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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Kindness Through Compassion

This week is mental health awareness week, and the theme is kindness. For me kindness and compassion go hand in hand, especially in these unprecedented times. Through compassion we can find the path to being kind to ourselves and others.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines compassion as:

Noun:[mass noun]

 sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others: the victims should be treated with compassion

Origin:

Middle English: via Old French from ecclesiastical Latin compassio(n-), from compati ‘suffer with’

Other definitions describe a deep understanding and sympathy for the plight of others. So what has this got to do with counselling, and what does it mean for our sense of self?

As a Counsellor I spend a lot of time with Clients creating a non-judgemental compassionate space where they can explore what’s going on for them. This allows Client’s not just time to speak and for me to hear to what they are really trying to say; but also for them to really listen to themselves, to really hear and feel what they are saying and what it means for how they would like things to be.

Sometimes really seeing yourself and how life is for you, can feel harsh; to face the unhappiness and issues head on for the first time, needs not just understanding and empathy from your Counsellor but also from yourself. Time and again I see how little compassion people have for themselves, and how desperately they need that to change.

Even the definition of compassion that I started with suggests compassion is something you can only have for other people, but in my experience this is just not true. If you can cultivate a deep understanding, empathy and sympathy for how you got to where you are and why you are so unhappy or distressed you can begin to forgive yourself and let go.

We have all made poor choices at times, found ourselves in situations we were unable to cope with, felt stressed, depressed, unhappy or at a loss. If we allow ourselves to be ok with that and give our selves permission to start again, without having to bring the baggage of self-blame to all the other issues we have to deal with; we can give ourselves the freedom to make the changes we want.

For instance if a family member has died 6 months ago, is it still ok to feel sad? To still be looking for their face in familiar places? To still miss them? To still struggle to get out of bed? Or to still be crying? If you can treat your self with compassion, to understand what that person meant to you, what a big part they played in your life and what it feels like now they are gone; you begin to allow yourself time to grieve, without denigrating yourself every time it is hard to get out of bed or you find yourself crying at something that reminds you of them. You give yourself permission to heal in your own time, in the way that works for you.

So how do you cultivate compassion for yourself and others, when it is easy to put yourself down and play the blame game?

Don’t be so quick to judge: try to understand why you or others are acting the way they are.

Imagine what it’s like: Can you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, what do you imagine it feels like. Conversely if you were your own best friend, what would you imagine you would say or do to comfort you?

Try to find a peaceful space: Meditation, listening to music, baking, painting and doing something creative are all ways to focus on something positive for a while. Sometimes our emotional and mental lives are heavy and stressful, giving yourself space and permission to do something you enjoy encourages peace and healing.

If you would like to discuss this further do get in touch

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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.

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