On a Mindful Christmas contentment. Why can’t we just ‘be happy’?

trolleyLots of Christmas shopping was done over the weekend. We woke up in the knowledge that money needed to be spent,  car park spaces must be battled  for and crowds coped with. It was daunting, but ’tis the season…’ and all that – jolliness is required of us. Here at The Terrace we do like to offer support to readers over the festive season, but in the rush of consumer madness that is challenging.

So it was good to come across a piece by our own Miranda Bevis, mindfulness practitioner and leader of many of our workshops and courses. She recognises that the real world makes living in the moment (the basis of mindfulness practice) tough, but maintains that with work we can achieve a peace and level of contentment in many of those situations that threaten to overwhelm us. Here she offers some wise words on becoming content. How much of the ‘stuff’ we accumulate over the Christmas period do we actually need? We have written on here about looking at our rituals and making a decision to change. No more three for two gift sets, over indulgence and post Christmas strain on relationships – and perhaps creating new ways to celebrate the things that are important to us.

This time of year should be reflective, a time to take stock, but we have to admit that major changes  to seasonal celebrations are best planned rather earlier than mid-December when many of our presents are bought and paid for and meals planned etc. So, take a look at what Miranda writes below, and have a think about how we can appreciate the things we have already. Then perhaps we can take steps this year to enhance our Christmases to come.

Scanning the weekend newspaper supplements, I find so many articles and advertisements telling us how we could (should?) change: How to get fitter, thinner, look younger; give your garden a makeover, re-design your interiors. Revitalize your love life, spice up your cookery and your sex life (because you’re worth it). There is no end of things that we could change for “the better”. And of course, change is supposed to be good for us; after all, we wouldn’t want to be bored or get stale, or allow ourselves to get into a rut, would we? We “deserve” more, we “have a right” to more. We should seek out new excitements, discover new thrills, acquire new things, visit new places, meet new people.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in ourAnd there’s nothing wrong with any of this, except, perhaps, the overall message. Which seems to be that, if things were different, in terms of our looks, our possessions, or our experiences, we’d be happier. That there’s a better place to be, a better way to be, than where we are right now. And that surely breeds dissatisfaction. It’s all too easy to get caught up in disgruntled thoughts, and end up not noticing what we’ve actually got.

When we practice Mindfulness, we explore being with whatever is, without immediately trying to change anything. Sitting with our sensory experiences alone, and allowing them to be exactly as they are, while letting go of thoughts and desires for things to be different. We begin to realize that often it’s not so much what is actually happening that is the problem, but rather the thoughts about it. Realizing that the mutterings of “I don’t want it to be like this”, “It’s not fair”, and “I deserve more” breed discontent.

Letting go is not the same as giving in. It’s not a state of hopeless resignation. But it gives us the space to fully appreciate what we already have. It can help us to discover what really does need changing, and teaches us to develop a different relationship with what we have no control over.

The art of contentment and well-being is being good at noticing what you have, and wanting what you’ve already got. In the words of Guillaume Apollinaire: “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy”.

Miranda is offering more taster sessions and courses in the new year. See our ‘What’s On’ page for further details.

 

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An introduction to Mindfulness – the first of a new series on ‘let’s talk!’

miranda

Miranda Bevis

Miranda Bevis, our expert Mindfulness practitioner has prepared some articles on how we can all take advantage of the benefits the practice of Mindfulness offers. As she will make clear in teh coming weeks, it does take practice, it is no quick fix. But that is what it is all about – taking that time to add it, gradually, into our lives….

Mindfulness is very much in the news these days, as means of finding a bit of tranquillity in our increasingly stressful world.  We are all subjected to pressures from many different sources, including work, relationships, family, money worries and information overload. Often the strain may prove too much, and problems arise. A high proportion of illnesses are now thought to be stress related, and there are no ‘quick fix’ medical answers.

Many people struggle with anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Social isolation, lack of confidence and low self esteem are common and they may leave us feeling exhausted, trying to find solutions in our lives, and feeling powerless to change things. A lot of time is spent wishing we were somewhere, or someone, else. Energy may be invested in ruminating over unwanted thoughts.

The idea behind mindfulness is very simple. It is just to be fully in the present, moment by moment. We learn to focus on what is happening right now, and cultivate a kind and non- judgmental attitude to ourselves. This is not an intellectual exercise, but requires a fair amount of practice. Over time, we develop a different relationship with what distresses us. What exactly are we focussing on? It is often the breath, an anchor for our attention. It may be our body sensations, or what we can hear or see. We learn to be aware of what we are doing, while we are doing it. We observe thoughts and emotions, and learn to let them pass by, instead of getting hooked into them. Gradually, we realize there are different and more constructive ways of responding to difficulties, instead of reacting in old, often unhelpful, automatic patterns.

The approach was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970’s. It draws from ancient eastern philosophies, but is delivered in an entirely secular way. Research, over three decades, supports Mindfulness, and it mindfulness_oneday_6_1_1_1_1_1_1_2_1_1has been shown to increase feelings of well being, and decrease the impact of living in a stressful world. It is now taught widely in many different settings including schools, the mental health services, hospitals and hospices, prisons and government agencies

Over the next few weeks I am going to explore what we mean by Mindfulness, and how we can use it to navigate whatever stresses may come our way, not be blown away. I will also include some wonderful poetry, which can help focus our minds and support our practice.

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work,

and when we no longer know which way to go,

we have begun our real journey.”

Wendell Berry

Miranda has some new Mindfulness workshops and courses starting in the New Year. Follow us on Facebook to find out more or see www.the-terrace.co.uk

‘let’s talk!’ about ‘parity of esteem’ in mental health

esteemOver the past few weeks we have heard the term ‘parity of esteem’ used a lot, in relation to mental and physical health. It is an important phrase with an important meaning, but how many of us really know what it means? And would parity of esteem actually improve the way mental health services are delivered?
The NHS defines the term as meaning:

“My family and I all have access to services which enable us to maintain both our mental and physical wellbeing.”
“If I become unwell I use services which assess and treat mental health disorders or conditions on a par with physical health illnesses.”

Professor Sir Simon Wesseley, incoming president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has highlighted this issue in The Guardian recently, as he took up his post, challenging Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on his pledge to ensure mental health services achieve the same level of provision as physical health services . He believes the gap is already so great that finances will never be able to close the gap. If less than a third of people with cancer received any treatment at all, wouldn’t we be up in arms? What if they had to wait 6 months for a scan? These are the figures for those suffering with depression, a condition that can worsen, result in life-threatening illnesses and at its most severe, death.

On the Radio 4 programme ‘All in the Mind’ yesterday, Clinical Psychologist Martin Seager, who spoke so eloquently at the Taunton Association for Psychotherapy Conference in 2013, said that the well-known statistic that 1 in 4 of us will experience mental ill-health is misleading, and could even increase stigma. He feels that this discussion on parity of esteem hides the real issue – that we all experience mental and physical health or ill-health. There is a mental health aspect to physical health, and vice versa. Looking at those two NHS definitions above therefore, the first seems more appropriate, and is one that many therapists would endorse.

Simon Wesseley continued:

Professor Simon Wesseley

Professor Simon Wesseley

“The whole of our healthcare system is about separating mental and physical. You couldn’t devise a system better suited to separating the mental and the physical if you tried……..Most people have quite complicated views of their illness anyway…….They are not resistant to doctors offering cardiac tests and counselling for a recent divorce at the same time.” He has seen psychiatrists on general medical wards work with great success.

“But we know people with physical health problems who also have mental health problems cost about 45% more than those who don’t. That’s absolutely and unequivocally clear. The cost of their care goes up. They comply less with treatment, they come back more often, they have lower satisfaction and they have more complications.”

So the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for more holistic treatment across the health service, which could achieve significant savings if implemented. Parity of esteem is surely all about keeping physical and mental health separate, thereby perpetuating the myth that we can be mentally ill but physically healthy, or physically ill but without mental health needs. Doesn’t this, as Seager suggests, increase the possibility that mental ill-health will remain stigmatised and disconnected from, and in competition with (for resources, time etc) with other health services?

We would love to know your views!

NHS releases newly collected FGM figures – NSPCC ‘shocked’

fgmThe NSPCC is our nominated charity for 2014 and we have long sought to raise awareness of the horrors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on this blog. So like the NSPCC we were shocked to hear the first NHS figures collected on the incidence of this barbaric practice, released yesterday.

John Cameron from the NSPCC said: “These are shocking figures and prove that FGM is very much a live public health issue. This NHS data shows just how vital it is that health professionals are trained to spot the signs of FGM so we can ensure that women and girls who are subjected to this brutal practice get the post-traumatic support they deserve.”

467 new cases of girls and women needing treatment after female genital mutilation in England were identified last month. Another 1,279 current cases were receiving treatment according to Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) figures.

We have always found it difficult to believe that although FGM has been illegal in Britain since 1985, no one has yet been convicted. More than half of the reported cases are in London, but all regions in England have seen cases reported.

The BBC reported Kingsley Manning, the chairman of the HSCIC, as saying: “Having accurate data about this crime is an important step in helping prevent its occurrence in the future.”

We know that up to 170,000 women and girls living in the UK may have undergone this procedure, and although earlier this year we reported that Prime Minister David Cameron had committed to ensuring  that any parents who allowed their daughters to go through the procedure would face prosecution, we have yet to hear of any cases coming to court.

To find out more about FGM and how to join the campaign against it, see the World Health Organisation site here

 

Philotimo – ‘let’s talk!’ about a Greek word for our times…

thalesLast week we watched a video that really spoke to us here at The Terrace. Released by the Washington OxiDay Foundation it takes just 15 minutes to explain the Greek concept of Philotimo – something considered to be the highest of all Greek virtues and which determines and regulates how someone should behave in their family and social groups. It is a word that Greek children are still brought up to understand and an idea that they are taught to respect and use as a guide when making choices in their lives.

It is difficult to translate literally, but the very famous faces in the video describe how for the Greek people it means, broadly, ‘friend and honour’. It means duty, compassion, sacrifice. Doing what is right, even if it not in your own best interests. It means something larger than yourself and is about opening your heart and doing things for the good of your community. It has been credited with some of the greatest advances in culture, but with no direct English word to encapsulate its meaning the sens of the word has been lost to all but Greek speakers.

Here at The Terrace we would like to find a way to support what the Foundation seeks to achieve with this video. At a time when we seem to see nothing but horror and injustice in the world, this is a message to take forward to show how humanity can come together for the greater good. Do take a look and let us know how you feel when you have heard what everyone on this film has to say about ‘philotimo’. Since ancient times the Greeks have always been a very special people and despite recent economic struggles this concept remains a strength as the country rebuilds. Is this the time to learn from Greek philosophy once more?

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!

 

 

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.