Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Slow Down

“Mindfulness” is a term that is found in abundance of late, and has become synonymous with another
catch phrase: being present.  Although the one is far more than the other, both can be difficult to implement and maintain long term.  And because of the connotations behind these words – being closer to family, more understanding etc – not achieving these goals can result in feelings of guilt.

I suggest starting smaller, with a simpler process of slowing down.  This is especially important at this time of the year when the end-of-year-brain-drain affects almost everyone.  Attentions are divided between completing end of year projects, children’s exams, holiday planning and general tiredness.  Rather than applying this in an all or nothing way, choose a few areas in your life where control seems to be slipping away.  Something as simple as sleep.  As the to-do list balloons at this time of the year, scheduling your needed hours of sleep can make all the difference to your mood and productivity.

One of the greatest areas to slow down is our thoughts.  Easier said than done (I know), but segmenting your day to allow for time to ponder on your holiday destination, or google that all important end of year recipe will pacify that thought for the mean time and give you the focus to get the other jobs done.  Another way to slow down is to use your daily travel time to listen to music you enjoy rather than the radio, or listen to an audio book; turn your phone on silent so you are not tempted to check if a notification is important, or just sit in silence.  Or use this time to brainstorm ideas out loud and record your thoughts.


None of the above may apply to your life; we all need to look at what works for us, as an individual. But slow down.  Where you can.

Friday, 6 October 2017

School Readiness

It seems that with every passing year December seems to arrive quicker.  Admittedly I too have been caught a bit off guard this year and this post on school readiness should have gone out two months ago.  I am not alone here as there has only now been an influx of school readiness assessments.

The final term is generally daunting as little ones begin to understand more and more the move that will happen in the new year; even if they are staying within the same school, there will be a shift to another part of the school, a new uniform, a new bag – lots of newness.  Which applies to the parents too: whether it is your first child or not, the move into grade one is big.  Apart from all the talk and shopping about the new year, the final term is filled with assessments to ensure the littlies are ready.  What happens to those who are not?

Generally, an independent school readiness assessment is suggested to find out where the underlying pitfalls may be (poor colouring may be due to poor fine motor development, lowered muscle tone, eye sight, motivation or simply just not an activity that is enjoyed). The scoring procedures are used to determine objectively where a child’s current level of development is and options provided to overcome or at least close the gaps between age and performance.

Parents are often upset to be told late in the year that there is a possibility their child will not be ready for grade one the following year.  Unfortunately, it is a difficult course to navigate because a few months makes a huge difference in a young child’s development and areas which may have been identified as weak in April, are found to be within age appropriate ranges in September.

There is a tendency to focus on the academics, however, the emotional and physical development are just as important.  Children who are emotionally young tend to struggle with the volume or pace of work, even if they are cognitively capable; the more structured environment with less free time may also be difficult for them to accept.  Children who are less co-ordinated may also struggle with the pace or volume of work as their little bodies tire more quickly than their peers; they may be less co-ordinated and battle with the games at play time resulting in disagreements or avoidance of the game.  This last example may result in feelings of isolation or not ‘fitting in’ which, if perpetuated, can negatively impact on the academics.


Knowing where your child is emotionally, cognitively and physically can make the rest of this fascinating, exciting, scary time a bit more manageable.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Some Counselling Myths

Counselling still has a bit of a bad rap and I would like to debunk a few myths I have heard of late.

Myth 1: Counselling is (very) long term.
Counselling can be relatively short term – it depends on the issue at hand.  Dealing with a stressful work colleague, for example, needn’t result in months of counselling.  There are different facets to counselling and one of them is termed psycho-education where information is provided within a specific context to enable clients to make more knowledgeable decisions, or better handle similar situations differently in the future.

Myth 2: I have to talk about my past.
This again will depend on the issue at hand, but also on the counsellor’s training and theoretical model from where they operate.  There are theories that focus entirely on the here and now; and on the other end of the spectrum there are those who find benefit in resolving the past in order to resolve the present.  This is something you can ask when first making the appointment.

Myth 3: Counselling is very expensive.
The cost of counselling varies depending on the qualification of the person you seek counselling from.  Psychologists, Registered Counsellors, Social Workers and Lay Counsellors are able to offer a different level of service and therefore charge accordingly.  As with any profession it is important to check the health provider’s credentials.

Myth 4: If all I am going to do is talk, can't I do that with friends?

Absolutely.  Discussing pertinent issues with friends and/or family suggests a steady and reliable support system which is vital to overall mental health.  However, while a good winge or cry often makes us feel better, if the matter is a more serious one, this is a temporary fix and may result in us becoming “that person who always talks about the same thing”.  Counselling involves talking, but it is guided and solution oriented – where you identify possible solutions (and therefore consequences) for yourself.    Which is far more empowering than following a well-meaning friend’s suggestion to put a laxative in your stressful colleague’s coffee.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Boundaries

Boundaries can be difficult to establish, for a variety of reasons: for some, the thought of boundaries is selfish while for others defining the boundaries is the challenge.  Once defined and correctly implemented though, boundaries can assist in creating calm as expectations are managed for all involved.  While it may appear the job is done, setting boundaries is not a once off task. 

As relationships evolve, professional and personal, boundaries will need to be adjusted - either relaxed or made more stringent.  Consider a friendship: it would be less acceptable to contact a new acquaintance late in the evening for a chat but more acceptable in a long-standing friendship where this boundary has become more relaxed.  In a working relationship, regular lunch colleagues may need to create stricter boundaries around their lunch time if superiors feel the interaction is becoming inappropriate.

However, even where relationships are in a state of continuation, boundaries must be revisited.  Humans are creatures of habit and we tend to slip back into old routines - sometimes despite our best efforts.  Generally, this decline into the old and familiar is subtle and we are unaware of it, waking up one morning wondering how everything got so out of control.  Again.

It is important to revisit your boundaries regularly and consider whether they need to be adjusted or reconfirmed or even recreated entirely.  

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Listening

“Are you listening to me?” 
“Yes! I heard everything you said!”

Nope, you didn’t.  Hearing is done with the ears, but listening is done with so much more.

As a simple example, listening allows us to understand sarcasm.  The phrase – “how wonderful” – can be interpreted very differently because of the tone of voice and the smirk that may accompany the phrase.  Because sarcasm is usually harmless and forms a common part of our day, many of us are well tuned to it, so missing the facial expression (if our back is turned) doesn’t mean we miss the sarcastic comment as we recognise the tone of voice.

Unfortunately, when it comes to more serious matters – which are tackled less frequently – we are not as in-tune and miss much of what is being shared.  These serious matters tend to make most people uncomfortable so we tackle the issue while doing other things, cooking for example.  Even if we are brave enough to request a talk without distraction, the paintings on the wall or the coffee cup in-hand, suddenly become a far easier focus.   Averting our eyes results in poorer listening as those subtle facial expressions are vital because they are less easy to control than the tone of voice. 


Communication between people is very complex.  However, practising listening by looking at the person who is speaking and acknowledging their tone of voice, facial expressions and body language may result in greater understanding of the emotion and intention behind what is being said.  With greater understanding comes an ease to how to respond – make a joke, say how sad that sounds, or simply nod your head.  Apart from making us a better listener in those difficult-to-have important discussions, actively listening can make even light chit-chat flow with greater ease.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Time Management

Time. 
We never seem to have enough of it.  And that which we do have is often underutilised.  Of all the resources we have to manage, time is the most difficult, partly because we have to utilise the very resource we are trying to manage, to manage it. 

Perhaps one of the biggest time-wasters is a tool which claims to help with time-management: the to-do list.  While it seems perfectly logical, to-do lists can quickly evolve into something anxiety provoking as the number of items increases as the day or week progresses.  The thought that crossing an item off the list would provide a sense of accomplishment is seldom true as most people are in a constant state of catch-up, adding more items than are crossed off.

As “the list” comprises tasks that need to be completed today, or this week, they are done in spare time (but we make the list to manage our time…?)  Imagine a day full of meetings and a to-do list (in those helpful side columns of a diary) consisting of ten items: there simply is no time to do those tasks on that day.

The to-do list should be a start of a plan, not the plan itself, because simply knowing what tasks need to be done does not help if they are not scheduled into the day.  And with most people fulfilling multiple roles in a day, chunking those tasks is equally as important as scheduling them into the day.

Chunking and scheduling tasks to maximise the time in the day will take some practice; however, if after a few weeks those tasks are still being passed on to the following day, it may be time to reorganise – or reprioritise – the multiple roles one is expected to maintain.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Seeking Counselling

As progressive as we consider our society to be, there is still a perception that things must be really bad to seek counselling; after all, if it wasn’t you could fix it on your own (which is really difficult when you are not too sure what it is).

Let us apply that to an analogy shall we: if your fridge develops an odd hum, or leaves a puddle at the foot of the door, you would call an electrician.  Would you wait to see if it fixed itself?  Unlikely.  Would you attempt to fix it yourself?  Maybe – what could possibly go wrong with Google by your side.  Failing a DIY fix, you’d call someone out to look at the fridge, because ignoring the problem might result in a greater one and potentially a dustbin full of perishables.

Counselling is much the same: we can try a few DIY fixes (which would probably be more than you would attempt on your fridge), but the longer the problem is left, the greater it can grow and instead of a dustbin of perishables there may be damaged relationships or self-esteem.  Neither of which can quickly be replaced by a trip to the shops.


Things do not have to be really bad to seek counselling.  Doing so, earlier on, can provide you with coping strategies to better manage the next up-hill, and gain more enjoyment along the way.