Tag Archives: change

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!

Trees against the sky, the tress are bare, and there is a patch of blue sky behind them

The Festive Season

This time of year, the build up to Christmas, then Christmas itself, and the week in between, and then the New Year, can be all kinds of things, and sometimes a lot of different things all at once.

All the adverts at this time of year might make you think that everyone else is having a super time with friends and family. Everyone is buying each other thoughtful gifts, cooking elaborate meals to share together, and dressing up to go out together for a great time.

What if it’s different for you? Maybe you aren’t going to be doing any of those things in the adverts. What if your life looks very different from the adverts? What if your life looks a bit like the adverts, but you don’t feel like those people look like they feel?

If any of those apply to you, you might find this time of year hard. You might have a sense of the Christmas you ‘should’ be having, how your family ‘should’ all be getting on together and how you ‘should’ be feeling. At the same time, you might also know that those thingss are not possible for you. Perhaps your family history is complex, and difficulties will arise between you all. Perhaps you don’t have the money to be able to do anything or everything that you’d like. But maybe you are also someone who holds hope every year that it will be different this time.

The cocktail of expectations around this time of year can be a tough one to navigate. What can you do to protect yourself?

It might be really helpful to remember that a lot of what happens at Christmas is going to be out of your control. And some of the things that you in theory could control, in reality might be out of your skillset. I’m thinking of something like a difficult family member or friend. Perhaps you are able to speak directly to them, and ask, for example, that they don’t do something that you don’t like. But it’s hard to hold boundaries like this – to state a consequence, and then stick to it. You might be able to ask your brother not to tease you, and state that you will have to leave if he continues to do it, but following through, especially at Christmas, with all its expectations, might actually be a bit too hard.

If you’d like to work on establishing and holding your boundaries, Neddra Glover Tawwab might be a good place to start. She has a couple of books and some great online resources.


It’s also a time of year when you might feel other people’s expectations of you. Perhaps you’re the person in your family or friend group who does the Christmas shopping, organises get-togethers and does their best to make it a lovely time for everyone else. Maybe you’re someone others expect to be cheerful, thoughtful and helpful, no matter what. Some years, you’ll be able to meet their expectations. Other years, maybe you don’t have it in you. And other years, maybe you’ll decide you don’t want to meet these expectations any more.

Something helpful could be to do some work on putting yourself in the centre of the picture. If you can set aside some time for a good think, perhaps ask yourself what you need at this time of year, and what might make you happy at this time of year. These questions might sound easy – but for a lot of us, it’s really hard to know what we need and what we like. Are you able to give yourself the freedom to look for your answers? See how it feels. Perhaps you can pick a few things: what might they be: some time to yourself? some time with particular people? certain food, or certain activities? You might well feel that some of your wants or needs aren’t going to be possible – they might be things for next year.

Being able to get some of your needs and wants met will often mean that you feel better, and this in turn might mean that you have more space to tolerate the parts and people of the festive season that you don’t like, but can’t avoid. For some of us, it’s helpful to remember that taking better care of ourselves will mean we are better able give to others. As you have more chances to practice, how would it be to suggest the idea to yourself that maybe it’s ok for you to get things you need or want?

This season can be tough for so many different reasons, so above all, I really hope you are able to be kind to yourself. I hope you have compassionate words inside your head for yourself, and calmness and reassurance for yourself when you need it. Especially when things are at their toughest, it’s important to encourage yourself internally with kind words, a soft tone, and some love for yourself.

If you’d like to work on self-compassion, here are a couple of places you might like to start:

Good luck this festive season.

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


Starting Counselling

The whole process of starting counselling is really daunting. If it’s your first time, you might be wondering how to start counselling. Read on for information about what you can expect:

A good place to look for a counsellor is the BACP (British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists) and that’s because the counsellors on this directory have done an accredited course, and have committed to working to an ethical code of practice. Start here, at their Find a Therapist Directory

Once you have identified a few you’d like to work with, get in touch and ask for some information about how to get started with them. Some counsellors will meet you for free for a short or full session; others will start in a different way. Find out if they are available at the times you are free, and double check you understand their pricing.

Hopefully you’ll be able to meet a few, and then you are nearly there! These first meetings will give you an idea of what sort of counsellor is going to work best for you. Remember, the counselling sessions are for you, and this really is time to put yourself first. And noticing how easy or hard it is to prioritise your needs might be a good place to start the work!

If you’re someone who likes to know what’s coming and to gather information before you do something, you might like to read a bit more about the process of finding a counsellor, I’ve written about this topic before – you can see more advice here ‘How to find a counsellor‘, and here ‘New (academic) year, new you‘. 

And BACP have produced a great video about what to expect from the start of counselling. Hopefully after watching, the process won’t feel quite as daunting. Good luck!


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 empty wooden bench looking out across sea and sand

Doing hard things.

Are you about to do something hard, or maybe you’re already in the middle of doing something hard?

Sometimes life just ticks along, with ups and downs, but things basically stay the same. You know what’s happening, things might not always be easy, but they are usually manageable.

And other times, we find ourselves doing hard things. Some we choose, others are driven by someone else, and some things happen to us.

I’m thinking of things that involve change: looking for or starting a new job; a change in your relationship status; or a change to your family, for example.

Periods of transition and change can be really hard. Some of us rely on our routines to support our mental health, and so a change in routine can feel uncomfortable and make us wobble. Working out what new routine is going to work can be tricky, especially if you haven’t done it for a while, and I guess we are all aware of how hard it is to change a habit.

When we go through a period of change, perhaps our identity also changes. And if our identity shifts, then who we are can feel tenuous and vague, at least at first. When we used to feel solid in how we described ourselves, now we’re trying to work out how to best describe this new thing. What language are we going to use, and how do we feel about it? It’s hard navigating these things.

As well as things changing for you, you might also be wrestling with the reactions of the people close to you. While you figure out your new identity or path, your family and friends might have their own feelings and opinions about it, that they want to share with you. A supportive friend or family member is gold in hard times, someone who’s there for you, on your side. But when you change, this can unsettle people around you – maybe they are worried that you’re moving out of their reach, or are you reminding them of some hard things of their own they’d like to do?

I don’t know if you’ve watched any of the TV series ‘The Piano’ on Channel 4? Amateur pianists play on pianos in the middle of train stations for huge crowds. Some of the pianists make this look easy – although of course we don’t know what is happening for them internally. For others, they are clear that they are doing a really hard thing. In Episode 3, about 5 minutes from the start, the host Claudia meets Dana. Dana really wants to perform, but she is also really scared, she’s not sure how it’s going to go. She goes wrong, but she carries on and does well, with her own determination and Claudia’s support.

And for me, that is what counselling can offer you – a place where you can explore doing hard things. If you are thinking about doing something hard soon, your counsellor can help you talk about what it might be like, and what you might need to support you. If you’re already in the middle of a hard thing, your counsellor can be there to support you in talking through what is going on, and what it might all mean. Are you looking back and only just now realising that you just got through something really hard? Talking about it with your counsellor can be really helpful in processing what has changed.

And I can’t close this post without directing you to a podcast: We Can Do Hard Things!

Good luck to you with your hard things – with choosing them, doing them and coming out the other side. And good luck also if right now isn’t the time for you to do a hard thing – we definitely don’t have to do hard things all the time! If you are looking for a counsellor to support you, have a look around this website, you’ll find a How to find a counsellor guide.

an empty wooden bench looking out across sea and sand

2023: what will be new for you?

The start of a new year can be an exciting time – there might be a feeling of a fresh start, anticipation of adventures to come and hope for better times ahead. For the first few days of a new year, you might even be feeling refreshed and energised if you’ve been able to have some time off work.

You might well know yourself what suits you better: are you someone who benefits from setting yourself clear goals that you can then systematically work towards across the year? or are you someone who is better suited to adopting a theme for the year, maybe something like a way of being or doing that you’d like to grow over the year? Maybe you know that actually springtime is a better time for future planning for you? It takes a lot of self awareness to understand what works best for you, especially if it’s something different to what we are told is the norm.

Perhaps you’re someone who has noticed that you have a tendency to set yourself targets at this time of year, targets that you very rarely meet, and that really don’t give you any pleasure. I wonder what is going on there – a wish to be someone who you aren’t, an uncomfortableness with who you actually might be, or a belief that things should be hard and painful?

If you have time, this year, before you set yourself your goals, targets, resolutions or themes, I wonder if you could spend some time reflecting on what has worked for you in the past? Have you successfully made big deliberate changes in the past – and how did you do it? Do you need rewards, or friends to help, or someone to be accountable to? What has worked? If nothing comes to mind, consider what you might try. If you can consider this quietly, away from distractions and judgments, perhaps you’ll have a sense of what will work best. And then experiment: if possible, keep close at hand a sense of kindness, softness and gentleness towards yourself. Remember that actually, you already are good enough, any changes you do make will be the icing on the cake!

Good luck with whatever you decide – whether it’s big changes, small changes, or a decision to accept things as they are. Remember that talking things like this over with a counsellor can be really helpful. Your counsellor can be someone who helps you work out what to do, reflects on what’s happened and supports you to make changes. A good place to find a counsellor is on the BACP Therapist Directory, or if you think we might be a good match to work together, contact me here:

    an empty wooden bench looking out across sea and sand