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Why happiness is good for your health

June 10, 2019
happiness and fitness

Health and happiness go hand in hand. For example, we know that exercise triggers the release of endorphins, that movement can be a great way to discharge strong emotions like anxiety or anger, and that staying fit gives you the energy to manage the demands of your day, thus reducing stress. Conversely, we know that toxic emotions are bad for your body. Chronic stress can compromise your immune functioning, disrupt your hormonal balance and cause physical aches and pains. Mood disorders can disrupt your sleeping patterns, leading to a whole range of potential health risks including heart disease, hypertension and even Alzheimer’s disease.  

The health benefits of happiness stretch far beyond simply neutralising stress or reducing risk factors for disease. Optimistic people actually live longer than their pessimistic peers. This is partly explained by the fact that people with a positive outlook tend to adopt a healthier lifestyle but they also recover faster from illness and injuries suggesting there might actually be physiological benefits that come from having a positive outlook on life.

Similarly, people with a sense of purpose are less likely to show genetic expression of inflammation in the body and people who practice compassion have been shown to have longer telomeres (those are the caps on the end of your DNA strands that shorten with illness and ageing).

It seems that ensuring you get your daily dose of positivity is just what the doctor ordered, so here’s a reminder of some fast ways to adopt a more optimistic outlook and start reaping the health benefits.

1.    Count your blessings

Gratitude is probably the number one way to turn around a low mood and boost your positivity. Whether you do it formally by keeping a gratitude journal or simply acknowledge in your own mind the things and people you appreciate, the benefits of gratitude are immediate and profound. You can take it up a notch by telling people in person or in writing how much you appreciate them.

2.    Savour the good things

‘Savouring’ is a positive psychology practice that involves plumbing all the joy out of a positive experience. The important thing about savouring is that it doesn’t only apply to the joy you might be experiencing in the present moment. You can savour the anticipation of something you’re looking forward to and you can also savour a happy memory. In fact some research has shown that the anticipation of a happy event can have more powerful mood boosting effects than the event itself, so it pays to intentionally focus on the things you are looking forward to (without wishing away the present moment of course!)

3.    Do something for others

Volunteering has been repeatedly shown to boost people’s wellbeing and satisfaction with life. The key is to choose a cause that you feel passionately about and devote an hour or so each week or fortnight. We’re all time poor these days but taking some time out to walk dogs at your local animal rescue or serve meals at a homeless shelter can make a huge difference to your life and the lives of others. Focusing outwardly takes your attention away from your own problems, gives you a sense of perspective and interestingly, it raises your own opinion of yourself. When you do something that reinforces that you are a good person, your sense of self-worth gets a boost. And most importantly, there is real joy to be experienced in witnessing someone else’s joy and appreciation for something you have done.

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What does it mean to be authentic?

June 3, 2019
authenticity

In the past few years, there’s been a lot of focus on the importance of being your true self. Especially in the shiny world of social media, where we are continually bombarded with polished and curated images of people’s lives (and if we’re honest, usually presenting our own highlights reel), it can feel as though authenticity is becoming a scarce commodity.

It’s not just our online lives that are affected by inauthenticity though. Sometimes our attempts to maintain harmony in relationships, to fit in with a social crowd or even to avoid judgement or criticism can lead to us watering down our opinions or making choices that aren’t 100% in line with our values or personal preferences. We might laugh at jokes we don’t find all that funny, go along with plans we’re not all that excited about or pretend we’re fine when we’re really not.

What does it really mean to be authentic though? We all have social roles we perform and so we can tend to slip in and out of character depending on the circumstances we’re in. When does this social role-playing turn into being ‘inauthentic’? Is it actually possible (or desirable) to be fully and completely yourself whether you’re at home with your kids, in a board meeting at work or socialising with acquaintances?

I think, while there will always be times we need to prioritise tact and diplomacy over brutal honesty, there are a few guideposts we can all use to help steer us towards being more authentic more of the time.

1.  Start with self-acceptance

Pretending to be something you’re not usually stems from a belief that people wouldn’t like, accept or approve of you if you were really honest about who you are. When you accept yourself and (this is important) when you know deeply that you are a quality human even if your life isn’t perfect, your opinions aren’t popular or someone else judges or criticises you, then you are free to really be yourself. We get stuck in posturing, pretending and people-pleasing when we rely too heavily on other people’s approval for our sense of worthiness. Until you’ve truly learned to like and approve of yourself, you’ll probably struggle with being genuinely authentic.

2. Stay true to your values

Your values are the things in life you hold as most important to you and the principles you stand by. Honesty, respect, or equality are all examples of values you can express in every area of your life – personally and professionally. Authenticity means not compromising on those principles, and making decisions every day that align with your  values, regardless of the context or the circumstances in which you find yourself. The good news is that knowing what matters most to you helps with the liking yourself part. The more clear you are about who you are and what you stand for, the stronger your sense of self-worth.

3. Honour your own needs.

If you regularly subjugate your own needs to accommodate others, defer to other people’s opinions or go along with plans when you’d rather not, aim to be more assertive in expressing your opinion and stating your needs. You might think it doesn’t matter, but in the vast majority of cases (that is, unless you’re hanging out with a narcissist), the people you’re with actually want to know your opinion and prefer you to tell them your preference. We all like to know where we stand and not have to guess at someone else’s position. If that feels uncomfortable perhaps due to bad experiences you’ve had in the past, start small.

If someone asks what you’d like to do, rather than falling back on the old, “I’m easy. Whatever you want is fine with me”, think about what you would really like to do and tell them! If doesn’t mean be uncompromising, it just means being prepared to put your preference out there for consideration along with all the others. And if it occurs to you that you don’t actually know what your own needs and preferences are, then that’s a good sign you could do with spending some time reconnecting with what matters to you. You may have become so adept at burying your needs to keep harmony with others that you need to dig deep and undo that damage.

4.     Have honest conversations

Having difficult conversations is not something that comes easily to most of us and being authentic means owning up to what you really feel. We often err on the side of protecting someone’s feelings or avoiding awkward topics completely. At work, it’s easy to go along with majority opinion and in relationships we can stay quiet under the guise of ‘keeping the peace’. It’s also much more comfortable to maintain superficial banter than to discuss topics with a bit more emotional depth. Striving to tell the truth even when it feels uncomfortable or to have the courage to discuss the issues that matter to you is the way to build trust.

I’m not talking about being brutally honest or sacrificing tact or diplomacy in the name of truth-telling. But at the end of the day, authenticity is a prerequisite for trust. Trusting yourself to do what’s right for you and being a trustworthy person in the eyes of others so that you have a chance of creating deeper, lasting and genuine connections.

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Read next article: Why happiness is good for your health?

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Ditch the mummy guilt for good

May 27, 2019
Ditching the mummy guilt for good

Any mother knows that parenthood brings countless blessings but also a seemingly unending list of reasons to feel like you’re not measuring up. The guilt often begins pre-conception if you are actively trying to conceive (“Did having that glass of wine reduce my fertility this month?”) and continues throughout pregnancy (“Is my stress affecting the baby’s development?”)

The minute your baby arrives in the world, the full power of mother guilt is unleashed as you second-guess every decision you make:  Breast or bottle; cot or co-sleeping; cloth nappies or disposable? Tummy time, screen time, play time, music time, when to start solids, should fruit or veges be first, jar food or home-made, and is it organic? Every stage of development creates new opportunities to question yourself and your choices, and I’m not sure when, or if it ever ends.

(I’d like to throw in a disclaimer here that parent guilt is not exclusively the domain of mothers, with one online survey finding that 1 in 5 fathers experience some kind of dad guilt, but this blog is for the women who frequently ask me to help them overcome their mother guilt.)

It’s mothers who are most commonly the primary caregiver in the early months and years, and therefore we are the ones most attuned to our children’s needs and their strongest attachment figure. Handing over their care to another person – be it family, friends or your local daycare centre – can be a momentous and angst-ridden decision. (Cue that mother guilt!) When you return to work or study, every moment with your child becomes more precious, and many mothers find themselves forgoing any kind of leisure time, in order to be available to them. Most of us are more than willing to do what it takes to be there for our kids, but there comes a point when your angst about your parenting choices and your willingness to sacrifice your own needs becomes counterproductive to both yourself and your child.

Today I want to give you three reasons why prioritising your own self-care is one of the best things you can do for your kids and why you need to ditch the guilt for good:

1.    More is not better

Research has found that the amount of time mothers spend with young children has no correlation to those children’s academic achievement, behaviour or emotional wellbeing. Quality time, on the other hand, i.e., time spent reading, teaching or engaging in activities or sports is correlated with positive outcomes. Child-care providers, family and/or friends, however, can perform those structured activities, so it’s ok for mums to be let off the hook occasionally! Note that the more time mums (and parents generally) spend with kids during adolescence actually does have positive benefits, but for kids up to the age of 11, you can drop the guilt if you’re not with your kids 24/7.

2.    You can’t pour from an empty cup

What we do know for sure is that high levels of maternal distress are linked with negative outcomes for children. If the sacrifices you are making for your kids are leaving you depleted, depressed or resentful, this can impact your ability to parent well. It’s essential that you take time to attend to your own physical, social and emotional needs and do the things that fulfil you in order to be the best parent for your children.

I would add as an aside, that you teach your children by what you model to them so it can pay to ask yourself if you would like your children (especially daughters) to heed the message that their own self care should go out the window when they grow up and become parents themselves.

3.    Good Enough Parenting

Donald Winnicott was a paediatrician and psychoanalyst in the 1940s and ‘50s who famously coined the term ‘good enough mother’ to describe an approach to parenting that allows children to develop independence and resilience. Good enough parenting, according to Winnicott, requires being available and attuned to your child’s needs 30% of the time. You read that right – 30%. So the next time you feel guilty for your lack of perfect parenting – remember that ‘good enough’ is all your children need to grow up healthy, safe and happy.

Now, how about calling the babysitter and taking yourself out to a movie?

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How to break your phone habit

May 20, 2019
phone habit

In Australia, 84% of people over 14yrs old own a smart phone and according to some surveys, we spend an average of three hours each day using our phone (many more hours are spent on other internet-connected devices such as computers). As adults, we despair about the effect of screen time and social media on our kids, but you know what they say – change has to start at the top – and when we (the grown ups) are hooked on our phones, we’re not really modelling the kind of behaviour we expect of our kids.

Putting down your phone gives you a better chance of having more connected conversations and is good for your physical and mental health, but it can be easier said than done when so much of our everyday lives is managed within these tiny devices. If you know it’s time to set some limits on your phone use – as an individual or as a family – you might want to try some of these suggestions to help you break your phone habit:

1. Monitor screen time

Many smart phones now have a ‘screen time’ function built in and it can be pretty confronting to see just how much of your life is being spent on your device. If your phone doesn’t have it built in, there are plenty of apps you can download to monitor your phone use. You might be shocked by what you see and sometimes that can be enough to jolt you into making a change. What it will also give you is a breakdown of where you are spending most of your time and that can help you formulate a strategy for cutting back.

2. Audit your apps

We tend to talk about ‘screen time’ as an all-encompassing activity but there are many different kinds of activities you can be doing with the assistance of your smart phone. Fitness apps and trackers are housed in our phones, as are meditation apps, budgeting planners, calendars and mood diaries. A lot of these serve a useful function in supporting our health and wellbeing. The kind of screen-time that can become compulsive and begin to compromise our health and wellbeing are social media and messaging apps, games and even email. Before you ban your phone altogether, you might want to do a review of what’s working and what’s not. Decide specifically which apps need firmer limits.

3. Remove the problem

When you know which particular apps are the biggest time wasters, whether it’s a game you’re addicted to, watching cat videos on YouTube or scrolling Instagram or Facebook, try removing the app from your phone for a while. It’s not to say you can’t still access those things on a computer, but it does mean you’re not going to be tempted to hit that icon on your phone every time you find yourself with a spare few minutes. Removing the temptation by uninstalling the app will help you break the habit faster.

4. Turn off notifications

The thing that most often sucks us into looking at our phones is seeing a notification come up as a banner on your screen (even when you’re not using it!) or hearing the ping of an alert or notification. You are much more likely to be successful in defining your own limits and checking your phone at times that suit you if you deactivate all those notifications, alerts and alarms. Take back the power to choose when you want to look at your device rather than have it continually demanding your attention.

5. Set phone free times (and places)

It’s really important to allocate some time during the day and the week as phone-free – both as an individual and, I would suggest, as a family. It might be no devices during dinner or before 7.30am in the morning. By making this a family rule, you are all more likely to hold each other accountable. You might also make the rule that phones are not to be used in bedrooms so no-one is tempted to pick up their device and start scrolling first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Decide on what’s reasonable and enforce it strictly.

Good luck. And remember H. Jackson Brown Jr’s sage advice from his Life’s Little Instruction Book (advice he proffered long before the invention of smart phones, I might add), “Don’t allow the phone to interrupt important moments. It’s there for your convenience, not the caller’s”.

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Calling time on Wine O’Clock. How to break the alcohol habit.

May 13, 2019
two friends drinking in habit

As much as we normalise regular drinking and it is very much an accepted part of our Aussie culture, when alcohol consumption becomes very habitual, it can get in the way of your fitness goals (or any other goals) and compromise your health.  Typically, the more you drink the more you drink, meaning that your tolerance for alcohol increases with repeated use and you find you need to drink more to achieve the same effect. You might have noticed that your ‘Friday drinks’ have moved up on the calendar to Wednesday night or your one glass has turned into three or four. Typically, the longer you keep up the habit, the more you’ll be frustrated by your apparent inability to stop as alcohol starts feeling more and more necessary in your life. If you’re frustrated with alcohol getting in the way of your ability to lose weight or you’re concerned that alcohol is becoming more a necessity than a luxury for you, there are lots of things you can do to kick the habit or cut back.

1.    Set a goal

The important thing is to decide what kind of drinker you want to be. If you’re drinking daily, you might want to cut back to only drinking on weekends. If you drink on weekends, you might want to limit yourself to two drinks rather than finishing the whole bottle of wine. You may decide you want to stop drinking completely. Decide now on a goal even if it’s for 30 days or 90 days. If you’re concerned about your health, perhaps take yourself to the GP for blood and liver function tests so that you can go back and review your health improvements after a break from alcohol.

2.    Know your triggers

Like any habit, there will be clear triggers that signify to you that it’s time for a drink. The trigger can be the time of day, day of week, another part of your normal routine (such as coming home from work) or certain people or places. The whole point of habits is that they bypass conscious thought so you don’t have to think about them. Knowing your alcohol ‘cues’ helps you to turn off autopilot and become more conscious of what you’re doing.

3.    Understand the role of dopamine

All of your alcohol cues trigger the release of dopamine in your brain as it begins anticipating the reward of alcohol. People often don’t realise that dopamine is not just a reward chemical released after you’ve had a drink, it is a powerful motivating force towards your reward so it will kick in with only the thought of alcohol before you’ve gone anywhere near a drink. When you notice cravings, recognise dopamine is at work – it’s just a chemical process in your brain, nothing more.

4.    Practise mindfulness (urge surfing)

There is a practise in mindfulness called ‘surfing the urge’ which is a highly effective way to manage those cravings when they arise. A craving is no more than a bunch of thoughts in your head and sensations in your body. Most people go to battle in their head and cravings ‘win’ so instead you should work on being curious about the sensations in your body, breathing into them, allowing them and watching them pass. Most cravings will arise and fall away within 20 minutes if you drop the struggle and breathe through them. Google ‘urge surfing’ for more on that.

5.  Find alternatives

When you know what primary function alcohol is serving in your life, you can come up with alternative activities to meet that need. If it’s stress relief, you might try having a hot shower, meditation, reading a book, listening to music or getting outside and playing with your dog. If alcohol is the centre of your social world, you might find other ways to connect with people like going for a walk or meeting for coffee.

6. Get inspired

Loads of books have been written by women who have successfully given up alcohol. One that many people credit for fundamentally changing the way they think about alcohol is ‘This Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace. Reading about other people’s experiences can inspire you to keep on track and remind you of the reasons why you’re doing it.

7. Don’t stress about slip-ups

When trying to change a habit, most people slip up many, many times. The most important thing is to not see it as a failure or that you’re weak or that the whole thing is hopeless. Remember that if alcohol is the tool you use to manage uncomfortable feelings, then making yourself feel bad is only going to drive you straight to alcohol. Every slip up is an opportunity to learn if you are open and kind to yourself and willing to get back on track.

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When does binge eating become a problem?

May 6, 2019
too much eating sweets

Sometimes no matter how much you try to convince yourself to put the Tim Tams back in the pantry, you just can’t help having another one.. and another and another. Overindulging in some delicious temptation is very human and while you probably want to curb the compulsive overeating, the occasional blowout won’t necessarily do a whole lot of harm. For some people though, those blowouts are all too frequent. If you feel out of control around food and are regularly eating a lot more food than is necessary or healthy, it can be every bit as harmful to your emotional and psychological wellbeing as your physical health.

For some people, it’s hard to know what falls into the category of normal ‘emotional eating’ or even mindless snacking and what would be considered a problem worth getting professional help to address. There are some clear guidelines about what a mental health professional would consider to be a binge eating disorder and they are outlined as follows:

Binge eating has two main components to it:

1. It involves eating a very large amount of food (far more than what would be considered a normal amount for a regular person) in a relatively short space of time (e.g., within two hours);

2. You experience a feeling of being out of control while eating. Perhaps you feel like you can’t stop eating or even that you ‘zone out’ and you’re not really present while you’re eating.

Some of the other criteria that signify that binge eating is potentially a clinical problem include the following (you don’t need to tick every box):

  • Eating much more quickly than normal
  • Eating until you feel uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when you’re not hungry
  • Eating alone because you feel embarrassed or ashamed
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty afterwards

In psychology, something becomes a ‘disorder’ when it occurs repeatedly over a period of time. In the case of binge eating, if this is happening at least once a week (on average) and has been going on for three months or more that would meet the clinical definition of a Binge Eating Disorder. Binge Eating is different from Bulimia Nervosa because there is no ‘compensatory’ behaviour such as vomiting, excessive exercising or taking laxatives.

What to do about it

You really don’t need to wait until the situation is completely out of hand before you get some advice from a professional about what you might be able to do differently. Usually the problem has nothing to do with food and is more about how you deal with difficult feelings, so any help you can get to learn more effective coping strategies is going to be helpful. Here are some things you might like to do to start with.

1. Keep a food diary

By tracking what you eat and when you eat it, what you were feeling before and after you binged, you start to get an insight into your triggers and patterns. You might be able to use this information to make changes to your routine or if you see a professional, the information will give you a really good starting point for unpacking the problem and dealing with it.

2. Eat more mindfully

When you’re mindful, you make a conscious choice to bring yourself fully into the present moment and pay attention to what you’re feeling in your mind and body. This is challenging if you’re used to stuffing down your feelings with food. By slowing down and being present with yourself and your feelings, you give yourself a chance to make a different choice in that moment. Even if you don’t stop yourself from compulsively reaching for food, you might stop eating sooner than you normally would and this is good progress when it comes to changing patterns.

3. Don’t be so hard on yourself

Most people get very down on themselves for overeating. If you use food as a way of coping with difficult feelings, and then you make yourself feel terrible by piling on the shame and self-criticism you’re only going to drive yourself back to overeating and so the cycle continues. What you need most is not self-criticism but self-compassion. Remind yourself that everyone struggles with something and that you’re worthy of love and support.

Ultimately, if you recognise that you have a problem with binge eating, I highly recommend you seek support from a kind and qualified professional who can help you identify your specific patterns and triggers and develop specific strategies to start breaking the cycle. Remember you aren’t alone and there are people who are very willing and able to help if you reach out to them for support.

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How to Find your Missing Mojo

April 29, 2019
Finding your missing DOJO

Sometimes life feels a lot like Groundhog Day. Day after day and week after week, you go through the same old motions, eat the same food, shop at the same place and watch the same TV shows. Maybe the spark has gone out of your relationship or work isn’t very challenging or meaningful. Perhaps being home with kids leaves you wanting for some adult conversation and intellectual stimulation.

When life gets a little monotonous, it can easily feel like it’s you who is uninteresting with nothing much to offer the world. Being stuck in a rut drains your energy and puts a big wet blanket on your mood.

So how do you find your missing mojo? As tempting as it may be to run away and start a whole new life, that is usually not practical, nor is it required. There are some things you can do to start livening things up a little and the good news is they don’t require you to trade in your current life for a whole new one:

1.    Change something in your environment

When the scenery never changes, we tend to tune out, which means we stop appreciating the things we see and do regularly. Our brains respond favourably to anything new and novel. Re-arrange the furniture, paint a feature wall or splash some new accessories around the place. By introducing something new to your world, you wake your brain up so it starts noticing things again, which can be a little bit like seeing the world with new eyes. This can help you start to see the possibilities in other areas of your life.

2.    Do one new thing

When life is all a bit same-old, it’s a great idea to engage in something different, fun or challenging. It might be trying a new gym class that you’ve previously avoided, going to a new restaurant or enrolling in a ceramics or art class. Mix things up and give yourself the opportunity to do something you’ve never done before. What’s even better is making a commitment to trying something new on a regular basis and if you can get a friend or your partner on board to share the experience, that’s even better.

3.    Meet new people

The world is full of people looking to meet other people. Joining a club or a meet up group (or perhaps a kids group if you’re a parent) might be a huge stretch out of your comfort zone but when your ‘comfort’ zone is actually very uncomfortable, stifling and restrictive, it might be just the thing you need to add some new personalities into your social mix.

4.    Look for possibilities

When you’re stuck in a rut, your mind tends to be very closed, seeing only what is in your immediate surroundings and circumstances. Hop online and start scanning the job ads, online courses, holiday destinations, volunteering opportunities or houses for sale or rent. Open your mind to the possibilities that exist in the world.

5.    Think bigger

Sometimes the only limitations that exist are the limitations in our minds. What are you telling yourself is not possible? Want to sell up and move to Bali? Want to leave the city and move to the ocean or the country? What is actually stopping you? So many people stay stuck in situations they find unfulfilling because they tell themselves there’s no alternative while meanwhile, many other people are doing that exact thing, every single day. They say you only regret the things you don’t do.

And if, after you’ve given serious thought to selling up and moving to Bali you decide it’s out of the question, maybe joining a meet up group or taking a salsa class doesn’t seem so hard after all.

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Down but not out: recognising and dealing with depression

April 22, 2019
girl dealing with depression

Everyone has good days and bad days. Some days you might feel flat or sad or lacking in motivation for no real reason (or perhaps, at times, with very good reason). These ups and downs are normal and part of the whole human experience. As lovely as it would be to feel happy all the time, that’s simply not a realistic expectation. For some people though, those low moods can become so frequent and intense that it affects their quality of life and the ability to function normally. As many as one million Australian adults will experience depression in any given year and almost half the population will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime (depression, anxiety and substance use disorder being the most common, and often overlapping, conditions).

Depression is serious but many people suffering from depression (or other mood disorders) never access professional help. Sometimes that’s because of the stigma associated with mental illness but it can also be because people don’t realise that what they are experiencing is no longer within the range of ‘normal’ fluctuations in mood. Especially if you’ve been suffering with mood disturbances for a long time, it can be easy to settle into living with a low mood, low energy and motivation and lose sight of the possibility that there could be a happier and more fulfilling way to live.

Symptoms of depression can look and feel different for different people. Many people associate it with crying and feeling sad but for some people it’s more a case of losing interest in things that you used to enjoy doing, struggling with energy and motivation, withdrawing socially, neglecting responsibilities like work (calling in sick), school assignments, housework or parenting, and feeling hopeless or worthless. Depression can also affect sleeping and eating habits but many people fail to register changes in biological functions as being related to a mood disorder.

There are lots of self-care strategies you can try for yourself that are proven to help alleviate the symptoms of depression, until you’re able to talk to a professional. Some proven effective strategies include:

1.    Exercise

Studies have shown that 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 5 days per week can be as effective as anti-depressant medication in reducing depressive symptoms for people with mild to moderate levels of depression. Remember though – lack of motivation is a symptom of depression so as best as you can, don’t wait until you feel like it – treat it like a prescription and just do it.

2.    Talking to someone

Talking to a professional is ideal but it’s also important to stay socially connected. Depression is often characterised by social withdrawal and isolation. You might feel like you wouldn’t be good company or perhaps it’s that lack of energy and motivation that keeps you from reaching out and engaging with others. Again, the key is to ignore the voice that tells you otherwise and make yourself available for connected conversations.

3.    Finding pleasure

It’s important to do something every day that makes you feel good. Things like having a warm bath, watching a movie, playing with your dog or putting your favourite music on can help turn your mood around long enough that you feel encouraged to do something else like phone a friend or go out for a walk. Taking small steps to turn a downward spiralling mood into an upward spiral will help you get there faster.

4. Check your self-talk

Negative, self-critical, problem focused thinking is characteristic of depression. The problem is that most of us tend to over-identify with the thoughts in our head, which is to say rather than seeing them for what they are, which is just a bunch of random ideas floating across your mind – we believe them to be true. It may come as a surprise to you but guess what – thoughts aren’t facts. Learning to see your thoughts for what they are and not believe everything your mind tells you is a key step in getting out of the negative loop of depression.

5. Get something done

You can slow down the negative spiral of low energy, low motivation, do nothing, feel guilty, get more depressed etc. by doing something that gives you a small sense of achievement. It could be something like putting away your clothes or washing the dishes. We’re not talking about writing your novel or spring-cleaning your whole house here! When you’re feeling down, everything can feel overwhelming and you don’t know where to start. Just doing one small thing can give you a sense of satisfaction and a little hit of dopamine to start moving that spiral in a more upwards direction.

Of course, the first step if you think you might be depressed is always to see your GP who can refer you to a psychologist or other mental health professional. There are so many great treatment options out there and you don’t have to suffer alone.

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How to get over a break up

April 15, 2019
man-and-woman moving on from breakup

When a relationship ends, it’s bound to be painful regardless of who made the decision to end it. If the break-up comes out of left-field, there’s often shock and grief, confusion and fear – especially if there are children and property involved. It’s hard to know where to start in dealing with the aftermath. Should you be calling a counsellor, a lawyer or your best friend? In a time of crisis, it’s wise to take one day at a time, allow yourself time to heal and ideally to manage your own emotions in a way that doesn’t cause harm to others.

In other words,  resist the urge to do things in the heat of the moment that you might regret later. Below are some suggestions that might help you navigate that difficult time right after a relationship ends.

1.    Give it time

In those first wobbly days and weeks after a relationship ends, emotions are jagged and raw and everything is uncertain. At this time, patience is key. Try not to push for definitive answers, final decisions or legal papers. Take some time out for your own self-care and allow time for the dust to settle. It can be helpful to familiarise yourself with the neutral zone, which is what psychologist William Bridges calls that vast no-man’s land that exists between an ending and a new beginning.

2.    Feel your feelings

It’s important and healthy to process your painful emotions. You might call on your best friend, your mum or a therapist. There is likely to be a period of mourning what you’ve lost even if you weren’t altogether happy in the relationship. In fact, even if you’re the one who ended it, you’re entitled to feel sad about what you’ve lost. Try not to dumb your feelings with alcohol or drugs. It might feel like a great option in the short term but ultimately those feelings are still going to be there in the morning.

3.    Remember the good times

After a break-up, it’s tempting to paint your ex in a negative light as a way of buffering your sad feelings. After all, it’s much easier to hate someone than to love them when you can’t be with them. This is unfair to both of you and doesn’t honour the good times you shared, regardless of how it ended. Speaking badly about your ex ultimately reflects badly on you and focusing on the pain they caused you only prolongs your suffering. As best as you can, rise about the temptation to trash talk them, especially if there are children involved.

4.    Beware the rebound relationship

Getting involved with someone else too quickly is a recipe for disaster. It’s unlikely to end well and is unfair to the person you’re using to make you feel better. A one-night stand might seem like the perfect way to make you feel good about yourself again but it’s more likely to have the opposite effect so do try to seek solace in platonic relationships and give yourself some space from romantic encounters right now. If you realise that you’ve never been alone before, this is a perfect opportunity to learn how to live independently and get to know who you are outside of a relationship.

5.    Be kind to yourself

Breaking up can be a blow to your self-esteem so it’s important to remember that just because a relationship didn’t work out, it’s not because you are not loveable or worthy. Remember your best qualities and hang out with people who appreciate everything you have to offer. Use the opportunity to spend time nurturing yourself, developing your own interests and remembering who you are and what makes you fabulous so that when the next relationship comes along, you’ll be healed and whole, confident and ready to jump back into the dating game.

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5 tips for getting your needs met in a relationship

April 8, 2019
boy and girl talking

We all have a need for connection, intimacy and emotional support. It’s the reason we are driven to create and maintain relationships with friends and partners, but just as relationships can be our greatest joy, they can also cause us the most pain. How often have you felt let down by someone in your life because they seem unwilling or unable to give you what you need?

It might be your partner jumping in with “helpful” solutions to your problem when all you want is someone to listen. It could be a friend who invites an extra person along on your coffee date when you were really looking forward to some one-on-one time, or someone who barely lets you have a moment to share your issues before changing the topic of conversation to focus on themselves.

If you find yourself getting frustrated or feeling resentful towards people, it’s often because your emotional needs aren’t being met. When you try to pinpoint what the problem is, you can readily identify the behaviour you don’t like. The problem is that focusing on someone’s behaviour doesn’t usually adequately express the real issue. People are very quick to defend their actions because they don’t actually understand what the real problem is. Communicating your emotional needs requires a level of vulnerability which we often avoid.

It’s important to remember that no-one is a mind reader and the only person responsible for ensuring you get your needs met (or for ending a relationship if they’re not being met) is you. When you harbour resentments, it can drive a wedge between you and the people you care about and the problem is unlikely to go away if you ignore it.

If you’re having difficulties in a relationship, here are some tips for helping you communicate more effectively:

1. Name the need

Here’s the tricky thing. For you to ask for what you need, you actually need to look within and work out what it is. If you’re feeling annoyed, irritated or offended by someone’s behaviour, it’s helpful to look beyond their actions to what those actions actually represent to you. You might think what you really need is for your partner to phone if they’re going to be late or for your friend to be on time for once. But what is the emotional need that you feel is not being met? Is it empathy, respect, encouragement, warmth, support, understanding or simply reassurance that you matter to the other person?

2. Take responsibility

Remember that while something may be very obvious to you, most of us are preoccupied with our concerns so it’s not fair to assume that anyone else will automatically know what you need from them in any given moment. It also pays to remember that we frequently make meaning of events, and sometimes those interpretations are way off base. For example, if your partner forgets your anniversary and you make it mean he/she doesn’t value you or the relationship, that’s a story you’re telling yourself that isn’t necessarily the truth. Getting your needs met means taking full responsibility for your own emotional wellbeing. In other words, we need to fact check our stories and speak up about what we’re thinking and feeling.

3. Drop your defenses

As a general rule, the people in your life aren’t out to deliberately upset you even if they’re a little self-centred or thoughtless. Most times if someone cares for you, they will happily meet your needs if they know how to (note: some people’s own personal history makes it more difficult for them to give you what you need). When you feel hurt by someone and your self-protective defence is to put walls up or go on the attack, you close the door on effective communication. It’s hard to be vulnerable, especially if you’ve been hurt before but if the relationship matters to you, then being willing to open up is the best way to ensure it’s satisfying and mutually supportive.

4. Communicate to connect

When you open up and tell someone what you’re feeling, it’s important to express yourself in a way that encourages connection, not conflict. You can do this by being clear that you aren’t blaming the other person for your feelings (see point 2!) and by expressing appreciation for the person. Be mindful of any tendency to be harsh and critical, or of making sweeping generalisations. Stay focused as much as possible on the facts, stick to the present issue (not dragging up every transgression that’s occurred in the last five years) and keep your intention and your focus on the importance of the relationship. As the old saying goes, being kind is more important than being right.

5. Be calm and clear

Try to be as specific as possible about what you need and what the other person can do in that moment. For example, you might say, “I appreciate that you really want to help me solve this, but I think I just need you to listen and I’m sure I’ll come to my own solution.” If you have a friend who continually moves the topic of conversation to her own issues, you might say, “I know you have some things going on in your life too but I wonder if you could give me your support to  work this out and then I’ll happily give you my full attention.”

You might need to practice if you’re not used to asking for what you need in a relationship but the more you do it, the easier it will become. Most of us would rather have a difficult conversation than lose an important person but it might take you to be the one to take that first step. And when you’ve done all you can do, if it’s apparent that you’re unlikely to get what you need from a relationship, then sometimes you need to make the decision to move on and put your energy into a relationship.

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