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.

Transformational writing for success and happiness

Blog Post No. 175

By Dr Jim Byrne

15th September 2018

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: Transformational Writing: How I wrote a new life for myself – and how much better I feel as a result…

Writing Theapy book coverI’ve been using ‘expressive’ or ‘therapeutic’ writing for many years: resulting in priceless personal and professional insights.  Most recently, I’ve been writing on a daily basis for many weeks now.  Before that time, I wrote in my journal perhaps 3 or 4 times per week, for many months.  And before that time, I wrote intermittently – sometimes being regular and frequent, and sometimes being more hit and miss.

But overall, I’ve had some significant degree of therapeutic writing in my life for many years now.

The benefits over the years have sometimes been obvious – as when a new creative idea comes out of my Morning Pages – gets developed in subsequent pages, over a period of days or weeks – perhaps writing for 30 minutes each day.  This process has resulted in many blog posts; web pages; articles; academic papers; books; as well as answers to difficult questions; and creative problem-solving solutions.

Most recently, I’ve had a breakthrough in getting an insight into a fundamental problem with my personality-structure:

My *DRIVERS* – (‘Be Perfect’; and ‘Hurry Up’!) –

resulting in  a new degree of *mastery* over those stressful drivers of my feelings and behaviours;

and a growing sense that, the more I slow down, and the less perfectionistic I am, the more productive, creative and happy I become!

To get to this point, all I had to do was to utilize a couple of the (more than 20) techniques that I wrote about in my book, *How to Write a New Life for Yourself*.

To read some more, please take a look at the information page, by clicking the following link: *How to Write a New Life for Yourself.***

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PS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

BlueLogo13CDr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

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Lifestyle factors complicate counselling and therapy assessments

Blog Post No. 174

By Dr Jim Byrne

8th September 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: “What’s wrong with my counselling client?” Lifestyle factors complicate counselling-psychological assessments…

 Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, September 2018

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Introduction

Emotions-and-survivalMany of the human tragedies that clients bring to our counselling and psychology consulting rooms have pure social-psychological roots. These include:

– childhood abuse or neglect;

– traumatic experiences later on;

– stress and strain of difficult lives;

– relationship problems;

– and the normal human responses to losses, failures, threats, dangers, frustrations and insults; and so on.

We also see our fair share of

– attachment problems;

– personality distortions (or mal-adaptations to parents and others);

– and retreats from an intolerable reality.

New complications

DrJimCounselling002But all of this is now complicated by the existence of

– widespread consumption of junk food;

– disruption of normal sleep patterns by economic stress and new technologies which destroy melatonin;

– plus adoration of sedentary lifestyles;

– and various other lifestyle factors that

# precipitate problems of anger, anxiety and/or depression, in their own right; or

# magnify emotional disturbances that have psychological roots.

Body-and-mind

Because of this changed reality, which has come upon us in the past couple of decades, in the main, we now need to be able to spot the contribution of lifestyle factors to emotional and behavioural disturbances which may or may not be otherwise psycho social in origin.

SOR-model3

Our solution

The Lifestyle Counselling Book

We have done a lot of research on the multiple sources of human disturbance; and compiled that in a book, titled Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person: Or how to integrate nutritional insights, exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy.

We have also written a page of information about these Lifestyle Counselling problems, abstracted from our book, which you can find by clicking the following link: https://abc-counselling.org/counselling-the-whole-person/

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This book, like all our other books, is available via Amazon outlets, all over the world, as both a high quality paperback and as a downloadable Kindle eBook.

A Kindle dBooks imagePS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

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diet and exercise links to mental health

Blog Post No. 173

By Dr Jim Byrne

8th September 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: Understanding the links between anger, anxiety and depression – on the one hand – and nutrition and physical activity – on the other…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, September 2018

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Introduction

drjim-counsellor9Renata and I did a lot of research and reflection on the subject of the impact of diet and exercise upon mental health and emotional wellbeing. Nata-Lifestyle-coach92

We did this work because we wanted to consolidate and expand our pre-existing level of understanding of the part that nutrition and exercise play in the emotional well-being of our coaching and counselling clients, so that we can help them as much as possible; and also to inform a wider audience of a range of helpful research studies.

Our overall aim is to put an end to the false assumption that the body and mind are separate entities, which can be treated in isolation from each other (by medicine, on the one hand, and by psychotherapy on the other).

The complexity of human body-minds

Human beings are very complex; indeed the most complex entities in the known universe.  But that does not mean we cannot hope to come to understand ourselves better than we currently do.

There are, for example, some identifiable factors which contribute to the makeup of human personality; and there is now a good deal of research which needs to be added to the psychological model of the human being.

Holistic SOR model

We can learn to better understand our body-brain-mind interactions with our social environments, and this can enable us to understand ourselves and our clients, and to help them, and ourselves, more effectively.

For examples:

– we are affected (emotionally and physically) by our diets;

– the amount of exercise we do;

– our self-talk (or ‘inner dialogue’);

– our sleep patterns;

– our family of origin;

– and all the patterns of behaviour we observed and experienced in our development;

– plus our current relationships, and environmental circumstances: e.g. our housing accommodation; the educational opportunities we had; our social class position; and our opportunities for employment (or earning a living).

Implications

Diet,exercise book coverSince expanding our understanding of this complexity of human functioning, we have developed new approaches to perceiving our clients; and assessing the complex nature of their presenting problems in the consulting room.

We have also produced a page of information on this research, and the book that resulted from it: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression: Using nutrition and physical activity.

You can find our page of information about this book and this research by clicking the following link: https://abc-counselling.org/diet-exercise-mental-health

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A Kindle dBooks imagePS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

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Lifestyle counselling resources available in eBook format

Sunday 2nd September

Blog post

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Lifestyle counselling resources are now being made available in low-cost eBook format via Kindle

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Resources for counsellors and psychotherapists – and for self-help enthusiasts

The following resources are now available in low-cost, Kindle eBook format:

The Lifestyle Counselling Book

Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person: Or how to integrate nutritional insights, physical exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy,

By Dr Jim Byrne with Renata Taylor-Byrne.

Available here: https://abc-counselling.org/counselling-the-whole-person/

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How to control your anger, anxiety and depression, using nutrition and physical exercise,

by Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne.

Available here: https://abc-counselling.org/diet-exercise-mental-health/

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Writing Theapy book coverHow to Write a New Life for Yourself,

by Dr Jim Byrne

(with Renata Taylor-Byrne).

Available here:

https://abc-counselling.org/how-to-write-a-new-life-for-yourself/

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These three books have proved very popular with counsellors and psychologists on LinkedIn, and they are selling in significant numbers.

DrJimCounselling002It seems there is an appetite for radical change abroad in the world of counselling and psychotherapy at the moment, and people are ready to explore new ideas.  In particular, the relationship between the body and mind (the body-mind connection); the problems of sedentary lifestyle and inadequate nutrition; plus inadequate sleep; and how to process our own experiences in a journal.

All of these developments are very encouraging for the future health of our counsellors and therapists, and for their clients!

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim dot byrne at abc-counselling dot com

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Exercise cures major depression

Blog Post No. 163

By Dr Jim Byrne

6th March 2018

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

Exercise is better than antidepressants for major depression!

The science behind mental health

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

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Introduction

Blumenthal exercise depressionIn 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).

You can read that blog post here: https://abc-counselling.org/2018/02/27/hype-about-antidepressants/

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).

You can read Renata’s blog post here: https://abc-counselling.org/2018/03/02/build-resilience-with-chinese-exercise/

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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.

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Research evidence

Front cover, 8In our book about how to control your anger, anxiety and depression; in a section which specifically addresses the value of physical exercise, Renata Taylor-Byrne and I make this point:

A key research study was undertaken by Blumenthal et al. (1999 and 2012)[1].

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!)

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You can find out more about the book in which we have produced these results, here: How to control your anger, anxiety and depression.***

https://abc-bookstore.com/diet-exercise-mental-health/

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This book shows you, in fine detail, how to change your habits in relation to physical exercise!  And describes the benefits you will gain!

That’s all for today!

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Jim & Renata's logo
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

ABC Bookstore Online UK

01422 843 629

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

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[1] 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.

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Health, happiness and self-disciplined goals

Blog Post No. 157

23rd October 2017

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2017

Dr Jim’s Blog: Health and happiness are the most important goals in (a moral) life

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Introduction

It’s been quite a while since I posted a blog, because I’ve been extremely busy.  I am still very busy, finishing off the writing of a new book, but I thought it was about time I shared some ideas with the world.  The main theme of this blog is health and self-healing, using food and physical exercise.

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Writing about diet and exercise for mood control

Front cover, 8For the past few weeks, Renata and I have been writing our book which is titled, How to control your anger, anxiety and depression, using nutrition and physical activity.  We have finished writing the five sections, and I am working on constructing a comprehensive index for the back of the book, to make it optimally user-friendly, as a resource.

Several days ago I constructed the index section on diet and nutrition, and type of diets.  And, by finishing time last Friday, 20th, I had just completed a section on Essential fatty acids (EFAs). And today, Monday 23rd, I will begin to work on the index entries for the section on physical exercise.

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Self-healing

Last Thursday, I turned my body, suddenly, while leaving my feet relatively stationary, and pulled a muscle in my back.  Did I run to the doctor?  No!  Did I get some ‘painkillers’ from the chemist?  No!

Why did I not go to the doctor?  Because the doctor would have simply recommended “painkillers”!

Why did I not buy my own painkillers from the chemist?  Because most of the painkillers used today are what are called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). And the problem with NSAIDs is that they cause ‘leaky gut syndrome’, which not only allows whole molecules of food to enter the bloodstream, and trigger various forms of inflammation in the body (paradox of paradoxes!), but they also compromise the blood/brain barrier, which can precipitate mood disturbances!

So, what did I do with my terrible back pain?  I got out my copy of ‘Body in Action’, by Sarah Key, and did five of her exercises for improving the functioning of the muscles and joints in the lower back.  (I’ve done this several times in the past, and I know it always works).

I did the exercises on Thursday and Friday, and by Saturday the back pain had gone – completely!

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Sharpening the saw

Rest and recuperation are very important parts of my self-management of health program.  So, on Saturday afternoon, and Sunday afternoon, I had a siesta (of three hours each time).  I had been feeling tired because of overworking on the index of our new book on how to control anger, anxiety and depression, using diet and exercise systems.

CreasespaceCover8, diet-nutrition.jpg

I also had a restful evening with Renata, and I was in bed by 9.45pm.

By 5.45am today (Monday 23rd Oct) I was fully rested, and so I got up and made my breakfast.  A solid bowl of chunky salad.

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Food for health and mood control

Book-cover-frontI chopped up the following ingredients into small chunks, of perhaps 3 or 4 mm at the widest point:

3 oz of red cabbage; 6 oz of cucumber; 1 spring onion; 1 organic carrot; half an organic apple; and put them into a soup bowl.

(See the Appendix on Diet and Nutrition, in our book: Holistic Counselling in Practice.***)

Then, I added a teaspoon of Maca powder; a dessertspoon of ground flaxseed; two dessertspoon’s of mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, ???), ten almonds, three walnuts, four hazelnuts; ten blueberries; 2 ozs of cooked beetroot (diced); two small tomatoes (halved); and half a kiwi fruit (diced).

I then added some brown rice miso, and some sauerkraut.

After consuming that breakfast, I meditated for 30 minutes.

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Physical exercise for health and strength and mood control

Standing pose 2Let me now describe the exercises that I went on to do, after meditating:

Twenty minutes of Chi Kung exercises.

Followed by a couple of minutes of ‘The plank’ exercise, which is like ‘stationary press-ups’: https://youtu.be/kiA9j-dR0oM

Then I did my own press-ups and sit backs, for about 5 or 6 minutes.

I then moved on to do fifteen minutes of my old Judo Club calisthenics (or whole body warm up exercise), which combine strength training, stretching of muscles, and aerobic exercise, all in one.

Then ten minutes of Zhan Zhuang (pronounced Jam Jong, and meaning ‘Standing like a tree’).  These are body poses which work on our postural muscles, affecting strength and speed and balance. They create a calm and happy mental state.  And they also relax the body and establish whole-body connection.

powerspinFinally I did some strength training using the Powerspin rotator, to build arm, shoulder and upper body strength.

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Reflections

This is clearly a time-consuming start to the day, compared with a bowl of cornflakes, a cup of coffee, and a brisk scratching of the head!

So why do I do it?

Because, I value my health above all things.  Without my physical health, I am unlikely to be happy.  And I am unlikely to be emotionally stable.

The people who do the least exercise, and who eat the worst diets, have the worst physical and mental health outcomes. (I have not seen a general medical practitioner for more than twenty-five years! And I am not about to start now!)

Most people leave their health (physical and mental) to chance, and to the vague belief that there are people who can “fix them up” when they fall apart.  Sadly this myth is totally misleading.  Once you’ve ruined your health – from sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep, and inadequate diet (such as one based on junk food, or an unbalanced diet, or too much alcohol [over the government limit], caffeine, sugary foods, gluten, and other toxic substances) – it is then ruined!  And a ruined body-brain is a burden to haul through life!

It takes self-discipline to get on a good diet, and to begin to do regular physical exercise, and to go to bed and have eight hours sleep, without mobile phones or laptops or tablets, and so on.  But the alternative to developing that self-discipline is a life ruined through serious illness, emotional distress, and early death.

Some people will argue with me, and insist that there are some things called “medicines” (and “surgeries”) which can be used to resuscitate their body-brain-mind once they have allowed it to fall into ill-health. The editors of What Doctors Don’t Tell You, strongly disagree with that fantasy!  See the article titled ‘Don’t trust me (I’m Big Pharma).***

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POSTSCRIPT: Of course, it takes time to build up expertise in ‘extreme self-care’; and it’s a good idea to do that one step at a time.  Gradually, over a period of time, this will build up into significant changes, and huge improvements in health and happiness.  And you don’t ever have to adopt the kind of ‘monkish’ approach that suits me.  Some simple changes in what you eat, and how you exercise your body (brisk walking for 30 minutes per day is enough!), will make a huge difference over time.  You can find out more about how to begin these small, easy steps in our book: How to control your anger, anxiety and depression, using nutrition and physical activity.

honetpieIf you want me to help you to figure out how to live a happier, healthier, more emotionally buoyant life, then please contact me:

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

Telephone: 01422 843 629 (inside the UK)

or 44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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I hope you have a very happy and healthy life!

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: drjwbyrne@gmail.com

~~~

Happiness and relationships research

Blog Post No. 50

10th July 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching and Counselling blog: What really makes people happy?

A ‘rave review’ of Robert Waldinger’s TED talk

Introduction

It’s very easy for us in the west at the moment, to imagine that having more money, or a better house, more foreign holidays, a great new sports car or higher status at work (like getting to the top of an organisation), will make us really happy.

Bugatti-car

And if we have the right physical appearance, as defined by our culture, this can give people a feeling of confidence and self-assurance. So we obviously put a lot of investment and energy into trying to look our best!

KardashiansBut we did not make up these materialistic beliefs ourselves.  All the relentless advertising messages, and propaganda from the media, create this illusion: Having new possessions will really make life better for us, and guarantee our happiness.

But the truth is that they won’t!

Obviously, if we are desperately short of money, have nowhere to live, or no food to eat, then food, money, shelter and clothing are crucially important for our survival.

But if we do have enough to eat, a roof over our heads, and a way of providing an income for ourselves, then some small improvements may make us slightly happier, but more material stuff is not going to make us a lot happier!

So what really does make us happy, after we have the basic means of survival?

Robert-Waldinger

In this blog, I will give a short account of Robert Waldinger’s TED talk in which he describes a major research study which provides powerful evidence for the conclusion that material things won’t make us happy. This conclusion is based on research that started in 1938, and is still ongoing.

The Harvard Study of Adult development

Picture-of-HarvardSeventy-five years ago, ‘The Harvard Study of Adult development’ was established.  A group of researchers started studying 724 teenagers through to their old age. The participants were from two very different types of backgrounds:

# One group was from the poorest part of Boston: from the most economically deprived and distressed families; and:

# The other group was more prosperous, from Harvard College, and was made up of second year students.

These two groups are asked to respond to questionnaires every two years; are interviewed in their homes; have brain scans; have medical records examined; and have blood taken for testing; and they have been videotaped (as adults) talking to their partners about what is really concerning them. And (in time) the researchers talk to their children as well.

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The research project is still ongoing.  Three directors of research have come, served decades in that role; and the project is now being conducted by a fourth director: Robert Waldinger.  And Dr Waldinger has presented a TED talk which explains the research findings.

So, what does the evidence from this study tell us about what really makes people happy?

Elderly-peopleHere’s what Robert Waldinger states:

“Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75 year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Good relationships!  Not cars, or cash, or status, or houses, or holidays, or any of that ‘popular’ materialistic stuff.

Waldinger goes on to say that the researchers learned three big lessons about relationships:

Firstly, the more socially connected we are to people, e.g. family, friends, and the community, the happier and healthier and more long-lived we will be. And the opposite applies: Loneliness is toxic. People who are less connected to people than they would like to be, suffer from declining health as they reach middle age, their brain functioning becomes less efficient and they are less happy.

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Secondly, it doesn’t matter what type of relationships you’re involved in; or whether you are partnered or not; or whether you have a large or small number of friends. The research results show that the crucial aspect of our close relationships is the quality. If we are living in the middle of conflict, then it’s really harmful to our health. Waldinger gives the example of high conflict marriages: If there’s no affection present in high conflict marriages, then they are really bad for our health, and are possibly worse than getting divorced.

Happy-coupleHe then states: And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.”

That is to say, protective of our health, of our life expectancy, our happiness.

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Thirdly: The final important lesson that the researchers learned was that not only do good relationships make us happier and healthier, but they also protect our brains. He gives an example of someone in their eighties: If they are in a securely attached relationship, and can count on their significant other person being there to help them in times of need, then their memories stay intact for longer.

And conversely, when people who were in relationships where they felt they couldn’t really rely on the other person to help them, they fared badly, in that their memories deteriorated sooner.

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Happiness reduces physical pain

Couple-kissingIt might seem that physical pain is physical pain, and that is that.  But we have always known that physical pain and emotional pain are mediated through the same nerve networks.  Here Waldinger explains how pain can be experienced in different ways:

“Good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80’s, that on the days that they had most physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days that they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain”.

That is to say, physical and emotional pain are either additive or subtractive.  So, if you work at achieving a happy relationship, that happiness will be subtracted from any physical pain you subsequently feel.

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Predicting happiness in senior years

Another insight from the research findings was that (on the basis of the information they had accumulated about the men, up to their entering their eighties), when the men had reached the age of 50, the researchers were able to predict who would grow into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wouldn’t.

They discovered that the people who were most satisfied with their relationships at the age of fifty, were the healthiest at age 80!

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Conclusion

The bottom line of this research is this: If you want to have a life that is happy, now and towards the end, make sure you invest in building happy relationships – or at least one good, happy relationship – now!

Waldinger’s message at the end of his TED talk, is this:

“…Good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being…this is wisdom that is as old as the hills. Why is this so hard to get and so easy to ignore? Well, we’re human. What we’d really like is a quick fix, something we can get that will make our lives good and keep them that way.”

In our western societies, developing relationship skills comes way down our list of priorities: after academic skills, money-making skills, technological skills, medical skills, selling skills, entertainment skills, sports skills, construction skills, accountancy skills, legal skills, creative skills etc. As Barbara Sher said (referring, critically, to American values, which are not dissimilar to those which dominate at the moment in the UK),

If it don’t make money, it don’t count!”

That is to say, all the propaganda of the neoliberal age emphasizes money, money and more money.  And organizational power, or dominance.  And none of these things will actually make you happy!

We now know, unmistakably, from 75 years of powerful research, that what will make us happy, and healthy, is good quality relationships – at least one!

So how do we develop quality relationships?

Traits of a healthy realtionshipAlthough maintaining the quality of our relationships is the key to health and happiness, there ain’t no quick fixes.  You have to work at building relationships!  You cannot buy them ready made!

Werner Erhard used to emphasize that “Successful relationships are based on agreed on goals!”  Yes, that’s right.  Agree on!  That means negotiated between equal individuals.

And Professor John Gottman stresses that you have to work at maintaining a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative moments in your relationships.  So you have to learn how to do that.

As I mentioned in my last blog, Robert Bolton identified twelve specific roadblocks to communication, which, when used, are likely to negatively impact on our relationships with people.

And John Gottman was able to pinpoint four distinctive ways of interacting that can destroy a relationship and he called them the “Four horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Again, you have to learn those insights, and I teach them to my relationship coaching clients.

There are many valuable techniques that we can learn to keep our relationships of a good quality, perhaps the simplest and most apt being the one that Werner Erhard mentioned in one of his seminars on relationships:

“If you want to have a really powerful relationship with anybody, you have got to stop making the other person wrong!”

(Immediately after he said that, someone in the audience piped up: “But Werner, I don’t make them wrong. They are wrong! I just point it out to them.”  You will never achieve a really powerful relationship with anybody unless you learn to stop being critical, sarcastic, condemning, judging, and so on.  And I teach those lessons to my coaching clients).

Creating good relationships can be difficult at times, because it is an art form, and one you have to learn.  And Waldinger states:

“Relationships are messy and complicated, and the hard work of tending to family and friends is not sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong.”

But he finishes his presentation with this message:

“The good life is built with good relationships”.

If we were very lucky, we learned great relationship skills from our parents and other family members. If we didn’t, it’s important to not beat ourselves up because of that. But we then may have to learn the hard way, through trial and error and repeated experimentation, until we develop the people skills we need. And it is often impossible to learn what we need to know in this way.  It makes more sense to seek out teaching or training or coaching in these skills, and learn from people who know what works and what does not work.

That’s what my partner and I did, beginning in 1984, attending couples therapy; studying assertive communication; and Werner Erhard’s relationship and communication skills; and then on to studying Dr John Gottman’s approach to relationships, including marriage relationships.

Based on our experience, of learning how to have a really powerful, happy relationship, I can tell you: the effort is well worth it.

We now know, based on the rock-solid findings of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, that investing time and money and energy in developing relationship skills is the most valuable investment that we can make, and will give us the benefits of health, happiness and brain longevity for the rest of our lives.

This is a really great TED talk and I strongly recommend that you watch it in full.

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If you want to learn some of the techniques and skills that various specialists have developed, so that you can enrich the quality of your relationships, and you can have a happier life, then I would be very happy to help you.  Please contact me to discuss possibilities.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

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References

Here is a link to the Adult Development Study website, and there is an interview on it with Robert Waldinger, at CBS ‘This morning’, the television news programme.

http://www.adultdevelopmentstudy.org/

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