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. 


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