Reducing worry about Covid-19

Blog Post No. 62

25th April 2020

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne, 2020

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Survival skills for very difficult times: Reducing Covid-19 anxiety and worry

By Renata Taylor-Byrne, Lifestyle Coach/Counsellor

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Introduction

Ok magazine, Davina McCollMillions of people are going through terrible uncertainty and fear for their families and their incomes at the moment, all over the world, because of Covid-19.

Various individuals have described what a massive challenge the current situation has been for them to deal with.

For example, Davina McCall stated in a recent interview in the UK magazine ‘OK’,[1] that she had been battling anxiety, and she said that:

“If you start thinking too far in advance it becomes too much for your brain to handle.”

However, the problem is not really about how far in advance you try to think, but the idea that the future contains threats and dangers, which worry and/or frighten you.

And Catherine Zeta-Jones stated in the same issue of ‘OK’ magazine, in a section which was headed “Lessons in Lockdown”, that: “I worry about everything”.

What can they do to handle this?

Front cover 2I have recently co-authored a book on how to overcome worry, using various approaches.

In this blog I am going to describe one of those approaches: an ancient technique which helps you to reduce your worrying.

Anxiety and worry are not just a mental strain, but also very bad for your physical health.

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The worries mentioned by Davina McCall and Catherine Zeta-Jones, sound very onerous and trying, and it would be good if they could figure out how to stop worrying so much.

And that is certainly possible, as indicated in Dale Carnegie’s book, ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’.

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The price we pay for worrying

First calloutKnowing the effect of worry on the central nervous system can be very useful.   It’s important to know what the bodily price tag is for worrying. Awareness of the physical effects of worrying can protect you against allowing worry to take over your mind. If you know you are harming yourself, you are less likely to allow worry to dominate your mind.

It can also be helpful to know Dr Tom Miller’s view that “Worry is a magical attempt to control something which cannot be controlled by worry!”

And those two insights can, with other strategies, stop you going over and over problems in your mind.  Worry can keep you awake when you need to be sleeping at night, which prevents you then feeling fully re-energized in the morning.

The beneficial effects of not worrying are described by Reid (2003)[2], like this:

“When you ‘don’t worry’, your adrenal glands don’t secrete stress hormones such as cortisone, which suppress immune response and enervate the nervous system with hypertension. When you are happy, your brain secretes neuropeptides, the happy hormones that communicate directly with the glands of the endocrine system, and signal them to ‘turn on the juice’ of healing hormones and other growth factors.” (Page 319).

Potential solutions

Nata-Lifestyle-coach8So what can we do to handle the uncertainty of this present health crisis?

How can we stop worrying?

I want to describe a very ordinary skill, but one that is hard to practise and is a daily challenge to do; but the physical and mental rewards are well worth the effort.

The skill I want to describe is the skill of practising living in the present.

This practice – which includes the ideas of meditation and mindfulness – helps you to avoid going off into the future, where you worry about threats and dangers.  If you keep your mind focussed on the present moment, there are no threats or dangers to worry about.

To help you to stay in the present, you can focus your attention on your breathing, as the breath comes into your lungs, and goes out again.  In addition, you can count your breaths, over and over again, which further keeps your mind focussed on the here and now.

That’s all you have to do – but it is surprisingly good for you.

In the absence of this kind of ‘present time awareness’, your mind can take over your body and drain it of energy.

More detail on meditation

Buddha-image-2Meditation is an extremely simple process, and there are a lot of different techniques. One of them is called ‘breath counting’, and is said to have been recommended by the Buddha Gautama, about 2,500 years ago. You simply count your breaths, over and over again from one to four, as you breathe in and out.

You must breathe ‘from your diaphragm’, which is a dome shaped muscle between the bottom of your lungs and the top of your intestines. As you breathe in, you push your diaphragm down, which expands your belly. You might have to experiment a little to make this happen.

As you breathe out, you belly returns to a flatter state.  This is called ‘belly breathing’, and it is illustrated on a number of video clips at YouTube.  (Do not let your upper chest rise.  That is called ‘anxiety breathing’).

Firstly, sit comfortably; with you back straight; hands open, one on top of the other; palms facing upwards; thumbs touching each other, and both little fingers touching your belly button region.

Secondly, count (silently in your mind):

– 1 on the in-breath;

– 2 on the out-breath;

– 3 on the in-breath; and

– 4 on the out-breath.

And repeat, over and over.

Slowly, slowly, let your rate of breathing slow down; and relax your body. And, as you breathe, focus your attention on your diaphragm, where your breath is fully experienced. Feel the air filling your lungs, from bottom to top.

I suggest you try 10 minutes a day at first. Ten minutes of peace! But as you get to feel the effects on your body, I would suggest that you build up to 30 minutes a day. That will be really good for your mind and body; and it will improve the quality and quantity of your nightly sleep.

If breath counting doesn’t work for you there are a variety of other methods. For example, some people chant a single word mantra – like ‘Om’ – or a multi-word mantra – ‘Namo Amitaba’.

The results and benefits of meditation

  1. Your calm breathing will switch on the “rest and digest” branch of your autonomic (automatic) nervous system, and your body will begin restoring your energy and healing you. This also switches off the tendency to worry.

Your body will become more relaxed and rested, and this will mean that when you experience stressful events, you will be meeting them with a more relaxed body/mind. Therefore the stress response will be less powerful and you’ll recover more quickly, making it much less likely that you will tend to worry.

  1. Focussing on your breath keeps you in the present, and stops you creating scary images about the future.

image-3-indian-master

Conclusion

This blog has suggested that worry can have a nasty effect on your body, even in people who are great role models of physical fitness, like Davina McCall. And meditation is one of several valuable ways of reducing the effects of worry on you.

To see details of our most recent book about how to reduce worry, called ‘Cutting through the worry knot’, please click the link:

https://abc-bookstore.com/how-to-reduce-and-control-your-anxiety/

Bringing your mind back to the present, with meditation, will help you strengthen yourself in the face of the regular and shocking daily news that we hear about the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meditation reduces stress levels and helps people sleep much better.

Some people meditate each morning, and again when they want to get off to sleep at night; or if they wake up in the night and want to get back to sleep again.

Here is a very good website which has gone into detail about the benefits of meditation: https://parade.com/969668/ericasweeney/benefits-of-meditation/

Best wishes,

Renata

BlueLogo13CRenata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

renata@abc-counselling.org

01422 843 629

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[1] OK, Issue 1234, 28th April 2020. http://www.ok.co.uk

[2] Reid, D. (2003) The Tao of Detox: The natural way to purify your body for health and longevity. London: Simon & Schuster.

Coronavirus, staying at home, and family conflict

Blog post – 25th March 2020

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Coronavirus: The stop-at-home rule, and potential family conflict…

By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

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Effects of Coronavirus stay at home rulesThe UK government’s decision to promote social isolation and social distancing will have at least two positive effects:

1. The spread of the virus should be greatly reduced; and:

2. People who have been very stressed by their attempts to balance full-time working and a busy family life, and who are not essential workers, will have a chance to rest and recuperate for a few weeks.

But there will also be one unintended negative effect:

There will be a huge increase in the potential for family friction and aggressive conflicts, which will cause a great deal of misery for many individuals.

How do I know this?

The psychological research

Overcrowing causes conflict and aggressionBack in the early 1960’s, when I was in my early teens, my favourite activity was trawling through the stocks of books and magazines in the second-hand bookshops on Aston Quay and Bachelor’s Walk, near O’Connell’s Bridge, in Dublin.  When I was about fifteen years old, I found a copy of a psychology magazine in which there was a study of the effects of increasing the population density of rats in an accommodation tower.

Initially, one or two rats were placed in a six-tier tower.  On each level of this tower there was an accommodation pod, which could hold one or two rats.  And on the bottom of the tower there was a communal water bowl, which could accommodate a couple of rats drinking at a time.  On the top tier, there was a feeding bowl, which could also accommodate a couple of rats feeding at one time.  The six tiers were connected by a kind of rat-staircase.

The experiment consisted of adding one rat every few hours, and monitoring the level of conflict and aggression as a result of each incremental increase in the number of ‘residents’.

Predictably, the more rats that were obliged to share this limited space, the more the level of conflict, and the intensity of the aggression, tended to increase.

Here is an extract from a Shelter report from 2005, which looked at families that normally or routinely experience overcrowding (whereas in this blog I am looking at families which are about to experience unusual levels of overcrowding):

Overcrowding harms family relationships“Strong agreement that overcrowding harmed family relationships stood at 77 per cent. Out of 14 tick boxes about the possible effects of overcrowding, a lack of privacy was the one that received the highest rate of strong agreement with 92 per cent of overcrowded families selecting it. Eighty-one per cent strongly agreed that overcrowding caused fighting and arguing among their children.”[1]

And I remember from my own childhood and early teens at home that the worst day of the week was Sunday, when mum and dad, and seven kids were all home at once!  It was bedlam.  Conflict was at a maximum.  Once dad went back to work, and one or two other family members went out to work or school, the level of peace and harmony increased dramatically!

Interpersonal skills

One of the main determinants of the level of conflict in a human habitation, when population density increases, is the level of interpersonal skill of each individual present.

A lot of problems arise in overcrowded homes because people do not know how to ask for what they want.

And they don’t know how to say ‘No’ to what they do not want, in a way that promotes cooperation and agreement.

Front cover 1I have been trying to help with this problem for many years. In 2004, I produced an online pamphlet titled ‘How to Beat the Christmas Blues’, which was about how to handle the situation where people come home for Christmas; there is overcrowding and clashing; and there are all kinds of unrealistic expectations regarding the giving of presents; the receiving of presents; and who would turn up for dinner; what the food would be like; and so on.  Endless scope for conflict and aggression; anger and depression; and so on.

How to Resolve Conflict and Unhappiness, is the current version of this project.

Of course, the Coronavirus stop-at-home-fest is different from Christmas, Hanukah, Diwali, Eid, various Saint’s Days, Easter, and family weddings.  But some of the interpersonal skills that help to smooth over clashes and conflicts at Christmas time could also be very helpful during the Coronavirus stop-at-home-fest.

If you’d like to see the kind of skills training that I promote for high-stress family situations, then please see this book:

How to Resolve Conflict and Unhappiness: Especially during Festive Celebrations:

Coping with and resolving frustrations, disappointments and interpersonal clashes at family celebrations like Christmas, Yuletide, Hanukkah, Eid, and Thanksgiving

Dr Jim Byrne (With Renata Taylor-Byrne)

Conflict can happen in families at any time of year.  It just so happens that the first Monday after the Christmas & New Year annual holidays is called ‘Divorce Day’, because that is when the highest number of divorce petitions is issued. And it seems most likely that the other major family holiday times are the runners up in the divorce stakes. (And the Coronavirus stay-at-home rule may push up the divorce rate). However, what is hidden under these divorce statistics is the mountain of personal and social misery that precedes such drastic ‘solutions’ to repeated conflict, disappointments and interpersonal clashes.

Dr-Jim-photo-cover002But there is a better way to deal with these problems. Rather than letting the misery build up over time, you can take control of both your own mind, and the way you communicate within your family and society.  You can insulate your social relationships from constant or repeated misery and unhappiness; and learn to have a wonderful life with your family and friends.

The solutions have been assembled by Dr Jim Byrne in this book about how to re-think/re-feel/re-frame your encounters with your significant others; how to communicate so they will listen; how to listen so they can communicate with you; and how to manage your lifestyle for optimum peace, happiness and success in all your relationships.

PAPERBACK AND eBOOK ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION…

ABC Coaching Counselling Charles 2019Don’t let your relationships deteriorate. Get the solution today. Click this link for more.***

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I hope you find this helpful.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

[1] Shelter (2005) Full house?: How overcrowded housing affects families. Available online: https://england.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/39532/Full_house_overcrowding_effects.pdf

Relaxation technique helps with Covid-19

Blog post – 24th March 2020

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This famous daily relaxation technique will help you cope with Covid-19

By Renata Taylor-Byrne, Lifestyle Coach/Counsellor – Copyright 2020

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Introduction

CAT RELAXINGBecause of the very great seriousness of the present situation regarding Covid-19, we all need to stay in our homes as much as possible, to stop the spread of this virus.

So I thought that at this time, you may be interested in learning about a type of relaxation that has fantastic health benefits, which you could try out at home. It can be practised for a mere 20 minutes a day (longer if you want to combine it with a siesta) and it is brilliant!

You can do the exercise sitting in a chair, lying on the settee or lying on the floor.

It’s called Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and here are some of the health benefits:

* It reduces high blood pressure.

*It boosts your immune system, (crucial at a time like this).

* It relieves depression, anxiety, pain, heart disease, insomnia, panic attacks and digestion problems.

The creator of this technique was a doctor called Edmund Jacobson (1888 – 1983). He was a physiologist, and physician in psychiatry and internal medicine. He spent seventy years researching and developing the key insights of scientific relaxation, based on years of observing tension within the human body. Starting in 1908 at Harvard University, then Cornell, and after that Chicago University, he then set up his own institution in Chicago called the Laboratory for Clinical Physiology.

The build-up of tension in our bodies

Jacobson-sleep-bookMost people don’t realise that they become increasingly physically tense as they try to solve the daily problems of their lives. They use up lots of their physical energy just maintaining that tension. Because of this phenomenon, of accumulation, or building up of tensions in the body’s muscles, day in and day out, people develop anxiety, depression, and various physical illnesses.

It works like this: As we handle the daily tasks and challenges of life, physical tension slowly builds up in our bodies throughout the day, and this accumulating tension is further intensified by a steady bombardment of bad news via mobile phones, the TV and newspapers.

But how is physical tension linked to anxiety?

As you respond to some stressful event, this creates tension in your body, and feelings of anxiety in your brain-mind, which makes you wide awake, on full alert, ready to deal with what is ahead of us. This is the classic ‘Fight or flight’ response switching on to protect you. However, at the end of the day, those accumulated muscle tensions don’t just melt away as you get into bed and try to go to sleep. They can stop you getting to sleep and/or cause wakefulness during the night or early morning.

Some people try to get rid of physical tension and insomnia by taking sleeping tablets, which makes the situation worse. Nick Littlehales (2016)[1] states that one of the first jobs that a sports club will request him to do, when they call him in, is to get the sportsmen and women off sleeping tablets, because of the drain on the body’s energy that they inflict.

How bodily tension is reduced

Callout-1What Dr Jacobson developed was a simple technique which, if you practise it daily, will reduce your physical tension. It won’t work if you just do it from time to time. The system is very simple, and involves tensing a particular set of muscles, holding it for a few seconds, and then releasing the tension.  Each day, as you are doing the tension and release exercises, you will become more aware of what it feels like when you have tension in different parts of your body. And then you can slowly learn to release that tension. Day by day, your tension level reduces as you become aware of what you are doing to your body, as you go about your daily life.

And this reduction in levels of physical tension has beneficial effects throughout the body-bran-mind. People have more energy, less illness, reduced anxiety and depression; and this slowly transforms people’s self-confidence. They are able to sleep better by banishing insomnia; and their memory improves.

The people Jacobson helped with his research

Jacobson’s clients included engineers, journalists, lawyers, doctors, bankers, dentists and people from all the current businesses and professions which were operating at that time. When his first book was printed, (which was entitled “Progressive Relaxation”, in 1929), he was told by the workers and printers at the Chicago University Press that they in particular experienced a great deal of tension. And later in his career he came across union members in the garment and other industries, and assembly line workers who displayed evidence of extreme tension.  (Of course, today, there is a great deal of denial that such levels of tension are induced by stressful jobs!)

Jacobson-and-tensionJacobson’s theory was that clients experienced tension because they had hyperactive bodies and minds, and that the build-up of tension in the body resulted in the following symptoms: anxiety, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disorders, nervous indigestion, peptic ulcers and spastic colon. People were trying to cope with a very fast and constantly changing society, and the problem was that their efforts to cope were using up lots of energy.

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Controlling our energy expenditure

This energy, called adenosine triphosphate, comes from the food we eat. And Jacobson compared it to the petrol supply in a car – there is a limited amount; and when it’s gone, it’s gone. In other words, we have a “personal petrol supply” which we need for our brain, nerves and muscles, and it comes directly from the food we eat. This energy supply is used up by the activities we engage in to achieve our goals. So when we have a job to do, we use the muscles of our body (we have 1,030 skeletal muscles) and we contract and relax those muscles as necessary.

But what Jacobson knew from experience was that none of the doctors who had dealt with his clients before they consulted him, had told their patients about the need to control their energy as they lived their lives. The clients were well versed in the reality of businesses, and knew that, if they spent too much money, on the wrong kinds of investments, they would risk loss of profits and, ultimately, bankruptcy. But they had no awareness of the need for them to manage their own personal supply of physical energy. Here is what Jacobson found:

“I have had experience with the top management of some of … (the United States’) most successful corporations. The officials conducted business duties with outstanding efficiency and success, yet spent their personal energies quite extravagantly.

Executives - destroying-themselves“I was shocked to find that 40% of the top executives of one leading corporation had blood vessels that were beyond cure. They were paying with their lives for their years of energy extravagance.”

(Jacobson, 1976, Page 12).

A closer look at how tension and stress builds up in our bodies

If we don’t give ourselves time to relax and recover after we have exerted ourselves – (for example after we’ve had a hard day’s work; or had to tackle a serious problem; deal with an accident or emergency; or any one of the many stressful challenges that humans of all ages meet on a frequent basis) – then we can cause serious physical and mental health problems for ourselves.

Here’s why: Evolution has developed our bodies so that we are able to handle stressors, and then recover from them quickly. As human beings we’ve got a very efficient, in-built system for handling these pressures. It’s called the ‘Fight or flight’ response, and our bodies react with the release of stress hormones which help us cope with the problems that arise.

And then, we have an automatic recovery system which kicks in after a stressful event, and it’s called the ‘Rest and digest’ system. These two different but interrelated types of responses are part of our autonomic (meaning ‘automatic’) nervous system, which protects our bodies when attacked.

So, slowly, after we have dealt with a sudden crisis or stressful event, our digestion returns to normal, our breathing slows down, as does our heart rate, and we get back to full energy.

Recovery-processBut if we don’t give ourselves time to recover in-between these stressful events, we stop the natural recovery process from taking place. Our bodies experience more and more stress without this safety valve, or recovery stage, to dissipate it. Then there is a gradual accumulation of tension in our muscles, and stress hormones build up in our blood and body tissues.

So let us now take a quick look at how to do Jacobson’s muscle relaxation exercises.

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How to do the Progressive Muscle relaxation technique

  1. Lie on the floor, or on a couch or settee, or sit in a chair.
  2. Then, tense up and then relax each of the main muscles of your body to the count of five seconds; and then release and relax. For example:

– Start with your hands and forearms. Tighten your hands and feel the tension in your fists and forearms.  Hold it to the count of five seconds. And relax.

– Then lift your shoulders, as if trying to move them up to your ears. Feel the tension in your shoulders.  Hold it to the count of five seconds. And relax.

– Then clench your teeth together, to tense your jaw muscles.  Feel the tension in your jaw muscles.  Hold it to the count of five seconds. And relax.

– You will find several good videos on YouTube which will teach you a comprehensive range of muscles to tense and relax, so I will not present any more examples here.

  1. Next, when you have finished tensing and relaxing the different parts of your body, give yourself a 15-20 minute block of time to savour the feeling of complete physical relaxation. Just lie or stay in your fully relaxed position until the time is up.
  2. You may find you fall asleep and this is a good way to combine muscle relaxation with a daily siesta. You will feel refreshed, with renewed energy, after the exercise.
  3. This is crucial: For this technique to work, you need to do this every day. You will get an energy boost from this relaxation technique and big benefits for your heart, blood pressure, and stress and anxiety levels.
  4. You will also find that you will fall asleep more quickly at night if you stick to the daily pattern of practising the relaxation exercises. A tense body with tense muscles will prevent sleep for a long time during the night.
  5. But if you learn to become aware of, and to deliberately let go of, tension in your muscles, you will slowly become more and more relaxed; and you will get the full benefit of a good night’s sleep in time. (Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep each night). The more relaxed you are, the quicker you will be able to get to sleep and have the mental nourishment that only sleep can give your body.

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Proof of its effectiveness: Recent research studies into the effectiveness of progressive muscle relaxation

  1. The most recent research study I’ll describe, was conducted in Greece, in January 2019, with 50 long-term unemployed people.[2] They had been suffering from anxiety disorders, and the participants were split up into 2 groups. One group of thirty individuals were put on an 8 week progressive muscle relaxation training programme, and the control group did not receive any training.

At the start of the research study, the participants’ level of stress, anxiety, depression, integrity, their health–related quality of their life, and sense of safety and security was measured. And at the end of the research, the result was that the intervention group (which had the training in progressive muscle relaxation) had improved results in the aspects of their functioning which had been measured by the researchers.

So, even though the intervention group had statistically higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress before the intervention, after the follow up this group showed a significant reduction in those levels, whereas in the control group no significant difference was observed. Between the groups, the differences were statistically significant. To summarise the findings, the intervention group showed a decrease in the evidence of depression, anxiety and stress, the quality of their life and general mental health had improved and they felt more of a sense of coherence about their lives.

  1. A research study which took place in 2018 is another example: After having had a caesarean section, a lot of women suffer pain, disturbed sleep and have difficulty moving and walking. A research study was undertaken at the Damanhour National Medical Institute in Egypt with a group of women, 80 in number, to see if progressive muscle relaxation could help them recover from their operations.[3] The research study took the form of a randomised, controlled clinical trial, and 40 women were assigned to a study group and 40 women were assigned to the control group. The women in the study group were shown how to do progressive muscle relaxation, and then did it themselves. The results appeared to be quite conclusive: When the quality of the sleep experienced in the two groups were compared, 62.5% of the study group had nourishing sleep, compared to 5% of the control group. Regarding the intensity of the pain experienced by the control group, as they tried to move about, the level of pain they experienced was described by them as being at a level of 70%. On the other hand, the level of limitations in their movement experienced by the study group, because of pain, was ‘significantly absent’ from the whole of this group.

Therefore the conclusion made by the research team was that progressive muscle relaxation significantly reduced pain and made women’s physical activities less painful and restrictive, and there was a definite improvement in sleep quality. The researchers concluded in their report that their findings were similar to others in the same area of research: that the pain that mothers who had experienced caesareans was reduced by progressive muscle relaxation through the operation of several body systems.

They observed that it reduces the stress hormones of epinephrine, catecholamines and cortisol. Also, the deep breathing technique used, increases the oxygen levels in the body, and reduces the oxidative factors and as a result of this, less pain is experienced. It can also restrict the reaction of the sympathetic nervous system (the ‘Fight or flight’ response) and stimulate the parasympathetic nerves (the ‘rest and digest’ part of the autonomic nervous system) by restricting the feedback pathway from the mind to the muscles and as a result, block the biological response to pain. As a consequence, it may lower the heart rate, the level of blood pressure and the metabolic rate.

The outcome of the research study, the researchers concluded, was that post-caesarean women who practiced progressive muscle relaxation technique have lower post caesarean pain, a better quality of sleep and a reduced level of restriction on their physical activities than those who received just the routine nursing care.

Conclusion

Nata-Lifestyle-coach8Jacobson’s progressive relaxation technique has been acknowledged by health care professionals throughout the world as being very effective in many different healthcare environments. It’s a very straightforward technique that anyone can learn and use for themselves, and this increases their sense of self-efficacy and control over their bodies, and also increases their energy level. It’s a lot cheaper than drugs, medical or otherwise, and doesn’t have any negative side effects either!

The final key learning point about the technique is this:  Image result for bamboo paradox coverIt teaches you to raise your awareness of the muscles in your body; and you learn to notice the tension, and how to let go of it, in each of the main muscles of your body. If this is done regularly (daily is best), you become more and more skilled at spotting the tension in your muscles as it arises. Then you can relax the tension immediately after you have created it, instead of letting the tension accumulate in your body. And the more you practise, the more you can automatically spot and release unnecessary tension.

For information about how to perform PMR (progressive muscle relaxation), please see: “The Bamboo Paradox: The limits of human flexibility in a cruel world – and how to protect, defend and strengthen yourself”, by Dr Jim Byrne, It’s available at the ABC Bookstore Online, here: https://abc-bookstore.com/the-bamboo-paradox-a-book-of-wisdom-for-success/

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ABC Coaching Counselling Charles 2019That’s all for now.

I hope you find this helpful.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne, Lifestyle Coach/Counsellor

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References

[1] Littlehales, N. (2016) Sleep: The myth of 8 hours, the power of naps, and the new plan to recharge body and mind. London: Penguin, Random House.

[2] Meracou, K., Tsoukas, K1, Stavrinos, G., et.al. (2019) The effect of PMR on emotional competence, depression-anxiety-stress, and sense of coherence, health-related quality of life, and well-being of unemployed people in Greece: An Intervention study. EXPLORE, Volume 15, Issue 1, January–February 2019: Pages 38-46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2018.08.001

[3] Ismail,N.,Taha, W., and Elgzar, I. (2018) The effect of Progressive muscle relaxation on Post-caesarean section pain, quality of sleep and physical activities limitation (2018)International Journal of studies in Nursing. Vol 3, No.3 (2018)ISSN (online) DOI: https://doi.org/10.20849/ijsn.v3i3.461

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Conflicted Christmas and Unhappy New Year, The solution

Blog post – 6th January 2020

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How to fix a conflicted Christmas and an Unhappy New Year aftermath…

By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

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Introduction

Selective Focus Photography of Three Smiling Women Looking at White and Brown DogWe are here, and it is now.  And it seems this now, where we are, is the same now we were in before the Christmas and New Year fantasies arrived to try to sweep us off our feet.

Of course, Christmas and the New Year are a great opportunity for families and friends to get together, to share food, and exchange gifts, and to be happy and relaxed, away from a tough working year.

I hope you are one of the many people who has enjoyed the festivities; the special foods; the parties; the gift exchanging; and any spiritual significance the festivities had for you.  (And even if you could not afford the special foods, and the gift exchanges, etc., I still hop you had a happy and peaceful time over the holiday period!)

I hope you are not one of those unfortunate people for whom Christmas turned into interpersonal conflict; unhappiness; and strained relationships.

The Holiday Fall-out

Every year, around this time, I see at least one or two individuals – and sometimes a married-couple or two – who have had a miserable Christmas or New Year event.  And so I have a lot of experience of dealing with those kinds of upsets.

Woman And Man Sitting on Brown Wooden Bench

In 2016, I wrote a pamphlet about How to Beat the Christmas Blues, in which I described my system of “re-framing adversities” in order to restore your sense of happiness and peace – even while conflict is going on, and in its aftermath. I subsequently wrote a book on How to Have a Great Relationship.

But this year, in the run-up to Christmas, I decided to write a book about How to Resolve Conflict and Unhappiness – Especially during Festive Celebrations – which would be helpful to individuals and couples – and families – throughout the year; because conflict and unhappiness can arise whenever families and friends congregate anywhere, at any time.  It is true that Christmas seems to be the main contender for the title of “the unhappiest time of year (for a minority of people”) – and as “the biggest surge in divorce petitions” (again, affecting for a minority of couples).

My solution to holiday conflict and unhappiness

Front cover 1In this book, I have presented a very powerful ‘technology’ for overcoming emotional distress – regardless of the cause.  I have also included special advice for couples about how to communicate so as to avoid conflict – or to manage that conflict better; plus special sections on insights into how to communicate more effectively with loved ones; and how to understand and improve your own ‘conflict style’.

I have provided a page of information about the content of this book on the ABC Bookstore Online.  Click this link for more.***

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Best wishes for a Happy 2020 (which is here and now).

Jim

Jim Byrne

cropped-abc-coaching-counselling-charles-2019.jpgDoctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: (UK: +44) 01422 843 629

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Carl Rogers and person-centred counselling and therapy

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Counselling Blog Post: Sunday 8th December 2019

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Carl Rogers and Person-Centred Counselling: Some critical reflections

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2019

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Introduction

Carl RogersThis is the second blog post, in a series of posts, about systems of counselling and psychotherapy.  Last week I wrote about Freud’s system of psychoanalysis****; and today I want to reflect upon a few key elements of Carl Rogers’ system of Person-centred counselling.

At first glance, there could not be anything more wholesome than something called ‘person-centred counselling’.  Being ‘person centred’ sounds laudable, and beyond the need for any kind of reflection or inspection.

Although my first experience of counselling and therapy involved primarily the neo-Freudian approach to psychoanalysis (in 1968), I also had a couple of encounters with Carl Rogers’ person-centred, or client-centred approach.  My first experience of the person-centred approach was working with two individuals, in Bangladesh, who had been through some training and therapy at Big Sur, California, in the mid-1970’s. They had worked with Carl Rogers, and I picked up a flavour of their ‘non-directive, humanistic approach’ to life by osmosis.

On becoming a personThen, in 1979, back in the UK, I stumbled upon Roger’s book, ‘On Becoming a Person’, which I enjoyed enormously.  (Later, I realized that it was somewhat amoral – or lacking in moral sense – in that it elevated the needs of the individual above the social relationships found in a situation, in every case, as a matter of principle; whereas, in my moral judgement, social commitments and responsibilities are also important, and have to be balanced against the needs of the individual, on a case by case basis).

My third experience of Rogers’ system was when I studied for my Diploma in Counselling Psychology and Psychotherapy. During that period, I studied a range of counselling systems, including the person-centred approach (at a time when I was more involved with the rational/cognitive approach – as distinct from my current system of emotive-cognitive embodied narrative therapy).

In this blog, I want to review a couple of elements of the person-centred counselling approach, and to clarify where I differ from that approach.

Carl Rogers and the client’s ‘self-conception’

According to Richard Nelson-Jones[1], person-centred counselling gives first priority to the idea of the client as the possessor of something called “a subjective self-concept”. This is equivalent to the ‘ego’ (or the ‘I’, or ‘sense of self’) in Freudian and neo-Freudian psychotherapy.

Nelson-Jones, Theory and practice of counselling and therapyFor Carl Rogers, the creator of person-centred counselling, the subjective self-concept, when it’s psychologically healthy, is a result of the ways in which the individual perceives and defines themselves. By contrast, when they internalize the values of others, this is seen by Rogers as a ‘distorted sense of self’, which is psychologically unhealthy. This perspective of Rogers’ is reminiscent of Jean Piaget’s view of the individual as essentially capable of autonomous activity from birth, with an urge (which Rogers calls the ‘actualizing tendency’) to explore the world.  But this is completely unrealistic, which is why Piaget’s perspective was eventually replaced (for most educational psychologists) by that of Vygotsky, who recognized the role of ‘instruction’, and other socializing influences, upon the shape taken by the developing child.

Rogers’ mistake was to think that a child could be independent of its parents’ influences – which it cannot be. Every child comes into existence, mentally, as a result of having parents (or parent substitutes) who relate to it and educate/socialize it.  In E-CENT[2] counselling, we see the emergence of the ‘individual self’ as a dialectical (or interactional) process of relationship between the ‘cultural mother’ (initially) and the ‘biological baby’, out of which comes a sense of socialized identity. (See my eBook on The Emergent Individual).

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The Emergent Social Individual:

Or how social experience shapes the human body-brain-mind

The emergent social individual, jim byrneBy Dr Jim Byrne

Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2009-2019

The E-CENT perspective sees the relationship of mother-baby as a dialectical (or interactional) one of mutual influence, in which the baby is ‘colonized’ by the mother/carer, and enrolled over time into the mother/carer’s culture, including language and beliefs, scripts, stories, etc.  This dialectic is one between the innate urges of the baby and the cultural and innate and culturally shaped behaviours of the mother.  The overlap between mother and baby gives rise to the ‘ego space’ in which the identity and habits of the baby take shape.  And in that ego space, a self-identity appears as an emergent phenomenon, based on our felt sense of being a body (the core self) and also on our conscious and non-conscious stories about who we are and where we have been, who has related to us, and how: (the autobiographical self).

Learn more about this book.***

E-Book version only available at the moment.***

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The baby is always a social-baby

For Rogers – unrealistically – the baby has a capacity to engage in ‘the organism’s own valuing system’, which can produce elements of self-conception, which are independent of the values of mother and father and others.  But this proves to be a completely unrealistic idea. Every baby is shaped by its early social environment.

Of course there is a back and forth exchange between the child and the parents, but the parents have a huge power to influence and control the baby and its emerging values and behaviours; while the baby has a limited capacity to influence the parents’ values and behaviours.

And, of course the child does go through a set of biologized stages of development – such as the ‘terrible-twos’; moving towards peer influence and away from parent influences; then puberty; and eventually leaving home; etc.  But the social environment bears down heavily upon all of those developments, and produces a ‘synthesis’ of ‘individual/social being’, or ‘socialized selfhood’.

The individual is always connected to a social environment, both internally (in memory) and externally, in present time relationships (at home and in work, business, etc.), and in terms of cultural rules, expectations and social possibilities.

There is no place for a ‘pure individual’ (or pure ‘self-conception’) to emerge or to stand in the real world. We are social beings from first to last.  From soon after birth until the last breath is drawn! We live inside of social stories.

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Processing Client Stories in Counselling and Psychotherapy:

How to think about and analyze client narratives

Processing client stories in counselling and therapy, jim byrne.JPGDr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

The Institute for E-CENT Publications – 2019

Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2019. All rights reserved.

Of all the systems of counselling and therapy, the main ones that pay attention to the body of the client include Gestalt Therapy, and my own system of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (or E-CENT for short).

In E-CENT counselling, when a client arrives to see us, we see a body-brain-mind-environment-whole enter our room.  We agree that this person will begin by telling us a story about their current difficulties; but we recognize that this story is affected, for better or worse, by the quality and duration of their recent sleep patterns; their diet (including caffeine, alcohol, sugary foods, and trans-fats in junk food); and whether or not they do regular physical exercise; and other bodily factors.

However, in this book, we will mainly focus upon the client’s story or narrative; and perhaps remind ourselves occasionally that this story is being told by a physical body-brain-mind which is dependent for optimal functioning upon such factors as diet, exercise, sleep, and so on. We will focus upon the question of the status of autobiographical narratives; and how to analyze the stories our clients tell us.

Available as an eBook only.***

Learn more about this book.***

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Forcing the client to therapize themselves

Right-brain communicationBecause Carl Rogers didn’t understand the inescapably social nature of the so-called ‘individual’, he created a system of counselling in which the client is left to ‘self-manage’ their therapeutic journey, with the counsellor providing nothing but a ‘mirror’ and ‘sounding board’, both of which provide essentially or primarily non-verbal feedback under the false banner of being ‘a facilitating environment’!

What was Rogers’ justification for creating and practicing such a passive form of counselling? According to Richard Nelson-Jones[3], Rogers believed that it was the quality of the interpersonal encounter with the client that was the really important element in producing a healing/growing/liberating effect on the client.  However, the nature of the interpersonal environment produced by person-centred counselling is largely right-brain to right-brain nonverbal communication.  This is helpful, and potentially healing, up to a point. (See Daniel Hill’s book on Affect Regulation Theory)[4]. However, human relational encounters normally rely upon both left-brain (language-based) communication and right-brain (non-verbal) communication.  And Rogers discounts the value of left-brain, language based communication, because, back in 1940, he had a bee in his bonnet about how mainstream counselling was ‘too directive’!  (It seems to me that Rogers system is too passive, and Albert Ellis’s system is too directive; which is why we have developed a ‘middle way’, in the form of E-CENT counselling.***)

The power of social pressure

Carl RogersParadoxically, Rogers did understand the power of social pressures and influences upon the individual, outside of the therapy room. Indeed, in an article in 1940, he pointed out that if an individual was facing too many adverse social factors (pressures and restraints), then therapy was unlikely to work, because what the person needed was “a radical change of conditions”. (Cohen, 1997, pages 93-94)[5]. (There is, of course, a lot of truth in this insight, as we have seen in the huge increase in mental illness – depression, anxiety and more extreme conditions – since the advent of neoliberal economic policies, introduced by Thatcher and Reagan, produced huge social and economic problems based on inequality and insecurity[6].)

However, the fact that some (or perhaps most) of my clients may be facing intractable social pressures outside of the counselling room, in their daily lives, does not justify me in declining to engage my left-brain, and linguistic communication, during my counselling sessions with them. It is, after all, normal for human beings to utilize both their left and right brains: their language and their feelings, in all forms of human communication. So it seems perverse for person-centred counsellors to exclude meaningful, language-based, left-brain communications when dealing with their clients.

The E-CENT approach to counselling communication

ecent logos 3The model of communication that I utilize in my emotive-cognitive, embodied narrative therapy work is similar to that described by Stephen Covey[7] as follows:

Habit No.5: “First seek to understand (the other person); and then to be understood (by them)”.

Carl Rogers includes the first part of this habit or principle; but he excludes the second; and thus it is not true or full communication that he advocates or uses with his clients.

Here is a little more detail about Covey’s Habit 5:

5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Use empathic listening to genuinely understand a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving.

The Habit 5 is greatly embraced in the Greek philosophy represented by 3 words:

1) Ethos – your personal credibility. It’s the trust that you inspire, your Emotional Bank Account.

2) Pathos is the empathic side — it’s the alignment with the emotional trust of another person’s communication.

3) Logos is the logic — the reasoning part of the presentation.

The order is important: ethos, pathos, logos — your character, and your relationships, and then the logic of your case or argument.

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What Rogers omits, from this model, is the Logos, or Logic; the reasoning process.

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The centrality of two-way communication

When a client seeks my help, I put a lot of time and energy into understanding their understanding of their problem.

Then I put a lot of effort into helping them to understand my understanding of their understanding (of the nature of their problem[s]).

None of this is about hard-and-fast concrete facts; but rather of my story about their story about their experiences.

And out of this dialogue, it often happens that I influence them more than they influence me – which is the right way around for a therapy encounter. Since they are very often struggling with problems of which they have only recently become conscious; and since I’ve been studying and consciously wrestling with similar problems for decades, it would be perverse of me not to seek to influence their undeveloped understanding with my tried, tested and developed understanding.

Rogers reason for non-directive counsellingRogers thought that therapy was ‘too directive’ and, as a reaction against it, he developed a completely non-directive system of therapy (which does not involve fully-human communication – as explained above). But he was wrong to think that a non-directive form of therapy would ‘liberate’ the ‘inner self’ of the client, because the ‘inner self’ of the client is precisely the ‘socialized self’ which carries the wounds that need to be healed.

Non-directive therapy neglects the responsibility of the therapist to re-parent, or re-educate, the client, using left and right brain engagement. (See Hill, 2015).

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The E-CENT approach to therapy

So what does Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) offer instead of the non-directive listening of Person-centred therapy?Front cover Lifestyle Counselling

In my book on Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person***, I describe my perceptions or anticipations of every new client as follows:

  1. I do not know who this client will turn out to be; or how complex their case might be; or how I should begin to think about them. I have to wipe my mind as clear as possible of preconceptions, which, of course, is an impossibility for a human being. (Our preconceptions reside at the non-conscious level, and we most often do not know what they are! And without our preconceptions we would be gaga! We would literally not know what anything was).
  2. This client will be a body-brain-mind, linked to a familial social environment (in the past) and a set of relationships (in the present).
  3. They will be subject to a range of stressors in their daily life, and those stressors will be managed by a set of coping strategies (good and bad – resulting from the degree to which their emotions are habitually regulated or dysregulated [where dysregulated means over-aroused or under-aroused).
  4. This client will have been on a long journey through space-time, sometimes learning something new, and often repeating the habitual patterns of their past experience/conditioning. They will be aware of some of their emotional pain, and unaware of much of it.
  5. This client will have some kind of problem, or problems, for which I have been identified as an aid to the solution.
  6. This client will come in and tell me a story; and another story; and another; and will want me to make sense of those stories; so they can escape from some pain or other. And that is part of my job. But a more immediate, and important part may be to be a ‘secure base’for them[8] – to re-parent them.
  7. This client may or may not be aware that their body and mind are one: a body-mind. They may not realize that, to have a calm and happy mind, they need to eat a healthy, balanced diet; exercise regularly; manage their sleep cycle; drink enough water; process their daily experiences consciously (and especially the difficult bits [preferably in writing, in a journal]); have a good balance of work, rest and play; be assertive in their communications with their significant others; have good quality social connections; and so on.
  8. This client may have heard of ‘the talking cure’, and believe that all we have to do is exchange some statements, and then I will say ‘Take up thy bed and walk!’ And they will be healed.

They may not know that the solution to their problems is most likely going to involve them taking more responsibility for the state of their life; being more self-disciplined; learning to manage the ‘shadow side’ of their mind (or ‘bad wolf’ state); learning to manage their own emotions; manage their own relationships better; manage their physical health, in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation, stress, and so on; and to manage their minds also. Clearly, they are not going to realize any of these necessary developmental challenges if all I do is LISTEN!

For more information about this radically new approach to helping people with bio-psycho-social problems of everyday living, please see my book on Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person***.

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Finale

Dr Jim's office2Clearly, Carl Rogers had a very simplistic model of the human body-brain-mind-environment which we call ‘a counselling client’. To help a client to resolve their emotional, behavioural and relationship problems is normally going to take a whole lot more than listening, listening, listening!

The bottom line of my approach to counselling, therapy and coaching is this: I occupy the central ground between the extremes of Carl Rogers’ non-directive approach, and Albert Ellis’s Extreme Stoical and overly-directive REBT.***

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That’s all for now.

cropped-abc-coaching-counselling-charles-2019.jpgBest wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

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Endnotes

[1] Nelson-Jones, R. (2001) Theory and Practice of Counselling and Therapy.  Third edition.  London: Continuum.

[2] E-CENT = Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy, developed by Jim Byrne, with the support of Renata Taylor-Byrne.

[3] Nelson Jones (2001); page 98.

[4] Hill, D. (2015) Affect Regulation Theory: A clinical model.  New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.

[5] Cohen, D. (1997) Carl Rogers: A critical biography. London: Constable.

[6] Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2010) The Spirit Level: Why equality is better for everybody.  London: Penguin Books.

And, as explained by Dr Oliver James:

“Nearly ten years ago, in my book Britain on the Couch, I pointed out that a twenty-five-year-old American is (depending on which studies you believe) between three and ten times more likely to be suffering depression today than in 1950. … In the case of British people, nearly one-quarter suffered from emotional distress … in the past twelve months, and there is strong evidence that a further one-quarter of us are on the verge thereof.  … (M)uch of this increase in angst occurred after the 1970’s and in English-speaking nations”.  People’s beliefs have not changed so much over that time.  This is evidence of the social-economic impact of the post-Thatcher/Reagan neo-liberal economic policies!

Oliver James (2007) Affluenza: How to be successful and stay sane.  Page xvi-xvii.

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[7] Covey, S.R. (1999) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the character ethic. London: Simon and Schuster.

[8] In attachment theory, a child is seen to use his/her mother (or main carer) as a secure base from which to explore its environment, and to play.  If the child’s stress level rises, or s/he becomes anxious, s/he can scurry back to mother for a feeling of being in a sensitive and responsive relationship of care and reassurance.  This reassurance can also be sought and given nonverbally from a distance.  And in counselling and therapy, that role of being sensitive and caring, and reassuring the client, is also seen as providing a new form of secure base from which the client can explore difficult and challenging memories and feelings.

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The paradox of bamboo flexibility for a human being

Blog Post: 16th November 2019, Updated on 2nd February 2020

By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

Title: The Bamboo Paradox: Flexible body, resilient mind, and wisdom in action

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Hello and welcome to this little blog post about human resilience.

Dr Jim, Oct 2019I am planning to write a newsletter in the next few days, but I thought it might be interesting to share my latest interest with you.  This is my interest in the extent to which a human can model itself upon a flexible bamboo.

This is how I introduce my thinking in the Preface of my new book, which will be published very soon:

At the age of thirty-four years, I woke up.  Woke up for the first time.  Became conscious of the fact that I was living a life that did not really work for me – which had never really worked in a fully satisfactory way.  At that point, I began to seek wisdom – to examine my life – and to explore better ways of living a fuller, more satisfying life.

In this book, I want to share some of the fruits of my journey towards wisdom, happiness and health.

This is a book about how to take care of yourself in a difficult world; so you can be happy and healthy, successful and wealthy. Your physical height, weight, muscle bulk and so on, are not the most important determinants of your ability to be strong in the face of life’s difficult challenges.

In many ways, your ephemeral mind – supported by a well-rested and nourished body – is the best measure of your potential for resilient coping with stressful challenges.  For example, the humble bamboo is often the thinnest plant in the forest or jungle when a tropical storm hits; but it is often the only plant left standing when the storm is over.

A, Front coverIf you develop some bamboo-like flexibility, you can become as strong and resilient as you need to be, even if you are thin and light and less tall than the average person.

This is how the qualities of bamboo are conceptualized by one business-person:

“Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance.  It suggests resilience, meaning that even in the most difficult times… your ability to thrive depends, in the end, on your attitude to your life circumstances.  Take putting forth energy when it is needed, yet always staying calm inwardly”. (Ping Fu: ‘Bend, Not Break: A life in two worlds’).

Like a bamboo, you can learn to bend in strong winds of change or challenge; and to sway in the frequent breezes of trial and tribulation. You can develop a solid foundation, but one which allows you to stay flexible, and to respond to the forces that assail you with a judo-like yielding and returning. Bend in harmony with the forces around you, without resisting rigidly, and thus avoid being broken.  Go with the flow, when the flow is irresistible; but swim against the tide if you need to, when the tide is not too powerful. Eventually, the forces around you may grow tired, and you will be fresh and ready to move forward, when resistance is at its lowest.

“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo … survives by bending with the wind”. (Bruce Lee).

To be like the bamboo, you must not just be well informed about how to use your mind – like an ancient philosopher – but also you must be well fed, well rested, happily related to at least one significant other person; and rooted in some kind of family, social group and/or community.  You need to be involved and rooted in your home community, but free to take whatever individual action you need to take, so long as it is moral and legal.

A, Front cover“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo”- according to Jodi Picoult, an American author of fiction – “far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance”.

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Of course there are flaws in each of those quotes above – limitations and exaggerations – which eventually lead us into paradox, or self-contradicting beliefs and actions, which I will explore later. But the point is to celebrate the near perfect combination of strength and flexibility to be found in bamboo, and to try to emulate that strength and flexibility in our own difficult lives – when appropriate – as individual human beings.

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The first major limitation of comparing ourselves with bamboo is this: In western science, the world is divided into three major classes: animal, vegetable and mineral. Clearly, bamboo belongs to one of those classes (vegetable) while humans belong to another (the animal).

Bamboo is rooted to the spot, while humans, and other animals, move around the world.

To build a bridge from the vegetable world of bamboo, to the animal world of human individuals, let me introduce a transitional entity – a little duck in an endless sea.

Donald C. Babcock has written about a little duck – “something pretty special” – which is out on the ocean; cuddling down in the swells; and riding the waves.  Out beyond the surf by one hundred feet[i]. …

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***For more on this, please click the following link: Preface to Dr Jim’s new book on Bamboo Resilience.***

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That’s all for now.  Newsletter coming soon!

Best wishes,

Jim

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[i] Babcock, D.C (2003) ‘The little duck’. Quoted in Josh Baran (ed) 365 Nirvana Here and Now: Living every moment in enlightenment. London: Element. Page 157.