Understanding Depression (Part 1)
Depression affects most of us at some time, either personally or indirectly with people we are close to. It affects people regardless of their age, occupation or level of income.
Although depression is so common, people are often confused about what it is. It isn’t sadness such as we feel if a pet dies, as many people struggling with depression can feel numb, angry, agitated or anxious, but sadness is not usually what predominates.
Depression is a state of shutdown. It is also a shift in our emotional state, where we experience a significant increase in negative emotions, such as anger, irritability, despair and a down shift in our positive emotions, such as pleasure, curiosity and happiness.
Depression also causes people to feel fatigue, difficulty concentrating, problems sleeping and altered appetites for things like food and sex. In terms of thinking, depressed people tend to focus on things that have not worked in the past, rather than being able to see into the future where there are hope and possibilities. If the pain of depression and feeling trapped inside yourself is too great, then sometimes self-harm or suicide feels like the only way out.
Unfortunately, the paradox of depression is that it makes us want to do the very last thing we should do, which is isolate ourselves. We just want to hide in our cave, but if we retreat there then we are alone with no place to go. In effect, we just feed the beast that is depression and make it bigger and ever more overwhelming.
Although being in a state of depression might feel helpless, once we begin to understand the nature of this beast, then we have some tools to fight it. Certainly, the situation is not hopeless, even though it can sometimes feel that way.
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you.
Lately I have seen a number of couples I know facing mental health challenges in one partner. Mental health is often still a stigma and many people may prefer to overlook changes in their loved one for as long as possible. Mental health, however, is as important as physical health, and we should work to maintain it, and get it attended to by a relevant professional as soon as possible when there are signs that something isn’t right. Early intervention can help to reduce the severity of an illness, or perhaps stop it developing altogether.
The impact on the couple relationship of one partner with mental illness can be extremely stressful, sometimes leading to the breakdown of the relationship. Considering this, learning about some warning signs of mental illness can help you to act sooner rather than later. Here are some things to look for:
If you have any concerns, contact your GP in the first instance to discuss the symptoms, and what steps should be taken in terms of assessment and possible treatment. There may be physical health problems with similar symptoms that need to be explored. If psychological treatment is necessary, then you should also discuss couples counselling as an adjunct therapy. Working with an experienced counsellor can help you to repair any damage caused by the symptoms, as well as adjust to the changing demands of your partner’s health.
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you. Feel free to contact me via the Contact page on this website.
This article was also published here: https://www.theenglishinformer.com/article_detail/Mental-health-is-as-important-as-physical-healthwww.theenglishinformer.com/article_detail/Mental-health-is-as-important-as-physical-health
As the weather starts to warm up and the days become longer, I feel my darker mood of winter lifting. This is, however, one of the busiest times of year for me in terms of seeing clients. It is also the time of year when the suicide rate is at its highest. Some researchers hypothesize this is because people are engaging with each other more as the weather improves, while others argue that during the winter we expect to feel more alone and depressed, but when those feelings of hopelessness fail to pass with the changing of the seasons, people can start to feel desperate.
Sadly, the World Health Organization estimates that over 800,000 people in the world take their own life each year. When you also consider the devastating effects of suicide on the network of friends and loved ones, it means millions of people suffer, often needlessly.
The suicide rate tends to be highest among young people under 24 and older men, the latter statistic tending to be because men usually use more violent methods to attempt suicide.
If you are worried that someone you know may be suicidal, or you are finding it tough to carry on yourself, here are some signs to look for that might indicate you need to take action:
If you or someone you know is potentially considering suicide, there are ways to intervene to minimize the risk, and these include:
Often when people think about suicide they call it taking their own life, but it is important to remember that those who are left behind also lose an enormous part of their lives as they struggle through the grief. As winter turns to spring, make sure you take care of your own mental health and look out for those around you who may be struggling.
In closing I thought I would share these lines written by Christopher Bergland (The Athlete’s Way, 2007):
“I’ve been there myself. If you are depressed or suicidal do whatever you have to do to stay vital and get yourself back on track. You were born to be alive. Don’t isolate. Reach out. Ask for help. There will be sunbeams in your soul again. Ride out the storm—but don’t do it alone. People will take care of you. Let them. And make a vow, when you’re back on top, to give something back.”
If you find feeling overwhelmed or out of control, 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.
This article was also published on English Informer In France
Surviving the Christmas Period
2016 has been a rocky year for many people. There have been the emotional rollercoasters of political shakeups and public tragedies that have taken their toll on many of us, in addition to our own personal challenges. The holiday season in December can be just another pressure as we try to plan the perfect family day with all the trimmings, and for some Christmas can just be a big black cloud of sadness. Endless shopping, limited finances, spending time with family you don’t see that often, over-excited children, or just a powerful sense of loneliness, all of this can pile up and add up until you dread the coming festivities.
To set yourself up right for the holiday season this year, here are 12 tips to help. You don’t have to try all of them, just choose one or two that resonate for you:
1. Set your expectations to good and not perfect. Don’t knock yourself out, plan to make it an enjoyable rather than a hectic time, even if it means cooking one less course or attending one less social get together.
2. Ask for help. Don’t feel you should take on everything yourself, whether it be gift buying, wrapping, putting up a tree or cooking, decide what you can cope with comfortably and what is going to push you over your limits, and ask people to chip in.
3. Choose your own way. Decide how you really want to spend the holidays and plan it, whether it be a quiet day at home for two, lunch at a Chinese restaurant or cooking for others at a homeless shelter, decide what would make the day happy for you and go for it. And don’t be afraid to say “No” if you are being pushed into doing things you would prefer not to.
4. Even if the weather is not good, commit to getting outside and doing some physical activity such as walking or raking up leaves. Exercise and fresh air is always an antidote to stress and a great way to lift your mood.
5. Try to balance the excess of alcohol and junk food with some healthy plant-based options so that your energy levels stay high and your mood isn’t dependent on sugar and caffeine highs.
6. Take quiet mind breaks. Whether it be first thing when you wake up, or when you are waiting in line in a busy shop, take a moment to close your eyes and breathe, let your mind wander to a happy place for a few minutes until you start to feel calm, and then come back to your usual surroundings feeling that little bit more able to cope.
7. Don’t isolate yourself completely. In previous posts, I have written about the importance of having people around us. So, whether or not you want to celebrate, find a way to spend some time with others, even if it means phoning around to get yourself invited somewhere, or volunteering for a local charity on the day.
8. Don’t use alcohol or similar substances to numb yourself to get through the holidays. Instead take some time to reflect on what has been difficult this year and how you want to move forward.
9. While you are so focused on gift buying for others, don’t forget to put your own name on the list. What are you going to do or buy to treat yourself this Christmas?
10. If you want to get into the holiday spirit but are struggling this year, reenact some ritual from happier times, even if it means going back to your childhood for inspiration. Don’t worry about who is judging you, just allow yourself some moments of enjoyment and silliness
11. Know that the holidays are just a piece of time, and if you find them stressful they will be over soon enough. Use your energy to plan something to look forward to in January so that the festive period doesn’t leave you feeling flat.
12. If you are finding the dark short days tough, remember that the shortest day is just before Christmas, and after that each day will be increasingly longer while the dark nights are increasingly shorter. Know that there is a natural rhythm to life and the darkest days often precede the brightest of new beginnings.
Whatever you are planning for this festive holiday period, I wish you a wonderful time and much happiness.
If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the festive period and the coming new year, counselling can help you to find strategies 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 sheet on this website.
Isolation and Why We Should Avoid It
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.
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.