Midlife Crisis or Long Covid?

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, October 10th, is ‘Mental health in an unequal world’. Equality comes when we all show each other the respect that we deserve or as I like to say…

If we all look after each other we will all be okay!

When look at mental health it is important to acknowledge that normal does not exists. In that sense we are all bonkers, just different kinds of bonkers and when we struggling it is okay to admit it and talk about it.

I think that it must be another sign of the effects of Covid but I keep talking to people who are telling me that they are having a midlife crisis. The thing is that the symptoms that they are describing are very like the effects of long Covid. Now, it could be that covid is having an effect or it could be that the general state of the world it taking it’s toll on us all. Then again it could that people are in a midlife crisis.

What on earth is a midlife crisis? What is midlife come to that?

Well, when it comes to timings, in theory at least, the midlife crisis has to be happening later these days as we are living longer. In previous generations people were lucky to live to 60 which would mean that their 30s would have been midlife. Now as we are all moving towards living to the magic 100 the 50s and 60s have become the new 30. In psychotherapy we are now suggesting that the people are about 20 years younger than the previous generations. That is, people at 60 are doing what their parents were still doing at 40. I guess the timing of a midlife crisis is a moveable feast. 

Midlife crisis is a term first coined by Elliott Jaques he suggested that it occurred somewhere between the forties to early sixties. He looked it as being points, or periods of change and transition in life. However, there seems to be little evidence that the midlife crisis in in any way a universal phenomenon and seems more to do with the industrialised and urbanised western culture rather than the agricultural societies of Africa and Asia.

I have a theory that is born out of developmental psychology in the school of analytical psychotherapy. It is this…

… at around the age 3 to 4 most of us have set our gender role and identity. By this age we understand the concepts of male, female, mother, father, brother, sister and so on and we understand where we fit into these patterns. We also have developed internal working models, or inner concepts, that enable us to make sense of our percepts, or what we perceive to be out there. A concept is like a box full of information that explains things. So in the mother box will be all the information that we have gathered about what a mother is. So, when we see those things ‘out there’ we know what they are. We have concept boxes for all things, people, roles, talents etc.

I guess it is fairly obvious that if the things that end up in the concept boxes where mixed up we may have some odd ideas. Let’s say that when we were gathering information about mothers, to fill our mother concept box, our mother was always beating us with a stick, then we are unlikely to be able perceive that woman out there is a mother unless she is carrying a stick and beating people with it. It also follows that when we grow and become a mother we might feel that beating people with sticks is a part of the deal that we have to do to be a real mother. Anyway, I digress.

After our basic concepts have been established at around the age of 4 we enter what is termed the ‘latent’ period. This is where our focus moves from being self centred to attempting build and understand relationships. This phase is also termed ‘socialisation’. It is not until we reach adolescence that the early concepts gathered at 4 years are re-examined, re-evaluated and, if required, re-built.

It is in adolescence that we challenge all the basis assumptions that we took on early in life. This also means challenging the beliefs of our society, religion, culture, family and so on. Often this includes experimentation with various version of ourself until we find one that feels comfortable that we can own into adult life. Growing your hair down to your knees, or dying it green, or hanging your face with cutlery, or getting tattooed, travelling experiencing and experimenting are all a part of the adolescent phase. It seems to me that those people who don’t go through the rebellion of adolescence, those that do not question the current order and challenge their early concepts are vulnerable to a mid life crisis.

 

When people have a mid life crisis, go ‘off the rails’ or ‘lose the plot’ or do something completely out of character are now doing the things that they would normally have done in adolescence. Their behaviour often appears out of place belonging in adolescence not in middle age. We can all be vulnerable to midlife crisis because we all, or at least most of us, failed to do all that we could have done in the adolescent phase. There is the added issues that the current circumstances may be such that we feel the need to regress to adolescence in order to deal with and survive the issues.

I am using as my resource for this podcast an article from the Telegraph ‘The six signs that you could be suffering from a midlife mental crisis’. Not too sure about the word ‘mental’ in this context. It is probably better to use the word emotional. Anyway, the six symptoms or signs identifies are…

1: Two or more weeks of low mood

2: Tearfulness

3: Irritability

4: Sense of hopelessness

5: Memory loss

6: Problems sleeping

As I said all of the above have been reported to me as symptoms of long covid. But if it isn’t long covid how can we avoid the midlife crisis?

Avoiding a midlife crisis

Most people that I see who are in a midlife crisis are those feeling stuck in their current way if life or circumstances. They are seeking change, a relief from the present issues and are looking a foe new or enlightening experience. The mother when the last child leaves home. The man in his mid fifties who still have a mortgage to pay and children at Uni who need supporting. Doing the same job for years has become Groundhog Day and you feel that you have had enough. Often it is those who have had enough, that have run out of steam, motivation and energy often driven by frustration. Over all they need some fun, excitement and new experience.

To avoid the midlife crisis make sure that you are enjoying life and experiencing new things and having some fun. When we learn to express ourself and if we are enjoying who we are and where we are, then the need to do something drastically different tends not to happen. And, if it does we can do it cooperatively with our partner, family or friends.

The trick is be happy and have fun

Sean x

The Joy of Pets

I couldn’t let this one pass. Last week Ed and family acquired a lovely little dog call Cooper. I think we should insert a picture here Ed. I know that Cooper is and will be loved, you just have to see the look in Ed’s eyes when he is talking about him, a real positive addition to the family. Dogs really can be man’s best friend. Sadly man is not always a dogs best friend.

So many people have dogs as companions and friends and there are many help and support dogs. I have clients who have hearing dogs to help with their deafness, seeing dogs to help with blindness and even seizures dogs who can tell their owner that they are about to have a fit before they realise it so that they can get to a place of safety. All animals are wonderful though dogs have lived with us throughout most of our evolution and have a special place in our hearts.

One day I was running with my trainer Conrad. As we ran down the road I notice a brown dog ahead of us. She saw us coming and stopped to allow us to catch up with her. As we passed Conrad and I both naturally greeted her and she fell into step running between us. She seemed a perfectly nice and happy person very comfortably joining in with us. It led me to wonder what was it that was going in her mind. Did she feel that she had joined the pack? Was this the natural instinct of a pack animal off for the hunt? Perhaps she thought ‘two mad humans here running around, I wonder where they are going? I’ll go with them and see’, perhaps she thought, or didn’t, think of anything that I, as a human, could conceive or even begin to understand.  I wonder does Cooper now feel that he is a part of Ed’s pack or even that he a little human?

We often treat animals anthropomorphically, just as I did with the brown dog, and we project our own feelings onto them and assume that we know what it is that they are feeling or thinking. The worst thing that I ever hear is when a human projects a lack of feeling and emotion onto an animal in an assumption that the animal has no feelings at all. Fishermen tell me that when they stick a hook through the mouth of a fish, and pull it by the line from the water into the air, something that is suffocating for the fish, that the fish doesn’t feel a thing ‘because they are cold blooded’. Interesting thinks I.

I find it strange that we divide up the animal kingdom into different emotional categories to suit our human selfishness. 

Nature

There are those animals that live in the wild that we cam admire. These might include primates, the large cats, lizards, birds, elephants, rhinos, zebras and so on. We humans make documentaries about them and wonder at their life styles and antics, their social connections and disputes and their various mating rituals and habits. Over all we love them and pay a lot of money to go and see them in the wild or in the captivity of zoos and parks.

Vermin

Vermin are those animals that we as humans have decided have no use for us, not even as objects in documentaries. Those that we decide should be removed from the planet. So we trap them poison them and kill them in any way that we can. For householders these might include rats, mice, spiders, ants and so on. Non householders might include the coypu, mink, snakes, foxes, badgers, crows, magpies and so on.

Food

The animal group that we have defined as food, that is they are there for us to eat, varies from one country to the next and we can all share our disgust at each other’s habits. When a country eats frogs, dogs, or horses Brits can become very angry or disgusted. A while ago horse meat was found in British mincemeat which upset a lot of people, yet the French will happily take our horses from Dartmoor and Exmoor for their dinner table while we will take their cows for ours. The staple meat diets of the western world has been cattle, sheep and pigs plus the occasional goat. We will eat chickens and ducks but will be disgusted by those that eat song birds. We make the distinction between Kentucky Fried Chicken and Kentucky Fried Rat, though they would probably taste and feel very similar once the spices had been added to the coating. For some rabbits are simply four legged chicken while for others they are cuddly bunnies and venison may be seen as strong beef or the murder of Bambi.

Fashion

If you wear a leather pair of shoes or a leather belt you are wearing an animal for fashion. The reality is that there are many alternatives to leather but if you eat the meat I guess that you might as well wear the skin. However, this does not seem to hold true in the case of fur. Would a fur coat be more acceptable if we ate the meat as well as wearing the skin? The British army has spent generations wearing bear skin hats, I doubt  that they ever ate the meat. 

Pets

Pets are animals that we assume like to be with us. We use animals without really understanding what it is that they want or need. Before a horse allows a rider to sit on it’s back it has to be ‘broken’. This means that it’s will to resist, and simply be a horse, is stripped away from it until it will tolerate the rider and respond to being directed by a piece of metal in their mouth, often kicked in the sides and being beaten with whip. We put birds in cages to prevent them from doing what is natural for them, flying. We take the doggie-ness away from a dog until it believes that is a part of our human pack.

The symbiotic connections

We hear stories of the dolphin who appeared in the sea and held a human up in the water until help arrived or they had taken them to the shallows so that they could then stand. There are those moments when an animal and a human just connect. Many dogs do have a symbiotic relationship with a human being. Their intuitive connection allows them to know and understand the humans feelings and to respond in a sensitive manner. This may also include bereavement at the loss or death of a human that they are close to. We see this as a wonderful example of how a dog can have deep feelings for a human. Perhaps we should realise that this is how dogs live in their normal situation and that the deep emotion that we see, and assume are for us, are really the emotional power that keeps the pack together. Just as dogs belong in packs, horses belong in herds and were never designed to live on their own or with just a few other horses or human beings. 

Unless an animal comes to you willingly, just like the dog who chose to run with Conrad and me for a while, are we simply interfering in it’s naturalness to make it be what we want it to be.

I often see pets who are not experiencing joy, the joy of pets is all on the part of the human who ‘owns’ and ‘controls’ them. As I sit in my studio I often hear two dogs in the gardens around me. One is very unhappy and cries a lot at being abandoned by it’s human owners. The other howls in a desperate attempt to call to other dogs as though it is playing out some strange memory of the pack. As it howls other dogs, even distantly, respond and on the air they have a conversation that I will never understand but I keep hearing the plaintive cry of ‘tell me I am not alone’. Perhaps I should call this ‘Howling Dog Studios’.

I am sure tha Cooper will have a happy life where he will be loved and be able to love his new family. I keep saying it but…

If we all look after each other we will all be okay… 

…in the ‘all’ I would include all animals be they food, pets or vermin.

If you have pets, eat meat or wear skins have a think about the joy of pets and other animals. Is the joy one sided? Is it all played out for the good of human beings? Do the animals have feelings and if they do are we responding to them?

Food for thought!

Take care and be happy

Sean X

Anxiety, Panic and Shortages

Anxiety and panic are on a spectrum mild to severe from simple fear or apprehension through to full panic attacks. This is what we have been seeing during Covid with our tendency to panic buy. It started with toilet rolls and pasta, moved onto holidays and now we have moved on to fuel for our cars. It is probable that we will have more to come as we face the expected food shortages at Christmas.

A lot of what we are panicking about is socially and based in both Brexit and Covid as we tend to act on rumours in the news and on social media like sheep. In this blog I will try to explain a bit about the brain and our emotions and the different forms of anxiety that are effecting us at the moment. At a scientific level our understanding of the neuropsychology and anxiety has come on leaps and bounds. 

When we are queuing on the garage forecourt we may well be experiencing a very real anxiety as fear that we will not be able to get to work, tend to a sick relative, get the kids to school and so on. What we need to understand is that all anxiety is not about what is happening right now it is about what we fear will happen next, in the future. I can be worrying now, in September, about not having food for Christmas dinner to feed the family as I had intended or was expected to do. Do I now start to panic buy to ensure that me and my family will be okay for the festive season? The key here is that actually it is not happening right now. Right now, in the present moment, we have food, our bellies are full and we have nothing to worry about.

Now it maybe that we will not have the food that expect or that we are used to this Christmas however, evolution has given us an amazing tool that we can use right now. It is called creativity. This means that we can creatively solve any problem that life throws at us if we are positive and creative and don’t become swamped in the fear of what may never actually happen. 

Panic and fear based anxiety is emotional

Fear is an instinctual response, often a reflex, in the amygdala in our brain that may lead to the physical, even violent or, fight, flee or freeze responses that are activated in the brain stem. This process tends to be highly emotional, often below our awareness. When people have an anxiety/panic attack it is a fear reaction. They will be temporarily out of control. Once they have calmed down and the cognitive brain is back on line they may be filled with remorse and even be shocked or horrified by their previous instinctual behaviour. 

The amygdala is a dual almond shaped organ, one in either hemisphere of the brain though usually termed in the singular. The difference between the two amygdalas, which has not yet been studied in the west, is in Ayurvedic neuropsychology recognised as a part of our intuitive function, that sense of knowing without knowing why we know. As such it’s function is both above and below our awareness. When it is functioning above our awareness we call in intuition. When it functions below our awareness we see it as the primal response of instinct. It is these instinctual responses that create the hoarding behaviours that we are seeing at the moment. This is panic, fear and panic buying.

Panic

A dictionary definition of panic is a sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behaviour.

Do we really need this fuel? Or, do we need this much fuel? Do we really need a Turkey for Christmas?

The Mayo clinic defines panic as…

“ …a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying”.

Both anxiety and panic are normal emotional responses that as such have no logical connections. When cognition balances the emotion of panic the system is in balance. In balance we can plan in panic we simply react.

Worry Based Anxiety is cognitive and leads to as plan

Worry based anxiety is completely different to emotional based panic anxiety. The anxiety that is experienced in the cognitive brain is completely different to primal amygdala responses in that it is experienced as a reasoned response based in logic. 

The reasoning and the logic may, in reality, be faulty but it is experienced by the person as factual. People will say “it is a known fact that…” when it is nothing of the sort. Worry based anxiety also comes from the person not living in the present moment. They have projected themselves forward into ideas and experiences that may never happen but they are living them in the present as though they have. The tools of worry based anxiety are obsessing, which may lead to obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD, rumination, ‘dog with a bone syndrome’, where we cannot let it go and tend to go over and over the same issue again and again. 

Ayurveda

In Ayurveda worry based anxiety, in the cognitive cortex, is seen as part of the process of the imagination. People with a poor imagination do not get worry anxiety because they have difficulty imagining negative futures to become anxious about. Cognitive anxiety is dealt with by Tantric therapy, which is not all about sex it is about dealing with and controlling the imagination. Worry in the amygdala is dealt with in the Raja therapy which is mindfulness and meditation. 

Tantric therapy is based in using visualisation to create future images that are positive and do not have the worry attached to them. The habit of attaching worry anxiety to a particular thought or image is replaced with new positive images that are the new worry free habit. Raja based therapy as mindful relaxation and meditative practice reduces the levels of stress hormone in the body system reducing the instinctual feelings of fear. 

I am never keen on the ideas of control but ion this case I am. When we take control of anxiety we are not overwhelmed by it. We are in control of it and it is not in control of us. Sometime we will need some therapy to equip us with the skills to deal with our anxiety.

Therapy

If your anxiety if based in logical reasoning seek out a cognitive therapist they will be great for you. If your anxiety is fear based find therapist skilled in emotional work they maybe psychodynamic, cognitive analytical (CAT) or Mindfulness based stress reduction MBSR, therapies and courses and you will get what you need.

Most importantly none of us need to suffer anxiety, If you do then please do something about it.

Two resources

1: An eight week completely free MBSR course at palouse.com

2: A book: Rewire Your Anxious Brain By Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle

Take care, don’t panic and be happy

Sean X

Happy Body, Happy Mind!

“Here we go again” – it is detox time.  

At the change of the seasons it is my custom to detox. At both spring and autumn are the times for a clean out.  Many people get into the idea of ‘spring cleaning’, well I like an autumn clean as well.  I have been doing it since I lived the ashram when I was a young man. Often as a yoga/meditation teacher students would join for the clean out. These days each year I invite all those around me to have a go.  So, if you are game for a laugh go to liveinthepresent.co.uk and download the thirteen day detox.

The first question people tend to ask me is “why do you want to detox?” For many the idea of spending a couple of weeks on a restricted diet can be scary and even seem impossible. The first time it is a bit strange as we are learning but after that it is easy. And, you will feel so much better for it.

Using the thirteen day detox program you sequentially exclude food over a week leaving you with three magic days when you can really flush you system.  These three days will vary in intensity depending on your experience, needs and commitment.  It might just be three days on fruit.  It could be three days on fruit juice.  Or, you might go for a day on fruit juice, and day on honey, water and lemon, then another day on fruit juice as you work your way back up again onto you full diet. With a spring detox she it is warm I might stay of just the water for a few days. In the autumn it is harder as we need to keep warm and our diet helps us with that.

Across the world people use fasting for both physical and spiritual reasons. In Ramadan Muslims fast throughout the ideas of day light. For Hindu and Sheik communities it is common. In Buddhist and mindfulness communities it is seen as a strong discipline just like meditation. For Christians the fasting or limitations on the Lent period the same. However, in the modern age there is a lot of evidence that that fasting or calorie limiting is good for the body and is a part of our hunter gatherer heritage. Michael Mosley developed the five two diet which is similar.

Even so, for many people, in the west at least, the idea of going without food is scary, and potentially undoable.  Yet many people in the world will go without food for several days a week or be living on a severely limited diet.  A detox is much more than a physical thing.  It is also a time when we can clear our mind and make decisions about, life or lifestyle, that enable us to grow and develop as people.

I will be starting my Autumn detox on the week beginning in the week of September 27th.  Many people use the detox when they are seeking changing their relationship with food, alcohol, nicotine and other substances or behaviours.  A detox is the perfect opportunity to get your life back on track, to set new goals and to consider what it is that you really do want from life. It also gives us time to consider what it is that need to do to make it happen. I find it is like drawing a line on what has gone before and creating a new beginning.

You can download the detox from the liveinthepresent.co.uk website. If you have questions about it drop me an email.

I do say in the program that you need to be aware of your own health situation and I always suggest that if you are unsure then you should run the program by your doctor before you are it on to get the go ahead.

Take care and happy autumn cleaning 

Sean x   

The Amazing Benefits of Community Living

Last week Ed organised a family/community gathering based around his loved subject of cycling. People rallied around and helped and many people turned up to enjoy the day. There has been a real sense of community. Ed is becoming a community nut in his drive to make our roads safe and encourage people to take to their bikes. He has a strong sense of community.

Ed shared a lovely picture of his Grandmother Beryl at 92 sitting on the back of his bike.

It made me think about the documentary series on Channel four that showed the interaction between a home for older people and a group of four year old children. It shows the huge benefits and gain made by both the old and the young through communication, caring and creating of community. Why do we put older people in homes rather than maintain the extended families that allowed for the interaction and support of all ages. 

Events like Ed’s give us the opportunity to meet together and get to know more people who are actually our community the people that we live around. I guess that in any community there will sometimes be conflict. However in a true and supportive community any stresses will be minimised and the more that we meet and talk the easier it is to resolve problems. 

We all have a choice to invest in and create our own communities. Community has no cost it does not require wealth it is all an attitude of mind.

So what is community other than a group of like minded people?

1: Safety

A community that is safe allows for trust between neighbours where you feel safe to be out at night alone. We can leave our child sleeping in their pram outside the front door in the sun and fresh air without fear. We need not worry if the house door or the car is left unlocked or the windows open. We know that those around us will look out for us.

2: Community

Community is big a family and a big family is a community. The warm social experience of groups and friends socialising and simple parties and gatherings are community. It might be a group of mums meeting for a coffee after dropping the kids at school. It might be the gathering of a group of line dancers, or even the camaraderie of the gym.

In years gone by communities gathered to celebrate christenings, engagements, weddings, birthdays, national holidays and every other excuse to gather and celebrate the fact that we are all one community. 

3: Exercise 

In a community, as Ed would confirm, a walk or a bike ride is good. But, if you are going to do it why not doing with friends, do it as a group. We know that exercise is good for us. Many people now seek to hit the ten thousand steps a day to keep fit and at a moderate weight. We also know that when you move your body your brain secretes endorphins that are the happy hormones. When we do things together as a community those endorphins are bending, they bind us together,

4: Environment

How many times do we see a town or village with the streets full of litter, or the phantom pile of fly tipped rubbish? Looking after our environment is looking after our community. Clean and tidy spaces leaves us with a calmness that allows us to live in a harmonious place. And, harmonious place equals harmonious mind, equals harmonious community.

5: Reduce the stress

When we live in complex communities they require us to make decisions all the time. Our larger societies are complex communities. Indeed, we could describe the entire human race as one large community and planet earth as our village. But, do we look after it and keep it clean? We have a choice and yet choice is both liberating and disabling. 

Choice can be overwhelming. If the choice is do you want brown bread or white bread the decision is simple. If we walk into the supermarket and are faced with fifty different loaves of bread the decision can become very stressful. Community, local shops are smaller and require less choice. Shopping malls and supermarkets often break up communities and also create stress.

6: Give your community value

This might be your local community, school community or work community. Do we see them as important and give them the value that they deserve? Often we will give more value to he people that we identify as within our community and give less value to strangers. In the Mitch Albom’s book ‘The Five People That You Meet in Heaven’ he describes strangers as ‘family that you have yet to get to know’. I really like that concept. In my life I have found so many people who have been and are my family. 

What value do you give your community?

This is one of those topics where I can climb aboard my hobby horse and stride off into the distance. The important things about all community, and the community of all the human race is simply this…

If we all took the time to look after each other we would all be okay

That is community.

The work that Ed is doing is  actively bringing community together. I wonder how many people thought they were just going for a cycle ride but actually met new friends?

Be happy and look after each other and nurture our community

Sean x

Food and mood – Is there happiness in what you eat?

As we move towards winter our diets tend to change and the level of carbs that we will be eating almost certainly will increase. We call this comfort eating.

Food and mood is a fascinating subject. In current times the drive for our diet to become plant based or vegan seems to be everywhere. Many people, that I know, consume animal flesh without making to connection between what is on their plate and what is running a round in a field. For there is the need, often verging on agitation, to not damage another living soul in any way. It leaves me wondering why we each decide to each what we do?

It has been known throughout time that food and mood go together. Foods have been used to enhance energy, intelligence, healing and for aphrodisiac properties. The thing that is never clear is, when food is associated with mood, are the moods the result of the food eaten, or if it is the mood that leads us to be attracted to certain foods in the first place!

When I was a child my parents told me that “fat people were always happy and jolly”, and I could see the truth of that, Mrs Pye, a very large lady who ,live across the road, was indeed always laughing. Then at other times I was also told that people who were always happy were stupid because, according to my parents, life was supposed to be hard, and life was supposed to be earnest. As a good Christian, of Irish decent, my mother taught me that “every one has their cross to bear”, that everyone had their difficulties to face and overcome. I grew up with believing that, in life, we were not supposed to have a good time and that it was supposed to be difficult, and that in some strange way, living with difficulty was the sign of the pure life. So, in many ways the more miserable that you were then the better person you must be. Mad or what?

This created confusion in me. In my mind it followed that if big people were happy they must also be stupid. It also followed that they had no reason to be unhappy because they were not carrying any crosses in life. On the contrary, it seemed to me that big people had every reason to be happy, while skinny people had every reason to be unhappy because of all their crosses that were weighing them down.

To top it all I was very skinny, therefore, in my mind, I was supposed to be unhappy, and I was. I accepted it as the natural order of my life. My dilemma was, if I ate too much I would be fat and stupid or else I would be thin and miserable. As I was thin I accepted that I would always be miserable, and I was.

Obviously with age and experience I now know that this was all nonsense, though at the time it seemed all very real. I say nonsense but well, it is, but not quite. We now know that food and mood do go together. When we eat carbohydrates our brain secretes serotonin, the happy hormone. Comfort foods are exactly that. Eating carbohydrates for comfort is really self medication.

In psychotherapy we now identify the ‘carbohydrate cycle’. This means that as a response to feeling depressed and down, many people will go and eat lots of carbohydrates to get the feeling of comfort. The result of this is that they put on weight. They then go to the mirror and feel bad at the weight they have put on leading them to eat more carbohydrates to make them self feel better.

The self medication with carbohydrates is only one way to increase serotonin. The most obvious route is through medication is antidepressants. However the best way to increase serotonin and feel better is through exercise or by simply having fun. If your heart beats faster for twenty minutes your brain will secrete more serotonin that will make you feel so much better. It makes me realise how much our life-style works against us feeling good. Our, hunter gatherer, ancestors would jog a few mile everyday collecting food and going about their business, and in the process maintain good levels of endorphins, happy hormones. We, on the other hand, live sedentary life styles that create very little of the hormones that we really need.

The question remains, are we the result of what we eat or are we attracted to certain foods because of who we are? There’s certainly a relationship between what we eat and how we feel. If you eat light easy to digest foods you will a light and have an easy mind, the food reflects your mood. If you eat reheated meat pie and chips you will have a mind that reflects heavy stodgy fat food.

It strikes me that in a normal situation we would naturally east what our body needed. However, many people exact with their mind not their body. They are eating what they think they should eat and not what their body is asking for. When I was young I lived in many communities that we solid vegetarian. Well, they were until a visitor would coma and start cooking bacon. Suddenly people began to appear in the kitchen attracted by the smell.

Some people are naturally in touch with their body and eat what is appropriate for them. Some are more in touch with their mind and eat what they thing they should eat. While others have to eat whatever they can get and do not have a choice. I tend toward the Mediterranean diet and I love olives, tomatoes and pasta which is a powerful carb and certainly does make me feel good. A glass of red wine with the pasta goes down a treat.

So what are you having for tea? Does it make you feel happy? If not perhaps you might need to change your diet, or go for a run. Is your diet based around what you think you should eat or what you really enjoy eating?

Take care and enjoy your food.

Sean x

Are you allowed to attend?

Okay, so as we are trying to return society to normal, take our masks off and get back to work how do you feel about it. Of the people that I work with there are those that will never be vaccinated come what may and don’t care about wearing masks or who they mix with right through to those that will be wearing a mask in any public setting for years to come. I decided to get vaccinated and as I have had the virus as well I assume that I am pretty well protected. However, I do still wear a mask and feel a bit avoidant of those that have chosen not to be vaccinated. Is it okay to treat the vaccinated and unvaccinated in the same way? 

Should us, the vaccinated, allow those that refuse to have the Covid vaccine to access the same events as us? Does this create a two tier society of exclusions? Or is it reasonable to expect people to comply? If you are not vaccinated do you feel safe and secure attending events with vaccinated or unvaccinated people? Or do you see the vaccine as unnecessary?

The current wisdom seems to be that those who are vaccinated can still get the virus but with much reduced symptoms. Those that are not vaccinated who do get the virus are at far greater risk of serious illness and even of death. Considering the currently known and the likely unknown future variants the risk gets ever greater.

Talking with people moving back to the workplace the vaccination issue is, in many cases, having an effect there. I hear some people insisting that they will not share an office, attend meetings or go for lunch or dinner with someone who has not been vaccinated. I have also spoken with people that will not allow anyone who has not been double jabbed to come to their house even if they are family. I did point out that a vaccinated person was at more risk of passing the virus on to the unvaccinated than the other way around.

It seems that in this one where we are dammed if we do and dammed if we don’t. I hear it repeated many times that those who refuse the vaccine are just being selfish in that they put others at risk. Should we be taking the vaccine to protect our self or to protect others?

Take a look at how many people on public transport or in shops are no longer wearing masks. There is still a strong recommendation that we wear a mask on public transport, in a shop or when we enter or leave a cafe/restaurant/pub to minimise the risk of passing the virus on to the unvaccinated people! 

So should we wear a mask? Just looking around it seems that a high proportion of people are choosing not to. It seems that many of these non mask wearers have also chosen not to be vaccinated. Yet it is these people that are at the highest risk from the virus not the vaccinated.

It is easy, after all this time of Covid restriction, to become Covid blind and just give up on all the protections and procedures. I am as fed up with it all as everyone else though for me it is important that we not minimise the current and future risks and effects of Covid. It will be with us for sometime yet and we do need to continue to protect ourselves and others. 

A part from recovering medically we need to recover socially. We need to get back to being the group animals that we truly are. The sad thing is that if we were to exclude all of the unvaccinated from social events we will only extend the social recovery time for the whole of community. We might all be in danger of losing contact with friends and family perhaps forever.

It is important to recognise that the many people who have an annual flu vaccine are still happy to mix with people who are not vaccinated. I do not see people considering and worrying about the consequences of this. We simply see it as a choice, flu jab or not? Perhaps we now need to see Covid in the same way. Covid jab or not? In the end who is at the most risk?

It has to be that those at most risk of Covid are the non vaccinated or those that are choosing not to take the second jab. Those that are vaccinated may become infected with the virus though they will probably only have mild symptoms. It is the unvaccinated who remain at the highest risk.

I suspect that this will an ongoing issue that may last for years. Will the vaccinated allow the unvaccinated to attend events? This might include all social and family events from weddings to funeral services. The effects on travel will remain for a long time to come. Should we have a covid passport to allow us to travel or attend concerts and sports events? We have some serious decisions to make to avoid a divided society.

For me I choose to be vaccinated to protect my family and the client group that I work with. I had the virus before I was vaccinated and apart from some long term lung issues I have survived it okay. However, I do know of many people who did not. For me the choice is yours and hopefully if you choose not to be vaccinated and do contract Covid your symptoms will be mild. 

Take care and be happy

Sean x

Who are you performing for?

Performative wellness and performative success occur when someone becomes more concerned with presenting an idealised version of themselves rather than being honest about who they really are. 

Ref: https://www.rhodescollege.ca/3-tips-helping-clients-avoid-performative-wellness-become-wellness-counsellor/ 

The concept of wellness, living well and achieving success has, in someways, become a fashion that was started by books like “The Secrete”. We only have to look at social media to see people that we know who are not having a good time presenting themselves and their lives like everything is wonderful.

Are you being the real you or a performative you?

The perceived benefits of a wellness, success or a business routine can leave people being embarrassed to simply be themselves. As in, it is not who you are but how you look that counts. It seems that being who we are is no longer good enough. The Botox, fillers and cosmetic surgery are a testament to that. If we get to the point where we no longer look like who we really are or act like who we really are how do we even know who we are? If the way we present ourself or our clothes or our house in the way that we believe other people will value us, do they ever know who are we really?

Over lock down I have been really surprised at how many people, when using Zoom etc, use filters to improve their complexion rather than just being who they are. People tell me that it is the problem of continually looking at their own face on a screen that makes them feel as though they are not good enough. In everyday face to face conversations we are focussed on the other persons face not on our own.

I have also be surprised at how many people now use video back grounds to make their home setting look better than it is. They tell me the same thing that after looking at their old furniture or worn out kitchen they want to present a better looking home when on video. So with the filters and the backgrounds people are not really being themselves. It come as a real shock when we finally meet people face to face. In Psycho-speak these performative issues often come down to what is described as ‘performance anxiety’. This is often simply concerned with the fear of ‘am I good enough?’ 

Social media has a lot to answer for in this regard. It can take a toll on anyone’s resolve.  Many people have used social media for support and connection. Over the pandemic people’s reliance of social media has increased. Sadly at the same time so have levels of anxiety as people try to look and act like everything is wonderful and okay. 

Perhaps, for many, this would be a good time to take a break from social media.

I was thinking a lot about how we compare ourselves to others. As a people watcher I am fascinated by people’s need to mimic and copy others behaviours. Even as a yoga teacher I have watched many students doing their postures with one eye on the person next to them to check if they were doing it as well as them or if they could stretch further. I have even had to say to some classes that yoga is not a competition, there are no winners, this is about you, your body, mind and soul.

As you get dressed in the morning, do your make up or your hair ask yourself ‘who am I doing this for?’ Is this you being you or are you doing it to effect they way that people see you? Everything in life can be a performance from walking and dancing to making love, to ordering and eating a meal to the way that we drink our wine. 

When you stop performing you start being. 

In mindfulness we learn the ‘be’ in the moment and to ‘be’ in the moment with ourself. 

Be here now, be you and be happy.

Take care

Sean x

Is setting goals worth it?

After the last two podcasts I have had a few people tell me that after getting into meditation and also doing the Dr Dolittle talking to animals exercise that they had had some insights about there need to change there work roles and in one case their entire life. This then turned into conversations about goal setting and decisions about setting the goals. Normally the traditional time for making life altering decisions is New Year. I guess that for many coming out of the Covid restrictions is like a New Year of maybe a new life.

  • Do you have a goal in life?
  • If you do has it changed or altered because of Covid?
  • If you do have a goal how did you decide on it or discover it?
  • If you don’t have a goal would you like to have one?

For many people their new life goal seems to be about being able to leave a legacy to the next generation. That might be because they want a lasting memorial and don’t want to be forgotten. While some want to ensure that their kids get the best that they can give them. I guess that all goals are worthy as long as they don’t hurt others. Through, it helps to make the game of life and your goals fun.

My goal is that I want to arrive at the end of my life with a smile on my face, I think that is  a good goal. I recon that if I am smiling at the end it would suggest that the journey has been pretty good, and that is the point. Goals are all ok but if we only focus on the end point we can so easily miss the enjoyment of the journey.

A goal is, by definition, the end of a journey. It could be that from that ending  could be other new beginnings and new goals to aim at.  But, any goal that we are aiming at is an end point, a conclusion. And yet the goal itself may represent only the smallest part of the journey. It is the journey that is the bulk of the experience that is what really counts.

So why have a goal at all?

For me a goals are good. They give purpose to the experience of being alive. So I will have a goal for the day. It may that my goal is to do nothing, but then to actively do nothing is actually doing something, if you see what I mean. Goal setting does not mean that we have to engage in endless activity. It may be that we are aiming at doing and working less and chilling out more and learning to relax better.

Often I will see every day as this blank cheque of time. We each have 1440 minutes in the next 24 hours all to be spent however we wish – wonderful. I try to split my day into segments there is the small pre breakfast segment that is a good time to go running, do yoga or meditate. The morning segment takes me through to lunch time, the afternoon segment through to tea time, the evening segment and then the night at bed time. I often set myself mini goals to achieve in the different segments of the day. It can be good to have an agenda or a list.

Goals can be bigger events. I have week goals, month goals, year goals and so on. These are not things that are written in stone they are things I would like to achieve or get done. If I miss the deadlines or decide to dump or change a goal that is fine by me. It is all a part of the game of life and, for me, it has to be fun.

Often a goal, once set, happens in a time line. The time line defines the process and the sequence of achievements that lead to the ultimate goal. If you think of a goal as a chain that is spread from the present moment to the point that you wish to get to, then the chain is composed of links. Each link is a step in the journey to the goal. If the goal is the top of the mountain then the journey is the chain. Each step that we take is a link in the chain. If we achieve all the links the we complete the chain.

Why set goals?

Human beings are energised and motivated by having something to achieve. There is enough evidence in medicine and neuropsychology to confirm that those of us that carryon learning throughout life, however old we get, stay younger and fitter for longer. Those that do not have goals and become static with no motivation go into decline and they get older quicker. Goals create purpose direction and meaning in life, without goals life can become meaningless. 

A goal can be big or small

Be happy, set goals. Remember that New Year will soon be here. Now, there’s a good time to set some new goals.

Take care

Sean x

 

 

The Answer Lies Within

Frustration is a debilitating emotion. In the last few blogs we have looked at the emotions of anxiety, anger and depression. All three of these can either be the result of or the cause of frustration. This may be frustration with your self, other people, the situation in general or the ongoing saga of covid. Working with people in various states of frustration I was reminded of the cow.

One day, many years ago, as a young man, I was frustrated and angry. My teacher, whose patience was wearing thin, told me ‘It is time to be with the cow’. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about but with some food and water I was left in a field of cows and told to talk to them and that he would be back later. At the time I had taken a vow of obedience and did what was asked of me.

It was a long and a hot day that increased my feelings of frustration. I looked at the cows, they looked at me. What I supposed to do? I started having many one sided conversations with the cows. I spoke in animated ways with one cow who gazed at me with lovely doe eyes and simply chewed the cud with the resigned patience of someone who has been given charge of a mad human to look after. 

The cow and I sort of clicked. It was as though she knew what was going on in me and in her eyes was a stillness that also stilled my frustrated mind. You will think that I am really mad now but it was as though we were talking together at a deeper intuitive level. She was saying to me, ‘what’s the problem’. She was saying that life would go on day after day. She would come here chew cud and produce milk. ‘What was all the fuss?’ My teacher had told me that to the open mind everything and every being was a guru. When your mind is open you can learn so much everyday all the time.

The bottom line was that when my teacher returned he required me to explain what the cow had taught me. My learning from the day was that while I was rushing around the field in my frustration attempting to understanding something, anything, the cow, on the other hand, was happy to simply just ‘be’. To simply be a cow. The cow had a contentment in the moment and was not expecting or demanding anything else. My teacher simply nodded.

Later as I studied and practised meditation it occurred to me more and more that the cow had it right. To be content in the moment in the now with no concern what had been or what would be was now one of my own goals in my  meditation. Learning to be, rather than needing to do, is now my guiding principle. My daily meditation is now my oasis of simply just being in the busy world of my doing. I have to thank the cow for her wisdom.

In my life and my work I am privileged to enter other people’s inner worlds, discover who they are and, where possible help them find who it is that they would really like to be and, where possible, change their lives. I love all that I do, though there is one downside. It can be easy, however skilled therapists become at avoiding it, to load up with other peoples stuff, their stories, feelings and pictures. In short, if I spend the day working with people that have been abused I can feel like I am back in the grips of abuse. The same is true when working with depressions or anxiety, OCD or bereavement.

In the confused sea of other people’s emotions the sane place to go is the still place deep within, and for me that means meditation. This is at least once a day through often it is more. This is a time when I do not need to rush around worrying about who I am. Then I have become the cow. I have learned to sit and become the observer of my own thoughts and feelings and not get carried away by frustration, worries or concerns. I can enjoy the time when no body wants anything and when I have nothing what so ever to do but spend sometime simply relax and being.

Then I empty my internal cupboard and do what I love best, work with other people.

How do you clear your emotional cupboard when it is full?

Take care

Sean x