Kitchen Therapy


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Counselling 101 – Skills we should be taught at school!

 Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling

As a psychologist I get to witness  the power of words first hand. I see the effects of words that evoke fear, powerlessness and helplessness. I also see the flip side to this, words that empower, motivate and create joy, love and happiness.

Understanding and fully appreciating the power of words has been one of the most amazing things about my line of work. People are able to shift from depression, anxiety and fear to a state of peace and happiness through words.

The words we use to describe what we experience will in turn become our experience.

If one of my children is feeling sad, angry, happy, or playing victim I ask them what they are thinking. I can guarantee you the response is usually “I don’t know” followed by a scowl!
And it’s true, they have no idea what thoughts lead them to this emotion. They just know they feel good or bad!
And same goes for any of us, we don’t really pay attention to the constant chatter in our minds. But it’s there and it’s creating our reality!

As a psychologist, I have come to the conclusion that this is one of the most important lessons I need to teach my children.
To build in them the awareness and understanding that they are not victims to random emotions that take over their bodies.

(I know I am referring to children here however this is something most of us as adults have never really been taught. I passionately believe that this is crucial information about living that all kids need to be taught in school so they have the resources to become functional and contributing adults. Unfortunately it isn’t taught in school and it is what I teach my adult clients. Imagine how far we would all be if we were given this information at a young age?)

Most of us don’t really pay attention to what we are thinking, but we are pretty aware of how we are feeling at any given moment. So start with your emotions. Ask yourself  how you feel which also helps to build emotional awareness and identify and verbalise feelings better. 
Once you establish how you feel, take a step back and try to identify what you were thinking and as I said, people find it very difficult to pin down their thoughts. So take it slowly. How you feel and how you behave is determined by what thoughts are going around in your head. So if you’re feeling sad, you’ve been thinking sad thoughts and you may be crying or isolating yourself. If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, you’ve probably been telling yourself that something is not fair and you may be sulking or stomping around! If you’re feeling happy, you’ve been having happy thoughts and your behaviour may be to whistle, play or be easy-going.

Your thoughts will determine how you feel and act. 
You cannot have happy thoughts and feel angry.
You cannot have angry thoughts and feel happy.
If you are thinking happy thoughts, you will be feeling happy and acting happy.
If you are thinking angry thoughts you will feel angry and act angry.
And so on…

 It sounds incredibly simple and yet it is one of the hardest things to master!
Choosing your thoughts and ultimately choosing the life you have.

Please feel free to leave me any questions or comments you have!


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Are you a tad bit overprotective when it comes to your kids?

 

As a parent, first and foremost I want to protect my children.

My instincts are to protect them from any harm that may come their way. So while I understand the following concept intellectually, I really struggle implementing it.

Depression has been on the rise since the late 1950’s, it is not only increasing, the victims are getting younger and younger.

Dr Martin Seligman claims that “our society has changed from an achieving society to a feel-good society. Up until the early 1960’s, achievement was the most important goal to instill in our children. This goal was then overtaken by the twin goals of happiness and high self-esteem.”

The focus today is very much about feeling good, I know how intense the urge to rush in and protect my children from any negative feelings is. The argument however is that negative feeelings are there for a reason. They carry messages about how we are fairing in life and galvanise us into action when things are going wrong by making it very hard to ignore the pain and discomfort they inflict upon us.

Another thing to consider is the concept of “flow” that I wrote about in an earlier post by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Being in flow is when you lose yourself in what you are doing. It’s when the best of your abilities are matched with the challenge before you. If the challenge is to easy, then you get bored, however if it is too hard you feel hopeless and want to give up. Flow is about feeling challenged and frustrated as you try to achieve your goals. It is about failing and trying again. Seligman says, “rewards alone, high self-esteem, confidence and ebullience do not produce flow… A life without anxiety, frustration, competition and challenge is not the good life; it is a life devoid of flow.” When we consider that research indicates flow is what makes us happy and gives our lives meaning, we can then can grasp the importance of negative feelings in our overall happiness. 

The last point I want to make is about how bad feelings can be used to stop us from feeling helpless and depressed. Feeling helpless, feeling immobilised, feeling like nothing you do will make any difference, is how many of my clients who are depressed feel. When we protect our children from failure, from feeling sad, anxious, or angry, we deprive them from learning persistence. When we are faced with a problem, we can try to change how we approach the problem until we find a way that works. Or we can give up. If we protect our children from feeling bad and failing, then we are teaching them to give up, we are depriving them of the skills to perservere when the going gets tough. We are teaching them to avoid anything that feels bad, making it difficult in the long term for them to experience flow in their lives. When they come up against any difficulties, or negative feelings, they may easily give up, placing them at high risk for developing depression.

My own goal is to try very hard to resist the urge to jump in and “rescue” my children from anything and everything. This includes too much homework, a mean comment by a friend, being overlooked for an activity, etc. Yes, I know I sound a bit nutty but I can’t help it! I want to “fix” it so they don’t feel bad. However the prospect of creating helplessness and depression is sobering enough to make me stop and think. I want to help them build resilience and resources to cope with life. Bailing them out will make me feel good, but it won’t be doing them any favours!


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How Can I Be Happier?

 

We have studied depression in depth for the last century and we know a lot about what makes us miserable! 

Most of have felt depressed at some point in life. We feel down, we don’t really care about much, we have no energy and for a while, life feels unpleasant. But we know we will get through it.

Some people however have more frequent episodes of feeling down and the duration and intensity of these episodes can be used as guides to unresolved psychological problems. Depression is way for the body to communicae to us that there is something wrong. When I talk to my clients about depression I get them to think of it as a continuum rather than a question of “Am I depressed or not?” On one end of the continuum is the mild to moderate range where the experience is painful and uncomfortable. While on the other end we have Bipolar or Manic Depression which is more biological in nature.

Our goal is to treat the problems that the clients present with, to get the levels of depression and anxiety to nil, zero. But people want more than just feeling not depressed, they want to have meaning and happiness in their lives.

This recognition led to a new branch of psychology called Positive Psychology. It is interested in the “scientific study of optimal human functioning.” So the goals is no longer to just identify and treat mental health problems, but also to teach people how to enhance the quality of their lives using substantiated research and findings that have been proven to deliver results.

I like to think of happiness also having a continuum where the more frequency, intensity and duration of symptoms is symbolic of being further along the continuum and feeling happier!

Martin Seligman, on of the founders of Positive Psychology defines happiness as “both positive feelings (such as ecstasy and comfort) and positive activities that have no feeling component at all (such as absorption and engagement)”.

Mihaly Csiskzentmihalyi claims the way to happiness is through “flow”, a state where we are so engrossed in “some activity that time either lengthens or disappears, we no longer notice our surroundings except as related to the activity and any problem or discomfort drops entirely out of mind”.

I used to think “I’ll be happy when…”
I struggled (for a long time!) with the idea that happiness was a choice avalaible to me at any  point. I believed that happiness was the end goal, the reward for hard work and suffering!. I remember thinking “if I just went around all day feeling happy I’d never do anything again!” I got really stuck here. I felt accessing happiness just for the sake of it was cheating and fake.

Then one day it dawned on me. When you are happy you are more likely to achieve your goals and succeed! When I feel happy I am excited and energised. I feel at peace and I find it easier to get absorbed in whatever I am doing. I can appreciate my self and my surroundings more. I have increased clarity in thought and inspiration. Feeling happy actually helps me to produce a higher quality of work.

So rather than asking “Am I happy or not?” ask yourself “How can I be happier?” This changes the nature of happiness from something that is the end result to happiness being  an ongoing process. Something that is infinite in nature and within your control.

Can you think of something you really want?
Imagine you have it.
A new house, a new car, a new body? Whatever you think will make you feel happy. Now imagine yourself going through the day having this something you treasure. How will you feel about yourself, how will this effect the interactions you have with the world. Will you feel more confident, assured? 
When you have really stepped into the role and can feel this I want you to consider that you just had acces to all those feelings all on your own. They are there, available to you at any moment!  

When you’re happy, nothing has actually changed yet everything suddenly seems different.


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There is no set time or age when you suddenly lose all your fears and become a grown up!!!

Do you sometimes feel like everyone grew up and worked out how to behave like an adult and you got left behind?

Why is it that some people radiate confidence, assurance, elegance while others gossip, bitch, and are just plain old nasty! And then there’s the fearful, anxious group that try really hard to please everyone in an effort to avoid being rejected and end up with no sense of self (this is ringing bells with me!)

Have you noticed some women have an aura of peace and security around them while others are desperate to please and can’t call their kid’s teachers by their first names?!

I’m only bringing this up because sometimes I swear I missed the boat on how to grow up and behave like an adult! I guess like everything else in life, there are pros and cons to this as well.

Maintaining a child like interest and joy in the day-to-day things is necessary. Especially if you’re a parent (my husband is one of four boys and he can play and be more childish than the kids, I envy his ability to do that and the kids love it!)

 However I’m raising this issue to get to the not so nice bits about being stuck in teenage mode at 40!

Sometimes we feel we are not fitting in with the other mothers at our children’s school or with our peers at work. Instead of isolating yourself and feeling there is something wrong with you I want to encourage you to see yourself like a car’s gear box (I led into that smoothly huh?) What I mean is that we can’t expect to put our lives into D for Drive and sail through life smoothly. I know it sux but it just doesn’t work like that.

Do you find yourself babbling like a fool when you talk to certain people? Or do you find some situations fill you with dread and fear (situations that others may find fun and appealing).

Well, if you can imagine your life like a gear box, just like the gear box has different speeds it can be moved to, we have many different parts to our personality that we put into gear.

Two very common parts are the inner child and the inner critic. The inner child can feel scared when faced by the bully mother in the playground while the inner critic (you know that voice that tells you nothing you do is good enough and whatever you are doing is wrong!) is always looking for people who are not good for you and actually make you feel like a loser! 

Now there would be no probs if our inner gear box was nicely greased and could sense which people and situations called for which qualities. For example, it would be great to be able to turn to your inner child when it is time to be playful and silly. It would be fabulous to hear when your inner critic is just not helping you, like when you are driving in the wrong gear and can hear the car straining! Unfortunately not many of us are built that finely tuned!

But imagine if we were?!

I’ve come to believe that the better we get at switching through the gears of our personalities and knowing which parts of life call for which qualities, the closer we get to behaving like adults.

We all have the adult inside of us, you know that side that knows what is right and good for us. The side we choose to ignore as we relish feeling sorry for ourselves. The side we ignore as we suck up to someone we don’t like because we are too scared to contemplate cutting them out of our lives. The side we bury as we convince ourselves we are absolute and utter failures! But that side is there.

I encourage you to join me in identifying when this adult side raises its head in your life and pay attention to how it feels. You mind feels clear, your chest and shoulders are relaxed, your breathing comes easier. The adult in you is there all the time. Mine gets buried easily by the other two qualities because they are more dominant, stronger and emotional. In other words, I interact with the world way more from those gears than the adult gear!

It’s just as important to get to know your inner child, how does it feel when you are being playful and silly. Recognise when you inner child is serving you and when it’s not. When does it get scared or the brat comes out?
I can now recognise that when I am dealing with some of the playground bullies (the mum’s I’m referring to!) I feel anxious, my breathing gets faster and my body becomes tense. I become a child, eager to please so they like me and don’t target me or my children! Now that I can recognise this, I am more aware of how I am interacting with these people and work at choosing to switch gears and slip into adult mode.

Same goes for the inner critic. I have another bunch of friends that make me feel like an awkward, silly, giggly klutz whenever I am with them! My inner critic screams “they are so much better than you!” and as a result I interact with them like a nerdy teen trying hard to get in with the cool girls! Sounds sad, I know, but I need to be aware of what my triggers are and which parts of my personality they engage so I can put an end to this cycle. I can honestly say I had myself convinced I was not made to mix with people and I was considering a move to the wilderness. I was convinced I could not be around people and still feel good about myself!

My family can breathe a sigh of relief now that I understand things a bit better and I will not be moving them to a bush station in the Australian outback where the only school options would be radio school!

So being aware of which gear we shift into as we interact with the world and make decision is an amazing tool to have. Once you can see yourself interacting from child mode or critic mode, imagine how it would feel if you faced the same people and situations with your gear firmly in adult mode? When I face the mummy bullies I can be polite without becoming a simpering sycophant! When I am with my assured, confident friends I no longer feel I need to run and hide out of fear of blurting out something stupid! I switch into my adult gear and I can face them head on! Confident, assured and calm!

Hope all this makes sense! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.


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“How to live life as a work of art, rather than as a chaotic response to external events…” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you given any thought to what gets in the way of your own happiness?
A major constraint on us enjoying what we are doing has always been our fear of how we appear to others and what these others are thinking about us.

We spend so much time worrying about whether we are doing enough for our children, our community and everyone else that our lives become nothing more than a response to what is happening around us. When we stop living consciously we let our environment dictate how we spend our time. We drive our kids to way too many activities spending more time in the car than together at home. We spend a ridiculous amount of energy worrying about the mum who is the school bully of the parents (you know who they are!) We try to please everyone around us and in the process lose ourselves to the point where we don’t have an opinion on anything, even what we want for dinner!

When we live life “as a chaotic response to external events” we begin to fall apart. We become anxious, depressed, exhausted and numb. We just keep going, we keep doing what we have always done if it’s no longer working for us because we don’t know how to do things differently.

Sounds crazy but it’s true! It amazes how many of my clients look absolutely confused when I ask them what they enjoy, what they like doing. They have spent so much time doing what is expected of them, they have no idea what they like. They want me to tell them what this could be!

I think one of the challenges people face is they believe that fame and wealth is where happiness lies. Csikszentmihalyi found people did not know what to do to be happy in life. research showed that people were unhappy doing nothing and were happy doing things, they just didn’t know what things they were happy doing. 

Here’s the catch, it’s important to differentiate between pleasure, which we get from eating, sex, gossip with enjoyment. Pleasure feels good but it lacks a sense of achievement where enjoyment leaves us feeling good about ourselves. I think this is how we answer questions such as ‘how do I find myself?’ and how do I find my sense of self. It’s about paying attention to what activities put us in ‘flow’.

Here is how Csikszentmihalyi defines what it feels like to be in ‘the flow’

  • Completely involved, focused, concentrating.
  • Sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
  • Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going.
  • Knowing the activity is doable – that your skills are adequate so you’re not anxious or bored.
  • Sense of serenity – no worries about self, feeling of growth beyond the boundaries of ego (ie worrying what others are thinking and saying about you).
  • Timeliness – thoroughly focused on present, don’t notice time passing.
  • intrinsic motivation – whatever produces ‘flow’ becomes its reward.

I urge you to pay attention what activities create this state in your lives. I get immersed and excited in planning to cook an intricate and complex recipe. I get lost in the process and the sense of achievement I feel as my family eats it leaves me on a high for days afterwards. There is no fame or financial rewards but it makes me happy. Ask yourself are you after happiness or fame and fortune?

Following are great charts that Csikszentmihalyi has drawn to demonstrate how his theory works. I think they are really worth having a look over if you are looking to bring more happiness into your everyday life.

As you can see when you are engaged in activities that are not challenging and not using your skills you can begin to feel numb and empty however if you try to do something that is difficult and you do not possess the skills to do it, it will leave you feeling anxious. The optimal state is to use your particular skills to do something challenging, something that is achievable.

This graph is a summary of how people feel when different skill levels are combined with different challenges.

This last graph is a focus on everyday life and how people spend their leisure time.

So the question is not what gives you pleasure and is easy to do, but what can you do to spend more of your time on activities that are more satisfying rather than brain numbing ones like watching television? And before you think you have no talents or abilities let me stop you there, there is no correlation between intelligence and ‘flow’. Different activities will get people in the ‘flow’ zone, we just need to find what our particular activities are.

Remember to pay attention without judging “where will this get me?” or “what’s the use of that?” Pull your attention away from how the external world will judge what you enjoy and focus it on what gets you into the ‘flow’. This is how you find yourself. This is how you get your sense of self, your sense of who you are. When you can do this, you will find your purpose and your meaning in life.