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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The Fear Of Chanting

As you know I run a meditation class and inevitably once every 3-6 months I will schedule a class that involves chanting. Invariably this will mean I will have less people turn up on the night with excuses that vary from ‘I have a family thing planned’ to no response at all, so what’s going on?

It’s not coincidence that a lot of people suddenly have something to do, at first I thought it was me, something I wasn’t getting right, then the penny dropped. It was FEAR.

The fear seems to be less around internal chanting, and more around actually using one’s voice.

Chants can come in many forms, some religious, some as sounds and some as affirmations; all are useful in different ways. Much like music can change and influence our mood, thoughts and wellbeing, so can chant. The difference is, the sound in chanting comes from the inside outwards, rather than the outside in. This projection of your own sound, your own voice is really difficult for some people.

The people who struggle and avoid chanting are often the ones who need it the most, to have their voices heard, to be able to find themselves and their voice, to actually listen to themselves.  It requires courage to project your voice and be heard. I often find that the people who fear chanting are the ones who find it hard to say ‘no’, they are the givers, carers and worriers of the world.

Yet when they do find their courage, the strength to listen and to make themselves heard, the transformation in them is astounding. Their faces lighten and they sing from their heart and soul. They take back their power, and express themselves beautifully.

So the next time you have the opportunity to chant, take a deep breath and face your fear, sing loud and proud, of who you are and who you want to be.

Why not find out when our next meditation group is so that you can join us? Details of this group are circulated in our regular bulletin: Strategies For Living In An Anxious World, keep up-to-date by signing up below.

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Overthinking

We all do it, especially when we are stressed or worried. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, loss, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, attachment disorder etc often have overthinking as a symptom.

So what is overthinking?

Overthinking is defined as thinking about something for too long or analysing it in a way that is more harmful than helpful. Very often it has a repetitive quality, someone with social anxiety for instance may overthink how they were in a social situation, what they did or said and will repetitively do this for most, if not all sociable experiences.

Why do we do overthink?

It is often because we care, we care about what someone else thinks, we care about what will happen next, and we care about how others see us. This caring leads us to be concerned about the outcome of a relationship, a conversation or result. So our ever ‘helpful’ brain decides that if it analyses all the possible outcomes we can be prepared, it’s so good at this it will even analyse an event, meeting or result BEFORE it’s even happened. There are two main issues with our brains doing this:

  1. Our brain cannot possibly compute every outcome
  2. Our brain is influenced by any biases we have whether they are positive or negative. (If we are worriers or have a mental health issue this is usually a negative bias, but in mania, and some other conditions it can manifest as a positive bias.)

We can experience overthinking as:

  • Not being able to think of anything but the subject/person we are worried about.
  • Interfering with our ability to function.
  • Insomnia.
  • Increased stress levels.
  • Things feeling bleak.
  • Avoiding situations you are worried about.
  • Conversely, if you have a positive bias, getting into situations that are risky or more complicated than you had imagined.
  • Difficulty eating or eating too much in a bid to feel better.
  • A form of self-harm
  • Causing anxiety.

So what’s normal?

We all worry at times. We get nervous about things that matter to us like exams, job interviews, going on stage etc and during these periods we may experience overthinking. Overthinking becomes a problem when it doesn’t end after the specific event is over, when it becomes more generalised and we do it everyday. If overthinking is taking over your life, you should seek help from a qualified professional like a counsellor.

What we can do about overthinking?

So you are tired of overthinking, the sleepless nights, the constant worry, life feeling overwhelming and that you can’t seem to get out of your own head. So what do you do?

Especially when talking to others about their overthinking and worry, I find that most people use short to medium-term solutions, tips and tricks they have picked up to help in the moment. These include:

  • Distractions like: talking to someone, listening to music, listening to podcasts, and watching TV.
  • Mindful approaches like: grounding, breathing techniques, and fingertip touching.
  • Facing the problem: checking the facts, testing your assumptions, and talking it through with someone.
  • Getting support: help from family or friends when you are going through an tough time that needs extra support like exams, stage fright, PIP appeals.

Whilst all of these approaches can help you to feel better, people will repeat them over and over again because they still overthink.

My treatment plan for clients experiencing overthinking is a two-pronged approach, I will initially use short to medium-term interventions to give clients tools to help in the moment. But I also recommend more.

At the same time I will teach you a longer-term strategy to help you stop overthinking altogether so that eventually you don’t need the tips and tricks anymore.

So what do I recommend for chronic overthinkers?

Firstly we will try out and choose a short-term strategy that works for you, nursery rhymes or other distraction techniques are a favourite of most of the people I work with.

Next we work on the habit of overthinking. Noticing when you overthink allows you to name it, then you can catch yourself doing it and then you can change the habit to something else. One of my clients for instance will catch herself overthinking and acknowledge that she is worried about a particular issue, but the will choose to focus on something else and deal with the problem later. By the time later comes, the problem has often resolved itself.

For some people (especially those where the overthinking is more generalised and doesn’t have a specific cause) learning the first steps in meditation, where you focus on an object, sound, your breath or a sensation, can teach their mind to slow down and stop overthinking.

Learning to relax through Reiki or meditation can help to reset the balance in our bodies. letting go of the tension and stress that overthinking places in our bodies can be really helpful and replaces the the habit of overthinking with one of peace and calm.

Sometimes if your overthinking is part of a larger condition like anxiety, depression, Borderline Personality Disorder/Emotianlly Unstable Personality Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or due to trauma or abuse, counselling can be a way forward. Counselling will provide support in the moment and help you to work through the issues you are facing, to help you find a better tomorrow.

None of these approaches is mutually exclusive, you can mix and match what works for you. My hope in writing this is that, as well as the short-term tips and tricks to beat anxiety and overthinking you see on Facebook and in ads, you will also consider using a long-term strategy alongside it so you find you don’t overthink in the first place.

If you would like to discuss this further please get in touch by clicking the button below.

Yoga, Breath And Mental Health

I am sitting here working on the asana and pranayama sequence for our yoga class, my theme is connecting with the breath.

Breath is a central part of the Viniyoga tradition which I teach, we know that changing our breath can change how we feel and bring us back to the moment. Not the ruminations of the past, or the worry for the future; but right here, right now.

But how do we do that? How do we get from our everyday breathing to yogic breathing? How can we bring it into our practice?

There are many types of pranayama (breathing techniques), the one most commonly used during asana practice is Ujjayi or victory breath. It involves a slight muscle constriction in the lower throat, which can make you sound a little like Darth Vader. Sounds complicated right?

Like most things in life it’s easier when learning some thing to work up to it.

Features of Ujjayi include:

  • The breath is slowed down
  • It is deeper and more lengthened than normal
  • It is consciously controlled
  • There is a slight constriction in the lower throat.

In asana work we match our movement to our breath inspiring a meditative quality in our practice; so when you are starting out, worry less about the slight constriction in the throat and begin by matching your movements with the inhale and exhale. See what it is to breathe in different postures. See how the breath changes as you move or stay in an asana.

As you progress you can lengthen and deepen the breath, allowing it to support and enhance your practice. Eventually get your teacher to show you how to make the constriction in the throat.

In short begin by noticing, and remember you don’t need to be able to do everything at once, after all ‘Atha Yoganushasanam’ Yoga sutra 1.1, the time for yoga is now, not when at some point in the future you can already do it.

Once we are proficient, yogic breathing like this can be used outside the classroom to soothe anxiety, stress and improve our mental health, by deactivating the adrenaline fuelled fight, fight or freeze, of the sympathetic nervous system, and activating the para-sympathetic nervous system, to bring us to a calm and restive state, whenever we need to relax.

If you’d like to find out more about the yoga I teach and the benefits of learning pranayama breathing techniques please click the button below.

Can’t Sleep?

I came across this article in the Independent: getting less than six hours sleep a night increases risk of early death

And it prompted me to think: What causes a lack of sleep and what can we do about it?

Aside from a ‘whole number of factors such as having small children, having other health issues and environmental factors’ cited in the article by Lisa Artis of the British Sleep Council; many Clients I see state one of the largest causes of lack of sleep is stress.

Whilst stress is aggravated and worsened by lack of sleep, the article fails to mention how worry and stress also raised cortisol levels which can themselves disrupt sleep. Cortisol changes in our blood is an important part of our day/night rhythm as well as our fight or flight response.

It has long been known that ‘depression and other stress-related disorders are also associated with sleep disturbances, elevated cortisol.’ 1 Therefore it would be sensible to think that managing and working with stress and other stress-related disorders to reduce the levels of cortisol in the blood in general will improve your ability to sleep.

So how can this be done?

  • Exercise can burn off adrenaline that is linked to cortisol production making less available for use.
  • Meditation and relaxation can allow us to tell our body’s they are safe and in the present, reducing anxiety, depression and helping us to control the over-thinking that often happens in response to the problems and stress of life.
  • If you have experienced trauma, abuse or have a chronic mental health issue, counselling can help you to find better coping strategies, find a way forward and share your fears and anxieties.
  • Amy Cuddy 2 has shown how changing your body language can help change how you feel and your blood chemistry, lowering cortisol. To find out more check out her TED talk cited below.

All these strategies can help although they can take some time to work, particularly if your experience of stress has been chronic.

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  1. Arborelius L, Owens M, Plotsky P, Nemeroff C. The role of corticotropinreleasing factor in depression and anxiety disorders. J Endocrinol. 1999;160:1-12.
  2. <a href="http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are“>http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are