The Benefits of Art and Music Therapy
for Those in Recovery
As someone in recovery, your sobriety journey is intensely personal. To be sure, even though you are probably doing the same thing that others are in their recovery — eating healthy, exercising, avoiding trigger spots and people, and attending meetings — the additional decisions you make as you choose to stay sober are exclusively yours. So, why not add some joy to your recovery and use art and music as therapeutic tools?
Even if you’re not sure which side of a paintbrush to hold or you know you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, learning how to play a musical instrument or sing, or how to draw, paint, or even sculpt can add a joyful dimension to your sobriety and yourself. What’s more, you can, instead, choose to learn about art and music and deepen your appreciation of the arts.
People on the path to sobriety often relapse when they feel stress or anxiety, which most often happens when they feel a loss of control. Writing at Psychology Today, Dr. Elliot D. Cohen refers to it as our “demand for certainty in a world that is tentative and uncertain.”
Normally, hobbies are a great way to relieve the twin conditions of stress and anxiety, namely because they can help us feel in control, and just their very practice helps reduce heart rate and blood pressure and increase happiness. Hobbies get the mind and hands focused on a single task, whether it’s knitting a scarf or running a model railroad. They can also help us stay productive, build confidence, and connect us with productive, drug-free people who pursue the same hobbies. And because they can reduce stress, they can reduce the possibility of relapse.
Why Art or Music?
Like other hobbies, art and music can definitely be therapeutic. Additionally, they can also be creative outlets for building self-confidence, expressing feelings, establishing connections with others, and bringing joy. What makes them a little extra special is that they both can be forms of communication.
Art involves communication with imagery, whether it’s a painting or a sketch. Through it, you can communicate anger or peace, chaos, or control. Music, meanwhile, is communication with a sound other than the spoken word, and it, too, can reflect feelings of distress or calm. With art, you’re not just limited to watercolors on a canvas. You can learn to use charcoal, colored pencils, oil paints, textures, or you can learn photography. Likewise, with music, you don’t have to learn an instrument; you can also take voice lessons.
Even if you don’t feel you have the coordination to make art or feel you have the ear to make music, you can learn to appreciate and study both of them instead. Consider taking an art or music appreciation class, attend art exhibits, and attend symphonies or an opera. You can also spend some time on the internet and find a type of art or music that interests you, then find out everything you can about it. Either way, you don’t have to reduce your joy just because you are choosing to experience something instead of creating it.
Bob Ross, the late painting instructor, said that “every day’s a good day when you paint.” He also said that painting can bring a lot of “good thoughts to your heart.” But it really doesn’t matter if you’re painting, drawing, sculpting, making clay pots, playing an instrument, or singing from the top of your lungs. Learning art and music can add a dimension of joy to your sobriety. They can all bring good thoughts to your heart.
Live Your Best Life After 65 – Health Tips for Seniors
Live your best life after 65 – Health tips for seniors. Who says the quality of life goes down as you age? The truth is many seniors find that things get more interesting with each new silver strand that pops up. Your retirement years are supposed to be your best years, and they can be as long as you are willing to put the work into yourself.
Keep your mind engaged.
Mental engagement is one of the most important things you can do as a senior. Now is the perfect opportunity to utilize your free time to fill your brain with new knowledge. Consider taking online courses, try out music lessons, put your library card to work, or try a class in cooking, woodworking, painting, or weaving.
Be mindful of your mood.
The newly retired often have difficulties adjusting to life after work. This can be especially hard for retirees who spent much of their career managing others or who had a senior role in a company. It’s normal to feel sad or confused, and in many cases, these feelings will pass, particularly as one finds more to do with their time. When sadness turns to a fog of depression that won’t lift, counselling is the next best step. Working with a professional therapist can give seniors the tools they need to navigate their emotions in this new chapter.
Boost your energy levels with vitamins.
You already know that you’re supposed to eat right. However, even if you’re filling your plate with all the right foods, you may not be getting enough of all the vitamins you need. This can lead to low energy, and that’s no good for anyone. Consider supplementing your diet with vitamin B12, which is known to aid the body’s ability to convert food into energy. Ashwagandha, CoQ10, and L-theanine are other vitamin supplements that can help you return the pep to your step. Remember to check with your doctor before taking any supplements to avoid any dangerous interactions with prescribed medications.
Stock up on denture-friendly snacks.
If you wear dentures, you might’ve found that it’s more difficult to choose healthy foods that don’t irritate your mouthpiece. This may lead to poor dietary choices or cause you to forgo certain food groups altogether. Plan to keep healthy treats on hand that won’t cause pain or discomfort when you eat. Vegetable sticks, olives, and hummus are healthy, denture-friendly snacks.
Wear the right shoes.
Ideally, you’re spending some of your retirement hours exercising each week. If not, find some friends and start a walking group. But, make sure that you choose the right shoes; otherwise, blisters and pinched toes will lead you straight back to the couch. Look for shoes that fit well and that help keep your feet dry even when you sweat.
Get more exercise.
If you’ve already been walking for a while and you’re ready to take things up a notch, look to fitness programs that are geared toward seniors. Through memberships like Silver Sneakers, you can have access to gyms and health facilities that offer a wealth of classes in yoga, strength training, Pilates, and more. Of course, just simply having access to a gym can make it easier to get extra steps, start a swim routine or work with a personal trainer. With all the extra time you have on your hands, why not put it toward improving your physical health?
Keep an eye on your vision.
Have you noticed that it’s a little harder to see newsprint or drive at night? Vision changes are perfectly normal in your 60s and beyond, says All About Vision. But just because they are to be expected does not mean you have to live with them. Declining vision can make you less confident behind the wheel, leave you less able to enjoy a good book, and may even give you headaches. Visit your eye doctor at least once each year for a quick check, and make an appointment if you notice vision changes or discomfort.
Retired doesn’t have to mean you’re tired all the time. When you keep your mind engaged, take steps to enhance your energy levels, and participate in healthy practices that keep your mind and body in shape, you may just find that you have the time and stamina to enjoy retirement.
Guest Blog by Hazel Bridges
If you would like to read more of Hazels work you can visit her website here, AgingWellness
If you need to talk to someone as you work out your new retirement landscape, considering working with a trained therapist from Humansense. We offer online therapy and coaching that you can take advantage of wherever you are. Check out our website today to find out more.
Often at the start of a new year, we make resolutions, and often these can be hard to maintain.
Setting positive intentions can be more beneficial in maintaining and motivating personal progress.
Our thoughts, beliefs, and intentions influence and therefore create our experiences of the World. Setting intentions, unlike goals, allows us to focus on the here and now without the pressure of a specific achievement. Being intentional allows you to focus on how you want to be in the moment.
Setting intentions can help with – creating mindfulness – keeping you centered and grounded – making you more effective through reducing anxiety
e.g. “today I give whatever I do my full attention”
“I intend to stop taking things personally”
” I won’t be afraid to try something new”
“I will look for the positive sides of a negative situation”
” I am enough”
What intentions can you set for yourself this week?
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Living in the age of Covid – Create a Covid Mindset
When the Corona virus pandemic hit in January 2020 who would have thought that at the start of 2021 many of us across the globe would still be living life in lock down or under curfew. Christmas 2020 will certainly be one to remember. It will become part of our World history. Its time to create a Covid mindset.
For many, 2020 was the year families and friends faced forced separation through social distancing rules. Families dealt with the first Christmas without loved ones who have died from the disease. As of time of writing there are over 1.85 million plus Covid deaths worldwide (www.worldometers.info). Businesses have been forced to close impacting on people’s livelyhoods, with many not opening again. Work and education has been affected and people are feeling isolated and lonely. Look anywhere and you will see the impact of the Covid pandemic. The changes have been massive, affecting us all in someway or another.
Change and Loss
Change and loss are part of life. However, it’s safe to say that 2020 has resulted in an unprecedented amount of change and loss for millions across the globe. Typically, the changes have been unwelcome, significant, anxiety provoking and for many traumatic. These types of changes make us question ourselves and the world as well as causing fear and anxiety because we are living with huge amounts of uncertainty.
We all experience change differently but there have been shared common themes at some point this year – curtailment of our day to day freedoms, not being able to mix with our family or friends, work and financial changes, travel and the education of our children and young people to name a few.
External v Internal locus of control
A theory developed by Rotter (1954) examines how a person’s Locus of Control influences their belief in the amount of control they have over their lives. An internal locus is the belief that a individual has control over their own lives whereas an external locus is the belief that life is controlled by outside factors in which they have no influence.
Self efficacy, a person’s level of self confidence is closely related to how we view our own locus of control. This is found to be closely related to how we deal with stressors we face in our day to day lives. Some research findings suggest that people with a higher external locus and a lower self efficacy are more likely to experience higher levels of stress and be more vulnerable to external influences.
The Covid pandemic has influenced the global locus of control. There are external factors we have no control over and cannot do anything about.
Media bombards us daily with Covid updates, infection rates, death rates, restrictions, what we can and can’t do from one day to the next. It can feel confusing, anxiety provoking and frustrating! No wonder we are fed up, disillusioned and tired. How long will this go on for? When will it end? Will we ever get back to normal? Our lives for the last 12 months have radically changed and it is set to continue for 2021 whether we like it or not.
Create a Covid mindset to improve mental well-being
Presently there are some external factors we cannot change. However, what we do have control over is how we react and respond to those external factors. How we think influences how we feel and together these influence our behaviour.
Break the Cycle – challenge your negative thoughts and feel better
If we are feeling low or depressed we might think “Its another awful day” or “What’s the point of doing something?” This makes us feel more depressed. The likely result is we end up behaving in a depressed way – not doing anything or withdrawing. The bottom line is that this negative thinking just increases the feelings of low mood and becomes a vicious cycle of depression or anxiety.
When we are experiencing stress or anxiety we may be more prone to unhelpful patterns of thinking (automatic negative thinking) and these are unconscious. Identifying our own automatic negative thoughts is a good start in helping to break the negative cycles of thinking that cause us distress. Have a look at some of the unhelpful thinking styles below which we can all be prone too.
Mental filtering. This thinking style involves a filtering in and filtering out process – a sort of tunnel vision, focusing on only one part of a situation and ignoring the rest.
Judgements. Making evaluations or judgements about events, ourselves, others, or the world, rather than describing what we actually see and have evidence for.
Emotional Reasoning. I feel bad so it must be bad! I feel anxious, so I must be in danger.
Critical self. Putting ourselves down, self criticism, blaming ourselves for events or situations that are not our responsibility
Should’s, ought’s & must statements. Reflect our (often unreasonable) standards (“I should do this”, “I must do that”) and frequently lead to feelings of frustration, shame, or guilt.
When life gives you lemons……….
You’ve heard the saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Covid has and continues to throw buckets of lemons! We can either let them go to waste or start making lemonade!
Self care – Small steps create big changes
It all starts with the self. When we want to change our mindset we have to work on ourselves and that can feel hard if we are in a rut. The key is to take small, consistent steps in making positive changes. That way you are more likely to see achievements quickly that will motivate you to keep going.
Steps could include, getting out for a regular walk and fresh air, eating breakfast daily or not skipping meals and creating good sleep patterns. These are all basic needs but often get forgotten when we are stressed or anxious. Regular relaxation or “time out” is crucial for our mental well-being. There are lots of apps and a growing number of online groups offerring a variety of relaxation experiences, Yoga, meditation and mindfulness that you can take part in.
We are social animals. Contact with others is important for our overall well-being, especially if we live on our own. Communicate with friends and family on a regular basis – via Zoom, Skype, phone and text (social distancing applies). Hold a Zoom coffee club with friends, join a online forum or organize a virtual quiz night. There are more support groups being offered online so check out your local area or national organisations such as MIND or NHS online for more information.
Growth and Opportunity in the face of adversity
There’s no doubt we are living in a difficult and unpleasant situation. When faced with adversity we need to dig deep and find our our inner resiliance. Of course this is easier to say than to do but the goal is to make the best of the situation we are in. What can we learn from our experiences? What can we learn about ourselves? How can we utlize the opportunties that might be created amidst the changing situation?
All change is an opportunity for growth. What we are experiencing is something new, how we think about the challenges we face will define how we respond to them. So how can we respond to adversity? Being mentally prepared, taking stock of what you have been through, having a purpose and maintaining a sense of humour are key aspects in nurturing a health prespective.
So what are some of the things we can do help ourselves?
Cover the basics – eat, sleep and exercise.
Routine – find yourself a routine – this helps to create structure and familiarity and provides a sense of purpose
Don’t be hard on yourself– don’t forget this situation is new to everyone, there will be ups and downs and that is normal in difficult situations. Nurture yourself in the lows and revel in the highs.
Communicate – keep in touch with others. Reach out if you are feeling isolated or alone.
Take time to reflect – while the world is hold take the time to pause and reflect. What opportunities can you create? Learn the langauge you have aways wanted too?, Learn a new hobby or skill?, change the way you work?, read those books you never got round too? or maybe you can just take some time you have never allowed yourself too. Now is the opportunity to do so.
A final thought. We may feel frustrated, anxious or scared. Its understandable and normal given the situation. Take care of yourselves but remember others where you can. I love this quote, I don’t know who the author of it is but I think it is particularly relevant.
“Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
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Men’s Mental Health and Stress – Its time to “Speak Out”
Global statistics indicate that 1 in 6 of us over the age of 16 will experience stress, anxiety or depression at some point in our lives. Although both men and women encounter similar levels of stress men are less likely to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress or seek help. Men’s mental health and stress is important. It’s time to speak out.
What is stress?
Stress can be described as a reaction to a threat. This is an inbuilt response that humans and animals have when faced with frightening situations. It is known as the “Fight / Flight” response. This response, a primitive survival mechanism, was crucial for our early ancestors frequently confronted with life threatening events. Nowadays, we may not face the same physical threats but our brain will still react in the same way when faced with emotional ones.
Stress is part of life and in some cases can be helpful (think back to primitive man). Stress becomes problematic when it occurs over a long period of time or when we experience too much at a time. Chronic stress weakens the immune system and can lead to other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Men’s Mental Health and Stress
A key difference between men and women’s responses to stress is how they deal with it. Although both experience similar stressors around work or financial issues, relationship difficulties or dealing with significant life changes, such as their own or a family member’s ill health, women tend to search out support and talk about it. On the other hand, research suggests that on the whole men are reluctant to seek help being more likely to “bottle up” their feelings or use “escape” strategies such as alcohol, drugs or withdrawing socially to cope.
Gender stereotypes and expectations in society of having to be “strong” and not show vulnerability are thought to be part of the problem of not talking about it and can increase the chance of depression. In fact the “average suicide rate across all countries among men was 3.7 times greater than that for women”( Health at a Glance Europe 2018).
Signs and Symptoms of stress – things to look out for
Signs and symptoms can be physical, emotional or behavioural. Being aware is the first step in making changes. If you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms below, ask for support.
Anger and irritability, feelings of despair or hopelessness
Feeling tired, low energy, not being able to sleep well
Finding it hard to make decisions or concentrate
Experiencing headaches, backache, muscle pain and stomach problems
Recognising and responding to stress early on is key in stopping more severe mental health problems from developing. If you or someone you know is experiencing stress, follow the tips below and don’t suffer in silence.
SPEAK OUT (Tips for managing stress)
S – seek support from family ,friends or professionals
P – pace yourself. Break down tasks and jobs so you don’t become overwhelmed
E – eat healthily and regularly
A – activate yourself. Movement /exercise releases endorphins our “happy hormones”
K – kickback and relax. Take time out for yourself, keep up with hobbies or start one
O – objective not subjective. Try not to personalise, try a different view
U – utilise positive strategies and your skills to help when you feel down
Narcissists are individuals who tend to go through life – refusing to take responsibility for their behaviour’s and actions. Are quick to blame others for their own short comings. Show a complete lack of genuine empathy for others. Feel they are entitled or special and have difficulty in maintainingmeaningful relationships.
Types of Narcissism
When we hear the term “narcissist”, a character who is loud, arrogant, full of self importance with big ideas comes to mind. There are however 7 distinct categories:-
Grandiose – the classic stereotype of narcissist, arrogant, validation seeking, big ego and full of their own importance.
Malignant – has the traits of the grandiose narcissist but has more psychopathic tendencies. They are deliberately mean and have little remorse for their action. They will steal, cheat and lie.
Covert – this narcissistic type is passive aggressive in their behavior towards others. They portray themselves as the victim (the martyr complex) and are put upon by others or the world and are hard done by.
Communal – involvement in community and public work but needs to have lots of recognition for their efforts. Often tell everybody how wonderful they are at helping groups they see as vulnerable or less deserving than themselves.
Toxic – There’s a range of toxic narcissism, and none of it is good. A toxic narcissist “continually causes drama in others’ lives at the very least and causes pain and destruction at the very worst.
Psychopathic – A psychopath is an unstable, aggressive person, and these traits also show up in the psychopathic narcissist. A psychopathic narcissist, which is a type of toxic narcissist, will often be violent and show no remorse for their behaviour.
Closet – This one can be trickier to spot than other types of narcissists because the person isn’t always obvious about their disorder. “A closet narcissist is one who doesn’t inflict their personality upon others or society but firmly believes in the characteristics of narcissism.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
From a clinical point of view, for an individual to be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) they need to meet certain diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) . The difficulty, however, is the majority of individuals who would be diagnosed do not see themselves as having a problem and are therefore unlikely to seek treatment. For the few that do its usually in relation to depression, alcohol or drug use or other mental health issues. Once in therapy, the narcissists inability to take responsibility for their actions along with feedback internalized as unjust criticism it is almost inevitable that they will not continue and soon end contact.
As a therapist I often find myself working with the casualties of the narcissist and the majority of cases involves the more subtle but just as devastating covert type.
Key behaviors and characteristics of the narcissistic personality
have an exaggerated sense of entitlement and importance – narcissists feel they are superior to other people, they know more than others and their opinions hold more validity than anyone else. They often exaggerate their accomplishments and talents and always do something better than anyone else. There is a “been there, done that” attitude displaying arrogant, haughty behaviors.
lack genuine empathy for others – they really do not hold a high regard for anyone. They may display “a show” of concern in certain situations but it is rarely long lasting. It relates more to “being seen” as concerned to outsiders or within a social situation as opposed to really genuinely caring.
unable to accept responsibility for their behaviors, actions or choices – particularly when something they have done does not work out as they had planned. Instead, they blame their bad decisions at someones else’s feet. For example, “its not my fault the business didn’t work out, you didn’t do enough / work hard enough”.
the rules do not apply to them – this relates to them feeling “special” or “superior”. So unlike other people they can disregard the rules. This often means they can behave recklessly or act impulsively.
bend the truth or lie outright to suit their needs – the narcissist is very good at adapting the truth. They will resort to outright lying to defend their position or to get their needs met. For example they may only tell half the information or distort it to more extreme measures such as committing fraud.
change their minds continually so are unreliable – narcissists often involve themselves in lots of things but never for very long. They may go through a variety of jobs or get involved in schemes that fulfills their preoccupation of the fantasies they hold of unlimited success, wealth or power. They can change their mind as often as their socks without any care of thought of the consequences particularly on others.
take advantage of others – people are exploited to meet their own needs. Narcissists are charming manipulators and have very few friends (that stick around). What they do have are “useful” acquaintances.
undermine and blame others – a hallmark trait of the narcissist is to undermine those people they are closest too and involved with. This is about their need to be “in control”. The narcissistic parent will undermine their offspring from a young age in a variety of ways. This includes eroding confidence and self esteem to maintain their own by telling their children they are not good enough, they don’t work hard enough,they are lazy, stupid, ungrateful or too sensitive. The narcissistic partner will behave in the same way with their significant other to destroy their self esteem, value and self worth thus keeping themselves emotionally secure.
they do not like to be challenged or criticized – this is because they see themselves as all knowing and always being right. If they are they will explode and become aggressive or withdraw becoming cold and distant justifying their position by blaming, undermining or belittling the person who has dared confront them.
When narcissists lose control
When the narcissists position is challenged or exposed and they lose control over others they become evasive, distort the truth or lie outright often contradicting themselves in the process and will re-write history as they perceive it (basically making it up as they go along).
Narcissists who no longer hold control over someone, usually because the person has become wise to their behavior and challenges them, they can respond in one or two ways. They will either be aggressive and disparaging or use the silent treatment. Both of these responses are used to try and elicit emotional pain, confusion and guilt. If this doesn’t bring you back into line the aim is then to exercise as much control as possible. This could include withholding affection, help or finances.
A tactic often used when they have lost control over someone is to try and control how others view that person. This involves talking badly about the person to others, telling half truths or lies about them or the situation and portraying themselves as a victim to justify their position and discredit the person who has stood up to them.
So how to individuals become narcissistic?
Research indicates that environmental and social factors play a significant influence in the development of NPD in an individual. Narcissism can develop from an impaired emotional attachment to primary caregivers that results in a difficult and chaotic childhood. Children who are brought up in environments where one or both parents are emotionally neglectful or absent, overly demanding of their own emotional needs and inconsistent in their emotional responses to their child or children are at an increased risk.
Parents may only give affection and value the child for doing well at something so their affection is “conditional”. One child within the family may be pit against another or there may be a favorite so that comparisons are made. This devalues one child whilst elevating another. This however, can change rapidly and leave children feeling emotionally insecure and vulnerable impacting on their confidence and self esteem.
The adult narcissist is driven by an intense, deep rooted fear that they are inadequate and not good enough. Stemming from early childhood experiences linked to rejection, this fear is so ingrained it is unconscious. The narcissist is therefore preoccupied with keeping difficult feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and shame at arms length. The narcissist uses defence mechanisms (a way of dealing with painful or difficult emotions) including repression, denial and distortion to cope.
When the narcissist’s fragile sense of self is inadvertently challenged, mini emotional crisis are triggered. Anger, acting out, sulking and withdrawal are commonplace. Regressive behaviors both on a cognitive and emotional level occur seeing them return to a childlike state in their actions and responses.
Responding to narcissistic individuals
Its not uncommon for people to be involved in long term relationships with a narcissistic personality and not see it. Realizing a family member, parent or partner is narcissistic can be difficult and raise a lot of emotions. There are steps you can take ensuring you look after your own well-being and heal from the trauma caused.
assert your boundaries – narcissists find boundaries difficult and will violate them when given a chance. Be clear and factual about what you will or won’t accept and don’t back down.
don’t personalize behaviour – the actions and behaviour’s of the narcissist have little to do with you. Don’t take on the responsibility. They need to learn to own it.
Respond don’t react – learning to respond as opposed to reacting to their unacceptable demands or behaviours is important. When you respond you come from a more adult, considered position and therefore have more empowerment.
Educate yourself – learning about how narcissistic behaviour works helps you to understand and deal with it. Its unlikely the narcissist will change because they do not have sufficient emotional awareness. However, you can.
seek support – there is a wealth of information to help you cope with your feelings and heal from narcissistic abuse. Online support through articles and forums. Reading books and watching movies can help to provide understanding. Working with a therapist who understands narcissism provides a good support process.
self support – looking after yourself is important. Honor your feelings, you may experience a range of feelings from anger to sadness to dismay. Don’t blame yourself. Practice good self care – take time to heal, nourish the self and use mindfulness or relaxations skills.
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Want to get in touch with nature? Want a bit of colour in your life? Then get Growing sunflowers for all-round well-being! Out of all the flowers, you can grow sunflowers cannot be beaten. They are not just beautiful but they are also so easy to grow. Sunflowers are quick to gain height so they are an ideal starter gardening project for all ages. Bees love them so you will be helping the environment by encouraging them in your garden or space and with some species of sunflowers, you can eat the seeds or provide winter sustenance for the birds. Win!
Spring is here…
The days are getting longer, brighter, and warmer. Spring is officially here. This time of year nature bursts into life, spring flowers are blooming, trees are blossoming and animals are in the process of their mating rituals. There is a definite spring in nature’s step. For humans, the increase in daylight hours is a real boost to our physical and emotional well-being.
Nature and its Impact on well being
There’s a mountain of research highlighting what we all know to be true, nature is good for us and has both long and short-term physical and mental health benefits. Regular outdoor activity provides a number of physical benefits, it lowers blood pressure, reduces pain, lowers the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, these are just a few of the benefits. A simple activity such as a stroll in the park can aid fitness through gentle exercise as well as provide an array of colours, sights and sounds that aid relaxation and calm the senses.
Spending time in and around nature helps with reducing stress and anxiety. Researchers at the University of Essex conducted a survey where they found that 94% of the individuals believed that spending time in nature and connecting with it help them to have a positive mood. Other studies such a those by Ulrich, Kim, and Cervinka show that time in nature or scenes of nature help to increase mood and emotional wellbeing, meaningfulness, and a sense of vitality.
Get in touch with nature
I remember years ago when I first started training as a therapist. I was coping with my own issues of anxiety. My mentor encouraged me to start planting some flowers and veggies. There was something about getting my hands in the earth, nurturing the seedlings, and seeing them grow and develop that was deeply satisfying yet so simple it allowed me to refocus, ground and generally feel better. I grew some sunflowers. They were easy, quick and when they bloomed they were beautiful! I was hooked.
Growing Sunflowers – nature therapy at its best!
Bring nature to you –Get some nature therapy wherever you are! Growing sunflowers is a simple way to engage with nature or bring a bit of nature to you. It doesn’t matter where you live. Plant them in your garden, on your allotment, in a pot on your balcony, or even on a sunny window ledge. Seeing your plant develop and bloom can bring about a wonderful sense of achievement and change your environment.
Encourage nurturing and responsibility – growing sunflowers are great to do with children. It helps to develop responsibility by taking care of something by regular watering and making sure it has the right growing conditions. This can also be a good activity for people who experience dementia as it can help to spark memories of once-loved activities, provide a focus and conversation topics.
Educational and social – sunflower growing provides lots of opportunities to learn and share experiences. Learning about the cycle of life, maths (measuring your giant), and spending time together. It’s a great activity for across the generations, having fun together, sharing experiences, and creating memories.
Being in the moment– even the simple act of planting and nurturing seeds can really help to calm and soothe the mind and is a wonderful grounding activity that can reduce stress and aid relaxation.
Essential oils are the life essence of plants. They can be extracted from various parts of plants and used therapeutically to enhance well-being naturally. Essential oils are made up of chemical compounds which have a particular effect on the body systems. Essential oils are potent. Used appropriately essential oils can have a positive effect on the body systems to help treat a range of complaints.
Essential Oil History
In fact, plant oils have been used for thousands of years. Perhaps most famously the Egyptians used aromatic oils and gums in the embalming process. Essential oils have been used throughout history as incense for rituals, cosmetics and perfumes to enhance beauty, for culinary purposes such as preserving food and for medicinal applications to treat illness and disease. Chinese culture has long depended upon herbal medicines and preparations to maintain health and indeed today traditional Chinese medicine sits alongside more modern practices. Patients are able to combine these two approaches when undertaking treatment. Early Vedic literature in India dating from 200BC shows the use of a wide range of aromatic substances including ginger, cinnamon, sandalwood and myrrh to treat people therapeutically.
How do they work
Aromatic or essential oils (their compounds) are found in various parts of the plant. Oils are extracted from flowers, leaves, bark, berries, seeds, roots and wood. Typical compounds include terpenes, esters and alcohols. For example, oils high in terpenes have antiviral, antiseptic and anti-inflamatory properties, oils high in esters have fungicidal and sedative properties and those with high levels of alcohol are antiseptic and antiviral. These compounds or chemicals interact with the body systems and the benefits are numerous.
Chemical properties of essential oils need to be absorbed by the body. The two key routes are through smelling or through the skin. The Olfactory bulb, based in the brain processes our sense of smell and is linked closely to our limbic system a primitive brain structure which processes our emotions. Think about your favourite smell. The chances are you may be sitting there with eyes half closed and a smile or a feeling of contentment when you recall this to yourself. Aroma is incredibly powerful, so when we breathe in the aroma of certain oils they can in fact stimulate or calm our senses, both emotionally and physically.
Absorbing oils through the skin via massage is the other key route to get the natural compounds in to our system. Essential oils (diluted in a carrier oil such as grapeseed) are absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream and taken around the body, eventually to be expired through the respiratory or urinary system. The use of touch through massage can also be very relaxing and therapeutic which helps to enhance the overall feeling of well-being.
Using oils at home for Winter Well-being
You don’t have to be an expert to use essential oils at home. There are however, some safety precautions to be aware of as pure essential oils are very potent and only small amounts are used at a time. Below are some basic guidelines to get you going.
If you are interested in using a larger range of oils than the ones I have listed here then please read up on them. The majority of oils are safe. However, not all oils are good to use directly in the skin, with babies, toddlers and children, pregnant women or individuals who have certain conditions. There is a lot of information out there on oils and it is easy to get hold of. Click here for information on A – Z of oils
Dilute essential oils in a carrier oil such as grapeseed, coconut or olive. If you have a nut allergy DO NOT USE carriers such as almond.
DO NOT eat essential oils. Only follow the guidance of a professional aromatherapist.
Check out any oil you want to use first for safety data and any health precautions.
My Top 5 oils for winter health support
A must have in your well-being kit. One of the few oils you CAN use directly onto your skin. A great wound healer. Keep in the kitchen and put on minor burns. Use as a spot / insect bite healer. A drop on your temples to help stop a headache. Put a few drops on your pillow or burn in an oil burner to aid sleep and relaxation. Use to aid anxiety and quiet the mind. Put a few drops in your bath or make up a massage oil and rub into your arms or feet.
This is a good oil that helps to give an emotional uplift and helps aid recovery after illness as it is a good immune booster. It is an excellent mood enhancer. Helps to treat skin complaints so mix in a fragrance free body cream (great mixed with a bit of lavender) to help brighten and smooth skin. Burn in an oil burner to stimulate motivation and boost energy.
Ooohh one of my favourites. Excellent antiviral properties – burn in an oil burner to help stop germs spreading (great if you have flu, burn in an oil burner in the bedroom). Anti congestant, antibacterial and antiseptic. Great for colds, flu, aches and pains and bronchitis.
Bergamot is a great mood enhancer. It is a gentle uplifter soothing the nerves which helps anxiety and depression. A few drops the bath can help with urinary problems such as cystitis. Mixes well with sweet orange and lavender. A lovely oil that uplifts but won’t over stimulate like other citrus essential oils.
I use this oil at the first signs of a cold or flu. Ravintsara smells very much like Eucalyptus but with more of a camphor tone. You can mix this essential oil in a carrier and rub in on your back, chest or soles of your feet every day and evening to help boost your immune system (big antiviral, antimicrobial and antiseptic properties) and stop colds from taking hold. Burn in a oil burner if you have bronchitis as it has good expectorant properties. Good used as a massage oil to help with muscular aches of pains or put a few drops in the bath.
If you want more information you can contact me here
Many of us spend more time in reflection at this time of year. We are near the end of one year and entering into a new one very soon. Focusing our mind on what we have experienced helps to focus our thoughts – the good, the bad and the ugly as well as what our hopes and dreams are for the year to come. There is power in positive intentions.
Finding a real meaning for Christmas
So, Christmas is nearly upon us. We are bombarded with advertisements that suggest we should be spending our hard-earned money. We should be buying gifts for everybody and everything, treating ourselves to all manner of goodies and having a fabulous time. The sound of catchy christmas music blasts out in shops, cafes and you have to fight your way through the piled high boxes of chocolates and tinsel to get into the supermarket.
Don’t get me wrong, I like this time of year, I loved Christmas as a child. However, as I have got older, I have realised that the Christmas sold to many of us is not a reality. We are sold a fantasy of “happiness” that is achieved through acquiring stuff that we don’t need or necessarily want and the expectations of “conforming” can feel overwhelming.
I do not consider myself a religious person (so maybe I shouldn’t be celebrating at all)! However, it feels to me that Christmas has become so far removed from religion that perhaps instead we should be worshipping the Coca Cola lorry!! After all it was Coca Cola that gave us one of the most iconic images of Father Christmas.
Perhaps it’s the pull of the Pagan in me to celebrate the winter solstice as this feels more real and meaningful. Perhaps I am just getting old and miserable! Or just perhaps I want a change in this World (which becomes smaller by the day) that is positive and all-encompassing for everything that lives on this tiny beautiful mud ball in our incredible Universe.
Commercialism verses human reality
In this World full of MATERIAL EXCESS. The reality is that there are people all over the World who do not have the basics. Shelter, water, food. Children all over the World caught up in wars that have been created by Governments (not people) because they keep control over populations and resources and make huge amounts of money (yes, war is big business). Families separated and displaced, lives torn apart, people pitched against each other, children sleeping in the dark and cold not knowing when they may get a scrap to eat next. Look closer to home and you will find individuals and families under all kinds of stress, vulnerable, isolated or alone. Christmas is not the fantastic time of year we are sold, no, for many is the worst time of year possible.
A useful gift
There’s so much going on in our World at the moment it can feel overwhelming and creates a sense that as an individual there is little we can do to change things. I am realizing that’s just not true! The most important asset we have as individuals is our own power and intention. I have thought about my intention, my own power to make small changes to impact positively on the World and others and I am going to start it this Christmas, as a gift to myself. A useful gift, one I can use every day. A gift that will help me to think wisely, a gift that will help me to question, a gift to make choices, a gift that will give me courage and a gift that will give me confidence to bring about positive change for myself, others and the World.
In reality, I have always had this gift, I just haven’t appreciated it fully. It’s been in the back of the wardrobe along with the dodgy Christmas jumper. Occasionally, like the jumper I have got it out, worn it and then put it back. I felt good wearing it. It made me smile. It made others smile but wearing a Christmas jumper any other time than Christmas does result in strange looks and comments so it went back in the wardrobe!
As from now I am getting my intention out from the back of the wardrobe and I am not going to put it back when the festivities die down. My intention is going to be used on a daily basis. So my first intention is to truly wish you, whoever you are reading this, a safe, a happy and a peace filled day, not just for today or Christmas but every day. Xxxxxxxxx Niki 21/12/2017 xxxxxxxxxxxxX
Intentions do work
I wrote this last year and posted it on my Facebook page. It popped up this week. Re reading it helped me to reflect on what 2018 held for me. I had my goods, my bads and my uglies. What stood out for me however, was that I started my intentions.
I used my gift to myself. It didn’t get put it back in the wardrobe. I used it daily to help me question what I wanted. It helped me to make choices and as I used it I grew my courage to make changes for myself. So Humansense was born and I started writing blogs and the daily dose because we wanted to help and support others. It taken time, that’s okay its a process, I am learning lots about myself along the way. The key for me is that it feels right doing this, it makes me happy doing this.
Intentions do work. When we set our intentions (or goals) and work at them a little at a time things start to happen. We evolve and move forward and we can start to make the changes we want to see and do. So give yourself the best gift you can this year. Your gift of intention and be the change you want to see.
Grief is a very personal journey. There are no wrong or right ways to grieve. Understanding the process of grief can help us support ourselves and others. There are two certainties in life. At some point we will die and so will the people we love. This is a harsh reality that we don’t often think about until we are confronted with it head on. The loss of a loved one or someone who is close to us is a devastating blow to our personal World.
As a therapist I work with individuals who have experienced the loss of a family member or friend. I have also had the honour to work with individuals who are coping with the knowledge that they have a terminal condition and are going to die. On a personal level I have lost close family members and friends, feeling the emotional devastation that comes with saying goodbye and negotiating a way forward whilst trying to find a regained sense of normality.
When we talk about the “bereaved” we mainly use this term in relation to those individuals who have lost someone. However, I think it is important to understand that people who are experiencing an illness or condition that is terminal are also dealing with their own bereavement. They are not only dealing with the impact on their own sense of self but also with the feelings of those close to them.
Understanding the process of grief
The word Grief comes from the Latin words Gravare to make heavy or Gravis which mean weighty. Various theories have been put forward to try to explain the process of grief. Although useful, it is important to remember that grieving is unique to each of us. When we experience a loss or bereavement there are particular emotional responses we can feel. Being aware can help to support ourselves and others through a loss.
A key model that is used to explain grief is the Five stages of grief by Kubler Ross (1969) and is as follows:
1) Denial – Often we can react with numbness and disbelief. We might deny the reality of the situation or loss at some level to avoid the pain or fear.
2) Anger – Intense feelings of anger and resentment commonly arise during this stage. Unwarranted blame may be directed towards other people, systems and organisations.
3) Bargaining – We use bargaining in a psychological effort to avoid the pain, to try to explain in our minds the things that could have been or made a difference.
4) Depression – This phase reflects the reality of the situation and the loss being fully felt, the magnitude of it and it can feel overwhelming.
5) Acceptance – This not about “forgetting” but rather about re–entering reality as it now is. It involves integrating the new reality and emotions and finding a way forward.
These stages are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with a loved one we have lost. They can be useful in helping to understand and identity our emotions and feelings but it is important to recognise that grief doesn’t follow a linear pattern but rather we go back and forth within our grief journey the time period varies between individuals.
Another way of looking at grief is through completing “tasks in mourning”(Worden). These tasks include:
1) Accepting the reality of the loss – This task involves us coming to terms with the end of someone’s life or our own.
2) Work through the pain and grief – Grief is emotionally and physically painful. The task here is for us to “deal with” and “experience” the pain that we naturally want to avoid.
3) Adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing – This task focuses on the bereaved adjusting to life without their loved one and involves both internal and external adjustments.
4) Find an enduring connection whilst moving forward – This final task is about retaining an emotional connection with the deceased whilst continuing with life.
How our grieving process can be affected
Our ability to cope with loss is affected by lots of things. It’s very individual. We won’t all experience the same thing as no two loses are the same and neither are relationships. If we can be mindful about this it can greatly help our understanding around our own and others responses to loss.
Factors such as our own personality type, upbringing and culture (family and society) have an impact on how we view and respond to death and dying. The amount of previous losses we have experienced along with how we cope with them will have an impact. The nature of the relationship or “attachment” is of key importance. Psychological theory places an importance on the development of healthy attachments in providing resilience. Other factors that influence our ability to work through grief include our support systems, financial pressures, current personal health issues and social acceptability of the cause of death or the relationship.
Supporting the bereaved
There are many misconceptions about the grieving process. It can also feel difficult in knowing how to support someone going through a loss or bereavement. Below are some pointers to think about that can help:
Understand and accept we all deal with grief differently. Don’t pressure the bereaved to “move on” or be judgemental about choices they make afterwards.
Listen and encourage the person to talk if they want too. Being able to re tell their story over again helps with processing and the healing process.
Offer practical help where you can. This can be particularly helpful at the start when life feels very chaotic.
Be accepting that emotions are intense so don’t take things personally. Allow the bereaved to show anger or cry without making a judgment of telling them how to respond.
Be aware children grieve too although not necessarily the same as adults. Death can be very confusing for children and they may not cry or show sadness like adults.
Supporting loved ones with a terminal condition
There are some helpful ways in which we can support those we know and love who are coping with terminal conditions.
Appreciate they are not only dealing with their own feelings and emotions but are also dealing with the emotions of those around them.
Understand that a person’s perspective on life can change dramatically. What was once important or had value may change.
Be prepared to talk over wishes and arrangements. Often, this can be a helpful process for all those involved.