Category: Depression

How do you know if you are suffering from trauma?

Despite being extremely common, “trauma” often sounds too strong or scary a term to be included in our personal narrative. That is because trauma is largely associated with life-threatening experiences such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters, accidents and war. It is, however, something that affects most of us and not only car accident victims or soldiers. In fact, trauma is so pervasive, that research has revealed it to affect the greatest majority of the population.

So if that is indeed the case, how do you know if you are one of millions of people who are suffering from trauma?

How do you know if you are suffering from trauma
Trauma shatters our blind views of ourselves as unbreakable

A traumatic event is any situation that is so deeply distressing to an individual that exceeds his or her ability to cope. Those negative experiences are not processed in the brain in the same way happy or “normal” memories are. Because those traumatic memories are not integrated into our memory network adaptively, they affect our psyches in a negative way. Trauma victims/survivors often struggle to let go of the past and manage their emotions effectively, as if they were still in the same vulnerable position they found themselves when the negative event/events took place.

As individuals, we experience life in unique ways. Pain itself is subjective. What can be traumatising to one person might not affect another as deeply. Overall, trauma shatters our blind views of ourselves as unbreakable, as well as our unconscious faith in the goodness of all people. It also vehemently challenges our idealised core beliefs surrounding safety, be it of ourselves in the world or in the presence of those who we know, love and that are supposed to love and protect us. In spite of our need to organise reality in a fixed and predictable manner, human experience is much more complex than our beliefs care to explain. When anything happens that strongly disturbs our foundations, there is a high probability that the whole self will suffer.

Bearing in mind all of the above, any upsetting event may be considered traumatic. We are particularly vulnerable as children to being traumatised by negative experiences that compromise our ability to keep an inner sense of safety.  Since survival is primarily about finding protection against harm to the self and body, not feeling loved, seen, heard or acknowledged by parents, relatives or close friends can result in trauma. An unkind comment made by an angry parent, feeling humiliated by a teacher’s abusive remarks or being bullied by a troubled classmate also has the potential to unsettle a child’s or teenager’s sense of wholeness and inner goodness. If his or her pain is systematically ignored or not dealt with openly by an empathic, consistent and concerned caregiver, it may affect his or her own ability to cope with and overcome that pain.

Regardless of the frequency, intensity or characteristic of a stressful and traumatic event, its effects are very specific and real. When it comes to suffering from any type of trauma – be it “big” or “small”, of a psychological/emotional or physical nature, single or complex – what matters is how you feel as a result of what happened, and not necessarily what caused it. The list of trauma effects is extensive. If not recognised and dealt with proactively, they tend to impact one’s body, mind and relationships negatively for a long period of time. Unresolved trauma leads its victim towards an unhappy and dysfunctional path that tends to end in mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, low self-esteem, addictions, depression, built-up anger, guilt and shame, amongst others.

So if wondering if you are suffering from trauma, I recommend not focusing on judging if what you went through “is bad enough” to be considered as such, but on how you are feeling. Have you struggled over the years to deal with intense emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, shame and anxiety effectively? Do you feel easily overwhelmed by them? Do you feel that life seems harder on you that it is on other people? Do you find it hard to know who you truly are? Do you struggle to build safe and stable relationships? Is it hard for you to talk about or even remember painful memories of your past? If you can identify with the points raised here and have answered yes to at least some of the above questions, there is a high probability that you are suffering from trauma and its effects.

Thankfully, they are treatable. If you would like information on how to heal from trauma and its effects, please contact me and learn how Attachment-Focused EMDR can help you regain control over yourself and improve quality of life.

What are the effects of psychological/emotional trauma?

effects of psychological/emotional trauma
The effects of psychological/emotional trauma may be causing you prolonged pain and distress

A traumatic event is an adverse experience that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope and integrate the memories and emotions connected to it. Psychological/emotional trauma is caused by damage that is not of a physical nature, but that severely affects the individual’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.  Making one feel worthless, blaming someone else for one’s mistakes or shortcomings, refusing to acknowledge or accept someone else’s feelings, displaying extreme ranges of mood, being extremely critical of the other person, belittling, humiliating, bullying, being verbally abusive and giving someone else “the silent treatment”, are some of the most common dysfunctional behaviours characteristic of abusive relationships.

Despite being the most common type of trauma, psychological/emotional trauma is the least talked about, understood and recognised by the general public as well as the psychiatric community. Due to its pervasiveness, however, it is vital that we explore the impact that psychological/emotional trauma has on our bodies, brains and emotions – honestly and openly. If you believe to have been psychologically/emotionally traumatised by an abusive parent, relative, partner or any other significant other, the following are the effects of psychological/emotional trauma that may be causing you prolonged pain and distress:

Emotional  

  • Feelings of intense sadness/depression: lack of enthusiasm for life, inability to feel happy and content, inability to enjoy the little pleasures in life, feeling like you do not belong or cannot connect with life, living on “automatic pilot”, only to fulfil your “duties” or the expectations of others.
  • Hopelessness: feeling weak, powerless, incompetent, unlovable
  • Guilt, shame and anxiety
  • Self-hatred and self-blame
  • Feeling like a bad or broken person
  • Vulnerability
  • Panic attacks
  • Intimacy problems: having difficulties to love and accept yourself, hiding or being ashamed of your weakness/vulnerabilities, repressing negative emotions, refusing to share the whole of you/the real you with somebody else.
  • Fearfulness
  • Feeling out of control
  • Anger
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Feeling detached, distanced from others

Behavioural

  • Self-harm: cutting, scratching, pinching, burning, banging or punching yourself
  • Compulsive and obsessive behaviours: fear of being contaminated by germs, of losing control and hurting others, of intrusive thoughts and images, of losing and forgetting things, accumulating junk, double checking locks, appliances and switches, having to have things arranged in a particular way, spending a lot of time washing or cleaning, counting or repeating certain words to reduce anxiety.
  • Addiction: substance abuse, alcohol abuse, gambling, shopping excessively
  • Self-destructive and self-sabotaging behaviours: behaving recklessly and irresponsibly, comfort eating and/or self-medicating to “deal” with negative emotions, procrastinating, difficulty carrying out long-term goals and staying focused
  • Social isolation: refusing to respond, initiate or keep social contact
  • Parenting difficulties
  • Difficulties in relationships: choosing the wrong people as friends or partners, identifying with chaotic, dysfunctional and dramatic relationship styles
  • Pent-up rage: feeling an intense anger towards someone or a situation that does not subside with time
  • Sleep disturbances: difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early or in the middle of the night

Cognitive

  • Difficulty remembering traumatic memories
  • Losing track of time
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Lack of concentration
  • Flashbacks, intrusive thoughts
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Biased perception: displaying a strong tendency to interpreting faces, people’s behaviours and situations as negative, threatening or frightening

The effects of psychological/emotional trauma are as potentially harmful to our general wellbeing as physical trauma. Victims/survivors of this type of trauma tend to feel isolated and misunderstood in their pain, and can go through months, if not years of suffering before they find the correct route to their emotional healing. If you identify with any of the above and feel ready to make some positive changes in your life, trauma counselling can help. For more information about trauma therapy, please click here

7 common negative beliefs and the problems they cause

A great way to start looking into the reasons why you feel so unenthusiastic about life or constantly on edge is to explore your cognitions. Your thinking, or what you believe about yourself, the world and others, can say a lot about you and the mental health problems from which you might be suffering. In CBT, beliefs are commonly explored in their hierarchical order, from the most apparent and present in personal discourse (intermediate beliefs), to the least obvious but more fundamental and deep-rooted ones (core beliefs). Below you will find a list of core and intermediate beliefs such as attitudes, rules and assumptions, as well as the mental health issues to which they are connected:

7 common negative beliefs and the problems they cause
Your negative beliefs have an impact on your mental health

1- I need to be successful in order to have a right to feel good about myself.

Making your self-esteem conditional and dependent solely upon achievements and other positive external stimuli, such as material goods or the approval of others, is a sign that you may be suffering from issues surrounding self-esteem. High self-esteem is nurtured from the inside out. A confident attitude means that you have enough psychological resources to accept yourself in a loving and compassionate manner, regardless of what is going on in your personal, academic or professional life. The more your emotional well-being is bound to appearance, social status or the impact you have on others, the more susceptible you become to developing problems with excessive worrying and self-criticism, perfectionism and low self-esteem.

2- If someone rejects me, it is because there is something wrong with me.

Personalization, or the assumption that peoples’ negative behaviours are related to you, is a classic cognitive error that is either reflective or leads to feelings of low self-esteem and social anxiety. A productive way of thinking which will boost your self-confidence instantly is to be suspicious of any cognition that influences you to judge yourself negatively too quickly and easily. Peoples’ social behaviours are products of their own psychological and emotional states. Before rushing to blame yourself for the reaction of others, remind yourself that the world is much bigger and people much more complex than your biased perspective cares to explain.

3- I cannot get anything right.

Really, nothing at all? Even on your worst day, it is humanly impossible to get everything you do, absolutely wrong. Magnification/minimisation – or focusing on the negative in a global and exaggerated fashion – can make you feel incompetent and small, even when it does not correspond to factual truth. Such prejudiced and inaccurate core belief is at the hearth of feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem.

4- If I don’t worry, something bad will happen.

Worrying that takes over your time and does not lead to a solution – a process also known as rumination – is not productive. If thinking did have magical powers, there would be no such thing as anxiety disorders. The assumption that worrying gives you a sense of control over reality is not only false, but it stops you from trusting yourself, getting things done and enjoying life.

5- I should have total control over my emotions, especially when negative.

There are two big no-no’s in the above rule. Firstly, should statements are counterproductive, since they do not make you feel relieved for whatever you think you may have done wrong, but only add to your suffering, resulting in even more feelings of powerlessness. Secondly, the habit of supressing or rationalising every single negative feeling you experience, as if they lacked purpose entirely, is extremely prejudicial to your psychological and emotional health. Perfectionists as well as anxious, depressed and unconfident people often use should statements when ruminating over their problems, in a maladaptive attempt to regain a sense of control over themselves (without success).

6- If I feel insecure and inadequate about trying something new, it is because it won’t work.

Emotional reasoning is another cognitive error that makes one believe his/her thoughts and feelings are the same as actions. Thoughts are what they are – just thoughts. Feelings of inadequacy, such as insecurity and anxiety, are not predictors of an outcome, but a sign that there is an internal conflict that needs to be addressed and dealt with.

7- If people found out who I truly am, they would reject me.

That assumption is wrong for the great majority of its believers. Somehow along the way towards becoming an adult you have registered the message that being yourself is unproductive, or simply not good enough. You may have felt rejected by your parents whenever you expressed negative emotions or acted in a way that went against their own beliefs and/or expectations of you. As time went by, that knowledge created a barrier between your true self and your self-esteem, as if to be accepted by others you had to supress your essence as much as you could. That myth is not only damaging to your psychological wellbeing but it significantly affects quality of life. Incongruence between the self and behaviour can lead to intense feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, personal frustration and a depressive attitude of general discontent towards life.

In order to help yourself adopt a more positive attitude or feel more in control over your moods, be mindful of beliefs that are too rigid, be they intermediate (rules, attitudes and assumptions) or core. To correct negative beliefs that are causing you to feel depressed and/or anxious, challenge automatic thoughts whenever you feel a negative shift in your emotional state. Ask yourself, “What does this thought say about me?” repeatedly, or until you get to the root of the problem. Then, restructure your belief so that it reflects a flexible and compassionate perspective.

5 New Year’s resolutions for mental health

5 New Year’s resolutions for mental health
You can improve quality of life in 2017 by focusing on your mental health

You have worked hard and yet another year has gone by at incredible speed. Now it is time to take a deep breath, enjoy the holiday celebrations and get ready for another round. Even if you are not a believer in New Year’s resolutions, since most of them tend not to last for longer than a month, anything you do in connection with self-improvement and personal growth is always worth your while.

Living a long and healthy life is all about looking after mind as well as your body. If you find you have not been as attentive to your emotional and psychological needs as you would have liked, here are 5 New Year’s resolutions for mental health that will help you feel more refreshed and at one with yourself in 2017:

1- I will not ignore my emotional pain

A great number of mental health problems could be avoided if early signs of stress and emotional discomfort were addressed as soon as possible. Feeling that you cannot relax or enjoy yourself doing what you love, for instance, could be a sign of excessive worrying, anxiety or depression. Learn to listen to your body and identify when it is time to slow down. Be kind to yourself by giving more attention to your emotional wellbeing. After all, our emotional resources are not infinite. If you feel stuck or intensely inadequate for whatever reason, take the time to address those feelings and, if needed, seek help from a friend or a counsellor. Just by giving your emotions the attention they deserve, you will feel more grounded and in control of yourself. Respecting who you are through acknowledging how you feel can give you a renewed sense of wholeness.

2- I will raise self-awareness

Make it “your thing” this year not to give in to automatic thoughts so easily. Actively monitor your thinking and challenge cognitions that do not reflect a positive and forgiving attitude. Whenever you feel your mood changing, direct your attention to your thoughts and investigate what is fuelling those negative emotions. Take control of yourself by analysing your way of thinking objectively. Turn your brain into your most loyal ally and use metacognition to help you maintain a balanced and fresh outlook.

3- I will let go of perfectionism

Tell yourself that perfectionism is not a skill, but the number 1 enemy of a healthy self-esteem. Replace rigid and biased notions of success by a more human – and often much more productive – approach to life. Practice self-compassion on a daily basis by becoming increasingly more tolerant of what you tend to judge so harshly. Would you criticise your best friend in the same manner you do you, or value him/her exclusively for the quality of his/her achievements? What is unkind to do to others is certainly not good for your own self.

4- I will incorporate relaxation exercises into my routine

Breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness meditation are just a few of a series of relaxation exercises you can do to bring some balance into your life. It does not take much to complete them, 10 – 15 minutes a day is already enough to recharge your batteries. “Me time” does not have to be only about binge eating or spending money on something extravagant, but it can also mean coming back home to your body.

5- I will focus on my psychological wellbeing

The best way to fight depression and anxiety is to respect the connection between mind and body. When you neglect one or the other, the whole being suffers. Be vigilant, are you dedicating enough time to cultivating a heathy mind? If not, stop and make a change. Review the above and start introducing those healthy new habits into your life again and without any judgement.

Enjoying peace of mind as a direct result of your own efforts to change is one of the most rewarding feelings you can experience. Those who embrace that knowledge tend to value the little things that makes us happy and end up leading more fulfilling lives. I hope you accept the challenge and have a smashing 2017!

2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure

2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure
Mindfulness can help you feel at one with yourself

Given the hectic pace of modern life, feeling under pressure to live up to everyone’s expectations – including our own – can easily turn into yet another unhealthy habit. Because our lives have never been as monitored or exposed to so much scrutiny as in recent years, it may feel hard to let go of that need to strive for excellence, regardless of the impact that that attitude has on you. In the era of smart phones and social media, not looking “super active” and “always busy” can easily make you feel like a lost soul, a social outcast or, simply put, just not good enough. To live a truly authentic life has become a challenge at a time when just allowing oneself to sit still and do nothing sounds like a great oddity.

Even when you feel easily swayed by perfectionist ideals, you still have a choice. You can surrender to the pressure of being there for everyone and everything but yourself, and keep on struggling to deliver that picture of success and popularity, or take this moment to make it be about you. The real you, that is, the one who like all human beings needs to nurture the connection with his own body in order to feel in harmony with himself and others. Making the time to be about you does not only mean “treating yourself” to something expensive, tasty or new. It also means taking that moment to be there for yourself, to feel what it feels to be you at that moment. All without judgement. All without having to do things a certain way (like having to follow a stereotype of “me time”, as in lying in a hot bath seeping a glass of red wine or eating a huge bar of chocolate while binge watching a TV series on Netflix. If any of those things happen not to be available… well, then you are stuck with that bad feeling!).

Mindfulness can help you feel at one with yourself without having to get out of your way in search of something elaborate to reach that peace of mind. Just taking little time to focus on your breathing can allow you to reconnect with your body, honour that moment and the sensations that make you whole, attending to the whole you. You do not have to be a Buddhist to practice it, or a great connoisseur of Eastern philosophy to master it. Mindfulness in already part of you – that unique ability you already possess to use thought to focus on yourself and observe your own thinking, feelings and behaviours.

If you feel under stress and would like to give mindfulness a try, below you will find 2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure:

1- Grounding yourself

Sitting on a chair in an erect yet comfortable position, take a couple of minutes to bring the focus of your attention to your breathing. Observe how your chest expands at each in breath, filling your whole body with air and, at the out breath, giving that natural feeling of relaxation. When you feel yourself relaxing as the mind reconnects with the body, let go of the chest and bring the focus of your attention to your feet. Attend to the sensations of contact between the soles of your feet and the surface on which they are resting. Feel how the whole you, your legs, torso, arms and head are connected to that surface. Feel yourself as a unit, as a body sitting in that position. Examine the sensations that intensify your perception of what it means to be that body at that moment, like feeling the hard surface of the chair against your skin or noticing feelings of heaviness or lightness in the limbs. Then remind yourself of where you are, what day of the week and time of the day it is. Own that moment by feeling fully there in the present, mind and body, all in one sitting on that chair and just being yourself at that precise time and space.

2- Stress relief

Sitting on a chair in an erect yet comfortable position, take a couple of minutes to bring the focus of your attention to your breathing. Observe how your chest expands at each in breath, filling your whole body with air, and at the out breath, giving that natural feeling of relaxation. When you feel yourself relaxing as the mind reconnects with the body, let go of the chest and bring the focus of your attention to your whole body. As you search for the sensations present in that moment, identify the one that makes you feel crushed. That sensation may be a feeling of pressure around your chest, a tightness of the neck or jaw or feelings of heaviness, pain or pressure in the abdominal area, for instance. As soon as you connect to that part of your body, dedicate a couple of minutes to focus your attention on that region. Take time to attend to the bodily sensations that reflect that negative emotional state. Notice how stress is felt by you in that particular region. Fully attend to the source of your discomfort. As your thinking starts to process those sensations, notice what happens when they start to dissipate into the rest of the body as flowing energy. Feel a shift in those sensations as they disappear from awareness. Enjoy that feeling of relief and reconciliation as your attention claims back your entire body.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed or disconnected, as if you were running on autopilot, take a few minutes to practice one of the above. Both exercises will allow you to feel refreshed and centred. It is vital to your general psychological and emotional wellbeing to attend to those negative feelings as soon as they arise. Letting them build up as if they were not as important as whatever you are doing at that moment has the potential to result in mental health complications later on, such an episode of burnout or depression, or even a full-blown anxiety disorder. Get your priorities right by learning how to love and respect the whole you, body and soul.

How to do a DRDT

how to do a DRDT
It only takes a few minutes to fill in a DRDT.

A DRDT, or a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts, is a very useful CBT task designed to uncover and challenge automatic/negative thoughts.

The main goals of a DRDT are:

1- To help the client gain greater insight on what is motivating their negative feelings, such as those commonly related to low self-worth and/or anxiety, as well as unproductive behaviours.

2- To challenge negative and biased thinking.

It is quite common not to be aware of the reasons why you feel “so bad” or demotivated, for instance. With the help of a DRDT, you can target errors in thinking that are fuelling your emotional discomfort. Biased and distorted thoughts are analysed objectively, allowing you to problem-solve more confidently, while adopting a more productive attitude.

Step 1: Create a DRDT

A DRDT or Thought Journal/Record traditionally comes in 6 columns: “Date”, “Situation”, “Feelings”, “Automatic Thoughts”, “Alternative Responses” and “Outcome”. As a DRDT is used to monitor your thoughts on a regular basis, it is worth keeping it light and small so you can carry it around with you.

Step 2: Fill in a DRDT

A DRDT is to be filled in when you notice a change in your mood. If you are watching TV and suddenly start feeling a bit low, get your DRDT out and start filling in the 6 columns with the appropriate information asap. The later you write down your thoughts from the moment you have them, the more likely you are to forget all those important details. It takes little time to do it, not more than a few minutes.

Date: write down the exact date of you thought.

Situation: describe where you were and what was happening/what you were doing when you had your thought.

Feelings: record your emotions, rating them from 0 to 100%.

Automatic Thoughts: write exactly what you were thinking, word by word. If your thought was an image, describe it in detail.

Alternative Responses: add an objective response that challenges the veracity of your automatic thought. The alternative response represents the more rational you, the person you are when you react in a sensible, logical and reasonable manner.

Outcome: detail how you felt and what you did after identifying and challenging your automatic thought.

Step 3: Analyse your DRDT

After you have a completed a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts for 7 days, sit down and take some time to read through all your automatic thoughts.

Are you able to find a common theme?

What cognitive errors can you identify?

What do your automatic thoughts say about you?

Which automatic thoughts affected you the most? 

Which alternative responses caused the greatest change in your feelings and behaviours?

 

For a free DRDT sample, click here