TSHP380: How do you define yourself?

What’s Coming This Episode?

Who are you? What are you? The job you do? The car you drive? The contents of your bank account? How we define ourselves and how others see us can play a huge role in the direction of our lives but guess what? We are free to refine ourselves at any time… let’s talk it out.

Enjoy the show and take care, it’s The Self Help Podcast!

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Are you what you do?

I have often been aware that we define ourselves by the roles that we play. If we ask someone who they are they will normally reply with a list of things that they do. “I am a teacher”, “I am a…., fill in the blank. Try it yourself. How do you describe yourself to others? Who are you?

Normally this way of defining ourselves is not a problem and only becomes an issues when we are forced to change things such as in redundancy, or retirement. Most women have a changing experience of self when the last child is born, the last child goes to school or the last child leaves home. At each stage the answer to the question ‘who am I?’, changes.

Well Covid and lockdown put a new slant on this issue. I am aware of people who have been out of the workplace for prolonged periods of time are having the who am I crisis. It becomes clear that many people value themselves through their relationships with others. Walking into the workplace and having people acknowledge them and be interested in what they were doing at the weekend can give people a sense of value. As those relationships have been peeled away so has the sense of identity.

Some people have managed to maintain a sense of self through online interactions. Though, over the last few months people are now telling me that it is not the same and they are craving real, actual contact with other people.

We may not be aware of it but up to ten percent of communication is in pheromones. That is we smell each other. Dogs, obviously have a much better sense of smell than we do but we can smell such emotions as acceptance, fear, love, attraction, rejection, hatred and so on. This sense is subtle and is happening below our general awareness but it it is an important part of our relationships.

The other thing that we are missing is the nuance of gesture and body language. When we can only see someone’s head and shoulders we are not aware of their finger drumming or twiddling. We cannot see there feet moving or the knee going up and down.

Someone said to me that, in the beginning, they were really impressed with Zoom and Skype but as time has gone on they now see people as rather 2d rather than 3D, it all seems flat. The feeling was that not only are the videos becoming flat but the relationships were becoming flat as well. One person said that when they were meeting face to face they could cut a meeting short, go and have a coffee together, or even look at other things. Online they felt trapped into staring into the screen and being conscious of if they looked away it would be rude. Also the fact that the person was in a time slot in their diary they felt that they would be rude or disrespectful if they did not make the meeting last for all of the allotted time. They were then struggling for things to say or talk about.

So I have been experimenting with people to see if they can change their experience.

  1. Move the camera further away so that you are not just looking at the head and shoulders and can see more of each other?
  2. Why sit down at all? You could have a meeting standing up and get even more of a body shot in.
  3. Try not using the camera for a change and focus on each other’s voices.
  4. Agree to have sometime in the meeting, beginning or end, just shooting the breeze talking about family etc.
  5. If using just audio use your phone and put the headphones in and go for a walk. It can be quite stimulating getting out into the open air as you talk.
  6. What about moving outdoors for a video call in the garden?
  7. Agree ahead of time to stop the meeting when all that needs to be covered has been done.
  8. Add some low level background music.
  9. Maybe, don’t always sit in the same place, allow the background to change.
  10. Perhaps don’t always wear the same clothes.

If we are going to be using online for sometime to come we need to find ways of keeping it fresh and vital.

In the world of psychological medicine it has become accepted that behind the Corona virus will follow a wave of depression and possibly other mental health issues. We are about to go into the dark months when mood tend to drop anyway. We need to do all that we can to keep our own mood up and support those around us.

Take care, stay positive and look after each other.

Sean

TSHP379: When Self Help Meets Politics

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What’s Coming This Episode?

Do we talk too much politics on this show? Maybe! It’s hard to avoid the news and it’s even harder not to have an opinion on things. Is a healthy political environment possible, or do we need the arguments and the confrontation to push things through?

Enjoy the show and take care, it’s The Self Help Podcast!

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Self help and politics

The last couple of weeks have been reflective for me. First we were away which was a nice break but secondly at the end of last week I tested positive for Covid. Thankfully i have not been too poorly with it, i struggled most with the 10 days of isolation. Anyway my thoughts have been exercised by feedback from a regular listener saying that they had decided to leave the podcast because we had become too political. It made me think a lot and question what we are doing here. I searched ‘politics’ and good old Wiki came back with…

Politics is the way that people living in groups make decisions. Politics is about making agreements between people so that they can live together in groups such as tribes, cities, or countries.’

This is a good description for me that shows politics with a small ‘p’ not party Politics with a big ‘P’. In this sense self help comes from the decisions that we make individually on how we think, feel and behave so that we can overcome our problems and lead happier and more fulfilling lives. The same process happens with groups of people from families to societies. I do not see a difference between self help and group help what I see is a process of growing awareness and waking up.

There is no difference between individual decisions and collective decisions. Those decisions will either help us or not.

The process of self help often begins in a sleepy vague sate of self awareness with ‘I have a problem’. At this stage the individual will take very little responsibility for what is happening for them. Often they will seek others to blame and also try to find others who will make it right for them. These outside agencies that are either creating or solving the problems and known as ‘Them’. “You’ll never guess what they have done now?” “You think that they would help us?” While we hang on to concepts of ‘them’ and ‘they’ and do not help our selves we cannot  change our situation.

Self help is about taking personal responsibility and doing something about our situation ourself. We will often need help from therapists and teachers, we might need training and courses, develop skills and techniques that will enable us to get  through our problems. Eventually we can become, what I call, a ‘self starter’.

Self help is a process of increasing our awareness or consciousness. In the first instance the process is very egocentric, as it should be, and we learn about ourself what has happened to us and how we have become the way that we are. As awareness of our self increases we also develop awareness of others and the needs of others. For many this creates a desire to help and to be of help. The vast majority of therapist trained to help others because they too had been through their own issues and having gone through the ego-centred phase they realised that they could help others.

The more aware or awake people become the more they are effected by what is going on around them. That might mean in their relationships, family, company, school, society, nation or even the world. With an increased awareness comes the desire to do something about it, whatever the ‘it’ is.

When someone avoids the news they are hunkering down in their own bubble and excluding the wider picture. If we are to be awake and informed members of humanity we need to be informed. That does not mean inundated with negativity. We need to discriminate so that we can see a balance of both the good and the bad going on around us. Discrimination is a fundamental characteristic of self help.

As you probably know I have had to work through many personal issues in a variety of settings and on the way I became a therapist. I have worked in the private and the public sector in mental health and the prison service. My role have often been as a advocate for service users and for staff. In my work and my own development there came a point where it was no longer enough to attend to myself and I was driven to attend to the needs of others. This is an ongoing process for me.

When I work with individuals we often begin working at the ego level and then open it out, with growing awareness, to include other people and a wider understanding of the issues. In organisations I often start with a team and open their attitudes and understanding of their place in the organisation.

We are group animals that are, as much as we might not want to accept it, dependent on each other. Humanity only works, at any level, when we work together. For me when I see people working to unity I rejoice and when I see people working to fracture what we have, I get sad. I am forever saying…

…if we all look after each other we will all be okay.

I guess what I am saying is that the podcast and my work is political but with a small ‘p’. The madness of politics with a big ‘P’ I am not interested in other than I observe with amazement and sometimes despair. 

If you take the path of self help and self development there will come a point when you will be effected by things and driven to do something about it. If enough of us can wake up enough we might just save humanity and even the planet. But does that sound too political?

Take care, be happy, help your self and where you can help other people.

Sean x 

  

TSHP378: Heading Off The Winter Blues

What’s Coming This Episode?

There’s no point denying it anymore… the nights are drawing in and the temperature is dropping. Light and weather will always affect our mood but can we beat the worst of it? Of course we can! Let’s dive in…

Enjoy the show and take care, it’s The Self Help Podcast!

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Heading Off The Winter Blues

We all go down in the dark winter months. Some people crash and develop what we call SAD, seasonal affected disorder, and need to take medication. Around this time of year many SAD sufferers will be starting to take St John’s Wart, a natural antidepressant, to build their system up before the clocks go back we and begin the dark months. There is a difference between the normal drop, often known as ‘The Winter Blues’ and depression. In the main SAD is a physiological thing, the result of chemical changes in our system in relationship to the drop in sunlight, the resulting reduction in levels of vitamin D and the subsequent drop in Serotonin, the wellbeing hormone, in the brain. While depression may have a physiological basis it is mainly a reactive condition. That means that the changes in our system may have been brought about through our experiences, events or a trauma. Whereas SAD only happens in the dark months depression can happen at nay time in the year.

What happens when we get SAD and depressed at the same time?

I am concerned. For months I have been talking with people that are having negative emotional responses to Covid, fear of death, fear of other dying, the lockdown and cabin fever, Irritability with partners and family, reduction in wages and money fears, redundancy fears, lack of exercise, increased weight, boredom, increased drug and alcohol consumption, not being able to go on holiday, straight frustrated anger that we can do nothing about out situation… the list becomes endless. I see helplessness and hopelessness.

My concern is that coming out of lockdown, assuming that we do not go back into lockdown, with a second wave of infection, we will walk right into the winter blues. That is a double whammy. I expect to see a big spike in depression and depression related issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide. To survive this winter we all need to be aware of our own problems, aware of the problems being faced by those around use and, where we can do something about it. We really are in the position…

…if we all look after each other we will all be okay!

If you are currently taking antidepressants ensure that you have good stocks and do not run out. You should never come off antidepressants in the dark months any way. Please do not drop your medications without referring to your doctor and ensure that you have a good support mechanism in place.

All of us will experience a drop in serotonin this winter which, due to Covid may feel more severe than usual. For me therapeutically the worst months are November, after the world seems to have suddenly gone dark, and then if it have been a bad dark winter February when the second wave of depression begins. January and February are also known as divorce season for solicitors which is, I suspect, partly due to the winter blues and partly due to that fact that people have been forced to be together for long periods of time. This year the effects of Covid could make this even greater. We know that in lockdown domestic violence has increased. This is normally seen as the violent man though this is not always that case. Men due suffer from domestic violence as well. The stats also tell us that reported violence from children to parents has increased by 14%.

The Monday nearest to January 20th, in 2021 it will be 18th, is known as Blue Monday and is often seen as the most depressing day of the year. This can be reactive to both Christmas and New Year, that are not always the happiest time, to the financial burden that it have left us to sort out. This year we can clearly add the winter blues and Covid.

So what can we do? – Number one is we need to start right now. The trick is keeping the positive endorphins in the brain flowing. These are my suggestions for now until the end of March 2021.

1: Check your weight. If you have put weight on during lockdown it will only get worse in the dark months. We all hit the carbs in the winter because they make our brain secrete serotonin. There are other ways of getting more serotonin, see below. But you may need to ask yourself, do you need to diet?

2: Move your body. We are told that we should be doing 10,000 steps a day. Actually this should really be more like 15 – 20,000 a day. A smart watch, a smartphone or a pedometer will enable you to keep track of your daily steps. Moving your body burns calories, reducing blood pressure, improves circulation, strengthens your heart and looks after your brain.

3: Exercise. Walking is good. Power walking is better. Most of us will also need to do some exercise. When you raise your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes your brain responds by send out a deluge of positive hormones and endorphins into your system. This vastly increases your health but it also improves your mood and feelings of wellbeing. I prefer to run and cycle. For some it is the gym or an exercise class for other it maybe a dance. Whatever it is do it. But like everything listen to your body and if you have pre-existing conditions talk to your doctor before you begin an exercise regime. During lockdown many people walked or cycled to work to avoid public transport, perhaps we could carry this on. Remember there is never the wrong weather only the wrong clothing.

4: Start a hobby. Get engaged in something. This is the positive alternative to sitting down like a couch potato watching the TV. It doesn’t matter what hobby you take up as long as it interests you. Could be reading, knitting, doing your family tree, local history, carving, painting the list is endless.

5: Have some fun. Just like exercise and carbohydrates laughing makes your brain secrete serotonin. Watching a funny film, going to a comedy show, playing games doing anything just for the fun of it. You will feel so much better
6: Communication. Lots of people have shut down in lockdown and gone a little inside themselves. This can be a sign of mid depression. Talking to others and sharing what you are feeling and general ideas opens you mind, stimulates your brain and improves your relationships.

My resource for this podcast was the Couch to 5K app. You can tell when people are using it. They have headphones in and are listing to the coach in their ear. They are stopping and walking for a while and then of they go again and you can see the relief on their face when the coach tells them that it is now time to cool down and just walk. I have seen some big people doing the app during lockdown and I have nothing but praise for them, ‘well done’. This a fabulous app that enables you to really run. I have seen people who have said that they could never run taking on 5 and 10K races with a smile.

So, look, the past months have been tough and it is not over yet. It will always last longer than we want it to. We do have choices. We do not have to drop into the pit of depression and winter blues. To get the best effect from these ideas this winter ‘Now’ would be a good time to begin.

Take care, be happy and enjoy whatever is left of the summer and, enjoy the winter as well.

Sean x