Time to welcome in the Spring

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This is probably my favourite time of the year. Lengthening days and the promise of things to come. April is a wonderful time of renewal. Sunshine and showers feed the earth, and all around the plant world is coming to life. Humans too can take their cue from nature and begin to take on new projects, looking ahead to the summer.

As you go about your day to day activities take time look at all the buds emerging and tiny leaves beginning to unfurl. Almost minute by minute it would seem that nature is bringing about incredible changes. Now is a really good time for each of us to think about changes. Spring really is a good time to bring about some positive lifestyle tweaks.

Here are a few tips that I will be endeavouring to bring into my life and which you too you might find helpful.

Strive to create a more balanced life. Stop being a slave to work, whether that be in the office or at home. Instead look to relaxation and rejuvination as primary goals to bild into life, not luxury “add ons.”

Get out for more walks. There is nothing better than a daily dose of fresh air to awaken the senses.  Take some time to enjoy a walk in the woods or by a tranquil stream, the peace allows us to re-charge and let go of stress.

Take time to nurture your friendships. Just like plants, our friends need a little TLC if they are to develop into lasting relationships and not wither away. As humans we are a social species and we need companionship and to feel valued and to value others. People who do not have friends often experience loneliness and isolation, a pre-cursor to low mood, sadness and depression.

Everyday tell at least one person something you like and appreciate about them. As I mentioned, above we all need to feel valued and appreciated. The opposite is to feel “taken for granted,” a not very nice feeling.

Try to reduce you “to do” list and cut yourself some slack. Space things out and slow. As the old saying goes, “take time to smell the flowers.”

Here’s one of my “notes to self,” Aim to get a little healthier and Cut out the “CRAP” – Reduce your consumption of Caffeine, Refined sugars, Alcohol and Processed food.

Behave towards yourself as you would a friend you care about. Listen to your inner comassionate voice and not your inner critic.

Choose being kind over being right. Stop bying into all that is negative in the world and all the badness. Make it your mission to look around at all that is good and right in the world. Look for the simple acts of human kindness and see if you can contribute in your own little way towards the greater good.

Finally, take time for fun and be fun, learn to laugh at yourself and see the funny side of things. Try to take life less seriously, have a laugh and smile more, after all, its proven to make you happier.

Until next time, take care.

Steve.

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Beds – there is a problem but the main solutions lie outside hospital

Thanks Paul, excellent, well thought out blog post addressing some of the real challenges of this very complex area, Steve

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No controversy rages more fiercely in healthcare, and in particular mental health care, than that of whether there are enough beds.   Although it is 20 years since the closure of the last long stay mental health hospital, the number of beds still holds significant sway as the working currency of psychiatric care.  The debate is a philosophical one as well as a practical one.  One side of the debate sees beds as the epitome of oppressive medically dominated care, in some cases arguing that with the right community resources there may be no need for beds at all, or at least not for what we currently define as psychiatric inpatient beds.  Others see the gradual erosion of inpatient beds as a big mistake and cites the undoubted pressure on resources in some parts of the country as proof of the urgent need for new capacity to be opened.

Pressure there…

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The transcending reality of the Jesus story.

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It has been said that Jesus is to the West, as Buddha is to the East. Certainly for the past two thousand years he has occupied a central position in our culture. Yet today churches, clergy, and monastic communities are in rapid decline. One reason for this, is that over the last fifty years our obsession with historical accuracy of every part of the Jesus story  has taken away from the meaning of the story.

I believe that it is misguided to look literally, instead we need to look symbolically. In other words, stop reading the bible as a historical document and start reading it mythologically in the same way as we would, say, Greek myths and legends. Plus, to expect 1st century ideas to travel and translate word for word across time is ridiculous.

We need to look at the metaphors and symbolism of the story; that way the transformative power comes forth. With the best will in the world, churches have failed to capture the sacred dimension of life in the hearts and minds of their congregation.

When Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world”, he did not mean that it is floating around somewhere up in the sky. Jesus was very clear when he said, “the Kingdom of God is within you”. In other words he invites us into a larger dimension of living than we commonly inhabit.

Transcendant awakening is a bit like the path of enlightenment in Buddhist philosophy. By directing the light of our consciousness beyond the current frontier of our knowing, we begin to allow the great unknown dimensions of life to find us.

According to Revolutionary Mystic Adyashanti, the Kingdom Jesus speaks about is not of this world, but is very much present within this world. He considers it is ever present and everywhere upon the Earth, but people do not see and experience it because they have become attached to the things of this world; things like power, greed, hatred, envy, judgement, control and violence.

By stepping away from our own divinity and projecting it exclusively on to Jesus as the one and only son of God, we simply perpetuate the very suffering that Jesus came to dispel. Buddhism too is concerned with suffering (dukka).  To the Buddha the entire teaching is just the understanding of suffering, the unsatisfactory nature of all phenomenal existence, and the understanding of the way out of this unsatisfactoriness.

Just as with mindfulness and other meditation practices we are striving to cultivate true awareness, so too Jesus calls us to awaken and embody the living presence of eternity and enlightenment here on Earth. If we can find the courage to step away from the security of what we think we know, and look at this story with fresh eyes, it can speak to us in ways that can really resonate at a deep level. As adults in our western society many of us have almost entirely forgotten that story telling and myth are powerful ways of conveying spiritual and existential truths that cannot be conveyed in ordinary language.

Living in this moment is something taught in many (if not most) traditions, and it is a great antidote to suffering. The Buddha tells us, “Don’t chase after the past, don’t seek the future; the past is gone, the future hasn’t come. But see clearly on the spot, the object which is now, while finding and living in a still, unmoving state of mind.” Jesus said, ” Consider the lilies. They neither toil nor spin…let tomorrow take care of itself.”

Let us see the words of the story for what they are – mere pointers towards a reality that the limitations of words always distort and never capture. There is a transcending reality not only present in the story, but also in the very heart of life. This reality is within each of us, within the stillness of our internal space and stands for the limitless of Being itself.

If mindfulness has emerged as a powerful practice embracing business culture, schools, health and many other secular environments, it is because Religion as a system of belief is not seen as the doorway to the everlasting as it was. When mindfulness does not claim to hold the Truth or be the Way it resonates more easily with people in this secular society we live in. On the other hand because language can never do more than point to that which it seeks to describe, looking at the story as a symbolic message can offer the disenchanted a transcending reality which is present in the very heart of life as a limitless symbol of hope if we listen to that still and quiet place within.

Until next time, very best wishes, Steve.

 

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype                   Please contact us through our website @  www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Visit our facebook sites:

www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

www.facebook.com/bexhillmindfulnesscentre

Steve Clifford                                                                                                                       Senior Accredited Integrative  Psychotherapist.                                                                 Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

Refs:

Adyashanti (2014) “Jesus: A Revolutionary Mystic,” Watkins Mind Body Spirit, Issue 38, Summer 2014, 30-31.

Spong, J. S (1999) Why Christianity must change or die, Harper, San Francisco.

Image ref:[[File:Malala Yousafzai Role Models 1.jpg|Malala Yousafzai Role Models 1]] 

 

Could there be an evolutionary explanation for depression?

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Could there be an evolutionary explanation for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression?

I have for a long time pondered over the hypothesis mooted by some that there may be an evolutionary explanation for both anxiety and depression. This explanation may also embrace seasonal affective disorder, and bipolar disorder.

Let’s start with anxiety. On the face of it, anxiety is fairly easy to categorise as an evolutionary response.

Imagine a tribe who live in mud huts next to a fast flowing river inhabited by crocodiles and surrounded by a dense jungle full of ferocious animals. This tribe have no fear whatsoever, and the children, just like their parents, take every opportunity to play in the fast flowing river and climb the trees in the jungle.

All, that is, but two people, a man and a woman who were born with this condition called anxiety. One by one the children and their parents get eaten either by the crocodiles or the ferocious animals inhabiting the forest. The couple with anxiety however, do not venture near the river or risk going into the jungle. Lo and behold they are saved because of their anxiety. In time they have children and so this condition us passed on and on through the generations.

Anxiety could be said to be one of the main motivating forces in much of human behaviour and provides a tremendous impetus to learning and adjusting throughout life. The earliest human remains that resemble us, is a female skeleton (Australopithecus) or should I say, several hundred bones known as AL- 288-1. She has been named Lucy” and she dates back some 3.2 million years and she is a hominid.

Lucy would not have fared very well when facing a huge wild beast; her nails could hardly be described as claws. Her hair, a little under her arms, between her legs and on her head could hardly be described as fur. Porcupines or their prehistoric equivalent had spikes that came up when they were scared. Lucy, on the other hand, had goose pimples and a few short hairs that stood up on end, hardly a match. She was not very strong and could not really outrun her enemies. So how then did she fare so well?

Well, she had two special gifts: a brain that could think and reason in a way that her enemies could not, and hands that had fingers and movement far more sophisticated than them. She soon learnt how to fashion weapons with her hands. This fantastic evolutionary condition called anxiety enabled her to identify threat.

If we were really being picky we might say that anxiety does not mean precisely the same as fear. Fear arises from threat, by some situation outside a person, that can be assessed and acted upon. Fear prompts us to either attack or run away. The sophisticated autonomic nervous system, ( the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system) in conjunction with the endocrine glands prepare the body for “fight or flight.”

There are several other states associated with fear and these include “freeze,” like a rabbit does when in a car headlight, and another we shall call “flop,”  – in this latter state, blood pressure, which is sky high when in the fight or flight state, literally drops in an instant causing us to faint. An example where this might come into play is where you are running away from your attacker and you are caught by a huge blow and a gaping wound prevents your escape. Unable to fight or flee, a message is sent to the brain in an instant and a rapid drop in blood pressure causes you to faint. Lying motionless, hopefully your pursuer just might think, ” ugh, dead meat, that’s it, I am not interested any more.” Another related state is known as “fawn,” – in this state, showing extreme affection and getting friendly with your attacker, you might be able to favourably influence your fate.

Coming back to anxiety, let us say that it is a feeling of unease or concern in relation to a perceived threat. This was the gift Lucy had. Her fairly small brain was programmed to look out for threat. That is why today we are fixated with the new bulletins and we gravitate towards news stories which have an element of shock and horror. Yes, Lucy could have been programmed to remember the kiss and cuddle she had with Freddie Flintstone, but no, she was programmed to look out for threat and danger. Today, we can be forgiven for being drawn towards gossip, after all it important for you to know if any dangerous predators are moving into our neighbourhood!

One could almost say that we are “over-engineered” to look out for danger; in other words, just like a car alarm that goes off with the slightest vibration from a lorry passing by, or a burglar alarm going off when a spider walks over it, we too are sensitive to all forms of imagined threat or danger. Hence we get “panic attacks” at the drop of a hat and our body kicks into “fight and flight.”

Depression too, could be viewed as a natural response to overwhelming odds or abnormal situations of stress. Imagine if you will, our prehistoric ancestors living in a   cave by a river, close to the plains populated by wild animals. The weather is particularly bad for a prolonged period, dark skies and rain cause the rivers to flood. As a consequence of the poor conditions the normally dry plains flood and the wild animals now are on the prowl for food.

Looking out for threat and danger, the dark oppressive skies signal to us that something is wrong and that we need to withdraw. Perhaps the modern day incidents of seasonal affective disorder hark back to this time? Chemical changes alert us that something is wrong. Could bipolar disorder signal to us to get hyperactive and gather what supplies we can before depression kicks in?

With danger imminent our body chemicals signal both brain and body to withdraw. With lowering of energy levels we do not feel like doing anything much, loss of libido means that we are no longer making babies, so no more extra mouths to feed! No need to go far to hunt as our appetite is diminished and our hastily gathered supplies will last us through this period of danger. With little energy to do anything, not even washing or dressing, we huddle up together under a pile of animal skins and hibernate, sleeping though until the spring and the nice weather arrives again. As it does, so the skies lighten, floods recede and the animals move back to the plains once again. Safety has returned and our mood is restored back to its former state.

Fanciful perhaps, but there may be a grain of truth in there somewhere, who knows?

Until next time, best wishes Steve.

 

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype                       Please contact us through our website @  www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Visit our facebook site @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

Steve Clifford                                                                                                                             Senior Accredited Integrative  Psychotherapist.                                                                   Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Image ref: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEmmanuel_Benner_-_Prehistoric_Man_Hunting_Bears.jpg

 

 

Cognitive Distortions and How to Overcome Them

Understanding how Cognitive distortions can distort your view of the world and leave you feeling bad should be on everybody’s agenda. I hope young people will be taught this at school, it would save much heartache and really enable people to build confidence and self-esteem. Down with catastrophizing, personalising, labelling and all the other self limiting unhelpful cognitions, Steve

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What is a cognitive distortion and why do so many people have them? Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.

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For instance, a person might tell themselves, “I always fail when I try to do something new; I therefore fail at everything I try.” This is an example of “black or white” (or polarized) thinking. The person is only seeing things in absolutes — that if they fail at one thing, they must fail at all things. If they added, “I must be a complete loser and failure” to their thinking, that would also be an example of over-generalization — taking a failure at one specific task and…

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10 Everyday Situations That Mindfulness Transforms

Enjoyable food for thought, Steve

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“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

When our full awareness is applied to everyday occurrences they have the potential to completely transform. It also raises the quality of our actions, ultimately, improving whatever it is that we are doing. Below you will find 10 everyday events that mindfulness may change for the better.

Note: While reading the 10 points you may want to keep in mind how mindfulness would affect you when you are engaged in the following everyday situations.

1. Exercise and Physical Activity

Physical strength has been scientifically proven to be positively affected by mental focus. In fact, just visualizing an exercise routine may make us stronger. Mindfulness mends the mind and body together.

2. School and Work

Source: http://www.miramax.com/

You may not be able to solve random math problems but you’ll feel like you will be able to!

3. Music

When you have time we highly recommend that you…

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