Make a Comfort Box – Beat #Depression

50Tips 

Tip 3 – Extract from “50 Tips to Beat Depression” available on Amazon

It’s often hard to remember the good things in life when you are feeling low in mood.  At such times happiness and positive memories can seem far away.  Stimulating positive memories and associations can be invaluable in helping to keep us grounded in the real world and help lift the spirit.  Creating a “capsule” containing mementoes from the past can help to evoke feelings of comfort, warmth and personal security during difficult times.

A shoebox, biscuit tin or similar can be used to house objects to inspire hope.  I have a comfort box and mine includes a variety of objects: photographs and even “thank you cards” which I can use as “evidence” to support my being a worthwhile person.  I recommend any of the following:

CD, LP, MP3 of favourite music, chill-out, relaxation, etc.

DVD of favourite film with uplifting, or feel good theme, etc.

Photograph of a loved one or of something or somewhere of importance

Memento of a holiday, postcard, seashell, souvenir, foreign money, flight ticket stubs, booklet or programme from places visited

A note, card or letter from a loved one or write a letter to yourself when feeling well, offering encouragement and re-assurance that you will come through this difficult time

A favourite poem, statement, prayer or article that inspires hope

A favourite book, magazine or colourful picture

A favourite object, i.e. a small stone, crystal, lucky charm or something that is tactile

A sketchpad with crayons or watercolour paints

Aromatic oils for massage, scented candles, bath bombs or bath oils/salts

Herbal teas such as Chamomile, known for its calming properties

Favourite item of clothing, warm jumper or a blanket

A hot water bottle

Vouchers for a massage or beauty treatment

A list of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses of family or friends to whom you can turn for support (try to look for support from more than one person).

A list of national help lines e.g. Samaritans, Sane, MIND, etc. .

Any object associated with feeling happy and well.

With best wishes, Steve

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to stevecliffordcbt@gmail.com                                                                                                Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Ask us your mental health questions anytime at: www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                                                  Tweet us @ cbt4you

It’s good to talk

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Sometimes life can seem very overwhelming,  especially if you’re suffering with a mental health problem. For years I have suffered with anxiety and depression. It has affected every aspect of my life from my relationships with partners, friends and family, to my work and even my physical health. My chronic low self esteem has led me to walk with my head down for so many years that my neck and back have slowly deformed and I now have a small hunch. It’s just one more thing to hate about myself, and another reason why I felt I couldn’t live anymore, why I felt I didn’t deserve life.
When I planned my suicide the first time I was at an all time low, but strangely I didn’t recognise that. I felt calm and in control. I made meticulous plans and took my time stockpiling prescription and over the counter drugs. I cheerfully strolled into the supermarket and purchased alcohol. The checkout girl could be forgiven for thinking I was having a party, because in my head I was. I was finally going to be free of all the agonising feelings, the torturous thoughts and the confused state my mind was in. I had been looking forward to this day for weeks and had all my affairs in order. I went home, made sure I left the door unlocked, fed my cat, put on my favourite album and poured myself a large glass.
When I woke up in hospital initially I was devastated, how could it have gone wrong? But as I looked around at the tear stained worried faces I began to realise that maybe people did care about me. Maybe their lack of warmth and comfort towards me was really lack of knowledge and understanding. The question I was continually asked was “why didn’t you tell us that you felt so bad?” Well I thought it was obvious! But apparently it’s not obvious.
When you suffer from depression for a long time you can get very good at keeping your brave face on in public and the inner turmoil you’re feeling may not show on the outside. It’s only once you express that turmoil that people can begin to understand and maybe even help.
Unfortunately this revelation was not the end of my depression and I did wake up in hospital on another 3 occasions. However it did start my journey onto talking, writing and expressing the pent up feelings I had inside of me, which helped other people understand more. I am still suffering with my mental health but I am on the road to recovery. Letting the thoughts and feelings out rather than keeping them hidden in my head has taken the weight off and I feel a little freer of my illness every day.

Thank you anonymous

With all good wishes

Steve

Please email your submission posts to stevecliffordcbt@gmail.com                                Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Ask us your mental health questions anytime at: www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                                                        Tweet us @ cbt4you

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Ten steps to greater self-confidence

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Here at my practice in Bexhill I see lots of people who struggle with self-confidence. This isn’t a problem unique to Bexhill as I frequently discuss confidence issues with clients all over the world via Skype.

Why is it that low self-confidence is such an issue?

There can be many reasons. Often low self confidence has it’s roots in our early relationship with our parents or siblings; sometimes bad childhood experiences such as bullying and abuse serve to shape the way we view ourselves. The cumulative effect of “put downs” and ridicule lead us to form a view that we are somehow less worthy than others. .

This view of ourselves becomes a rigid template upon which we hang our identity. Yet, so often, these, what I consider to be, “false beliefs” are never challenged or even questioned. More often than not they are accepted as established facts, yet these so called “facts” are just “opinions”.

It is time to challenge and re-shape these opinions. Here’s how:

1. The first step in improving self-confidence is to accept responsibility for change and growth. By this I mean, to make a decision to change the patterns of behaviour and thinking that keeps you locked in a cycle of insecurity.

2. Stop spending time aimlessly drifting; stop procrastinating and do things on time. Recognise your own needs: sleep, relaxation and a good diet.

3. Are you a dreamer? If so, make some goals so that your dreams can come true.

4. Take risks, share in groups, give feedback to others. Don’t be too proud to ask for help and admit you’re wrong. Don’t refuse help when it is offered.

5. Start asserting yourself and stop saying yes when you really want to say no. Stop being a “people pleaser”.

6. You are an OK person. You do not need to depend on others for a sense of importance. You are of equal worth.

7. Speak up, believe in yourself. Remember, no one can insult you or put you down unless you allow them to so. It is how you feel about yourself that really matters.

8. Behave towards yourself as you would a friend you care about. Listen to your inner compassionate voice not your inner critical voice.

9. Lower your expectations of yourself. No one has to be perfect. Avoid self pity at all costs. Poor me, poor me.

10. Remember you are unique; you have a lot to offer, you are special and there is only one of you in the world. You are a worthwhile person.

Begin to make changes now. Improve your life by changing your outlook.

Good luck.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Like us @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                                Tweet us @ cbt4you

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Ten simple rules to improve your self-esteem

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In my Bexhill practice I see many people with low self-esteem. Sometimes it arises out difficult childhood events, such as bullying or abuse, sometimes it is the bi-product of depression, anxiety or insecurity. Fortunately, it is very treatable.

As children we take on board messages and believe that we are somehow not good enough, illness too can really squash our outlook. However, as adults we can now choose to take on, or reject the messages we are given.

High self-esteem arises out of a combination of key ingredients. The more you work to put in place these ingredients the higher your self-esteem will be. Building high self esteem is not something that can be achieved instantly. It is something that develops when you do certain things and stop doing certain other things. Every single person is capable of having high self esteem if certain rules are followed.

The ten simple rules are:

1. Stop putting yourself down. Don’t ever use derogatory comments such as, “you stupid fool” or any other such statement however negative you are feeling about yourself. Stop insulting or mocking yourself. Be compassionate, kind and understanding towards yourself.

2. Forget all about comparing yourself with others. There will always be people who are better (or worse) than you. If you start doing this you will never feel good because there are always going to be those who appear more confident, more intelligent, more witty, more wealthy, more sexy, etc.

3. Take on board compliments, say “thank you,” not “Oh, it was nothing.” Stop rejecting compliments, you are worthy of praise and remember people like giving compliments just as much as you should like receiving them.

4. Use positive affirmations on a daily basis. For example, repeating a phrase such as, “I am a valuable and worthwhile person who has views and opinions of my own.” Believe in your worth as much as your own views and opinions.

5. Use every opportunity to read about developing self-esteem. Make it your life’s work and remember this will be “work in progress” from now on. Even if you only find one thing that resonates with you when you read a book on self-esteem it will have been worth the money you spent on it.

6. Mix with positive people, avoid people who will put you down. They are confidence destroyers not confidence feeders. Just like a flower, you will grow in confidence and esteem with the right conditions, just as the flower will blossom with the right fertiliser and the right conditions.

7. Keep a positive book and list all your successes, however small. Read this list often. Shut your eyes and feel your success throughout your whole body.

8. Spend time doing the things you love and feel passionate about. Do things that make you feel good. Devote some time to others, helping them. Remember to give of yourself, for you are developing abundance and positivity.

9. Be true to your values. Live the life you want to, not the life others think you should have.  The only person you need approval from is yourself.

10. Remember this always – You are a magnificent human being with a positive contribution you can make to the world. This is your birthright. You are truly unique, worthy of love for yourself and capable of giving love to others. Feel good and respect yourself.

Start today.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Like us @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                                Tweet us @ cbt4you

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How to overcome social anxiety

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Do you feel overwhelmed with shyness, fear going to parties or gatherings where you worry about meeting people? Are you afraid that they will be judging you or find you boring? Do you freeze at the thought of talking to others and feel sick at the very thought of social contact? If so, then you may be suffering from social anxiety.

Social anxiety or social phobia as it is also known can be very distressing and have a major impact on quality of life. Perhaps you long for a boyfriend or girlfriend, but find talking to a member of the opposite sex makes you feel so self-conscious? Or dread the thought of going to work each day, just in case you are asked to lead a meeting. Maybe just walking down the street is enough to make you feel embarrassed or awkward.

Whatever it is that you fear, it is possible to overcome it.

Do many people suffer with social anxiety? 

The answer is a resounding yes. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) it affects somewhere between 3% and 13% of people. It affects both men and women, but is more prevalent in men.

What symptoms might I experience?

Essentially there are three main components of social anxiety – physiological (bodily), cognitive (thoughts) and behavioural (actions).

Physiological – Typical symptoms are those of anxiety, but in particular sufferers may sweat profusely, find themselves blushing, shaking and experience a dry mouth and sometimes inability to speak.  Often they will be aware of increased heart rate, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, dizziness, upset stomach, shaking or trembling.

Cognitive – Symptoms include fear of being judged, saying something wrong or being the centre of attention. Often sufferers will have thoughts and feelings of inadequacy.

Behavioural – Here sufferers may find that they cannot do things they normally would be able to. For example, carrying a cup filled with tea across a room without shaking, or talking to people fluently.

What causes social anxiety? 

There can be many reasons why people become socially anxious. Often it starts in childhood perhaps brought about by being bullied, teased or ridiculed. Sometimes child abuse and humiliation can underpin symptoms. Sometimes stressful life events can provoke it. I commonly see teenagers who come to me when it starts to interfere with their lives. Perhaps they have decided they have had enough of being a recluse, or avoiding situations that others are enjoying such as parties or social gatherings and now want to do something about it.

Why won’t it just go away?

Often one of the things that people with social anxiety tend to do is avoid. This tends to make the problem worse. Avoidance of places or situations where you fear you will make a fool of yourself, making excuses and turning down social invitations leads to isolation. Not doing things leads to a lowering of confidence and self-belief. We miss out on opportunities to learn the skills needed to communicate with people, friends stop asking us out (or may never ask us out) and we begin to believe our negative thoughts about ourselves. Sometimes people avoid talking to others, other than at a very superficial level and engage in what we call “safety seeking behaviours.” 

What are safety seeking behaviours? 

These are actions we engage in, because we believe they will help us. In the very short term they might, however, they are simply ways to avoid (the very things we need to face). Examples include:

  • Wearing a baseball cap with peak turned down over eyes
  • Wearing sunglasses
  • Letting hair fall across face
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Avoiding conversation with people
  • Reading a book or newspaper to avoid having to talk
  • Listening to music with ear phones to avoid having to talk
  • Tidying up at parties and keeping on the move
  • Crossing the road to avoid people
  • Never answering the phone

What you can do to help yourself

There are three key areas that you need to tackle to overcome social anxiety. If you successfully face your fears by addressing the following, then you will overcome your difficulties – promise.

  1. Focus outwards not inwards.
  2. Change the way you think.
  3. Act differently, behave differently.

Canadian psychologist Danny Gagnon offers a selection of useful tips to overcome social anxiety: 

  • Change the way you think, dropping ideas like “I have to say something intelligent all the time” or “I want to be funny” just before talking to someone. Such criteria are really unattainable. After all what does intelligent or funny mean? This is just unrealistic and sets us up for pressure and fuels performance anxiety. Instead make the goals more achievable, clear and measurable. For example, “I will go somewhere where there are people joking around and laughing” rather than “I want to be funny” or “I will speak to two new people.” 
  • Anxiety is normal, everybody experiences some anxiety before an important meeting or presentation or when meeting someone for the first time. Zero-percent anxiety is unattainable. So accept that you will have some anxiety, safe in the knowledge that anxiety usually decreases once you start presenting or talking.
  • You may be putting yourself under a great deal of pressure to appear interesting to others and not boring. Stop trying to be “interesting,” instead try to be “interested.” People like talking and being listened to. Relieve your social anxiety by being interested. Keep the following question in mind when socialising: “What can I learn about this person?”
  • You may worry about having poor social skills. Well don’t! Research has shown that when you factor anxiety levels in, there is actually no difference between people who report social anxiety compared to those that do not. So remember, your social skills are as good as the next person’s.
  • Next time you are at a social event or have an interaction with someone, don’t ruminate afterwards. It is very common for people with social anxiety to keep going over and over the events afterwards. There will always be room for improvement, just as there will always be something we could have done better. That’s human nature! Stop being yourself up and tell that critical inner voice to go away. By all means reflect a few times, but then let it go.
  • A key component in the treatment of social anxiety is to shift the focus outwards and not inwards. Imagine if you were on stage with an audience of twenty and the spotlight was suddenly put on you. There is a very good chance your anxiety would sky-rocket. If you focus on yourself when socialising your doing just the same, putting yourself under the spotlight. All  those anxious thoughts, “What should I say? How do I feel? Will they notice me trembling? Will they laugh at me?” just serve to shift the focus inwards. So next time you find yourself focusing on yourself or your thoughts, try to shift your focus outwards and redirect it to what the other person is saying.
  • Challenge and change your negative inner self-talk. For more information on this particular topic, visit my October 12 blog – “Self- Criticism.”
  • Begin to tackle the problem by facing it, gradually facing your fears one at a time. This is known as “exposure therapy” and it involves challenging yourself to face anxiety provoking situations, starting with the least anxiety provoking first and then moving onto the next in a series of steps. It is important not to skip steps and to take the next step only when you are ready. Danny has more information on his website about this.
  • Take risks, face your fears by testing them out. It is very common for people with social anxiety to be afraid of embarrassment or humiliation. In our minds we tend to exaggerate how difficult situations will be, this is very normal. However, testing out our worst fears holds the key to overcoming them. Try this as an experiment, grade yourself on an imaginary 0-100% embarrassment scale, with 100% representing absolute maximum embarrassment. Go into a shop, choose a magazine and pay for it. When you have left the shop return and say something like, “I just bought this for my Dad when I remember he bought it yesterday, May I exchange it please?” Alternatively, you could ask a stranger for the time or go into a shop and ask for directions. Again rate yourself on the embarrassment scale and you will notice if you repeat this experiment several times your anxiety is likely to diminish as you do so. 

I hope you find the information helpful. If you require further advice you should discuss it with your GP who will talk to you about treatment options and local services. Alternatively feel free to drop me a brief email via our website contact page and I will respond as soon as I can.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Image Ref:By Maxwell GS on Flickr [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons