Why turning the TV off tonight could improve your relationship

Over the course of my work with couples, I have come to realise that the concept of ‘quality time’ differs from person to person. While there is certainly no one ‘right’ way to view quality time, I have come to believe that there definitely is a wrong way to view it. In general, the definition I tend to quote when describing quality time to couples is Gary Chapman’s definition from his book The Five Love Languages:

“Quality time is giving someone your undivided attention. I don’t mean sitting on the couch watching television together. I mean sitting on the couch with the TV off, looking at each other and talking…”

For some people, this concept seems tedious, or even uncomfortable. One client responded with “talk about what though?” For me as a therapist, this is a clue that the couple has had difficulty developing intimacy through communication, or perhaps they have been able to at some stage, but lost it somewhere along the way. Quality time is a necessary and important way that couples can communicate the message I am interested in you and I want to spend time with you which makes us feel loved and stable in our relationship, providing a strong foundation.

But one size does not fit all. Different couples are able to communicate the same message in multiple ways, for example, a couple who enjoys walking, driving, playing tennis, or eating out together. You don’t need to be sitting down on a couch talking, but you do need to focused on your other half and therefore not fully focused on the task at hand (e.g., a couple taking a drive who are talking and sharing, rather than a couple taking a drive listening to the radio).

Many couples who come to me for help to improve their relationship report spending very little quality time together. They may be living together, but watching TV in different rooms, one person reading while one person talks on the phone, or one person catching up with friends while the other spending the night at home. Certainly I am not recommending that every waking hour be spent focused completely on each other, but if you are to be an intimate couple rather than two roommates, then it may be important to consider the role quality time plays in your life.

This may mean that you need to become a little more involved in each other’s interests, hobbies and lives. Some couples respond to this suggestion with:

“But I hate playing tennis”

“I couldn’t care less about trying the new restaurant in town”

“It’s not fair that I should have to give up the things I enjoy…”

This is fair enough, we all have different interests and ways of winding down, and again I am not suggesting you need to have a weekly booking at the tennis courts, but getting involved in your partners world is likely to make it much easier to spend quality time together. You might (hopefully) also find that by engaging in your partner’s interests, they become more open to engaging in yours.

Of course we still need to make room for our family, our friends, work and other commitments, and there are likely to be some aspects of each other’s lives that are separate – and this is also important!

The primary benefits of sufficient quality time together:

  • Greater sense of intimacy
  • Better understanding of each other
  • Improved relationship satisfaction
  • Reduced relationship stress
  • Better resilience to minor relationship issues (such as arguments)

My top tips for spending quality time with your partner:

  • Put a reasonable amount of time aside (more than just the ad break!)
  • Listen to your partner when they are talking
  • Don’t interrupt or change the topic until it is clear they have finished talking
  • If it’s too difficult to join each other’s world (and I would really question this being the case) then create some new activities to participate in together or schedule time in for quality conversations
  • Try to focus fully on your partner (or at least direct most of your attention to them)
  • There are no rules for what you should talk about, however it is wise not to focus on negative topics as arguments don’t count for quality time
  • Try to have some quality time every day

Smooth sailing,

Rachel Collins

About the Author: Rachel Collins is a Registered Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and families with a range of psychological disorders and difficulties at Life Resolutions Miranda. To get in touch with Rachel or to make an appointment please call 1300 668 256 or visit http://www.liferesolutionsmiranda.com.au

Take a deep breath…it’s time to talk about managing that stress.

STRESS. That one word that kind of means a lot of things, and seems to track us down wherever we go to remind us how much we have to do or how difficult things can be. Stress pops up whenever we perceive the following to be true:

  1. The pressures that we are facing exceed the perceived resources we have to cope at this time.

Pressures include: work, family, financial etc.

Resources include: time, skills, emotional etc.

Therefore, if we have so many tasks at work and not enough time, we are likely to feel stressed. Similarly, if we relationship problems with our partners and don’t feel we have the emotional resources to cope with these issues, we are likely to feel stressed. If someone came and asked me to give a presentation on the theory of relativity, I would feel stressed because I don’t perceive that I have the skills (i.e., knowledge) to cope with this task.

But enough about what stress is and when we feel it because one thing I have learnt as a psychologist is that it is a rare case that someone has not heard of stress and/or cannot identify examples of situations where they have felt stressed.

My four top tips to combat (present and future) stress:

  • Exercise – I’m sure you read this everywhere, and I think some of us start to skim by it with our eyes looking for the ‘meatier’ tips, or tips you haven’t considered before. This time, I challenge you to add some exercise into your week. I recommend (at least) One hour, three times a week – your choice of exercise. I previously worked at a gym and naturally became interested in fitness and health; I wish I could have measured my stress before and after adding regular exercise into my life. In the absence of these facts and figures, you’ll just have to believe me when I say I am a completely different person in the sense that it takes a lot more to get me stressed out these days. If one hour is too long, break it into half an hour six days a week. Consider some of these suggestions:
    • Walking
    • Running
    • Swimming
    • Rock climbing
    • Hiking
    • Gym/weights
    • Fitness class
    • Bootcamp
    • Pilates
    • Cycling
    • Rowing
    • Dancing
    • Skipping rope
    • Sand dunes
    • Stair climbs
  • Social interactions – as long as the person you spend time with is not the one stressing you out, social interactions are fantastic for stress reduction. Not only is catching up with friends a great distraction, it also helps us to vent and problem solve! Having a good social network also increases resilience to future stressors. If you are reading this and are thinking that you don’t have a reliable social network to turn to, it’s worth thinking about spending some time and energy to improve that network. Perhaps attend Friday drinks with your co-workers, invite a neighbour over for lunch, or call a friend you haven’t seen in a while. It’s not about the number of friends you have, it’s about the perceived quality and reliability of these friendships.
  • Find a hobby – While many people don’t have an identifiable hobby, most people have an idea about the type of thing they would spend time on if they were given a whole week off work. Maybe it’s gardening, golf, travel, photography, reading, listening to music, making candles, painting, writing, dirt biking, marathon running, snorkelling, fishing… Whatever it is, the reason you pick to spend your time on that activity is most likely because you enjoy it! Having some activities that add meaning to your life or that you are passionate about helps us to manage the less enjoyable tasks, or tasks that stress us out.
  • Work out how to relax – It is really worthwhile having a think about the types of activities that help you to relax. While it might be the same activity as your hobby, sometimes this is not the case. While it is important to have fun and enjoyable ways to spend our energy, we also need ways to recuperate that energy. You can try yoga, meditation, spending time in nature, massages/day spas, mindfulness, spending a slow morning at home with a crossword etc. For people who find they having difficulty relaxing, I recommend breathing retraining or Progressive Muscle Relaxation – both are techniques I show my clients on a regular basis and are very useful (this may require a third party to ensure you learn technique correctly).

If you happen to be reading this and thinking that you don’t have time for exercise, social events, hobbies or relaxation then I really suggest that you look into changing your schedule for your own health and wellbeing. I realise that in the real world there are single parents working multiple jobs and students with heavy workloads that make it difficult to do much other than work, eat and sleep. However, it is often these people who need stress release the most! If you honestly have not one spare moment in your schedule, then you may have to multitask (e.g., read a book on the train, call a friend on your lunchbreak, do some meditating in the waiting room at the doctor’s surgery). For the vast majority of us, it’s more an issue of planning and organising our time, rather than simply not having enough of it.

Smooth sailing,

Rachel Collins

In addition we know there are positive health (and mental health) outcomes and importantly, assertive communication is the type of communication that most frequently leads to you getting what you want. So get to it!

Smooth Sailing,

Rachel Collins.

About the Author: Rachel Collins is a Registered Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and families with a range of psychological disorders and difficulties at Life Resolutions Miranda. To get in touch with Rachel or to make an appointment please call 1300 668 256 or visit http://www.liferesolutionsmiranda.com.au

Calming the storm: Dealing with problematic anger.

All of us are guilty of losing our temper from time to time; I promise you that even the coolest cucumber in your family or friendship group is capable of turning into the Hulk if the wrong button is pushed. And that’s perfectly fine, given that we are humans and not robots. And I am yet to meet a family who can sort out arguments with the ease and grace of The Brady Bunch; more often it looks like a disaster movie.

Anger is actually a very important emotion in our portfolio of feelings. From an evolutionary standpoint, theories suggest that anger ‘endured’ because it assisted humans in survival (think ‘caveman days’ when someone wanted to steal the food it took you two hours to hunt down or kick you out of the shelter you worked hard to secure). The issue here is (as with many of our wonderful evolutionary traits) that our lifestyle and environment has changed, and with it, so have the costs and benefits of exhibiting anger. So where it used to be very helpful to want to smack someone with a club if there was some sort of conflict, it is now a whole lot less helpful and also very illegal.

For most of us, however, there is less of an issue with physically violent anger and more of an issue with other sorts of anger. The following cases demonstrate the two more typical kinds of anger I see in the therapy room:

Mary is a 35 year old personal assistant. She tells me she hates her job and that it is slowly killing her. She describes her boss as “dominating” and “unreasonable” and proceeds to give me examples of the ways in which he demonstrates this:

“Oh he’s so unreasonable, last week he came to me at 4pm in the afternoon and asked me to shuffle items around in his schedule for the next two days. He thinks it will take me 2 minutes! I have to literally get in contact with all the clients booked in to let them know of the changes, and if they don’t answer their phones I am forced to wait longer to leave work! I really need to be out by 5pm if I am to get home in time to my kids”

When I ask Mary if she has mentioned to her boss the need to get out of work at 5pm or suggested he give her more notice in regards to changing his schedule she responds:

 “Not directly, but he would know, last week I hardly spoke to him after that and when I did it was one word answers”.

The type of anger Mary demonstrates is called internalising her anger (or anger repression), that is, she is angry and annoyed but will silently do what she is requested to do without speaking up about it. Over time it has led to her resenting her boss and hating her job. This type of anger usually manifests itself somewhere else; it may be that ongoing suppression of Mary’s anger could lead to depression later on down the track. Alternatively, Mary could be finding other ways to vent her anger, perhaps by ‘taking it out’ on her family at home.

By contrast some clients present more like this:

Jack is a 45 year old mechanic. He tells me he has come to see me because his wife requested him to.

“She says she is embarrassed by me just because sometimes when we are out I lose my temper a bit. The other day we were in the carpark and this idiot drove straight into the spot I had my indicator on for! So I sat on my horn for a minute and then when she got out of the car I wound down my window and gave her what’s for!”

Jack proceeds to describe several similar situations where he has verbally attacked someone he doesn’t know when they have committed some perceived ‘slight’ against him in public.

Jack externalises his anger (anger explosions), he takes the behaviours of the people around him personally and therefore feels the need for revenge frequently. This has gotten into trouble in the workplace before where complaints have been made about him.  This type of anger also runs the risk of becoming a more physical type of anger including violence and abuse. This post is will not cover physical aggression or abuse, but if this is an issue for you I strongly recommend that you seek professional help as soon as possible.

But you say I am allowed to be angry…so what’s the big deal?

As with everything, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope with and express your anger. If you suppress your anger like Mary then you may find yourselves in situations where you are unhappy but feel stuck and hopeless. If you express your anger like Jack then you may find yourself in trouble with the law, or having difficulty in marital or work relationships.

According to the Better Health Channel (run by the State Government of Victoria, Australia), there are also correlations between high levels of anger and the following health risks:

  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Skin problems (e.g., eczema)
  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Insomnia

In fact, the Heart Foundation recently reported that people who have experienced high levels of anger in the past two hours are 8.5 times more likely to have a heart attack than compared to when they are feeling relaxed. This is very significant if you feel angry a lot of the time.

Finding healthier ways to express anger:

  • Try to pinpoint the reason why you are angry and be specific (e.g., “that woman pushed in front of me in the queue” rather than “that woman is a rude $%&#@”). This will help to put things more in perspective. Are you really that angry that you may have to wait an extra 3 minutes in line, really!?
  • If you can, walk away and have some time to cool down, do something active, if possible.
  • If you can’t, take 5 deep breaths or count to ten slowly, this gives you time to decide how to respond rather than behaving automatically.
  • Consider anger management, assertiveness training or conflict resolution skills to help find tools that work to reduce your communication and improve your ability to express anger appropriately.
  • Find activities that help you to relax, use these at times when you start to feel geared up.
  • Engage in regular exercise.

But if I don’t react, doesn’t that mean I am letting people get away with being rude to me? Or letting them walk all over me?

I recently read an article by Gorenstein et al. (2007) that answered this perfectly. Many people feel anger in reaction to something that suggests ‘a lack of respect’ from the ‘offending’ party. It is important to distinguish between being a doormat and not being aggressive. There are options in between saying and doing nothing, and never standing up for yourself and erupting like a volcano.

You can raise the issue and give yourself a voice without trying to teach the person a lesson through aggression. A simple “not sure if you’ve realised but you’re actually cutting in the line there” could be an improvement on “are you stupid? Get to the back of the line can’t you see us all standing here waiting?”

So what’s in it for me?

Many clients feel that by reducing their anger they are helping the people around them moreso than themselves. While it is certainly the case that the people around you will probably feel more comfortable if you are less angry, the benefits you will gain are much MUCH greater.

Individuals who successfully complete anger management report a range of benefits:

  • Happier relationships
  • Less time spent thinking about people who made them angry
  • A better night’s sleep
  • More control over their emotions
  • Better outcomes at work and even promotions
  • Reduced anger being displayed by their kids
  • Greater overall feelings of happiness

In addition we know there are positive health (and mental health) outcomes and importantly, assertive communication is the type of communication that most frequently leads to you getting what you want. So get to it!

Smooth Sailing,

Rachel Collins.

About the Author: Rachel Collins is a Registered Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and families with a range of psychological disorders and difficulties at Life Resolutions Miranda. To get in touch with Rachel or to make an appointment please call 1300 668 256 or visit http://www.liferesolutionsmiranda.com.au

Taking charge of change: How to make lasting changes in your life.

Your life doesn’t get better by chance, it gets better by change – Jim Rohn

At the heart of most of my work with people who are seeking treatment is one simple but very important question:

Could things be better for me?

Even if I am not asked this question directly, I feel it coming from different places in the speech and behavior of my clients:

  • The depressed client may wonder “Why are things so hard for me?”
  • The anxious client may think “How can I get control of my life back?”
  • The stressed student wonders “How is everyone else coping?”
  • The struggling parent may ask “Am I doing this right?”
  • The bullied teen may question “What’s wrong with me?”
  • The yo-yo dieter may be confused “Why isn’t this working?”

We all have expectations, goals and visions of what we thought life would be like, and so naturally we all experience disappointment if things don’t go to plan. This disappointment is totally normal and is a part of life.

But what if things could be different? What if they could be better? Usually, they can be. This leads me to today’s topic of discussion:

If it’s possible to change, why don’t we?

Well! Isn’t it obvious? Charge is such hard work. Oh my god, I wanted to stick to that diet but I am tired and had a bad day at work and I deserve this piece of cake! Yes I know I said I was going to try to use relaxation strategies when I was anxious, but I don’t have time for that crap and to be honest I’m not sure that would work for me anyway. I promised myself that I was going to organise a social outing this weekend to try to get me out of the house and make me feel better, but I am exhausted and I really don’t feel like it today.

I’m not here to give you a lecture on excuses (trust me I have a nice collection of my own) but I am here to ask you, aren’t you sick of going back on your decisions to find yourself in the same place you were yesterday? We manage to plod along for a few weeks before finding ourselves thinking “I really should do something about that”. And then we are back where we started.

If you want to change I can guarantee you one thing – you will feel uncomfortable. Change and discomfort are mutually exclusive in any circumstance where the change is significant (and worthwhile).

  • Career goals à Hard work, late nights, less free time
  • Fitness/health goals à Hard work, early mornings, less junk food
  • Anxiety goals à Hard work, lots of practice, facing your fears
  • Depression goals à Hard work, lots of courage, doing things even when you have no motivation
  • Relationship goals à Hard work, compromise, problem solving

You see what I am doing here.

But what should you do about it?

Well first, I do recommend you go back and read up on goal setting under “Health and Exercise Goals: Tips from making the shift from failure to success” (even though it is based on health and fitness, the tips really apply to any kind of goal setting).

Once you have clear goals in mind, it’s time to address the discomfort (and by association, the excuses):

  • Get the right tools: If you think you are experiencing difficulties with depression, anxiety or another mental health issue – please link in with your GP or psychologist. They can help you to develop skills and strategies that are research-based and tried-and-tested. If the change you seek requires something else (e.g., gym membership, library books, stationary for study, internet resources etc.) get this set up ahead of time so that there is nothing holding you back.
  • Make the distinction between motivation and commitment: Motivation waxes and wanes, commitment is stable. If you are committed, you can create change even on the days where you have little motivation because you have already decided your actions ahead of time.
  • Anticipate the discomfort and the obstacles: This is particularly useful if you have been down this road before – what got in your way in the past? How will you deal with these things differently? If you haven’t been down this road before, think about what obstacles may arise, do some research or ask others who might know and make the necessary preparations.
  • Decide how to deal with excuses: What will you do when you are making excuses? What will you tell yourself? A little thought I find helpful is “You already know what it feels like to stay the same, you already know what will happen if you bow out now – now is the time to find out what would happen if I stick to the plan.You are effectively intervening on your own bad habits before they actually kick in.
  • Recruit, recruit, recruit: See if you can find someone to go the distance with you. I have clients who will get their husbands to do relaxation strategies with them, or clients who will tell their friends about their tendency to want to stay home instead of socialise so that there’s no backing out at the last minute. If you have good supports around you, utilise them. If you don’t, think about trying to build some supports through friends, family or professionals.
  • Be very kind to yourself, in the right way: You may not see results right away. You may not start feeling better for a little while. It may take every ounce of your strength to follow the plan. That’s ok! You are going to have good days and you will have bad days. One bad day does not make a failure – it’s when you stop thriving for the good days that there is a problem. So be nice, and reward yourself for your efforts. However, ‘being kind to yourself’ does not mean giving in to your excuses, or letting yourself off the hook for reasons that don’t really match your original plan.

Whatever it is that you are trying to change; I wish you the best of luck. Keep focusing on what you have to gain from change and remember that failure is not final!

Smooth sailing,

Rachel Collins.

About the Author: Rachel Collins is a Registered Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and families with a range of psychological disorders and difficulties at Life Resolutions Miranda. To get in touch with Rachel or to make an appointment please call 1300 668 256 or visit http://www.liferesolutionsmiranda.com.au

Trouble in paradise – the Number One issue popping up in couple therapy.

No couple is perfect.  If you consider that a couple is made of two imperfect individuals, with potentially different life experiences and values, spending a lot of time together; it’s not exactly a smooth operation. Not to mention that couples do not exist in a vacuum. There are always third parties involved: kids, parents, siblings, bosses, coworkers, friends, ex-partners, and in some unfortunate cases; affairs. Every time that I work with a couple I am aware that it is not only important to develop an understanding of the dynamics, roles and systems within that couple, it is also important to understand each individual separately as well. We can’t help but bring our own shortcomings and/or pains from the past to a relationship. At least not in the long run. Today I want to discuss what I see to be the Number One issue for couples in the therapy room (and also in the community). COMMUNICATION. It seems simple – you should talk to your partner often and you should talk nicely. But communication is complex and intricate, and sometimes it takes a third party to point out some of the unhelpful ways of communicating that we develop. It is much harder to see these from the inside, particularly if you have been communicating this way for a long time. What kind of issues do couples have with communication? Well, all kinds really. But in a nutshell:

  1. How much they communicate – is there any meaningful communication happening? Is someone giving the ‘cold shoulder’ or shutting down?
  2. What language they use to communicate – is there cruel, hurtful or abusive communication?
  3. What tone of voice they use to communicate – is there genuine interest at finding a solution and a caring tone, even at times when things get a little heated?
  4. When they communicate – are you only communicating when there is a problem (i.e., nagging) or not communicating at all? Are you having arguments in front of the kids?
  5. What issues they choose to avoid communicating about – are there topics that are off the table? Are there things you are keeping from your partner?
  6. How they listen to their partner – Is anyone listening or is everyone trying to be heard?
  7. What they do with the information their partner communicates to them – is anyone trying to improve the situation using the information at hand?

Obviously not all couples have problematic styles of communicating, and for those that do, they might not have all 7 of these listed issues. The most important question really is how would you know if you had issues with communicating with your partner?  There are some telltale signs that are easy for couples to recognize, such as:

  • Conversations turn into arguments; frequently.
  • Arguments are very rarely calm and frequently erupt into something huge.
  • There are some topics that you have chosen not to discuss with your partner because you either
    • Are avoiding an argument, or
    • Are keeping secrets
  • You don’t know much about what your partner’s day-to-day life is like, or feel like you don’t know much about them in general.
  • You often put each other down or use language that is hurtful to get across your message or make an impact.
  • You have serious discussions at times when you are both too angry or distressed to actually get to the bottom of it.
  • Your arguments or disagreements never find a resolution and result in built up resentment.
  • One or both of you misses the point the other is trying to make because they are too busy trying to get their own point across, resulting in no-one being heard.
  • You or your partner feel that the other doesn’t care because even when you do tell them something that is wrong, they don’t seem to do anything with the information or change their ways.

So what should you do? Obviously, being a psychologist, I am a big advocate of couples counselling. It can just be so hard to even recognise unhelpful communication styles when you have become used to them, let alone know how to intervene and improve them. However, there are some tips I think every couple should know and practice to improve communication:

  • Don’t talk about difficult, distressing topics when one or both of you are too angry or upset. If you do, don’t expect a positive result.
  • When things get too heated, tell the other person you need some time to calm down and walk away. Recommence the conversation when everyone is calm.
  • Always attack the problem, never attack the person.
  • Focus on listening when your partner is talking, SO many arguments are a result of miscommunication or assumption-making. Get the facts first, and then give your version of the facts.
  • In general, no one is to blame, but everyone is responsible for solving the problem. If you don’t focus on the problem and use blame tactics, chances are your partner will become defensive and no progress will be made.
  • Increase the opportunity for positive communication! Take a walk together and talk about dreams and goals, watch a movie then discuss what you each thought, tell each other things you like about the other person. Couples who feel more positive about each other can problem solve better.

For individuals who are in a relationship where there is Domestic Violence – including psychical, verbal, emotional or financial abuse it is important to realise that this issue is more than just a communication problem. The tips in this blog are not aimed to provide advice for domestically violent or abusive relationships. I do suggest that you seek assistance from a professional for support with these issues.

Smooth sailing,

Rachel Collins

About the Author: Rachel Collins is a Registered Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and families with a range of psychological disorders and difficulties at Life Resolutions Miranda. To get in touch with Rachel or to make an appointment please call 1300 668 256 or visit http://www.liferesolutionsmiranda.com.au

The vortex of excessive worry

Worry. It’s a necessary evil I suppose. On one hand it helps us to take things seriously (exams…presentations…etc.) without worry, we’d most likely just have a ‘wing it’ attitude about most things. One the other hand, it can be awful, those feelings of dread, or nervousness, that pressure to do something right or the harrowing uncertainty of the unknown.

While all of us worry, how we worry can be broken into two main categories:

Rational worry – the things we worry about when we have real cause to worry. For example, for many of us it would be appropriate to develop financial worries if we were to suddenly lose our jobs.

Irrational worry – the things we worry about when there are no real signs that we need to be worrying. For example worrying about your partner’s health when they are physically active, healthy and have regular check-ups with no negative results.

Most of us have a mix of the two, with the majority being rational. The irrational ones we kind of get used to shaking off or occasionally giving into them from time to time. Even though this can be irritating, it is certainly not unusual, and more importantly, it’s manageable.

For some people, however, worries can be crippling. Both the sheer number of worries they have from day to day and the significance of these worries for the individual can get in the way of work, relationships and life satisfaction. These people may worry about work, their family, their friends, their health, and their relationships like the rest of us. But for these people, there is no shaking off the worries, or putting them to rest. Instead every spare moment is filled with “what ifs?” and it’s exhausting. These individuals display features commonly seen in Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

It isn’t surprising that I see many people who suffer with anxiety-related difficulties, since 1 in 7 Australians will experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. Approximately 6% of Australians will experience GAD, and while it might not seem like a huge amount, for those individuals, they find it very difficult to switch off this anxiety – even if things seem to be going OK in their lives. One client described it as trying to listen to two radio stations at one, the first channel being her life (conversations she was part of, work projects she was doing, activities with family etc.) the other was her worries, constantly questioning everything she did and telling her things could go wrong at any minute. It was mentally and physically exhausting her.

Of course, you do not need to have GAD to experience worries, and as with all things in psychology the best way to look at it is on a sliding scale. One the far left we have individuals who are very carefree and don’t seem to get caught up too much by anxiety and stress except in extreme circumstances. On the far right we have someone with severe GAD. We all sit along this scale somewhere. For those in the far right corner, it can be difficult to make changes to the way they think because it may feel that whenever there is a quiet moment in your head, the worries start to fill it up. It can be disastrous when trying to pay attention, and they often find themselves being misunderstood by others and frequently told “stress less!”

The first thing for people who experience generalised anxiety to realise is that it isn’t something that you are doing wrong, I don’t imagine you are consciously trying to come up with ideas and negative possibilities to worry about! You may be frustrated and drained, and you may experience some of these symptoms:

  • Finding it hard to stop worrying
  • Finding it hard to keep functioning around your anxiety (e.g., pay attention at work or study)
  • Feelings of restlessness or irritability
  • Easily becoming tired and/or having difficulty sleeping
  • Experiences of muscle pain

Some people who worry often also find it affects their personality or the way they relate to others, such as:

  • Being easily persuaded by others (conforming to what they want)
  • Having perfectionistic tendencies
  • Often feeling unsure of oneself, this can lead to ‘checking’ with others if you are doing things the right way or seek approval
  • Feeling an urge to redo tasks
  • Being the pessimist of the group (e.g., “What if it’s not just a cold?” “What if our new neighbours don’t like us?” “What if you have an accident?”)

If you can relate to this, you may be wondering how it came to be that your tendency to worry is so much bigger and more intrusive than those around you. There are theories about the development of GAD but the consensus among professionals is that a combination of genetic, developmental and lifestyle can contribute.

One theory proposed in the literature was that worrying was seen as a form of problem-solving for people with GAD. Something they felt they had to do or it would feel like they were doing nothing about all the things that could supposedly go wrong. Almost like if they just had time to process it in their minds then they would be able to deal with it more easily if it came true. The problem here is that lots of these worries don’t come true, and that’s a lot of time and energy spent problem solving for a problem that doesn’t really exist.

For the clients I have seen who are suffering from GAD the main question on their lips is “How can I stop worrying?”  That question does depend on the individual and their personal experience of anxiety, however I have found a few things in common can help.

  1. Realising that worry is not an action. This means, whether you worry about something or not, the outcome will not change. To change the outcome, you must take action. So if you are worried about failing the course, you should study or possibly talk to an advisor at the institution, worrying alone will not be effective.
  2. Find relaxation in your day to day life. GAD is exhausting and often accompanied by physical tension and other symptoms. Find ways to help your body and mind relax, such as taking a bath, listening to music, or going for a walk.
  3. Thinking about the evidence. GAD is great at making mountains out of your molehills and giving you new problems you didn’t know you had. If you look at the evidence objectively, you will be more likely to find the realistic answer to your worries. For example, if you are worried that your boss will not like your work, think back to other projects you handed in, were they well received? Have you taken on board their feedback? Do your co-workers seem to think your work is good quality? If you’re answering “yes” then it is possible that your worries are misplaced. If you’re answering “no” then it is time to go back to number 1 and take some action to fix the problem rather than let the issue follow you around all day.
  4. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is essentially the art of being in the moment and observing your thoughts from a distance, rather than engaging in each individual thought and giving it power. The idea is that you can accept your thoughts and let them pass without accepting that your thoughts are the truth and indicate some upcoming storm you have to prepare for. I always recommend people get some sort of mindfulness training, since trying to act and think mindfully without training is like trying to ignore your inner voice when it’s yelling at you through a megaphone.
  5. When it is starting to impact your life, get some professional help. GAD can be like a broken record in your mind that can get in the way of your relationships, work and life satisfaction. It can be difficult to turn off, even for the most determined of individuals. A mental health professional can assist you to find skills and strategies that shut down the record (or at least turn the volume down).

Smooth sailing,

Rachel Collins.

 

About the Author: Rachel Collins is a Registered Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and families with a range of psychological disorders and difficulties at Life Resolutions Miranda. To get in touch with Rachel or to make an appointment please call 1300 668 256 or visit http://www.liferesolutionsmiranda.com.au

Health and Exercise Goals: Tips to make the shift from failure to success.

Most of us will set goals for our diet or fitness level at some stage in our lives (let’s be honest, HUNDREDS of times in our lives). Sometime we manage to reach these goals, but sometimes, we manage to fall miserably short. Today I want to talk about both goal setting and goal achievement as they are both very different but equally important stages of reaching your goals. While the concepts in this blog can be applied to any sort of goal, I want to specifically talk about health and fitness goals.

Goal Setting – what not to do:

Both my clients and my friends talk about goal setting in a very arbitrary way:

“I want to lose 5 kilos by June”

“I want to be able to run 6km”

“I’m going to try to stick to a 1200 Calorie diet from now on”

While it is great to have an idea of how you want to progress, it’s important to really consider where these figures come from. Why are you picking 5 kilos? Why do you want to run 6km? What will a 1200 calorie diet help you to achieve? The reason these questions are so important is because the WHY is actually more important than the WHAT. If you have a genuine reason to achieve your goal, you will find yourself feeling more motivated to get there, if you pick a goal because it sounds nice, or because you saw it in a magazine then I am afraid you might find it more difficult.

Once you have the ‘why’ the next step is to construct what is known as a SMART goal:
S – Specific – state exactly what you want to accomplish

M – Measurable – Decide how you will be able to measure your progress and achievement

A – Achievable – Only set goals that are possible for you to achieve (e.g., don’t set a goal to lift heavier weights if you have no access to a gym or appropriate equipment).

R – Relevant – Try to set goals that are tied into your values or responsibilities as these will be more motivational (e.g., don’t set out to cut gluten out of your diet if you are not willing to cook your own food or change the restaurants you frequent).

T – Time limited – Always give your goals a specific time frame (or frames) so they doesn’t get lost or forgotten

Many people have heard of SMART goals at some point in their life, yet fail to spend time planning their goals in this way. In my experience, people believe that goal setting is not as important as the actual reaching of these goals, however this is not the case. As the saying goes failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Here is an example of a health goal set using the SMART system:

S – My goal is to be able to run 10km in an hour (or under) without the need to stop or take breaks along the way. To do this I plan to take three 10km runs a week until the end-date of my goal or until I achieve my goal.

M – I will track my runs to measure the length as well as take a watch so I can time myself. I will record the time of each run and graph my progress to see if I am getting faster over the course of time.

A – I know I can achieve this goal if I train properly and keep motivated because I have been able to improve my run time in the past before. I am also fit and healthy and have no injuries.

R – This goal is relevant to me at this time because I enjoy running, I want to improve my fitness, and I want to enter a 10km fun run in the middle of the year.

T – I plan to reach my goal by 1 May 2015, this will give me one month to continue to train for the fun run in June if I want to improve my time further.

What Next?

So you have set your goals and made all the necessary preparations, so how do you make sure you achieve them? The key is doing enough work now to ensure you have the necessary motivation and resources later. By that I mean take steps to ensure that even in a few weeks’ time, after a busy week, when you’re exhausted and have lost some of your motivation, you can still be moving towards your goals (or at least not going backwards). How you do this depends on your goal, but some ideas include:

  • Prepare your meals so all you have to do is take them from the fridge/freezer.
  • Pay your personal trainer for 12 weeks in advance (or however long your goal will take to reach) so that you can’t back out if you know you have already spent the cash.
  • Tell everyone around you that you are eating healthier, or increasing your water intake etc., they can keep you accountable simply by knowing what you are (or aren’t) meant to be doing.
  • Recruit a partner or group who can work towards the goal with you so you can sponge some of their motivation when yours is low (and vice versa!).
  • Write your goals down, revise them every day, and review your progress regularly.
  • Visualise yourself at the end goal – this might seem trivial, but this is very powerful. If you imagine yourself at the point you are trying to reach, it can make it seem closer and more achievable. This will help at the moments you are not sure if you want to continue.
  • Create a vision board where you can put recipes, cut outs of motivational figures, inspirational quotes and other materials that will remind you of your end goal along the way.

But what about setbacks?

Setbacks can be frustrating but they are also important and sometimes, essential. They help to correct our misjudgements about how long a goal will take to reach, how high we set our expectation, or how easy we thought it would be to achieve the goal. When a setback occurs it should prompt you to identify the roadblocks that are preventing you from your goals; is your motivation waning? Are you losing focus? Have you forgotten why you wanted to achieve the goal? Do you have the necessary equipment or resources? Is your goal based on something you truly want and believe in?

If you find yourself experiencing multiple setbacks it might be time to re-evaluate your goals or your approach. My favourite quote at times like this is failure is success turned inside-out. Remember: failing to achieve your goals in the specified time doesn’t mean you won’t achieve them – it just gives you some more information for the next time!

Smooth Sailing,

Rachel Collins.

About the Author: Rachel Collins is a Registered Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and families with a range of psychological disorders and difficulties at Life Resolutions Miranda. To get in touch with Rachel or to make an appointment please call 1300 668 256 or visit http://www.liferesolutionsmiranda.com.au

Anxious little people: How can I help my anxious child?

No parent wants to see their child being gripped by the vice of anxiety, but unfortunately, children can feel anxiety just like the rest of us. Some of this anxiety is normal, such as a 3-year-old wanting to sleep with a night-light because they are afraid of the dark, or a 12-year-old being nervous about starting high school. This sort of anxiety is expected and age-appropriate, so it is nothing to be too concerned about.

Today we explore abnormal or problematic anxiety in kids and what you can do if you believe your child is exhibiting these behaviours.

How can parents tell the difference between normal, age-appropriate anxiety and problematic anxiety?

Anxiety only really becomes a problem when either the intensity or the focus of that anxiety is getting in the way of the child’s physical, social or emotional health.

Intensity refers to how much anxiety is felt by the child – this can range from a few butterflies in the tummy to crippling anxiety that impedes a child’s life in many ways.

Focus refers to the feared thing or situation – while it is not unusual for a school-aged child to feel anxious about giving a speech, it would be unusual for a 13-year-old to be unable to go to sleep in their own bed and instead sleep with their parents due to fear of monsters under the bed.

A parent can recognise problematic anxiety if their child has HUGE anxious reactions that seem out of proportion to the situation, or if the focus of their child’s anxiety is unusual or age-inappropriate. Often children exhibit their anxiety in different ways, however. While some children’s anxiety looks like anxiety, other children may appear as defiant, angry, perfectionistic or unwell – meaning that it can be difficult for parents tell the difference between anxiety and other emotions or behaviours. The key is really when the behaviours are being exhibited, is your child relatively compliant until it becomes time to go to bed and suddenly they are throwing tantrums? Does your child spend 2 hours doing homework that seems straightforward, going over and over it to ensure there are no mistakes?

If you are struggling to decide if its anxiety or something else, don’t worry, it’s something that is actually very difficult to do in some cases. Teachers, school counsellors and psychologists are likely to be able to help you determine the underlying cause of the behaviour.

***Of course, there are more complex cases where a child has experienced some type of trauma or abuse which has resulted in anxiety. This blog post refers to anxiety that is not a result of trauma or abuse.

Some of the most common sorts of anxiety that I see in children include:

  • Social anxiety – worries about how they are being perceived by other people and/or avoidance of certain social situations.
  • Sleep or bedtime anxiety – anxiety around bedtime driven by fear of monsters, nightmares, burglars, or not being able to fall asleep.
  • Separation anxiety – anxiety in situations where children are required to spend time away from parents or caregivers.
  • Performance anxiety – worries about performance or achievement (e.g., exam anxiety)
  • Generalised anxiety – the child is a bit of a ‘worry wart’ and worries about a number of different things that do not seem to be related.
  • Phobias – fear of certain situations or stimuli, such as heights, dogs or needles.
  • Perfectionism – eesire to be absolutely perfect in one or more areas of their life (e.g., school work or sports).

Given that anxiety is such a varied emotion, there are many more reasons a child may be feeling anxious and present for treatment.

How can parents help their child with their anxiety at home?

Parents often report feeling helpless when their child is suffering from anxiety, but there are some things you can do in the home environment to help children to cope.

  • Model “brave” behaviours – children learn by watching. If they see you facing your fears, they are more likely to feel confident to give it a go themselves.
  • Praise “brave” behaviours” – provide reinforcement when children are making an effort to face their fears.
  • Talk it out – Give children a sounding board when they can talk about their worries without judgement or consequence. Brainstorm ways of ‘conquering’ the fear together. For children who are not the talking type, a journal might be helpful to write their worries down into.

When should parents seek advice from professionals?

Sometimes we all need a little assistance to get past some of the barriers we face in life, and children are no different. It’s time to reach out for help when your child is displaying excessive signs of anxiety or when it is impacting their life in some way, such as being able to make friends, attend school, get a good night’s sleep, or if their mood is being affected significantly.

What is the treatment for child anxiety?

A psychologist will work with both you and your child to tackle issues of anxiety. Parent training involves providing you with skills and strategies to use that will assist your child at home. Child therapy will provide your child with new tools they can use to overcome their anxiety and feel more relaxed. Plenty of home practice is needed to ensure that the child masters these tools and learns to use them confidently. Sometimes, treatment may also involve collaborating with a child’s school if their anxiety is being exhibited in the classroom or on the playground.

Given that anxiety varies so much from person to person in terms of what the child is worried about and how their anxiety affects them, treatment for anxiety also varies. It is worthwhile talking to your local psychologist or school counselor if you are concerned about your child’s anxiety to work out the next step.

What else do I need to know?

It is noteworthy that anxiety might look particularly different in children who have a diagnosis of a Developmental Disorder (e.g., Autism Spectrum Disorder (Or Asperger’s Syndrome) or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Mood Disorder or other psychological diagnosis.

Many parents feel that they are to blame for their child’s emotional difficulties; I encourage you not to feel responsible for your child’s anxiety, but rather to take an active approach to helping them to overcome it as this is likely to benefit you both!

Smooth sailing,

Rachel Collins.

About the Author: Rachel Collins is a Registered Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and families with a range of psychological disorders and difficulties at Life Resolutions Miranda. To get in touch with Rachel or to make an appointment please call 1300 668 256 or visit http://www.liferesolutionsmiranda.com.au

Five different clients, one complaint: what is it and does it affect you?

One very interesting phenomenon about psychology is that across time, you can see clients from different walks of life with different presenting problems, but start to get the feeling that there may be one underlying issue at the root of it all. Today’s inspiration came from five very different clients I have seen over time with one fundamental difficulty…

The 5 clients:

  • The perfectionist: completing all tasks to a painfully high standard
  • The workaholic: working back late on a regular basis despite a desire for work/life balance
  • The people-pleaser: unable to say no or put herself first
  • The short-temper: loses temper easily when others disagree
  • The anxious teenager: worrying about the things her friends are getting involved in but unable to break away

At face value, it seems as though they are all experiencing very different problems relating to their own experience and stage of life. Over time, however, it became apparent that these five clients were all having difficulty with being assertive. That is, their inability to take care of their own needs in addition to the needs of others had resulted in feelings of anxiety and exhaustion or anger and frustration.

Communication theories specify that there are three main types of communication style: Aggressive, Assertive, and Submissive. The best way to think of it is on a continuum where people can vary between styles:

Submissive>>>> Assertive>>>>>Aggressive

Individuals with a submissive communication style tend to see their own needs as less important than others and may violate their own needs as a result. They experience difficulty saying no, expressing their opinions and asking for help.

Individuals with an assertive communication style tend to see their own needs as important as the needs of others and avoid violating their own needs as well as others’. They manage to express their opinions without offending others and can ask for help or say no when they need to.

Individuals with an aggressive communication style see their own needs as more important than others and therefore may violate the needs of those around them. They are able to express their opinions, but have difficulty accepting the opinions of others if they conflict with their own. They can tell other people “no” but may be unwilling to accept being told “no” by others. If they require help they may demand it and may come across as rude, offensive or difficult to be around during conflicts.

While four of the five clients were communicating using the submissive style,’the short-temper’ was using the aggressive style. Each has negative effects for the individual to the same extent but in different ways.

The effects:

  • The perfectionist: tried to avoid criticism (from self and others) by trying to be perfect.  Costs include time, energy, and continually feeling disappointed due to high standards.
  • The workaholic: takes on extra projects as he is unable to say no. Costs include time, energy, missing out on family events and relationship issues as a result of work hours.
  • The people-pleaser: ignores own needs and goals in order to spend time and effort meeting other people’s needs to avoid feeling guilty, receiving criticism or letting people down. Costs include time, energy, reaching goals and being taken advantage of.
  • The short-temper: gets fired up when people disagree or get in the way of her meeting her own goals. Costs include friendships and relationships, emotional energy and missed work opportunities.
  • The anxious teenager: very concerned about her friends getting involved in drugs but unable to stand up to them or walk away for fear of conflict. Costs include emotional energy, relationship with parents and other concerned parties, safety and health.

So is it possible to change communication styles?

Yes, absolutely. Assertiveness training is very effective to help clients who want to become less submissive or aggressive.

So how do I become more assertive?

There are literally thousands of resources on the internet that give tips on becoming more assertive.The issue is that our communication style is generally influenced by our family’s way of communicating, so it’s likely you’ve developed them over time and had lots of practice using them. While self-help resources can be very successful for some individuals, others may require one-on-one help to identify and modify unhelpful patterns of communication that have been used for many years.

A few of my tips to becoming more assertive (for both submissive and aggressive communicators):

  • Be ready to say “no” when someone asks you to do something that does not suit you or impedes your own needs in some way.
  • Avoid providing lots of justification for your choices, give yourself permission to make healthy decisions and stick to them.
  • Agree to disagree and avoid trying to pressure people to do things your way.
  • Speak calmly and confidently, whilst being respectful. This is the tone that is most likely to get you what you want.
  • Remember that everyone’s needs are important. Yours are neither more nor less important than those around you. Therefore, see compromise as an opportunity, rather than something you want to avoid.
  • PRACTICE! Without putting your assertive skills into practice, old patterns of submissive or aggressive communication will continue to prevail.

I hope this insight has been helpful, stay tuned for next week’s blog!

Smooth sailing,

Rachel Collins

About the Author: Rachel Collins is a Registered Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and families with a range of psychological disorders and difficulties at Life Resolutions Miranda. To get in touch with Rachel or to make an appointment please call 1300 668 256 or visit http://www.liferesolutionsmiranda.com.au

Taking the first step – What does the initial therapy session look like?

For every one person who makes an appointment, I would estimate there would be three others who have thought about it but haven’t yet made the call. This is understandable – I am a complete stranger! You don’t know who I am, what I am going to make you do, or if I can even help you. People avoid making the call for many reasons, here a few of the most common:

  • You get cold feet – you made the appointment weeks ago, but as the day gets closer you start to feel nervous or unsure, and so cancel it instead to reduce the anxiety about coming in.
  • You feel like it’s not a ‘big enough deal’– you say to yourself “there are people who have are REALLY struggling and I am coping OK”
  • You feel you might be judged – “what if the psychologist thinks I am crazy, or useless or stupid?”
  • You feel that you should be able to handle your own problems – “What I really need to do is just suck it up and deal with it on my own”
  • You don’t know what to say, or what the psychologist might ask you, and this makes you nervous – “where would I even start?”
  • You don’t know if this person will even be able to help you – “It’s hopeless”

It’s understandable that people are unsure, for some, this is the first time they have spoken to anyone about their problems, and for others, they have gone so long without help (or been given inadequate help) that they feel the whole process is useless. Unfortunately, this means that many people go without talking to someone or getting assistance. Remember: it’s the psychologist’s job to make you feel like you didn’t need to worry about any of these things listed above because they are only here to help.

Since the therapy room can seem like such a mysterious place to some, I wanted to paint a picture of what mine looks like. Obviously I can only speak for myself, as every psychologist and clinic is different, however, you might find that we have some of these things in common in the first consultation:

  • The first step is booking an appointment over the phone. A receptionist will gather some general information about you and then ask what the primary issue is. While some people feel a bit odd giving this information to a receptionist, the main reason they will ask this question is to make sure that they book you in to see someone who is competent in your area of need (i.e., they won’t send you to a drug and alcohol specialist for couples counseling). At this point, it is OK to be vague with what’s going on for you if you feel more comfortable with that.
  • Arriving at your actual appointment can often be the most daunting part of the process. Upon arrival, I will greet you in the waiting room and give you some brief paperwork to complete. This will include your general contact details as well as a consent form. In addition, I may give you a short questionnaire depending on the primary reason you are coming to see me. Psychologists use questionnaires to measure and gauge certain symptoms or difficulties, such as the level of anxiety or depression you are experiencing. After scoring the questionnaires I will always explain to you what they mean and what the results suggest.
  • I begin the session by introducing myself, giving you some details on confidentiality and asking you if there was anything you wanted to ask me before we got started. Some people use this as an opportunity to ask about my professional background, or clarify something else they had been wondering about.
  • From here, I will ask you the main reason you have come to see me today. While you talk, I listen. I don’t make judgements on your character or your life decisions, I don’t think that you are crazy or stupid or weird. I have no idea what you have been through or what your life has been like, so instead I listen to try to understand you better. Once I feel that I understand your main concerns, I try to gather some background information – after all – people don’t exist in a vacuum. We are who we are because of a combination of genes and our environment. Since I have no access to your genetic information, I ask questions about your environment. What it was like growing up, what your strengths are, and what life has been like for you. I am not interested in blaming your parents or pointing out your flaws, but I am interested in understanding a little bit more about what your life journey has looked like. The more I understand your past and present, the more I can start to see where your difficulties have come from and the better equipped I am to help you to overcome them.  
  • Towards the end of the session I will ALWAYS ask you what your goals are, or what you are hoping to get out of working together. Helping you reach these goals is my primary objective. I have clients who want to reduce stress, improve their parenting style, become less anxious, help their husband to cope with depression, stop negative eating patterns, improve their relationships or to get better quality sleep. I have clients who are not sure of their goals, but they know they want to make changes in their life, it might be as simple as “not letting my co-worker get to me” or “getting some things off my chest” and this is OK! Like I said, it is not my job to judge your goals; it’s my job to help you reach them.
  • You will see me taking notes in my sessions so that I can document and recall important things you have said to me. You are more than welcome to take notes in my sessions. You are MORE than welcome to ask questions and clarify things that I have said and disagree with my opinions. These sessions are about you, they are not about me. You will regularly hear me say things like “correct me if I am on the wrong track with this” or “stop me if I have misunderstood”.
  • Lastly, I will give you some information on how many sessions I think we will need and the frequency of these sessions. This will depend on the things we discuss in the initial session as well as your schedule and ability to attend sessions.

I am aware that this blog entry is unlikely to answer all of your questions about the first session, but I do hope that it is a start. I encourage people to call their psychology clinic to ask them any questions or discuss any concerns before making an appointment if there are things they are unsure about.

A few side notes:

  • If you are thinking of making an appointment, make an appointment. You have nothing to lose except one hour of your time.
  • Three of the most common questions I get asked in my personal life are “Do you have a recliner couch for your clients to lay in?” “Do you toy with people’s minds?” and “Can you tell me some stories about your clients?” The answer to these questions is always no, no and NO! We’re psychologists, not evil magicians.

Smooth Sailing,

Rachel Collins

 About the Author: Rachel Collins is a Registered Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and families with a range of psychological disorders and difficulties at Life Resolutions Miranda. To get in touch with Rachel or to make an appointment please call 1300 668 256 or visit http://www.liferesolutionsmiranda.com.au