Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Challenging childhood beliefs - a gift to you for 2015.

This is the December Wellbeing column from the York Press. It was published before Christmas, so for today, the last day of 2014, I am change the word 'Christmas' in the first paragraph to 'New Year 2015.'

I'm greatly encouraged by York Press asking me to write more columns for them in 2015.

I'm also starting to write a new book on Monday January 5th for a summer publication date.

Neither of those last two sentences could have been written, if I still held on to beliefs from my childhood.

I would like to give you a gift this New Year 2015. Just for you.

Sometimes in practice, I would ask the client the following question, “ When you were a child, did you believe in Father Christmas?” Usually, the answer was, “ Yes.”

Then I would ask if they still believe in Father Christmas? Of course, the answer was, “No.”

The discussion would move on to fairies, a man in the moon, how babies are born and the variety of stories we were once told, but don’t believe in anymore. Though I would sometimes add, that of course fairies do exist!  I have a lost sock fairy, biscuit fairy, car keys fairy and a remote control fairy. You may have your own too.

When we were young children, we generally believed what our ‘olders and betters’, told us. Sometimes there were good and fun reasons to be told something, such as Father Christmas.
Sometimes we were told things that weren’t fun. Scary and frightening things. These could include personal comments.
However, when we grow up, the evidence we see, hear and read can change our minds. If we are emotionally healthy, we leave behind the childhood beliefs, if they aren’t helpful to us. We take on new beliefs – we grow up emotionally. Children who were evacuated in the war, had labels with their names on. Emotionally immature adults can still be wearing labels given to them as children. Is that you? It’s time to tear up those labels.
This is my gift. If you still hold some negative beliefs from childhood, leading to some unhelpful adult choices, here’s a tool to challenge them. 
Ask yourself these questions. 
  1. Did you ever believe in the tooth fairy? 
  2. If so, who told you it existed? 
  3. Do you believe in the tooth fairy now? 
  4. How old were you when you learned the truth about the tooth fairy? 
  5. What evidence made you change your mind? 
Now change some words: remove ‘the tooth fairy’ from the above sentences and replace them with your own limiting beliefs. Some examples…you were… unloved, unwanted, friendless, hopeless, stupid, a failure, no good, useless or any other negative descriptions attributed to you? (Basically, words or deeds that you believed, and left you with a feeling that you were not good enough in some way.) 
Some further questions, if you still have those negative beliefs.

6. Did that person really know you? 

7. What was the context? Look at the whole picture. Look at the other people in the picture.

8. Do you think the comments/stories/labels are still relevant today? 

 9. If you do, why? What is the evidence? Facts, not imagined.

10. Could you put away those childhood memories of negativity and recall times when there is evidence to show that these statements are now inaccurate? 

11. If not, why not?  This New Year, treat yourself. Throw away the old, stale beliefs and open up some new helpful ones in my gift. 
I wish you a Hopeful and Positive New Year.


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Taking control when plans fail

This is the column that I wrote for the York Press in November.

So far this week, I have one friend who went into hospital unexpectedly, one friend's flight was diverted due to bad weather, my daughter is poorly and there's problematic snowfall in a resort that a niece is visiting. The news isn't providing much joy either. 

I read this quote from Eisenhower today, " In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensible."

I wish you all well for the next week, plans, no plans and serendipity.

John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” 

Are you making plans for Christmas and perhaps 2015?

I wonder how many plans work out exactly how we thought they would? We have expectations. When these expectations are dashed, sometimes smashed into smithereens, it’s how we manage and take control of our reactions, that will help us and others affected by our behaviour. These emotional reactions range from mild disappointment, irritation, frustration, anger to life-changing, perhaps catatrosphic consequenses. 

The sooner we can come to terms with changed plans, the easier it will be. At first we may lose control, but then we can gain control. Blaming others instantly removes any self-control we may have. Continuing to blame others over a period of years can cause great unhappiness.

We all know people who appear unable to manage deviation to their plans. They are more likely to say, “such and such has ruined my day, event, life…” I suggest that we can all say that something has “changed our our lives.” because it will have done. But ruined? Only if we allow it. Changed plans can often bring new opportunities.

Another statement often heard is, “I knew that would happen.” That’s an interesting one, because it signifies that we have been mentally rehearsing a negative outcome.  A pessimist may say, ‘if I imagine the worst, then it’s a pleasant surprise when it works out okay.” My mother was one such person. As an optimist, I would tell her that I’d enjoyed imagining the best, whether it worked out or not.

I’m writing this in a quiet moment while running an information stand at a large conference.  I have a bird’s eye view of what happens when people’s plans go awry. It doesn’t always bring the best out of people. Similar behaviours can be observed at railway stations, airports and in shops. As the emotional arousal level rises in the brain, so there is a corresponding lessening of logical thinking. In situations of high emotional arousal, there is little or no access to the logical brain. We can’t think straight. Hence the term, being ‘unbalanced’. It’s why IQ (Intellengence quotient) is different from EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

Using positive visualisation of a forthcoming event can be useful, but never foolproof. I imagined postive outcomes to some major, joyful, future events last year. A sudden, major illness in the family led to a cancellation of all plans and major uncertainity on a daily basis. As well as managing the family situation, I had to manage my personal shattered dreams. It was a difficult time. I could so easily say that the family illness ruined everything, but I didn’t. Changed my plans and expectations? Certainly. Ruin them? That was in my control, so no, it didn’t.

The Greek Philosopher, Epictetus, was writing about the subject two thousand years ago.
“It not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” 


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Full blown or sub-threshold Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

One of my former colleagues, Joy Griffiths, was on ITV Good Morning today. She shared the sofa with a couple of therapists who had helped a woman with severe symptoms of PTSD, which they were able to eliminate very quickly. I wanted Joy to be able to say so much more than she could in the allowed time.

I am not going to reinvent the wheel when Chapter 11 in the book says all I want to say. I will 'cut and paste' the beginning here. Two points first.

1. I would like to mention PTSD Resolution. Free help for former armed service personnel, reservists and their families.  If you know anyone from these categories who needs help, please get in touch with this wonderful charitable organisation. 

2. The therapists mentioned that the woman who they helped, wanted help and was ready to do what was necessary. This is a most important point. You cannot make people accept help. They will be more receptive when they are ready. Sometimes, they have to go a long way down, before they are ready the climb back up. Sometimes there is too much to give up getting better eg: attention and money. It may sound strange, but it's true. There's more about Secondary Gain in Chapter 17.

From 'Are you Chasing Rainbows?'
Chapter 11 "I'm frightened."


It is my belief that this chapter informs all the other chapters. Fear is what is at the root of ‘chasing rainbows’ behaviour.
I believe that some adults experience a sense of fear of ‘not being good enough’ in certain areas of their life. The root of the fear lies in childhood, when they were first able to feel that they were not good enough in some way. It may result from something actual or something perceived; there was a level of trauma associated with the experience or experiences, and the brain still has the ability to switch on the fear alarm.
“I’m frightened” is a perfectly normal and healthy reaction to a situation where we feel under threat. We experience a feeling of fear: it could come suddenly or creep up more slowly. Our bodies may show psychological changes, including breathing increasingly rapidly, a heart rate increase and a feeling of nausea. Our bodies are responding normally and telling us to take action using one of the most primitive resources we have: the flight, flight or freeze response.

Post-traumatic stress disorder
Many people have heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – it is mostly spoken of and written about in relation to the armed forces, but it can affect anyone, and few will know the diagnostic criteria. PTSD is the development of characteristic and persistent symptoms, along with difficulty functioning, after exposure to a life or integrity-threatening experience, or an event that either involves a threat to life, integrity or serious injury. In some cases the symptoms of PTSD disappear with time, as the brain processes or files the memories in another part of the brain, whereas in other cases they persist for many years. Why this happens has a great deal to do with the person getting other needs met healthily.
The following is an accepted description of PTSD. The symptoms can arise suddenly, gradually or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue; at other times, they are triggered by something that reminds the person of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, image, certain words or a smell. While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are three main types of symptoms. These are required for the diagnosis of PTSD, and may be divided into clusters of symptoms: they should be present for at least one month.
1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event:
  • Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event.
  • Flashbacks – acting or feeling like the event is
    happening again.
  • Nightmares – either of the event, or of other frightening
  • Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the
  • Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event
    – for example, a pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating.
2. Avoidance and emotional numbing:
  • Avoiding activities, places, thoughts or feelings that remind the person of the trauma.
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma.
  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general.
  • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb.
  • Sense of a limited future – for example, not expecting
    to live a normal life span, get married, have a career. 3. Increased arousal:
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Hypervigilance – feeling on constant ’red alert’.
  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled.
    Other common symptoms of PTSD are:
  • anger and irritability
  • guilt, shame or self-blame
  • substance abuse
  • depression and hopelessness
  • suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • feeling alienated and alone
  • feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • headaches, stomach problems, chest pain
    PTSD is a major psychological illness. It causes a great deal of distress to the person experiencing it and their family – especially if it has not been diagnosed, which often happens with personnel from the armed forces and the emergency services.
    The list of symptoms and behaviour make interesting reading. While full-blown PTSD is dramatic and obvious, what about a milder form of the symptoms, something that could be called ‘low-level PTSD’, ‘sub-threshold PTSD’ or ‘frozen trauma’? It appeared to me that over the years of helping and supporting people, I was observing people who showed various degrees of reactions to trauma. It could be 100% PTSD developed from exposure to a very frightening or threatening event, or similar symptoms arising from a lower level of exposure to something that the person found frightening. It may have been real or perceived. Following this train of thought, I wondered if some of the behaviour that I was observing was in fact that of a traumatised child. If obvious symptoms of PTSD can go unrecognised in adults, then how much more difficult would it be to recognise a frightened mini-me taking over an adult’s brain?
Extreme fear is the common emotion
If PTSD can go unrecognised and undiagnosed, then what about one of the symptoms – panic attacks? They can be misdiagnosed as a symptom of physical ill-health rather than emotional imbalance. A GP, Suzanne, came to see me with recognisable symptoms of PTSD, but she was undergoing investigations for a heart problem. This is not uncommon. I mentioned to Suzanne that I was aware of many people with misdiagnosed and unrecognised panic attacks, and why weren’t doctors able to diagnose them? She told me that if patients were told their symptoms were panic attacks, then there might be a possibility of missing a heart problem.
If you have ever experienced PTSD or known someone that does, the diagnostic criteria listed above may be familiar to you. However, look at the criteria again and think about a behaviour that you may have. Maybe a phobia? Maybe an overreaction to something or somebody? Perhaps an avoidance behaviour of some sort? You are unlikely to be experiencing full-blown PTSD, but what about a ‘low-level trauma’, a ‘sub-threshold trauma’ or ‘frozen trauma’? 


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Small changes can make big differences.

This is the October Wellbeing Column from the York Press.

The clocks are going back an hour, the leaves are falling and we are wearing warmer clothing. A time of change.

There is a well known song written by Pete Seegar from the 1950/60s called, ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’.  What is not so well known is that it’s almost word for word from the Bible. Ecclesiastes 3 v 1-8.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

The words help us to understand that change is a given and all around us. We can all become frustrated when shops change their layouts, but most of us are able to get used to it fairly quickly. The brain adapts. It’s the same in our own homes, cars and workplaces. Change happens and we adapt. 

If we don’t change, we won’t grow. Emotionally, if we remain responding to life as a child in an adult’s body, we will be unhappy and make others unhappy too.

I was giving a talk on change and used our shoe size as an illustration. I suggested that it would be odd, if as an adult, we had one foot wearing an shoe in an adult size, but the other foot was still wearing a child’s shoe. A man in the audience had a ‘light bulb’ moment. “Oh, my goodness, I’ve been emotionally limping through my life.”  Someone else pointed out that there’s expression, ‘Act your age, not your shoe size!’

Change can be exciting, but often we’re held back by fear of change and the fear of the unknown. We’re comfortable in what we know, our routine and our surroundings, even if truthfully there is discomfort, even danger, in remaining as we are, where we are.

Some changes are huge, but there is a good deal of truth in, ‘small changes can make big differences.’ Can you start today?

Turn, turn, turn.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Time to reassess our views of past summers?

This is the *extended September Wellbeing column in the York Press.

As the summer draws to a close, I wonder what your memories of Summer 2014 will be?

The past few months will have provided a spectrum of memories for everyone. From wonderful to horrible. The memories that have the strongest emotional connection will stay the most vivid over the years. Our recall is personal and in the context of our individual lives. This can lead to disagreements about an event, which often occurs in families.

*It also explains why returning to a place of childhood delight, as an adult isn't the same. Holidays, films and visits to old haunts are particularly susceptible to disappointment, as expectations are thwarted.  I recall seeing a TV programme with a woman who had bought her old childhood holiday home, but couldn't understand why it didn't feel the same and was disappointed. 

“That dreadful summer of 2012," I heard someone say last week. But was it really? I was a Games Maker at London 2012. Leading up to the Games, the summer had been a very wet one. There had been so much rainfall, that those of us working at the rowing lake at Eton Dorney, were issued with instructions about what wellington boots to purchase. A visit to the site only a week before the Games commenced, is a memory of hundreds of people working in thick mud.

But what happened? The sun came out and stayed out. The Olympics and the majority of the Paralympics were held in glorious, hot, sunny weather. That’s what the summer of 2012 will always mean to me.

The Met Office has just published some statistics for August 2014. They may surprise you. Apparently, it’s been the wettest August since 2004 and coldest since 1993.  Though the beginning of August was glorious and if you had a holiday or attended an outside event then, your memories of August 2014 may well be different.

The cliched ‘sunny summers of our childhood’ did not really exist. The freedom of school holidays with a lack of adult responsibility and stresses, influence our memories and they can become distorted. 

It wasn’t the sun, but the rain that made me decide that, “I’m never going to Scarborough again!”
I was a teenager on a school holiday in Yorkshire and we visited Scarborough. It was wet and half-day closing, so everything was shut. I thought it was the most miserable place I’d ever visited and vowed I would never return. 

I didn’t. For thirty years. My loss. It’s now my home.


It wasn’t only Scarborough about which I made youthful judgements. I was never going to eat tomatoes or wear a skirt that covered my knees. We believe that our intentions will last for ever.
Then we grow up and our thinking matures and we realise that our opinions may be a little restricted. 

Except that often our thinking remains stuck and we can carry opinions and thoughts that are well past their sell-by date. These often concern people. 

Is it time to re-examine long-held opinions? Perhaps they weren’t ours at all, but someone else's? Is it time to re-assess?

There is one teenage decision I made that I’ve kept to. I dislike tea intensely. It’s disgusting and I’m never going to drink it!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Feeling sad...can we choose to change our emotions?

I feel sad today. I felt sad yesterday. I have cried.

But I should be happy. 

One year ago today, my husband's life was saved by a wonderful surgeon, Mr Gatt, and his team, at Scarborough Hospital, North Yorkshire. He felt unwell on Sunday, September 29th. Nothing to worry about, just a bug. He's rarely unwell. Matters became worse and by the evening he was in A&E. 

At 8.30am on Monday, September 30th he underwent four hours of emergency, life-changing surgery and very nearly lost his life. Days followed in Intensive Care, High Dependency, on a general ward and then eventually he came home.

A year later and A is well, so there's lots to be happy about, isn't there?

Yes there is and we regularly count our blessings. Each day still seems a bonus. We also try not to get niggled by small stuff, but that's not always easy. Why the sadness and tears then?

Because I am recalling those hours and days of a year ago, minute by minute. The shock, the 'what ifs' and 'if onlys', the feelings of despair, the uncertainty, the 'howling to the moon' at 2am, the obliteration of major plans in October, the kindness of strangers and amazing support of friends and family. Mainly though, the shock. Having some understanding on how the brain works, I was able to process what my mind and body were experiencing and found it interesting in a weird way. I knew it would pass.

Two emotions surprised me. In fact, they overwhelmed me. I think it's those emotions that I'm recalling. I received many kind offers of help and people who wanted to stay with me. I had to say no. I needed, not wanted, needed to be alone after a day at the hospital. This where text and social media were superb resources. I text a daily bulletin to family, friends and colleagues. I knew they had a need to know and it saved me having to speak on the phone for hours and repeat everything.  I was exhausted, but despite being  alone in the house, I knew that I wasn't alone in the crisis.

The second emotion, which was visceral, occurred when A came home.  I felt extraordinarily protective for a few weeks. I wanted to shut the world out and protect him. 

I didn't have a choice how I felt a year ago. I was in shock and not in control of my emotions for a time, except, though, I managed to be in control when I visited the hospital.  But I'm not in shock today, so why the sadness and tears?

Last week, there was a superb drama on BBC TV called, 'Marvellous'. A true story and worth watching. Perhaps the football theme may put you off? It's about so much more than football, it's about the human spirit.  A grown man, with a less complex view on the world said that he had decided to be happy in life. Is that possible? Many people will say that it is not. I believe that happiness comes in moments, rather than a constant state of mind. The striving to be happy can be a state of Chasing Rainbows. But I knew what he meant. I prefer the word 'content'. It's more achievable. 

I cannot help the strong reactions that I have experienced on the anniversary of last year's events. But I can control my response to them. (I am not talking about PTSD, which is a severe form of past memories hijacking a person's mind and body.) Many people loathe being told they have a choice about how they can respond to events. 

I have two main choices. I can choose to keep my mind on the events of last year, turning them over in my head, picking at the seeping emotional wounds and wallowing in the memories or I can chose to change what my mind is focusing on. There is a strange comfort in the wallowing in the familiar, however painful it is and it's tempting to remain in that state. There may be a case for allowing oneself to indulge to some self absorption, if it can provide some helpful personal insight.  I have also been thinking of people in my life who have died and adding those memories to the sadness soup.

My second choice is to accept the strong reactions, even discuss them or write about them, but then change what I'm doing to change my thinking processes and mood. DIY Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Music is the fastest mood changer in my life. I play music on the radio or music player every day and can raise or lower my mood by what I listen to. Physical stature can change a mood too.

At a workshop in Australia many years ago, I gave a simple illustration. Someone came out of the audience to walk across the stage with me. We walked slowly, slouched over, talking about how happy we were and trying to be upbeat in our conversation. We then changed to walking upright, with purpose and talked about how miserable and unhappy we were. Try it. Visual demonstrations can be powerful and that one became unforgettable for many people.

When A was recovering, he was told by staff that there were two main things that would help towards a successful recovery. 1. Family support, which fortunately was a given. 2. Attitude.

As A has always veered away from anything medical, I had a great concern about the second. But I needn't have worried. This is a man who decided many years ago that he didn't want to be remembered as a grumpy grandfather, so he makes a special effort when we see the grandchildren. His choice.

So A thought about two possible role models. One was his father, who had been a healthy man until 55 years old. He slowly became a paraplegic and then through some of the treatment treatment became blind. His attitude was to get on with it, the best way he could. Another relative with a chronic illness had chosen a less helpful way of managing. 

He chose his father. His choice.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Our senses are seven free gifts from nature. Seven? Yes...

Our senses are seven free gifts from nature. 

This is an extended* column from the York Press, Monday August 25th, 2014

What were you doing on Wednesday, August 11th 1999?

The date may mean little to most of you. But if I said that it was the day when a total solar eclipse could be seen in the UK, you may remember where you were when it happened. Perhaps you were in the south-west of England, where the total eclipse was seen? Perhaps you were in Yorkshire where it was only partial?

Did you experience the Tour de France cycle race in Yorkshire over the weekend of July 5th and 6th? I wonder if you’ll remember that date in fifteen years time?

I was fortunate to experience both events. One created by nature, one by man. The actual events, passed in seconds. It was ‘blink and you’ll miss it’. Or was it? The naysayers were heard, as usual. Those people for whom the experience was a purely visual one and who wondered what all the fuss was about. But for many, those using all their senses of sound, touch, taste and smell, as well as sight, the events were so much more. A full sensory experience that lasted for much longer than a few seconds. A few minutes, hours, maybe a day.

Our twelve-year old niece was staying with us in 1999. I decided to take her to the top of the White Horse on Sutton Bank. I shall never forget how slowly all around us became chilled and quiet. I was fascinated by how much light came from a tiny sliver of sun.

After the eclipse, a man wrote to the York Press, complaining about the ‘non-event’. As if it was something that had been organised by a human organisation. I had a response published. I wrote that it had been a full sensory experience, if one allowed it to be. Even more remarkable, it had been known about to the second, many centuries before and couldn’t be stopped by any human being, however important they thought they were. 

Silence can be uncomfortable and not something we’re used to in these times of 24/7 noise. It’s only in the last few years that I can fully appreciate the space to think, that silence can bring. 

*Living in the countryside, I'm surprised to find silence enjoyable, in a way that I could never before. The constant noise of city living can now feel an intrusion and I never thought I would feel like that.

*For many people, especially older people, the TV provides company and is on all day. When I was on my own, I had to have the radio on, generally with music. The radio is still my entertainment of choice with it's fantastic variety.  We have a radio in every room. I've always been used to background noise. But now the birdsong, wind in the trees and sheep provide the background soundtrack to many of my days.  

Using all our five senses, we can make those moments richer. A warning - using that time to misuse our imagination and ruminate on troubling thoughts can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.


Anything activity that slows down our breathing and helps us focus on the here and now, will help reduce emotional arousal and keep our minds calmer. Just five minutes will help. The latest activity is called Mindfulness. A useful, free technique, using simples resources we have been given as human beings.

Choose somewhere to be silent. Breath in and out slowly. Be aware of all your senses at or in that moment. Feel the difference.

Two other senses are important in life too. Common-sense and a sense of humour. Seven free gifts of nature. Often underused. Value them all.

* I took my ten-year old grandson to a seaside village last week. The tide was in and we couldn't do the walk along the beach that I'd hoped. We sat on a sea wall and used our senses. We each chose three things to see (easy), smell, hear, feel and taste. We managed it and it was a fun way of spending thirty minutes. I'd never before thought about all the different sounds waves make, as they roll into shore. We accept so much around us, without actually thinking about it. We were being mindful and living in that moment. Then the smell of a lunchtime chip fryer wafted our way...


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Looking on the bright side - Scaling and benchmarks.

This is the extended* Body, Mind, Soul column from York Press dated July 28th, 2014.

I woke up one Saturday morning, drank some water and nearly hit the ceiling. I had lost a filling overnight and the water hit a nerve. The immediate need to find a dentist took priority over a planned walk in the Dales.

The dentist’s surgery was in the neighbouring road. He saw me immediately on opening. By this time, I hadn’t eaten for fourteen hours, the anaesthetic caused me to feel woozy and I had to lie down in another room. Feeling better, I sat out in the waiting room again. Another patient looked concerned. I explained the circumstances and expressed how lucky I was that the dentist was nearby and available. He looked astonished. “ You’ve had all this happen and you think you’re lucky?”

That was when I realised that I tend to look for the positive in life. I’ve heard it called the Pollyanna Syndrome and being unrealistic. I don’t think so. All I know, is that it’s been a lifesaver on occasions. 

*My mother was a pessimist. I'm an optimist. She told me that she always thought the worst, because then when something nice happened, it came as a lovely surprise. My view is that while I've often thought the best and been disappointed, I've enjoyed thinking about the positive. If someone who is dealing with a sudden crisis, states, "I knew that would happen.", then it is likely they have been rehearsing the negative outcome in their mind. Then it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Though, in some situations such as an interview or exam, the statement could arise from self-protection. 

*Is it nature or nurture? Interesting question, to which there is no definitive answer. Clients would sometimes say, "I'm a born worrier." I would counter that by saying that we could agree that they were born with their gender, colouring and some talents already in their DNA. I would then suggested that worrying was a learnt behaviour, rather than one they were born with. Easier to change too.  Certainly in practice, if I saw someone with an anxiety problem, there was always a parent or main carer who had a high level of anxiety. One client, whose anxiety had caused him some problems in life, told me that his mother was 'frightened of life.'   

When my husband was in hospital last year, he was initially bewildered as to why he was asked by the nurses and doctors to scale various matters from one to ten. I explained that it was a measuring tool. A benchmark. Was it is worse or better? Scaling can be helpful in helping us manage life’s difficulties and challenges too. I ask myself, “Is this the worst...... that I’ve ever experienced?” The worst physical pain, emotional pain, workplace problem, domestic situation, interview, journey, weather, meal etc: It not only helps put the matter into perspective, but can provide ideas for finding solutions. What did we do before? How did we get through a tough time? We survived.


Do you know someone who moans and complains all the time? It can be draining can’t it? All that negativity isn’t healthy. Either for the person complaining or the listener. Therapists are taught to protect themselves from listening to and possibly absorbing negativity. 

* Loneliness in the elderly is a problem being highlighted at the moment. From my experience, I would suggest that some people do not help themselves by only holding conversations that are mainly moaning and complaining. It does not encourage visitors. While they may have some valid reasons, I also know plenty of people laden with problems, who very rarely complain. It is possible to do.  I see people slowly cutting themselves off by their negativity. 

One client woke up with life’s problems crowding her brain before she got up. I suggested she thought of three simple things to be thankful for. Hot water in the shower, food to eat for breakfast, clean clothes to wear. It worked. She began to look at her life through a different lens.

At the moment, there is a similar task being sent around friends on social media. Think of three simple, positive things in your day for five days. Write them down and after five days pass the task on to others. People have expressed how helpful it has been to them. They have put their problems into perspective. To some, it’s felt like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Often, it’s the simple moments in life that can bring the greatest joy. 


Monday, 28 July 2014

Welcome to readers of Psychologies Magazine

Hello to new readers.

You may be reading this because you saw the advertisement for the book in the new edition of Psychologies Magazine. If so, welcome to the world of Alison R. Russell.

If you are considering buying or downloading the book, this is from the Summary Chapter at the end of the book:


The end... or just the beginning?
We live in the past or in the future; we are continually expecting the coming of some special moment when our life will unfold itself in its full significance. And we do not notice that life is flowing like water through our fingers.
Father Alexander Elchanov

There are three groups of people who read summaries, so I will write three summaries.

Group 1: Readers who have read the whole book.
I hope that this book delivered what it said on the cover. You have read about my own personal insights and been given some practical insights. You should now be full of your own insights, perhaps about some of your own behaviours: are you sure you don’t recognise yourself somewhere? If not, then certainly those of people you know in your family, socially, workplace and the wider world. It could lead to some life-changing decisions.

Group 2: Readers who have dipped into different chapters.
I hope you were tempted by the chapter headings. Did you find what you were looking for? If you didn’t, carry on and read the whole book. It will be worth it.

Group 3: Readers who have turned to the summaries to see whether the book is worth reading at all. 

It is. There are insights that will be thought-provoking, inspire discussion and may even change your life. If you’re not sure about reading it all, start with the Preface, Introduction, Chapters 1, 2 and 11.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”page251image12784
Helen Keller 


If you would like to know what other readers think of the book, the unsolicited and genuine reviews on Amazon reflect exactly how I hoped the book would help readers.

This is one of the reviews:

From Kee: Worth every penny. 10th Jan 2014
"An easy read, totally lacking in psychobabble, understandable and am sure we can all identify with some of the scenarios. It definitely helps to put one's life in perspective, change is good and this book helps to do that especially id you carry a behaviour or fear from childhood."

This blog has further views and opinions on the subject of emotional growth.It was started in October 2013.  If you would like to know a little of my background and from where my understanding arises, I would suggest reading the recent posting, "I could weep..."

If you return to the first posting, you will read that Alison R Russell is a pen name. I have written another blog on the subject matter since 2009. I'm also a Wellbeing columnist for York Press.


I write to help people, not for profit. £1 a copy/download of the book is going to the charity, ChildLine.


You will find something of interest and relevance to you, your life and the lives of others.



Thursday, 24 July 2014

It might happen, but it might not...risk.

I'm taking some flights later this year. An air crash tends to make one question the wisdom of flying, however fleetingly.  I missed a fatal rail crash by a day, which made me momentarily consider avoiding rail journeys. I recall thinking of avoiding London when the IRA bombs were going off and I lived in the south.

The funny thing is that I've never thought twice about walking down the street, riding my bicycle, driving a car, being a car passenger (well, perhaps sometimes!),going up and down stairs or walking around my sloping garden in ill fitting shoes. Though, statistically, I'm far more likely to have an accident, doing those activities than flying. There's something about the thought of mass destruction, that seems to make it worse.

If the Government really wanted to help prevents bad accidents, leading to chronic health problems and death, it is the over 70s walking along the pavements who should be wearing crash helmets. My own mother would have benefited. 

'Lies, damned lies and statistics'. A quote from a contested source. Mid 1800s.

I've always questioned the publication of statistics. Who's doing it? Who has paid for the research? Do they benefit financially in some way? 

The delivery of stastics needs questioning too, as generally the media rule by fear. A powerful emotion. The Daily Mail 'fearmongering', is well known. I recall a Science Journalist being interviewed some years ago by Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5. He admitted that scientific stories can make for dull reading, so emotional language has to be used, to make people take notice. For instance, a story can be about 1 in 5 or 3 in 10 people who do or have something.  I always look at the 4 in 5 or 7 in 10 who don't do it or haven't got it. But genrally, that doesn't make for such a good story.

The other problem with stories containing statistics is that the figures do not represent the context or fuller picture. eg: car drivers go faster, more often, and further than cyclists. In health stories, there are rarely mentions of the general lifestyle of the people mentioned, which will influence results.

Out of interest I googled air crash statistics. I found two excellent sites and thought I'd share them. They make interesting reading, but  the useful information lies behind the figures.

The first one is about actual numbers and based on UK figures.

The second one is about odds and from the US.

"The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live."
Leo F Buscaglia

Friday, 18 July 2014

Lessons to learn to make life easier.

This is the extended column from the York Press - June 30th 2014

In the previous column, I used the eleven life lessons that the actor, Bob Hoskins, had given to his daughter, Rosa.

There wasn’t space in the column to elaborate on any of the lessons, but two of them jumped out at me. Lessons which, if used regularly, could reduce the incident of emotional health problems in society.

Lesson 4: Don’t worry about other people’s opinions. Everyone’s a critic, but ultimately what they say only matters if you let it. Don’t believe your own press. People can just as easily sing your praises as they can tear you down. Don’t waste your time on things you can’t change. Let it slide off you like water off a duck’s back.

Not an easy rule to believe in and needs a degree of balance. If someone dislikes a meal I prepare, that’s okay. Food can’t possibly be to everyone’s taste. It doesn’t mean I’m a hopeless cook. But if someone was to point out that my driving was dangerous, then perhaps I should think about who and why they were saying that. They haven’t…yet. 

*Blog extra: When we doubt ourselves, we generally 'hear' two sides to the argument. There will be the positive remarks  and internal self-belief, while on the opposite side will be the negative comments and internal self-doubt. This is where I love the story of the Two Wolves:

An old Cherokee told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.”
The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”

I have found through life and in work as a therapist, that a sizable majority of people with emotional health problems are not making their own decisions or holding their own opinions. 

Sometimes it doesn't appear particularly serious, just about the newspaper they read, "Dad always said the others were rubbish." or social niceties, "Mum said, we mustn't..." Though I wonder why they feel unable to have their own grown-up opinions.

Then there are the more serious consequences. Some people appear to be a puppet, with someone else holding the strings. Usually a person from the past,a parent or teacher, but not always. In the worst cases and in my experience the most challenging to treat, were people with Obsessional Compulsive Disorder (OCD). No sooner were a few strings cut, but others were pulled instead. The problems were always about control. The person with OCD appears to have someone in their lives trying to control them. Often this person had been with them through their upbringing and could still have the power to control. Fear is ever present.

If we have doubts about ourselves, we need to examine their root cause. Why don't we feel good enough? Where did those doubts come from? What's their root? Can we have another view? Is it just as valid? 

My father could be challenging. He was dogmatic in his beliefs, with disastrous results. I learnt to stand up to him. He never stopped professing his belief that he was right, but towards the end of his life, I managed to get him to preface his comments with a "In my opinion...", even if he said it sarcastically and with a wry smile.

I experienced some heavy criticism about the ideas in my book, from people I respected and who mattered in my working life. I was knocked back and voices from the past about my inadequacies surfaced. Eventually, the passion to write and and publish the book became strong again. I let the good wolf take over my thinking. I don't think the people who opposed me were evil, but I do think that they had they had their own wolves too.

Lesson 6: Whatever you do, always give it a good go. Don’t be afraid of failure and disappointment. If you fall flat on your face then get straight back up. You’ll always regret not trying. Disappointment is temporary, regret is forever.

A man, Ron, in his fifties, was in a workshop audience. He explained that I had just made sense of his life. At school, a teacher had stood behind him one day and said, “Collins, you are slow, but sure. Slow to learn and sure to fail.” Ron said that whenever he thought of changing his job or taking up a new interest, he would believe that he was sure to fail, so hadn’t bothered to try anything new. Ron was a frustrated and unfulfilled man. He hadn’t realised where his self belief had originated and told us that he was going to change his thinking immediately. I hope he did. 

Teachers can’t win. An intelligent, young girl, Mandy, took her work to show the teacher. “Oh I don’t even have to look at it, to know it’s good” and gave her a good mark. The girl gave up making an effort in class, as she thought the teacher didn’t care enough to look at her work.


When we were babies and toddlers, we failed at everything we tried. Eating, sitting, walking, talking, dressing, writing and reading. With perseverance, we learnt to master these skills and learn many more.

As we mature, we can discover our individual natural skills and talents and those that perhaps don’t come so naturally. But we should always keep learning.

*Blog extra: I was listening to Peter Jones CBE, the entrepreneur, on the radio. He's 48 and the longest serving member of the TV business ideas programme, Dragon's Den. He was asked about his worst decision. It said it was a financial one when he was in his mid twenties. He went from being a successful business man to a man who had lost everything. Business, home, car, everything. 

Success is not built on success. It's built on failure. It's built on frustration. Sometimes its built on catastrophe.  Summer Redstone