Sleep

After prolonged lockdown more and more people have allowed their natural sleep pattern to slip. To enable us all to get back to work we need to rebuild our sleep pattern so that we can get back into the our pre-lockdown rhythm of life. We all need different amounts of sleep but what neuropsychology tells us is that if you get less than seven hours you may be suffering from anxiety and if you get more than nine you may be suffering from depression. Sleeping seven to nine hours means that you are emotionally balanced neither anxious or depressed. Getting a good nights sleep is essential fo our physical and emotional health.

What time do you naturally wake in the morning?

All of us have a natural body rhythm. My body/mind system is set to 5am and it has been that way for many years. This is so embedded in my system that even if I go to bed at 1am I will still wake at 5am though I might choose to go back to sleep. This is true except for when I go on holiday. I do what we all do and arrive on holiday feeling the everyday stresses of life but after a few day the levels of stress hormone in my mind/body system gradually reduce to a point where I might still be asleep at 8.30am. Then comes the magic moment when the holiday is over and I have to get back into my sleep rhythm to do my work. This can be tough. It might take me three or four weeks to rebuild my normal pattern and then there it is 5am and I am wide awake.

Lockdown sleep patterns are the extreme of holiday sleep. It starts like holiday sleep slipping into getting up later. After all there is nothing to do, no work to go to, nobody wants anything and nobody needs anything, the routine has gone. Prolonged holiday sleep in lockdown can start to become disordered. As it extends and we get up later and later the amount of hours that we are sleeping extends and that can be the key into depression.

Getting a proper night sleep is essential for our health and disturbed sleep can lead to deeper and more profound psychological and medical health issues. Sleep scientist tell us that the magic three for total health are exercise, nutrition and sleep. I would add in that we need to be leading the sort of life that makes us feel happy, valued and worthwhile.

Sleep has two main functions. The first is deep sleep or non rapid eye movement or NREM sleep. This part of the cycle deals with physical repair of the body tissues. The second is rapid eye movement or REM sleep. This is the dream cycle and deals with emotional processing and emotional health and wellbeing.

Many of the symptoms that I am dealing with during lockdown have their origins in the fact that our routines have been disordered and that we are unable to regulate our mind/body systems as we did before lockdown. As well as depression and anxiety commons issues are…

High blood pressure

This can come from lack of sleep and increased consumption of caffeine and alcohol and a reduction in exercise.

Mood changes and disorders

Often driven by boredom, anxiety and depression we can start to develop a short fuse, become irritable and intolerant. This can be associated with angry outbursts and even domestic violence and abuse.

Inflammation

Disturbed sleep can lead to inflammation in the body tissues. I take turmeric everyday to counteract any stress related inflammation. Constant inflammation can create cardio vascular disorders and the pain in arthritis and rheumatism. It can lead to diabetes and premature ageing. 

Confusion

Memory loss, especially short term, are commonly associated with disturbed sleep. Some people talk about brain fog or brain freeze as the frontal lobe of the brain becomes affected.

Muscle tension

We can feel stiff and develop aches and pains in our muscles and joints. This can be both from disturbed sleep and from lack of exercise.

Lowered immunity

We know that people with a good sleep pattern tend to have a more robust immune system. At the time of Covid 19 a good sleep pattern and a robust immune system is very important though maybe hard to achieve.

Getting back the rhythm

If we are going to make it out of lockdown and back into the normal rhythms or our everyday lives of work, family, school, socialising etc., we will need to start with getting our sleep pattern right. This means avoiding media and devices like phones and tablets prior to bed time.

We need to move our sleep pattern back to where it use to be. The easiest way to do this is to set you alarm and get up at your normal time, even if you feel really tired. This has the effect of making us want to go to sleep earlier. As long as you keep getting up to your alarm you’re pattern will shift back fairly quickly.

When you do get back into work you will probably feel exhausted and it may take several weeks for your mind/body system to reset itself. Then you will say, “I feel like I have never been away from work”.

Assuming that there is not another rise in the R number we will not go back into lockdown. But, if we do, try and keep you regular mind/body system pattern in sync so that when we come out again the transition will be easy.

Take care and sleep well

Sean x

Protest

I guess there are many reason why one group of people should see themselves as different to another group. In a tribal world with hunting grounds and competition for food and space there would often be a need to defend what is ‘ours’ and to fight off, battle with, or go to war with other groups that attempt to take it from us. This kind of group identity and defence makes some sense. The problem that we seem to be facing in the modern world is why do we see groups of people that we live with and share the same country as different to us?

Currently we see the USA replaying the racial unrest of the 1960s. The evidence seems to be that a man, I really don’t see the need to describe him as black, was illegally killed by a policeman, again I really don’t see the need to say he was white, in what is seen as a racial attack and possibly a deliberate murder. At what point can we start to simply be people, human beings, rather than ethnic groups, races and nationalities?

I keep saying it, and probably will for the rest of my life, but it really is this simple…

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

Sadly we do not. It would seem that the path to hate is a lot easier to travel than the path to love.

Prejudice exists in all and every level of society. Are men better the women? Gays better than straights? Black better than white? Indians better than Chinese? Vegetarians better than meat eaters or vegans better than vegetarians? Muslims better than Christians? The list is endless and it is based in group identity. Once we form a group, ‘us’ you are either in, and one of us or you are outside of the group and one of ‘them’.

Colour and class
Having worked and travelled around the world I observe that in many societies, even black societies, light skins have higher status than darker skins. As I observed this in different countries I began to realise something. Those people that were the leaders, the higher status group, didn’t go out in the world that much. They stayed at home in their castles and palaces and high end properties. The common people, the workers, were outside most on the time in the elements, sunshine and rain. Their wether battered skinned were darkened by the sun and the wind. Soon it was pretty clear that those with darker skins did the most manual work outside and those with the lighter skins had no need to go outside and had lighter coloured skins. Suddenly the colour of your skin indicates your status.

I suspect that this happened in most societies around the world throughout our evolution. You can still see the same thing going on across the world especially in the Middle East. In situations like the USA the contract is stark. Sadly so is the history. It seems strange to me that the white folks aren’t on bended knee apologising for their mistreatment towards black people for hundreds of years.

The Karma of Empire
When it come to groups of us and them the ultimate are the empire builders. What can it be that makes one country, or group of people, think that it is okay to go around the world stealing people’s countries, taking their resources, abusing their residents to the point of slavery. Many of the financial houses in Europe were built on just such empires financed by slavery and opium.

To take groups of people by force from their native country and make then work for you for no reward and do whatever you wish of them, to own them beat them and sell, to hold the power of life and death over them is likely to lead to a lot of resentment and repressed anger. The current events in the USA, with the unnecessary killing and loss of George Floyd, can quite easily release 400 years of repressed anger held by generations who were used as slaves and who, even now, suffer and lack the status of the rest of their fellow citizens.

Europe beware
The British Empire spanned the world and mistreated and abused millions of people for many generations. the other Empires of European countries did exactly the same thing. Well, those Empires have peaked and are coming to an end. The power base is shifting and Europe may not become the third world but is likely to become the second world. The first world is more likely to be India or China. The American Empire has also probably peaked and may well now be in decline. Other empires are now trying to take the world stage. Both Russia and China have ambitions that may well make them the world powers of the future.

How we treat other people is important not least of all because it is the right thing to do. But as it says in the Bible ‘The sins of the fathers will be visited on their children’. There maybe much repayment required of the post empirical countries.

Stay safe and look after those around you

Sean x

Living Your Truth

Whats is the truth?

I like gravity because it shares an absolute truth of being an invisible force pulling matter together. The force that causes a ball you throw in the air to come down again, that holds the gases in the sun, that keeps you walking on Earth instead of floating away into space. The law of gravity does not compromise it effects us all equally. Unless… and this is the issue… you have wings, a parachute, ballon or a propeller. Even the truth of gravity can be subverted,

The psychological phenomenon of ‘attitude alignment’, happens below our awareness, as we take on the prevailing attitudes of whichever group we are with. These attitudes are the groups truth. The group my be familial, political, educational, religious and so on. Once we align with a group we embody the truths that are commonly held by the group and we allow those truths to become our truths.

Religious groups each believe that they are right. Their truth is thetruth and those that do not believe ‘the’ truth are outside of the group as infidels or heathens. In financial systems both the capitalists and the communists believe that they are living thetruth. In political systems conservatives, socialists and democrats all believe that they are living thetruth.

I work a lot with couples. At the outset I see each of them individually so that I can understand how they see the situation and what is ‘their’ truth. It comes pretty clear from the outset that both people are viewing the same situation from different points of view. In most cases both parties are true but that are partial. In general what any of us see as thetruth is partial to our own experiences, expectations and beliefs. The collective truth that is shared by a group or even an entire country is always changing or evolving.

Looking back at social history we can see that behaviours and practices that were acceptable a few hundred years ago are now considered difficult, wrong or unacceptable. Bear bating and slavery would be unthinkable in our society now. After all it was only in the 1960’s that women in Britain ceased to be the property or chattels of their husbands or fathers. In many countries women still suffer inequality with their men folk. I suspect that many women in Britain would, even now, feel that they do not have full equality. Is the truth that all women should have the same rights as men? Or is that just the way that I see it?

As human consciousness evolves I hope people’s behaviour will gradually develop to be less damaging and more helpful to itself and to all other beings and even the environment and the planet as a whole. The truth, as I see it, is that if we do not change the way that we are treating the planet we will make ourselves extinct.

One universal truth, as I see it, is that with greater awareness we can learn to attend to the needs of each other and… 

…if we all look after each other we will all be ok

Everybody wants us to believe their truth. When someone arrives at work feeling really cheesed off but insists that all is fine they are avoiding their own truth and being inauthentic. Truth, authenticity and honesty all run together. Sometimes dishonest can be fun if you see it for what it is.

When I go to replace my car I love that process of the salesperson doing whatever they can to secure the sale. It is seduction in action. There is nothing wrong with being seduced in this way as long as we are mindful of what is going on and that we are seduced with both our knowledge and consent.

So, through out this covid 19 period enjoy the seduction that you will be subject to by friends, family, the media, politicians and so on. Be mindful of what is happening and simply ask your self ‘Why are they saying that, what do the really mean, what is the true sound behind their words?’ After all what is their truth, what is my truth, what is your truth? Are we all right or does the truth not really exist?

Being honest and authentic with yourself is to be with your own truth. To live your truth is a good thing as long as it is not hurtful or harmful to others.

Take care, stay safe and be happy

Sean x

Mental Health Week and Kindness

This week is International Mental Health week. The subject that the week is focussing on this year is kindness. It seems so appropriate at this time of Covid 19 and lockdown when fuses are getting short and intolerance is on the rise, as the frustration grows. Then if we add in the anxiety and fear of getting C10, of what will happen next after the lockdown and if the world will ever be the same. 

In my consulting room I am picking all these things up at the moment and also the issues of death and the fear of death. Some current deaths are from the virus, some are because of the virus and some are unrelated to the virus. In each and every case the socially distanced funeral services can never be the same as before and there is no opportunity of a send off or wake. Instead people are agreeing to have a full farewell party once this lockdown is completed. I expect I shall be attending a few.

When it comes to kindness I am reminded of my very first training that was in Ayurvedic psychology. One aspect of that training was in what we would now call mindfulness and involved paying attention to the present generally and also the practise of meditation. There was a strong emphasis on the need for positive feelings towards both yourself and other people. The importance and need for loving kindness between all beings in creation is known as Mettā in Pali the language of Buddhism or Maitrī in Sanskrit the language of Ayurveda. 

Metta is something that we would always include at the end of any meditation practise, though it can used as a full meditation of loving kindness. In Metta we are expressing caring and empathy for all sentient, feeling, beings in the universe. That includes all those that you know, those that you don’t know and every living thing on the planet. Traditionally this begins with yourself, which is so important as a reinforcement of self value and self esteem. The loving kindness to yourself spreads from your heart like ripples from a pond in ever increasing circles to encompass all of creation. Some people live in Metta all the time and have a deep level of gratitude and love for all that is around them. 

When we think of kindness we might use the word compassion. Compassion means with feeling or with empathy. All sentient beings can feel good or feel bad, and that most of them, given the choice, will probably choose the former over the latter. Such contact with feeling implies that there can be suffering. All living beings can feel sadness and happiness. This is the point in my training where I became a vegetarian. The bottom line is that other animals do not have to suffer and die in order for me to live. 

In Metta, in loving kindness, we can feel the connection with all living things, sharing a common aspiration to find our fulfilment and escape our suffering. In this we are all one. If we realise that…

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

we can create heaven on Earth right now, but only if we want to.

The empathy of loving kindness involves the willingness to see the world from another’s point of view. When we are awake and aware we can learn from the experience of others. When we are asleep, and lack empathy for ourself and for others, we have to suffer in order for us to wake up and learn. 

Some of us will grow through awareness – 

most of us will grow through pain.

Someone once said something like ‘I may disagree with you but I will defend to my death your right to hold that opinion’. This is what I call the law of allowing. It is having enough loving kindness to allow an other to grow though their mistakes without the need to be critical or judgemental. I often see this as, just because some people are mad I don’t have to join in, I can allow them to be what they need to be at this time. 

Loving kindness is also Karmic. A Karma is often seen as the negative punishment of action. Karma is really the concept that all behaviour is consequential. There will be an outcome of all that I do good or bad it is just the consequence.  When we look after others the chances are that they will look after us and wish us well. Creating the positive and peaceful family of all of creation.

Looking after others with loving kindness involves consideration and generosity. Charity is when we offer our friendliness and support to others. This does not simply mean the giving of money, though it may include supporting others. The greatest charity that we can ever offer is loving kindness, It is when we can maintain an attitude of friendliness that meets another person’s suffering and transforms into our compassion for them. It creates an empathic joyfulness that transcends gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, nationality, species… 

…in the end we all are one.

One thing that neuropsychology teaches us is that to do good things for others makes us feel good at the same time. When we enact loving kindness we are creating our own emotional fulfilment and at the same time the fulfilment of the emotional development of every being. It is a win win situation.

To wish another well is to wish yourself well

Loving kindness is the real answer to almost every problem the world faces today. We know that politics will not do it. We know that money will not do it. We know that science will not do it and we know the technology and the social media that we hold in our hand will not do it. We do know that loving kindness will. 

Politics, news and the media go out of their way to reinforce the differences between us all, and exacerbate strife and problems. The positive news that is going on all the time, but is outside of the regular news media, is Metta. It is this loving kindness that is all around us. We share this planet together not just us human beings but all animals, all of creation, and we can choose how we look after each other. Do we go for Metta or go for self interest?

If you like to investigate Metta have a go at the meditation of loving kindness on the Palouse site and enjoy the other great links, knowledge and facilities offered there.

Here is a link to a full Metta loving kindness meditation…    

 

Lockdown will end. In the post lockdown world we will need Metta more than ever to support each other, right across the world, as we create whatever the new normal will look like. Let us ensure that it includes loving kindness.

Take care, be happy, I send my Metta to you. Who will you send yours to?

Sean x

A Path Travelled

This week on the podcast we had another guest, Alison Blackier a Transformational Mind Coach and founder of 2-minds who has just published her first book ‘A Path Travelled’ She has a very varied practice that spans from one to one coaching, corporate management coaching and working with offenders in prisons plus writing articles for the local press.

Her book is written from her own experience of life and her experience of working with her many clients. A Path Travelled gives the reader an opportunity to review, question and adjust their life experience, through insights and exercises so that they can move towards their own fulfilment.

In every life, each person is on their own path. It is the path of life that goes from birth to death. The nature of the path, the route, and the terrain is, in many ways dictated and created by us the individual traveller. Most people never realise this and often remain on the path that they inherited from their parents, class, nationality, ethnicity, orientation and so on. Much unhappiness in the world is the result of individuals trying to stay on paths that they do not really belong on. They may never realise or understand why they are unhappy. The current epidemic of anxiety and depression that swamps humanity is often the result of people attempting to live lives and stay on paths that are not good for them.

When people say things like ‘life is a bitch and then you die’ they describe exactly people being on the wrong path. The positive alternative might be ‘life is a joy and eventually and naturally you come to the joyful end of your path’. This can only happen when you are on the right path for you.

Throughout time there have been guides that we meet on our path that attempt to show us, the travellers, which way to go.  To suggests ways in which we might improve or develop our path. When we get it right we can follow a path, live a life, that is self fulfilling that makes us happy. Informally these guides have been the wise ones, who had insight and empathy, knowledge and wisdom. They were the shaman, guru, religious leader, scientists, philosophers, psychotherapists, coaches and so on.

A guide is anyone who can see a bit further up the path than we can. Someone who can explain the likely consequence of our actions as individuals, as a society or as a race. Good guides and teacher encourage us to face up to problems and dilemmas. They ask us questions such as…

What has your path been like? Have you enjoyed it? Where did it begin? Why has it followed the course that it has? If you started out again on a path would you follow the same route? If ‘yes’, then, good luck enjoy it and do more of it? If ‘no’ then, how can you change it and ensure that the remainder of your journey is on a path that you might actually like and enjoy?

As long as we enjoy our path it is the right one to be on. When we wake in the morning with apprehension of the day ahead our path is probably not the right one. Perhaps time to go and see a coach?

Take care, be happy and follow your path.

Sean x

Developing Your Leadership Skills

This week on the podcast Ed and I were joined by Nikki Cross who is in the process of starting a new business in the middle of the pandemic. Her background and skill base is in learning and development and her passion is in getting leaders to self develop and improve who they are and how they function to the benefit of themselves, their teams and their business.

The work that Nikki’s is developing is important for the development of any society but at this moment it is vital to ensure that we survive and rebuild after Covid-19 becomes something that was rather than is. As we come out of lockdown it is the power of our leaders that will pull us through and recreate the world. It will probably not be as it was but hopefully it will have it’s own magic and we move forward to whatever awaits us.

I have invited Nikki to contribute to this blog, see below. But before that I just want to say this, we are all leaders. Leadership is not a title, a job or a position it is a set of skills, values and insights. Throughout life we may be faced with leadership roles from leading a project in the classroom to being a gleam captain. With friendship groups there are leaders and followers. As parents, as a mother or father, we offer and show leadership. As adults in the workplace at different levels from shift leader to managing director we are leaders.

Good leaders, at any level, lead by example. This is not ‘do what I say and not what I do’. The quality of any group from family to corporation is a direct reflection of the leader. All groups develop from the top down. When you meet nice kids you know that they have had a good role model. When you meet nice employees you know that the quality of their leadership is good.  So over to Nikki…

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come on and chat through this topic with you guys today!  I was honestly disappointed when it ended (could’ve chatted all day!)

I couldn’t agree with your summary more – and with my ‘people development’ hat on the next natural step would be to explore: If I wanted to improve my leadership skills, what should I work on and what are the easiest ways to develop? If that resonates with you, I’ve identified five key skills and some tips for development …

  1. Commitment to growth.  It can be temping to rest on your laurels when you get the ‘leader’ stamp.  Don’t be deceived though – this isn’t because ‘leaders are lazy’ … this is usually because of a wrong and very dangerous assumption: “I’m the leader now, I have been given this title so I cant show that I don’t know what I’m doing” … this leaves the leader feeling like an imposter in their own role.  Truth is – the skill set that got them from a great nurse / bus driver / recruiter is NOT the same skill set that will make them a great leader!

EASY WAYS TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:

  • Start journaling – each day take 5 minutes to become aware of your priorities, your internal voice, your challenges and your thoughts.  Once they’re out on paper, it’s usually much easier to see things objectively.
  • The internet is your friend– there isn’t much available these days by way of obtaining knowledge.  The trick is IMPLEMENTATION … it’s all very well watching the YouTube video … but what will you ACTUALLY DO?   
  • Read 5 pages before bed – pick a book (so many great ones out there on leadership) and just commit to 5 pages before bed. That’s it! Most leaders will say to me “I haven’t got time to read” but openly admit that 5 minutes before bed is completely do-able (FYI … 5 pages a day = 1,825 pages a year = approx.. four books a year!)
  • Hire a coach …plug…Seriously, get help! Look for a coach who takes time to ensure the right fit, understands ‘what good looks like’ for what it is you want to achieve, asks the right questions and helps hold you accountable
  1. Authenticity.  The ONLY way to establish influence is to develop trust.  The only way to develop trust is to be authentic.  Leaders who are able to seek clarity, provide direction and inspire people to do things they didn’t think were able to create agile, committed teams.

EASY WAYS TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:

  • Understand that it’s not your job to have all of the answers… it IS your responsibility to find them out. 
  • Communicate with intent, and always state your intent right at the start of your interactions. It sounds like this “I want to talk to you today about your goals for the next month and how you performed last month.  To be clear, I’m having this discussion with you because I want you on my team, we are interdependent which means the more we rely on each other to deliver what we said we would, the more we collectively succeed …”
  • Share your own development journey.  The leaders I have been the most inspired by, didn’t just want to talk about my development as an employee – they wanted to share their own with me too.  Knowing that they were comfortable to demonstrate that vulnerability to me made it a safe environment for me to have straight conversations with them.
  1. Integrity (notice how this word contains the word GRIT) Integrity is possibly the word thrown around the most when we are talking ‘leadership’ or ‘company values’ … but it is so important. 

Integrity is when there is congruence between your moral convictions and your actions.  Or put simply ‘doing the right thing, regardless of who is watching’. 

It takes true courage and GRIT to behave with integrity, especially because when you are in a leadership position, the level of decision making, autonomy and responsibility usually increases dramatically … but the amount of checks to ensure you’re making the right decisions in the right way, with the right intent decreases dramatically. 

EASY WAYS TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:

  • Think of your future self – recognise that there is always an easier option, but will your future self thank you for cutting corners today?
  • Set your standards high when it comes to doing the right thing.  When decision making ask yourself: Am I doing the right thing by the person, the team, the customer and the business?
  • Tell someone else – if you know there is a risk of you not doing the right thing, get someone to hold you accountable!
  1. Communication – if I said to you “this is going to be really hard, not sure how we are going to deal with this”… notice how it is different to “we have got a challenge on our hands team. I need our brains on this to help me figure out the best next steps” … one invokes fear, the other invokes inspiration. 

Great leaders are SELF AWARE not only about how they approach challenges, but also about how they communicate with their teams.  I’ve found that the most influential leaders will choose their thoughts and actions carefully. 

EASY WAYS TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:

  • Switch up your perspective & language – simple switches like instead of the word ‘issue’ try the word ‘challenge’ … it can be tricky to do in the moment, so start this skill by checking over your mail language first
  • Get curious – Start sentences with ‘what if we tried…’ and use curious language in your thinking and in your conversations
  • Stop dictating – yes, you’ve got to practice patience here.  Yes it might be quicker for you to just ‘tell’ … but do you want to hand hold forever? OR do you want to create a team who feel empowered to do the right thing?
  1. Goal setting & accountability – great leaders will establish the strategic direction, then set the goals by chunking down the actions required to achieve the goal.   They are able to find the right mountain they need their team to climb, and are able to set mutually agreed actions with each team member to establish their contribution to conquering said mountain. 

Providing the goals are specific, measurable and timebound, there will be no problem assessing progress (providing opportunity for accountability!)

Lastly, the leader will be showing up, and making their own contribution clear. The team will know exactly how the leader contributes to the journey and will feel empowered by their contribution.

…Get the above right and you’ll find team gatherings where everyone can hold each other accountable for their contribution.

EASY WAYS TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:

  • Always link people’s goals into the bigger picture – it’s inspiring to know that the work you’re doing is contributing to something bigger than your work … it also adds an appropriate amount of responsibility when you know the bigger picture cant be achieved without your contribution!
  • Invest time in expectation setting – specific, measurable and timebound.  Set expectations clearly and make sure you all agree to how often progress will be reviewed.
  • Lead by example – don’t hide away from sharing your own goals.  Get them right out there for everyone to see.  Not only will this create trust, but it will also create context for your team by not only giving them an insight into why they are so important to you, but also helping them to understand the priorities and challenges that must be overcome.

A big thank you to Nikki for coming on the show and taking the time to contribute to this blog as well.

We are all leaders in one way or another and all that is said in this blog and what we discussed on the podcast applies to all of us. Just remember that people learn from observation. A good question is ‘how do people see you?’

Take care, stay safe and be a good leader

Sean x

PTSD – Anxiety following a traumatic event

Over the last few weeks we have been diverted from our planned series on anxiety to deal with various Covid19 issues that have arisen as the lockdown has, in different ways, affected us all. This weeks podcast completes our anxiety series and topically examines the disturbed and unresolved feelings that are the results of the events that many will have witnessed, especially our frontline workers. The effects of Covid19, that is not yet over, will have an emotional ripple effect that may last for several years.  The symptoms of unresolved trauma are multiple but commonly include some flashbacks and problems with concentration, difficult emotional regulation, disturbed sleep and eating patterns and disrupted relationships. The question is what is trauma and what is it that we can do about it?

Trauma, is a Greek word meaning “wound”. Originally this was related to a physical injury. With the development of psychology and our understanding of the inner person we now say that a wound can be considered to be physical, mental, emotional, financial and so on. The concept of trauma comes from the idea that the wound, or event that is being experienced, is greater than the  resources that we have to deal with it. In that sense we have been overwhelmed. However, there is a difference between experiencing trauma and being traumatised.

Traumatised, or traumatisation is when the overwhelming experience/trauma creates an amount of stress that is so great that it exceeds our ability to deal with the emotions aroused. This is clearly an emotional issue. Trauma or traumatic disorders are always emotional even if they come from physical damage.

Post trauma is the emotional fall out that stays with us after the experience has ended. This may be short term. It is our recovery time in which we process our emotions, this may take hours, days or weeks. In most cases the emotional effects of a trauma will be normalised within four weeks and sometimes extends to eight or ten weeks. The important thing is that is does subside as the emotional arousal is desensitised.

Repressed trauma can happen when an event is too difficult for us to deal with in the present and we hide it in the recesses of the mind. When this happens we may have no direct memory of the event that caused the trauma though it may still effect who we are, how we experience the world and, our behaviour. It is assumed that the mind repression developed to protect us from that which was too difficult to contemplate. In repression the victim will often fall sleep after the incident. In the the post incident sleeping process the R.E.M. (rapid eye movement) part of the sleep cycle, similar to dreaming, allows the memory to be coded and hidden or repressed in the back of our mind.

Recovered memory may be delayed by weeks, months, years, or even decades. Though when it does emerge the original repressed emotions are released as though the event has only just taken place. Therapeutically this release of emotion and memory is termed an ‘abreaction’ and involves the re-experiencing of the trauma physically, emotionally and mentally. This may occur many years after the original incident.

Emotional responses Although in repression the cognitive memory is lost to the consciousness mind it does have a constant effect on everyday life and experience and may appear as irrational fears, anxiety, depression, phobia etc. This is described and ‘something within us but outside of our control’. Perhaps you feel a sense of panic when you see the colour green. This may seem irrational because there is no logical reason for, or understanding why, this might be happening. Yet, the emotions related to the repressed memory remain active.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is when the emotional responses are not repressed but are also not processed. When the effects of the incident remain active after six to weeks it is given the PTSD diagnosis. As acknowledged above trauma may take eight to ten weeks to process. This means that definitions and diagnosis of PTSD can be difficult in the first instance. When we are looking at symptoms continuing after months or years we are definitely talking about PTSD.

PTSD Symptoms will vary but will include finding it difficult to forget the incident or event that happened. There may be flashbacks, daymares or nightmares about the incident. Unstable and irrational emotional responses such as anger, tears, anxiety, depression, phobias, disturbed sleep/eating patterns, and so on.

Rumination is the symptom builder. We know psychologically that, ‘what we think about we bring about’ and that ‘thoughts become things’. When we continually go over the traumatic incident we are unable to let it go. The more we ruminate on them the more it becomes intensely embedded in our unconscious and conscious mind because we as keep thinking about, and we are  reinforcing it in our mind/brain.

The MindBrain is where the software of the psychological mind and the hardware of the brain interface. The main aspect of the brain that effects our emotional self is the limbic system in the centre of the brain. Within the limbic system is a little organ call the amygdala. In this organ are templates of cells that relate to out emotional responses.

Let say that when I am young I watch my mother reacting phobic-ally to spiders, I then build a template of cells in my amygdala so that when I see a spider the template of cells release chemistry and so I also react to the spiders as a phobia. Over time my spider template will become hotter and more embedded the more I visit it. ‘What you feed grows and what you starve dies’. With rumination the issues will only ever get bigger.

All emotional responses are like this, even the positive ones. So, that if I see the object of my love the love template of cells in my Amygdala become hot and release the chemistry that make me feel loving. If on the other hand I see the object of my hatred, that template will then become hot and release the chemistry anger, hatred etc.

It normally takes about five repetitions of an emotional experience to set up a template in the amygdala which is then built and embedded as we revisit it. If an event is so intense then the template is punched in traumatically and the template is created immediately. Once a traumatic template has been established it will remain hot and active and become ever more embedded over time unless, or until, it is treated and desensitised.

Treatment for trauma is a variable feast and will depend on where you live and the therapy that is available to you or which is fashionable at the time. Cognitive therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) are not that good at dealing with trauma in the longterm. They do have a short term effectiveness by putting in place cognitive tools that often repress the emotion. This has the immediate effect of creating a feeling of relief and assumed cure. However, when this happens the emotions are not processed but held in check leaving them to often reappear at a later date.

EMDR or Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing is a therapy that mimics the rapid eye movements that happen during the dream cycle in the sleep pattern. As the emotional trauma is often encoded into the MindBrain using the same part of the system EMDR is surprisingly effective in the majority of cases.

Rewinding is by far in my opinion the best option as it uses the very same process to desensitise a template in the amygdala that was used to put it there in the first place, this is visualisation. When we revisit a trauma it is through the senses of sight, smell, tastes and touch, none of which are cognitive. During rewind therapy the emotional memories are address directly and desensitised.

Mindful meditation is becoming main stream psychology. Mindfulness is the best prevention for all forms of stress and provides the resources needed at the point of trauma. The process of mindfulness is relaxation, contemplation, concentration and meditation a process that is in itself therapeutic. Consistent meditators become their own therapists and counsellors and are able to overcome many things that may overwhelm others. When used with PTSD this needs to be a guided process with an experienced therapist. In the first instance the process of stilling the mind can allow repression’s, flashback and lost memories to appear from the recesses of the mind. When the subject is not prepared and supported though this stage it can simply reactivate the events and the emotional responses and recreate the trauma. When use well Mindfulness allows the subject to revisit those events that were overwhelming and deal with them and desensitise them.

Medication has to be the last on my list. I am not against medication on this basis, if I have a headache I will do all that I can to get rid of it, as a last resort I will take an aspirin. There are medications that can help with anxiety, depression, panic, high blood pressure and so on. There are also natural alternatives that maybe gentler on the system both psychologically and physiologically. If you do suffer trauma never suffer alone psychotherapy is a good and powerful thing.

The positive use of medication is when it runs alongside psychotherapy. When medication is used as a prop that can hold us up emotionally while we complete the desensitisation it has done its job and we can let the medication go. Many people are given the medication after a traumatic event but do not get the psychotherapy. This usually ends up with people becoming long term users and taking medication for many years when it should really have only been used for a few months.

Covid19 and PTSD

In the aftermath of this pandemic there will be many people who carry post trauma from their experiences. The survivor who wakes in intensive care to find themselves anchored to a bed with tubes and wires attended by people dressed in PPE, will develop some level of trauma. The frontline workers and triple nine workers that have experienced multiple deaths will have a lot of emotional and visual material to process and may become easily overwhelmed. Anyone who has lost people around them may also experience post trauma. However, everyone who listens to the news, goes to the shops, has to wear masks, is unable to associate or socialise or live their normal life in the normal way can become traumatised. The longer this goes on the more PTSD issue and cases will develop.

It is so important that we stay actively involved if only through social media, that we keep our bodies moving and do anything that we can to make ourselves and those around us happy.

Take care, stay safe, wash your hands, stay home, and do what you can to be happy

Sean x

359 How am I responding to Covid 19?

This week I was sent a Twitter link which had this interesting diagram attached, it got me thinking about our responses to what is going on for us right now in dealing with either lockdown, shielding or attempting to maintain a working pattern on the front line. As we, as a society, become more stressed with Covid 19 the pressure is on us. In all things this principle is true…

It is never what happens to us that is important

What is important is how we respond

I was listening to an Italian psychologist talking about the Italian public responding to their lockdown. He described how that in the first instance there was fear and then it was all excitement and novelty with the idea of doing all those things that were on the to do list. Then it was all the online communication, catching up with old friends and creating a online community. Then came the online exercise, keep fit, yoga, learning courses and craft classes. The world became full of box sets and re-runs of old TV series. Then came the boredom, the frustration and the cabin fever. By the fourth week people were really struggling and the levels of depression and anxiety were starting to rise.

I guess that very few of us came into lockdown ready and prepared. For most is was fear then novelty followed by shock. The diagram forwarded to me is really interesting as it suggests that, with a little self control we can create purpose and fulfilment, whatever our situation, including the current lockdown. If we go back to the diagram it shows three zones of human experience. I could say the zones are our choices though you have to first realise that you do have a choice.

Zone One: Fear

Can you remember all those people shopping like crazy for toilet rolls and stripping the supermarket shelves of food (you may have been one of them). At this point people are invested in self survival and have often lost the sense of community and care. Complaints, frustrations and angers come from not being in control, from being stuck in a situation where we are unable to do what we would normally do. At this point alcohol consumption increase as does bad behaviours and domestic violence and abuse. When fear is turned outwards it can manifest as aggression. When fear is turned inwards it can manifest as either depression or anxiety especially when it is overlaid with feelings of helplessness. Often binge eating begins with a reliance on carbs to boost the brains serotonin levels to try and raise our mood.

Zone Two: Learning

This is where the choice begins. Do we wallow in the depression, become over agitated with anxiety or do we use the situation to learn and grow. The decision to grow from our experience is the choice that we can make…

We don’t have problems we have learning opportunities

Taking a bit of time to stop and observe what we are doing, how we are reacting and what we are thinking and feeling will tell us a lot about ourselves and may raise areas that we might like to change, develop or grow. In the learning phase we can decide to stop being negative to stop putting our energy into unproductive thoughts and feelings and focus of the good things around us…

What you feed grow and what you starve dies

If you spend your time listening to news broadcasts and death statistics, chasing negative feeds through social media or Google then the world can become a very dark place full of despair.

What is positive? Captain Tom and his amazing walk to raise money for the NHS?

The positive mind says..

“wow isn’t that amazing that he has done it and that so many people have come together in the country to support him and the NHS”.

The negative mind says…

“it is disgusting that an old man should need to do all that walking and that people should have to give their hard earned money to support a health service that we pay taxes for anyway. This is bad government, who can we blame”.

Remember it is not what happens it is how we respond that is important

Zone Three: Growth

When we enter the growth zone we stop complaining and ruminating on negative things and begin to develop positive action, thoughts and feelings. We stop looking inwards and complaining and begin looking outwards to see what we can do, give, to see how we can help. There are so many people now entering the growth zone. Social media is full of people doing their best to help others and allowing themselves to be helped…

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

These three zones are about our entire life. Where are you at the moment? Which zone describes how you thing, feel and act?

If we are going to be in some form of lockdown for a while we could do a lot of positive things for ourself, for those that we are locked down with and for those around us in our community. This podcast and blog come out on a Thursday, which in my head has been renamed ‘Clap day’. It is the day when we say thank you to other people who are doing all that they can to look after us, run all our services and to keep us safe. Perhaps we could adopt Clap day forever in the future as the one day each week when we stop, check where we are up to, adjust any negative behaviours that we have and, say thank you to those around us.

Thursday, Clap day, Thank You Day.

Take care, stay safe, stay home.

Sean x

Love that virus

There are a few times in life when the negative can be seen as a positive. Yet that is the nature of life. In a world where we do not have problems we only have learning opportunities, there are no negatives only different versions of positive. And, so it is with Covid-19.

When we learn to focus on the negatives we learn to fail to see any positives. That is just where we are at the moment. Collectively if we, as a nation, as a kingdom and as a species have learned to continually focus on the negative and give it so much importance then we fail to see any positive.

Every time we turn on the news we are assailed with information that feeds the negative. Unless we know how to deal with this and see it for what it is. The good news is actually better, more than and greater than the negative. When we focus on the negative we forget this.

It is the same when we look at the screen inside our head – what do we see? It is actually very easy to create a positive vision and image if the world that is here and the world that is yet to come. It is this simple…

What you feed grows and what you feed dies

The alternative is that you focus on the negative and we can all feel as bad as we like. Being positive is a habit.

The reality is that however difficult the virus is, it will pass. The world will go on and there will come a time when this is the past.

Previous generations have dealt with difficult times. This is our difficult time. What will we do with it?

Any difficult time will have hurts, losses, sadnesses, there will be grief, sadness and unhappiness. As hard as this is it is not the point.

It is not what happens to us, it is how we respond to it that counts

It will always be this way. It will never be any different.

Positivity and happiness is a decision, it is a choice.

When we look around us right now we will see so many examples of wonderful responses, behaviours, caring and love. If we feed that it will grow.

So today and everyday that you live you have a choice. Will you feed the positive or the negative? Your decision will create the future that we will all share.

In the end ‘Love is all there is’. If this virus is the motive force that turns humanity to acting in positive ways then some good may come from our suffering.

Take care, stay safe, and share the love

Sean x

Imagine where we could be after Covid-19

Our series on anxiety and the various forms that it takes has been overtaken by Covid-19 but in reality they both are feeding each other. The continual news about the spread of the virus and the potential devastation that it is causing are swamping the news media. It is strange that we report the amount of people affected or who have died but we do not report how many people left hospital today, having survived. Because there are also many thousands of people who are surviving the virus.

In the end more people will survive Covid-19 than will die from it but we don’t focus on that. I am not saying that we should not be sad or grieve for those that succumb to the virus. Many people will be lost to us who will be seen to have died before their time. It is easy at this point for us to be insanely angry about government, medical services, manufacturers, pollution, stupid people, meat eaters, I have heard all of these and many more. Sadly I have also heard so many negative feelings about Chinese people. To the point where Chinese restaurants have been boycotted, well they were before all eateries were closed. This makes me so sad and also quite angry. ‘If’ the virus did begin in a Wuhan market and ‘if’ this was due to eating animals that other people in the world would or do not eat it is not the fault of the Chinese. It would be the behaviour of a few people. All countries have people who do things that the rest of the country could not deal with but they do represent the entire country.

Surely with everything that is currently happening, we all to need to learn to look after each other like we have never done before. We can see just how a negative virus can spread across the world. Can we make a positive emotional and psychological virus of love, care, compassion and support? Could we spread a new way of looking at the world? Or, will it be business as usual? What sort of world would you like to create?

Imagine there’s no countries..

Imagine by John Lennon offered some very powerful images of how the world could look. If we get beyond the image of countries and borders and embraced the idea that we are all one there would be no them and us. We could really share and look after each other. I like that idea that whatever the colour of your skin, the shape of your face or the country that you live in we are all genetically virtually the same, we all have the same feelings, thoughts and aspirations, we have similar needs, desires, dreams and hopes, and we all bleed the same red blood.

Perhaps after this we could revisit the idea of the United Nations as a reality of sharing and cooperation.

Imagine there’s no money…

I wonder at what point humanity will realise that capitalism does not work. Well, it works for the few. The fact that there are poor and starving is a product of capitalism. Or the shortages and lack of supply, selfishness, greed and hoarding are all functions of the capitalist mindset. In a world where we all are equal, where all are caring and sharing there are no rich and no poor.

Perhaps after this we could look at the ideas of a universal living wage for all people on the planet.

Imagine no religion…

Many wars, discord, disharmony, terrorism and terror attacks are the product of religious sectarianism. The idea that ‘we’ are right and ‘you’ are wrong separates people into good and bad and creates prejudice.

Perhaps we could replace religion with spirituality, where all recognise that spark of universal life within each person and respect and honour each other with unconditional positive regard.

What could you imagine?

What about…

People using less air travel?

People using less car travel?

More people working from home?

Online working creating no difference between remote country and big towns?

Greater awareness of those around us that need our support and help?

More people walking?

More people using bikes?

More exercise?

Less illness?

Better mental health?

Re-creation of community?

So, what could you imagine? In a world where thoughts become things, what we imagine we can create. If we work together and share together and find common images we could create heaven on Earth. Thoughts become things.

Take care, stay safe and stay positive.

Sean