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 we respond to some stressful event, this creates tension in our body, and feelings of anxiety in your brain-mind, which makes us 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 we get into bed and try to go to sleep. They can stop us 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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