Tag Archives: help

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.

https://www.nedratawwab.com/

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.

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 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!

Christmas is approaching.

As November continues, Christmas is getting closer and closer. I am mainly aware of this because Christmas adverts are appearing, plus conversations about these adverts, which seem to lead to other conversations about Christmas. Rather than make me excited about the coming festivities, I notice that actually, a lot of these adverts make me quite angry – particularly the messages that I must buy things. You might notice that you get a bit – or very – angry as well, maybe for the same reasons, or perhaps it’s the depictions of family life at Christmas that get to you.

What else comes up for you as Christmas approaches? It’s not an easy time of year for a lot of people: we see all these messages on the media about how we should be spending it, how we should feel, what we should be offering to others. We also have our own histories of Christmas past, and we might also be aware of the histories of people close to us. If a close friend loves Christmas, is there space for you to not love it? You might find yourself building a wall inside you, to protect you from all these difficult feelings and memories.

As Christmas gets nearer, I find myself needing more time outside in nature, where I can observe the cycle of the year amongst the trees, and in the sky. I need to focus on the jewel-like berries on offer to the birds, on the fallen leaves that will become food for next year’s seeds. I can imagine those seeds already under the ground, composting away quietly. Sunrise is later and later, and being able to catch stunning orange skies at the start of the day feels like nourishment to me. These are the adverts I really need to see.

You might find it hard to talk about what you really feel about Christmas, and to share memories of Christmases that weren’t like the ones on the adverts. But sharing these stories and the feelings that come with them can be healing, and exploring them might mean that things move around for you inside, making space for a Christmas that suits you.

A counsellor might be someone you can explore these kinds of issues with, or you might prefer to journal about this time of year. A quiet walk in the woods might be right for you – or a mixture of all three. Taking steps like this, where these feelings are allowed out, and where these stories can be told, might mean that Christmas can feel easier for you in future.

Where next?

Here are some ideas for making the most of nature for healing: https://www.meditationoasis.com/how-to-meditate/simple-meditations/nature-meditations

Here’s a nice ‘how to’ start journalling: https://www.wikihow.com/Keep-a-Mental-Health-Journal

And if you would like to start counselling, contact me here, or have a look at the BACP Therapist Directory for someone who feels like a good match: https://www.bacp.co.uk/about-therapy/how-to-find-a-therapist/

    Reading Well

    Just a quick note to point you in the direction of an NHS programme of bibliotherapy: Reading Well. It’s all about recommending books that might be helpful for you to read to support your mental health.

    A lot of the books are available from your local library, and most libraries nowadays use the Libby app so you can download your books direct to a device without having to go anywhere. This also means that the books are returned automatically – so no more library late fines!

    There’s a huge list of books on Reading Well – I hope you find something that helps you!

    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.