Hebden Bridge counselling, psychotherapy and coaching services. Narrative and lifestyle approaches to problems of everyday living – including couple conflict, anger management, communication problems, life goals, stress, self-confidence, anxiety and depression.
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.
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’.
The price we pay for worrying
Knowing 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), 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).
So 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
Meditation 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
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.
Focussing on your breath keeps you in the present, and stops you creating scary images about the future.
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:
Dr Jim’s Blog: Freud, sex, literature, Descartes, and the body-brain-mind-environment-complexity!
Part Two: More on ‘What are the linkages between psychology and psychotherapy, on the one hand, and literature, on the other’?
Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018
Recently, I’ve been blogging about some of the important linkages, or overlaps, between psychology, on the one hand, and literature, on the other.
For examples: I have written about:
(1) Some of the books that helped to grow my emotional intelligence; or to help me to ‘complete’ (or process) some early, traumatic experience;
(2) My own semi-autobiographical novel/story about the life of Daniel O’Beeve – and how this is legitimate psychotherapy for the reader, as well as the writer;
(3) How to “write a new life for yourself” – in the form of a new paperback book about a system of psychotherapy, which I have developed over a number of years.
(4) How psychological insights seep into literature; and how literature in turn influences, or humanizes, psychology and psychotherapy.
Today, I want to describe some experiences with literature that I’ve had over the past couple of days.
Visiting bookshops in Bradford
Two days ago – on Saturday 21st July – Renata and I took some time out and went to Bradford for lunch, and to take a look around the shops, including two bookshops and the main DVD/movie outlet (HMV, in the new arcade).
In Waterstones’ bookshop, towards the end of our visit, I was looking for something which would help me to reflect some more upon the linkages between psychology and literature.
There was nothing of any relevance in the Psychology section.
Then I went looking for a Literature section. The best I could find were two adjacent book cases, one on Poetry, and one on Drama. (Bradford is not a particularly big city).
In the drama section, there were a few books on literature, including one by Julian Barnes: Through the Window – Seventeen essays (and one short story); London; Vintage Books; 2012.
The blurb on the back of this book suggested it was exactly what I was seeking. It began like this: “Novels tell us the most truth about life…”
I bought it, and brought it home, and dived into the Preface, which describes ‘a Sempé cartoon’, which shows three sections of a bookshop. On the left, the Philosophy section; on the right, the History section; and in the middle, a window that looks out at a man and a woman who are approaching each other from roughly the locations of those two sections, and who are inevitably (and accidentally) going to meet in front of the middle section, which is the Fiction section.
For Julian Barnes, this cartoon describes his own beliefs about the central role of fiction in our lives.
“Fiction, more than any other written form, explains and expands life”, he writes, with great assurance. “Biology, of course, also explains life; so do biography and biochemistry and biophysics and biomechanics and biopsychology. But all the biosciences yield no biofiction. Novels tell us the most truth about life: what it is, how we live it, what it might be for, how we enjoy and value it, how it goes wrong, and how we lose it. Novels speak to and from the mind, the heart, the eye, the genitals, the skin; the conscious and the subconscious. What it is to be an individual, what it means to be part of a society. What it means to be alone. …” Etcetera.
However, it could be objected that, while the various sciences instruct, and suggest what must be done and not done, the literary arts merely create visceral and emotive sensations, which must link up with our socialization in general – that is to say, our previous learning – to help us to decide what to do with this new literary information; these insights; or newly forming feelings and thoughts.
Indeed, it seems to me that if all we had was literature, then we would be “weaving without weft” – or trying to make a fabric without those long strings, from one end of the loom to the other, through which the shuttle passes. We would be trying to make sense of fictions in the absence of the insights we gain from the various sciences, and the ruminations of the various philosophers.
However, the reverse is also true. Without literature and art, the sciences would provide us with long strings of facts, set up on our mental looms, but with no means of weaving a living fabric of warmth and depth and emotional meaning.
An example from fiction
What I omitted from my story above is this: Before going to Waterstones’, we had visited the Oxfam shop, which has a vast floor dedicated to second-hand books, included the abandoned books of waves of undergraduates and postgraduates from the local universities: yards of books on Psychology, philosophy, health studies, and so on. And then there’s History, and lots of novels – many of the pulp variety – and some classics.
During this visit, I did look at psychology, and health studies, and personal development; but I began by looking for a novel which might help me to elucidate some of the points I’ve been exploring in these blog posts. And I did find one.
I found Mantissa, by John Fowles. This author’s name jumped out at me because I have read five of his nine books – but I had never come across Mantissa.
So I opened it, and what should leap off the page at me, but a quotation by René Descartes. This had an electrifying effect upon me, because I have been arguing – in earlier blog posts in this series – that philosophies, like Descartes’ misleading ‘cogito’ (“I think therefore I am”), got into psychology; and that, whatever arises within, or gets into, psychology, inevitably finds its way into literature. And here was a living proof of my assertions. The particular quote from Descartes, promulgated by John Fowles, on page 5 of Mantissa, included the following conclusion:
“…this I, that is to say the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body, is even easier to know than the body, and furthermore would not stop being what it is, even if the body did not exist”.
We know from previous considerations of this ‘cogito’-philosophy of Descartes by generations of philosophers, that it is impossible to sustain his beliefs about the body-mind split.
But the more important consideration is this: Why is John Fowles beginning his novel with this quotation?
Is it his intention to argue that we are souls, separate and apart from our bodies?
Or is he going to try to undermine Descartes’ belief?
Part I (of IV) begins with the suggestion of ‘a consciousness’ surrounded by “a luminous and infinite haze”. And out of this connectivity comes an individual consciousness – a male person, in a bed, looking up at two women; one of whom claims to be his wife, and the other a doctor (of neurology); and the suggestion emerges of ‘loss of personal memory’. The ‘wife’ departs, and a nurse arrives to join the doctor, and it unfolds that the treatment for this poor man (Mr Green’s) mental problem is a physical therapy. (The theory, explicitly stated by the doctor, is that there is a link between the genitals and the personal sense of remembered self!)
At this point, we can say that Fowles seems to be setting out to refute Descartes view of a separation between mind and body, by treating memory loss via the genitals. (Crazy theory, I know! But it proves to owe a lot to Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages of human development!)
Fowles’ intention to undermine Descartes seems likely, especially given that the doctor in this story is a neurologist: a specialist in understanding brain-mind functioning. Or the physical brain as the substrate of mind.
Mr Green proves to be resistant to the sexual activities to which he is subjected by the doctor and the nurse, until, at the start of Part II, it emerges that no such reality exists. There are no physical bodies present! It is all going on in the mind of Mr Green – (who is obviously, ultimately, Mr Fowles!) – who is essentially writing (in his mind) some scenes of pornography.
This is an echo of one of Descartes’ meditations, in which he wonders if he might be just a brain suspended in a vat by an evil demon, and that his brain imagines that it is attached to a body in an external environment. (I know! Descartes was a nut!)
(But think about today’s counsellors and psychiatrists. Most counsellors think of the client as a floating mind! And most psychiatrists think of the mind-brain as a chemical unit separate and apart from the stresses and strains of its social environment, its philosophy of life, and its personal history of experience!)
Towards the end of Part IV, it becomes obvious that all of the action being described within this narrative, is not actual action, but narrative within narrative; with a magical edge, provide by the presence of the Greek goddess, Erato: (originally introduced as the doctor of neurology!); and the pornographic ravings of a juvenile author (Fowles!)
There is a nod backwards towards Freud in this book; not alone by reducing all human activity to a sexual nightmare; but also these nuggets:
“Now listen closely, Mr Green”. (This is said by the doctor of neurology; who we later learn is the goddess Erato!) “I will try to explain one last time. Memory is strongly attached to ego”. (NB: Ego is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the I’.) “Your ego has lost in a conflict with your super-ego”, – (Super-ego is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the Over-I’ [the first instantiation of which is every baby’s mother]). – “which has decided to repress it – to censor it”. (The concept of repression comes from Freud!) “All nurse and I wish to do is to enlist the aid of the third component of your psyche, the id”. (‘The id’ is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the It’; the ‘thing’ that we are at birth! The ‘whole thing’, body-brain-and-embryonic-mind). “Your id” writes Fowles, through the ethereal person of the doctor/goddess, “is that flaccid member pressed against my posterior. It is potentially your best friend. And mine as your doctor. Do you understand what I am saying?” (Page 31 of Mantissa).
So, I think some of my points are being ‘firmed up’ here (if you will pardon my inability to refrain from making a pun at the expense of Fowles and Freud!) In particular, I think it is safe to say that ideas pass freely between philosophy, psychology and literature. Each feeds off the other. There are no impermeable boundaries between those domains of thought!
And we have to be awake to this reality for various reasons which I will look at later. The most obvious one being that fictions find their way into philosophy; and philosophical fictions find their way into psychology; and fictitious aspects of psychology inform counselling and psychotherapy! And round and round!
Back to Julian Barnes
Earlier I quoted a very strong argument by Julian Barnes, from the Preface of his book, Through the Window; in which he said: “Novels tell us the most truth about life…”.
However, if you read your texts closely, you will often be rewarded with insights like this: Barnes was inconsistent.
Really? In what way?
Well, just 45 words after the end of his strong claims about novels telling the most truth, we read this statement; the final statement of the Preface:
“The best fiction rarely provides answers; but it does formulate the questions exceptionally well”. (Emphasis added, JWB).
So, if we put his two main ideas together, we get this:
Novels tell us the most truth, but not in the form of answers; only in the form of questions!
Does that make any sense? No.
Because the novel actually presents imaginary scenarios as history. Reading those scenarios – and taking them at face value – the reader finds that certain questions automatically form within their body-brain-mind, based on their socialization; their past experiences; and their current circumstances.
The author cannot control which questions will form in the mind of the reader.
But what is the value of the questions that are thus formed by fictional writing?
The value is huge! Why? Because questions are the first and most essential part of what some people call ‘thinking’, but which I call ‘overt, conscious perfinking’ – where ‘perfinking’ means perceiving- feeling- thinking, all in one grasp of the mind.
So, novels impact us, by bringing up new thoughts, and especially questions, which, if we pursue them, may produce dramatic answers that shunt us out of a current reality into a range of new possibilities! In this sense, novels are potentially hugely therapeutic!
For this reason, I recommend novels – the very best novels – my counselling clients; and to my supervisees – counsellors who need to keep growing their hearts and minds; and improving thereby their body-brain-mind-environment-complexity!
How did the body get into the previous statement?
It might have been difficult to answer the question – ‘What does the body have to do with reading and/or writing novels?’
Except, while I was scanning the pages of John Fowles’ Mantissa, Renata came over to me and showed me a book she had found: ‘The Anatomy of Change: A way to move through life’s transitions’. This book was written by Richard Strozzi Heckler (1993), a teacher of Aikido (which is a system of Japanese unarmed combat – which I studied briefly at the Dublin Judo Club, in 1991-’62). Heckler’s philosophy of life can be summed up like this:
Renata pointed me at a section on Living in the Body; in which Heckler describes how he was once hired by a juvenile detention centre, where he was to work with difficult juveniles who were violent offenders. He worked with one, physically huge, and very angry young man who expressed the desire to kill somebody, because he was so angry. Heckler, intuitively, and pragmatically, told this youth that he could show him precisely how to kill somebody. The youth was hooked, and they began to work on the Aikido pressure points. But this youth’s physical energies prevented him easily learning what needed to be learned; and so Heckler began to work on his body, to get him to the state where he could master the Aikido pressure points that he wanted to learn. However, through the process of focusing his attention on his own body, and learning to release tensions, this youth lost his interest in killing anybody. He was beginning to live in his body; and he realized it was more interesting to find out about himself than to kill anybody.
Moving a muscle can change a thought, and/or an emotion. Physical training is profoundly stress reducing. It teaches physical self-confidence. And, the softening of ‘body armouring’ can release the person’s feelings, intuitions, and compassion, and, according to Heckler, it can heal our physical and emotional wounds. (That certainly lines up with my own experience at the Dublin Judo Club [which was actually called the Irish Judo Association at the point when I joined]). Our experiences shape our body-brain-mind; and we can begin to loosen and reframe our most troubling experiences by working from the body-side of our body-brain-mind, or from the mind-side of our body-brain-mind.
Reading a novel on the way to and from your equivalent of the Judo Club will double your progress in healing your body-brain-mind; and seeing a good, wise, broadminded counsellor, at some point each week, will also help!
Renata’s Coaching Blog: Quotations for success and happiness: Ideas can change your life
Increasing our well-being, success and happiness as humans is a multi-faceted process!
In this short blog I want to share with you some fabulous quotes which I’ve come across in the course of my research. My hope is that these little ideas will spark some new thinking of your own, and make a contribution to your growing success and happiness.
What I like about these authors is that they don’t mince words – they go straight to the point.
These quotes are like nuggets of gold: precious because of the willingness of the people who share them to be honest, and pass on their insights and lived experience. I thank them all for that!
These quotes cover the different aspects of what it means to be human. As human animals our level of activity and exercise is very important for our well-being, as is the amount and quality of sleep we have, the quality of our diets, how to handle the challenge of very difficult life events, resisting social pressure to conform to others’ rules, staying true to ourselves, and how we nurture and manage our relationships with our families and friends.
If we ignore the knowledge and authority in these statements, then we are the ones who will pay the price, sooner or later.
Here’s an introductory quote:
“People are more concerned with figuring out which direction their car is going, than in finding out the direction of their life, health and where their relationships are going”.
This quote wakes us up to the fact that it is very easy to become over-involved in what is directly in front of us, instead of watching where we are going in life!
The well-being quotations
1. This quote is based on extensive research, and, if adopted by people, will have an immediate impact on their sense of well-being as they go about their daily jobs and commitments. It’s from Shawn Stevenson, a best-selling author and the founder of the Model Health Show in America:
“Your sleep quality and the quality of your life go hand in hand…….Unless you give your body the right amount of sleep you will never, I repeat never, have the body and life that you want to have”.
2. I particularly like this one, from the Earl of Derby:
“Those who don’t find time for exercise will have to find time for illness”.
The Earl of Derby
This statement by the Earl of Derby is one of the things that motivates me to do my physical exercise, most days of the week. Without this insight, I might think my exercises were ‘wasting valuable time’!
3. This next quotation is the opinion of Dr Kelly Brogan – (a practising psychiatrist, trained medical doctor, with a degree in cognitive neuroscience, and she describes the work she does with her patients as ‘lifestyle medicine’). This is her assessment of of the pointlessness of applying chemical solutions to people’s problems:
“If you think a chemical pill can save, cure or ‘correct’ you, you’re dead wrong. That is about as misguided as taking aspirin for a nail stuck in your foot”.
Dr Kelly Brogan
4. This next quote, from Claudia Black, explains the need to have boundaries that protect you from hostility and destructive criticism in your immediate social environment:
“Surround yourself with people who respect you and treat you well.”
Implicit in Claudia Black’s statement, above, is the idea that we should not associate with people who are bad for us. And also, when people – who are basically good for us – say or do things that offend us, we have to defend ourselves from those attacks.
5. On the theme of self-care, here is an excellent quote:
“You can’t give to your family or others out of an empty cup – Practice extreme self-care”. (Anon)
6. On the same subject of self-care, and handling criticism from others, here is a powerful quote from Leila Hoteit, an Arab businesswoman. She defines resilience as the ability to transform shit(sexism, racial prejudice, destructive criticism, etc) into fuel, as she states in her fabulous TED talk:
“Convert their shit into your fuel!”
7. Life is always throwing new learning experiences at us, and here is a lovely quote by Thomas Szasz, which explains why it’s harder for us to learn when we get older:
“Every act of conscious learning requires a willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That’s why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily”.
8. In the next quotation, J.K. Rowling passes on some great advice about what you will gain when problems happen in your life:
“You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and (my own adversities and struggles have) been worth more than any qualification I have ever learned.”
9. Here is a very useful and helpful quote by Dan Coyle, which assists us in re-framing past test and exam failures and interpersonal skills deficits:
“If you don’t have early success, don’t quit. Instead, treat your early efforts as experiments, not as verdicts.”
10. The final quote is one from John Wooden, a world-famous coach. It reminds me of the idea (from Carol Dweck) that we can have an open or a closed mind-set.
“If I am through learning, I am through!”
I hope you have enjoyed these quotes and that you find one or two of them useful.
They can change the way we view the world, or ourselves, and point the way for us to improve our well-being if we want the rewards.
I recommend that you treat yourself and have a look at the quotes in small, independent bookshops, as well as the major bookshops like W.H. Smith’s and Waterstone’s, in the UK. This process, of looking for ideas in the form of brief quotations, can be very illuminating and boost your energy at the same time. Or, as John Steinbeck famously wrote:
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
This book has struck a chord with many counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and social workers. It has received a lot of *Likes* and *Comments* on LinkedIn, in particular; and it is selling very well indeed.
It may also be selling well to self-help enthusiasts, or individuals who want to improve their own sleep, diet/nutrition, and physical activity; as well as improving their general self-management; stress management; and emotional intelligence.
Today, we are announcing the publication of a new book:
This book contains more than 20 exercises to help you to process your troublesome experiences; to set goals; to manage emotions; to improve your self-management and creative thinking; and much more besides. It also contains a chapter for counsellors on how to incorporate elements of writing therapy into face-to-face counselling and therapy sessions.
Author’s introduction: In this book, I provide you with a road-map which will support you in building a bridge into a better future for yourself.
I have used a more gradual approach than Julia Cameron. I want to help you to begin with small steps; in an easy, simple way; and to slowly build up your ‘writing muscles’.
In the process, you will develop a great capacity to manage your thinking-feeling-perceiving more reasonably; in a more self-regulated fashion. You will become more intuitive; more creative; and a more efficient and effective problem-solver. You will be less troubled by stress and strain, and more likely to succeed in achieving whatever goals you want to pursue!
Renata’s Coaching Blog: Do managers/leaders realise how crucial their sleep habits are for their staff?
“Your abusive boss is probably an insomniac:”- A revealing research study by a Professor of Management
I continue to do my research on the science of sleep, and the things I am discovering are really quite fascinating. I have begun to structure my book on this subject as I go along with my research.
Here’s an example of the kinds of things I’m discovering:
“Your abusive boss is probably an insomniac”
When people are in a position of responsibility for, and control over others, their work can be very difficult and physically draining at times. (This applies to managers at every level: directors, company executives, university and college managers, social and health care managers, emergency service managers, police management, psychiatrists, supervisors, teachers, and parents; and many others). Because of this wear and tear, self-care is very important when you are managing people. But so also is the need to take care of the people you manage.
In this blog I’m going to describe a research study which shows how the physical condition of a leader (or manager) can negatively impact the behaviour of their employees, or staff.
The research was conducted by Christopher Barnes, (who is an associate professor of management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business), with his colleagues Lorenzo Lucianetti, Devasheesh Bhave, and Michael Christian. He summarised the research they had done in an article in the Harvard Business Review in 2014, in an article entitled: “Your abusive boss is probably an insomniac.”
Sleep affects productivity – your own and your team’s
Christopher Barnes’s previous research had investigated the effect in the workplace of the sleep behaviour of the staff, and he had found that sleep was crucial for replenishing people’s ability to control their own behaviour.
He and his colleagues then went on to conduct a field study of 88 leaders and their subordinates. For two weeks, they conducted surveys of leaders at the start of each work day, about the quality of the leader’s sleep on the previous night and the amount of self-control they had over themselves at the point of completing the survey questionnaire.
And for the same period of two weeks, their subordinates completed surveys when they had finished the day’s work, and recorded any abusive supervisor behaviour of their leader (manager) on that day, as well as their own work involvement on the same day. The research was aimed at focussing on the individual leaders, rather than assessing leaders in relation to each other.
Researchers tracked the amount of sleep that the leaders had (their sleep patterns) over a number of weeks. During that time, the reactions and observations of their subordinates to their leader’s performance was carefully recorded. (There was no knowledge, on the part of the workers, of the amount of sleep that their boss was getting, during the course of this research exercise).
Sleep quality and quantity affects leadership ability
The research revealed that, if the supervisor had experienced a poor night’s sleep, this resulted in a more derogatory and disrespectful attitude towards the supervisees the following day.
Lack of restful sleep also led to a reduction in the leader’s ability to self-regulate – (to manage their responses to others constructively). This was described by the employees in their reports of their leader’s behaviour.
Another quite alarming result also occurred: On the days after the leader had a disturbed night’s sleep, the employees – (even if they had nourishing sleep themselves) – were less interested in their work during that day, as a result of the leader’s insomnia, with a consequent lack of productivity. As Matthew Walker commented:
” …it was a chain reaction effect, one in which the lack of sleep in that one superordinate person in a business structure was transmitting on, like a virus, infecting even the well-rested employees with work disengagement and reduced productivity.” (Page 302, Walker. 2017).
Leading, managing and working with others needs energy and stamina, and this research is clear evidence of the vital importance of making sure that people working in management roles get a good night’s sleep (of at least seven to nine hours per night). This will have a really beneficial effect, not only on the manager’s own health, but also on the morale and work performance of the people they are in charge of during the working day, which can only be a very good thing for the organisation as a whole.
But changing habits and altering behaviour isn’t easy, especially when there is strong, social pressure to conform to the patterns of sleep of the people around you. Many managers feel under pressure to over-work and avoid self-care strategies, because of the macho cultures in some organizations. And these macho cultures actually work against the productivity of the organization!
Sorting out your priorities, as a working manager, can be difficult on your own; and being coached within your own organization can simply reinforce the pre-existing macho and self-neglectful culture.
In my chapter on sleep, in Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person, I mentioned some former leaders who harmed their brains (and now we know, also their teams!) through lack of adequate sleep – Thatcher and Reagan being the most notable examples. The current President of the United States boasts that he only takes 5 hours sleep per night. So don’t make the mistake of working for him, folks!
Clearly, you could often benefit from coaching outside your organization on the subject of managing your health and leadership ability by managing your sleep, and other lifestyle factors. This could be one of the best investments of your precious time that you ever make.
The crux of leaderships is this: “Example, example, example!” What kind of example are you currently setting, at home and in work, in terms of self-care, including adequate sleep?
Contact me if you want to be coached on how to manage your energy and increase the quality and quantity of your sleep, so that your working life and home life can be enriched.
The state of the body profoundly affects the story…
Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 29th March 2018
Far too often, professional helpers relate to their clients as ‘free floating heads’ – or ‘belief machines’ – or ‘interpretation machines’. However, human beings are ’emotive bodies’ first, and ‘socialized-cultural-beings’ second!
What do I mean? Here’s an illustration from our (2018) book on Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching:
1.9 Narratives and stories
“(Counselling) Clients … come in and, one way or another, tell their story and discover or construct new stories to tell. Therapists do not usually disclose stories of their own personal troubles, but instead offer their clients more general, almost mythic stories of how people change or what life can be like. Implicit in the therapist’s story is an image of the ‘good life’.” (McLeod, 1997/2006).
E-CENT counselling is interested in the stories of our clients, and we have helpful stories to share with them; and also ways of helping them to explore and re-write their stories. Some of this is described in Chapter 8, where I introduce the Jigsaw story model, which is a guide to focusing on the client’s stories, and to remember to relate the various bits of their stories to each other, and to look for patterns and inconsistencies.
But first, let us review the ‘narrative’ approach of E-CENT, by comparing and contrasting it to some of the more traditional approaches.
(i) Similarities: E-CENT accepts that human beings are immersed in social narratives, and that they apprehend their environments in terms of narrative elements of characters, plots, dramas, stories, cause and effect imputations, etc. (See: Perry, 2012, pages 71-88. And McLeod, 1997/2006). I believe humans function largely non-consciously, and view the world – non-consciously – through frames of reference derived (interpretively and automatically) from their past (social) experiences. And these narratives are emotive or feeling stories, which provide meaning and structure to the life of the social-individual.
(ii) Differences: E-CENT does not subscribe to the White and Epston (1990) strategy for dealing with narrative disturbances[i]. Instead I have created my own processes of narrative therapy. I also avoid using McLeod’s commitment to postmodern perspectives. The E-CENT perspective on narrative is grounded in our conception of the human being as a socialized body-mind-environment-whole. So there is a real, physical ‘me’, and a real physical environment in which I am embedded. We do not advocate the view which says “all there is is story!” And the stories I tell myself are dependent upon not only my physical existence in a physical/social world, but also upon how well I slept last night; how well I have eaten today; how much physical exercise I have done recently; how hydrated my body-brain-mind is today; how well connected I am to people in significant relationships; how much pressure I am under (actually and experientially) – and what my coping resources are (or seem to me to be); and so on.
So E-CENT theory only deals with grounded narratives: or embodied-narratives.
Renata’s Coaching Blog: Why you should be concerned about ‘blue light’ at night, and the quality of your sleep
New electronic gadgets can be really appealing and very attractive and efficient, and many people can be influenced into buying them, without being fully aware that the price tag for the gadget might be more than financial. There may be a physical cost too.
Research experiments in this area can be very helpful. They can help us to sort out what is really beneficial for people’s health and well-being, and what works against their best interests. However, experience of vested interests teaches us that we’re not going to get this information easily.
As part of the research I’m doing at the moment, for a book on the importance of sleep, I came across the details of an experiment into the negative effects (on the human body-brain-mind) of using iPads and other electronic devices that involve LED lights, (such as mobile phones, and lap top computers). And I thought our readers might find it interesting. (LED stands for Light Emitting Diodes. A light-emitting diode is a special kind of electronic device that glows when electricity passes through it. They are commonly used to illuminate computer screens, iPads, iPhones, etc.)
In this blog I’m going to:
(a) outline the results of an experiment into the effect of the particular kind of light emitted by electronic devices;
(b) and describe the negative effects they can have on your body-brain-mind.
Using LED lights and getting a decent night’s sleep
Making sure we get a decent night’s sleep is an essential part of preparing for work, school, college, or any other activity that requires physical and mental energy. And it’s essential for physical and mental health.
LED’s begin their popular life in 2014. In that year, a Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to the three creators of LEDs: Shuji Nakamura; Isamu Akasaki; and Hiroshi Amano. They got this award because they were responsible for the creation of blue, light-emitting diodes which were described as: “Monumental energy-saving lighting technology”.
These LED lights use less energy than normal light bulbs and therefore they have a longer life span. “But they may be inadvertently shortening our own (life)”, is the opinion of Matthew Walker (2017).
The blue light, which is emitted by the LED lights, is very powerful (twice as powerful as an ordinary light bulb). And it is twice as powerful at inhibiting the release of melatonin in our bodies-brain in the evening (which is essential for sleep). Most people may not be aware that they are making it difficult to sleep by using these devices at night.
Let’s look at melatonin. I want to explain why melatonin is very important to us: it’s described as the ‘hormone of darkness’, and it increases in volume at dusk or during the early evening.
Its release within our bodies is governed by a piece of our brain called the ‘suprachiasmatic nucleus’ which simply means ‘the 24 hour clock within our brain’; and under the orders from this nucleus in our brains, melatonin is released into the bloodstream via the pineal gland, which is located deep in the brain.
Melatonin gives a very powerful chemical message to the body and the brain, that sleep will be coming soon. Melatonin in itself doesn’t bring about sleep, but it signals to the brain regions that do generate sleep that sleep must be started.
Then, when sleep is underway, melatonin slowly reduces in strength during the night and into the early morning. Melatonin release is finally stopped when the pineal gland, which had been releasing it, switches the hormone off as the dawn light shines through the bedroom window.
As human beings, we have a sensitivity to blue LED lights. This sensitivity within us, causes a health problem. For example: Four researchers, Anne-Marie Chang, Daniel Aeschbach, Jeanne F. Duffy and Charles A. Czeisler, decided to find out what the effect of our sensitivity to LED light has on the ability of people to get a good night’s sleep, if any.
Reading and using an iPad before bedtime – a comparison
Here’s the evidence of the effects of LED light on people’s sleep:
A research experiment was conducted in 2014, in which the four researchers, mentioned above, got together a group of adults who didn’t have any health problems, and these adults took part in 2 different processes – two different experimental conditions.
Each of the participants experienced these two processes:
Initially, they had five nights of reading a book on an iPad for two hours before bed (and they weren’t allowed any other activities like going on the internet and/or checking their emails).
Subsequently, the participants also had five nights reading a paper book for several hours before bed.
And to increase the validity of the experiment, some people experienced the book reading process first, and some people started by reading the iPad first.
The experiment lasted for two weeks in a tightly-controlled laboratory experiment.
What the researchers found
The result of reading on an iPad before going to sleep, as compared to reading a book, held back the release of melatonin by over 50% at night.
This meant that there was a delayed release of melatonin (the hormone that pressurizes the body into sleeping) by up to three hours. Consequently, their melatonin didn’t arrive until early in the morning.
This meant that, (compared with the time it took for them to fall asleep when they were reading a paper book), under the iPad condition, it took them longer to get some sleep. And also it was discovered that there were three specific differences in the quality of the sleep when the results of the two processes were compared.
Firstly, because of the delayed onset of sleep as a result of reading the iPad, the participants felt sleepier and had less energy the following day.
Secondly, the iPad reading had the effect, for a few days after the experiment, of delaying the release of melatonin by 90 minutes, so they took longer to fall asleep for those subsequent nights.
This resulting delay in the release of melatonin showed that the blue LED light had the power to delay the onset of our normal sleep rhythms. (These rhythms of sleep and wakefulness, which are known as circadian rhythms, are very powerful, internal, biological regulators of our body temperature, sleep-wake cycle, hormone release, eating habits and other body functions).
Thirdly, the iPad use affected their sleep and reduced their rapid eye movement sleep (REM) sleep, which is vital for brain repair and regeneration.
The researchers, (whose experiment can be found by clicking on the live link below, in the references list), came to the following conclusion:
“Overall, we found that the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety.”
‘Smart Kids don’t take their phone to bed’
According to an article that appeared in the Sunday Times on October 1st, 2017, entitled, ‘Smart Kids don’t take their phone to bed’ (page 14), there are details of a survey undertaken by the Children’s Sleep Charity, in which children reported keeping their mobiles under their pillows for fear of ‘missing something’. By doing this they would be more likely to hear that a message had been sent to them and they could then check their phone.
The evidence from the research study I described above, has shown the full, negative impact of blue LED light when it was viewed by research participants at night-time. From that, we may be able to see that the children who take their phones and other devices to bed will be exposed to blue LED light, which will impact on the ability of the children to get a decent night’s sleep.
The popular public reaction to the creation of LED light was very enthusiastic, wasn’t it? It was described as: “A monumental energy-saving lighting technology”, and the creators obtained a Nobel Prize in Physics.
Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea after all! Please be aware of the biological effects of this light on yourself and your loved ones. A good night’s sleep is important not only for energy the next day; and for good physical health; but also for good mental health and efficient and effective brain functioning.
News and updates about ABC Coaching and Counselling Services
in January to March 2018
And about Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT)
23rd March 2018
In this brief newsletter, we aim to update you about the books and blogs we have been researching and writing – on diet, exercise, sleep, and emotional self-management – at ABC Coaching and Counselling Services, and publishing via the Institute for Emotive-Cognitive embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT).
Following on from our very busy and successful year in 2017, we have continued to research and write according to our declared plans.
In the first few weeks of this year, Renata has been busy researching the science of sleep, especially in so far as it affects our emotional functioning and general health and well-being.
Today we want to share with you a blog post which is ‘hot off the press’. It concerns the impact of blue light LED devices, like computer screens, iPads, iPhones, and the negative effects these devices have upon sleep, if we use them close to bedtime! This is it: iPads and iPhones disrupt your sleep…***
Exercise is better than antidepressants for major depression!
The science behind mental health
Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018
In a recent blog post regarding hype about antidepressants, I quoted Dr Joanna Moncrieff as saying this: “Calling for antidepressants to be more widely prescribed will do nothing to address the problem of depression and will only increase the harms these drugs produce. …” This is so because the drugs are not significantly more effective than a sugar pill, but they have huge side effects. They also distract attention from some of the real solutions to depression, which involve changes in significant areas of social policy, and the promotion of healthy lifestyles, including healthy diet and adequate amounts of daily physical activity (exercise).
And in her latest blog post, Renata Taylor-Byrne presents some interesting information about the use of Chinese exercises in connection with promoting good mental health (in the form of resilience in the face of life’s stressors).
In today’s blog post, I want to present some evidence which shows that there is good scientific evidence that physical exercise is much more effective than antidepressants for eliminating major, clinical depression!
We do not need antidepressants, and indeed, they cause harm through numerous negative side effects.
A key research study was undertaken by Blumenthal et al. (1999 and 2012).
The goal of the research project was to compare the effectiveness of exercise against an anti-depressant called Sertraline (which is called Lustral in the UK and Zoloft in the US). Sertraline is one of a group of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s).
Three groups of participants (156 people in total) were randomly assigned to three different research conditions.
– Group 1 received Zoloft for their depression.
– The second group were given exercise activities to do.
– And Group 3 was given a combination of Zoloft and exercise.
The results showed that all of the three groups showed a distinct lowering of their depression, and approximately half of each group had recovered from their depression by the time the research project had finished. (Thirteen percent had reduced symptoms but didn’t completely recover).
Then six months later Blumenthal and colleagues examined the health of the research participants and found that, over the long haul:
#1. 30% of the exercise group remained depressed,
#2. 52% on medication remained depressed,
#3. while 55% in the combined treatment group remained depressed.
This means the 70% of the exercise group got over their symptoms of depression, compared with only 48% of the medication group, and 45% of the combined group).
Let us repeat that result:
70% of participants got over major depression through exercise alone!
A year later there was a second study, identical to the first one, and when the participants were reassessed a year later (by Hoffman and his colleagues), they found that, regardless of the treatment group the participants had been in, the participants who described doing regular exercise, after the research project had finished, were the least likely to be depressed a year later. And this study was about major depression – not mild depression!
The NHS in the UK, on their website, support the view that exercise is good for mild or moderate depression, but they don’t clarify that it can also be invaluable for major depression, which was demonstrated by Blumenthal’s 1999 and 2012 research findings.
In a very interesting book, ‘Spark’, (2009) – on the science of exercise and the brain – the authors, Ratey and Hagerman, comment upon the findings of Blumenthal’s and Hoffman’s research, like this:
“The results (of this research, showing the effectiveness of exercise in reducing depression) should be taught in medical schools and driven home with health insurance companies and posted on the bulletin boards of every nursing home in the country, where nearly half of the residents have depression” (page 122).
However, this is not currently done, because big drug companies dominate the medical profession, with their delusion that antidepressants are highly effective, which they are not! Indeed, there is research evidence to support the view that most antidepressants tested against placebos are no more effective than the placebo (or sugary pill!)
 Blumenthal, J.A., Smith, P.J., and Hoffman, B.M. (2012) Is exercise a viable treatment for depression? American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Journal. July/August; Vol.16(4): Pages 14–21.
Cited in: Ratey, J., and Hagerman, E. (2009) Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. London: Quercus.