In the last few weeks in France I have been coming across more cases of people who are isolated, either as individuals, or as couples who rely totally upon each other and rarely get out into the world. When you don’t speak the local language fluently it is all too easy to stay in your own little bubble. In general, our society is increasingly an isolating experience with more young people leaving home to live a single life, marrying later or becoming elderly and living apart from family. Many of us rely on social media and the internet to fill the void of real interaction, which can leave us vulnerable for a number of reasons.
The important thing to understand is that humans are pack animals. Our brains are hardwired for social interaction and living in a close community. Early humans did not live alone, they stayed in groups and worked together to hunt, make shelter, raise children and provide protection and support for each other.
Even though we have evolved in many ways since then, research confirms that being isolated and feeling alone is not good for our health. Lack of emotional support and regular interaction with others has been shown to increase anxiety while gradually decreasing our ability to cope. When we are alone too much our level of stress hormones increases, which can lead to a poor quality of sleep and a compromised immune system. In elderly people, isolation also leads to cognitive decline, as monotonous lack of stimulation day in and day out can cause people to turn their attention inwards far too much. There is a good reason why solitary confinement is considered a cruel and unusual form of punishment in prisons!
The evidence is clear that connection with other people is essential to health and those connections need to be meaningful and with a variety of people who challenge and support us in different ways. Whether you are in rural France or a big city in the U.K., it is vital to avoid prolonged periods of isolation. Seek out more social contacts, get to know your neighbours, learn the local language, find voluntary work, take an evening class, start a book club or a new hobby, talk to your spouse about how you can get out more as a couple and as individuals … in short find ways to build relationships and reduce seclusion, and take care of your mental health.
If you are feeling stuck in your life, counselling can help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you. Please contact me via the Contact page to discuss whether counselling is right for you.
In my regular blog section on English Informer in France, I was recently asked to talk about Eating Disorders, what they are and how to recognize when a person's eating is becoming a cause for concern.
We hear a lot about eating disorders in young women and the role of the media in portraying unhealthy images that people struggle to obtain, but the reality is that eating disorders are a complex mental health issue.
There are three types of commonly recognized eating disorder and these are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Anorexia is a voluntary starvation where a person dramatically reduces their food intake to become underweight. Symptoms of anorexia include:
With Bulimia there are periods of food restriction, interspersed with binge eating and then often attempts to compensate by purging. People with bulimia may not appear to alter their weight drastically, or they may gain some weight, but the symptoms can be as severe as those of anorexia:
In the final category of Binge Eating, there is overeating without attempts to compensate, and so the person tends to become extremely overweight. Symptoms of binge eating include:
So why do these disorders occur? It is important to note that eating disorders are complex; they may start out as an attempt to control your food intake, but at some point, it all spirals out of control and becomes the focus of your life. Eating disorders typically affect younger women, but in more recent years, men have also become more concerned about their body image, and dissatisfaction rates have risen alongside the increase in media images of scantily clad men with abnormally lean and muscular physiques. It is also important to remember that men often don’t have the same levels of emotional support as women, and so may seek solace in food or in over-working at the gym to find something in their lives they can control.
Treatment for eating disorders usually includes individual, group and family therapy, possibly with some medications prescribed to help symptoms such as depression or obsessive thinking. In general, the goals of therapy are:
Treatment for eating disorders is often long-term and can occasionally require in-patient care for more advanced cases. It is important to note that eating disorders can be extremely dangerous, even life threatening, and they are notoriously hard to treat once they become entrenched. Physical complications from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating can include heart problems, kidney failure and death. It is vital therefore, that people with disordered eating seek treatment as soon as possible.
If you think this topic applies to you or someone in your life, counselling can be an important step in starting to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you, so please call, text or fill out the contact sheet on this site.
This week I answer a reader's question about her feelings of betrayal:
Dear Dr Jules
I wonder if you can help? I feel I have been betrayed most of my life, personally by more than one partner including my husband, and now also professionally. I trusted some work colleagues who have both let me down. I have got to the point where I just feel like shutting down my business because of it.
Betrayal is something that happens to all of us at some point, but it’s a tough lesson to face as at the root of all betrayal is a violation of your trust, and that hurts.
Regardless of whether it’s a romantic partner who leaves you unexpectedly, a friend who spreads vicious gossip about you, or a business deal where you get ripped off financially, the root of all of them is the fact that you gave your trust to those who were not worthy of it, and you are left feeling that you have no control over the situation. This can affect your self-esteem as well, as you can start to wonder if the people who have betrayed you ever valued you in the first place.
So what can you do to start feeling better after a betrayal? While we can’t change the situation and what has happened to us, we can change how we see it, so here are some tips to help you:
1. Start by asking yourself if these people were worthy of your trust, and how much should your sense of yourself depend on their actions? Reflect on this for the future as well, so that you choose the people you share your trust with wisely.
2. Keep good boundaries and do not allow a climate for betrayal to form. Be clear about your expectations from people and be open with your communication to them so they know where they stand and don’t have the opportunity to behave in ways that you would find unacceptable.
3. Don’t fixate on the past or dwell on how you were wronged and what might have been – channel your thoughts to the present and future and how you want things to be from now on. The anger can only fester in you if you let it, and that will cause you pain and hold you back. Retaliation can seem sweet in the moment, but you might be surprised how much of your time and energy you are devoting to fantasizing about your revenge, and sadly that is only detracting from time you could be spending on doing something positive for you or people who deserve it.
4. Let go by writing your thoughts about the betrayals down on paper and then flush it away in the toilet or burn it.
5. Build trust in yourself and your choices, and let go of people who you find untrustworthy, then put your energy into people who you know won’t let you down.
Ultimately, you can learn to see betrayal as a fork in the road where one direction leads to bitterness while the other leads to opportunity. Be kind to yourself and your pain, and in time you will move forward with your plans again.
If this topic resonates with you and you think I might be able to help you through Counselling, please get in contact. I offer a free twenty minute chat so we can decide if counselling with me is right for you.