As we reach the last stretch of 2021, it's a time to reflect and take pause. What a year it has been with the world still experiencing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people continue to be separated from loved ones. Financial strains also continue to be experienced.
With the lead up to the festive season now in full swing, it's important to stop and take time to also consider your mental health. The stresses of the year, the final lap before a 'holiday' and the meaning and expectations this time of year can bring. Feeling overwhelmed, stressed, excited, anxious, depressed or lonely can all be valid right now. Even if these emotions seem like opposing forces.
Prioritising Mental Health. Some things to remember:
Mixed Emotions- There is much happening at this time of year, from the busy shopping centres, long lists of gifts to buy, food and cooking plans or even for many a lack of these things and a feeling of isolation. For those who have lost a loved one, it can bring a reminder of grief. The cheer of christmas carols usually won't take those feelings away. That's OK. It's important to acknowledge how you feel and remember these feelings are valid.
Stay connected- if you are separated from loved ones, lost someone close or there has been family conflict or separation, ensure you stay connected. Reaching out to friends, if you can't be with loved ones ensuring you stay connected virtually. If loneliness is experienced this time of year, get connected to community events or even volunteer your time and be around others. Seek counselling if needed.
Budget- if financial stress is weighing on you consider your budget. Stick to it whether that be food or gifts or both. Homemade gifts can be appreciated and meaningful and reduce the expense at the same time. This can include upcycling items and adding a special touch if you are creative. Consider meaning over expense. Sometimes simpler, cost effective gifts can actually have a lot of thought behind them that the recipient will appreciate. For those really doing it rough financially, remember there are many community services that can help those in need such as the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul.
Keep Up Resilience Strategies- This can be any form of self-care, eating well, limiting alcohol, exercise, mindfulness skills, keeping up a bit of time for hobbies, playing with pets, prioritising sleep, taking a social media break for a few days, listening to calming music, keeping a journal, catching up with a friend for a chat or have some alone time. Do what you know works best for you. , It's important to keep up the things that keep you resilient and help you cope better with stress.
Reduce the mental load- Prioritise what needs to be done and park what can wait until the new year. If there are some small quick tasks building up that won't take long, sometimes it's easier to complete those and tick them off the list. Say no if you are noticing you are reaching your limit in time and energy. Don't take on extra tasks if you can avoid it right now, whether that be work or socially. Recognise your limits.
Practice self-compassion- Many people are great at showing compassion to others but struggle to show the same compassion to themselves. Being gentle with yourself can become especially important at this time. Beginning to notice self-talk can help. Asking yourself am I using a lot of should's and musts? What are my expectations of myself? Do I set this high and tend to be perfectionistic? Am I hard on myself when I make a mistake rather than learning from it and moving on? When we are stressed, we can also become shorter on self compassion. Showing self-care, practising mindfulness, journaling, extending kindness to yourself as you would a friend in the same situation can help enhance self-compassion skills. Therapy can also help build self-compassion.
This time of year can bring high expectations and mixed emotions. Experience each little moment this festive season. Be present. Look after yourself. Ride the waves of stress, enjoyment and whatever emotion comes up. There is a lot to experience and learn.
Life comes with uncertainty, stressors and various challenges. Work problems, financial stress, health issues, traumas, loss of a loved one or relationship problems can take it's toll and make us feel vulnerable.
While adverse events are certainly difficult and painful, they don’t have to determine the outcome of our lives. There are many aspects that are within our control that we can modify and grow from. Becoming more resilient not only helps us get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers us to grow and even improve our lives along the way (APA, 2012).
Resilience can involve strengths, skills and capabilities that help us to adapt and grow from adversity. It does not mean adverse experiences are not painful. It does mean that we are able to better weather the toll they take and emerge with greater strength from the process.
So how do we build resilience? Firstly, learn from the past. Think of your own personal strengths, what got you through a difficult time in the past? The answers to these questions can provide us with clues. When I am working with someone, I am always curious to know, to see what has worked before and what we can build on.
Building resilience can assist greatly in establishing better mental health. Asking for help is a strength and form of resilience, whether this be seeking psychotherapy or reaching out to others. Finding support and connection can be vital. Finding those in our lives who we can trust and show genuine compassion can help us weather some of life's most vicious storms.
We can also develop valuable skills, whether these be skills of acceptance or challenging our outlook and perspective. This can include meditation and mindfulness skills or cognitive/thought skills.
Self-care is also important during adversity and something that is often neglected. Exercise, prioritising sleep, nutrition or showing ourselves compassion can help to anchor us and better weather adversity. Along with avoiding those things we know do not benefit us, alcohol or other substances, gambling, binge eating. The things we might do to avoid feeling pain. These do not allow us to grow and move forward. Psychotherapy can help when we feel stuck in an avoidance cycle.
Remember, there are many things that are within our control, even when life sometimes feels out of it. Getting back in touch with the things that work and building on what is helpful can allow us to build resilience and grow from adverse experiences. Therapy can also be valuable. To improve insight, learn new skills and gain perspective.
References: APA (2012) Building your resilience. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
What is EMDR?
A psychological therapy for trauma. Traumatic memories are often unprocessed and stuck in the mind. They are replayed in response to various triggers about the event. EMDR uses side to side (bilateral) stimulation or eye movements, a similar mechanism to REM/dream sleep. This assists the mind to heal itself. The goal is for these memories to become ‘unstuck’ and processed, just like other less distressing memories about various experiences in our lives. We can still recall them, yet we are not greatly distressed by them. This reprocessing makes room for more helpful beliefs and emotions to emerge.
Why Use it?
The benefits of EMDR have been well researched and it is a short term therapy. Benefits are seen in fewer sessions than other trauma focussed therapies. It also involves less talking and going over the traumatic experiences, which many people prefer. It has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Phoenix Australia Centre for Post-Traumatic Mental Health and many other well-reputed international agencies.
What does it involve?
The psychologist will firstly help to determine if EMDR is suitable. Then the focus is on feeling safe and open to the process. When desensitisation begins, the person will think about the distressing memory whilst moving their eyes from side to side or using another type of side to side movement or bilateral stimulation. The therapist guides this and ensures the memories are being processed and that more healthy or helpful thoughts about the event emerge and become integrated. Sessions are usually around 1.5 hrs in length.
What else can EMDR Treat?
EMDR can be used for a number of presenting issues. Some of these include distressing memories, phobias, pain disorders, complicated grief and anxiety.
More info: EMDR: www.emdraa.org EMDR for kids: www.anagomez.org/what-emdr-kids
Psychologist Michelle Skor can provide EMDR to suitable adults and children. Michelle has extensive experience working with individuals who have been affected by trauma. This has included survivors of conflict and war and child abuse.
It's been fantastic to have the privilege of providing telehealth services to those who have been unable to attend in person consultations. This has been particularly useful during the recent lock down days in Perth.
Telehealth has been growing rapidly since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health services are in high demand and this service has made psychology even more accessible than ever before. It's also considered a good mode for therapy, so don't let not being physically in the room deter you. Medicare also provides rebates for telehealth for those with a valid mental health care plan.
For peace of mind, I use a secure and compliant telehealth platform. It meets the Australian standards for both online security and encryption.
Some things to remember if you are using telehealth for the first time:
-use a reliable internet connection. For security reasons, never use a public wifi
-use a private place to have your session to ensure confidentiality
-ensure your camera is positioned well so your face can be seen. Also ensure adequate lighting. A lot of communication is non verbal, so this will help on both sides to maximise communication and understanding
-ensure your device is steady, so if you are holding your mobile phone or tablet, rest it comfortably so I can see you.
-the same privacy/confidentiality principals apply to telehealth as they do in person
I will send all the required information. It is simple to use telehealth with no downloads and absolutely no account setup needed from your end. Just click and follow the prompts. You will enter a virtual waiting room with nothing else needed. Your telehealth psychology consultation will automatically start from there.