Author: Phoebe Hutchison
Simple strategies to ensure you have the best possible relationship with your teenager. Know what to do, and what to avoid, to best parent your teenager.
All good parenting begins with a strategy that ensures both the parent and child’s needs are met, in a loving, mutually beneficial, relationship. If a good strategy is not in place, both can become frustrated, angry and disconnected, negatively impacting on the child, the parents relationship and the household. Feel free to use the following twelve steps to improve your parenting skills and your child’s future:
1 Quality time
Aim for 30 minutes quality time per day with each child. Children thrive on attention, and they need your attention more than anyone else’s. Give your child 30 minutes, undivided attention per day, and watch this relationship blossom.
2 Listen attentively
If you can’t listen, make a time to listen properly. Show your child that you are listening, by using listening cues, such as ‘ah ha’ and nods. The more interested you become in their world, the more you will enjoy them, and the more they will thrive!
Praise constantly. When you praise their strengths at any opportunity, you are increasing their self-esteem, which influences their ability to have confidence, make friends, and feel motivated at school, and succeed!
Be critical of actions, not critical of your child. Children are very fast to believe criticism. When you are commenting on what they have done, be careful you criticize their actions, not them! If you are furious, you may wish to calm down, before you speak. Words can hurt and devastate children, as they often hear a parent’s words, and take interpret these words as a personal attack –thus damaging their self-esteem. So knock the action; not the child.
Constructive Criticism: “That was a dangerous thing to do, you could’ve been hurt”. Versus Personal Attack: “You idiot. Why were you so stupid!”
Encourage autonomy (support child’s interests, if safe and practical). Children are little adults in the making. Children do not ‘belong to us’. They are on loan, for only 18 years, and then they have greater freedom of choice. When we support their interests, we show love. Children need to feel independent, set their own goals, as this is character building, and will help them later in life, in adulthood.
Children feel happier, more secure, and thrive more, in a world of boundaries, rules and consequences. Boundaries may include household rules, routines such as bedtimes, inappropriate language, respecting others, respecting property, sharing with siblings, allowing others to talk at dinner, having chores, and having pocket money (only if chores are done). Think about cows that enter a new paddock. They walk the perimeter, to ‘test the boundaries’ before settling down. Children will test the boundaries, giving parents the opportunity to reinforce using appropriate consequences. Studies show that your child will actually respect you more, enhancing this parent/child relationship, if you have provide them with healthy boundaries and rules.
Children need consequences. Children learn, change and behave through a series of reactions in their environment. If they feel that their actions have no consequences, they will do as they please. The parent will feel a lack of control, which will frustrate the parent, and only add to the disconnection and anger in this relationship. Ironically, to have a close, loving relationship with your child, he/she must behave, or suffer the consequences (i.e. lose pocket money, have iPod confiscated for a day, lose TV privileges, not be driven to the party Saturday). We shape our children when we praise and reward good behavior. We also shape our children’s behavior when we discourage negative behavior by giving consequences.
8 Respect your child
Show them that respect in every opportunity. I once saw a lady yell at her child, ‘Stop yelling at me!’ I laughed to myself, as she was displaying the type of interaction she did not want. Of course children copy. Children imitate TV show characters, cartoons, their friends, teachers, siblings. We are constantly showing them how to behave. So talk to your child lovingly, with respect, and if they yell, ensure that you tell them, ‘sorry, I am not talking to you until you talk respectfully’. We teach people how to treat us, so only tolerate, and display, appropriate behavior.
Explain to your child that it is ok to feel angry, upset, frustrated, but it is not ok to throw things, hit people, or damage property. Show them appropriate use of feelings, including diarizing, talking about their feelings, and possibly discussing how thoughts turn into feelings, so they can examine, and maybe replace some ‘unhelpful thoughts’. You may wish to do this with a child counsellor/psychologist, if they have a lot of negative thoughts and feelings. Young children respond well to various cartoon faces, showing emotion, which can be found on the internet. Help children identify their emotions, why they feel that way, and help them channel these emotions in an appropriate fashion. Normalize that it is ok to be angry, upset, scared, frustrated, help them identify these feelings, and then use listening skills to help them discuss these feelings. For eg. Tell them, if you are angry, it is ok to tell your brother, ‘Stop!’ if he is annoying you, or tell someone, or walk away; it is not appropriate to hit people.
If children do not receive enough quality attention, they will misbehave to get your attention. They would rather get your ‘positive attention’, but if that is not available, they will aim for your ‘negative attention’. Rats, in experiments, have been known to press a lever to have an electric current go through them, rather than be bored. Children are no different, they would rather be yelled at, than bored…so DON’T LET THEM BECOME BORED! Pre-plan activities so they have plenty to do. Also ensure you continue to give them your daily ‘positive attention’.
Be assertive, not aggressiveness, to ensure all needs are met. Assertiveness is firmly ensuring actions are carried out, without angry voice tones, hostility, threats or fear. Assertiveness is making sure boundaries are followed, chores are completed, homework is done, family members are respected, etc. It is not yelling; it is speaking up when something needs to be mentioned (or followed through). In relationships, people may be ‘walked on’, disrespected, anger can build, people can become angry and aggressive, and can eventually ‘snap’, and become violent, if partners are not assertive. When I talk to couples, I recommend couples talk to each other in ‘mini-meetings’, stating ‘I want…’, ‘I need…’ or ‘I feel…’, rather than talking in an accusation style. An assertive parent could do the same. Instead of saying, ‘You never keep your room tidy’, which may come across as a personal attack, an assertive parent could say, ‘I expect this room to be kept tidy, in order for you to earn your pocket money’. If a child is throwing a ball in the lounge room, the child needs a warning. ‘We respect the lounge room, or we will not be able to use the lounge room tonight.’ If the child continues to throw a ball in the lounge room, the child needs to be told to remove themself from the lounge, and miss the family TV watching as a consequence. ‘If you cannot respect the lounge room, you need to stay out of the lounge room for tonight’.
When we praise, give attention, listen, love, support and encourage our child, we increase their self-esteem. When parents use emotional blackmail, are quick to criticize, control through excess use of power, frequently put down and rarely praise the child, they encourage poor self-esteem, which leaves a child with feeling disapproved of, humiliated, insecure, inadequate, making the child’s life more challenging.
Every interaction you have with your child is either positive, or harmful, for their self-esteem. Because a healthy self-esteem equips your child with the many traits needed for emotional stability, EVERY interaction you have with your child has an impact on how they cope today, and how they cope (and succeed) in the future.
(Feel free to print this article out or give a copy to your friends so that more parents can benefit from a simple, but effective, strategy).Learn More
Author: Phoebe Hutchison
© 2016 Phoebe Hutchison Qualified Counsellor and Author of Honeymooners Forever, Twelve Step Marriage Survival Guide and Are You Listening? Life is Talking to You
Depression is an altered state of brain chemistry, that impacts a person’s mood, body, and life, in a detrimental way. It is a result of a life imbalance. When we resolve the life imbalance, and give the person tools to have power over thought, grieve well, and become connected to their life again, the imbalance, and the depression, become a thing of the past. When a person is coping well again in most areas of their life, depression symptoms usually subside.
Allow me to shed light on the signs of a depressed person, give you a glimpse inside their world, and outline contributing factors for depression. This should equip you, and your loved one, with the strategies to improve your relationship, and lives, despite depression.
Living with a depressed family member is full of challenges; some people feel cheated by the changes in their loved one’s actions and attitudes, others feel heartbroken and many become emotionally disconnected, eventually fracturing the relationship. As a relationship and crisis counsellor, I’ve helped many couples and individuals whose lives were impacted by depression… and I’ve witnessed many clients recover from depression.
What are the signs of a depressed spouse or family member?
Has your loved one changed and become negative, often pessimistic, about almost everything? Has he or she become quieter, emotionally withdrawn, simultaneously becoming unavailable for many family activities? Have they cut down on socializing, seem disinterested in work, family, school, or life? Have they increased emotional eating, drinking of alcohol or drug taking? Has your partner or family member become moody and easily angered? One client said, ‘My husband seems to be a shell – as if he has no soul,’ and another client said, ‘He’s no fun anymore; he’s just not the same person he was five years ago, before the depression.’ One woman said about her son, ‘He’s always angry.’ One man said, ‘My wife is constantly sad, and hardly talks, yet she has so many great things in her life… It doesn’t make sense.’
These sentiments are common. While the contributing factors in depression vary from person to person, the way depression appears ‘from the outside’ is strikingly similar.
How does it feel to have depression?
The daily walk with depression is a crippling one; relationships with family members, friends, colleagues, and life in general, all become more difficult and painful. The depressed person usually feels oppressed, and caged in, either by self-imposed restrictions or perceived (or real) external limitations placed on them.
In most cases, unresolved grief and loss is at the core of depression. For men, it is often a loss of a relative or friend, job loss, or loss of a healthy status in the primary relationship. For women, it is often a loss of a child, miscarriage, feeling trapped in the primary relationship, or not following their passions. For children, it is often the loss of autonomy; feeling as though they are powerless, and have little choices in life, combined with negative thinking and emotional overwhelm. For everyone, depression can lead to a feeling of no hope, which is a major contributing factor in suicidal thinking.
The depressed person lives in the shadows of self-condemnation, anger and frustration. As they over-focus on their defeats and weaknesses, causing their self-esteem to plummet, they compare themselves with others unfavorably – adding more bricks to the wall of isolation around them. This anger at life eventually points inwards, and prior goals seem unattainable. They often become pressured by most obligations, leaving them feeling ‘stuck’, struggling to make decisions, and fearful of the future. Many people with depression also suffer anxiety as well.
What are some of the side effects of depression?
This lack of fulfillment, and a feeling that life is ‘bland’, often becomes the catalyst for an escape. In marriage, this may be a ‘mid-life crisis’ or an affair; creating a change, then a temporary spark. In children, teenagers, or adults, this need for escape from the negative mind could lead to addictions, such as: self harm, food, dangerous behaviour, alcohol, or drugs. However, these methods often add to a devastating backlash of increased alienation from loved ones, fueling self-disgust and confusion, making matters worse.
All these habitual negative, repetitive thoughts create an avalanche of sad emotions, impacting the body. As depression sets in, restless sleep, reduced sex drive, appetite changes, aches and pains, and fatigue, are common place. Feeling numb and disassociated from life, it is common to hear a depressed person say, ‘I don’t know who I am anymore’ and ‘I don’t know what I want.’ The motivation is greatly impacted, leading to a greater sense of hopelessness, and self-dislike.
How can you help your depressed spouse or family member?
Some partners tell their loved one to ‘harden up’ or ‘get over it’, which only exasperates the situation. Ideally, if your loved one has depression, you can assist them by encouraging them to see a doctor for possible medication and a psychologist or counsellor for therapy. Keep talking to your spouse, keep listening, avoid nasty ‘put down’ comments. As depression is not just ‘in the mind’; it is physical as well, be gentle and assist where you can in practical ways around the household. Being empathetic is important, but knowing helpful strategies is essential.
I have a tool in my 2nd book, Are You Listening? Life is Talking to You, that I encourage you to use, called The Crisis/ Life Balance Wheel.
Ask yourself the following questions about your loved one (related to 8 vital areas):
- Thought Patterns (Are their thoughts mostly positive or negative?)
- Self Esteem (Do they have strong self-esteem?)
- Past Grief and Loss (Are they frequently emotional over a past loss or physical or emotional trauma?)
- Emotions (Are their emotions mostly positive or negative?)
- Brain Chemistry (Are they eating well and exercising at least 3 times weekly to improve brain neurotransmitters?)
- Support Networks (Do they have friends they regularly socialize with?)
- Passions (Are they regularly enjoying passions/hobbies?)
- Lifestyle/Career (Do they enjoy their daily activities and are they suffering any financial stress?).
When using this Crisis/Life Balance Wheel for assessment, I ask the client to give me a Coping/Not Coping, response, which I translate to tick or a cross. (In my book, I offer strategies for these eight vital areas). When working with depression, It’s all about firstly identifying, then strengthening, areas where a person is not coping well.
What are the signs of suicidal thinking?
Tragically, a person who is not coping in five or more of these 8 x areas is likely to be experiencing suicidal thinking, so be brave and ask them if they have had any suicidal thoughts. If they have had suicidal thoughts, seek professional help immediately and give them Lifeline phone no. 13 11 14 in Australia). Other signs that your loved one may be suicidal may include: feeling hopeless, useless, or saying their goodbyes, giving away possessions, putting legal affairs in order, or talking about dying frequently.
How medicine and therapy can help?
What causes depression? Science suggests that depression is related to an imbalance in the levels of the following neurotransmitters in the brain: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, and that depression can be hereditary.
So, does depression cause the imbalance in these neurotransmitters, which has a negative impact on the person’s life OR does the life imbalance cause the imbalance in the neurotransmitters, which causes the depression? It is very much like the chicken and the egg – which came first?
Your doctor can assist with antidepressant medication, which often works well in improving the balance of neurotransmitters. However, we need to work on two levels:
- Keep these brain chemistry levels correct.
- Equip the depressed loved one with strategies for better coping with their relationships and life.
Many of my hundreds of counselling sessions have involved a client with depression. When you know what to look for, what to avoid, and how to help yourself, you can make a huge change in your own, and your loved one’s life. If your loved one has depression, they are drowning…so give them a life line by being supporting, loving, and empathetic, and guide them to get help.
Keep talking, keep listening and keep the connection strong between you and your loved one. Now that you know more about what your loved one is going through, and that depression is an illness, not a choice, this should help you remain empathetic. With therapeutic strategies, lots of love, hope, and support, you should be able to help your loved one improve their life balance, so they can become connected to you, and life, again… which is the direct opposite of depression.Learn More
Author: Phoebe Hutchison
Discover why the process of grief is designed to help you cope, and then heal, from loss.
If you have lost a friend, family member, beloved pet, or even a job, you are most likely going through the GRIEF PROCESS. This process is like a dark cloud that hangs over your life for some time after your loss, protecting you, one stage, one minute, one day at a time, helping you heal…
Your mind, body, and spirit are working hard to Protect You & Stop You from feeling ALL your loss at once by putting you in a state of Grief.
- You are not yourself
Your loss will leave you feeling empty, confused, and overwhelmed. You are simply not yourself at the moment. The process of grieving may leave you feeling disconnected from family, friends, your usual work activities and hobbies. Life does not feel the same…you feel numb. This is normal. Grief wants you to step back from your usual life for a while…as you have a lot of work to do: Grief work.
- You have a one track mind
You will have flashbacks, conversations repeating in your mind, words you ‘should have’ said, things you ‘could have’ done. Then you will be tortured by the ‘What if’s’. ‘What if I was there for you that day, that night?’ What if we did this…did that? You may see images, over and over. You keep shutting them out, but your mind keeps replaying them. This is your mind trying to come to terms with the events you have just been through. Your mind is busy reconciling and processing huge emotions, uncommon events, and possible trauma. This is usual soon after loss.
- Your body is weak
Your body is hurting, as grief is a physical process. It is common to feel aches and pains, as the body is being impacted by the abrupt changes. All these roar emotions take up a lot of energy, as does speaking to people about all the intricate details of the events. The loss is exhausting. You may also be in shock, traumatized, in fight, flight or freeze stage. To help your body, keep in mind that simple foods will make digestion less complicated, so your body can work at maintaining homeostasis. When I am with a client who has just lost a husband, I assure them that toast for tea is fine, for the moment, while they recover. Keep hydrated; avoid alcohol as it is a depressant. Allow others to help you with your responsibilities. If you feel like hiding from the world, conserving energy for a few hours here and there, then do it. Similarly, if you feel like a walk, do it! The neurotransmitter boost from gentle exercise, as well as much needed endorphins, will help your mood and body, and assist sleep. Listen to your body, and never push yourself while grieving, as it is very easy to become over-fatigued.
- You are angry
In this fragile state, you will also experience Anger. Grief can make you angry at the world, or you may feel cheated. You could become furious about the flowers at the funeral, your sister, the weather! The anger is helpful; as it gives you a constructive way to channel your heightened emotions…it gives you a purpose, when all your work/hobbies have been stripped away. In my couples counselling, I have seen this anger hurt marriages…so try not to take this anger out on your spouse. This anger is a normal part of grieving, so when you feel like kicking something, make sure it’s a football, not the family dog.
- You can’t concentrate
Your brain is ‘foggy’, and this is frustrating. Be extra careful, as you are not as alert as usual. Your pre-occupation with loss has changed your ability to focus. Some people find themselves becoming frustrated at themselves because they can’t concentrate, when they are shopping, or back at work. Grief won’t let you concentrate…not for long. Why? If you could think clearly, then maybe you could sit and comprehend the enormity of your loss. Grief wants to protect you from this.
- You can’t sleep
So why are you having trouble sleeping? Well, your whole body and mind is in chaos! You swing from too much adrenalin to complete exhaustion, and naturally your brain is impacted. You try to suppress distressful thoughts during the day, so your mind replays them for you while you sleep. Or maybe you over-focus on your loss all day. You may even have a little PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), if you have witnessed the death, seen your loved one just prior to, or after death. Try to take some time out, each day, to switch off, read a magazine or book, watch television, thereby giving the conscious mind a much needed rest.
- You are depressed
Depression sets in. This is a normal part of grief. Depression causes insomnia, fatigue, negative thinking and anger at self. (So now you have anger at self AND anger at the world). Your neurotransmitters are impacted, your serotonin and dopamine are most likely out of balance; you are definitely not yourself. You may feel like you have lost some faith in life, and fearful of the future. (As a crisis counsellor, I have noticed that most clients with depression had unresolved grief at the source and clients with anxiety had unresolved trauma at the source.) If the depression, anxiety or sleep issues persist, see a doctor, psychologist or counsellor.
- Your ‘to do’ list in this grief process
Talk about your loved one, and the experience of the loss, with others and allow yourself to be immersed in this sadness. Make photo boards, talk to the loved one, and celebrate their life in any way you feel. Write letters, record messages on your phone to your loved one, keep communicating to your friends, family AND loved one. Put photos around your home. Have they really left you? Or are they simply in another form? Your loved one is in your heart, they are part of you…and their spirit – their love – is with you when you most need them.
- Your goal in the Grief Process
The good news is, if you allow the grief process to happen; if you don’t suppress it, or try to ‘push on and get back to work too early’, your healing will happen. Eventually, this depression should reduce, and your mind and body WILL feel normal again. The ultimate goal of Grief is to come to a place of acceptance. In this final stage, you will be in a new phase, where the loss is integrated into your heart. You will perhaps stops seeing your loved one everywhere, and be able to focus again on your life, with the knowledge that your loved one is still with you, in spirit, and in your heart. These grief clouds will pass, and eventually you will see the sun, the beauty of life again.
This time, is possibly your lowest…but you will be happy again, you will feel yourself again. You will enjoy the rain, the clouds, and the sun, again.Learn More
Author: Phoebe Hutchison
Know what the causes are, and what you can do, to avoid, or cure, depression.
Almost twenty years ago one of my close friends also took his life after not coping with depression. I could not save my friend all those years ago because I didn’t understand depression. However, now as a crisis counsellor and author, I work weekly with clients who are dealing with depression, anxiety, and some have suicidal thoughts. And after five years research (for my latest book), and counselling many clients with depression, I believe I finally UNDERSTAND this illness.
Most of society is focused on the SYMPTOMS of depression, and not the CAUSES.
In conjunction with prescription medication prescribed by a doctor, and any existing mental health plans, I believe we need to go deeper; to the core of depression and address the UNDERLYING issues that contribute to, and are sustaining, the depression.
Most people have heard that depression is a ‘mental illness’, believed to be based on chemical imbalances in the brain… But what causes these chemical balances?
I believe MANY things contribute to these imbalances.
I look at the client’s life holistically, and assess these 8 specific areas from The Crisis Wheel (see my book, Are You Listening? Life Is Talking to YOU for more information) to get to the core of the depression:
If you or someone you know has depression, ask these 8 simple questions:
- Thought Patterns:
Are they predominantly positive or negative?
- Self Esteem:
How do you see yourself, in the roles you play? Is it overall positive or negative?
- Past unresolved grief/loss/trauma?
Is anything keeping you from living in the present? Fear of the future?
- Emotional status:
What is your most common emotional status? Is it positive or negative?
- Brain Chemicals (exercise/nutrition/prescription and non-prescription drugs):
Do you eat well and exercise frequently?
- Support Networks (family relationships, partner, friends):
Do you feel supported, loved and appreciated? Do you have enough friends? Do you need some relationship strategies?
Are you following your passions? Do you allow time for YOU in your life?
- Lifestyle stressors (career / finances):
Do you work at a job you enjoy? Are finances getting you down?
I then give strategies for the specific areas that are in need of help.
These strategies (all included in my book) include: transforming the subconscious patterns, natural ways to improve brain neurotransmitters, self-assessment, conflict management, assertiveness training (as most people with depression are also oppressed!), psychological therapies such as CBT, mindfulness, grief therapy, gestalt, person centered therapy, understanding and processing emotions, anger management, techniques to minimize fear, changing attitudes to money, fine tuning intuition, rapidly changing negative thought patterns, increasing self-esteem… and much more!
If you are struggling in five or more areas in The Crisis Wheel, suicidal thoughts are likely, so changes need to be made FAST. I find my methods fast, effective and my clients and readers are thrilled with the transformations; usually within weeks!
Here are two small videos, if you want to learn more about my new book, Are You Listening? Life is Talking to YOU, which is jam packed with strategies to help people cope:
The Book Outline – Topics: http://youtu.be/3gYZTH7MDPI (2 min)
Book Trailer – Overview : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlSsRHr28P4 (1 min)
* Please SHARE this INFORMATION so more people with depression can experience HOPE and CHANGE – It is my goal to reduce world-wide suicide rates, by helping more people to cope with life and it’s challenges*
Too many people are taking their lives. THERE IS ANOTHER WAY. I have seen these strategies work, time and time again.
Some recent feedback from readers:
‘Finally, I can see that depression doesn’t need to be a life sentence.’
‘People think I’m crazy (because the ideas are unconventional), but I DON’T care, because I am finally happy.’
Another reader, who was suicidal, said, ‘I hardly feel those sad feelings anymore.’
Make this life, YOUR LIFE, be the best it can be. Take YOUR POWER back!Learn More
Better understand the causes, impact, and solutions, of anxiety.
© 2016 Phoebe Hutchison
I’ve lived with anxiety; I previously had panic attacks. I understand the helplessness, the frustration, and feeling out of control, not to mention the numb face, the blurred vision, and confused thinking. Nowadays, as a crisis counsellor and author of two self-help books, I help many clients with anxiety. I know you can improve. How? I’ve seen it, and I’ve experienced it. You don’t have to be trapped in this state forever… but you DO need to seek help.
Symptoms of Anxiety:
Your heart races; you get the sweats… Your mind is uncontrollable, often racing or forgetful; it’s difficult to concentrate. Your adrenal glands are often at full speed, and you are reacting with ‘fight and flight’ too often. You feel like at any moment you could malfunction or explode, so you avoid many situations and people. Your emotions are often out of control; the panic overcomes you, and with it you may feel disconnected from your surroundings, dizzy, sick in the stomach, or have chest pains. Your sleep and appetite are disrupted, leaving you feeling unwell and fatigued.
Impact of Anxiety:
This anxiety may impact your work, relationships, belief in yourself, and trust in life. Many people with anxiety ‘self-medicate’ or attempt to escape, with drugs or alcohol. Sadly, drugs or alcohol further add to the neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain. You feel mental, but you are not! You are a victim of circumstance. You are still suffering from the past intolerable situation that has become deeply ingrained in your subconscious. (Most people don’t understand you… I do. There is help).
Causes of Anxiety:
At the heart of most anxiety is trauma, even from ten or twenty years ago. But the impact of the trauma is deeply ingrained in your subconscious, causing a fear based belief system which has changed your perception of life and impacted your speech, behaviour, and reality.
What are some possible reasons for your anxiety?
- Childhood abuse (Physical, Verbal or Sexual)
- Witnessing a traumatic incident
- Being involved in a car accident
- Negative thinking (habitual)
- Abusive relationship (Past or current)
- Diagnosed Conditions: Depression, OCD, PTSD, Personality Disorders, Bi-Polar, etc,.
- Acquired brain injury or Large blow to head
- Past heavy drug or alcohol abuse
- Past Bullying
- Past trauma when you felt powerless – Event or Natural Disaster
Impact of Trauma:
When traumatized, you will often have flashbacks, sleep disruption, nightmares, avoidance of people and places, anger, guilt, shame, low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, and maybe thoughts of suicide.
When you have significant trauma, your body replays the traumas like a record player that is stuck – your trauma plays over and over. As a consequence, your body gets trapped in the world of triggers. You may frequently find yourself becoming hypervigilant, fearful, jumpy, on edge, and of course, angry. It doesn’t take much, and you are like a volcano erupting. Standard counselling techniques may not be enough to end this torment. Your anxiety may be the result of years of trauma, or it could be a part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, where you have been in a ‘life death’ situation. Maybe you didn’t view an event as serious, but your mind/body are still having trouble resolving and processing this. You need an expert in trauma; or someone who is trained in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or someone who works on three levels: Mind, Subconscious Mind and Body. (More on this later).
What can you do to help yourself right now?
- LISTEN TO AND CHALLENGE YOUR THOUGHTS
With over 70,000 thoughts per day, this is going to be a challenge. You have been programmed by friends, family, teachers, and life, to see yourself and life a certain way – either negative or positive. You are also programming yourself every day. It’s vital to listen to your thoughts, to ensure you are not criticising yourself or having making incorrect assumptions about circumstances. You may need help, using CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) with a counsellor or psychologist, to improve your thoughts, to ensure you don’t get into the habit of ‘black and white’ thinking, etc., which just inflames anxiety.
Aim for at least three 30 minute brisk walks per week, to improve the balance of serotonin and dopamine in your brain. These are key in improving you sense of well-being. Also, when you exercise, you are actively reducing cortisol, which is a stress hormone that makes anxiety worse. In addition, exercise creates endorphins, which is nature’s way of making you feel great, and emotionally more resilient.
- GIVE YOUR BODY REST
Anxiety causes an overload on many of your organs, your nervous system, and your adrenal glands. Try listening to music or using meditation to slow down or distract yourself from erratic thoughts. Take time out daily, just for you, to focus on relaxation, your hobbies, and rejuvenating. Support your overwhelmed body, to stay well and avoid illness that is common from anxiety. Rest the body, and the mind will follow.
- EAT HEALTHY AND REGULAR MEALS
Quality carbohydrates and proteins are key to improving your serotonin levels, ensuring you have continued strength, and that your blood sugar levels are more consistent. Many people with anxiety skip meals, and don’t eat well, adding to the overload on the body.
- SIT IN THE SUN
Aim for fifteen minutes daily in the sun. This is great to help you absorb vitamin D, and make you more relaxed. Being kind to yourself is key to changing your life. When you start with small steps, these can become big steps.
- LIVE FOR YOU
Constantly ask yourself, ‘What do I feel like doing right now?’ Too many people live for others, leaving them feeling controlled or overwhelmed. When you feel unheard, disrespected, or manipulated, this sense of powerlessness only adds to your fatigue, and contributes to anxiety. Take your power back.
- ASK FOR HELP
ealthy emotional boundaries are important in improving our emotions. If you need help, reach out for help. Anxiety is exhausting, and you may need help in many areas of your life, while you are transitioning.
- STOP BEING SO HARD ON YOURSELF
You didn’t ask to be traumatized, did you? No-one asks for anxiety. This happened TO you. It’s not your fault, but you can get help. You are not inadequate; you are suffering. You usually can’t fix this alone. Reach out for help.
- SEE YOUR DOCTOR
See your doctor and ask for the Mental Health Plan, so that you may get FREE (or subsidized) 6-10 sessions with a psychologist who specialized in trauma and anxiety. The doctor may recommend medication to improve an imbalance of neurotransmitters in your brain, such as Serotonin or Dopamine.
- GO DEEP – GET PROFESSONAL HELP FOR YOUR TRAUMA WITH A SPECIALIST
Following are three techniques that can help reduce trauma, by working not just with thoughts…but working with The Mind, The Subconscious Mind and The Body. These ‘deep’ methods have caused many, (including myself), to experience profound healing and change. Feel free to Google or YouTube these techniques, to learn more and find the psychologist/therapist in your area that specializes in one of these three techniques:
(Founder Peter Levine): Learn to heal trauma by working with a somatic trained therapist to regulate emotions and body, in the here and now.
EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization
(Founder Dr Shapiro): Learn to heal trauma by re-processing the memories in the subconscious, by working with a therapist trained in EMDR.
(Founder David Grand): Learn how the eyes and subconscious work together to find the spots of trauma in the subconscious, then release and re-process these emotions and trauma by working with a therapist trained in Brainspotting. www.brainspottingaustraliapacific.com.au
Healing the past I want you to really enjoy your life and experience more peace, control, and happiness, without daily panic and anxiety. My second book, Are You Listening? Life is Talking to You, has helped many feel re-connected to life again. It all starts with you… I want you to have the best life possible, and for that reason, I spent five years writing this book – for those in crisis. Twenty years ago, I was in crisis. With these tools, and with a little help from a trauma expert, healing is possible.Learn More
How to handle the problem person in your life; whether it be a workmate, friend, family member or associate. Understand why these relationships can be so problematic, and how you can navigate these waters well.
Coping with a Challenging Relationship
© January 2018 Phoebe Hutchison
(Written for Bairnsdale Advertiser, Body and Soul, January, 2018)
A challenging relationship with a workmate, family member, associate, or friend, can be intensely stressful, and even contribute to depression, anxiety or health issues, if prolonged. Some dysfunctional relationships are made worse by many unpleasant exchanges, over many years.
When someone treats you poorly, you are likely to be emotionally and physically impacted. You may feel sad, helpless, and fatigued or furious and restless. The nervous system, sensing ‘an attack’, may become activated in a ‘fight, flight or freeze response’ increasing adrenalin throughout the body, so you can defend yourself (fight) or ignore and walk away (flight) or you may feel frozen and unable to defend yourself (freeze). As your thoughts continually re-enact the event, you may have trouble sleeping, eating or concentrating, while feeling sick or suffering from gastrointestinal issues.
We seem to re-experience negative communication patterns in life until the original traumas are worked through and resolved. Past unresolved traumas that are similar to the current situation may be ‘triggering’ your nervous system, causing an apparent over-reaction. For example, perhaps your father yelled at you when you spoke up as a child, and now as an adult, you feel unable to defend yourself at work or home. You may feel frozen, and overwhelmed, in many situations.
Examine all the factors in the challenging situation, to gain insight. What was happening at the time and during the lead up to the current incident? Were you upset about anything else? How were you physically… tired or hungry? Identify any physiological conditions that may have contributed, such as ill health or hormonal issues. In addition, it’s often not about the words or actions, but the underlying feelings. How did the the words and actions make you feel? Unwelcome, belittled, unheard, or furious? These negative emotions, when dwelled apon for days, are likely to temporarily impact your happiness and brain chemistry (oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin). Exercise is a wonderful way to improve your brain chemistry and mood by increasing endorphins and reducing cortisol… so start walking.
It’s in your hands
After a stressful event, it’s common to continually re-examine all the words and actions in your mind. Why did they yell at me? Do they like me? Why did no-one stick up for me? Avoid trying to psychoanalyze the other person. (Some people simply have nasty intentions). Look at yourself instead. We all have scripts, based on ideas about how we think we should behave. What script allows someone to treat you poorly? Are you saying to yourself: ‘I should never answer back.’ ‘I should always be polite.’ ‘I should always visit my parents, even if they abuse me?’ In all abusive relationships, from the bully at work, to the emotional abuser in a marriage, it takes two people: One to be the abuser, and the other to tolerate the abuse. We are always teaching others how to treat us. If we tolerate poor treatment, we will continue to receive poor treatment… sometimes for years!
- Confront: If someone treats you poorly, confront them, using assertiveness, such as ‘I statements’, such as: “I feel…”, “I need…”, or “I want…”. If someone is yelling at you, you may say, ‘I feel upset as I feel like you are attacking me,’ in a calm and polite way. Avoid ‘you statements’. Saying, ‘You can’t control your anger!’, would inflame the situation.
- Be A Victim: Avoid being a victim by allowing poor treatment to continue. A victim is someone who blames others, feels powerless, and bitches and complains to others. They may get sympathy from listeners, but are likely to remain saddened, and feeling powerless, while the role of victim may become further ingrained in their consciousness.
If you are in a workplace or school, bring up bullying with management. If the challenging relationship is with ‘an associate’, be polite, then run away to the other side of the room fast, before they can be negative!
Getting back to peace
So, how do you stop your normally positive thoughts from being ‘hijacked’ by negativity? It’s been said we have approximately 70,000 thoughts per day, so we need to work hard to reduce negative thinking following a stressful encounter. Thoughts continually ‘pop into your mind’, called automatic thoughts. However, you have a choice about what to ‘dwell on’, so keep redirecting your mind from negative, to positive thoughts. Work on mindfulness, focus on nature, think about what you’re doing right now, avoid obsessing over the past or thinking fear based thoughts about the future (catastrophizing). Use distraction, such as reading a magazine or book, getting involved at work, watching a movie, talking about other things. Avoid bitching about the other ‘problem person’ as bitching will put you back in victim mode, and keep you on the ‘negative thoughts channel’.
If continual negative thoughts is leaving you feeling stressed or unhappy, seek help from a psychologist, or counsellor such as myself for help with CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) for thought management or Brainspotting Therapy to help heal past traumas. You deserve to be happy 🙂Learn More
Why Addicts Need Love
© 2018 Phoebe Hutchison
Working with people who have addiction is by far the most complex of all counselling. Why?
When I sit with someone who has an addiction, they usually have so many other complications; whether
it be food addiction, sex addiction, or drug and alcohol addiction. The addict usually also has anxiety, depression
and/or relationship issues, as well as self dislike and financial struggle.They often feel helpless, angry, and trapped
in this cycle.
Most of these people started life with trauma, instability, neglect or abuse in their childhood. From this, their
brains and nervous systems developed differently. Their reward pathways respond differently. And when they finally
find ‘that thing’ that gives them the escape, pleasure, or the peace, their unstable nervous system and brain feel
stable – they become ‘hooked’, and life becomes a ‘hell roller coaster’ of pleasure, pain, escapism, avoidance,
disconnection and shame.
Drugs or alcohol start as fun for most people, but … the man who spent years partying with friends, now sits
alone smoking cones in his bedroom at his parent’s house… in his fifties. The pretty girl at high school is now in her
forties, injecting herself with heroin, with a scarred face, no work, and suffers chronic anxiety and depression,
claustrophobia, agoraphobia, and struggles to leave the house.
The partes and the fun ended decades ago, and now these lives are like warzones.
Often the addiction starts in their formative years, even as young as eight. The addiction becomes so integrated
into their identity that it becomes a part of how they see them self as they grow, develop and socialize.
I view addiction as a pair of invisible crutches that a person uses to help them through a tough time.
However, they are often unable to release the crutches without professional help, and as a consequence, they
do not heal all the invisible wounds.
Addiction is the warzone that causes scars and turmoil in: self-esteem, thought patterns, unresolved grief,
emotional vulnerability, poor nutrition and low fitness, social isolation, avoidance of hobbies and passions.
The addict is often not happy with themself or what they do in life.
So how can we help someone who is addicted?
I believe professional help is needed for this complicated area. An empathetic and capable addiction
counsellor will work with the client to ensure that first of all this person has the help they need for them to feel
more stable, loved, confident and more engaged in life. Once the client has many coping strategies, and he or
she can begin to see hope for the future. The counsellor can then help this person rebuild their life from the ground up.
When the addict is able to see themself in a more positive way, when they can have more positive thoughts,
they will start to repair their life and move closer to being able to ‘let go’ of their addiction. The healing comes
before the release.
In my job as a drug and alcohol counsellor, I have helped clients into full recovery from: crystal methamphetamine (ice),
marijuana, cigarettes and alcohol, and I have been thanked by these clients for ‘giving them their life back’. I am simply
guiding them, and giving them the tools, for a fulfilling life, and in many cases, doing trauma release work. Essentially,
though, the client is doing the work – which is changing mind, body and soul.
When we heal… and when we love what we do, who we are, and when we have hope for a better future, we no
longer need to keep escaping with addiction.
Once we work through the grief, the trauma, the horrors of what we have been through, the beautiful soul underneath
is free to simply enjoy life and be present in each moment. No ‘long term’ drug addict truly wants to be a drug addict.
I don’t believe that long term addicts enjoy being addicts. The habits of addiction can be stopped. Once an addict sees
themself with love, the healing journey begins. A drug and alcohol counsellor is not someone there to tick the boxes.
A drug and alcohol counsellor, in my opinion, is a counsellor who is worthy to help heal the most complicated in all
human suffering… The addict.
Author: Phoebe Hutchison Date Posted:7 January 2020
Need strategies to help you cope better after the recent bushfires? East Gippsland Trauma counsellor, Phoebe Hutchison, shares advice on how to help yourself heal. Phoebe was evacuated twice in a week, and understands, first hand, how this feels.
The Australian Bushfire Crisis: Coping Stratgies
© 7th January 2020 Phoebe Hutchison
Having just had the most stressful week of my life from two evacuations and all the associated fears, and as I am an East Gippsland trauma counsellor, I am passionate about helping anyone else impacted by these fires, with this article.
To feel better during and after this crisis, it will help you to know:
a) What you are feeling is normal.
b) What’s happening in your body, brain and nervous system.
c) How you can help yourself feel a little more normal.
You may be experiencing:
Trauma: You may have trauma from having felt helpless and hopeless, from fear that you, your: family, friends, home, workplace, or community, were not going to survive.
Vicarious Trauma: You may have vicarious trauma, which is normally a trauma reserved for people in the police force, army, ambulance, fire brigade, counsellors, etc. An accumulation of hearing about, and seeing, numerous accounts of devastation, pain, and loss can lead to feelings of hopelessness, burnout, anxiety, depression, and if prolonged, without professional help, can cause suicidal thoughts.
Excessive Fear: To keep us safe, authorities continually give us the worst case scenario. If you have anxiety, depression, PTSD, or a tendency to catastrophize or have black and white thinking, this cautious approach will likely put you in panic mode.
Grief: You could be struggling with grief, after losing your: home, cars, sheds, possessions, loved ones, friends, freedom, livelihood or peace. If you have suffered grief and loss in the past, which is suppressed (has not been worked through, and still triggers you), then the current grief will feel much worse. If you have suffered these losses, and others didn’t, you could be feeling angry and like a victim (naturally)… as well as experiencing severe trauma reactions and shock.You may need medical and psychological help.
Survivor Guilt: You may be suffering with survivor guilt, after feeling happy that your home has survived, yet someone in your suburb, friendship group, or community, has lost everything. Guilt is a white flag. It is ONLY there for us to notice. Guilt will destroy us, if we let it. Helping others will help reduce your guilt, although some people may need to avoid all fire related activities, to cope.
Emotional Overwhelm: You may feel lost, confused, stressed, indecisive, unable to think straight, or numb. You may cry easily, over-react to simple things, and feel as though you cannot cope with much. Your system is overworked, as you are likely to have fatigue, sleep deprivation, and yet, you need to stay alert for more danger.
10 x Ways to Help Yourself Navigate this Bushfire Crisis
- Keep connecting with others – in person, if possible.
- Keep up the hugs. The power of touch is so important in trauma.
- Focus on gratitude. Make a list of who and what you are grateful for in your life.
- Focus on how you can help yourself, and then once stronger, help your fellow community.
- Believe in a positive future. Try not to catastrophize or have a lot of black and white thinking.
- Keep telling yourself, ‘I am safe, now’, in order to get through to your subconscious mind. You have 60,000 thoughts per day, and many lately, may have been on the fires. It’s important you allow the positivity to reach your subconscious mind.
- Use distraction, when you feel you are ready. Start talking about other things, watch your favourite TV shows, do the activities you did before. Get things back to normal by reducing the amount of thoughts on the trauma. (Continual thoughts on the trauma, continually watching the news/facebook stories, will keep your nervous system and brain, in high alert, causing more negative physical / emotional reactions. Give yourself a break from the fire crisis. (However, keep your Vic Emergency App running, and watch carefully, especially on high fire danger days).
- When the smoke clears, exercise at least four times per week. This will reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body, increase the endorphins, help your serotonin and dopamine in your brain readjust (to keep you calm/motivated, and reduce chances of anxiety or depression). Exercise will help you feel emotionally resilient, happier, peaceful, and a little more normal, again.
- Use grounding exercises to enable your nervous system to keep moving into parasympathetic (calming) rather than sympathetic (alert). (More on this next article).
- Focus on the love you have for your family, pets, friends, and those that have helped you. Dogs are like counsellors, when we really need help. Their calming influence helps your nervous system regulate better. Having love in your heart will increase oxytocin (the love/hug hormone),which will make you feel more connected to everyone. Connection keeps us strong!
You have been through an incredible trauma, and devastation similar to war. The threat was real, people were terrified for their lives, we fled or we fought (often without training). This fire crisis impacted thousands of people, animals, the planet, air quality, and in addition to this, precious lives, homes and businesses were lost…
I got angry when someone from Melbourne said to me yesterday, ‘You didn’t lose anything…You are ok’. This may be true, and I am eternally grateful, but are we all ok mentally? Is the war veteran ok after war? No!
I have worked with many trauma victims who have suffered for years, and some have been ‘one incident traumas’. Recovery will be so much faster, if the appropriate mental health assistance is sough. Maybe not today, but if you are still highly impacted in a month or two, please seek help.
Reflect and Let Emotions Flow: So many people want to dismiss this, forget about this nightmare, and get back to life as normal. However, it is important to acknowledge the enormity of what has just happened, and in doing so, process some of the emotions around this experience. It will help if you talk to others about how you were feeling, what you experienced, what your fears were, and by simply keeping the conversations going, you’ll be able to start to comprehend some of the events that have happened in the last week. You may wish to record into your phone some of the experiences, so you can review them later. You may wish to use a diary to write down how you felt, what you have seen, feared, and lost.
Why do you still feel anxious? When you are in a life and death situation, your brain changes. The part that is normally in charge of your day to day thoughts (the prefrontal cortex, behind your forehead) works on logic / morals. However, when your brain determines your life or your loved ones, is under threat, the limbic system (the primal, survival part of your brain) takes over. Your brain changes the controlling part, to save your life. This can go on for years after a trauma, if specialist ‘trauma counselling’ is not sought.
Your Brain has Changed: The limbic system takes over, releasing adrenaline from the amygdala, which goes through your body and equips you with the continual energy to be able to fight,flight, or freeze. You are likely to experience an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone. The combination of these, make it difficult to sleep, increase aggression, and because your brain has determined that you are in survival mode, your nervous system is hijacked.
Your Nervous System has been hijacked: Your autonomic nervous system, which has two sides: sympathetic (puts your body in high alert) and parasympathetic (calms your body, returning it to normal). You are likely to be running from sympathetic a lot more, making your blood flow continually to your main organs, preparing you for fight, flight, or freeze, and away from other parts of your body. This leaves your hands and body a little colder, and your thoughts become acutely focused on ‘potential threats’. You may become obsessed with fire information, which is normal at the start of any crisis.
You may feel Numb: As your nervous system is preparing you for action, digestive systems don’t function well, often leaving you with diarrhoea, stomach pains, etc. As you are still under threat, you may experience some of the ‘freeze’ responses, and due to trauma and shock. You may experience feelings of numbness to your surroundings, feel as though this can’t be real, or you may feel cocooned in your own mind, and distant from people who are not going through this trauma.
You may become hypervigilant: As your body is on high alert, you’ll become hypervigilant, which means simple things like wind (away from the fires), may be terrifying. You may not feel safe, even though in these situations, you normally would. You may feel easily startled, panicked, and find yourself restless, pacing, and unable to feel fully relaxed..
Why do some people cope better than others? There are some people who will find this experience terrifying, and some people who will cope extremely well. Those who have anxiety, depression, PTSD, or who have a history of being in a fire, are likely to be impacted more. Those who have been in a situation where they experienced extreme helplessness and hopelessness in the past, will also not cope very well under these conditions. Why? There is an area in the brain called the subcortical, and it registers emotions without words. When we go through a trauma that we have experienced before, our brain triggers into high alert / survival mode, in a greater intensity. This can make some people appear to over-react.
(I know I over-reacted this week, as I was stuck in a house fire at 14 years of age, and this whole experience re-triggered me… I have now had some Brainspotting, and feel much calmer).
Don’t wait two years to get counselling: Some people will try to move on, and suppress their varied emotions, and this torment can remain deep in their subcortical brain (where emotions are held)…and this could remain there for years. I’ve seen clients experience a life threatening trauma, and then seemingly freeze, and be unable to work, for years…until they had the psychological help For anyone suffering severe trauma, I strongly recommend that you consult a ‘Trauma Trained Therapist’, such as one trained in: Brainspotting, EMDR or Somatic techniques, as these therapies work directly with the subcortical brain, so the emotions that are not processed, that keep the brain/nervous systems on high alert, can be released…causing the body/mind to feel calm again. Brainspotting Therapist’s: https://www.brainspottingaustraliapacific.com.au/category/australia/vic/
You have suffered greatly, and you deserve help. The world has been watching Australia in crisis, and there are countless counsellors wanting to help you. To access a counsellor, see your doctor, community health, speak to your employer about free counselling called EAP (Employee Assist Program), and if you are unemployed, ask your local job agency to recommend a free counsellor. LifeLine is available anytime 24/7, if you need to speak to someone: Phone: 13 11 14.
We need to rebuild Australia, one person and community, at a time.
Stay safe and give yourself the opportunity to heal. Life may not seem normal at present, but with time, and great psychological support (if needed), life will feel peaceful, safe, and happy again.
Author / CounsellorLearn More