This page presents information for clients that supports our therapy work; I will be adding content steadily whenever something seems to be of use.
My approach to counselling is in essence, person-centred. I do however offer more information than most counsellors about the mind and how we are affected by experiences. I find that this often helps clients to be more actively engaged in understanding problems and finding solutions that last.
None of the content here implies any instruction or ‘must do’. The information is fact-based and intended to be helpful. Many of us find it difficult to exercise or keep to a healthy diet; sometimes life-style information like this can cause a person to feel like a failure if it is not followed. That is not the intention – after all, difficulty in establishing healthy ways of living is the reason why many people come to counselling. My belief about healthy living is that doing the things described here comes naturally when our mental life is in balance. That is the aim and aspiration of my therapy work.
Things to consider in conjunction with therapy
There are lifestyle factors that can have significant, positive effects on wellbeing and the potential to change. These are now quite widely promoted but are worth listing here – they include the following.
Diet: regular meals at regular times, made up of a varied, ‘Mediterranean’ type diet are helpful. A balanced diet helps us to achieve physical and mental health, improves cognition and even helps to reduce the incidence of dementia later in life. The gut biome – the bacteria, viruses and fungi growing in digestive system – are numbered in hundreds of millions – this is normal and necessary to survival. However, new research shows that the biome can get out of balance due to stress, poor diet and other factors. Imbalances can contribute to obesity, depression, and poor memory.
Hydration: making sure that enough water is consumed each day (without overdoing it!) helps to make sure that the brain is functioning well. Alcohol – a glass of wine or fortified wine, or a single measure of spirit each day does no harm, in fact it has been shown to be healthy. Heavier drinking is not advised for obvious reasons… Fluid intake does not include just water, but also tea, coffee, and the water content of foods, etc.
Sleep: Each of us has differing sleep requirements – some need only six hours per night whilst others need nine. There is a great deal of research-based advice available on this topic; essentially, regular sleep is necessary for health, a clear mind and avoiding dementia problems in later life. Good sleep hygiene (a regular sleep pattern. no electronic screens for an hour before sleep, a regular going-to-bed routine that includes relaxation, low light levels and a comfortable, undisturbed sleeping area are all helpful.
Exercise: Being fit helps! I am not talking about Olympic champion standards, just the regular, able to walk up stairs without getting out of breath sort of fitness. Use the stairs instead of the lift: walk to the shops if you can: ride a bike: play games or sports with friends if you are not a member of a club. You get the picture. Walking 6-8,000 steps each day is shown by research to reduce the chance of early death significantly (more than that has little extra effect). Exercise improves wellbeing, helps neurons to grow and connect in the brain, and assists a positive mood. It is surprising how small amounts of exercise, done regularly, can make a difference.
Socialising: Here I am not suggesting that you become a party animal but that talking with people, sharing a joke, simply saying ‘hello, its a nice day (or not)’ helps to raise our spirits. Chatting to someone at the supermarket or bus stop has a remarkable effect. When feeling down, picking up the phone or popping round to talk to a friend can make a world of difference. One effect of stress is the release of a neurotransmitter called oxytocin – often described in newspapers as the ‘hug hormone’. This gives us motivation to connect with people who can help us and that helps us to feel better.
Music: Listening to music – especially favourite tunes – has a positive effect and again, helps neurons to grow. Try to make space in your days for this. Even better, if you can, learn to play an instrument (if you do not do so already) or join a choir if you can sing – that really does help the brain to grow. It also has the effect of delaying dementia. This effect seems universal – playing music regularly to plants helps them to grow more healthily, classical is best, then blues, jazz, and rock, in that order.
Dance: Obviously this is closely related to music, but dancing is known to have positive effects on stress reduction, coordination, fitness etc. It is a good way to support getting in touch with the physical and emotional parts of awareness. Our bodies hold memories of past difficulties (and happiness too) and movement can often give clues to what our difficulties might be. Care is needed here because specific movements can sometimes trigger trauma memories – try things out carefully and watch for what feelings your movements stimulate. Maintaining good balance through regular movement helps to maintain fitness into old age, reducing falls and keeping the mind active and healthy. Think about yoga, tai chi, etc.
Nature: A walk through pleasant woodland, a park or fields, or on the coast, has proven positive effects on mood and wellbeing.
Meditation: this is often seen as something esoteric, self-indulgent or ‘touchy-feely’. On the contrary, this gentle process is highly effective in improving wellbeing, self-esteem, feeling more in touch and able to deal with problems. It has even been shown to assist a parent’s ability to improve relations with their children. Meditation causes the generation of neuronal links in the hippocampus and amygdala, and elsewhere – key centres of the brain involved in emotional regulation, memory and spacial awareness.
The above recommendations may be more or less possible for you in your life at present. I am happy to explore with you how you might introduce and use these activities to support a healthier, happier life. Undertaking therapy is costly in time and money; it makes sense to do cost-free things that increase the probability of success. Remember that for people who have been traumatised, some of these things (movement and meditation especially) can trigger trauma feelings; this is something that therapy can help resolve.
If you manage to do even one or two of these things on a regular basis, you can reasonably expect some positive effects. Imagine if you can do all of them as part of your regular cycle of activities! Many of them do not require any additional effort or cost, as they can replace existing, less productive activities. This is not about forcing things, but more about working towards what helps the healthy satisfaction of our minds and bodies.
Fun: it may come as a surprise, but there is increasing evidence that a good belly laugh has significant health benefits – including mental health. Making sure that you have the opportunity just to have a laugh on a regular basis is highly recommended.
The Effects of Stress
Stress has many effects, especially when it is sustained over time. I will add information in this section from time to time that might help – knowledge is power! Always remember that health worries should be checked out with your GP.
If you experience this condition repeatedly, a web page that provides helpful information is: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-palpitations/
Most of us are aware that stress can disturb our digestion, causing indigestion and heartburn. For many years alternative health advisors have recommended pro-biotics to help with these problems. Scientists in recent years have begun to catch up. There is now a lot of research evidence that connects the bacteria, viruses and fungi that naturally populate our digestive systems with our mental processes. These include memory, depression, and other symptoms, as well as many physical effects such as chronic fatigue, MS, thyroid problems, arthritis etc. A key link between these factors seems to be stress-induced inflammation causing imbalances in the ‘gut biome’. A combination of good diet and reducing stress will, over time, significantly assist physical and mental wellbeing.