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Why you can’t stop worrying

Why you can’t stop worrying
Just by the power of thought alone, we can activate our body’s stress response

Excessive worrying is a common problem. Most of my clients’ complaints are directly linked to the frequent occurrence of negative thoughts. While some are constantly bombarded by intrusive thoughts that make them feel ashamed or insecure, others are stuck in catastrophizing, or the habit of picturing worst-case scenarios. Regardless of its content, such dysfunctional thinking has a great impact on their mental health and quality of life. Simply put, those who worry excessively find it hard to feel good and enjoy the moment. That is because their brains are often busy anticipating supposed adversities, dangers and losses. But if worrying too much is counterproductive, why most of us struggle to make it stop?

In his brilliant book “Mind to Matter”, Church (2018) explores “The evolutionary value of negative thinking”. When we think of the bigger picture, we are able to understand how a preoccupied attitude has been central to our success as a species. If we were not able to be sensitised by fear, our limbic system or emotional brain would not mobilise us for the fight or flight response. A laid-back attitude to danger would increase our exposure to being eaten by predators, amongst other dangers. If there were fewer of us who were lucky enough to dodge death and manage to grow and procreate, our probability of thriving as a group would have been considerably reduced. A hypervigilant state of mind, or our ability to remain alert and be warned by our thoughts of the possibility of something bad happening, seems to have greatly enabled us to stay alive and become masters of our destiny.

It all makes sense, does it not? Now you know why it is so easy for you to start worrying: your evolved brain is trying to protect you! Of course, there is one caveat: its inability to differentiate between real and imaginary threats. You can literally bring yourself to a state of high fear and anxiety just by imagining something awful happening, as dying suddenly from a heart attack, even though you are in perfect health. Just by the power of thought alone, we can activate our body’s stress response and induce a change in our physiology so to prepare it to deal with a problem that does not exist. Cortisol and adrenaline, our stress hormones, flood the body and increase heart and breathing rate as well as blood pressure. While you are worrying if you have managed to charm everyone at that presentation, your survival instinct is making you feel like approval is a matter of life or death.

To find out if you are stuck on fight or flight, make a conscious effort to reconnect with your body and emotions. Hypervigilant people tend to live in their heads and neglect their physical and emotional health. As yourself, from time to time, “What are my bodily sensations and feelings saying about me at this very moment”. Muscle tension that does not get better with time, cluster headaches and unexplainable pain, for instance, are common chronic stress symptoms. While constantly checking your phone may seem like a harmless behaviour, it is also central to keeping your brain in a state of overstimulation. The practice of self-awareness will turn off the autopilot and enable you to start regaining control over yourself. Then, as you become familiar with how your life style, habits and choices affect your mind and body, be courageous and start investing in change that will bring balance and happiness into your life.

Reference:

Church, D. (2018). Mind to Matter, The Astonishing Science of how Your Brain Creates Material Reality.  Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.

5 positive beliefs to boost self-esteem

5 positive beliefs to boost self-esteem
What you tell yourself in your own head has immense influence on your self-image and self-esteem

Beliefs, like words, have power. What you tell yourself in your own head has immense influence on your self-image and self-esteem. That is because behind your negative self-talk, there are always negative beliefs about yourself, the world and others fuelling a pessimistic, weak and unfavourable outlook. Beliefs are so powerful, that they can guide you towards creating a reality you have built with thought alone. So if you believe you are not fit to run for more than 5 minutes, you will not. Equally, if you decide you can do it, not only rationally but also emotionally, you will. By believing in something “emotionally”, I mean with your whole being, namely, with your mind and body.  As Lipton (2015) explains in The Biology of Belief, “Thoughts, the mind’s energy, directly influence how the physical brain controls the body’s physiology”.  That would explain how there are so many stories of people that defied terminal cancer diagnoses, for instance, and ended up living a much longer life. To help you start thinking and feeling better about yourself, below you will find 5 positive beliefs to boost self-esteem:

1- I matter

Even if you are currently not in a relationship or do not have many friends, you are important to others.  As a living being, you matter not only to the universe, but also to yourself and others around you, even when they do not know you. Life is precious and we all want to preserve it. Therefore, even if I have never seen you, as a fellow human being, I wish you all the best. And no, you do not have to be a therapist or a monk to think like this, since a great number of people do.

2- I am competent

Are you aware of how many skills are required of you just to read this blog article? Even if you feel depressed, in despair or heartbroken, you still have the ability and strength to wake up and face your fears every single day. It is sometimes hard being human, but we become masters of our existence already from a very early age. Remind yourself that trying is what matters, not winning.  Every time you try, you show yourself, the world and others that you are alive and connected.

3- I can stand it

You have overcome disease, bad weather, hardship and disappointments. You have been able to get up and get things done even when you felt like curling into a ball and disappearing. You have shown up even when your body felt weak. You have been there for others when you could not be there for yourself. You have felt alone and bitter, but tried to be civil and respectful to others. You have dealt with your losses the best you could, even without validation or support from others. You are resilient and can stand pain and discomfort.

4- I can trust others

Would you have got this far without the help of others? Even though some of us are quite independent, we all survive and even thrive because we work in collaboration. Relationships of all kinds are risky, because everyone that comes into it does so with a set of expectations, vulnerabilities and at least one trauma. As we are imperfect beings, we all get hurt at some stage in our lives. The good news is, as you learned above, you can stand it! If you get disappointed, you will eventually get over it, as with most things in life.

5- I am good enough

You were good enough to have come into this world. You were good enough for growth and development, regardless of the circumstances. You were good enough to make it to your age and have known the people you do. You were good enough to achieve what you have and to make something out of it. You are good enough to be alive and worth every breath you take. You are good enough and worthy of everything you still have to give to yourself, the universe and others. You are good enough because you are you, and you are unique.

If you suffer from low self-esteem and struggle to feel whole and happy, it is time you started telling your brain a different story about yourself, the world and those around you. I highly recommend writing the above beliefs down and incorporating them into your meditation practice. When you reach a calm state of mind and feel at one with your body, create imaginary scenarios in which you see yourself behaving as mentioned above. Then, connect with the positive bodily sensations these images evoke, as if you were right there and then enjoying this new way of being. Repeat the exercise on a daily basis and observe the effects it has on you emotional health.

Reference

Lipton, B. H. (2015). The Biology of Belief, Unleashing the power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles. Carlsband, CA: Hay House

How to connect with negative emotions: sadness

Being raised in an environment of emotional neglect does not mean you cannot have a healthy relationship with your emotions as an adult. When you approach them with maturity, they become a natural expression of your humanity, and not a “pathology” or an inconvenience that has to be dealt with, medicated or controlled. Because emotions tell us about who we are, the moment we are currently living and how certain events and others affect us, they are a great source of self-knowledge. Moreover, self-regulation does not materialise without emotional connection, no matter how hard you try to avoid or deny the presence of your emotions, they will stay with you until you give them the attention they require to be fully processed. To help you befriend your negative emotions and increase your ability to self-soothe, the upcoming articles will cover some basic techniques on how to build an open relationship with sadness, anger and fear. Below, you will find 5 simple tips on how to connect with sadness:

How to connect with negative emotions: sadness
Sadness reminds us of what is missing in our lives that is important to us

1- Raise self-awareness

If you do not know how you are feeling right now, you will not connect with your emotions, positive or negative. For that reason, it is vital that you create the habit of checking in with yourself, every so often, to find out how you are doing. From time to time, or when you detect some kind of emotional discomfort, ask yourself, “How am I feeling?”. Then, identify when you are feeling sad and move to the next step.

2- Take a break and focus

When you notice you feel sad, go somewhere quiet and private to connect wholeheartedly with that feeling. Consciously direct your focus to your inner world, what is going through your mind and your bodily sensations. In this open and mindful state of being, there is nothing more urgent and relevant than the present moment. Stay with yourself and your feelings for a little while until you have an open channel of communication with your body.

3- Listen to the body

What is your body saying about your current emotional state? Are you feeling energetic, socially engaged and motivated, or lethargic and wanting to be alone or even isolate from others? Do you feel like you could cry, or pressure/tension in the chest and/or throat area? Is there a feeling of heaviness in your limbs and body? Connecting freely with those physical sensations, or listening to your own body, will open the channels of communication with your sadness.

4- Register your sadness’ message

Now that you have accessed your sadness, what is it telling you? One of the main roles of sadness is to grieve our losses and remind us of what is missing in our lives that is important to us. Are you missing a sense of purpose, yourself, or the company of others? If not, could you be missing someone, a good feeling or time in your past, or something you might never have experienced to the fullest, such as a true sense of community or love?

5- Let the tears flow

The quickest and most effective way to process sadness is to have a good cry.  When you feel your eyes hot with tears, just let them flow. Do not hold them back or make them stop, but let them find their way out of your body and free you of your pain. As emotional tears contain stress hormones, they are a natural means to help you regulate and restore your emotional balance.

As it is the case with all other “negative” emotions, such as fear and anger, deeply connecting with your sadness can be extremely beneficial to your emotional, psychological and physical health. Instead of fighting against it, embracing your sadness and learning from it help you redirect your focus to what you identify with and makes you feel good. If you would like to live a more fulfilling, authentic and happier life, it is vital that you replace your rigid beliefs about sadness as something to be avoided or repressed, and open your body to its wisdom and healing power.

How to cure insomnia naturally

If you struggle with sleep disturbances and would like a natural cure, this article will help you reduce or even end your reliance on medication. As you may already be aware, insomnia and anxiety have a high comorbidity rate. In other words, they tend to co-exist. As understandable as that sounds, determining the root cause of the problem could pose its own challenges. Are you having sleep disturbances because you are anxious, or are you anxious because of sleep disturbances? The good news is that even if you are unable to pinpoint the main cause of your current inability to sleep soundly, you might still be able to restore it by tackling it from different angles.

How to cure insomnia naturally
Our circadian rhythm, or internal clock, regulates our sleep/wake cycles

1- Regulate your circadian rhythm with light therapy

If you are not suffering from depression or a medical condition such as gastroesophageal reflux disease or asthma, your insomnia might be a result of circadian rhythm dysregulation. Our circadian rhythm, or internal clock, regulates our sleep/wake cycles. Light exposure to the eyes is one of the main factors that keeps our body clock functioning properly, as well as a fixed sleep routine. If you believe your insomnia could be related to circadian rhythm dysregulation, I highly recommend light therapy with the help of a 10000 Lux light therapy lamp. To reset your internal clock successfully, follow the below steps:

  • Set up a time when you would like to wake up every morning. If you need to be awake at 7 am, for instance, set up your alarm clock for that time
  • Only go to bed when you are exhausted
  • Get up when the alarm goes off, regardless of how tired you feel. Immediately after getting up, have a 20 to 30 minute session of light therapy
  • Have your 10000 Lux light therapy lamp positioned diagonally from your eyes, at eye level and at arm’s length
  • Repeat that routine on a daily basis, especially throughout the winter months

2- Listen to your body

If you are not tired enough to fall asleep, that probably means you will not. Tossing and turning in bed while forcing yourself to sleep may only increase your anxiety and further delay sleep onset. If that happens to you, stop berating yourself and use self-compassion and tolerance to accept when you are not ready to fall asleep. While sleep does not come, rest, do a breathing exercise or read. Do not look at your phone. The brightness of its screen can send the wrong message to your brain and interfere with your sleep/wake cycle.

3- Be patient and persevere

Treating your insomnia naturally is possible, but it requires patience and perseverance. Stick to a very strict waking up time and do not take naps or make up for lost sleep in the morning or during the day. Even when exhausted, get up when the alarm clock goes off. Give your body time to process your new sleep routine and do not give up.

4- Practice vigorous exercise

If your body is stuck in fear mode (anxiety is a fear based feeling), or fight or flight, it will often not allow you to be tired. You can change that scenario by doing some form of vigorous exercise such as running, swimming, playing football, practicing martial arts or taking fast dance lessons. Whatever your choice, do not exercise vigorously 3 hours before bedtime.

5- Do therapy for unresolved childhood trauma

Insomnia caused by anxiety and hypervigilance is one of the effects of unresolved developmental/childhood trauma. Complex trauma victims tend to struggle with sleep disturbances over certain periods, which can increase their anxiety particularly when going through tough times in their lives. In such cases, therapy can help you heal your trauma wounds and improve sleep.

Other sleep hygiene tips include:

  • Read “light” books at bedtime and avoid highbrow, textbook or technical reading that requires concentration
  • No computer or mobile phone screen 2 hours before bedtime
  • No coffee after 2 pm
  • No alcohol, heavy meals or smoking in the evenings
  • Sleep in a quiet and dark place
  • If you suffer from night terrors, practice the self-soothing techniques listed here

20 self-care ideas and activities for 2019

20 self-care ideas and activities for 2019
Change does come about when you look after yourself

As another year draws to a close, the need for lifestyle changes may feel more pressing to some of us. Whatever your needs are, change does come about when you look after yourself and prioritise what favours the whole of you, body and mind. If you believe in this concept but would like help translating it into action, below you will find 20 self-care ideas and activities to take better care of yourself in 2019:

  1. Go for short power walks (20 to 30 minutes) to keep you physically and mentally fit
  2. Put in place good sleep hygiene practices such as avoiding caffeine, smoking and drinking alcohol close to bedtime to improve sleep quality
  3. Incorporate breathing exercises into your daily routine to help you manage stress
  4. Try out a 8-week mindfulness meditation programme to help you focus and reconnect with yourself
  5. Stop smoking and cut back on alcohol and sugar to prevent disease
  6. Drink more water and eat more fruit and vegetables to boost your immune system
  7. Do yoga from home or go to a yoga studio once or twice a week to feel more flexible
  8. Start a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts to help you question negative thinking
  9. Listen to your body and slow down when feeling overwhelmed to avoid burnout
  10. Raise you level of awareness and identify the emotions that precede dysfunctional and excessive behaviour to promote self-regulation and control
  11. Practice self-acceptance and love by regularly recognising the value of your efforts to raise self-esteem
  12. When sad, angry, fearful and/or ashamed, connect with those feelings to become emotionally congruent and whole
  13. Treat emotional and psychological issues with respect and seek the help of a mental health professional to deal with them
  14. Watch comedy films and series to remind you to laugh and be silly
  15. Invest time and effort in functional and rewarding relationships to feel truly connected and happy
  16. Keep contact with friends to have a good support network
  17. Make time for socialising and meeting new people to have a satisfying social life
  18. When walking, cycling or driving, get out of your head to appreciate your surroundings
  19. Take longer or more frequent walks with your children and/or pets to keep you all healthy
  20. Start a new activity (be it mental or physical) to stimulate cognitive functioning

To take full advantage of the above and notice a change in the way you feel, make your chosen practices routine. Remind yourself that perseverance and patience are key when it comes to effective change.

5 self-soothing techniques for sleep disturbances caused by trauma

5 self-soothing techniques for sleep disturbances caused by trauma
Sleep disturbances are not uncommon for those with a history of trauma

Sleep disturbances are not uncommon for those with a history of trauma, be it psychological/emotional and/or physical, of a single or complex nature (a series of adverse events). That is because some trauma victims, especially those who grew up in a stressful environment (developmental trauma), often suffer from hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is a state of constant arousal, which is experienced in a conscious or unconscious manner. For a number of trauma sufferers, their brains are stuck on survival mode, even when there is no reason to feel unsafe. As a result, they may experience at least one of the following sleep problems:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up during the night or too early and struggling to fall back asleep
  • Feeling scared while trying to fall asleep
  • Having a strange feeling that there is an image, something or someone in the room
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Jerking awake right as falling asleep
  • Having racing and/or incomprehensible thoughts
  • Feeling scared of falling asleep
  • Not being able to fall back asleep after having a nightmare
  • Waking up scared and lost and not knowing why
  • Not being able to sleep in complete darkness and/or without background noise

To better deal with the above, I suggest the following 5 self-soothing techniques for sleep disturbances caused by trauma:

1- Tell yourself you are safe

As simple as this sounds, telling yourself, “I am safe”, silently and repeatedly, can remind you that there is nothing to worry about anymore. Reminding yourself that you are safe now works as to bring you back to the present. Moreover, when you say to yourself that you are OK and that there is no current threat to your well-being, you return to your own, grown up body, as well as to the safety of your own home (or wherever you are sleeping).

2- Physically comfort yourself

As the renowned trauma therapist Peter Levine explains in this video, by giving yourself a cuddle or touching your forehead and chest simultaneously, you can help yourself regulate the negative feelings that make you feel overwhelmed, such as fear and anxiety. I often recommend my clients to gently stroke their arms to feel a sense of tenderness and love for themselves, not only when having sleep disturbances, but also when feeling rejected. Touching, even when performed independently and without another human being, helps us calm down and relax.

3- Connect with your inner child

If you have suffered developmental/childhood trauma, your inner child requires your attention from time to time. As much as your self-esteem needs nurturing to stay high, that little boy or girl inside of you also craves attention and care to feel safe, particularly when your fears do not seem to correspond to that competent adult you have become. When that seems to be the case, close your eyes, breathe deeply for a few minutes and go to a place inside yourself where you can connect with that little person. Picture yourself as a figure of protection, love and safety, as your inner child’s ideal father or mother (not the ones you have in real life), and spend some time comforting, talking or even playing with him or her.

4- Do a breathing exercise

Breathing exercises are effective practices to reduce arousal and stress. Physiologically, they help calm down your nervous system, which is a simple and useful means to manage not just the symptoms of PTSD or C-PTSD, but also those of other anxiety disorders or episodes. I highly recommend this Pranayama exercise at least once daily to help you manage your anxiety and prevent sleep disturbances, as the ones above listed.

5- Challenge negative thinking

If your intrusive/racing/automatic/negative thoughts are discernible, challenge them immediately. If they are telling you that something bad is about to happen or other such nonsense, shut them up with objectivity. Regain control over your own mind and do not let them run the show. You can do that by questioning their meaning with rational explanations that expose their incoherence. If you are truly enraged by the effect they have had on you and your sleep, you can also openly curse them or tell them to go away and leave you alone.

The 5 self-soothing techniques for sleep disturbances caused by trauma related in this article could also become part of your self-care routine, and not be limited to what happens before and after sleep. The most productive way to manage hypervigilance is consciously and proactively. You do not to have to wait until you lose sleep to be made fully aware of its power. The earlier you start taking care of yourself and your emotional, psychological and physical health, the longer you will be able to enjoy its benefits.