LightHearts UK Mental Wellbeing Course - Week 5
by Liz Axham and Kat Jezzard-Puyraud
If you've ever been subjected to Disney's animated film Frozen then you'll know that to "let it go" is easier sung than done. We all have past hurts and traumas that have a habit of sneaking into our subconscious, waking us up at night or haunting us as we go about our day.
If you have something that continually crops up in your life that you find hard to let go of or if it's an issue that gets in the way of you living your life to the best of your ability, then you need to find a way to resolve it. Very often these hurts are things that have happened way back in the past or are out of our immediate control and so rectifying them doesn't seem like an easy matter. Sometimes these hurts are issues that we've tried to bury and hide away because it's been our way of coping. The thought of bringing them up again might feel too painful for us to bear.
But whatever our hurts are - and whoever has hurt us (and that includes ourselves) - we must find a way of putting those demons to rest and making our peace with them. Because the simple fact is this: if we don't confront and then vanquish them or at least accept them, then we will never find the peace of mind we crave.
Now we understand that this is quite a massive step and if you feel overwhelmed by any of this and you think you might not be able to cope then contact your GP immediately and see if they can refer you to someone who can deal with your particular issues. You can also take a look at our HELPLINE PAGE to find alternative ways of receiving help.
One of the numbers on there is for the Samaritans. If you feel completely desperate (especially if it’s out of hours) then you can call the Samaritans for free – it’s a wonderful organisation that is manned by trained volunteers who are there to just listen to you and help you talk through your concerns, worries and troubles. You can phone their helpline (which is open 24 hours a day and all year round, bless them) on 116 123 or take a look at their website: http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us
But if you feel like you’re ready to take this on, then the first step is to bring your pain out fully. That means taking these hurts out from wherever we've buried them in our subconscious and getting them out into the open. If you feel like you’re able, get your notebook and make a list right now of all your past hurts that still affect your life now. Now we don't mean start listing every tiny little nasty comment anyone's ever said to you. Don't get all playground petty about this. (But if that nasty comment has ruined your life then - be our guest - write it down). Write down anything that affects your personality or relationships or life right now and which you think will continue to affect you if you don't address it.
As well as traumatic life events, or big injustices or betrayals, you might have issues with parents and relatives that you need to acknowledge, or perhaps you've had problems with self-sabotage, purposefully choosing to be destructive towards yourself. Whatever it is, write it down. Work through each of those hurts by writing down fully what has happened to you. Start with the less important ones first. Try and write it with as much detail, try and remember all your feelings and then try to express your feelings as they are right now.
And if in the middle of writing this you start getting angry, then take that tennis racket out and start beating the hell out of that cushion again (as recommended in Week 2). Shout, scream, imagine you are talking to that person or thing that hurt you and really confront it. If you want to sob your heart out then go ahead. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to really feel it.
This is one of the methods to break the vicious circle of mental pain. Usually our brains do a great job of burying our hurts. It's like our brains believe they are doing us a favour by protecting us. It's the same with muscles. If we get an injury, our muscles try and protect that injury by tensing up around it. Unfortunately the pain is then exacerbated because now we not only have the original injury but we also have the pain inflicted by the muscles that have gone into spasm. When it comes to mental pain, by letting go of the original hurt we are stopping the rest of our life from being painful or getting ruined by the after effects of any past injury.
We understand - because it's something we've been through ourselves - that sometimes it feels safer to keep our pain buried. In terrible cases of extreme abuse, victims can even have gaps in their memories which is a coping strategy - if they remembered that abuse too clearly then it would be too much to cope with so the part of the brain that deals with memory temporarily shuts down those memories. But in all cases where hurt and abuse are buried deep down, all that's actually happening is that hurt is then allowed to lurk and fester in our subconscious. It grows and buries its roots deeper, and as the years go by it does more damage to us by affecting our behaviour and our mental state. It's a bit like having a gangrenous toe. There's no point putting a plaster on it because the infection will grow. You have to take the dramatic step of having it amputated before it infects everything.
When we give ourselves permission to feel hurt and upset and to really revisit those bad memories and work through it, then we are helping to cut it out of our lives. We free up some of that tension. This is where the healing starts. (For those of you that have very serious and traumatic issues to deal with, we suggest that it might be worth seeking professional help to do this. We have details of those below.)
But if you’re feeling ready, we have a special meditation by hypnotherapist Emma Triplett from Old Town Hypnotherapy who has recorded a guided piece called ‘Release Your Past’. Please note - hypnotherapy is not the same as the technique used by TV hypnotists which will have you walking round like a zombie or barking like a dog. This is an excellent method used to help relax you enough to release tension and deal with your issues in a positive and pleasant way.
If however you feel unable to deal with confronting some of your issues, you may need to seek professional help in order to learn techniques from an expert. Dr Elizabeth Stephens, a Chartered Clinical Psychologist, has kindly collated some useful explanations and links especially for the LightHearts UK course. Here's what she has to say on the subject:
What do Clinical Psychologists do?
Clinical psychologists are psychologists who work within the mental health field. They are trained in a variety of psychological assessments and therapies, and may work with individuals, families/carers or staff groups in order to promote psychological well-being for the individual. Following an assessment, clinical psychologists work from a formulation which is a psychological understanding or ‘map’ of what might be causing / maintaining somebody’s distress.
Clinical psychologists also conduct neuropsychological assessments and interventions. Neuropsychology is interested in the relationship between the brain and emotions/behaviours. Neuropsychological assessments can help to clarify questions such as: does this person have a dementia? What is this person’s IQ? etc. Clinical Psychologists work across a wide range of presenting difficulties including, depression, anxiety, psychosis, personality disorder, dementia, and learning difficulties. Clinical Psychologists in the UK train to doctorate level. However, although they may have the title of Dr. they are not medical doctors and unlike psychiatrists they do not prescribe medication. Clinical Psychologists are registered with the Health Professions Council (www.hcpc-uk.co.uk) and adhere to professional guidelines of their professional body the British Psychological Society (www.bps.org.uk)
What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?
CBT is a talking therapy that is recommended for a wide range of psychological and physical problems (such as depression, anxiety, stress and chronic pain). This therapy helps you to identify and manage unhelpful patterns in your thinking and behaviours, in order to bring about positive change.
CBT will be delivered by a psychologist or a CBT therapist and might be given individually or in a group. It involves work at home between sessions in order to get the best out of the therapy.
For more information, talk to your GP or go to the mental health charity Mind’s page about CBT by clicking on the link below: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt/#.WIty01MrLIV
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a strategy that is used in many different areas such as schools, mental health services and workplaces. There is much evidence to suggest that it can help to reduce psychological distress and promote well-being.
Mindfulness involves learning how to choose and control where we put the focus of our attention. Being able to focus the spotlight of our attention on to the present moment can help to reduce the stress associated with getting lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future.
Mindfulness techniques may be delivered by a variety of practitioners either in group or individual formats. Certain aspects of mindfulness have been formalised into therapies such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). These therapies are supported by a strong evidence base particularly for those with recurrent depression and those with chronic pain.
Forgive and Forget
As well as anger and hurt that needs to be released, there is also forgiveness that needs to happen before you can emotionally move on. Forgiveness is a really tricky one to deal with because it involves you becoming the person in control, the person in power. So often when we feel anxious or depressed, we feel like the victim in the situation. And if we’ve suffered with these things for quite a long time, we start to feel comfortable with that role.
Forgiveness is the opposite of that. When you forgive someone or something, it is YOU who is in control. And it’s YOU that’s doing something positive for yourself.
And sometimes the person you most need to forgive is yourself – for past regrets or mistakes. Because if you keep beating yourself up about something, then you can never move on. Just in the same way that bullies eventually get bored if they’re ignored or are not reacted to, you need to ignore and stop reacting to your past. So that eventually the bullying part of yourself will give up and go away and let you get on with your life.
So to help you get in that forgiving frame of mind – whether it be forgiving someone else, a situation or just ourselves – we have a meditation to help you with that. Below is a Forgiveness Meditation which we’ll guide you through. It’s a bit of a heavy one and you need to be prepared to keep an open mind with this but it’s a good method to try and let some of that bitterness and pain go.
Calm After the Storm
After having gone through those quite deep and serious exercises which may have churned up some trauma for you, you need to give yourself a little break and bring some calm back into your life.
Quiet silent meditation is now recognised as being the most effective way of calming your mind, helping mental health, aiding restful sleep and even prolonging your life. Take a look at this link to find out what actually happens to our brains when we meditate: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/use-your-mind-change-your-brain/201305/is-your-brain-meditation
Quiet meditation for the anxious or depressed among us can be hard to get into, mainly because when we sit quietly the first things that pop up in our minds are bad thoughts. If you think about it, there is very little time in the day when any of us spend any time sitting quietly. We all try to distract ourselves from bad thoughts with TV, radio, internet – basically anything that will stop us thinking about our problems or prevent us feeling panicky. This is why a lot of people who are anxious or depressed have insomnia because they find it hard for their bodies and minds to be quiet in this usually silent moment of the night. But by practising quiet meditation you will be training yourself to accept silence, to accept quiet moments without getting fidgety or worried. You will be training your mind to say “Ok. I can sit here and just BE for a little while.”
Many people are put off meditation because they think they have to reach some transcendental level where their minds go blank and they feel at one with the universe. There’s probably only a handful of people who have ever attained that level of tranquillity and one of them is the Dalai Lama who’s been meditating since he was a kid. And seeing he was born in 1935 that’s a lot of practise he’s racked up there. But then again, the Dalai Lama has never had to go through the day to day crap that our lives throw at us - 9 to five jobs, the school run, kids, daily commutes, electricity bills, mortgages. And if we didn't have to go through all of that, we'd be as bloody serene as the Dalai Lama too. But we have to, so don’t put pressure on yourself and think “Well I'm not able to sit still in the lotus position. I can’t stop these thoughts. I can never do it right.” The very fact that you are sitting quietly and just trying will be having a positive effect on your mental health. The Dalai Lama would stand by that fact too. (Take a look at our special article which details how Kat found a meditation app that had a life-changing effect on her mental wellbeing.)
So to help you concentrate on calmly focusing on the moment, we have a technique below called ‘candle gazing’. All you have to do is stare at the candle and listen to the music while breathing deeply. It’s a form of mindful meditation which tries to get you to focus on the present moment only. (The music that accompanies this meditation is called ‘Serendipity’ and has been very kindly donated by a wonderful artist and producer called Jamie More aka Energy Lab. You can find out more about him along with a link to the full track on the credits page.)
You’ll find that as you do this, thoughts will try and creep into your head. Instead of trying to banish them or allowing them to take you over, we want you to acknowledge the thought and then label it in your mind. For example, if I was thinking about what I was going to make for dinner, or anything about the future, I would label that thought “planning”. Then if I was worrying about the health of my mum, I would label that thought “worrying”. Then if I allowed a thought to enter my head of a past event, I would label that thought “remembering”. If there are thoughts that enter your head that don’t fit into any of those labels, just label it “thinking”. Then just refocus on the candle flame and let any of those planning, worrying, remembering or thinking thoughts just float off.
By doing this, you are acknowledging the thought’s presence but you don’t allow it to intrude on your present moment. It takes some practice, so keep going at it every week but you’ll find that you begin to use this method in every life too. Whenever you feel taken over by bad thoughts, you can just label them and then concentrate on the task in hand.
Kat's Mental Fixit - the Plug-Hole Technique
I use this technique on myself whenever I find my emotions churning around my head. I also find it works well with my kids if they're getting panicky or if they're feeling angry. Here's how it goes:
- Sit or stand still for a moment, and bow your head. Take a few deep breaths. And if you can, close your eyes.
- Imagine that all your emotions - whether they be sad, angry, anxious, fearful, frustrated - start making their way from your head and begin to travel down your body. Imagine them flowing down your torso and down your legs into your feet. Imagine every single emotion draining away from your head and into your feet.
- Then when they've got to your feet, imagine pulling a plug from the soles of your feet and allowing the emotions to drain out from your body. Imagine them going into the earth and away from you so they can't bother you anymore. Then imagine replacing the plugs and stepping away from that spot.
This simple technique can really put a halt to any emotions that may be blocking you or hindering you in your day. It's a way of mentally saying STOP, and shaking off those unhelpful emotions.
The Week Ahead
If you’re going to have a go at trying to confront some of your issues then you’ll already have fair amount of things to be getting on with this week. But as ever, we’re going to ask you to continue with your diary writing. Here’s some questions and exercises you can use to help you:
1. Think about a stressful moment you’ve had recently. Did that feeling remind you of a feeling you’ve had in your past? Really explore your stress and anxiety and try to remember back to your childhood or past when you’ve felt similar feelings. Can you find the trigger? And when you’ve identified it, can you try to remember that the next time you’re feeling anxious? Perhaps try saying to yourself “Hang on, this reminds me of when I was little…..” Just taking yourself out of your current state of anxiousness and trying to remember a similar feeling in your past can help to diffuse the situation.
2. If you had a perfect best friend who saw nothing but the best in you, how would they describe you? Write down 5 strong positive words they would use. Now try to feel one of those words. Write down how that makes you feel? And then try to BE that word. You have the power to change how you feel.
3. Have a go at the Release Your Past meditation and then keep practising the forgiveness meditation until you feel some softening of those emotions. Also keep practising the candle focus technique and see how labelling your thoughts can help you let them go.
4. Take a look at this youtube meditation practise – it shows you the basics of meditation and a few exercises to help you get into it:
5. If you haven't already done so, sign up for our mental health newsletter, remembering to add firstname.lastname@example.org to your contact list so we don't end up in your junk mail.
We hope you find a way to let go of some of your past hurts and traumas and find your way to be able to forgive and let go. As ever, we wish you the best of luck this week. You're half way there! Just look how far you've come. See you in Week 6...
Kat & Liz x