Reduce stress – increase energy

Blog Post No. 48

1st May 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: A star technique for saving your energy: Wiping the slate clean each day

Introduction

Every day we all are involved in the business of energy management, (physical and mental) whether we are aware of it or not, as we juggle different tasks, time pressures and negotiating with other people. We are all expected to engage in ‘multi-tasking’, which is actually virtually impossible, but the pressure of life is certainly intense.

1-Man-workingSo how, in such a demanding environment, do we manage our energy successfully? So that we optimise our productivity, but conserve our energy and protect our physical and mental health.

What I know is that if we don’t manage our energy carefully, we become the victim of burnout and stress, and unhappiness and ill health, and who wants that?

One successful energy-management strategy

Here is a great suggestion from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in.

“This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterday”.

When I was a tutor in a college, I had a variety of challenges to face every day in my job, just like everyone else has to face in their jobs. I needed a very high energy level to keep going in the face of the challenges at work, and to adapt and adjust to the needs of the different learners I worked with.

To preserve my energy, so that I could face the following day’s work feeling refreshed, I developed a strategy that served me well for a long time and I want to pass it on to you.

Whiteboard-image-6Each day, at the end of the final teaching session, I would wipe the whiteboard clean of all the information that was on it, and I would remember all the outstanding events of the day, good and bad, and wipe them away in my mind at the same time.

I wiped away my hopes for successfully getting information across to people, and disappointments and mistakes.

This left my mind, and the whiteboard, empty and this action created a calm, white, clear mental space on which I could start anew, again, the following day. After all, I couldn’t change what I had done (or hadn’t managed to do). I could only learn from my experience.

I call this my ‘blank slate’ technique.

Goethe-2The other aspect of this approach was this: I was asserting my boundaries with my job. In other words, I was taking responsibility for managing upwards.  I was not allowing myself to develop ‘leaky boundaries’ through which outside forces could use up my precious reserves of energy!

The ‘Blank slate’ technique is a very powerful, effective visualisation process. It requires effort, determination and  insistence that ‘it’s over!’  But it works only if you work it!

Quality recovery time

Once we have finished work, (if we want to return to our work the following day with strength and vigour), we are then into ‘Quality recovery time’.

Swimming-athlete-3 Some years ago I found this idea was used by Olympic athletes. After they had been working on the skills they wanted to develop, then they needed time to rest and recover. The human body needs proper recovery for sustained and improved performance, for development, and even for preventing injuries.

For those athletes, the athletic skills practice time and the recovery time were a partnership – they were absolutely intertwined, if you wanted to become really accomplished in what you were doing. Their conviction was that, if you neglected your recovery time, your ability to sustain high levels of energy to achieve your goals would quickly run out.

Quality-recovery-4

Part of quality recovery time is mentally and physically completing the day’s work, whether paid or unpaid, and then moving into regeneration of our energy: getting the most nutritious food we can afford; having a decent night’s sleep; having a mental break; spending time with our loved ones; and generally recharging our batteries.

Boundaries between work and quality recovery time are essential, and people can be very vulnerable if they don’t create boundaries. Their employers will not do it for them: I recently read of an American estate agency that has moved into London, and insists that its staff answer their mobile phones in the middle of the night, if a client wanted to speak to them or make an enquiry about a house purchase.

The agency is proud of their customer service! What about the mental and physical health of their employees? This is arrant exploitation of people’s need for a job.

Far from being a good form of work/life balance, this employer is only interested in work/work imbalance.

Work-life-balance-7

Conclusion

If you want to have a good quality of life; to have real work/life balance; and to preserve your physical and mental health in the process, then there is no alternative but to create our own boundaries between work and recovery time.  This is also necessary if you want to be creative and productive in your work time!

Thinking back to my ‘blank slate’ (or ‘blank whiteboard’ technique), if you learn to use this technique at the end of each day, this will ensure that you don’t leak lots of energy away when you need to be into quality recovery time.

What you need to create is some physical representation that the end of the day’s work has arrived (like my cleaning of the white board).  An example would be creating a clear desk; or unplugging a piece of equipment; or putting your diary in a locked drawer; etc.

There is a lawyer in a novel by Charles Dickens who, when he got home after a day’s work, would spend a long time washing his hands, getting rid of the accumulations of the day’s work from his body and, symbolically, from his mind.

Reflection and leaky boundaries

Leaky-boundaries-image

Reflecting at regular intervals on how happy you are with your work/life balance will give you valuable clues as to whether you are managing your life energies in the best way for you.

If you are aware of leaky boundaries in your life, and are giving your energies away to others, (without your full consent), then you could consider the strengthening skills of assertiveness and negotiation.

Strengthening these skills will make you happier and more confident as you manage your life in the face of pressures from others (and pressure from your own Inner Critic).

Brene-brown

Contact me if you want to learn some very useful techniques for managing your energy for better work/life balance; for increased creativity and productivity.

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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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Stress management and love for counsellors and others…

Blog Post No.90 

Posted on 25th August 2016 (Originally published on Saturday 28th June 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

A counsellor’s blog: Stress counselling; Ellis on love; and to hell with Socrates…

Introduction

Chill Out, coverEarlier today, I was discussing with Renata what I could write about this week.  She thought it would be good to write about stress.  But I have written a lot on the subject of stress, including a published book on the subject. However, Renata wondered if perhaps some of my readers often missed the point about the crucial importance of learning stress management skills, in the sense of this being a life and death issue.  I asked her what she meant, and she said she could write out two statements which would alternately make readers’ hair stand on end – regarding the importance of stress management, and the dire consequences of ignoring their own stress warnings – and another piece that would fundamentally reassure them that they could resolve all their stress problems satisfactorily.  So I said, “Okay; please show me what you mean”.  She then sat down and wrote the two following statements:

Today’s bad news:

Jim-Renata7.jpgAccording to The Times – Body and Soul supplement, page 4 – today, 28th June 2014, there was an interesting study on stress conducted two years ago by University College, London. It looked at the relationship between men in demanding jobs and heart disease.

This study tracked the health of 200,000 people.  The findings were these: The men most at risk of developing stress-related heart disease had two characteristics:

Firstly, they were in demanding jobs.

Secondly, they felt that they had no power in their job role to control the stressors around them.

How can we handle massive pressures at work if the job gives us no power to manage them?  What if we’ve got to keep working to pay the mortgage (or rent), to feed the kids, etc.?

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Today’s good news:

Human-heart.jpgYou can immediately drop your stress level by deciding to take your control back.  You can’t (very often) change your job – but you can change yourself!  If you get a professional ally – a counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist – they will work with you to give you real, sustained backing as you learn to manage yourself, and learn to control what you can control.

This will have an immediate beneficial effect on your health.  Do you remember the Zeebrugger ferry disaster?  Research conducted in 1991 found that there was a 50% reduction in stress levels in survivors of that and other disasters, after they had talked to trained helpers, and had just eight weeks of help, one hour per week.

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Thanks, Renata.  You made your point very well.  Stress is a hugely important topic for everybody to address, for the sake of their physical and mental health; and it is indeed possible to address it, at relatively small financial cost.

My expertise

Jims-counselling-div2I (Jim) have been studying stress management as a discipline for at least twenty years, and in that time I have developed about eighteen main strategies for reducing physical and mental stress and strain.  I have taught those strategies to hundreds of clients who have improved their physical and emotional health as a result.

See:

My introductory page on stress management.***

My book on stress management.***

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Albert Ellis on Love

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisTo summarise my conclusions (presented on 7th anniversary of Dr Ellis’s death, on 24th July 2014): Albert Ellis was damaged as a small boy by the neglect he experienced at the hands of his mother and father.  He was not actively loved, nor sensitively cared for.  Indeed, he had to become a little mother to his younger brother and sister, when he was about seven years old, and onward from that point.

As a result of his parents neglect of him, he did not understand what it meant to love and be loved.  This was clear from his description of his attempt to establish a relationship with his first potential girlfriend, Karyl, as told by himself, in his autobiography, All Out!

See my biographical sketch of Ellis’s life, and how it impacted the development of REBT: A Wounded Psychotherapist.***

Because he did not learn to love and be loved, he developed an avoidant attachment style, and related to significant others at a considerable, cool distance.  From this stance, it was important to him to invert Karen Horney’s principle, that we all need to be loved, and to thus arrive at his “Irrational Belief No.1”, which claims that “…virtually all humans demand that they absolutely must be loved by somebody, and often they demand that they must be loved by everybody”.  In my post on 24th July, I will demonstrate that, at most, about 20% of the population (of western cultures) may tend to have this sense of an absolute need to be loved.  For most other humans, the need for love is much less anxious and ambivalent; much less insecure.  Watch this space: Albert Ellis on Love.***

Love is hugely important.  Here’s my niece, Jenni, singing a song she composed for her sister (Ruth’s) wedding to Linval.  Love is a potent force in the world:

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To hell with Socrates

SocratesI have done quite a bit of work on the subject of Socratic Questioning, and certainly enough to satisfy myself that Socrates should never be used as a role model by counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, etc.

In my first study of Socratic Questioning, I concluded, in line with Dr Edward De Bono, that Plato’s-Socrates – (who is the only substantial Socrates known to the modern world) – held the beliefs that:

  1. Most people do not know how to think straight;
  2. That they tend to hold contradictory beliefs;
  3. That, in order to learn some better ideas – or perhaps to learn that they know nothing and are incapable of knowing anything – the first step is to demonstrate to them that they do not know what they are talking about.

How could these three beliefs form the foundation of the questioning strategies of counsellors or psychotherapists?  I do not believe they could.  I think it would be a dreadful abuse of clients to approach them with those three beliefs in mind. Not because those three ideas are necessarily wholly false, but because challenging people on that basis has the predictable effect of making them feel wrong, or stupid!

Socrates’ dialogues (in Plato’s dialogues) show a lack of sensitivity to the person to whom he is speaking – their vulnerability to feeling bad about themselves.  In Buddhism, there is the concept of ‘upaya’ – or ‘skillful means’ – which suggests that, when a Zen master is dealing with a student, they should aim to be skillful.  (Not that the approaches of Zen masters form a good model for counsellors: Remember it is not okay to throw your fan at a client; or to whack them over the head with your bamboo pole! :-))

And yet, when I challenged the idea of using Socratic Questioning in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Albert Ellis told me that, while he could see some merit in some of my critique of Socrates, nevertheless, REBT is “…substantially Socratic”.

Nierenberg-negotiations-book.jpgMy own argument, following Nierenberg’s ‘Complete Negotiator’ approach, is to consider that questioning in counselling and therapy has certain instrumental functions, as follows:

1. To cause the client to focus upon a particular point (event, or object);

2. To cause their thinking to start up;

3. To ask them for some information;

4. To pass some information to them (rhetorically); and:

5. To cause their thinking to come to a conclusion.

Nierenberg also argues that you can arrange those five questions in a grid, like this:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
1.  Combined Qs 1 & 3
2.
3.
4
5.

Dr Jim's photoUsing this grid, we can see that a question can be in two parts; e.g., 1+3 – To cause the client’s attention to focus on a specific event/experience, and to ask them for some information about that event/experience.

The great beauty of this system is that it gets rid of the “Socratic smart-arse” aspect of questioning the client.

The problems with classic Socratic Questioning include:

  1. That the client may interpret the therapist as ‘picking a fight’ with them;
  2. That the client may become anxious when asked particular kinds of right/wrong questions (perhaps because of re-stimulation of the humiliating experience of being at school and being subjected to interrogations, the aim of which was to find a reason to punish the client as a child).
  3. That the client may (as suggested by Asch, Milgram, Zimbardo) simply go along with the therapist’s inferences, as a form of obedience or conformity to authority.
  4. That the therapist never gets to *know* the client, because s/he (the therapist) is always tilting at the windmills of ‘innate irrational beliefs’ – or ‘negative automatic thoughts’).

And on and on.

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That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

 

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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Blog Post No.89 

Posted on 25th August 2016 (Previously published on Saturday 14th June 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

The Counselling Blog: A counsellor writes about “The importance of love…”

Kate-Atkinson-Life-After-Life.jpgI recently mentioned that I had acquired a copy of Kate Atkinson’s new novel. My intention was to read fiction for some part of each day – say 30 to 60 minutes – as a way to have a mental break from my tendency towards overworking.

I have now finished reading that book, at an average of three to six pages per day.  In a review, by ‘Bron’, at Amazon.co.uk, we get the following insight into the fundamental theme of Kate Atkinson’s new book:

“A seemingly small event can change the direction of a life completely: a chance encounter with a stranger who harms you or a conversation that detains you which means you miss bumping into the person, a meeting with the German you fall in love with and marry or being helped up from a fall by an Englishman. Life is full of moments which change the direction a person travels in and we have all wished we could go back and change something, or do it over again in a different way. And Life after Life explores this theme intricately, with sympathy, compassion and superb writing and plotting.”

Domestic-violence.jpgI was deeply moved by the emotional tone of Kate’s book, but I was never able to express what I was ‘getting’ from the experience.  It rattled some skeletons in the non-conscious basement of my mind, and sensitised me to some aspects of human suffering which were not previously in my range of experience – such as being a young woman, in her twenties, who is the victim of wife-beating and emotional abuse.  (Reading Kate’s vivid descriptions of wife-beatings, and eventual murder, happened on top of recently learning that one woman in three will be beaten by her partner.  What a world!)

I suppose a lot of my feelings were of being able to identify with a woman in a predominantly man’s world.  And, in addition, there were lots of descriptions of war and its horrors.

Soon after finishing reading this book, I sat down and wrote the following statement, which must have been, to some extent, inspired by reading Kate Atkinson’s narrative:

In CENT counselling, we are sometimes asked: ‘What is the purpose of life?  What’s it all about?’  This is our attempt at an answer: “We are born and we die.  We come into the world alone and with nothing in our hands, and very little in our hearts and minds.  And we leave this world alone and empty-handed.  The purpose of life, then, cannot be to get; to acquire; to want and desire.  The purpose of life must be to leave this world knowing we have made a difference (a positive difference!) to the lives of those people we met and knew and left behind.  The purpose of life must be to love; to give; to make a contribution to life on earth for our family, community and the people we love”.

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Love-matters-Gerhardt.jpgSue Gerhardt’s book – Why Love Matters – is a wonderful analysis of how affection shapes a baby’s brain, and the long-term implications of childhood experiences in relationships with early carers.  She “…explores how the earliest relationship shapes the baby’s nervous sytem.  She shows how the development of the brain determines future emotional well being, and goes on to look at specific early ‘pathways’ that can affect the way we respond to stress, and can contribute to conditions such as anorexia, addiction, and anti-social behaviour”.

And she presents an easy to understand analysis of the emergence of attachment styles – secure and insecure.

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This brings me to the problem of teaching my counselling clients – who often have insecure attachments to their parents – about love: its importance, what it is, and what it feels and looks like.  This is how I sometimes express it:

Teaching the client about the nature of love is one of the most difficult challenges a counsellor faces:  “There are no short-cuts to understanding what love is.  If someone has been deprived of the crudest infantile experience of love then he might be permanently crippled or, at least, have great difficulty in learning later what the word can mean.  In learning what it symbolises, I need to re-write my autobiography over and over again.  To grow is to re-organise the past now and to move into the future”.

Robert F. Hobson, Forms of Feeling: The heart of psychotherapy, Page 212. (25)

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road-less-travelledI like to teach my clients M. Scott Peck’s definition of love: That love is a process of ‘extending yourself in the service of another person’.  It is not primarily about ‘nice feelings’, although nice feelings normally flow from the process, especially for the love object.  But, of course, what goes around also comes around – so ‘cast thy bread upon the waters, for it shall return after many days’.  Or, as Albert Ellis would say, “The best way to get love is to sincerely offer it”.

But this statement by Ellis is an anachronism.  He is right; but he most likely did not implement that policy in his own life, based upon the research I have been able to do on the subject.

Dr Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) was greatly emotionally deprived as a child – on one occasion spending almost ten months in hospital, around the age of five or six years, during which time he just one or two visits from his mother, and none from his father.

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisHe failed to understand how wounded he was, and went on to make a virtue of his insecure attachment style – trying to teach emotional coldness to his clients as a ‘superior, rational form of functioning’ –relative to having feelings of need to give and get love.

To those who told him they needed love, he objected, and insisted that nobody needs to be loved, and that they were ‘love slobs’ for thinking they did need love.  I wrote some more on this subject in time for the seventh anniversary of his death, here: About Dr Albert Ellis.***

If you want to find out more about Ellis’s childhood, and how his emotional deprivations affected the eventual shape of REBT, then please take a look at A Wounded Psychotherapist.***

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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