What Your Mind Does With Covid-19 Uncertainty

So today the Government is due to announce face coverings being mandatory in shops from 24th July. It’s the latest in a long line of often confusing and contradictory advice the British public have been given on how to protect themselves. So I wanted to explore with you what happens when we encounter contradiction, uncertainty and instances when people say one thing and do another.

We should probably start by saying this experience has a name, we call it cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is where we encounter or hold contradictory beliefs, ideas or values or engage in an action that contradicts one of those deeply held beliefs, ideas or values. This experience causes us psychological stress.

What is fascinating, is how we cope with that stress, and what we do when the contradiction is pointed out to us (you may have seen this kind of thing played out in the news).

This kind of stress can cause us to fall into black and white thinking where it is, or it isn’t and things are never experienced as being on a spectrum, for instance, someone is right or wrong, they either have vaild points or they don’t rather than they may have some good points but others are vague.

Often when we think this way you find your self experiencing just one of the beliefs or ideas you hold being true and the other contradictory one is almost forgotten, then you switch. It’s as if your mind blanks one of the beliefs or ideas, to avoid experiencing the dissonance, and living with the contradiction.

You may find yourself researching and researching to find out what’s true. When you experience this you want certainty and become drawn to people with strong ideas who seem very sure of themselves, even if their ideas don’t hold water. This seeking of an authority to feel safe and to leave the decision to someone else can cause harm, as people who come across as very certain can have very extreme beliefs. Scientific reasearch, by contrast, tends to use probabilities and statistics which often give a more nuanced, or uncertain view. This is why at times like these we see a rise in conspiracy theorists, and people purporting to have the answer.

Uncertainty

Lastly there is what we humans love to do the most, we tell stories and make jokes. Stories help us to reason why the contradiction exists, some of the most common ones are ‘There’s one rule for us, and one rule for them’, ‘They didn’t mean it’, ‘It was an accident’, ‘They only broke the rules because’. It’s a tactic we use often when someone says one thing and behaves in a contradictory way, we find a reason for this exception.

When we live with uncertainty about the advice we are given or what will happen next, we do the same. The story fills the gap ‘It’ll be alright because…’ or conversely ‘It’s really terrible anyway, what did we expect?’ The story brings comfort and instead of avoiding the cognitive dissonance it tries to explain it away.

We can also use stories to minimise the importance of the uncertainty or contradiction ‘Well it’s all rubbish anyway’, ‘It won’t matter in ten years time’. This strategy is used to reduce to psychological stress by making the belief, idea or value unimportant. So trivial it’s not surprising there is a contradiction.

To work through cognitive dissonance we need to start by acknowledging the contradictory beliefs, ideas or values whether in society or in ourselves, and look at why they exist. Is it like the Coronavirus pandemic where we don’t have enough information to be certain, and as we learn we need to implement what we believe to be the current best practice; Or is it hypocrisy where we or others are claiming to hold to one thing whilst doing the opposite?

Living with uncertainty and contradiction is part of being human and living in a society, sometime we have to accept there are things we just don’t know and that our strategies for dealing with it may or may not be helpful. Other times it may be important to call out the hypocrisy or to do something about it, like when you are in a relationship where someone says they love you but they ignore you, belittle you, gaslight you or hurt you.

If you’d like to discuss this further or need to talk with someone about your own conflicting feelings do get in touch.

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Boundaries In A Post Lockdown World

Boundaries are a marker, rule or guideline whose purpose is to say you can go this far and no further. Boundaries can be applied to our physical environment, physical self, mental self and emotional self. These can manifest as laws, physical boundaries, good working practices, guidelines or rules for particular settings, values, principles and determining what we will and won’t put up with from other people.

Boundaries help us to create spaces whether physically, mentally or emotionally where we feel safe. That feeling of safety arises from people acting in particular agreed ways, and when we, or they don’t, one or both of us can feel hurt. For instance on a physical level take the Highway Code, it sets out how all road users from pedestrians to truck drivers should behave. When we all follow the same guidelines it helps to prevent accidents, because it allows us to confidently predict the other’s behaviour even though we can’t communicate verbally. When we choose to not follow it and our behaviour becomes unpredictable it often ends with people getting hurt.

This happens on an emotional level too. If as a child or adult we experience a trauma caused by a person or situation, that experience of the event is usually painful because it has broken an internal or external boundary. That pain either physical or mental will cause us to adjust our behaviour, and sometimes in unexpected ways.

It might seem obvious that if you experience a car accident you may avoid or feel anxious about driving or being a passenger in a vehicle and it may take time to feel safe again. However in instances of childhood trauma and abuse, particularly when the person hurting you is your care-giver or parent, you will find ways to push down that fear and unease as your survival depends on your parent and maintaining a relationship with them. This can lead to behaviours such as denial, acting as if everyting is ok, minimising yourself and the trauma, self-blame etc.

Boundaries are vitally important for our health and wellbeing, so what does this have to do with lockdown easing?

Social-distancing in a cityscape
Social Distancing

We have been following guidelines and laws that have helped to keep people safe, and now that they are easing, some of us do not feel confident about the restricitons lifting. The 1 metre plus rule is vague, and inconsitency when introducing or applying boundaries can lead to anxiety and not feeling safe. In short some people are ok with a 1 metre distance others prefer 2 meters or more.

When we inhabit public spaces such as supermarkets, cityscapes or beauty spots we have to rely not just on ourselves following the boundaries, but also on the others that are co-habiting the space with us. Much like with the Highway Code the more predictable we are to each other the safer we are, and the safer we feel.

It was only a week ago I watched in the supermarket as someone reached over another customer to get a pack of cheese, the person whose spatial and mental boundaries had be broken, exclaimed angrily causing an arguement. This response was clearly driven by the fear of what could happen if the boundary of social-distancing is broken.

It is probable that this incident will cause a change in behaviour for one or both parties. The person whose boundaries were broken is likely to act in ways that are more defensive and have a greater feeling of anxiety about being in a similar situation. It is hoped the other party may be more mindful in future.

All healthy relationships need good boundaries whether they are with work colleagues, family, friends or people we inhabit space with at the supermarket. In this post lockdown world I would recommend following the largest distance possible unless you are invited to do otherwise by the setting, or people involved. It all comes down to respect, and kindness. Imposing yourself on others boundaries whether you agree or disagree with them, is a lack of courtesy and care that causes harm.

If you would like to think more about boundaries or need help feeling safe and calm in these anxious times, do get in touch.

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Mens Mental Health Matters

Men’s mental health and the challenges they face is an often neglected topic, especially around admitting the need for help, accessing help and accepting help. For instance: Did you know 1 in 8 men experience a common mental health problem (1)? Or that many men don’t seek help or talk with their loved ones about how they are feeling (2)?

Father walking with his children
Men’s Mental Health Matters

In my own research I have heard repeatedly that admitting you even have a mental health problem is hard, because of societal and cultural expectations. There is traditional view of masculinity that perpetuates the values of strength, control, being a support, a breadwinner; that a boy or young man learns to live up to. we’ve all heard phrases like ‘What are you crying for, you big girls blouse?’ ‘Man up!’ ‘Suck it up cupcake’ and others. These verbal cues teach the idea that expressing your feelings, thoughts and pain are not manly and therfore are unacceptable. We’d like to think they aren’t still with us, but the research shows, they stop men even admitting to themselves they have a problem.

Accessing help has pitfalls too. If you struggle to admit something by the time you ask for help a moderate problem could have easily become severe. This can mean by the time men access help they are more likely to use alcohol, drugs and self-harm as a coping mechanism (3). Mental health services are typically oversubscribed and have long waiting lists, with the delay in putting yourself forward added, men can feel quite desperate and resentful when help eventually comes. It is no surprise that in 2017, 75% of suicides were males (4) and that suicide represents the largest cause of death for men under 50 (5).  

Accepting help can be hard too, in my experience not only have men had a long journey to get help, once they do, knowing how to use it is hard. If you have never discussed your feelings before you may have to learn a whole new emotional language to articulate what’s going on inside of you. A major cause of men dropping out of therapy is not feeling understood or feeling judged.

So how can we help?

  • As parents we can help equip our boys and young men with the language and space to be able to discuss their feelings and to be heard.
  • We can ask our friends and colleagues how they are and after the usual ‘I’m fine’ ask how they really are.
  • If you notice a friend ‘drowning their sorrows’ make some time to talk with them.
  • If you seek professional help, know that a good therapist will help you to find the words to describe what you are feeling, and will not be judgemental.

Support is out there, and private therapy can help you to be seen sooner, and to work with someone you feel comfortable with. Many therapists, like me, offer a free first session to discuss what’s going on for you and to see if you feel comfortable working together. If you’d like to try it for yourself click the button below and book an appointment, or keep in touch by signing up for our bulletin.

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References

(1) McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016) Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds: NHS Digital. Available at: http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748/apms-2014-full-rpt.pdf

(2) Mental Health Foundation (2016). Survey of people with lived experience of mental health problems reveals men less likely to seek medical support. Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/survey-people-lived-experience-ment…

(3) Wylie, C., Platt, S., Brownlie, J., Chandler, A., Connolly, S., Evans, R… Scourfield, J. (2012). Men, suicide, and society: Why disadvantaged men in mid-life die by suicide. Samaritans. Retrieved from: https://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/press/Men%…

(4) Office for National Statistics (2017). Suicides in the UK: 2016 registrations. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2017registrations#suicides-in-the-uk

(5) Public Health England. (2017). Chapter 2: Major causes of death and how they have changed. Health Profile for England 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-profile-for-england/ch…

Tribal women or the benefits of sisterhood

Dedicated to Diane Evans, a good friend, cancer warrior and an amazing sister.

I recently read this interesting article on the benefits of sisterhood to women’s mental, emotional and physical health:

The premise is that women when stressed or anxious seem to ‘tend and befriend’, and don’t fit so neatly into the fight, flight or freeze response to threat like men seem to. The justification for this, is that much of the research into our fight or flight reflex has been historically carried out on male subjects, as women’s moods were seen to be too changeable, due to our ‘hormones’.

However this is the very difference we need to understand. When adrenaline levels rise due to stress in males, so does their testosterone, but in women their oestrogen and oxytocin levels rise. These differences can cause remarkably different responses, and not all of them useful.

For instance if a woman’s response of tending and befriending is provoked by domestic abuse, it can mean she stays attached to the person perpetrating the abuse long after it would be safer to leave. Yet this hormonal response makes much sense out of the reasons and beliefs that reinforce a woman’s inability to leave.

In times of illness, women will come together not only with practical support but also with emotional, and mental support. Talking things through, expressing feelings and sharing experiences is a large part of any sisterhood. Finding a solution is not necessarily goal orientated; the catharsis, understanding and belonging bring feelings of welbeing and an ability to cope.

This support and emotional care received through women gathering together, is often overlooked, especially in an age where we rarely have enough time for our homes, careers, children and partners.

Women coming together to support one another
Women coming together

Making time to gather together with a trusted group can make a real difference to your health and wellbeing. Many red tent groups, moon lodges and women’s groups are springing up in response to this need. Indeed here at The Meditative Counsellor I host a Facebook group called daughters of difficult mothers.

I also hold a yearly weekend retreat for our members where I deliver workshops, talks, women’s yoga and inner journeying. Where women get the chance for some time out, to relax and renew themselves.

If you would like to find out more, please contact me at: charlotte@meditativecounsellor.com or click on the button below to find out more about the support I offer and to join our Facebook group.


Domestic abuse is an issue which affects both men and women and if you are affected, please seek help from your local support services. If you need help, Charlotte can advise you on finding and accessing your local services, just get in touch.

Choosing A Private Counsellor

Ever felt worried, down, stressed, sad or scared? We all experience these emotions from time to time, and they usually pass and we move on. Sometimes though when you find yourself in a difficult situation such as divorce, losing a loved one, relationship difficulties, when you are facing depression, and/or anxiety, or are stressed with problems at work or with your children, the feelings don’t pass so easily and you begin to feel stuck. At times like these it can be helpful to to talk to a qualified, professional. So where should you go for help?

Many people’s first point of call is a GP or wellbeing centre, however a LOT of people I see, struggle with long waiting times, not being able to access more than 6-8 sessions, seeing different people during the assessment process, so they have to tell people their story over and over again, not being offered the therapy they want, and most importantly not being able to choose their therapist.

The impact this has, is that many people say therapy doesn’t work for them and their bad experience then stops them from seeking further help. So what’s the alternative?

As someone who has no vested interest in a particular outcome, a private counsellor can provide a non-judgemental, unbiased, listening ear. Exploring with you what has happened, why that might be and how it feels for you to experience that situation, and what might be the best way for you to move forward.

Unlike in the NHS or an EAP (employee assistance program) you will be seen by one person, who assesses and then treats you. In the case of EAPs there is no reporting back to your HR (human resources) department or boss, ensuring greater confidentiality. There are no waiting times and you can have sessions for as long as you need. When looking for a therapist you can choose one who offers the kind of therapy you are looking for such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), counselling or psychotherapy. Most importantly you can choose to work with someone you feel you get on with and have a good rapport with.

The reason many counsellors, like myself offer a FREE initial appointment, is because we know that the biggest predictor for how well YOU do in therapy is based on how well you get on with your therapist. I’ll say it again: If you have a good rapport with your therapist, your counselling will have a better outcome, regardless of the type of therapy you choose to have.

So it’s worth you meeting and talking with a few counsellors to see who you would like to work with. A good therapist will be on a voluntary register either with the BACP (British association for counselling and psychotherapy) or NCS (national counselling society), have a discosure and barring service (DBS) check, and have insurance.

So if you’d like to see if we can work together click the link below and get in touch, or if you’d like to find out more about how I work, please sign up for my fortnightly bulletin.

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