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.

Self-confidence through self-acceptance

Blog Post No. 44

17th March 2017 (Updated on 14th November 2019)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: How to develop more self-confidence by accepting yourself exactly as you are

The Oxford dictionary definition of confidence is:

 “A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement”.

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Introduction

Many of us would like to feel more self-confident than we are at the present moment, and in this blog I want to outline a simple technique which will increase your level of self-confidence, if you experiment with it.

What this technique will do is to bring about a change in your attitude towards yourself as you live your life, and as you perform all the necessary tasks that you have to do, in order to survive. Why don’t you give it a try and see if it changes your view of yourself?

The technique for greater self-confidence: ‘One conditional self-acceptance’

In the 1980’s, when I first came across Dr Albert Ellis’s concept of USA, (Unconditional Self-Acceptance), I thought that this was a very therapeutic way of helping people to stop giving themselves such a hard time when they failed or behaved poorly in work or in life. (However, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I failed to notice that this is an amoral position, which gives people permission to accept themselves, no matter how evil their actions might be; which is not okay in any kind of civilized society!) One of the ways in which people give themselves a hard time is this: They create lots of rules for themselves, like “I must achieve this goal!” Or “I must achieve highly in life!”  Or: “I must never fail in any way”.  And so on! In this kind of way, they can really upset themselves (and frequently do!) because they are not as rich/ talented/ skilled/ academically successful/perfect in all the areas that they want to be.

All around us we can see and hear people passing judgement on themselves, and this is an enormous waste of their vital life energy. (Except in one area, which is to do with morality.  It is important that we, and they, judge the quality of our moral actions, and refrain from harming others!)

Here is an example of such negative self-judgements: Many people have problems accepting themselves when they remember mistakes they made in the past, (as if they should be able to perform skills really well, immediately, without any failures or slipping back.  And as if they should be able to be perfect).

Our judgemental attitudes begin in early childhood.  Although we accept ourselves when we fall down when learning to walk, we then, sometime later, begin to fault ourselves when we fail to do something which is new to us.

School experiences are a case in point.  We can all remember examples of not being able to perform as well as others, in classrooms, and this can start the formation of a sense of ourselves as failures; and our abilities as lacking; or our skills as being not as good as other people. And by the time we are teenagers our self-concept can get fixed and set in stone in our minds.  We have learned to rate ourselves on the basis of our failing attempts to learn.

Albert Ellis taught that we should not rate our selves, but rather our behaviours, and to distinguish between ourselves and our behaviours.  In this way, we can preserve our good judgement of our self, and only criticize our behaviour or performance.

For example, “I am not my mathematics ability (or my skiing ability; or my socializing ability).  I am an error-prone human, like all other humans.  And I have some areas of high skill and some areas of low skill development.  But my high skills do not make me Great!  And my low skills do not make me a Worm!
Ellis called this ‘unconditional acceptance’ of ourselves (or other people, or the world).

So unconditional self-acceptance of ourselves, in the context of our mistakes and imperfections, seemed to me to be a great idea, when I came across it in the 1980s.

But I hadn’t taken into account human nature. I had assumed that people would mostly behave morally and ethically towards each other. Therefore, it seemed to me to be okay to address a class of 15 or 20 individuals and tell them it was okay to accept themselves exactly the way they were (without realizing that at least one of them might be a serious criminal or amoral abuser of others!)

This was rather naïve of me, given that, according to Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The line between good and evil runs right down the centre of the human heart!

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Somewhere along the way, Dr Jim Byrne, who had agreed with me that Albert Ellis’s USA was a great idea, began to have second thoughts.  After examining and researching the full implications of unconditional self-acceptance, he came up with the concept of “One-conditional self-acceptance’, as he realised the flaw in Albert Ellis’s view that people should accept themselves unconditionally (without spotting that they should not do this in the case of immoral actions on their part). (See Byrne, 2010, in the References, below). Dr-Jim-Self-AcceptanceEllis’s USA approach, at least implicitly, and unfortunately, gives people permission to abuse others and to not feel bad about it afterwards.

So Dr Byrne proposed that we accept ourselves as imperfect humans. But we should not (and that is a moral should!) give ourselves permission to go out and behave badly or immorally towards others.

Jim distinguished between three areas of human activity as follows:

  1. Performance competence;
  2. Personal judgements;
  3. Moral/immoral actions.

His argument was this: It is perfectly reasonable, and indeed desirable, and certainly self-helping, to always accept yourself when you fail to perform competently; or you make poor personal judgements.  You should forgive yourself in these contexts, try again.

But with regard to item 3 above: moral and immoral actions; we owe it to our society to act morally, and to refrain from acting immorally.  And we morally must not accept ourselves as being okay if and when we behave immorally.

This means that you can practise the technique of accepting yourself as you are – an imperfect human, who makes mistakes occasionally just like everyone else. But you must not accept yourself as being okay when you act immorally!

Accepting yourself under one condition

So you can accept yourself as being totally okay on one condition – that you behave morally and ethically towards all other human beings. Treating others as you would wish them to treat you is the basic contract people have in a civilised society. It’s called following the ‘Golden rule’ and enables people to live together in a decent and safe way.

Why is giving yourself “One-conditional self-acceptance” an important factor in self-confidence? Because there are all sorts of skills which we are all learning, and practising, every day of our lives. And we inevitably make mistakes. Realistically there can only be a few skills that we are very, very competent at, in our lifetime.

But in our cultures we will face criticism for our imperfections, as if we had to be perfect all the time. What nonsense – but it’s very powerful pressure. Just look at the pressure in the UK culture to look ‘good’! In 2015 (according to the British Association of Aesthetic plastic surgeons) 51,140 people had treatment to improve their appearance.

Most of those people could have kept their dignity, and their cash in their pockets, if they had practiced one-conditional self-acceptance.  (And we also know, from Maxwell Maltz (Psycho-Cybernetics, 1960), that having plastic surgery will not change your self-concept reliably [for a significant proportion of those surgery patients], because it’s our inner self-appraisal that affects how we feel about ourselves, and not our objective appearance.  For example, Marilyn Monroe thought she was ugly!)

However, we can learn to accept our physical appearance, even if it is ‘perfect’, by telling ourselves: “I am not my face.  I am not my nose.  I am not my balding head.  I am not my fat; I am not my skinniness; I am not my social skills.  I am not my socially disliked characteristics!”

We’ve got a moral responsibility to ourselves to reduce our contact with people who try to put us down, and destroy our sense of self-worth. But the most crucial factor in relation to our confidence is our own (one-conditional) self-acceptance of our imperfections.

“One-Conditional self-acceptance” – What does this mean in practice – in real life?

It means that if you make mistakes, you make mistakes. End of story. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad or evil person for having done so. Obviously you will need to apologize and make amends if the mistakes are very serious and (accidentally) harm others physically or emotionally. But as an imperfect human being, you are bound to make mistakes. We all do – all the time!

What happens if we don’t give ourselves permission to screw up in one way or another? Our resilience and physical energy will be badly affected. Albert Bandura stated in 1966:

There is no more devastating punishment than self-contempt.”
Psycho-CyberneticsRefusing to make allowances for our humanity and imperfections will wreck our confidence when we are trying to learn new skills.

Practising “One conditional self-acceptance” (OCSA) means that you have to extend compassion towards yourself. As the Buddha said:

Compassion that extends itself to others and not to yourself, is incomplete “.

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Taking action

Trying out this technique (OCSA) means that you have a much kinder and much more accepting attitude towards yourself when you make mistakes; form poor judgements; or act incompetently.

This helps you to feel much stronger when it comes to handling criticisms from other people (and internal criticism from your ‘Inner Critic’).

If you practice this one-conditional acceptance approach to yourself, you will be taking a huge burden off yourself – one that you may not have realised you were carrying.

And guess what? If you have children, they will see you accepting your own humanity and imperfections, and not mentally beating yourself up for being imperfect.  And they will copy what you do, and accept themselves more. Do you remember the quote about what makes a great leader? “Example, example, example!“

How happy do you want your children to be?

This change of attitude towards yourself – of accepting yourself one-conditionally – will take time to become part of your approach to yourself as an imperfect human. (It can be very hard for us to accept ourselves when we make mistakes – especially when we screw up in front of other people).

Teaching is a very public job, and I found during my early teaching career, that making mistakes in front of others as I learned my job, was very challenging and emotionally threatening. But accepting my mistakes and learning from them really helped me to recover and keep my equilibrium, so I had the energy to keep learning and trying to improve my performance.

For these reasons, I strongly recommend practising “One-conditional self-acceptance” in your daily life and especially if you are learning any new skills, or have got problems in any of your relationships.

Can you imagine how much less stressed you will feel, if you give yourself permission to be an imperfect driver? Or mother? Or husband? Or worker/professional? (So long as you are doing your best, and not acting immorally or unethically, or disregarding the possibility of harming others!)

This then gives you the mental space to realise that, if you wanted to, you could slowly learn new behaviours to improve your performance, and your judgements, but without your inner critic nagging away in the background.

This would amount to treating yourself with respect and consideration, just as you would treat your best friend if they were in the same situation, with undeveloped skills which they wanted to improve on.

If you experiment with this self-permission, this self-acceptance, you could find it a real life-changer!

That’s all for now,

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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References:

Byrne, J. (2010) Self-acceptance and other-acceptance in relation to competence and morality. E-CENT Paper No.2(c).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

Maltz, Maxwell (1960). Psycho-Cybernetics. Simon & Schuster.

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Two happiness-increasing quotes on social equality and reducing stress

Blog Post No. 29

13th April 2016 – Updated on 8th May 2020

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: Two happiness-increasing quotes on social equality and reducing stress

Introduction

dadsquoteIn this blog I’m going to describe two quotes I came across many years ago, and explain how they can really increase happiness and reduce stress. They both involve the question of social equality.  See what you think:

First happiness quote

The first quote is from my father, and he said this to me when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I was attending a secondary school in Salford. I had started to get really stressed about some homework I had to do, couldn’t do it, and was very apprehensive about what would happen when I got to school and had to face the teacher.

I was at a school which had a religious orientation, so not only was there the authority of the teachers but, as there were nuns as well, there was also the sense of religious authority. God, we were told, was in the background, watching everything we were doing, which was intimidating and stressful.

I was scared of the teachers, and this must have been glaringly obvious to my dad who said:

“Remember – no man’s head is higher than your own!”

Wow – The power of those words was amazing, and so helpful to me, and the stress just rolled away from my body.

I still had to attend school, and get on with the tasks that were necessary for me to get my qualifications, but from then on, it was different – I was stronger. The words of my father helped me to handle the academic pressure I was under. I knew that although there were people I had to legally obey until I had done my time at school, they were just ordinary, flawed human beings, not special beings with a hotline to God, and not superior to the students.

Second happiness quote

Buddha1The second quote is from the Buddha, and the wisdom and power of this really knocked me out (not literally):

This is what he said (in brief): “Don’t take my word for it – find out for yourself!”

Why was this so good? Because he wasn’t setting himself up as an authority and he wanted people to check out the truth of things for themselves.

BuddhaflowersThis quote encouraged me to do my own research – to check out what is right for me in terms of my lifestyle etc. and develop my own critical thinking faculties, and not to follow someone else and elevate them to being an authority.

Finding out for ourselves is one of the best ways to get stronger as we go through life, whether it’s managing our health, or jobs, or studies, or relationships, more effectively.

Conclusion

Seeing through the cultural fantasies that we are surrounded by is not easy, but the more we check things out for ourselves, rather than relying on others’ views, the stronger and happier we will become.

Of course it is important to live by the best moral guidance we received from our culture – some version of the Golden Rule, for example.  (The Golden Rule states that we must not treat others in ways we would not want them to treat us, if our roles were reversed).

ChiefjosephAnd we also need to follow the laws of the land. As long as the laws of the land respect Human Rights, and gender, racial, age and religious equality; and respect the rights of the individual to dignity and protection by the rule of law.

But we have the right to make our own minds up about what cultural traditions are right for us to follow, and we have the right to make up our own minds and our own rules as long as we don’t harm others in the process.

Buddha2Remember the first principle from the Bill of Assertive Rights: “You have the right to be treated with respect as an equal human being!”

I hope these two quotes are of some use to you. I found them strengthening, stress-reducing and life-enhancing.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor-Mentor-Tutor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

01422 843629

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