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.

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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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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Three Tips To Cope When Anxiety Strikes

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can range from nervousness to a full blown panic attack. You know you are heading there when you feel:

  • Restless
  • A sense of dread
  • Constantly “on edge”
  • It’s hard to concentrate
  • Irritable

These feelings can stop you from going out, seeing friends or even being able to work. Which can lead to more stress, feelings of guilt and not being good enough (low self-esteem).

You may also experience physical symptoms like:

  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • A noticeable strong, fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • Stomach ache
  • Feeling sick
  • Headaches
  • Pins and needles
  • Not being able to sleep well

Some people know what causes their anxiety, it may be a phobia (fear) or a particular situation, for others the feeling comes with no real explanation.

Anxiety Girl Meme
Anxiety Girl Meme

So what can you do?

There are three tips I share with my Clients for when anxiety strikes, and generally one will work better for them than the others. So do try all the techniques and see which works best for YOU.

Technique One – Grounding

In this technique we use a mixture of focus and distraction to lessen the anxiety you are feeling:

When you start to feel anxious or worried slowly say out loud:

5 things you can see

4 things you can hear

3 things you can touch

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste

Repeat a few times until the anxious feeling gets smaller.

Technique Two – Nursery Rhymes

In this technique we use a mixture of focus, distraction, comfort and controlled breathing to lessen the anxiety you are feeling:

When you start to feel anxious or worried slowly sing in your head, or out loud your favourite nursery rhyme.

Singing even in your head will help you control your breathing, the familiarity with your favourite nursery rhyme can bring comfort and a feeling of safety, and remembering the words and tune provides focus and distraction.

Again repeat a few times until the anxious feeling gets smaller.

Technique Three – Make Friends With Your Anxiety

In this technique we take a different approach to dealing with anxiety. When anxiety strikes we often instinctively fight it, and it’s a battle we can’t win. The more we fight the anxiety, the worse it gets.

The thing is: Your anxiety wants you to listen, it wants to keep you safe and the more you push it away the harder it tries to make you listen.

Making friends with your anxiety is not about giving in to it. It’s about accepting your anxiety for what it is (a way to keep you safe), and working with it rather than fighting that part of yourself.

So how do you change your relationship with your anxiety? 

When you start to feel anxious or worried talk to your anxiety, reassure it things will be ok, you can say things like:

‘Thank you for letting me know you are worried, but I am only going to do X, it will be fine because…’

‘We went to the supermarket last week and it was fine, I am really looking forward to getting ice cream.’

‘I know you are concerned, but remember how much we love seeing X they are funny and kind.’

This technique can take a little longer to work, as it takes time to change a relationship, it can also be used with one of the other techniques. Once the anxiety calms down a little, begin the self-talk.

Do get in touch if you would like to learn more, ask a question or book a session where I can help personalise the technique to you.

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