said on the wider national stage, but we can ensure we deal with any feelings we have as individuals in a healthy way. We all have to deal with faceless call centre staff who seem to have gone on every ‘dealing with difficult people’ course available and are impervious to our frustration. Our friends and family don’t always agree with us, can hurt us:  bottling anger up can lead to explosive outbursts that can cause rifts in relationships, stress and feelings of guilt as we turn it in on ourselves.  So what should we do?

Psychotherapist Harriet Lerner has examined the impact of anger closely and has developed some key ‘do’s and don’ts’, and we particularly like the following coping strategies:

Speak up when an issue is important to you

People often say, when seeing someone in distress, to ‘let it go’. If someone says something hurtful, it is sometimes seen to be more mature to just let it be. But this is often the way bitterness and resentment sets in. In the long term it is better to make a stand when something is important to us.

Appreciate the fact that people are different

Different perspectives on an issue suggest there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in the matter. People react in different ways, and to recognise that can be very liberating.

Don’t speak through a third party

‘So and so was upset when you didn’t turn up at her party’ could, if it has made you angry be phrased as ‘I was really unhappy that you didn’t find the time to come along, you were missed’. To use someone else’s assumed response is dishonest and avoids the real issues.

Next time we will look at who is actually responsible for the way we respond to an incident. Think about it – in the examples we started this piece with what should we do with our anger at casual rascism, the discrimination inherent in the sperm bank story or the behaviour of politicians? We can change our newspaper and turn off the television but avoiding the issues doesn’t make them disappear. If we are not dealing with our anger appropriately something else will inevitably take their place. …

The Terrace is hosting a ‘Shaping Anger’ workshop on 25th and 26th October. For more details go to What’s On.

Dealing with exam stress – a guide for parents & teens

exam_stress-adviceThere are quite a number of websites that work to make exam time less stressful for the children and young people taking them.  BBC Radio 1 has a particularly good one. Late spring, a time of year that should be full of hope and enjoyment can become weeks of torture as school exams, GCSEs and A Levels, as well as University exams, pile on the anxiety. If your family is host to a beleaguered exam sitter, then our own Sue-Claire at Counselling for Clarity sent the following invaluable tips for them:

– Keep communicating/talking with peer group/friends/family, don’t keep all your worries inside.
– Find a creative outlet in between revision. Shake out, walk,dance, paint, write, play or listen to music
– Try not to compare yourself with others. You are unique. Remember what people like about you as a starting point for your confidence
– Group revision/online discussion/audio tapes/revision cards really do help. You are not alone

But this post is by way of offering support to the family and friends best able to help those taking exams. Over the past week we have offered exam tips on our Facebook page. Today we thought we would post a digest of those suggestions, along with some more, to see you through the weekend and beyond.

1.) For those of you who are getting embattled, try to reduce the pressure.You can do this by first reducing the pressure in yourself.  Take a moment to think about how you are coming across. Do you feel tight and focused on ‘getting the job done’ rather than thinking about how your child is responding? If you are – don’t worry!  Most of us do this naturally.

2.) To approach things differently, stop and reflect and change how you are being with yourself and with your child/ren. Soften your attitude, change your tone and then ask your child/ren – how is this going for them? How do they feel about their revision programme and would they like any help?  If so, what help would they like? This is ALL focused on them and not on how you would do it.

3.) If you are finding that your child is getting too focused, talk to them about it – distraction can be positive. Offer a trip to the cinema; encourage fresh air and exercise daily; bake a cake. There should be a pulse to working and taking time out. So – talk about coming and going. Remember striving too hard for perfection can create an over-anxious child – which in turn can work against them in the exam.

4.) Suggest to your child that after an exam, whether it has gone well or not – they don’t talk about it in detail to their peers. It can cause unnecessary worry. They should just say ‘it was OK’ and leave it at that. relax

5.) Remember, that after a period of tension we all have a period of transition when we do not really know what to do with ourselves . This is a time when people of any age are vulnerable to getting drunk and behaving in ways they would not otherwise consider appropriate. So make sure everyone has some time to unwind. A day away can be a tonic, so just do something different.

We really hope these help. It is never an easy time, but we can minimise the stress and anxiety exams impose on us. Good luck!

 

 

 

Keeping our kids safe – the adolescent brain

_49861691_t300484-mobile_phone_use-splHere on ‘let’s talk!’ we are committed to bringing you news and views on the challenges young people face as the move towards adulthood.

Our under 11s are taught about ‘stranger danger’, have their first lessons about sexuality and begin to take their first, independent trips to shops, school etc. Essentially however, they are still ‘ours’ and more ready to accept the boundaries we place on them as parents.

As children become teenagers these rules are there to be tested and boundaries challenged. Research suggests the changes in behaviour are not simply ‘raging hormones’ but due to profound changes in the young adult brain, and if that is the case, ensuring the safety net is there for them when temptations and peer pressure bombard them from all sides becomes ever more important. Behaviour an adult sees as irrational won’t strike a young person as such and that leads to challenges in the home, as the ‘you think you know everything’/ ‘you just don’t understand’ arguments become toxic and ultimately lead nowhere.

We have written on here before of the peer pressure of ‘neknomination’ and substance misuse, as well as the dangers of ‘sexting‘. Since then we have found out as much as we can; understanding the dangerous craze of using nitrous oxide and other so-called ‘legal highs’; the use of e-cigarettes; the dangers of on-line grooming by paedophiles. For parents these are terrifying issues to face, and to discuss with our children without the seemingly inevitable clashes.

Communication is key, and we have therapists here with expert knowledge of the best ways to ensure healthy relationships with our kids. However, there are steps you can take before mediation and therapy become necessary.

We have a booklist on localbookshops.co.uk and are seeking recommendations from readers of this blog. We have heard recently of the book ‘Brainstorm:The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, written
by Daniel Siegel. He talks about the book in the video below. It is a long piece but fascinating. He explores exciting ways ‘in which understanding how the teenage brain functions can help parents make what is in fact an incredibly positive period of growth, change, and experimentation in their children’s lives less lonely and distressing on both sides of the generational divide’.

Have you read a book that has really helped you retain a loving bond with the young adults in your family? Are you a professional with a bookshelf full of fascinating and accessible studies of teenage behaviour? Are you a teen with a book that tells you how to manage your relationships without conflict?

Do let us know by commenting here, or on our Facebook page or our twitter account, @terraceclinic.