Calendar - May 2023
A warm welcome to one and all. Welcome to your own wellness calendar for 2023. This is designed to be used in an interactive and self-directed fashion: where you get to choose which nuggets of information are worth developing, which are worth applying to your own life, to your own unique circumstances.
There is no right or wrong way to use this calendar. Please navigate around it, pick and mixing as you see fit - in your own space, in your own time.
Here's wishing you greater resilience, fulfilment and contentment for the coming year.
January aims to lay the foundations for you to create your own wellness landscape: the knowledge, the skills, the tools, to make a start. February moves into ways for us to better cope with all the craziness that goes on around us. March is devoted to our self, while April looks at our relationships. In May we enter into the internal world of feeling and thought and bodily sensations, while June is all about being creative and expressive. July is solely about empowerment and August gives us much to think about when it comes to making changes in our lives. Helping to expand our own wellness into universal wellness for others is the theme of September. November is the month of challenging yourself to look at yourself in different ways. And finally, December is all about reflecting on the past year and seeing how all of the information you have gathered can be pieced together for the benefit of your future self, your future wellness.
Self Detective is an offshoot of Community Counselling Cooperative, a therapeutic organisation based in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Our mission is to encourage people to become empowered through self-directed learning and by being wellness-focused. We believe that if people can improve the quality of their own lives they indirectly improve the lives of those around them, too.
I am the one I have been waiting for.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
Thinking, feeling and actions.
Feeling, thinking and actions.
Actions, feelings and thinking.
Day in, day out: without stopping for a break.
Considering this, it could be worth taking the time to understand more about these three aspects of ourselves. For example: how do these components interact with each other? How do they rub up against the outside world? Where do our thoughts and emotions come from? What triggers an action? What are the mechanics of having an action?
What might also be useful for our wellness is to determine if we’re happy with the balance of these three parts of ourselves in our day-to-day life.
For this reason, we now invite you to undertake a quick exercise…
Draw a circle. This circle represents you as a whole. Now divide yourself up into three slices, giving each slice an initial: (T) thinking, (F) feeling, (A) actions. Are each of these slices equal, or do you tend to spend more time with one than another?
Once you’ve completed your carved-up circle, you may then wish to draw another circle with the slices aligned to how you would like to be rather than how you actually are. So, for example, if you’d like to have more feeling in your life than you currently have, the new circle would reflect this. If this exercise motivates you to want to mix up the times you spend in your head, in your heart and in doing stuff, then all good and well.
Troubles with our internal world
It can be hard to fathom just what’s going on within our bodies (as well as trying to work out what’s going on inside other people).
One thing that makes matters of the head and heart especially hard to understand is that we don’t have a language to describe all that we’re experiencing.
Our thoughts can be dishonest and deceive us; they can be confusing, obscure and hard to understand. They can lead to uncertainty and doubt, and we can forget them in an instant. They can be unreliable, losing their impact or changing over time. They can overwhelm us, burden us, worry and disturb us. They can make us fall prey to fears and make us anxious, depressed and stressed. They can contradict themselves or lead us away from our true self. They can be easily manipulated by power-mongers and abusers.
Our feelings and emotions can also be problematic. One of the biggest issues with them is that we can misread the signs. We can, say, interpret excitement as a cue for anxiety. Feelings can be intense and overwhelm us or cause us great hurt, pain and suffering. They can also misguide us.
Emotions signal how we’re feeling at any moment in time and assist us to make decisions. However, sometimes emotions from the past (emotions that we didn’t or were unable to process at the time) can combine with a mild current feeling to produce an overwhelming response. Sometimes this can result in us getting angry with a person we are with, even though they’re not the cause of our anger. Sometimes a huge amount of fear can surge through us, even though we aren’t particularly fearful at that moment in time.
Many people mistrust their feelings, don’t like their feelings or seek to deny them. It’s estimated that one in ten people have a great deal of trouble recognising what they are. This has its own recognised status: alexithymia.
Our actions and behaviour can also get us into a lot of trouble, as you cannot undo what you’ve done. You cannot go back in time and do what you didn’t do. We can then end up consumed by guilt, shame, blame and regret over our actions or non-actions, as well as be punished by others, which then makes it hard to move on in life.
Do you have any thoughts or feelings on this subject?
How do you most prefer to be contacted by other people? Through thinking? Through feelings? Through actions? Conversely, which of those methods would you least like to engage with another person by?
Psychiatrist Paul Ware came up with an idea (in 1983) that each of us tends to make our main contact with other people in one of three ways: Thinking, feeling or action.
Whichever one we’re most comfortable with is what he called the ‘open door’. The next door, which he called the ‘target door’, is the area that you could make advances into – providing you felt okay with the initial contact in the open door. Finally, there is the ‘trap door’. This is the one area that we tend to avoid because we’re likely to be uncomfortable with it and out of our depth. That said, the trap door is also the contact that in time would be most beneficial for you to explore, as it is the door to greater relational depth and greater companionship.
Below are some examples of situations that may help to explain Ware’s idea further.
Susan met Barbara for the first time and felt at ease straightaway because Barbara smiled at her and made her feel welcome. Susan would not have liked to be formally introduced to the other people in the room as that act would have made her self-conscious and flustered.
Johnny met Nigel and almost at once got involved in some discussion about why ants don’t have hearts. Johnny likes people who think outside the box. What he doesn’t like is people fussing and making sure he is feeling okay.
Greig met Polly and she invited him to take a tour around the building. Greig relaxed because he doesn’t like being still for very long, nor does he like having to think about questions people ask. He just likes doing things.
Can you say which door (open, target and trap) matches which type of contact (T,F and A) for you? Would it be a worthwhile exercise to go through all the significant people in your life and work out which door matches which contact?
What are you thinking when you think about thinking?
What do you feel about thinking?
What do your thoughts make you do (or not do)?
What do you make of the following definitions…
Thought: an idea or opinion produced by thinking, or occurring suddenly in the mind.
Thinking: the process of considering or reasoning about something.
Mental states: a state or frame of mind, a mind-set, or a mental process, such as hoping, believing or fearing.
Cognition: gaining knowledge and understanding; forming memories and putting them to use.
Other words that might be added to these definitions are perceptions, reasoning, problem-solving and decision-making.
It has been suggested that we have up to 70,000 thoughts a day. If you stop to work out the maths on this, that’s around 50 thoughts a minute over a 24-hour period – whether we are awake or sleeping. If this is true, how on earth do we decide which thoughts are useful and which ones are mere brain-chatter?
Can we learn how to filter out thoughts that are unhelpful to us?
Can we learn how to have fewer thoughts?
Can we change the type of thoughts we have?
Or change the intensity of them?
Can we learn to produce thoughts that are more balanced and in tune with our feelings, our actions and ourselves in general?
Below is an incomplete A–Z of different types of thinking. Do any of them stand out for you?
a. thinking outside of the box: New ways of thinking that break from your own normal, established pathways.
b. analytical thinking: Breaking down complex concepts into smaller, manageable bits of information in order to solve problems in a logical, methodical, step-by-step manner.
c. critical thinking: This takes nothing at face-value. Instead, it questions everything about the matter at hand: its worth, its validity and the fact that there may be an alternative.
d. concrete thinking: The ability to apply factual information for practical use.
e. theoretical thinking: This is the opposite of concrete thinking, dealing in concepts and abstracts and the endless possibilities found in general (rather than specific) ideas.
f. divergent thinking: This collects data from many different directions in order to find solutions and solve problems.
g. convergent thinking: This thinking takes one topic and rolls out all the parts in order to find one solution.
h. linear thinking (or vertical thinking): This style of thinking uses one line of approach – and one line only.
i. non-linear thinking (or lateral thinking): This looks at things from many different perspectives. Rather than applying logic, it looks for alternative steps. A person who uses lateral thinking is likely to be an explorer, someone undertaking a journey where the destination is unknown or uncertain.
j. logical reasoning: This is often used in mathematics and in law as a way of arriving at an air-tight conclusion. You may start with a hunch, a hypothesis or a premise that may or may not be proved correct. This type of reasoning could use a rule or idea to determine an outcome, or could be used to test the validity of a rule or idea.
k. visual thinking: Using images instead of words.
l. rational thinking: Being of sound mind: able to have conscious thoughts and able to reason with things, leading to rational decisions.
m. irrational thinking: Unable to apply logic, reason or common sense to your thoughts. Can occur at times of distress or anxiety, or when a person is disorientated and emotionally upset.
n. ruminating: Going over and over the same thought processes without being able to complete the operation or move on.
o. intrusive thoughts: These thoughts, images or urges are both unwelcome and distressing. They are often of a shocking, inappropriate nature, conjured up at inappropriate times/situations.
p. distorted thinking: These are thoughts that are untrue, serving a short-term purpose. They can be used to put ourselves down or to protect ourselves from harsh realities.
q. perceptive thinking: How we interpret the information we get from our senses.
r. conceptual thinking: The ability to understand something, for example a situation, by identifying themes, patterns, connections and correlations.
s. subjective thinking: These are thoughts that are specific to yourself, and will come from your own beliefs and opinions, your own experiences and your own emotional responses.
t. objective thinking: These thoughts are formed from information, facts and measurements that come from outside our own personal scope.
u. process thinking: This thinking is based on thoughts in the here and now, rather than the past or the future.
v. recall thinking: Bringing something from the past into the mind.
w. positive thinking: Dwelling on positive rather than negative thoughts. This is based on an attitude or a concerted effort to classify thoughts in terms of their impact on a person’s well-being.
x. Negative thinking: Lingering on the negative aspects of ourselves and our lives to the detriment of our well-being.
y. challenging thinking: Having thoughts that challenge or question the validity of other thoughts.
z. thinking about thinking (or metacognition): This type of thinking demonstrates a higher level of awareness, in that it brings into focus insights, reflections and self-regulation.
Here is an incomplete list of mind-sets. This includes brain activity that may last for a second, a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month or year upon year.
Knowledge: A state of having information at the forefront of our brain.
Attitude: This includes beliefs and opinions.
Restlessness: A state of alertness that may include a sense of anxiety or boredom.
Distress: A state of psychological suffering that may exist on its own or be part of a wider health issue, be it physical, emotional or otherwise.
Restfulness/mindfulness: A sense of calm and inner peace, coupled with an awareness of being in the present moment.
Sensing: For example, a sense of dread while waiting for blood tests or a sense of wonderment when looking at a sunset.
Fantasy: An ability to imagine or create something within your mind that is impossible or improbable; day-dream; make-believe.
Focus: Intent engagement in something that requires your full concentration.
Perception: How you interpret things that go on within your world; having insight.
Remembering: Bringing stored memories to the fore.
Organising: Planning, preparing, arranging; getting things ready in your mind, so that something may happen.
Stress/tension: Being over-burdened or out of control, or of having unwanted pressure.
Confidence: A recognition and appreciation of one’s own abilities.
Attachment: A sense of being connected to someone or something.
Detachment: A recognition of not being connected to someone or something; a sense of separateness.
Delusion: Having an unreal and non-rational thought process.
Hopefulness: Optimism about the future.
Fearfulness: A sense of impending harm or danger.
Anxiety: Having an elongated concern or worry that cannot be easily shaken.
Love: A sense of goodwill and affection to yourself and/or to others;
Depression: Despondent and subdued, lacking in energy and motivation.
Arousal: An intention to do something; stirring an energy; an excitement.
Satisfaction: This can include a sense of happiness, pleasure, contentment and cheer.
Confusion: Uncertain and unclear as to what is happening; puzzled; fuzzy; brain fog.
Desire: Wanting or wishing something to happen.
Is there anything you can take away from this list?
“The first revolution is when you change your mind about how you look at things.”
Gil Scott Heron
Some people make life very hard for themselves by restricting the quality of their everyday experiences due to a negative or flat outlook. Might you be one of these people? Do you have a bad attitude? Does your approach to life get in the way of your well-being? Are you stuck in a rut of unhelpful thoughts and thinking? Is your mind-set switched to glass-half-empty mode?
There again, unless it was really obvious, how would you know that your attitudinals were a bit wonky? How many people in the world are merely flatlining their way through life, with barely a pulse, with barely a hint of excitement – as opposed to the people who have come to know the full highs and lows of existence through their own ups and down, tumults and exaltations, loves and losses?
A solution to this (potential) problem could be to people-watch. To see other people’s attitudinals in action. To see how they interpret, perceive, judge. To see if they have permissions as opposed to injunctions. To see if they are liberated, not hindered, by their own values, beliefs and standards.
If you are drawn to a real person or a fictional character, what is it about their outlook on life that piques your interest? Can you spend more time with them? Can you use them as a role model? Can you use these people to help you experiment with your own attitude(s)?
In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman looks at ways in which we process information. He created a way of clarifying the work of our mind by splitting it into the two below systems.
System 1 does the easy, fast, (lazy) thinking. It’s instinctive, emotional and strewn with mistakes. It engages for tasks you can do with your eyes closed – things you do automatically or subconsciously. For example, a basic maths sum: 9 - 2.
System 1 is likely to deal with things that are known to us, turning difficult questions into easier questions that are then easier to answer.
System 1 processing can make you jump to hasty conclusions and be quick to form judgements and opinions.
System 2 requires more focus, concentration and calculation. It’s deliberate, methodical and logical. This thinking operates on a more conscious level. Its processing takes longer, as it works with unknown entities, new ideas and new ways of being, as well as bigger qualities and quantities of information. For example: 22 x 17.
You’re likely to get different results according to which system you use, and come to different conclusions.
Using Kahneman’s model of system 1 and 2, can you work out which types of thinking you use for which different personal situations? Would it be useful to keep this system in mind?
In The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff makes the observation that each of the characters in the Winnie the Pooh series use knowledge for very different purposes. For instance:
Rabbit uses knowledge in order to be clever.
Owl uses knowledge in order to appear clever.
Eeyore uses knowledge in order to be miserable.
Piglet uses knowledge in order to be scared.
Tigger uses knowledge in order to have fun.
So, what about Pooh? Well, Pooh is different. Pooh doesn’t use knowledge for anything. Pooh just is. Pooh is Pooh.
What do you mostly use knowledge for?
What could you use knowledge for instead?
How much of the knowledge you possess is useful to you?
What knowledge would you most like to get rid of?
Which knowledge would be most useful for you to gain right now?
Human intelligence – an ability to apply knowledge, using memory, experience and judgement.
In 1983, psychologist Howard Gardner put forward an idea that challenged the concept of intelligence as we previously understood it. He argued that the definition is too narrow and limited. He said there are many, many different types and levels of intelligences, and that each person has their own unique configuration of being better at some things than others.
Below are some examples of multiple intelligences that he proposed.
Musical intelligence – an understanding and awareness of different types of sound.
Visual intelligence – possessing spatial awareness, creative visual imagination and expression.
Verbal intelligence – an ability to express yourself with words.
Athletic intelligence – an understanding of your own body’s dexterity, agility and sensations.
Logical intelligence – the ability to reason and make deductions, to spot patterns and solve problems.
Naturalist intelligence – an affinity/understanding of nature.
Intrapersonal intelligence – an understanding of the self.
Interpersonal intelligence – the knowledge of relationships.
Existential intelligence – the ability to ponder the ‘big questions’ in life.
Teaching intelligence – to pass on knowledge/skills to others.
Howard Gardner argued that everyone has all of these intelligences; that they all act together in different ways, which is how we come to be unique as individuals. In theory, this is what allows us to contribute to society using our own strengths.
So presumably this means we can do away with the phrase good-for-nothing, since we are all good at something. As for the notion that you aren’t ‘clever’, clearly that too must be a nonsense, since you will be clever at something (whether you like it or not). As for the idea that you failed at school, perhaps it’s the school that failed you by a) limiting the scope of intelligence that it examined; and b) its inability to tap into your own unique resources!
Using Gardner’s multiple intelligence, it might be interesting for you to contemplate and re-evaluate your own intelligence (as well as the intelligence of others). Of the list above, what would you say are your top three intelligent areas?
Emotion: a stirred-up, bio-chemical state that occurs in response to an event. Emotions can be measured by blood flow, brain activity and facial expressions.
Emotions can be so mild we hardly notice them, or they may be so intense that we become entirely fixated on them.
Emotions can either be allowed to run their course or they can be suppressed. Suppressing emotions can cause multiple health problems further down the line.
Feeling: a reaction to an emotional experience.
How we respond to what’s happening in our bodies depends on how emotionally aware/intelligent we are and how we interpret our emotional messages.
Our feelings can vary according to whether or not we consider an emotion to be okay or not okay, pleasant or unpleasant. If we remain neutral about an emotion, we are likely to have a different feeling than if we were to make a judgment about it.
As well as emotions triggering feelings, feelings can, in turn, generate emotions. Sometimes, if we are worried about the type of bodily arousals we are having, we can become over-anxious and overwhelmed, stressed and exhausted by the
ongoing sensations swirling around our body, feeding off each other.
Once a feeling has been felt and acknowledged, it can leave the body without any complications. That is why understanding and accepting our feelings and emotions can be so important to our general well-being.
Facial expressions: positions and movements of muscles beneath the skin that help to reveal what a person is feeling.
Bodily sensations: feelings or sensory experiences that affect parts of the body, such as heat, prickles, pain or butterflies in the stomach.
Mood: whatever combined emotional and mental state we have at any given time, be it for minutes, hours or days. Moods are not caused by any one event or episode, but rather a result of any number of factors, such as our environment, people, our physiology, health and diet, as well as our genetics and temperament.
Do these definitions make sense to you, or would it be worth making a note of your own interpretation of these terms?
Below is a random list of feelings. As an exercise, it might be useful, whenever you have the time and are willing, to read each word in turn, pause, and see where it takes you, without any expectations…
Amused. Interested. Satisfied. Elated. Vengeful. Pity. Proud. Helpless. Joyful. Tenderness. Cheerful. Bored. Defeated. Rage. Sympathy. Powerless. Outraged. Content. Exhilarated. Disliked. Adoration. Dreading. Rejected. Hostile. Hateful. Hurt. Guilty. Numb. Amazed. Distrusting. Hopeful. Disillusioned. Bitter. Regretful. Receptive. Uncomfortable. Suspicious. Isolated. Excited. Elated. Confused. Scornful. Inferior. Revulsion. Shocked. Delighted. Disturbed. Grief-stricken. Spiteful. Overwhelmed. Stunned. Anticipating. Fondness. Contempt. Confident. Enthusiastic. Optimistic. Hesitant. Lonely. Shamed. Regretful. Bored. Dismayed. Tender. Depressed. Preoccupied. Humiliated. Alarmed. Disgraced. Resentful. Happy. Anguished. Fearful. Aggravated. Anxious. Hopeless. Angry. Infatuated. Love. Worried. Sorrow. Jealous. Lust. Scared. Uncertain. Envious. Aroused. Insecure. Annoyed. Neglected. Rejected. Disappointed. Humiliated. Compassionate. Horrified. Self-conscious. Embarrassed. Irritated. Grumpy. Exasperated. Ambivalent. Confused. Safe. Caring. Curious. Bitter. Interested. Weary. Pleased. Awkward. Trusting. Delighted. Eager. Lonely. Alienated. Insulted. Absorbed. Sad. Indifferent. Relieved. Shocked. Restless. Concern. Panicked. Comfortable. Trust. Afraid. Brave. Liking. Nervous. Uncomfortable. Attraction. Disorientated. Frustrated. Intrigued. Calm. Melancholy. Exhausted. Disgusted. Relaxed. Depressed. Insecure. Hopeful.
Emotions without recognised names
In The Book of Human Emotion by Tiffany Watt-Smith, she explores how different cultures have a different emotional language. Some emotions may be encouraged more or less than others, while some may not be recognised or named in certain countries, where they are in others.
What if we had no words to describe love or boredom? Would we then experience love and boredom in a different way? What if love was considered to be a negative emotion, listed somewhere between stress and anxiety?
What was happening before road-rage came along? Is the experience of manic depression different now that it’s known as bi-polar? Whatever happened to collywobbles? Do we still get them, even though we don’t use the word anymore?
In Thailand, there is a word – greng jai – that describes a feeling of not wanting to impose on others or to put another person to any trouble. Kaukokaipuu is a Finnish word for craving a distant land.
Do you have an emotional experience that you do not have a name for? If so, can you describe it?
In a nut-shell, we grow up in families or in an environment where certain emotions and behaviours are forbidden or frowned upon. For example, if you are seen moping around as a teenager, you may be told, “Pull yourself together” or “Snap out of it!” If you’re making a lot of noise, you may be told to quieten down. Conversely, we might be encouraged to artificially produce emotions that are more acceptable, such as happiness or tenderness, etc.
Some emotions in certain cultures are okay for one gender but not okay for the other. Women will not be able to show their anger, say, while men will not be allowed to cry. This might also apply along the lines of ethnicity, religion or sexuality.
Moreover, some emotions that are deemed acceptable might end up being our default setting, even though they don’t match how we’re experiencing the world at that moment in time. To have these emotions would be like driving on autopilot, or being driven by someone else, or like going through the motions when you haven’t even switched on the ignition.
The problem with growing up in these situations is that we end up with corrupted emotions. Rather than having natural emotions that can guide us, we get emotions that have been coerced, manipulated or contrived; emotions that are substitutes for other emotions; emotions that are hidden from our consciousness.
The consequences of having racket emotions is only revealed at a later time, in a later situation, when the real, stored-up emotions that never got a chance to be played out in earlier days, weeks, months or years come to the fore. Here it is likely you will have little control over the force of the emotion as it will just come out whether you like it or not – often as an explosion, often in the presence of the people you love.
Yet there is a way forward that’s less dysfunctional for all concerned. It involves:
(i) learning to allow authentic emotions to come to the fore at the very moment they occur
(ii) taking the time to recognise what your racket emotions are
(iii) finding ways to unlock your suppressed emotions within a safe environment.
Below are some questions on this subject that could be useful to you.
Are there any emotions that you find hard to access?
When do you experience false emotions? What emotions are they replacing?
When and where do your suppressed emotions tend to come out?
[This is a concept from the transactional analysis branch of psychology/counselling.]
You are no doubt pretty familiar with the five senses that help us to navigate through life: smell, touch, taste, sight and sound. Yet there are also believed to be another seven senses that are part of our lifelong survival toolkit: pain, balance, direction, time, temperature, motion, speed. And then there is intuition.
And maybe we have many more senses that we don’t as yet have the words to describe, alongside all sorts of receptors within our bodies that respond to all sorts of stimulations.
Which sense(s) you will use most will depend on such things as: where you are living, who you are as a biological, psychological and social person, what experiences you have had in life – and what your role is at any given time.
Would it be meaningful to explore your senses to work out how you might utilise them more, to get more out of your life?
The endocrine system is a framework of organs and glands that use chemicals known as hormones (as well as neurotransmitters) to move messages around the body. This helps to keep it regulated and under control, as well as aiding growth and development among other functions. Hormones keep us healthy. And, in turn, we need to keep them healthy, too.
Here is a short list of hormones, spelling out what they do with suggestions of how we might help them do their job more effectively.
Serotonin: its function is mood regulation, blood clotting, sleep, bowel activity and bone health. A lack of serotonin can result in aggression, impulsivity, irritability, low self-esteem, memory issues and insomnia.
There are several activities we can do ourselves to stimulate the production of serotonin. These include increasing levels of amino acids in the diet, light exposure, exercise, meditation and massage.
Dopamine: its function is around motivation, movement, attention, sleep, memory, behaviour, cognition, lowering insulin and sodium levels, and contracting and relaxing blood vessels. The right amount of dopamine may cause feelings of happiness, motivation and focus, with the opposite being true for a lack of dopamine.
We can naturally boost dopamine through exercise, eating foods high in tyrosine (almonds, bananas, avocados, eggs, fish and chicken), meditation and sleep.
Acetylcholine: its function and purpose is around movement, alertness, cognition, intelligence and memory. A lack of acetylcholine is an effect of Alzheimer’s disease, Myasthenia Gravis and Parkinson’s disease.
We can aid the production of acetylcholine by introducing more choline into our diets: animal products, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, broccoli, apples and cabbage.
Oxytocin: its function is around relationships, including bonding, sexual arousal and social skills, and is important for various relationship types and interactions. Oxytocin works at its highest level at childbirth, resulting in contractions and later promoting lactation. A lack of oxytocin is associated with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, as well as possibly resulting in less sexual arousal, poor social skills and a higher level of aggression. Oxytocin is a hormone that can have large surges and can have long-lasting effects around our self-love and the amount of joy and love we exhibit towards others.
To boost levels of oxytocin, we can listen to or make music, do yoga, have an open conversation and spend time with loved ones, meditate, hug someone and interact with a pet.
Oestrogen: its function is around puberty stimulation, uterine lining, cholesterol and bone strength. There are low levels of oestrogen during menopause and during periods, and generally low levels of oestrogen can cause depression, irregular or absent periods, headaches, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. High oestrogen can cause irregular periods, anxiety, memory problems and mood swings.
Eating foods such as soybeans, tofu, miso, flax seeds and sesame seeds can increase production of oestrogen. To lower oestrogen we can reduce or avoid caffeine, reduce stress and increase fiber intake.
Fear: an intense emotion or sensation that not all is well: a sense of danger, a threat of harm, pain or suffering. Panic: a notion of being out of control or overwhelmed. Panic attack: a physical and biological response to being overwhelmed. Anxiety: unease, nervousness, worry or apprehension. Social anxiety: a nervousness in social settings. Phobia: a strong aversion to something; an irrational fear.
For many people fear is an absolute killer. It stops us from moving forward in life and can block our energy and our ability to fulfil our potential. So how might we look to overcoming our fears?
Do we dare give our own fears a name? Do we dare to focus on our fears? Can we explore our hopes about what might be on the other side of fear? Can we learn from what other people have done to overcome fear?
Alternatively, might it help you to view fear as part of a process? For example…
What type of production-line system has your brain come up with to ensure that top-quality fear can be triggered at the flick of a switch?
What happens once your fear has been created? How long does it last? And how long before the next batch is ready?
How can you disrupt this manufacture of fear? Can you throw a spanner in the works? And if so, what part of the works would be best to sabotage first?
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
Georgia O’Keeffe, artist
Shame: (i) a distressing emotion caused by a regrettable or unfortunate action/event/situation; (ii) being made to feel a deep humiliation (iii) making someone feel ashamed; (iv) falling short of an ideal or value or belief.
Words and terms associated with shame: humiliation, blame, embarrassment, ashamed, failure, disappointment, sin, remorse, regret, degradation, disgust, contempt, inadequacy, discomfort, awkwardness.
This debilitating condition can affect anyone at any stage in life, yet people who have been traumatised and/or abused are particularly prone to feeling an overwhelming sense of shame.
As we are not born with shame, it might be safe to say that these afflictions have their origins in our interactions with other people in the outside world. The negative messages we get from these people and from our society as a whole can either blow away or chip away at our confidence, our self-esteem, until we start to absorb, integrate and embody the messages as though they were our own.
Some people see shame like a parasite or a virus that has managed to infect them. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung called shame “a soul-eating emotion”. Other people have recognised that shame is highly contagious and once it’s out in the open it can cause other people’s long-buried shame to come to the fore, which is perhaps another reason why shame is so hard to talk about.
Below are some examples of how shame can manifest itself. These may be useful to get you thinking about your own relationship with yourself and with shame.
• a belief that you were in some way to blame for what happened and therefore you should be punished or punish yourself
• a belief that you deserved what happened to you because you are a terrible person
• a belief that you do not deserve to get your needs met
• a belief that you must put other people’s needs before your own
• a belief that because you have suffered trauma or abuse, you’re in some way less of a person than someone else
• a fear that you could be exposed for what you really are
The good news is that many people have found ways to overcome shame, through therapeutic means and through self-forgiveness.
Anger, just like any other emotion, is a useful clue to how we are at any given moment in time. If we don’t accept it as being a valid part of the human condition, two things are likely to happen: either we’ll explode like a volcano further down the line, or we’ll substitute it for another emotion (see racketeering): neither of which are particularly healthy.
Could we take the sting out of anger by separating it into two camps? Firstly, there is dirty anger. This is where the consequences of our actions – following a wave of wrath – get us into trouble. For example, shouting at someone, punching a wall and damaging our fist or landing ourselves in a fight.
Clean anger, on the other hand, has no such negative effects, as no one (including yourself) is harmed by your expression of anger. You have taken your rage, frustration or irritation out of the room and into another space. You have released your fury onto a pillow. a punch bag or a physical activity. You have gone to a forest and screamed like crazy. You have drawn your annoyance. You have found the words to explain your annoyance to others in a way that’s acceptable to those around you.
What do you make of this idea?
Doing: engaging in an activity.
Action: doing something to achieve an aim.
Behaviour: the way in which we act or conduct ourselves, especially towards others; the way in which we behave in response to a particular situation or stimulus.
Doing, actions and behaviour are actively entwined with our thoughts, thinking and mental state as well as our emotions, feelings and mood. In turn, these can affect our motivation and energy levels.
Motivation: to have a reason, need or purpose to do something; to be driven to start or complete something.
Energy levels: the will and energy to do things can fluctuate at different times. This can sometimes be a result of diet or different times of the calendar, or it could be due to the delicate balance of our emotional, psychological and active systems.
Is it worth exploring your own notions of doing – along with not doing – and then applying them to your own life, your own set of circumstances?
We start off with a sensation.
We become aware of it,
We become aroused by it and feel the need to mobilise ourselves in some way.
We take whatever action we can.
We have now made full contact (we have responded to the sensation).
We now experienced the satisfaction of having completed the cycle.
All that remains is for us to withdraw from this particular cycle so that we’re ready for the next sensation to come along.
This is a model of a healthy action cycle, one where we are responding to our needs and getting what we need. But, alas, we are not always in tune with ourselves, and sometimes there can be a disturbance to the cycle.
An unhealthy action cycle is demonstrated below, where we might end up blocking or interrupting our needs for any number of reasons.
We shut off our sensation as a defence. Rather than becoming aware of the sensation, we deflect it away from ourselves.
We do not mobilise ourselves. Instead we go into an automated response, one that we ‘should do’ because it is the ‘right thing to do’ rather than the thing we actually want to do.
Rather than take action, we worry about what other people might think of us acting in this way.
We sabotage our action out of fear that we’ll get it wrong or that we’ll fail or we go with someone else’s need instead of our own need.
We pretend that this merging of needs is okay, as it stops us making full contact and completing the cycle.
Satisfaction at completing a cycle can be blocked by feelings of guilt and shame Finally, what if we’re unable to withdraw from the cycle when we want to, either because we don’t know how or someone else won’t let us?
Examples of healthy and unhealthy action cycles could be as straightforward as getting out of bed or not getting out of bed, going to the toilet or not going to the toilet, to more advanced situations such as whether to ask someone out for a date, which action to take if your friends want to do different things to you, or what to do if someone starts to intimidate you.
How might you assess your own action cycles?
Picture a waiter. They appear to engage well with you. They have a big smile on their face. They ask you questions and are attentive to your answers and your general needs. Yet there’s something not quite right about their presence. Maybe they’re a little too obsequious, a little too full-on with you. Then it dawns on you that they’re not being real. They don’t care about you at all. Instead, they’re putting on an act. But it isn’t personal – they just hate their job and faking it is the only way they can get through the day. They know that there’s so much more to them than being a waiter. At this very moment in time, they could do anything. They could sing a lovely song. They could walk away and never come back. They could start a new job somewhere else. But they don’t because they’re fearful of change, fearful of what might happen if they leave. And the fact that they have so much freedom to make choices terrifies them into inertia, into doing nothing at all. And they know this. And they resent this. And this is called bad faith (otherwise known as self-deception).
Existential philosophers Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre came up with this notion. Each of us is free to make a million and one choices, yet we don’t. Instead, we kid ourselves that we don’t have a choice, that we need to stay in a job (to pay the rent) or we need to stay in a relationship (for the sake of the children). Yet at some level we all know that this is bullshit. We stay, stuck in a rut, because we’re scared of the vast freedom and choices we have; and this is how many, many people can exist in a long-term state of distress and paralysis.
Sartre went as far as to say that “Human reality is what is not”, owing to the large numbers of people not wanting to be what they are. He also acknowledged the paradox of people having the freedom to choose not to have freedom.
Have you trapped yourself in a role that you, ultimately, do not want to play? If so, can you describe what this is/was like?
Can you make a list of all the things you could be doing now instead of the thing that you are doing?
How liberated would you say you are?
Protecting our ‘self’ from perceived threats by using all sorts of ingenious psychological methods is something that we all do at different moments in our life. Often, we do not know we are using defence mechanisms at the time – which just goes to show how devious and how instinctive these functions of our brain can be.
Please view the examples below with a neutral, self-detective eye, rather than a harsh, judgmental one.
Forgetting (repression): If an event or a time in your life is painful, one of the easiest ways to deal with it is to forget that it ever happened.
It didn’t happen (denial): If ‘it’ (whatever it may be) didn’t happen, then there’s no need to be distressed about it.
It wasn’t me – it was you (projection): Here is a great opportunity to blame another for what happened, to put all the dislike about yourself onto someone else.
I can’t express how I feel to the person I want to, so I’ll take it out on someone else instead (displacement): This is about dumping or off-loading on people who have nothing to do with the cause of your upset/pain/anger, etc.
Making unacceptable behaviour acceptable (sublimation): If I can channel my dark side into something that’s deemed acceptable by my partner/friends/family/community/society, then I can maintain my status as well as my relationships (as opposed to ending up in prison or being isolated/alienated).
Mimicking aspects of others (introjection): In times of distress or threat, it might be the best option to behave like someone else, e.g., if I shape my hair to look like Ingrid Bergman, I’ll have all the confidence and sassiness that she has.
Removing the emotion from a memory (isolation): This allows you think about an otherwise painful or upsetting episode without feeling it, just as though you were merely reporting the events.
Going back in time (regression): If the pressure to be a certain age is too much for you, going back to a younger age might help reduce the stress.
Day-dreaming (fantasising): Having fantasies, especially about the things that ‘could have been’ in your life, are a way of dealing with disappointments or of ending things that didn’t have an ending. This is a great way to re-write your history.
Going into your head rather than your heart (intellectualising): If you’re emotionally hurting, you might want to think away what is causing the pain by giving yourself a rational explanation for it: “It’s just heartburn. It will soon go away.”
Do any of these jump out at you in particular?
[Developed by Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud]
A brief journey through the brain
We all have incredible brains. They continue to function 24 hours a day, 7 days a week whether we’re awake or asleep, conscious or unconscious.
The brain can be explored in a variety of different ways using many different terms, such as hemispheres, lobes, layers and matter. Here we will be dividing it into three sections.
The lower brain (sometimes known as the reptile brain) is the one that we are born with. It regulates our breathing, our sleeping, our waking. It regulates us automatically, without us having to be conscious of it. Everything about it concerns self-preservation.
The middle brain (or the mammal brain, the limbic system) develops in our early years and continues to evolve throughout our life depending on the experiences we have. This area deals with emotion, memory and hormones, among other things.
The upper brain (the rational brain, the human brain, the neocortex) is designed for advanced functions such as speech, reasoning, problem-solving, self-control and interpreting.
When it comes to threats and perceived threats to the body, the functions of the lower and middle brain instinctively come to the fore, while the upper brain function diminishes. This might be an important piece of knowledge for our general well-being: Neither ourselves or anyone around us will always have access to the part of the brain that is rational.
Moreover, as the brain takes around 25 years to fully develop, anyone under that age will have a different way of experiencing the world, different strengths and abilities based on what parts of the brain have already been constructed, which parts are under construction and which parts are only in the planning stage. Add to this the notion that everyone has had different life experiences – which will also shape the way their brain functions – and hopefully we might give up on any expectations that there is such a thing as normal or normality.
Definition: A damage or disruption to the mind due to an event/series of events, ranging from something upsetting such as having an injury, to being in a car crash, all the way to the extremes of being raped and/or tortured.
Psychologist John Bowlby defines trauma as “knowing what you are not supposed to know and feeling what you are not supposed to feel”.
A component in the trauma’s impact is whether or not an act was perpetrated by a known person – or more specifically, whether it featured a betrayal of trust.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a term given to people who suffer high levels of anxiety due to the re-living of a trauma, which can significantly affect a person’s day-to-day life. Around 30% of trauma victims will develop symptoms of PTSD.
Complex trauma applies to people who have symptoms additional to those of PTSD, such as depersonalisation or dissociation.
Vicarious trauma refers to exposure to someone else’s accounts of trauma or witnessing the pain and suffering of a traumatised individual/group of trauma survivors. VT can affect a person’s personality and outlook on life.
Do any of these descriptions apply to you or to people in your life? Understanding more about the physiological and psychological effects of trauma may help yourself and your relationships – since it is, alas, all too common.
It’s worth remembering that the body’s reactions to trauma or potential trauma are completely unconscious. They’re not something you get to control: they’re automatic, instantaneous. Whether a threat is real or perceived, the body is doing everything it can to protect itself from harm. This is our defence system. This is how, as a species, we have kept ourselves alive and survived for thousands of years.
Our alarm system is largely unchanged from its primitive origins. It’s a biological mechanism that starts in the thalamus in our lower brain, with sensory information that’s constantly being passed at lightning speed to the limbic system where the amygdala is based.
The amygdala is often viewed as the rough and ready part of the brain. It sizes up what’s going on around us, using the data from the senses, and makes quick, no-nonsense decisions based on whether it perceives danger.
The same information from the thalamus is also presented to the nearby hippocampus. This part of the brain is responsible for memories and learning, and for choosing a course of action based on what we did in the past and how well it worked. The hippocampus takes a more considered approach to assessing danger than the amygdala. Together, in synch, the amygdala and the hippocampus handle big life-or-death episodes, as well as the aftermath of such events.
When a potential threat does arise, the information is immediately returned to the hypothalamus (which rests just below the thalamus) and a sudden release of adrenaline and cortisol follows, causing a chain of events that ensure we do one of three things: fight the danger, run away or play dead.
[See next entry for more details]
Just like the brain, there are many aspects to our nervous system. However, the two parts that come into play when the alarm system is ringing are both responsible for the body’s unconscious, automatic actions.
If the flood of stress hormone reaches the sympathetic nervous system, our body is primed to fight the danger or flee from it. This is where certain bodily functions will be restricted, whereas others will become super-charged such as heart rate and breathing, greater vision, muscles tensing, twitching and trembling – all designed to give you every chance of surviving.
Alternatively, if our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, the opposite happens: the message is to reduce our heart and metabolic rate so we can freeze. We may also get an injection of pain-killing hormones, or we may zone out so as not to remember what happened.
If the freeze mechanism isn’t working and the level of threat and danger increases, the nervous system will switch off most of the functions of the body and change the status of the muscles from tense to floppy and yielding. This is the body’s last chance of survival.
Where trauma is concerned, ‘friend’ is about forming a bond with other people in order to survive. This is something we do automatically from birth in the way we cry to get the care we need. Similarly, as we grow up, befriending and forming attachments to people helps to protect us. If we experience fear, we might attempt to communicate with those we fear. We might attempt to appeal to their better nature; we might try to negotiate with them, charm them or calm them down. We might even buy into what they are doing – as in the case of Stockholm Syndrome.
[See the writings of psychotherapist Zoe Lodrick for more information on this subject.]
The vagus nerve runs from the brain and face right down to the abdomen. As it has more than one thread and more than one function, it has been given the name polyvagal.
From the dorsal vagal comes the instruction to slow down or shut down, to freeze up, to immobilise oneself.
From the sympathetic nerve system comes the acute stress response to run away or fight back.
Both of these neural circuits are quite limited. They do not provide a platform for feeling safe and secure and they do not get to reach the higher levels of our brain, which have much more diversity and options available to us.
However, the ventral vagal has an entirely different function, and this forms the main part of this theory. This has the role of making social connections with those around us. This allows us to communicate with others, to form attachments, to be able to regulate ourselves and tap into a whole range of emotions and facial expressions.
If we had good, healthy bonds with our parents or care-givers in our early years, there’s every chance that these neural pathways are available to us and we can learn to soothe ourselves, reduce our heart rate, prevent ourselves from being over-flooded with adrenaline and read the intentions of others.
If we did not have good, heathy bonds, then much of the ventral vagal’s social engagement system will not be available to us. Not unless we learn how to reach out to others. Would you be prepared to learn, knowing how our wellness is tied up with our connections to others?
[This theory was developed by scientist Stephen Porges.]
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) has been described as understanding and communicating in the language of the mind, with a view to allowing people to change their thoughts, perceptions, actions and memories.
We will now share one relatively straightforward NLP technique that’s designed to dissolve unpleasant and unwanted memories. (Ideally this exercise will be facilitated by another person.)
Just because a memory exists in your mind doesn’t mean it’s fixed and unchangeable. There’s nothing to stop you from altering certain aspects of what happened in order to dilute and dissolve the impact. It might help at this point to imagine yourself as being like an editor of a film, where you’re in control of all the sounds, the visuals, the special effects and so much more. You are in control of the final version of whatever you produce.
The initial task in this exercise is to break down and deconstruct the nature of the memory in order to find out what parts of it are the most upsetting.
Is it the visual nature of the event? Is it the sounds that were happening at the time?
Is it a taste in your mouth or a certain smell in your nose? Is distance a factor? How close you were to another person? Or speed? Or temperature? Are there certain colours within the memory that haunt you?
When you have managed to identify the most harrowing aspects of your memory, you can either leave it at that (for the time being), or you can explain to yourself or someone else what it was about that part of the memory that upset you the most. Any more detail that you can provide can then be further explored.
Now is the time to change this part of the memory to something that will not be upsetting, and this is where you get to decide how to alter or modify it.
For example, if you witnessed an accident and you could not get the image of a red coat out of your head, you could make the scene of the accident sepia or monochrome, or make the colours paler or washed out. If it was the sound of a car crashing, you could replace this noise with some music or a different sound that is in no way distressing, such as a heavy shower of rain. Or you could make the sounds go quieter or mute. If you were too close to the event, you could zoom back so that the event now takes place from a distance.
This approach can help to keep the memory from returning and upsetting you, but if it does return, you can always repeat the exercise and maybe revisit different features of the memory that you wish to further change.
There’s an idea that has been floating around since the 1990s, which says that while we would not have chosen to be traumatised, if we’re able to recover from its effects then we are likely to be stronger for having had the experience. Some people who have managed to come out the other side of their distress are found to have
some of the following attributes:
• more appreciation of life
• more self-awareness and understanding of themselves
• more focus and determination
• more human and humane
• more adaptability
• less fear
• greater resilience
• greater vividness
• greater openness and honesty
• enhanced attunement to their senses
• enhanced attunement to interactions with others
• a higher quality of life
Some people become what is known as a ‘wounded healer’: they have suffered, or are still suffering, and wish to help other people as part of a higher calling, as part of reappraisal about what’s important in their life. Many counsellors and people in the caring profession have had instances of trauma and abuse, and are able to demonstrate compassion, sympathy and empathy, which in turn gives their lives more purpose, richness and reward.
Do you have any thoughts on this notion?
Mapping out our internal world
Do you have a visual concept of how your cognitive world meets your emotional world meets your bodily world meets your action-based world meets the world at large?
How might these elements come together in a way that would help you make sense of them? Put another way, could you illustrate aspects of your internal world and demonstrate how they interact with each other as a unique-to-you mapping exercise?
The benefits of doing such an activity might not be evident until you’ve completed the task. However, having created your own landscape it may well be that
any blockages, disruptions or dysfunctions that arise as you journey through life could be examined, explored and solved through the self-knowledge you’ve gained from this exercise.