Tag Archives: anxiety

an empty wooden bench looking out across sea and sand

Journaling: could it work for you?

You might have heard that journaling is a good idea and that it can help support good mental health, and this sounds like something you would like to do. Maybe you have friends who say they journal, and who encourage you to do it, but you aren’t sure what ‘it’ is. Perhaps you kept a diary as a child or young person – is that what journaling is? Like a lot of things, journaling is something that can feel a bit mysterious, and possibly a bit exclusive. Unless you already journal, how do you find out what it is and how to do it? How do you know if you are doing it right?

First of all, journaling is a few things in one place: you, something to write with and on, and some time. The permutations within this set are almost endless – are you on the bus, in bed, at the table, in the bathroom, in your workplace, is it in the morning, or is it last thing at night? Have you got an hour or have you got five minutes? Are you using a lovely new notebook, your laptop, the back of a scrap of paper, an app on your phone,  or your actual diary?

For some of us, we can take what we’ve got, in terms of time space and materials, and just get started. This might mean we start just writing about the day, perhaps we start by describing the events and then are able to move on to writing about our feelings about the events and maybe segue into other feelings or events we are reminded of. Before we know it, time has passed, words have appeared from out of the ends of our fingers and perhaps we have explored something unexpected, perhaps we have a feeling of relief at getting something ‘out’, or another feeling is around, as a result of the writing. We might be able to read back over what we have written – or maybe we can’t, because it’s literally too messy, or we didn’t write actual sentences, or it just doesn’t seem relevant to read it.

Once we’ve had that first experience of journaling, as described above, we can repeat it – the next day maybe. Or next week. Or next time we have a difficult day. As we do it more often, we might expand our writing from specific events to specific people or relationships, we might explore our patterns or delve backwards into our distant pasts, triggering memories we didn’t know we still had. And the writing might be collected in one place – a notebook, a folder, a box, a document, an app. Or each bit of writing might be dumped, because it’s the process not the product that is important to us.

After a few months, we might have turned into one of those people who encourage others to journal – we’ve experienced the benefits of having a place to dump stuff, to explore themes, to express ourselves.

For those of us with perfectionism and anxiety around doing things ‘right’, getting started like this might well be impossible. We might feel like we need to get properly prepared with the right tools, at the right place and time. So for us to get started, we might need a new notebook, and a nice pen. We might want a plan that someone else gives us, (here are some ideas), so that we have enough structure to be able to take the plunge, and start.  What will it be like for you, to start this thing that really doesn’t have a ‘right’ way and really is just for you? For those of us with anxiety around doing it properly, journaling can be really challenging – and it can also be a safe place to explore some of those difficult feelings and restrictions.

Next, a couple of directions you might want to go in, now you’ve read this far and are maybe thinking journaling might be for you!

Firstly, there is now a body of research into gratitude journaling specifically that shows that having a gratitude practice is good for us: this article summarises the research findings. Could your daily journal start with a list of three things you’re grateful for? Doing this regularly will start to retrain your brain – it will want to find things you can add to the list!

Secondly, journaling doesn’t have to be only for the hard times. We are wired to focus on the negative, but with a little help, we can encourage our brains to also pay attention to the positive. Describe a good friend, a lovely day, a great feeling. Give your happy memories an airing!

How does journaling fit in with counselling? It can support your counselling, and expand the learnings you make from your sessions. Themes might appear in your journal that you can bring to your therapist to make more sense of. Your therapist might be a great person to work with those feelings of perfectionism and anxiety, and together you might be able to work out what those feelings are about for you.

If you do start journaling, good luck!

autumn leaves

Season’s greetings

Sometimes a change in the season can spark old memories and the feelings associated with them.

Autumn is definitely here up in Edinburgh. Over half of the leaves on the lime trees on my street have changed colour to a yellowy-gold, and even though it has been sunny, it has also been cold, and the second storm of the season has arrived.

This autumn is reminding me of last autumn, and autumns before that. I’m thinking of autumn weekends travelling to see the leaves in the past decade, and before that, autumns in countries where the weather didn’t change much; and even before that, as a child when autumn meant conkers and kicking piles of leaves. But I notice I’m feeling a lot of sadness as well, which doesn’t really make sense. Until I realise that most of all, I’m being reminded of autumns with my much loved old dog Daisy, walking through the leaves with her, or going on forest walks with her in all the colours of autumn. These are happy memories, but I feel sad that those times are past, that she’s not with me any more – she died in January. Maybe this time of year will always remind me of her, colouring the season with grief.

The sights, smells and sounds of autumn can bring back feelings that were around in the past. We might find ourselves feeling sad, and work out that it’s because the last time the leaves turned, we were feeling really alone. If we had a painful conversation or received some bad news while crunching through autumn leaves, we might feel those same feelings next time we crunch through leaves. These feelings might not immediately make sense – it can sometimes take time to catch up. One way to help yourself understand what is happening, is to journal. Spend some time with your journal, reflecting on what is happening in the natural world around you, and any feelings you can identify.

So autumn might be bringing up feelings from the past, as your senses recognise the new season. You might also notice that the reminder of time passing is leading you to reflect on how our pasts and presents interact. We might compare past and present autumns, or wonder how we travelled from that past autumn to this present one. We might be prompted to worry about future autumns: where will we be next year when the leaves are turning? Some of these thoughts might be helpful, some of them not so much. When we find our thoughts to be a long way from the present, I wonder if we can find an ability to pause for a moment, mentally step away and check on what’s going on. Something that might help you learn how to pause is a meditation or mindfulness practice.

If you are experiencing unexpected feelings, especially if they don’t really make sense, I wonder if they are old ones. Maybe something about the change of season is reminding you of a past time like this, and the feelings of that time are reappearing. You might like to do some journaling about what’s going on, or talk to a friend. Of course, counselling can help as well – therapy sessions can be great places to explore our feelings and memories, and the intersection of past present and future that memory-jolters can sometimes take us to.

in a sea of grey leaves, some yellow flowers bloom

Under pressure – deadlines and me.

I just heard my first reference to Christmas – someone saying it’s only a few months away, so they are starting planning for it now. As well as a feeling of surprise that so much of this year has already passed, I also noticed a feeling of ‘under pressure’. I’m not someone who does a lot of anything for Christmas, so it’s not something I need to be thinking about or worrying about just now, but that mention of the time limit, the deadline, was enough to spark a little feeling of panic in my body.

For me, someone who finds feelings of safety in rules and following the rules, a deadline can be something exhilarating: I like to know the parameters, I can write them in my diary and think about what needs to be done. A deadline means there’s an end, so I’d better get started! But there’s also a panic: what if I forget to do anything, what if I’m going about the task the wrong way? What if I complete the task by the deadline, but I do it wrong, and I fail? What if I miss the deadline entirely? A lot of ‘what ifs’ pop up for me when I’m faced with a deadline. I might even find they can swim around in my thoughts for a while – for longer than I would like – leaving my body with that feeling of panic and worry.

I do know what to do when faced with a deadline and these feelings that go along with it. For me, planning helps, writing things down on paper feels reassuring. Breaking tasks down into steps and small chunks works for me. When I am really struggling with getting things done, I set myself short timers and work on the task for a minimum of, let’s say, five minutes. I might carry on after then, or I might not. I keep the end goal in the front of my mind – and at the top of my written plans. These are the practical things that work for me.

Doing the practical things helps the feelings as well – my body is soothed as it recognises I am taking care of things. But I might also need to devote some additional time to other soothing activities to support my physical feelings. For me, this is more yoga (Yoga with Adriene of course!) and more listening to talks and meditations from Tara Brach. More sitting in the garden listening to insects and birds. More walks in the countryside, feeling the air on my skin. Doing these things builds up my feelings of safety, calmness and joy. It means I can more easily be kind to myself when I don’t tick anything off my list of plans. I can more easily reassure myself when the worrying thoughts reappear.

I wonder what you are like when it comes to deadlines? Do you know what your feelings are around them? And do you know what helps soothe you if you’re worried or thinking about them too much?

Doing a bit of self exploration around deadlines and the feelings can be really helpful – you might find out what deadlines mean to you, and why. You might experiment with different ways of getting things done, and in doing so, realise what actually works for you. You can do this exploration alone, with a trusted friend, or through journaling. You could also do it with a counsellor – someone who is going to listen carefully as you explain what it’s like for you.

If you do decide to seek a counsellor to help you with deadlines, and anything else you’ve got going on, have a look at my previous posts with advice about how to go about finding a good match for you.

Good luck!

Getting started with meditation when you don’t expect to enjoy it

If you’ve done any research (and by research I might just mean googling) about mental health, you’ll probably have seen the advice to ‘do meditation’. You might be aware that meditating regularly can really benefit us in many different ways, and you might want to enjoy some of these benefits yourself. But – like so many things – it can feel really difficult to actually get started. As well as getting started, you might also have the idea that to meditate you need to sit in quite an uncomfortable position for absolutely ages. If you have ever tried to meditate, the experience might have left you feeling that you didn’t do it right, that it was too hard and something ‘not for you’.

I’m sharing this post because I recently had a bit of a meditation breakthrough around whether meditation should be difficult, or uncomfortable – or both.

I recently did a short five day meditation course that came free with the Yoga With Adriene app. Yoga With Adriene is free on YouTube – you’ll find hundreds of yoga videos there, and there are also some meditation videos too. I pay monthly for the Find What Feels Good app (it’s about £9/month), which offers me some videos that don’t go on YouTube. Paying for the app is a way for me to make sure I do yoga more regularly, and to support the fantastic free resources. In July, the additional resources included  a short meditation course with the teacher Light Watkins. He introduced me to a different attitude to meditating, one where you sit as comfortably as you can, and where you really enjoy the meditation! He says that it’s ok to fidget, or need to scratch an itch, or to find your thoughts going all over the place. He explains it briefly here

Having had this breakthrough myself, I wanted to share with you some ideas that might support you to start meditating.

In my experience, the main benefit of meditation is the experience of a quiet mind. If you sometimes feel anxious or have anxiety, meditating might offer you just a moment’s peace – and in the middle of a busy mind, just a moment might feel as valuable as gold. And if you can experience one moment’s peace, perhaps in future you’ll experience two moments, and maybe it could grow from there. Meditating is also great practice for focusing on yourself. If you’re someone who’s always rushing around doing things for others, meditation might be your gateway into putting yourself first – again, perhaps for just a moment. And if you take care of yourself well, then you’ll have more resources available to care for all those other people in your life.

If you decide to give meditation a try, you might want to start by listening to a guided meditation. This is where you listen to someone talking from an app or a podcast or YouTube. I’d recommend you choose something that’s 5 minutes or less to start with. Get yourself comfortable and cosy. Close the door and put your phone on silent. Tell the people around you that you are not to be disturbed. For some people, doing this in the bathroom might be the only way you are guaranteed to be left alone! If that’s you, do make yourself as comfy as you can. Then plug in your headphones, and off you go. And you don’t have to worry about sitting still, or fidgeting, or thinking about other things. Most guided meditations will explain that of course you’ll think about other things – when you realise that’s what happening, you can just re-focus on the voice again, or pay attention to your breath again. However you turn up in your meditation is welcome. You can’t go wrong – however you do it, you are doing it right. 

If you don’t want to listen to a guided meditation, again, get yourself as comfy as you can, in a private space. Set a timer for a really short time – 3 minutes? 5 minutes? Sit comfortably, and pay attention to your breathing. And just do that until the timer goes off. When your thoughts wander, no problem, just pay attention to your breathing again. 

Below are some resources that might be helpful to you (- but this is not an exhaustive list), and a short meditation from Goodful on YouTube. Good luck with it. I hope you enjoy meditating.

And if you don’t enjoy it – simply don’t do it:  go for a walk, call a friend or do something else nourishing for you instead. 

the Headspace app

the Calm app

information from the charity ‘Mind’

NHS bedtime meditation


Managing Confrontation

I was out for a walk this morning, and had what felt like a confrontation. It went well, but I felt awful afterwards, and that got me thinking…

My confrontation this morning was with a stranger, it went well – in the sense we both understood each other and reached a kind of agreement, and I was clear about what my opinion was without being rude. While it was happening, I felt calm and was able to make eye contact and smile, and to listen to them.

But as I walked away from this conversation, I was aware that I felt bad: heavy and uncomfortable physically, a bit tearful, a bit panicky, a childlike feeling of wanting to just go home and hide. And at the same time, I was curious about all this. Intellectually, I knew the conversation had gone well, I hadn’t said or done anything to feel ashamed of, and I didn’t have a sense that I had enraged or upset the other person. But physically and emotionally, it certainly didn’t feel like it had gone well.

I carried on my walk, feeling around these feelings and wondering what was going on. And part of that wondering was around how typical this experience is. I know confrontation is very difficult for a lot of us, and some of us will prioritise avoiding confrontation in a way we really rather wouldn’t. So I’m thinking about the experience of unpleasant confrontations, and also about the experience of having feelings take me by surprise. 

We can explore what’s around for us about confrontation – you can do this yourself journalling, or in conversation with friends, or in counselling with a therapist. Thus we might know why we don’t like it – are we reminded of confrontations in the past? have we learnt some rules around who is allowed to speak up and who isn’t? do we struggle with self confidence? is it all confrontations we don’t like, or only particular ones?Exploring what is going on and gaining a better understanding of ourselves can be really helpful intellectually, and can give us insight into our feelings. We might then be able to pay attention to those feelings, and understand what’s going on.

But then what to do with those sometimes horrible feelings? Maybe we don’t have to do anything with them but acknowledge them, and speak to ourselves kindly about them. Working with a therapist in counselling can be a good place to share these feelings, and  to practice that internal self compassion.

Perhaps something I can take from my experience with confrontation today is that, while I can handle them in the moment, I might also expect to feel some feelings afterwards. The best thing for me to do then is to approach myself gently and kindly. I wonder if we all have certain soft spots inside. We can do a lot of personal development work on these soft spots, and get to know them really well, but this won’t necessarily protect us from feeling tender when our soft spots are touched.

If you are thinking about a soft spot you would like to explore in a safe place, seeking out a counsellor might be something worth doing. Good luck.





an old gate in a field

How to find a counsellor

Making the decision that you are going to start counselling can feel pretty huge. You’re ready to try something that could help you feel better and enjoy life more – and there are only a few more steps to go:

You might have a personal recommendation of a counsellor, or you might have heard a name of a counsellor – or you might have no idea where to start.

Mind UK (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/talking-therapy-and-counselling/how-to-find-a-therapist/) is a good place to start.

Counselling Directory is a place for counsellors from lots of different membership bodies.

BACP is the biggest membership body of counsellors.

ACTO is a directory of online counsellors.

If you can, take a bit of time to think about what exactly you are looking for: is your counsellor’s gender important? or their specialisms? or their counselling approach? Do you want to know if your counsellor is an ally? Next, more practical concerns: do you want to work face-to-face or online? What time and day is going to suit you best? How much do you want to spend? Are you thinking of working long term or short term (or not sure)? Do you want to meet first for a quick chat on the phone, or a short face-to-face meeting or video call, or would you rather book a full session, and decide after that?

Once you have this kind of thing clear in your mind, write a short enquiry email. Say that you’re looking to start counselling, ideally with someone who (and describe what you are looking for). Explain how and when you would like to work. Ask what the counsellor’s arrangements are for initial meetings or sessions. You can explain that you will be contacting a few different counsellors so that you can find the best match for you. You might like to say a few words about the main issues you are hoping to work on, but you don’t have to go into any detail, and you don’t have to do this now.

So you’re ready with your email, and you’re on a website listing counsellors. As you scroll through the pictures and welcome messages, you might get a sense of who you might like to consider working with. Anyone who catches your eye, send them your email!

Over the next few days, keep an eye on your email and do check your spam/junk folders. When you find someone who’s available to work with you, set up your first meeting – whether it’s a short chat, or a full session. You might prepare a list of questions you want to make sure to ask. These might be questions about something practical – payment methods, confidentiality or cancellation arrangements. Or you might want to know something about them and how they work. Feel free to ask anything you’d like.

If you can see a few different counsellors, you’ll get the chance to see what sort of person appeals to you the most, and who feels like you could work well with. The practicalities can be ironed out, and you’ll be ready to go!

And then, of course, the real work starts!

As the seasons change, so do we:

This time of year isn’t great in my experience. It’s the time between summer and autumn. The weather has certainly changed, it’s colder, greyer, wetter and darker. The leaves have started to change – but they’ve only just started changing. So the colours are muted, a few oranges and yellows here and there, but there are more dull greens and greys. I’m looking forward to proper autumn – to the fabulous colours of the trees and to more crisp bright sunshine days.

When the seasons change, I don’t know about you, but I feel things within me shift around as well. When winter comes, I feel like staying close to home, warm and cosy and quiet, embracing the feeling of composting. Springtime might be a time of things stirring, ideas bubbling up to the surface with some energy. Summer can be a mixture of relaxing and moving, of languid and high energy. Autumn to me feels like the bang of the end of the year, beautiful colours are everywhere, a real celebration of the year we’ve had.

But this moment, these few weeks between summer and autumn seem to be pretty rubbish, neither one thing nor another. This particular year feels worse to me, there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of things to worry about – as well as waiting for the colours to reveal themselves, we’re also waiting to see what’s going to happen next in the world. Maybe you’re finding yourself feeling (much) more anxious than usual?

How can we best support ourselves in times like these?

I wonder if you find that just when you most need to support yourself, is also just when you stop doing the things that support you. Just when I know more meditation and yoga will help me, is just when I find it harder and harder to get onto the mat. Just when I know I need to support my immune system with lots of fruit and veg, is just when I reach more frequently for biscuits and cakes. It takes more effort than normal to do those things I need to do.

A resource I find myself turning to at times like these are Tara Brach’s talks and meditations. She talks about our human experiences, and shares stories. I find myself feeling calmer and more grounded, more connected back to myself and my human nature. When the outside world seems overwhelming, https://www.tarabrach.com/navigating-the-dark-ages/, this talk has helped me. There’s a long list of other talks here https://www.tarabrach.com/talks-audio-video/. You might find yourself drawn to one as you scroll through.

Finding a counsellor for yourself is also a great way to support yourself. Your counsellor is someone who’ll come to know you well, and only want the best for you. Your counsellor can be there to hear just how awful you find certain times of the year, and you can share everything with them – no need to worry about burdening them, or about having to make time to hear their worries as well. If you think we could work together, fill in a contact form below. If you’d like to have a look at some other counsellors, see who’s out there and who might be a good match for you at difficult times, a good place to start is the BACP Therapist Directory https://www.bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists.

I hope you find some ways to help you through these difficult weeks, and let’s all look forward to the display of reds, yellows and golds that’s coming our way any minute.

    Podcasts that might be Helpful

    I’d like to suggest some podcasts that might be helpful to you. I don’t know how you choose to listen to your podcasts, I use Podcast Addict but maybe you use Spotify or iTunes, so the links here are to the actual websites, and you can then get them on your chosen app.

    To help you sleep:

    Tracks to Relax are guided sleep meditations read in one of the most relaxing voices I have ever heard.

    Nothing Much Happens are incredibly dull stories, again read in a super soothing voice. And then repeated, a little bit more slowly.

    To help with grief:

    Griefcast is a series of interviews about grief, perhaps helpful evidence that grief really is different for everyone.

    To help with anxiety:

    Not Another Anxiety Show is about all different kinds of anxiety, some of which might be familiar to you.

    To help with being human:

    Brene Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us is conversations on all kinds of topics that might be interesting or helpful in some way.

    To connect with nature:

    Join Melissa on a daily walk in nature in The Stubborn Light of Things.

    Music and Soundscapes:

    BBC Sounds host some great podcasts that you might find relaxing or distracting. Calming Sounds is advertised for ‘your little one’, but adults are allowed to listen too. And the Mindful Mix includes soundscapes and music to help you sleep or relax.