31 December 2016

A framework for New Years Resolutions?



I wonder how many people are setting themselves some resolutions this year? What is the drive behind the choices they make? Are people attempting to make changes because they are critical of themselves? "I'm too (insert word here)", "I'm not (insert word here) enough", "I should/shouldn't be (insert word here)"?

How about a framework for making resolutions?           

How about basing the choices you make on something fundamentally meaningful?

I propose that Bronnie Ware's famous list of "Top 5 Regrets of the Dying" could be a great way of defining resolutions that will ultimately make a difference to the quality of our lives. Bonnie has shared what she discovered as a nurse in palliative care. Her findings, which she has extended into a book on the subject, are as follows:


1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
(NB This list is taken from Bronnie Ware's site)
So how might a list of resolutions look using this as a framework?
1) Make a list of things you want to do in life and plan roughly when those things can be achieved. Make one of those things happen this year.
2) Find a better work/life balance. Try a session or two with a counsellor or life coach or read a book on the subject. Watch some Alan Watts lectures. Here's a great one.
3) Find a way to be able to express your feelings. Confide in friends. If you struggle to express yourself then try some sessions with a counsellor to learn how to express your feelings. We all have them. We haven't all had the opportunity to learn how to express them.
4) Dig out your old address book and make contact with people you stopped sending Christmas cards to years ago. Or look at those that you send a quick one-liner to and write an actual letter. Arrange to meet up with at least one old friend this year.
5) Allow yourself to experience happiness. If guilt or shame are getting in the way then find a therapist to work through those feelings. Everyone is entitled to feel joy. Find something joyful that you can do this year. Join a group, buy yourself something silly but fun. This doesn't have to be expensive. I got a lot of joy out of buying an old copy of Ladybird Cinderella which I absolutely loved as a kid. It was a few pounds on eBay. I still drool over the three frocks she got to wear in that edition.
Final note
I do not want to make light of the real struggles that some people face and loss, poverty and ill health as well as discrimination can have a very negative impact on our experience of life. This article is meant to highlight those things that we potentially do have a choice in, although not all of us will be able to make those choices. I remain sensitive to that.



30 December 2016

Top 5 Lifestyle Tips - Things to do Alongside Counselling



(Originally published 7th August 2013)

Counselling is usually for one hour, once a week, for a set duration. That leaves a lot of time spent outside of the counselling room, with the issues that brought a client there perhaps not changing an awful lot between sessions. So I sometimes advise on what steps a client can take to assist the counselling work and help them achieve their goal of overcoming grief, depression, unwanted patterns of behaviour or relationship issues.

1. Take up Meditation

The West is catching up with what the East have known for millenia. Meditation is good for the mind, body and soul. Pretty much everybody has heard of meditation but in the past it has had an air of hippiness or religiousness about it, but even the NHS has caught onto the benefits with the Western-friendly concept of mindfulness (click here for an interesting post exploring the differences/overlaps between meditation and mindfulness).

Here is a short video done by a chap called davidji who succinctly and quite persuasively explains some of the benefits of meditation in this short (2:15min) video (click here if it does not show up on your device):



If you need any more persuasion, try this link from The New York Times regarding research in meditation and how it effects the brain. 

You can start off by trying a guided meditation CD or looking on YouTube for a taster. 

2. Keep a Journal

Keeping a personal journal was a requirement of my training. We had to bring in our journals from time to time to show the tutor that we were writing in them regularly. I really learnt the benefits firsthand of writing down parts of my process. There are a few reasons for why it was so useful:


  • Expressing frustrations without offending anybody
  • Consolidating work done in personal therapy (another requirement of my training)
  • Being able to look back and chart personal growth
  • For visual learners - reinforcing what you have learnt 


Some of my clients keep a journal and write reflectively in between sessions. Sometimes, they might bring some of their thoughts to the next session. There are no rules about what's right or wrong in this respect - each person is different. What I can say though, is that those that keep journals tend to need less sessions overall. This is a hard thing to quantify, but it seems to me that the work is more "efficient" and it keeps us more on track if the client does this work between sessions.

Making a note of any dreams can create fruitful work too. It is quite common for clients to have a highly symbolic and powerful dream the night before a session.

3. Take up some aerobic exercise 

Exercise raises endorphin levels in the brain. Endorphins contribute to our sense of well being, as well as being natural painkillers. Regular exercise will help you to feel fitter and help you get into shape, to feel healthier and better about yourself. Read this NHS article for more information on the relationship between exercise and depression. I wouldn't go so far as to say that exercise can cure depression, but it can help alleviate the symptoms by letting the body access it's natural, feel good hormones.

Aerobic exercise is the kind that gets you out of breath, so walking would need to be to the point that you struggle to speak and get sweaty. Swimming would need to be pushing your limits. Running and strenuous sports such as tennis and squash would count as aerobic exercise, as well as many cardio-based gym classes.

4. Take up yoga, pilates or martial arts

Although these are also described as exercises, I have separated them from aerobic exercise because the benefits are different (although strenuous yoga or martial arts will yield cardio benefits too). The benefits of these forms of exercise are that they strengthen the mind and body connection. These activities require a lot of learning, so the challenge is mental as well as physical. By doing these kinds of activities you can create the space to make changes in areas of your life where you are struggling. It is easier to break old habits if you harness your brain's ability to reshape it's neuronal networks by contunued learning. Joe Dispenza writes extensively about this in his book Evolve Your Brain, which I write about here, along with the reasons why I began to learn a martial art.

5. Pay attention to diet

I am not a nutritionist but I have long been interested in dietary matters. I believe that many people would feel a lot better if they had a dietary overhaul. Sometimes, I enquire about food habits with clients as a poor diet can lead to mood swings, difficulties with sleeping and the worsening of the symptoms of depression, anxiety, the menopause and pre-menstrual tension.

I have had a few clients give up caffeine, or at least cut down, because caffeine can induce anxiety in some people, and cause insomnia in others. Alcohol can lead to depression and anxiety the day following consumption. Many people do not realise the connection between what they eat and their subsequent mood. A food diary can help.

An interesting book to read on the subject is Patrick Holford's The Optimum Nutrition Bible. If you can get half way to eating the way he suggests you'll probably feel a whole lot better.

Amanda Williamson is  BACP Registered private counsellor working in Exeter, Devon. 

Welcome to Counselling in Exeter

Total Pageviews

Ebuzzing - Top Blogs - Health