Many of my counselling clients find the idea of forming an image of their future self useful. Imagining how you hope to be in a few years time, and making the little steps to get there. This can be so helpful in nurturing self compassion and changing unhelpful behaviour patterns, relationship patterns and destructive behaviours that you may currently be ignoring. Your future self is already dormant in you now and you build him/her each day, without even knowing it.
If we look back five years from now, what change that you didn’t make that you now wish you had? Leaving a bad relationship or job sooner? What would ten minutes of yoga a day have done for you, or a 20 minute run? Imagine if you’d started writing that book five years ago when you first thought of it, or saved £10 a week.
Conversely, what are you thankful for now that you did start back then? Making those savings, limiting cake-eating to the weekends, giving up smoking, quitting your dead end job.
Hold in mind your future self for a moment.
What does she need from you now? What can you give to her? What do you need around you to do this if it isn’t in place already?
Imagine how you want to be then, your self, your life, and then take those tiny but frequent steps towards it, whether it’s weeks away (to loose pounds to fit into your favourite dress again) months (to start the class/writing/reading you always wanted to) or years (to save for a home, nurture your relationships, your career).
Whatever is happening around you, or in your mind you always have the wonderful resource of the sensation of the ground beneath your feet. This is useful for managing Anxiety in particular. Stay connected to the earth of which you are part by moving your attention to this experience, cutting through the stories in your mind, anxiety and overwhelm - to bring you back down to earth.
This is technique can prevent and soothe anxiety and interrupt unhelpful negative thoughts. Many mental health problems develop because we lose contact with the environment (all that is outside of us), our senses which are there to connect us with the outside world get dumbed down and we end up on auto in our minds which is a major factor in anxiety, depression and self esteem issues.
In this exercise you will use all five of your senses: sight, touch, taste, sound and smell. Some of your senses will be more well developed than others but don't worry, it can take time to strengthen a lost sensory ability. I suggest spending a minute or two on each and you can extend it if you'd like to turn it into a regular practice.
Take a moment to look around the space you are in. Really engage with what you're seeing. Find something that particularly attracts your attention. I always have a plant in the corner of every room as natural phenomena are particularly grounding for me. You may be drawn to a colour or texture. Fully immerse yourself in what you see, notice the shapes and colours, tones and shadows.
Now switch your attention to what you feel. Start by noticing the experience of your feet on the floor, and/or your body in the chair. Take a moment to see what's happening in your body as it touches. Move your hand onto the arm of the chair or reach for something nearby and explore the feeling as you touch it.
Many people like to carry a stone or shell, or other small object in their pocket or bag specifically for the purpose of calming touch when required.
I expect you're getting the hang of this now, so take a moment now just to notice what the sounds, once you have identified one, you can move to another - see how many sounds you can hear and the impact they have on you.
Follow the same procedure using your sense of smell. This can sometimes be less obvious though you can engage with the sense having a 'neutral' response if little is detected. You can seek out a flower, plant, piece of fruit, essential oil (or anything with an aroma) and notice it's impact on you.
A useful exercise for taste is to eat a raisin or small piece of fruit and fully engage with the experience. So often we eat on automatic - next time you have a meal, slow down and fully engage with the sense of taste.
When we engage all five senses we are using incredible tools that our body has evolved over millions of years. Heightening our sensory awareness allows clearer interaction with the world we live in - engaging in this way we allow the world around to become a source of support.
So stop telling yourself a story about what's happening in this moment and use your senses to tell you exactly what's going on in this moment. If you have any difficulties take it slowly or move on. Sometimes peoples sensory awareness is dulled by past trauma or other difficulties. If you find it particularly difficult it may be worth seeking professional help. Let me know how you get on!
The New Economics Foundation in the UK summarises five ways to wellbeing, it's often not as difficult as it sounds to feel well. A review of the most up-to-date evidence suggests that building the following five actions into our day-to-day lives is important for well-being:
With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.
Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness.
Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.
Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.
I hope you enjoy experimenting with these!
Five tips for a better nights sleep.
1. Melatonin - not from a bottle - by going outside in the daylight melatonin is naturally produced in the brain. This is the only way this sleep hormone is produced, so the more time spent in daylight, the more melatonin you have building up each day. The brain doesn't store melatonin so we make it new each day - the more we have the easier it is to sleep.
2. Get a good sleep routine. If you know how long you need to sleep each night (usually 6-10 hours) and what time you need to be up each morning you can work out approximately what your bedtime should be. So if you need to wake up at seven and you know that you need eight hours sleep, you need to be asleep by 11. Simple maths. It's best to stick to your routine even at the weekend as your body will thank you for it.
3. Be aware of your circadian rhythm. Adult humans have a circadian rhythm of 90 minutes which controls energy level and our sleep cycle. When you notice yourself yawning this is you going into the dip of your circadian rhythm where your energy levels naturally fall - this is a good time to go to bed. After you reach that dip your energy level begins to rise again so it's harder to go to sleep.
4. General good sleep hygiene. This means your bed is your bed so best not to do your latest project checking emails and watch films in bed. Although it can be tempting it's better to do these things in a different place if you can, or change your environment a little at night if you have a small space. Your bed should ideally be associated only with sleep.
5. Reducing stimulants and stimulation especially in the evening. Caffeine is obviously a stimulant, so is alcohol, TV screens, loud music, phones. Simple changes such as don't drink caffeine after after lunchtime, reducing it (gradually over time is best). Drink less alcohol which is a stimulant even if it feels relaxing it lowers your quality of sleep. Take the TV out of your bedroom and try and keep your phone in a different room. The Psychotherapist and Neuroscientist Daniel Seigel recommends stopping highly stimulating activity such as TV as much as two hours before bedtime. If something is on your mind it can keep you awake. Write it down and deal with it tomorrow. Complete tasks that need completing, tell someone your problem and get support, or hire a counsellor or psychotherapist if it's persistent intrusive thoughts, memories or worries (in the UK try the Counselling Directory here. Imagine what your ancient ancestors before electricity would have been doing after the sun goes down. Our culture has evolved since then, though we haven't that much!
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This is a concept that is deeply simple but can have profound implications. I learned this from a Buddhist teacher who recommended that before meditating (or anything) set an intention - what is the purpose of it, i.e. to gain awareness, calm, balance, to inquire. Unless we have an intention for something we can get lost without direction. This is relevant for every single moment of our lives. If you go on a journey you usually know the destination though how you get there could vary.
Our intention can be extended from a moment, to a day (each morning I decide what I'll be working on, if I'll fit in yoga or a walk, etc, or if not well simply to rest). We can check in with ourselves to ensure we are maintaining what we intended, and if not perhaps review if circumstances have significantly changed. This awareness prevents us getting pulled in other directions - demands from others, emails etc.
We can now also extend this to setting an intention for your lifetime - what is it the intention for your life? To have a family, a career, to be kind, gain knowledge, to make music. If we don't have a direction or a destination how will we know which way to go. Setting intention for life can really make a clearer path, and easier to identify obstacles and notice when we head off in a different tangent.
All three of these are a useful way of prioritising what matters to you and your precious gift of life - what is your intention in this moment, for this day and for this life time?
Many people believe self-care or putting yourself first is selfish - the truth is far from it. It's so important that we are well cared for and who better to do it then ourselves. We can't help others or contribute well unless our own lives and wellbeing is prioritised. If not we burn out, get too tired, have low energy, are badly nourished, hungover, unkind to ourselves or simply put ourselves to the bottom of the pile where is hard to achieve even the smallest thing.
Self care brings energy, compassion, vibrancy, a sense of worth and encourages our purpose and meaning. We will be healthier happier, stronger, more creative better able to cope with challenges, stimulated - need I go on?
Profound change can come with a simple change in attitude towards ourselves, and some action too. So make a list of 10 things that you can do that make yourself feel good that don't cost anything but you know they make you feel relaxed, calm, happy and worth it. If you treat yourself well, you role model to others how they might treat you, themselves and others. You can see my list - what's on yours? Take a pen and paper and write it down, make sure you stick it up where you will see it and do at least two every day (getting up to doing all ten ideally!). It's your human right to be kind to yourself, so you can take a firm place in this world - the rest will follow.
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There are different methods of managing or reducing anxiety because of the different causes and uniqueness of each individual. This technique is so quick and the result can be profound. First a little background:
When we experience high anxiety our adrenal gland is pumping and we've gone into fight, flight or freeze mode (the Autonomic Nervous System - ANS - becomes active). For example, when an animal realises there is a predetor they go into this state to get them out of danger - they are alerted by their senses to make one of these choices to maximise the chance of survival. These three strategies of fight, flight or freeze are excellent if you are in danger (anxiety to address a particular situation is normal), however often people feel anxiety and intense, acute anxiety even when there is no current danger.
Causes of Generalised Anxiety
When anxiety is persistent state has become fixed. It can be a result of a past trauma that may be re-activated out of awareness, childhood neglect or abuse from others - (deliberate or accidental) that remains unprocessed and possibly forgotten. Additionally problems with parental attunement (and empathy) is thought to contribute to anxiety in later life, again accidental (parents usually do their best) or through negligence.
Alternatively (or both) an overload of difficulties in current circumstances or repeated challenges can also result in anxiety rising and rising until and that seems like there is no way out or way down into a 'resting' state. Our culture has almost reached breaking point in terms of what human beings are expected to deal with, and busi-ness and stress has become the norm. Alongside the usual existential challenges we face (illness, death etc) it is beyond human capacity to tolerate for many, if not most of us - especially sensitive people.
Thirdly some of us have higher amounts of cortisol and cortisol receptors in our nervous system (thought to be a combination of genes and parental attunement/response when our minds are forming in early life) so were prone to experience higher anxiety than most. So we need to act and do much to help manage it - and we can! (It's important not to label yourself an 'anxious person' as this just fixes it further and gives the impression that there can be no change.) Others are generally more relaxed but may still benefit from these techniques if life circumstances are the cause.
Switch ANS to PNS - Fight or Flight - Regulation to Homeostasis:
One way of turning off the autonomic nervous system (clinically tested!) is this very simple breathing technique.
Breathe in for a count of four
Breath out for a count of eight.
Repeat 2-3 times
That is it!! If you don't like the counting just make the out breath longer than the in breath as this is what stimulates the activation of the PNS or regulatory state.
It's so simple you can do it at work, on the bus, in the loo, on the street or on the sofa. Please try it before you move on - it takes seconds!!
If you find it difficult focussing on your breath then whole you do the exercise focus your attention elsewhere - just outside your abdomen, your feet on the ground, something you can see in front of you. Let me know how you get on!
I'll be writing more techniques to address anxiety in future posts so watch this space! For further support for anxiety, if this isn't enough, find a therapist or consult your GP. Although I believe most problems can be addressed naturally a course of an anti anxiety medication or natural remedy (such as Ashwaghanda) can help hit 'reset'. Neither are a substitute for processing the events that have lead to the state arising in the first place which a good counsellor or psychotherapist can help with.
So let's slow down, do less, increase self care (see my other tips!) and talk about our issues together.
The idea of an inner guide might seem a bit strange to some of us but whatever circumstances you're in or however you're feeling we all have a part of ourselves that knows what to do - what is difficult is how to access it so take a moment to have a go. Perhaps start with a small dilemma for practice, though begin by imagining this wisest part of yourself being you, imagine all the qualities of this aspect of yourself that allow this person to be in a position to guide. Give them space and energy in your nod. Bear in mind that sometimes what to do is simply just to be or to watch and to wait, and sometimes it's to take action.
In this exercise and any point in the day you can ask your inner guide what they might do when you're feeling unsure. By doing this you're at consulting your best self. Mother Teresa said she looked for the 'Christ' in everyone. We have to look at the best of ourselves and others for it to strengthen and grow, and reduce old habits of thought and being.
By personifying it, it is part of yourself instead of projecting out wisdom onto a guru or religious leader. You own it as part of yourself.
If this is difficult, you can project! Think of somebody really admire, either in you're life or in the world.
Notice what qualities they have and note down a few before continuing. Embody this person, imagining you are them. You have all these qualities yourself otherwise you wouldn't be able to see them in the other person - you just need to strengthen them by giving them your attention and you're energy.
stay at with the experience of being your inner guide, or the person you admire, for a few minutes. Leave a comment to let me know what happens!
A counsellor (Prof. Dip) and psychotherapist (MSc) sharing inspiration and tips for better wellbeing. My knowledge is freely given, please feel free to share after asking! Let's help each other lead satisfying meaningful lives.