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Feeling stressed? Strengthen your grit and resilience

November and December can be a stressful time of year. If you have children, they may be on holiday from school or further education. You may be preparing for the festive season, and you might be expecting lots of visits from family and friends.

Do you feel that you have plenty of resilience? And grit?

It’s easy to like the allure of ‘shiny new ideas’ and feel that they will give better results than what we are currently doing.

It’s also easy to get stressed if goals are hard to achieve.

The ability to persevere and not be diverted by the latest fad indicate how successful we are likely to be in achieving our goals.

The actor, film-maker and musical Woody Allen stated:-

“80% of success is showing up.

My observation was that once a person actually completed a play or a novel he was well on his way to getting it produced or published, as opposed to a vast majority of people who tell me their ambition is to write, but who strike out on the very first level and indeed never write the play or book.”

Woody Allen (actor, film-maker, musician)

So what about grit? What is it? Who has it? How can we all get more of it?

Grit

Grit is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”

Angela Duckworth, researcher and MacArthur Fellowship winner

The definition of grit contains two components:

  1. The ability to stick to long-term goals.
  2. The ability to keep going despite adversity.

Grit is the resilience to push over, through, around, and sometimes under obstacles. It involves sustaining effort despite mental and physical setbacks, including failures.

Angela Duckworth is a professor of psychology and pioneer in grit research. Her TED Talk (1) introduced us to the ideas of grit and resilience. She became interested in this area after working as a maths teacher, and noticing that IQ alone did not predict which students would succeed with long-term challenges and which would struggle.

In study after study, Angela Duckworth has found that “where talent counts once, effort counts twice.” (2) Angela Duckworth’s 2007 research (3) found that grit is both born in some people but can also be developed. For people to develop grit, she says, they need to cultivate a growth mindset (growth mindset was discussed in a previous post).

Duckworth uses this formula:

TALENT x EFFORT = SKILL

SKILL x EFFORT = ACHIEVEMENT

When you put effort into improving a natural talent (e.g. maths ability), you end up with a skill (e.g. being able to multiply and divide). And applying effort to this skill leads to achievement (e.g. being able to solve maths equations without writing them down).

That is why grit and sustained effort is so important, as most of us encounter setbacks while working towards our goals. You can find out your ‘grit score’ by completing Duckworth’s 10-question quiz (4).

Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Angela Duckworth

Of course, we can have plenty of grit in some areas of our life, but lack it in other areas. It is difficult to put time and effort into achieving multiple large goals – we usually need to prioritise one area at a time. As an example, some people found that having a senior job that requires a lot of travel interfered with another of their major goals – being present with their families as their children were growing up.

Alongside grit, which motivates us to keep working until we reach our goal, we need resilience – the ability to pick ourselves up and try again and again until we succeed. Luckily, we can develop it and do not need to be born with it

The American Psychological Association (APA, n.d.) define resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.(5)

Why are Grit and Resilience Important to the Growth Mindset?

Does developing grit and resilience help us create a growth mindset, or does a growth mindset help with developing grit and resilience? It could be both! People who are born with a ‘gritty’ attitude could find that grit contributes to a growth mindset.

As an example, some young children persevere in the face of difficulties with e.g. learning to play a sport, and do not need any encouragement from parents. Others need more support and prompting to continue practising sports until they are competent.

This second group of children could have a fixed mindset, and feel that their level of sports ability is pre-set at birth, and so do not see the point of a lot of practice if they fail initially.

9 Ways to Grow Your Grit and Resilience

Duckworth found that grit is the best predictor of success.

It helps children excel at school, older students get higher grades, soldiers persevere with their military training, and adults succeed at work and make their marriages more likely to succeed (6).

The following tips can help us to grow grit and resilience:-

1. Pursue Your Interests

Of course, it’s easy to work at topics that interest us. In order to make perseverance easier with a task that we don’t like, it can help to find something about it that is interesting or satisfying.

It could even be a short term goal that gives a sense of purpose – e.g. if the long term goal is to become proficient at soccer, a short term goal could be to learn how to tackle an opponent and get the ball off them. We could even get help from a coach or more experienced player.

According to Angela Duckworth, we should try different things until we’ve found something we’re passionate about.

2. Practice

Gritty people are continually striving to improve, even if they are already good at the task. We can look to improve one area at a time, and it can be a small, specific area. Thus, in the example of learning soccer, improving tackling is a specific area where we can see improvements, and then move on to practice another specific skill. Gritty people compete with themselves.

It’s interesting to note that the language we use when praising someone affects grit and resilience. Praise for a personal quality (e.g., “You are really smart.”), teaches a fixed mindset as we are praising something that appears fixed and that the person cannot develop further. Praising them for their effort or trying new ideas fosters resilience because it is something that they can influence – it is something that they did and can do again.

3. See the big picture

See how what you do contributes to the benefit of others, and to the wider picture.

Perhaps if I can stop eating sugary food (and thus stop buying it, and remove it from my house), my husband will not be tempted to eat the sugary food, and we will both become healthier…

This tactic is especially good for motivating parents, who will often stick at a positive change because it helps their children as well.

4. Cultivate a positive mindset

When negative events happen in life, realise that we have the power to change how we respond. But we have to respond and make a deliberate decision to do something (even if that is to wait and do nothing for a while).

Weed out negative thinking and negative self-talk. (See some blogposts on this here and here).

Our brains can be reshaped and grow throughout life as it is ‘plastic’. (7)

Develop the belief that you can improve if you work hard at it.

5. Mix with gritty people

“You become like your friends” is the old saying! By mixing with people who have a positive mindset, grit, resilience and determination, you will develop more of these qualities. They will influence your thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Their values and ways of behaving will become your values and behaviour. You will absorb their view of how to approach challenges in life.

6. Take the long term view

Part of grit and resilience is to take a long term view on failure or disappointment. How much will a setback matter in six months or a year?

It can be hard to think like this while we are in the middle of the situation (disappointment or failure), but if we can ‘zoom out’ our perspective to see the wider picture it can help. Perhaps think of other setbacks (even major ones) in the past. How did we get over those events? How much do they affect us now?

The answer may well be that we got over the setback by taking action. And the setback does not affect us very much now.

7. Accept change

Change is inevitable. At work, people leave the team and other people join. Children grow up and (usually) leave home. People move house. Who would have thought this year (2020) would be like this?

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “The only constant in life is change.

Accept it and move on to how you can make the most of the change.

8. Be flexible

Flexibilty allows resilience and grit to grow, because when their ideas hit a roadblock, flexible people simply think of other ways to succeed. They may need to learn something new, change their approach, or ask for advice. They think creatively and find a way around the roadblock.

9. Be mindful and reflect on your progress and goals

Meditation, quiet time, mindfulness.

However you wish to achieve it, reflection allows you to use your subconscious mind to create intuitive links and insights from what you have accomplished and the goals you want to achieve.

You can meditate, journal, exercise, sit quietly, practice mindfulness, or you may have some other way of accessing your intuitive subconscious mind.

According to new research (8), mindfulness breeds resilience. 327 undergraduates had their levels of mindfulness, satisfaction with life, emotional state, and level of resilience measured with four different surveys, and those students with the highest levels of mindfulness had greater resilience. High resilience was also linked to higher life satisfaction, and positive emotional state.

Summary

Gritty people stick with their long-term goals, and they keep showing up, picking themselves up, and continuing – even when it’s difficult.

If you lack those abilities, you can grow your grit in these five ways:

  1. Pursue your interests. Find something that fascinates you.
  2. Practice, practice, practice. Get a little bit better every day.
  3. Connect to a higher purpose. Ask yourself how you are helping other people.
  4. Cultivate hope. Remove your inaccurate, limiting beliefs.
  5. Surround yourself with gritty people. Create positive peer pressure.
  6. Take the long term view. How important will that setback seem in five years? In ten years?
  7. Accept change. Change will always be with us!
  8. Adopt flexible thinking. View problems as opportunities for growth.
  9. Be mindful and reflect on your progress and goals. Use the power of your subconscious mind.

80% of success is showing up, so take action!

If you’re feeling stuck, then hypnotherapy can help you to understand what’s holding you back and we can then work together to create the changes you want. Make progress in the things you want to achieve. To find out more, book your free discussion with me today.

References

  1. Duckworth, A.L. (April 2013). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance
  2. Duckworth, A.L. (2016) Grit: the power of passion and perseverance. New York : Scribner.
  3. Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087
  4. Angela Duckworth – Grit Scale. (2020) https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/
  5. American Psychological Association [APA] (n.d.). The road to resilience. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience
  6. Eskreis-Winkler, L., Shulman, E. P., Beal, S. A., & Duckworth, A. L. (2014). The grit effect: predicting retention in the military, the workplace, school and marriage. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 36. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00036
  7. Banks, D. (2016). What is brain plasticity and why is it so important? The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/what-is-brain-plasticity-and-why-is-it-so-important-55967
  8. Bajaj B., Pande N. (2016) Mediating role of resilience in the impact of mindfulness on life satisfaction and affect as indices of subjective well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 93 (63-67). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2015.09.005.
  9. Duckworth, A.L. (n.d.) Q&A. Retrieved January 8, 2020, from https://angeladuckworth.com/qa/
  10. Dweck, C. (13 January 2016). What having a “growth mindset” actually means. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means
  11. Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Ballantine Books.

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How to achieve a growth mindset

Some people see mistakes as a learning experience, and persevere to achieve success.

Others see failure as evidence that they have little talent in that area, and thus stop trying.

Stanford Professor Carol Dweck and her colleagues studied school childrens’ attitudes about failure. They noticed that some children bounced back after experiencing problems, while others seemed overwhelmed by relatively small challenges.

Through this research they identified two mindsets: fixed and growth.

What’s the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset?

A fixed mindset is, “believing your qualities are carved in stone,” whereas a growth mindset is “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts” (Dweck, 2016). A growth mindset generally leads to a more varied, confident, interesting life because the individual is happy to learn and try new experiences and skills.

Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.

Carol Dweck, From: What having a “growth mindset” actually means. Harvard Business Review.

Whether we have a fixed or growth mindset is not an ‘either / or” situation. It is a sliding scale, and very few people have a 100% fixed mindset, or 100% growth mindset.

  • We might believe that singing ability is pre-set – we either have the talent to sing, or we don’t. This might lead us to avoid learning how to sing due to fear of embarrassment and making mistakes, and also feeling that it is futile to try! (fixed mindset)
  • We might feel that some people are definitely more talented than others, but that skill and practice can also play a part. (mixture of fixed and growth mindset)
  • We might also consider that effort plays a large part, and that anyone can learn to sing if they put in sufficient practice. We might enjoy learning the new skill, and be OK with making mistakes as we see them as a way to learn. We wouldn’t be embarrassed by the mistakes, or by others seeing (and hearing) us while we make mistakes. (growth mindset)

We can also have a fixed mindset about one area of life, and a growth mindset about another.

  • Maybe we feel that cooking is a skill that can be learnt, and so we practice and practice. If one of the meals does not turn out as we wish, we simply try again until we are happy with the result.
  • Alternatively, we might feel that individuals either have (or don’t have) the ability to use computer programs – spreadsheets, mobile device apps, etc. we feel we don’t have this ability, so don’t try to learn or practice.

In her article for the Harvard Business Review (Dweck, 2016), she points out areas of confusion some experience about her research:-

  • Some people think open-mindedness and flexibility is a growth mindset.
  • People sometimes believe that concentrating on praising and rewarding effort is all that matters. Her research showed that although the effort is critical, it is also important to reward activities that lead to progress and outcomes – e.g. seeking help from others, trying new strategies, and capitalizing on setbacks to move forward.
  • Sometimes people only talk about a growth mindset, have it in a company’s mission statement, effectively stating “we have a growth mindset”. That is not sufficient!

10 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset

It is possible to shift towards a growth mindset:

1. Learn from others

Learning from others’ mistakes and successes enables us to see which activities work well to achieve our goals, and which activities to avoid.

2. See challenges as opportunities for learning

A little child who is learning to walk sees this as a challenge. Few children decide that they cannot be bothered making the effort! A challenge can be an opportunity to learn something new rather than something to be feared or avoided. Think of the times in life when you have overcame an obstacle, or had to learn a new skill, and how you feel afterwards – perhaps proud of yourself, confident, or other positive emotions….

3. Pay attention to your self-talk

Whether a person talks to themselves in their head (silent self-talk) or talks out loud to others, they ‘hear’ what they are saying about themselves. If they start to pay attention to the words they speak, even the words in their mind, this can improve the self-talk. This improves self-esteem as well. They can think and say positive statements about themselves. Of course they need to be realistic – e.g. “I’m committed to improving my singing, and practice an hour a day” rather than “I’m sure I’ll win the singing contest in two months”.

4. Stop comparing ourselves to others

Generally, there are always going to be people who are better at “it” (whatever “it” may be) than we are. Comparing ourselves to others can lead to a fixed mindset (“they just have more talent – I’ll never be as good as they are”), stress and lack of confidence. To encourage a growth mindset, we can compete with ourselves. Try to be better this week (or month) than we were last week (or month).

5. Respect yourself

Linked to the previous point, appreciation of our strong points makes a growth mindset much easier. No-one is perfect, so why not get into the habit of appreciating the strengths that we all have!

6. Know your purpose

Just like the young child who perseveres in walking, falling down and walking a bit further, it helps to know the purpose of what you are learning or practising. On a wider scale, it also helps to know how the effort fits into the greater purpose of life. Perhaps the immediate purpose of learning to sing is to give monthly concerts to the local retirement home, and the greater purpose / why we want to do that is a desire to improve the lives of other people.

While she was studying for her nutrition and dietetics degree, one of my friends had a large piece of cardboard pinned above her desk which read “Joan Wallace, BSc Nutrition and Dietetics”, showing the imagined end result of her hard work. She was making her purpose clear and accessible – she saw the card every time she looked up from her study desk!

7. Listen to constructive criticism

If other people have useful ideas on how we can improve, why not listen to them? They could have valuable insight. Remember that it’s OK to be imperfect and it’s OK to be learning and make mistakes. That’s one of the ways to learn.

8. Take the time to learn

Learning and practising a skill takes time. Human nature means that if we stick at something, we will improve. Some skills take a long time to learn, or to learn really well.

9. Focus on the process and the goal

Linked to the previous point, and also linked to striving to beat your previous performance, focus on the journey as well as the destination. This often improves the end result, and leads to greater motivation, satisfaction, and confidence.

10. It’s OK to make mistakes in public

This is generally part of growing and practising – e.g. students will practise and answer questions in class in front of other students.

In business, I would rehearse a speech in private until I felt I had perfected it, but I know that it was only by actually delivering the presentations in front of strangers and other colleagues that I really learnt some valuable lessons in public speaking.

In addition, making mistakes in front of others will usually get easier with practice!

Is a growth mindset enough?

To get the most from life, it is not enough to shift one’s mindset. We also need a healthy dose of grit and resilience to achieve short and long-term goals.

But what is grit? This term was first applied to mental effort by Angela Duckworth:-

Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals

(Duckworth et al., 2007).

Resilience is the ability to pick ourselves up and continue towards our goals after experiencing adversity.

Resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.

(American Psychological Association (APA, n.d.) )

Grit and resilience are closely linked.

Duckworth believes that people are born with varying amounts of grit, but it develops through life experience. Having a growth mindset helps with developing grit.

I’ll delve into the connection between grit, resilience and growth mindset in a future blogpost.

References

  1. American Psychological Association [APA] (n.d.). The road to resilience. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience
  2. Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087
  3. Dweck, C. (13 January 2016). What having a “growth mindset” actually means. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means

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Why self image is so important

What image comes to mind when you think of yourself? Perhaps you think of a confident, capable person, ready for whatever life throws at them.

If we think of someone less confident, or not so capable, then we may wish to revise our self-image. This image acts as a blueprint for how we live our life. We can act differently of course, but the default is to behave according to our self-image.

“Beauty begins the moment you decided to be yourself.” 

Coco Chanel

Self-image can even include what we feel the future will hold – will we succeed or fail, pass that exam, or not, get a good job, or not….

Self-image can also be influenced by what has happened in the past. Life events can affect our self-image, either positively or negatively, e.g., relationship with our parents or caregivers, whether we have enough social interaction, positive and negative past events, and our environment. Krauss and colleagues (2020) did research in Mexican American children (10 – 16 years old) which showed that if parents had economic security, treated their child positively, and monitored their child, that the children were more likely to have high self-esteem. Children whose Mothers had depression and whose Fathers were absent were more likely to have a lower self-esteem.

Healthy self-esteem is good for our physical and mental health. German research in secondary school students (Schwager and colleagues. 2020) showed significant impact of social integration and self-esteem on mental and physical well-being. 163 students aged 9–17 years, were studied. Results revealed that self-esteem mediated the effect of social integration on mental and physical well-being. This finding elucidates one pathway from social integration to well-being and points to the importance of improving both self-esteem and social integration for the promotion of well-being among adolescents.

Ways to revamp self-image

The good news is that self-image can be changed by changing our thinking, and how we feel about ourselves. Here’s how:-

1. Think about self-talk

Our self-talk is much more powerful than we may think.

Oles and colleagues (2020) stated that using third-person self talk (referring to oneself as he / she / they) or by one’s name (rather than “I”) appears to promote coping with stressful experiences and is associated with judging future stresses as challenges rather than threats. This kind of self-talk is also connected to self-control, emotion regulation, coping with painful experiences, and taking various perspectives.

“Be very careful what you say to yourself because someone very important is listening – YOU”

Fritsch and colleagues (2020) studied self-talk in tennis players. They found that many tennis players talk to themselves during a match, and this talk is related to the emotions they feel, and the emotions that they display on the outside to other people. They found that goal-oriented type of self-talk is related to less intense emotions.

It is easy to pick up negative ideas about ourselves from our environment, and from what other people may say. Why not speak to yourself in the same way that you’d speak to your mates. Be positive and congratulate yourself when you do something well.

2. Stop comparing yourself to others

When we compare ourselves to others, we are actually comparing ourselves to what we think others are like. Some people would not admit to the negative aspects of their life.

This can start in childhood, as of course we are compared with each other at school – “Who had the highest marks in the class?” Perhaps parents and relatives want us to perform well in exams art school, and this fuels the anxiety.

As an example, when I was at university, I was envious of a fellow student’s apartment. It was in a great part of town, and she shared her accommodation with interesting people. Only after we both left university did I hear that it was so dark that they had to keep the lights on during the day, and that several nights a week an amateur rock band practiced in the apartment above! She didn’t tell me those facts, so I didn’t have the full picture of what the apartment life was like.

Small wins can keep us motivated. In their article in the Harvard Business Review, Amabile, and Kramer state that

Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. 

Amabile, T. and Kramer, S. (2011). The Power of Small Wins, Harvard Business Review. May 2011

This happens even to the best of us! Amabile, and Kramer describe how James Watson and Francis Crick had plenty of examples of progress and setbacks on their journey to discover the structure of DNA (which won them a Nobel Prize). According to Watson’s memoirs, their progress or lack of it determined how they felt emotionally, describing “dark days of doubt and ebbing motivation” and “morale skyrocketing, and practically living in the lab”.

The best comparison we can make is to chart our progress, e.g., increases in physical activity, progress towards a qualification or mastery of a skill. Noticing these improvements will encourage us to greater effort and better self-image. At the end of each day, why not make a note of what we have achieved towards our goals.

3. Examine core beliefs

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”

Henry Ford

Core beliefs are ideas which we use as a benchmark to judge ourselves and those around us. We see the world, our own behaviour and the behaviour of other people through the ‘lens’ of the core beliefs.  We are generally not aware of them unless we stop and really think about the messages that we are giving ourselves, every day. 

Our self-image can be affected by our belief system. By limiting your beliefs, you limit your potential.

Negative core beliefs can be changed by examining them and testing them in the real world by acting contrary to the core belief (e.g. studying a foreign language even if you have a belief that you are not talented at learning languages). You can then see if  the result is as you anticipated – and it usually is not! This does take some work, but the results are well worth it!

For more information on negative core beliefs and how to change them, please see this blogpost on core beliefs

4. Add value to others

“If your presence doesn’t add value, your absence won’t make a difference.”

Zero Dean

We are social creatures (even people who prefer to be on their own generally value living in a society rather than being isolated). We used to rely on the group for protection from wild animals, and also for food, companionship, etc.

If we focus on improving the life of others, we also have less time to focus on our own problems, and we will also feel better about ourselves too!

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

C.S. Lewis

By doing the “right thing” even if its hard to do, we build a great self-image as we know we are acting with integrity. Other people can see this too.

5. Nobody’s perfect – focus on what you can change

This is linked to #1 – Think about self-talk. We have all made mistakes, but the positive way to react is to think of how we can avoid doing the same thing again, and also how we can improve. If you’re not happy with your performance when e.g. giving a speech, instead of thinking “I’m hopeless – I should never have tried to give a speech” instead think “What do I need to improve? My planning is pretty good, but I need to improve in answering questions from the audience.”

If we are stuck for ideas, we can think of how someone we admire (e.g. a friend or colleague) would deal with the situation

6. Focus on things (and people) that you like

Spending time on tasks that we like helps us stay happy. Of course, boring tasks (e.g. household chores) may need to be done, but we don’t need to focus on them. Scheduling some time every day just for ourselves makes us happier, and can improve our self-image.

It is also worthwhile spending our time with people who generally support us, are positive thinkers and see the bright side of a situation. The perspective that these people have of us will reinforce a healthy self-image. They treat us as a person of worth, and we feel that we are worthy of respect!

There is a phenomenon called the Michelangelo effect, which is when we become more like our ideal self-image when we are with a partner who views us as we would like to be. We “live up” to their expectations. This can also happen with close friends, who will therefore help us become more like our ideal self.


I hope this blogpost has given you some ideas on how we can improve our own self-image. The responsibility to ensure we think highly of ourselves is ours!


If you would like to find out more about my work in helping people with self development please contact me, Lisa Billingham, for an appointment or a free confidential chat.


© Lisa Billingham, 2020

References

Amabile, T. and Kramer, S. (2011). The Power of Small Wins, Harvard Business Review. May 2011, https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-power-of-small-wins

Fritsch, J., Jekauc, D., Elsborg, P., Latinjak, A., Reichert, M. & Hatzigeorgiadis, A. (2020) Self-talk and emotions in tennis players during competitive matches, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2020.1821406

Krauss, S., Orth, U., & Robins, R. W. (2020). Family environment and self-esteem development: A longitudinal study from age 10 to 16. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(2), 457–478. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000263

Oleś P., Brinthaupt T., Dier R., & Polak D. (2020). Types of Inner Dialogues and Functions of Self-Talk: Comparisons and Implications. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 227. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00227

Schwager, S., Wick, K., Glaeser, A., Schoenherr, D., Strauss, B., & Berger, U. (2020). Self-Esteem as a Potential Mediator of the Association Between Social Integration, Mental Well-Being, and Physical Well-Being. Psychological reports123(4), 1160–1175. https://doi.org/10.1177/0033294119849015

Wikipedia. (2020) Michelangelo phenomenon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelangelo_phenomenon

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The top 10 personal reasons why people do not seek therapy

When you start therapy, you want it to succeed. That is why you made the effort to attend therapy, and are willing to discuss how your situation can improve.

Therapists also want therapy to succeed – that is why they work as therapists. It is wonderful to be told by a former client that their issue is now resolved, and they may even provide one or two referrals as well. It’s good for business to help clients succeed.

However, some factors can make it more likely that the therapy may fail, or not succeed as well as it it could. The good news is that they are all within your control.

People seem unwilling to try therapy for the following reasons (there may be more!):-

It involves work!

Therapy involves work both in the session, and after the session in our daily life. It works best when we get involved with the process, thinking and considering the answers to any questions that the therapist asks. These questions can prompt us to uncover aspects that we may not have realised before, or look at events in a different way. The client is the expert in their own life, and the expert in what they want from therapy. The therapist will help as much as they can, but clients are a partner in the process!

Be prepared for homework or tasks between sessions, as therapists often ask you to do this. It could be as simple as listening to a hypnotherapy recording between appointments. There can also be other tasks between appointments, which would have been discussed with your therapist. As an example, if you are seeking help for social anxiety, you might agree with your therapist that you are going to speak to one new person per day until your next appointment.

Related to the point above, we are ideally ready to talk about our feelings and thoughts in therapy. Be honest, and say it like it is, not as we believe we should think and feel. This requires trust in the therapist, and feeling comfortable with them. Many therapists offer a free phone conversation to find out if their approach suits prospective clients, and we can use this to check that we can relate to them and work with them.

Some clients are concerned that hypnotherapy (in particular) may involve re-living past traumas. This is not necessarily the case. Remember, you are in control of what you discuss. There are also several therapy methods which allow clients to be helped without disclosing specific details to the therapist. As therapy progresses, clients can find that unpleasant experiences from the past can become easier to discuss.

“I don’t discuss problems with outsiders”

Many of us were told by our parents that issues are resolved within the family, and not discussed with others. However – what if the problem is within the family, or there are no family members which whom we feel we can discuss the problem? Even if there are family members available to speak to us, such discussions can result in entrenched viewpoints, and cause family rifts.

Therapists are trained to help us find what we want to do in a specific situation, and are impartial and objective. They may suggest some possible alternative views on a situation, but the client decides the final action.

Fear of change

Change can be scary, and fear of change is common. Many people would prefer to live with the known (imperfect) situation of feeling anxious, experiencing phobic reactions, remaining in an unhappy relationship rather than working through changing their relationships and thinking styles.

A good therapist will help you work out what you want, and help you create a plan for change – a roadmap – to get you where you want to be in life. They will also support, encourage, and challenge you when required.

Change is the only constant in life.

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher

As stated above, change will happen whether we choose it or not. By taking control of the change, we can help ensure it is a positive change for us. If there is a chance that you will feel more confident, less sad, and anxious, and more in control of your life will you take it?

Concerned about expense and length of time to achieve goals

Many people are concerned about getting into therapy because they feel it is expensive, or will take a long time to show results. These two factors (cost and time taken) are linked, as if therapy is faster it may well cost less overall.

Of course, therapists have to support themselves and thus do have to charge for their time. However, therapy can be more affordable than many people realise. Several of the major Australian health funds offer cover for hypnotherapy, and some offer considerable payments towards each session. Many therapists offer packages of sessions at a discount, which can make them more affordable. Some therapists also offer discounts for concession card holders.

The time taken to achieve results in therapy can be an artificial psychological barrier as well. Most therapy sessions are at least an hour, and clients may have one session every one or two weeks. However, is this really a lot of time? We have 168 hours in a week (and 336 hours per two weeks). One hour out of this is not very much! To make therapy even more convenient, many therapists (including myself) offer sessions online, which even removes any travelling time to the clinic.

It will almost certainly take more than one hypnotherapy session for the full results to be seen. Typically, hypnotherapy can take up to 6 sessions to show full results (sometimes more, sometimes fewer). However, very importantly,  you should notice a positive change after each session. Be aware of the shiny allure of the ‘single session cure’, and also aware that if an issue has taken years to develop, it will probably take more than an hour to fully resolve.

Potential clients can also think that therapy has to go on for months and months, however this is not necessarily true for hypnotherapy. Dr. Alfred A. Barrios conducted a survey of psychotherapy literature. He discovered that:

  • 93% recovery rate after average of 6 sessions of hypnotherapy
  • 72% recovery rate after average of 22 sessions of behavioural therapy
  • 38% recovery rate after average of 600 sessions of psychoanalysis

So – this study shows that hypnotherapy was the fastest of the therapies studied (6 sessions compared to 22 and 600 sessions), and worked for the most people as well (93% compared to 72% and 38%). When interpreting this, remember that is a study from 1970, so practices in the various therapies will have changed since then.

A bad experience in the past

Many potential clients are ‘put off’ because they had a bad experience with therapy in the past. Therapists are all different (they are people after all!), and there are also multiple therapeutic approaches, even within hypnotherapy (parts therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, regression, etc.).

Just because we have an unsatisfactory experience with a specific therapist in the past does not mean that we will find the same with another therapist. Many therapists offer a free phone conversation where clients can check that they could work well with that person.

Feel there is a stigma surrounding therapy 

There (unfortunately) can still be some stigma around getting help through therapy, and mental illness. Seeking help through therapy does not mean that you have a mental illness. The good news is that as more and more famous people (singers, musicians, politicians, sports personalities) discuss their mental health issues, it is more acceptable to seek help early.

There can be more stigma attached to therapy if the client comes from certain social and cultural groups, but thankfully this is lessening as time goes on.

We may well know someone who has had therapy, but they may not have disclosed this to their friends. Even if no-one in our group of friends or relatives has had therapy, it is possible to connect and find out more by simply searching online. Many blogs are available where people detail the benefits they experienced in therapy.

Its also worth knowing that many therapists turn to therapy to resolve their own personal issues, as we know how helpful it can be in creating a clear vision for the future.

Think it looks weak to have therapy

Another stigma which is thankfully diminishing. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. Emergency personnel (doctors, nurses, firefighters, ambulance personnel, etc.) are offered therapy to overcome stress related to their work, and increasingly this is becoming an accepted part of dealing with traumatic incidents.

I volunteered in the State Emergency Service for ten years, and therapy was also offered to us if we experienced unpleasant incidents, e.g. while searching for missing people.

Strong people can ask for help!

“Medication will work more quickly”

Medications for psychological issues can be very helpful as we know, and if you have been prescribed medication, you should continue taking it under the supervision of your doctor.

However, medications do not work equally well for all people, and sometimes need to be taken for a while before positive effects appear. Drugs can also have side effects, like headache, weight gain or sexual dysfunction.

Compared to this, a study of hypnotherapy in 2018 found hypnotherapy had no serious side effects. Hypnotherapy also trains clients to have more control of how they think, feel and behave in situations. It gives clients more choices – more “tools” in their toolbox if you like. They rely on their new capabilities rather than medication that they need to take regularly.

If a client is taking medication, I encourage them to continue this while we work on giving them the capability and skills to enjoy life. They may then discuss decreasing their medication under the supervision of their doctor when ready to do so.

The relationship that you create with your therapist can allow permanent change to happen for the better.

“I can solve it myself”

If we can solve it ourselves, why is the problem still there? Whatever method we are using to cope or “solve” the problem are probably not working. It could be that we are using methods that worked when we were younger (see blogpost on this topic), but they don’t work anymore.

We might look up answers on the internet. The internet can be a great source of information, but it’s not always easy to know who wrote the information, and if it’s from a reputable source. Anyone can set up a website with an official sounding name, but we have no idea if they know what they are talking about. Some information can be well meaning, but dangerous and misleading.

Other ways of coping (or “solving it”) can involve alcohol and drugs, which can lead to further issues, and more serious problems later on.

“Why should I pay someone to listen to me – I’ve got friends”

Friends can give great advice, and many of us have had issues resolved by a long chat with a friend! Issues with relationships, where our friends know both us and the person involved, can benefit from a second opinion. Our friends also know our positive traits, and may be able to give us more confidence.

Unfortunately, friends are not objective, and may encourage us in doing something not in our best interests – just because they are our friend and want to support us.

Friends may not want to discuss issues multiple times, and may get weary of discussing the issue if they do not think we are taking their advice. This means that we may feel pressured to do something against our better judgement.

Some “friends” may also gossip about what we tell them, causing further relationship problems.

In contrast, a therapist is objective, and may suggest a course of action but will let the client make the final decision. Therapists are prepared for us to discuss the same issue multiple times if it is slow to resolve. And of course, therapists are ethically bound to confidentiality. There are a few common sense exceptions – if they think someone is in danger for instance – but in almost all cases they have to keep their notes (and anything that we tell them) confidential.


Overall, be aware that therapy has an end. The aim is to empower you to act differently in specific situations, realise that you do not need a substance to which you were addicted, change a habit, etc.

The therapist should be able to provide a plan of what will be covered in therapy, and agree with you the point at which therapy will stop. This could be (e.g.) when you can feel confident giving a presentation at work, when you have stopped smoking, when you can sleep through the night, or when you can relax when stressful events happen in your life.


Lisa Billingham is a qualified hypnotherapist and NLP Practitioner. She is an HCA Registered Hypnotherapist and Member of the Australian Hypnotherapists Association. See here for her current work locations. 

If you would like to discuss if a hypnotherapy session could help you, make an appointment, or simply wish to find out more information, please phone or email her on 0403 932311 or sunsetcoasthyp@gmail.com.  All with no obligation.

 

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How to succeed and conquer your inner critic

Most of us are familiar with that inner voice that tells us “I’m not good enough”, “I will fail”, “I haven’t prepared enough”, “I’m no good at that” “They will see through me” “I’m still fat despite following that diet” 

We can be overly critical of ourselves, and most people at some point in their life have experienced such self-doubt. This can be despite success in life. We may be happily married, have raised children, be successful at work or be popular with our friends, but still have that little critical voice nagging at us, causing stress and anxiety.

The little voice in our mind can either spur us on to greater achievements, or demolish our self-confidence. Our inner critic can tell us “You failed the exam because you didn’t study enough”, and this can make us determined to study and pass the exam the next time, and thus lead to success. Alternatively, if we are walking up to the stage to deliver a presentation, and the inner critic tells us “You haven’t prepared enough, they’re going to ask questions you can’t answer, they will see through you”, we will likely perform poorly.

That negative inner talk (whether it spurs us on to greater effort, or convinces us that we are going to fail) can become a self-fulfilling prophecy!

What is an inner critic?

Each of us has an inner critic, which is only too happy to tell us where we have gone wrong, or when it thinks we will fail.

If we listen to how it sounds and the words that it uses, it may sound like people from our past – such as caregivers, teachers, other people of influence, and even the society that we live in. We may recognise certain criticisms, phrases, or a tone of voice used by our inner critic which was also used by these people from our past.

The inner critic originates from experiences with people from our early life. As we get older, we unconsciously accept or internalise how these people speak of us, what they believe us to be capable of, and how they treat us.  Our inner critic can also pick up on how other people in our group (family, race, religion, etc.) are treated by individuals and society in general, and we can find that these statements are also played back by the inner critic. 

Usually the inner critic is continually gathering evidence to back up the negative messages that we initially received about our personal worth and abilities. It can make us notice the negatives in situations, as this backs up the original negative comments from our earlier life.

However, the good news is that we can use the inner critic to help us improve. We can think of our inner critic as a misguided advisor who is trying to help us improve and protect us. It has good intentions, but often comes from a position of fear – fear of failure, fear of making a fool of ourselves, fear of being hurt, fear of being anxious or stressed. The inner critic can help by pointing us towards areas where we may want to improve.

But to do this we need to tame the inner critic, change our relationship with it, and not automatically believe what it says.

How to make use of your inner critic

It doesn’t matter what our previous relationship has been like with our inner critic – this can be changed.

1. Develop an awareness of your thoughts 

Thoughts can be fleeting, but we can practice becoming aware of what we are thinking. Catch the negative inner critic as well as the more positive thoughts. It’s useful to note when and where our inner critic is most active, as well as the type of thoughts and emotions that it produces. For instance, it may be most active when we are “on show” – at a party, giving a presentation, talking to the in-laws, and create negative thoughts and stressful emotions.

Be aware that what our inner critic is telling us is not necessarily our own viewpoint. It is likely to be coming from what people in authority (caregivers, parents, teachers, society etc.) said to us when we were younger. 

One way to highlight the difference between our thoughts, and what is coming from our inner critic is to use “You” rather than “I”. For example, a thought like “I’m not good enough” can be changed to “You’re not good enough.” When we do this, we may even remember who said this to us. This will help us identify the source, and realise that these are not our own thoughts – they came from someone else, someone in authority when we were younger. 

The inner critic also tends to talk in specific ways – using absolutes such as “always”, “should”, “have to”, “must”, “never”. It can also speak in the past tense – “I should have”, “I’ve never been able to”, etc. These are clues that it is the inner critic talking, not us speaking.

2. Replace inner critic talk with more accurate statements 

It is possible to change the critical inner talk to more realistic, positive statements. (We don’t need to change it to overly positive statements).

As an example, if “ Betty” finds herself thinking “I never do well at interviews”, she can change it to the second-person “You never do well at interviews” as explained above. Then she examines the statement for truthfulness and balance. It’s likely that she performs well at some interviews, or performs well at specific parts of the interview. As an example she could say to herself “I do well in interviews when talking about technical problems I’ve solved at work, but need to brush up on explaining my management skills”. If she finds she is thinking the old (critical) thought in the future, she can replace it with the new, balanced statement.

This may take some time and effort initially, but if we make a habit of challenging the old inner critic statements, we should find that it gets easier to recognise the critical statements, and that we feel more positive. We may still find some skills and abilities that we need to improve, but the list of these will be realistic and based on what we really think, not what our inner critic tells us. We are likely to feel less stressed and anxious, plus more positive and confident.

A helpful tip is to write down the statement from our inner critic, and also write down the evidence “for” and “against” the statement so we can look at objectively. We may well find that the original critical statement is partly or completely wrong!

Another tip is to treat ourselves as we would treat a friend. If a friend felt that their business presentation did not go well, we wouldn’t say “You’re hopeless at presenting. Everyone was laughing at you because you looked so awkward”. But these are the things we can say to ourselves!

Talking to a friend in that situation, we might say “You looked really professional, and dealt with the questions really well. Perhaps just brush up on your timing for next time”. We can talk to ourselves in the same kind and encouraging way.

3. Make a list of personal positive qualities  

Make a list of personal positive qualities. Some people do not realise that they have any positive qualities, but they most certainly do. If we cannot think of positive qualities, think of what friends say about you. We may know that we are good at certain things. We can also take note of positive feedback (e.g. at work or socially). We can even keep a gratitude journal, agreeing with ourself that we will note three positive things each day. This counteracts the inner critic, and gives us more ways to refute what the inner critic may “tell us”. The inner critic will always be there, but we can disagree with it, and not just accept what it tells us.

4. Decide what we want to do 

Realise that we do not have to follow our inner critic. We can consider what it is telling us, and may find that we can learn from it. If it tells “Betty” “I am a hopeless cook”, then she can consider if she needs to improve a specific area of her cooking skills. She may then decide that she wants to learn how to bake cakes, or cook Chinese food by attending night-school (or just reading a cookery book).

It is also very important to be compassionate towards ourselves. The inner critic’s voice comes from when we were younger, and less powerful. Consider what the younger “you” might have needed – such as encouragement, love, acceptance. We can show these qualities in our interactions with ourselves. Accept that we are trying our best, and encourage ourselves to improve in what we want. Show ourselves self-love and compassion. 

5. Stop ruminating about the past 

It’s tempting to beat ourselves up about mistakes. If we make a mistake it’s easy to keep replaying it, thinking how much we messed up. This only makes us feel worse, and knocks our self confidence. 

This is very different from calmly thinking how we could do better next time, or how we can correct the mistake! Once we have learnt what we can from the past situation, and worked out how to improve, rumination is not helpful. This is when we can show ourselves compassion and love by accepting ourselves as not perfect, but still worthy of love and respect. 

Balance self-acceptance with self-improvement and self-confidence.


Our inner critic can spur us on to improve many areas of our life, but if we let it get out of control its negative and unrealistic comments can damage our self-confidence, performance and esteem. 

By using the ideas in this blogpost, we can tame our inner critic so that it works for us, and works to our advantage.

If you would like some help in taming your inner critical voice, please contact me, Lisa Billingham, for an appointment or a free confidential chat on how I can assist you.

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How to help Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

People who experience Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) know the type of inner dialogue it creates:

“Did I turn off the iron?” “Yes, I think I did” “I’d better go back and check again” “I don’t want ‘that horrible thing‘ to happen, and if I check 10 times, then I’ll be safe” Checking multiple times and then walking away but… “Did I really turn it off?” She goes back to check, and checks another 10 times before she can walk away again….She is now thinking “I really have to leave NOW to get to my appointment…but I’d better check again” ……and just as she gets to the front door, she thinks “I’d better check one more time – I can’t see that the switch is off from here…” and so she gets more and more anxious about being late, but the anxiety drives her to check again and again….getting into a vicious circle of anxiety, and checking, checking, checking….

“Betty” – a former client

The great news is that OCD can be helped by cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnotherapy. It may not be completely resolved, but that annoying OCD pest can be minimised and “put in its place” so it has a much smaller effect on our lives.

OCD is an anxiety disorder, and affects more than 500,000 people in Australia. It usually develops in late childhood or early teenage years and without proper treatment can become a chronic condition (1).

Most of us have occasionally had to double-check that something was locked or turned off, but OCD can involve obsessive – almost superstitious – thoughts that something terrible will happen unless we do / repeat certain activities. In time, the OCD may encourage us to repeat the compulsions more and more (i.e. check 20 times instead of 10 times).

As the name suggests, there are 2 kinds of symptoms:

  • obsessions – an unwanted thought, image or urge that repeatedly comes into the mind, and creates anxiety that something terrible will happen
  • compulsions – repetitive behaviours or rituals, that are difficult or impossible to resist doing, which are carried out to reduce the resulting anxiety (1). These can be hand washing, repeated checking that something is switched off or locked, hoarding things that we don’t need, doing tasks in a certain order or arranging items in a specific order.

The compulsive activities bring temporary relief from the obsessive thoughts and anxiety that something terrible will happen, but need to be repeated to guard against these terrible things from happening. Many people resent what OCD does to their lives, and find that it gets worse at times of stress, and then sometimes decreases, to flare up when they are under stress again.

Hypnotherapy and iCBT for OCD

Hypnotherapy for OCD targets the underlying fear that drives the compulsive behaviour.

But why use hypnotherapy and integrated cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT) to help with OCD?

1. OCD puts us in a trance

Hypnosis involves a narrowing of attention and absorption with a specific idea. There is also “time distortion” – time seeming to disappear very quickly (e.g. 20 minutes seems like 3 minutes).

This may seem very familiar to those of us bothered by the OCD pest. Many of my clients state that while they are doing the “compulsion” part of OCD (doing an activity, or checking & arranging items), that they are totally focussed on it, and time seems to fly past.

Treating OCD with hypnotherapy breaks the OCD trance

2. Hypnosis targets the subconscious mind

The obsessive feelings and imagined events, plus the compulsive rituals in OCD are in the subconscious mind, and the great news is that hypnotherapy can enable you to change these to something that better suits your life.

The subconscious mind is always working to protect us – in this case from the imagined terrible consequences of NOT doing the compulsive activity – but it does this from the perspective of a young child. By involving the subconscious, and communicating in a way that it understands, the obsessions and compulsions of OCD can be helped.

3. Therapy targets the conscious mind too

Specific worries, and other negative thoughts can exist in the conscious mind. These can be discussed and examined during therapy to see if there is any evidence to back them up (hint: there generally isn’t any evidence!).

iCBT involves discussion of the link between triggering events (such as coming into the house from outside), feelings (I’m unclean), and thoughts (I must repeatedly wash my hands and arms), and behaviours (compulsive hand and arm washing). iCBT enables clients to choose different thoughts and feelings in response to the trigger, and thus decrease the obsessive and compulsive activity.

I can also ask you to do set activities between sessions.  One of these is to do the obsessive activity, but very deliberately and while concentrating on what is happening. To use the example of Betty re-checking that her iron is switched off, she would have done the checking and rechecking while being increasingly anxious, while in a “worry trance” as described above, and probably not remembering or concentrating on what she was doing. When she concentrates on checking that the iron is switched off, she will remember doing this due to the concentration, and thus may eventually be able to check only once or twice before moving on to other activities (such as leaving for her appointment).

4. Hypnosis decreases fear, anxiety, and stress

Hypnosis and hypnotherapy are used to decrease many types of anxiety and stress (about exams, work, public speaking, etc.).

It can be used to decrease the anxiety and fear that stems from the perception of danger (or something terrible happening) if the compulsions are not done.

Once the fear and anxiety are removed, the obsessions and compulsive behaviour stops, as there is no need to continue.  

Stress can exacerbate OCD, so hypnotherapy can also be used to decrease this, meaning that the OCD does not interfere with normal life.

Clients can be guided to imagine just doing an activity once (e.g. checking if something is switched off, washing hands when dirty). Normally this would create anxiety and fear, but they can imagine this easily while remaining calm while in a state of focus and deep relaxation in hypnosis. They can then practice this in reality (without the fear and anxiety) and realise that the feared terrible events do not occur.

5. Hypnosis helps with underlying core beliefs

Hypnotherapy can also help with any unhelpful underlying core beliefs, e.g. “I’m not good enough” (which translates to “I can’t be trusted to know the iron is switched off”, and thus repeated checks have to be done on the iron), or “I will infect my family with germs” (which means that I must wash my hands and arms repeatedly – e.g. 20 times – every time I enter the house from outside).

These core beliefs may originate from an event (or series of events) in our lives. Using hypnotherapy, clients can examine these events, which could have happened while a child or even in adulthood. When reviewed from an older and wiser perspective, they are seen differently, and the unhelpful belief can often change or disappear.

Will it work for me?

As therapy depends on both client and therapist, I cannot guarantee results. You may be able to get rid of ‘the OCD pest’ completely, but you may also find that OCD does not completely disappear but you can keep it under much better control.

Targeting the underlying fear and anxiety – and any stress in life – is a proven way to help OCD, and I have had great results with this using hypnotherapy.


If you have OCD, you know that it can interfere with your life at home and at work.

Confidential help is available. I am very happy to assist you improve your life, and enable yourself to enjoy daily activities.

Call me – Lisa – for a confidential, obligation-free chat on 0403 932311 today, or send an email to lisa@sunsetcoasthypnotherapy.com.au.  I’ll answer any questions that you may have, and when you are ready we can book a session and get you on the path to greater enjoyment in life and mastering OCD.


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What’s good about stopping Fast Food?

This is the last post in this short series on fast food. If you’d like to read the other posts, they are available as follows:- post 1, post 2, and post 3.

In the last blogpost, we covered how to use our organisational skills to help decrease (or stop) consumption of fast food.

(“Fast food” is not just what we buy in fast food restaurants. Fast foods include processed foods such as chips, lollies, breakfast cereals, white flour, baked goods, and other high-calorie, low-nutrient foods that people often eat multiple times per day.)

These fast foods have certain characteristics: they are quickly and easily available; they are ready to go right into your mouth. You can eat them rapidly and they’re absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream. (Although such foods as fruit and vegetables could fit the above description, they are not pre-processed.)

Processed fast foods typically contain multiple chemicals and synthetic ingredients. They are calorically dense, highly flavored, and nutritionally barren. Fast foods typically contain extra sugar, artificial sweeteners, salt, colouring agents, and other potentially disease promoting chemicals (1).

Remember that oils are also processed foods, even though we are encouraged to consume polyunsaturated fat. When consumed, oil enters the bloodstream rapidly similar to refined carbohydrates. Anything cooked in oil should be considered a fast food. Beans, nuts, and seeds are whole foods whose calories are absorbed gradually over hours. Calories from oil are absorbed rapidly, and are largely empty calories with insignificant micronutrients and no fibre (1).

If you set up a buffet dinner and asked 50% of the guests to consume a tablespoon of soya, maize or sunflower oil before their meal, and the other 50% of guests to consume an apple prior to their buffet, those who ate the 65-calorie apple will generally eat 65 less calories from the buffet. But those who had the 120-calorie tablespoon of vegetable oil will not usually consume 120 calories less. The oil contains nothing to decrease the appetite control. Vegetable oil may even increase appetite. When added or mixed into food, a 2012 study found that vegetable oil encouraged overeating behaviour (7).

In this post, we’ll look at all the good things that happen when we cut out fast food! If you’ve been putting the tips into action, these positive changes could have already started…

1) Weight loss

As previous emails have said, fast food contains a lot of calories. Reducing or cutting out junk food can significantly reduce our calorie intake, which leads to weight loss. If we do not want to lose weight, we can simply eat more of the myriad of healthy foods available in the shops and markets.

2) Better nutrition

Healthy food contains higher levels of vitamins, minerals, good fat, and protein than junk food contains. By decreasing or eliminating fast food, we can consume more healthy food.

3) Reduced health risks

The decrease in weight that most people see from quitting fast foods also helps reverse the risk of any coronary disease, reduces cholesterol, and restores blood sugar levels bringing the risk of type 2 diabetes down (1).

Diets low in fast food contain less saturated and trans fats. These can decrease the risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol and diabetes (1, 2,3).  A 2015 study of over 44 000 deaths demonstrated an almost 40% decrease in cardiovascular related deaths for people eating nuts and seeds regularly (one serving a day). The European PreviMed study, which randomized 7216 individuals to nuts or olive oil as part of a Mediterranean diet showed a 39% decrease in all-cause mortality in the nut eaters.(6)

There is considerable evidence today that heart disease is not only promoted by saturated fat and increased animal products but also by refined carbohydrates, including white rice, white bread, sugar, honey, and agave nectar.(1)

A decrease in sodium decreases the risk of kidney disease and high blood pressure.

More fibre (from substituting fibre-rich foods for fast food) can decrease the risk of constipation and diverticular disease.

Furthermore, refined carbohydrates may not just lead to being overweight and diabetic but also contribute to dementia, mental illness, and cancer. (1) 

Great nutrition also improves the look and texture of our skin. We can glow with health!

There are plenty of other health benefits noted by research conducted over the years (2).

4) Better immune system

Research has shown that eating fast food with too many calories (and the other substances in that diet) may lead to increased inflammation, reduced control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease (4).

By eating a healthy diet we can decrease the chance of this.

5) Improved mood

Recent research found that “there is now over-whelming evidence to support the fact that gut microbes have a major impact on central neurochemistry and behaviour, especially stress related disorders such as depression” (5). Diets low in refined sugars and fat have been shown by this study to help with depression. 

In addition, being health and decreasing the risk of various chronic conditions (as described in the last section) can help with mood. 

6) Better sleep

If we eat foods high in sugar or carbohydrates near bedtime, our blood sugar gets a boost, and we get a burst of energy. This can wake us up. Insulin will bring blood sugar down, and enable us to get to sleep.

However, blood sugar can then drop too low, resulting in release of stress hormones (cortisol, and adrenaline) These correct the blood sugar back to the normal levels, but may also cause us to wake up again.

By avoiding high sugar foods, we avoid this cycle and can have a better night’s sleep.

So, by avoiding (or limiting) the fast food that we eat, we can improve our mental and physical health in all of these ways!

© Lisa Billingham, 2020


Are you interested in personalised help with changing your diet? Maybe you feel that you eat too much fast food? 

If you are interested in finding out more about this (or the other help available), please give me (Lisa) a call on 0403 932311. 

We can have a chat to answer any of your questions, and to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you. All with no obligation.


References

  1. Fuhrman J. (2018). The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food. American journal of lifestyle medicine12(5), 375–381. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827618766483
  2. Huzar, T. (2019) What happens when you eat fast food? Medical News Today.  https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324847
  3. Bahadoran, Z., Mirmiran, P., & Azizi, F. (2016). Fast Food Pattern and Cardiometabolic Disorders: A Review of Current Studies. Health promotion perspectives, 5(4), 231–240. https://doi.org/10.15171/hpp.2015.028
  4. Myles I. A. (2014). Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity. Nutrition journal, 13, 61. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-61
  5. Dinan, T.G., Stanton, C., Long-Smith, C., Kennedy, P., Cryan, J.F., Cowan, C.S.M., Cenit, M.C., van der Kamp, J-W., Sanz, Y. (2019). Feeding melancholic microbes: MyNewGut recommendations on diet and mood. Clinical Nutrition, 38 (5), 1995-2001. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2018.11.010
  6. Guasch-Ferré, M., Bulló, M., Martínez-González, M. Á., Ros, E., Corella, D., Estruch, R., Fitó, M., Arós, F., Wärnberg, J., Fiol, M., Lapetra, J., Vinyoles, E., Lamuela-Raventós, R. M., Serra-Majem, L., Pintó, X., Ruiz-Gutiérrez, V., Basora, J., Salas-Salvadó, J., & PREDIMED study group (2013). Frequency of nut consumption and mortality risk in the PREDIMED nutrition intervention trial. BMC medicine11, 164. https://doi.org/10.1186/1741-7015-11-164
  7. The National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) (2012). Vegetable oils promote obesity. Excessive dietary omega-6 may increase our appetite and promote weight gain. http://sciencenordic.com/vegetable-oils-promote-obesity.  
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Mindful hypnotherapy decreases stress

Research conducted at Baylor University, Texas (1) has shown how a combination of mindfulness and hypnotherapy can decrease the effects of stress, and is even quicker than using mindfulness on its own.

I often use a combination of mindfulness, hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other techniques to help clients who are feeling stressed, as I find this works quicker and more effectively than each technique on its own. Clients can also use the techniques privately when needed throughout their day – at work, at home, etc., so no-one else need know that they are feeling stressed.

Mindful hypnotherapy

The researchers at Baylor University, who were from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, called their therapy “mindful hypnotherapy”. They defined this as “an intervention that intentionally uses hypnosis (hypnotic induction and suggestion) to integrate mindfulness for personal and therapeutic benefit” (2).

Mindfulness is defined as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally” (3), whereas hypnosis is defined as “a state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion” (4).

The research team recruited 42 college-age participants with self-reported high stress (via flyers placed around the University). The participants were split randomly into two groups.

Participants in one group were given a weekly 1-hour individual session that included hypnosis, relaxation, and mindfulness. Participants also were given recordings based on that week’s session and asked to listen to it each day, keeping a record of this. The second (control) group did not take part in the intervention.

The Baylor researchers commented that mindfulness can be an effective treatment for stress and anxiety, but treatments are time intensive. Group mindfulness sessions are typically 2 to 2.5 hours long and usually include an all-day retreat as well. They have also not been found to be better than cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The researchers considered that if a shorter mindfulness treatment could be developed to still get results that were equal to or better than existing treatments, it could have advantages for anxiety and stress reduction.

At the end of the study, significant results were obtained for the hypnosis and mindfulness group for decrease in stress and psychological distress. The results for mindfulness and psychological flexibility were equal or better than mindfulness in a non-hypnotic context. There was also an increase in mindfulness and psychological flexibility.  The second (control) group did not show any significant changes.

Most participants were very satisfied (e.g. with the number of sessions, the ease of home practice and the clarity of content). The average participant practiced almost every day, and overall satisfaction with the intervention was 8.9 on a scale of 10.

The researchers stated that limitations for the study included the small number of people studied, and that those studied were mainly female (81%), white (65%), and college-students. They considered future studies could investigate using mindful hypnosis for depression and chronic pain.

© Lisa Billingham, 2020


I hope this has been of some assistance to you. As a hypnotherapist who uses the complete system of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and hypnosis, I can help you realise the power of your subconscious mind to decrease stress and anxiety, and help you create the vision for your future. 

Please feel free to contact me (Lisa) for a chat about your specific circumstances.


References

  1. Olendzki, N., Elkins, G. R., Slonena, E., Hung, J. & Rhodes, J.R. (2020). Mindful Hypnotherapy to Reduce Stress and Increase Mindfulness: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 68(2), p151-166.  https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2020.1722028
  2. Elkins, G. R., & Olendzki, N. (2019). Mindful hypnotherapy: The basics for clinical practice. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company, LLC.
  3. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, NY: Hyperion.
  4. Elkins, G. R., Barabasz, A. F., Council, J. R., & Spiegel, D. (2015). Advancing research and practice: The revised APA Division 30 definition of hypnosis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 63(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2014.961870
  5. Simona Stefan & Daniel David (2020) Mindfulness in Therapy: A Critical Analysis, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 68:2,167-182. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2020.1720514

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Plan the future you want after COVID

This current year has been a challenging time world-wide, mainly due to coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic is still being fought in many countries and areas of the world. Many parts of the world have gotten used to (and perhaps even accepted) a temporary New Normal.

Change is challenging, and I would guess that many of you reading this blogpost have had major change in your life this year. Replacing the ‘status quo’ with new behaviour, new restrictions, perhaps increased concern about health, and the difficulties of doing things that we used to do (e.g. international travel, attending sporting events, hugging and shaking hands) can be unnerving.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”– Marcus Aurelius

In this blogpost I want to concentrate on the positives of this situation. Why not use the changes to say to ourselves – “This is a chance to examine what I’ve been doing, and see if it still fits my purpose – see if I still want to do it.” It’s a chance to let go of things that may be holding us back.

In this blogpost I’ll list some ideas of how we can all embrace – and get the best from – planning for the future while living with the New Normal. (The following headings are based on an article by clinical psychologist Emilita Cornain) (1) :-

1.    Allow yourself to grieve for the ‘Old Normal’

We have not been living the ‘Old Normal’ for many months, and may never return to it. Alternatively, we may have been anticipating a return to the ‘Old Normal’ throughout the coronavirus restrictions, and feel disappointed if it doesn’t happen.

It’s OK to grieve for how we used to live.

We have all suffered various degrees of disruption during this year, and unfortunately some areas of the world (and Australia) are continuing to face major disruption to daily life. You may even find yourself going through the five stages of grief (2) for how life used to be.

During this time, and during other times in my life when I have felt very discouraged, one of the sayings that has supported me is:-

This too shall pass” – Attributed to several sources

A saying which supports us through difficult times, and also ‘grounds’ us when things are going very well.

Change is constant, and we can be sure that the current situation, whatever it is, will not last forever.

However, there is little point in dwelling in the past. By all means, we can examine the past and learn from it, but once we have done this, we can start embracing our current New Normal.

We can even plan for our ‘New New Normal’ which is how we will live when the pandemic has passed, looking towards the future.

 2. Create a new plan

When our normal routine is disrupted, we can use that opportunity to change things for the better. As stated above, we can discard the routines and habits that do not suit us anymore. Perhaps they are things that we enjoyed doing a year ago, and we had fallen into a ‘rut’ or habit and simply kept on doing them. Perhaps they are an unwanted habit such as smoking, or too much drinking.

NO MORE !

Research by Wood, Tam and Witt (2005)(3) has shown that when we change our routines, it is easier to make positive changes to other areas of our lives.

Recently, I have seen many clients who wish to quit smoking, stop nail biting, decrease social drinking, and manage their weight better. These clients are using the disruption to their old routines to enable them to create new habits, as their old habits were linked to activities that they may not do any longer.

A great way to plan what you would like to do is to imagine how you want your life to be. Maybe you would like to be slim, and healthy.

  • What would that mean to you? Would ‘healthy’ mean that you could walk for an hour without getting out of breath? Would ‘slim’ mean that you can wear that pair of classic pants from April 2019?
  • What would you need to do to reach that goal? Perhaps you would need to join a gym or exercise at home. Perhaps you would need to change what you are eating?
  • Which of those activities can be started now?

Much like a road trip, we need a clear picture of where we are going, and we can then plan milestones along the way, and plan how to achieve those milestones.

It is also important that we are making the most of new opportunities, e.g. in Australia the Federal Government is offering heavily subsidised undergraduate and postgraduate certificate courses for people whose jobs have been affected by COVID-19. There are also subsidies for those who cannot work at present, and I understand that this is also happening in other countries.

McDonald and Bushey (5) developed the CHOICES Map. This uses the metaphor of a journey, and it consists of seven conversations designed to help explore the question “Where do I go from here?” CHOICES is an acronym for Culture, Hurdles, Options, Inspiration, Choice of Action, Experimentation and Self-Fulfillment. It requires asking and answering specific questions. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Looking ahead, how might my lifestyle be different after the pandemic? 
  • What expectations for my future do I need to let go of? 
  • What options are available for me in the short term and what is my vision for the long term? 
  • Who are the people I want to be a significant part of my life going forward? 
  • How am I going to foster those relationships? 
  • Does my plan for the future allow me to express something important to me? 
  • How can I add ‘experiments’ (trying out new ideas) to my life now or in the longer term? 
  • What practices do I follow in my daily life to foster self-fulfillment?

If you would like some inspiration for what you wish to achieve, the report by Deutsche Bank (8) could also give some ideas of what life may be like after COVID-19.

3. Write it down / create a journal

We can record our experience of living through this time of coronavirus pandemic. We can include what we do, what we are thinking, what we are planning, and anything else relevant. It will be an interesting record that we (and other people) can look back on once COVID-19 is past.

It is worth recording in our journals all the things that we feel grateful for in this situation. Several friends of mine have admitted that they feel grateful for more time to themselves, and for avoiding the daily commute to work during lockdown. This is part of positive psychology. (7)

Of course, many people have suffered during the pandemic – with loss of jobs, and even illness and loss of life. It is worth also including reflection in our journals, of how we found living through this period, what it may have taught us (e.g. of community spirit, and kindness, and also the importance of looking after our health).

We can also use the journal to plan the changes we are making as a result of examining our ‘old lives’. maybe we would like to start new habits, ditch old habits, stop some activities and start others. Use the journal to plan as well!

4. Stay connected in new ways

In Perth (Australia) where I live, we are still social distancing. Its important to remember that we can still connect. We can still meet people for a meal, or for a coffee. Even if we cannot go out to a coffee shop, we can still have a virtual coffee meeting with friends (where we each make a cup of coffee, and talk using the phone or online teleconferencing such as Zoom, Skype, etc.).

I believe that we need to be pro-active in creating the New Normal. Find a New Normal that works for us, whether it is virtual coffee catchup, exchanging the latest personal news via email or SMS, or (where it is possible) catching up with friends in person while social distancing.

If you are in an area that still requires higher levels of isolation, here are a few ideas. (6)

Using phone or online (Zoom, Skype, etc.):-

  • Catch up with family over lunch
  • Have a progressive dinner party with friends (from the dining room to lounge-room floor then dessert in the laundry)
  • Just chat with friends while gossiping over coffee or wine, playing games
  • Book-club anyone?
  • Get a group fitness challenge going
  • Celebrate birthdays! Or, celebrate just because…
  • Have a virtual theme party

Other ways to socialise

  • Write a letter (take your time, and choose beautiful paper and use a coloured pen. Make a work of art!)
  • Chat over the fence
  • Have a balcony or driveway catchup
  • Do grocery shopping for someone in need
  • Support local businesses (e.g. buy food and drinks from a local cafe, buy clothes from a local shop) and share what you have done after wards via phone, social media, or online teleconference.

As restrictions ease, it will become easier to socialise. Until then, its important to keep in contact with friends and family, for their benefit – but also for our own mental health.

5. Create and find pockets of joy

Another use for our journal!

Make a note of the positive items that happen, or that you notice, during the day. It could be as simple as “the sun is shining”, or “my morning cup of coffee tasted great”.

The idea of noting positive things comes from an approach called ‘positive psychology’ founded by Martin Seligman (7).

Look for three things in a person – intelligence, energy & integrity. If they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two” – Warren Buffet.

Part of this is to concentrate on spending time with positive people who support us. This can be time spent physically with them, or even time spent on the phone, on an online call, or communicating via social media. If we are going through a difficult time, its important to have supporters around us who are positive and upbeat about the situation. It is also important to have people who support us in achieving our plan for the future (see sections 2 and 3 above).

Of course, this doesn’t mean to exclude friends or relatives who are finding it hard to cope with the current situation. They need our help to support their own mental health, and they may need our encouragement to seek out medical assistance as well.

6. Stay informed but not alarmed

We need to keep up to date with news as we adjust to the current New Normal, as well as work towards our ‘New’ New Normal for after the pandemic. To avoid news overload:-

  • Tune into reputable sources such as the recognised news channels. Keep away from the more sensational media outlets (you know who they are!) , and limit exposure to news. Reading or watching the news once or twice per day is probably enough.
  • Place greater emphasis on developments locally rather than globally when estimating your risk of contracting COVID-19. This helps you to be appropriately concerned rather than get caught up in anxiety.
  • Remember the advice – Wash your hands regularly, keep a safe distance from others and keep up with the rules as they change so you know what you can and cannot do. Remember these rules have been very effective at keeping the infection rate low in Australia.

Conclusion

We can use this time to consider what we want in our future, quit habits which do not work for us, and start new habits that we want to help us the future.

On a larger community scale, COVID-19 has highlighted some areas that may need to change – e.g. key vulnerabilities in social safety nets, and benefits such as paid sick leave or good quality healthcare coverage (8).

The pandemic is likely to change us as individuals, families, organisations, and countries. While we are waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to end, we can use this time to our advantage in planning our future life. This will allow us to make improvements in our personal lives, business lives, and as a community.


I hope this has been of some assistance to you. As a hypnotherapist who uses a combination of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and hypnosis, I can help you use the power of your subconscious mind to stop unwanted habits, improve confidence, and help you create the vision for your future.

Please feel free to contact me (Lisa) for a chat about your specific circumstances. You can do this by phoning 0403 932311, or to ensure that I am available at a time convenient for you, booking a phone call in advance.


References

  1. Cornain, E. (4 May 2020) The New Normal: How life has changed due to COVID-19 (and tips to help you cope) https://theskillcollective.com/blog/coronavirus-new-normal
  2. Axelrod, J. (8 July 2020) The 5 stages of loss and grief. https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/
  3. Wood, W., Tam, L., & Witt, M. G. (2005). Changing circumstances, disrupting habits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(6), 918–933. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.88.6.918
  4. Vijaya Manicavasagar After COVID-19, what will ‘normal’ life be like? https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/news/after-covid-19-what-will-normal-life-be-like/
  5. McDonald, G.M. and Bushey, M.L. 7 ways to rebuild your life after COVID-19 https://primewomen.com/second-acts/personal-growth/rebuild-after-covid-19-self-fulfillment/
  6. Anon. (16 April 2020). Staying social whilst social distancing: How to remain connected iso-style. https://theskillcollective.com/blog/coronavirus-social-distancing
  7. Ackerman, C.E. (16 April 2020). What is Positive Psychology & Why is It Important? https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-positive-psychology-definition/
  8. Deutsche Bank Research Konzept – Life after COVID-19 https://www.dbresearch.com/PROD/RPS_EN-PROD/PROD0000000000507960/Konzept_%23_18%3A_Life_after_covid-19.PDF
  9. Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

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How to beat insomnia

Introduction

Most of us have experienced insomnia. The Sleep Health Foundation found almost 60 per cent of people regularly experience at least one sleep symptom (like trouble falling or staying asleep), and 14.8 per cent have symptoms which could result in a diagnosis of clinical insomnia (1).

Current research at Monash University indicates that 46 per cent of respondents so far have experienced poor sleep quality — up from 25 per cent of people just before the pandemic, according to preliminary analysis of the study results (2).

Anxiety is a common cause of sleep problems, and many people are feeling more anxious because of the current COVID-19 situation, as people are concerned about keeping healthy, and avoiding job losses and finance issues. (3)

Some people have even been having ‘corona-nightmares’. They can be due to high stress hormones and increased rumination, which happens when we feel we are under threat, says Dr Cunnington of the Melbourne Sleep Disorders Centre. Luckily, once life starts returning to normal, sleep disturbances should decrease according to Hailey Meaklim, a psychologist and researcher at St Vincent’s Hospital Sleep Centre.(2)

Insomnia is a “sleep disorder” characterized by insufficient sleep quantity or quality. Insomnia can involve difficulty in falling asleep or in maintaining sleep once it is initiated. 

Dr. Ethan Gorenstein, PhD, Associate Professor of Behavioral Medicine (in Psychiatry) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, USA

Insomnia – some causes and reasons

  • ‘Pseudo-insomnia’
    At the present time (when some people are working from home), Dr. Gorenstein (3) makes the point that if people are working from home, they may get up later in the morning. However, they still go to bed at the same time and cannot sleep. This is not really insomnia – they are just going to bed too early.
  • Not prioritizing sleep
    Some people consider time spent sleeping as a waste, and try to make do with the minimum sleep with which they can function. During sleep, the body repairs itself, and the brain sorts through the memories from that day, so sleep is vitally important.
  • Napping
    Taking naps during the day. If we have to take a nap, it’s best to ensure it is before late afternoon, and that the total time for all naps is no more than 30 minutes per day. Otherwise, we will likely sleep less during the night.
  • Poor sleeping environment
    The bedroom should be quiet, well ventilated, and dark. The bed should be warm, but not too warm. Many people find particularly that if their feet are cold, that they cannot get to sleep. The mattress should be comfortable and the correct firmness.
  • Too much caffeine, alcohol, nicotine
    Caffeine (found in e.g. tea, coffee, chocolate) is a stimulant and it is best if we don’t take it close to bedtime. Alcohol can help us get to sleep initially, but we may well wake up later in the night. People who have insomnia should avoid it before going to bed. Nicotine is also a stimulant, and should not be taken near bedtime.
  • Eating and drinking late in the evening
    This can cause a need to visit the bathroom during the night, and thus waking from sleep. It can also cause heartburn and discomfort, which make sleep more difficult.
  • Failing to relax before bedtime
    Use of iPads and other electronic devices which emit blue light, or otherwise being too active just before bedtime can make sleep more difficult.
  • Stress and worry
    Worry about the day’s events, or forthcoming events, can cause insomnia. In 2020, people may also be anxious about COVID-19, and finances. Worry keeps the mind in thinking mode when it should be relaxing and slowing down. There are methods to resolve this involving relaxation and selective attention (see Methods section later in this article)
  • Too much media exposure
    This relates particularly to the current times, as many people like to keep up to date with the latest COVID-19 figures in their country or in their local area. However, too much media consumption can lead to negative anticipation of problems, anxiety and stress about health and finances. While we all need to keep current with the latest situation and health advice, listening or reading news reports once or twice a day is probably sufficient.
  • Medications
    The National Sleep Foundation (4) states that some medications can cause insomnia or make it worse. If this applies to you, please contact your GP or other specialist to check.
  • Various medical conditions can worsen insomnia
    If you have a chronic condition, please seek medical help to ensure that it is not contributing to insomnia.

Health effects of not sleeping

According to the National Health Service in the UK (5), lack of sleep can cause:-

  • Lowered immunity
    People who are deprived of adequate sleep can have a lower immunity then those who are well rested.
  • Weight gain
    People who sleep less than 7 hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who sleep 7 hours.
  • Irritability, depression and anxiety
    Most of us have experienced this! Lack of sleep can make people more irritable. Chronic lack of sleep can contribute to depression and anxiety.
  • Depleted sex drive and decreased fertility
    Lack of sleep can decrease sexual desire, sexual responses, and secretion of reproductive hormones.
  • Increased risk of diabetes, and heart disease
    Studies have shown that chronic lack of sleep changes the way the body processes glucose, which can make diabetes more likely. It can also raise heart rate, cause an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, straining the heart.

Four stages of falling asleep

We all go through four stages as we fall asleep:-

Stage 1 – Thinking
When we get into bed, we can be thinking of the past, or anticipating (worrying?) about the future.

Stage 2 – Fantasy
As we relax, our thoughts turn to imaginings, which can be pleasant, or not so pleasant (worries, etc.). To be effective in transitioning to the next stage, the thoughts need to be pleasant.

Stage 3 – Hypnoidal
People then enter a hypnotic-type state. There is time distortion (losing track of time),

Stage 4 – Unconscious
Unaware of surroundings, and deeply asleep.

People who have difficulty getting to sleep can find it difficult to move down the four stages into sleep for the reasons given earlier in section headed “Insomnia – some causes and reasons”.

As an example, they may be worrying about the past or planning something in the future (staying in the thinking stage). They may alternatively be in pain (unable to move into fantasy stage due to thinking of their pain).

Methods of overcoming these factors and creating restful sleep

The following is a selection of techniques that can be used to help insomnia. There are many more, so feel free to look up the references at the end of this article.

Please note:  if you have any mental illness, please check with your GP or medical specialist before using the techniques marked ***, or any others which you feel may not be appropriate for you.

  • Encourage yourself to enter the ‘fantasy’ stage of sleep ***
    As stated above, many people get stuck in the ‘thinking stage’ of the 4-stage model above. We can fast-forward to the stage 2 – ‘fantasy stage’ by deliberating relaxing our muscles, and letting our thoughts flow lazily from one topic to another – e.g. thinking of yachts can lead to thoughts of the sea, then thoughts of swimming, then imagining swimming, then temperature of the water, etc.
  • Use peripheral vision ***
    When we want to get to sleep, we can start becoming aware of what we can see out of the ‘corners of our eyes’, and imagine that we can see behind us (which starts moving us into the fantasy stage of sleep). Using peripheral vision activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming influence.
  • Worry time and location during the day
    If we find that we worry about the current COVID-19 situation (or anything else) while trying to sleep, we can choose a “worry” time and location during the day and limit our worry to this time. For instance, “I will worry between 1.00 and 1.30pm, while sitting at the table”. If we start worrying at other times (and if there is no immediate need for action), we can tell ourselves to wait until the scheduled time.
    I have covered other ways to decrease anxiety in the blogpost How to look after your mental health post-lockdown.
  • Keep active
    Reasonable activity during the day can assist with sleep, due to physical tiredness.
  • Keep to a regular routine throughout the day
    The Sleep Health Foundation (6) advises that people who are self-isolating should keep to a regular routine during the day so that their body clock gets into a regular rhythm. This includes being in a light environment soon after waking up, having contact with others at a regular time, and having meals at approximately the same time each day.
  • Do not nap too much during the day
    If we nap during the day we are likely to have less sleep at night. As more people are currently working at home, there could be a temptation to nap if they have not had a good night’s sleep. Some sources state that anything longer than a 30 minutes nap during the day may lead to difficulties sleeping at night. Others recommend keeping any naps to before 3.00pm so they don’t interfere with sleep later on. However, people may need to nap if they require concentration during the day and have not slept well (e.g. driving heavy machinery, or responsible for looking after children).
  • Regular sleeping hours
    We are advised to wake up and get out of bed at the same time approximately, even at weekends, and even if we feel we haven’t slept enough. This sets up a pattern for our brain to start to feel tired at the same time each day.
  • Slow down thinking ***
    We can move our thinking to the fantasy stage by imagining our thoughts slowing down. Only dwell on pleasant thoughts – perhaps imagining a future event going well (if we are worried about it), or remembering a pleasant past event.
  • Use a box for your worries
    If we cannot think of a solution during the day, we can use a ‘box’ to keep our worries until morning. We can reassure ourselves that our subconscious will be exploring solutions during the night. We can concentrate on pleasant thoughts while going to sleep, and tell ourselves that we are glad we do not have to worry until morning.
  • Remember / imagine what it is like to be falling asleep ***
    This also involves a degree of fantasy, and pleasant memories, as we find it pleasant to be falling asleep. It also involves concentration, a feature of hypnosis.
  • Practice relaxation – “body scan” ***
    Relax muscles, starting from the toes, and working up to the head, including the muscles in the face. People sometimes need to do this more than once (i.e. toe to head, toe to head,….)
  • Concentrate on breathing ***
    As we need to pass through the hypnoidal stage before getting to sleep, focussing on our breath can help to move us towards this stage, and thus towards sleep. We can concentrate on the sound of our breath, and the feel of the air entering and leaving our lungs (cool breathing in, and warm breathing out).

This list may seem long, but we can choose one change that we feel would work for us, and try it for a week or so. Then try another. Keep a note of which changes help our sleeping. This will help us to discover any trends, and thus activities that help us get to sleep.


I hope this has been of some assistance to you. As a hypnotherapist who uses a combination of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and hypnosis, I can help you use the power of your subconscious mind to increase the quality and amount of sleep.

Please feel free to contact me (Lisa) on 0403 932311 for a chat about your specific circumstances.


Please note: If you feel that your insomnia could be due to an underlying medical condition, or otherwise feel that you should seek medical advice, please see your GP or healthcare provider. This blog post is not a substitute for medical treatment, and is general advice that does not take into account your particular circumstances.

© Lisa Billingham, 2020

References

  1. Sleep Health Foundation. (2019, November 22). Chronic Insomnia Disorder in Australia. https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/news/special-reports/chronic-insomnia-disorder-in-australia.html
  2. Jennings-Edquist, G. (2020, June 2). How to get some sleep during the coronavirus pandemic. ABC Life. https://www.abc.net.au/life/how-to-get-some-sleep-during-coronavirus-crisis/12292174
  3. Columbia University. (2020, May 18). COVID Q&A: Insomnia. https://www.columbiapsychiatry.org/news/covid-q-insomnia
  4. National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). How medications may affect sleep. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-medications-may-affect-sleep
  5. National Health Service, UK. (2018, May 30). Why lack of sleep is bad for your health. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/
  6. Sleep Health Foundation. (2020, February 28). Sleeping tips when staying indoors during isolation period. https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/news/sleep-blog/sleeping-tips-when-staying-indoors-during-isolation-period.htm
  7. Sleep Health Foundation. (2020, March 23). Getting good sleep during the COVID-19 Pandemic https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/getting-good-sleep-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.html
  8. National Health Service, UK. (2019, 4 July). 10 tips to beat insomnia. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/10-tips-to-beat-insomnia/

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How to stop eating fast foods

In the last blogpost, you read that it is not lack of willpower that triggers us to eat fast food. 

Fast food is designed to appeal to our inbuilt brain pathways to trigger over-eating, being over-weight, and cravings. 

You now have the knowledge to avoid the “bliss point” foods, and start improving your health and nutrition.

Today we’ll cover the next part of the healthy eating challenge – tips and hints on how to use psychology to replace fast foods with healthier and more enjoyable alternatives.

1) Break the habit

In his TED talk, Judson Brewer (1) explained that the best way to break the habit of eating fast food is to become aware of the mechanics of the craving. How do you feel just before, or when you crave fast food?

Do you feel down? Bored? Stressed? Annoyed?

Analyse the craving, and think of where it is coming from. You might need to think back to what you have been doing, thinking or feeling just before you had the craving. This analysis allows you to examine the craving from an outside viewpoint, and find other ways to relieve the feeling of being e.g. down, bored, stressed or annoyed.

2) Be aware of bliss-point foods and drinks

Bliss-point foods have been processed, with the levels of fat, sugar and salt carefully set to appeal to our brains’ reward circuits. If you think for a moment about the types of processed and fast foods that make you want to keep eating more of them, you’ll get a list of these foods!

Learn our trigger foods. If we bring a list of them to mind consciously, we can admit that they are our triggers. We know the foods that we have found difficult to resist in the past. We are all experts at denying the effect they have on us, and brushing this effect under the ‘mental carpet’!

With this knowledge, we can:-

  • Avoid them (e.g. don’t go past the fast food shop, or if we do, don’t stop!)
  • Replace them with a healthy snack or meal that is similar but homemade (e.g. oven chips instead of chip shop chips). Substitute natural foods for processed fast foods. Substitute water (with a SMALL amount of fruit juice mixed in if required) for sugary drinks including sports drinks and diet drinks.

3) Be aware of stress

Stress may induce food cravings and influence eating behaviours (2, 3, 4). Women under stress have been shown to eat significantly more calories and experience more cravings than non-stressed women (5, 6). Furthermore, stress raises your blood levels of cortisol, a hormone that can make you gain weight, especially in the belly area (7).

Using this research, we can explore the reason for our stress in a compassionate and understanding way.  

We can also use other ways to manage stress:

  • taking exercise
  • doing yoga or meditation
  • taking some deep breaths
  • talking to a friend about what’s bothering us
  • seeking professional help from an anxiety / stress specialist

4) Change your viewpoint

A study in 2013 (8) showed that when people were trained to use cognitive reappraisal when thinking of fast food, their desire for it decreased. (Cognitive reappraisal is where we alter the meaning of a situation so that our emotional response to the situation is changed). 

They were asked to view the craved food as if:

  • they were already feeling very full
  • they just saw the food item sneezed on (yuk!)
  • they could save the item for later
  • It would have a negative effect on them (stomach-ache, weight gain)

So, we can use these techniques of ‘cognitive reappraisal’ to make fast food less appealing.

6) Mindful – slower – eating

This involves eating food more slowly, and not doing other activities while we are eating. It also involves being more aware of what you are feeling emotionally and physically, and what prompts you to eat (e.g. appearance of food, craving, hunger, depression, boredom).

You may have heard of the experiment in eating a raisin (or grape) mindfully. We first pick up the raisin or grape, and look at its texture and shape. Smell it, and think of what its aroma is like. Then place it on your tongue, but don’t chew it yet. Move it around in your mouth and feel the texture. Start to chew it slowly and concentrate on the taste. As you swallow it, remain still and imagine it moving throughout your body.

Of course, we don’t have to eat all foods as slowly as this, but mindful eating involves focusing solely on the taste and texture of the food you are eating and any sensations you feel in that present moment. Mindfulness is a form of meditation, and increases the levels in our body of the anti-anxiety chemical GABA (9, 10).

So that we can concentrate on the food that we’re eating, we can switch off the TV or radio, and make eating our sole activity at the time. Eating mindfully can help us tune into our internal hunger signals and prevent them from being overridden.

Research has also found that when binge eaters practised mindful eating, it reduced binge eating episodes from 4 to 1.5 per week. It also reduced the severity of each binge (11).

So, we can practice mindful eating, concentrate on eating as our only activity when we are doing it, and pay attention to what, when and how much we’re eating.

7) Learn what we’re really eating 

Once we see what’s actually in the fast food that we are consuming, it can help us see it for what it is – processed food with chemicals added.

Many fast food outlets now provide nutritional information about the food that they sell, either in the shop or on their website.

We can look up what is in our favourite go-to snack, and get an unwelcome surprise. We may see a list including fat, sugar, salt, chemicals, and substances that sound like they have come out of a lab (they have!). 


So, in this post we have learnt that there are plenty of ways we can use our brain (or psychological methods) to avoid or decrease consumption of fast foods.

The next part of the healthy eating challenge will cover tips and hints on how to use physical methods (or what we do) to replace fast foods with healthier and more enjoyable alternatives.

© Lisa Billingham, 2020


Are you interested in a personalised weight loss program? You have the choice of the Virtual Gastric Band program (which runs over 4 sessions) or the in-depth Pathway to a Healthier You (which runs over 8 sessions).

If you would like more help with weight loss, or simply wish to find out more information, please email me (Lisa) on sunsetcoasthyp@gmail.com, or call 0403 932311. I will do my best to answer your questions, and to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you. All with no obligation.


References

  1. Brewer, J. (n.d.). A simple way to break a bad habit. TED Talks. https://embed.ted.com/talks/judson_brewer_a_simple_way_to_break_a_bad_habit
  2. Sinha, R., Gu, P., Hart, R., & Guarnaccia, J. B. (2019). Food craving, cortisol and ghrelin responses in modeling highly palatable snack intake in the laboratory. Physiology & behavior, 208, 112563. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.112563
  3. Hormes, J. M., Orloff, N. C., & Timko, C. A. (2014). Chocolate craving and disordered eating. Beyond the gender divide?. Appetite, 83, 185–193. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2014.08.018
  4. Sinha R. (2018). Role of addiction and stress neurobiology on food intake and obesity. Biological psychology, 131, 5–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2017.05.001
  5. Pacitti, F., Iannitelli, A., Mazza, M., Maraone, A., Zazzara, F., Roselli, V., & Bersani, G. (2011). La versione italiana dell’Attitudes to Chocolate Questionnaire: uno studio di validazione [The Italian version of the Attitudes Chocolate Questionnaire: a validation study]. Rivista di psichiatria, 46(1), 38–43. 
  6. Macedo, D. M., & Diez-Garcia, R. W. (2014). Sweet craving and ghrelin and leptin levels in women during stress. Appetite, 80, 264–270. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2014.05.031
  7. Tomiyama A. J. (2019). Stress and Obesity. Annual review of psychology, 70, 703–718. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-010418-102936
  8. Giuliani, N. R., Calcott, R. D., & Berkman, E. T. (2013). Piece of cake. Cognitive reappraisal of food craving. Appetite, 64, 56–61. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2012.12.020
  9. Krishnakumar, D., Hamblin, M. R., & Lakshmanan, S. (2015). Meditation and Yoga can Modulate Brain Mechanisms that affect Behavior and Anxiety-A Modern Scientific Perspective. Ancient science, 2(1), 13–19. https://doi.org/10.14259/as.v2i1.171
  10. Schnepper, R., Richard, A., Wilhelm, F. H., & Blechert, J. (2019). A combined mindfulness-prolonged chewing intervention reduces body weight, food craving, and emotional eating. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 87(1), 106–111. https://doi.org/10.1037/ccp0000361
  11. Kristeller, J. L., & Hallett, C. B. (1999). An Exploratory Study of a Meditation-based Intervention for Binge Eating Disorder. Journal of health psychology, 4(3), 357–363. https://doi.org/10.1177/135910539900400305
+ Hamburger and chips

Fast Food: Do You Really Need It?

How popular is fast food?

Fast food (and other sugary, fatty food) is popular in Australia and can be a leading cause of weight gain and ill-health. 

Over 9% of Australia adults and 7% of children surveyed in 2017 / 2018 consumed sugary drinks daily (1). These were not specifically from fast food outlets, but the percentage is still very high.

In 2011–12, the adults surveyed were getting 33% to 36% of their daily energy intake from foods high in kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugars, added salt and alcohol (this was between 5 to 7 serves per day on average) (1). Again, this percentage does not only include fast foods – it would also include those bought in supermarkets (frozen burgers, ice-cream, etc.)

Why do we eat fast food?

Did you know that our cravings for junk food / fast food are actually encouraged by food manufacturers? They spend an enormous number of research dollars on this! Fast food and snacks contain fat, sugar, salt and other chemicals to trick our bodies into wanting more and more, and over-riding our “stop” signals.

This effort works well, because more than 50% of people report experiencing cravings on a regular basis (3). These can be cravings for sugar, salt, fat or caffeine and can often result in weight gain, food addiction and binge eating (4).

The good news is: if you are aware of your cravings and triggers, they are much easier to avoid. It’s also a lot easier to eat healthily and lose weight.

But why is fatty, sugary, salty food so appealing to us? It goes back to the way that some manufacturers design processed food. There is a specific combination of salty, sweet and fatty flavours called the “bliss point”. Howard Moskowitz, an American market researcher, first coined this phrase and is one of the best known researchers who specialise in this area (2).

This salt, sugar and fat affects our brain in a similar way to drug addictions by triggering the reward pathways in our brain, and encouraging the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of euphoria, bliss, motivation and pleasure (5, 6, 9). This then encourages us to eat these foods again and again, due to context-dependent memory (7), as our brain remembers what made us feel good, and strives to repeat the experience by eating more of the food providing the “bliss point”, especially if we are feeling unhappy for some reason. 

Studies on rats showed that when fat or sugar was eaten separately, the rats stopped eating when they were full. However when combined in the “bliss point” ratio, the rats ate the fat and sugar containing foods “compulsively”, and   the more they consumed, the more they had to consume to get that same pleasure hit next time (8).

The specific amounts of fat, sugar and salt in foods such as crisps, chips, hot chips and fast food over-ride our natural “stop” signals. It can also include foods which we may not consider salty, fatty or sugary, but are found in fast food outlets – e.g. tomato sauce, dips, and mayonnaise.

The following diagram (6) shows how combining fat and sugar influences the pleasure that we get from eating these types of foods:- 

From: Willner, T. & Moncrieff, F. (2020). Can’t stop eating junk food? Here’s why. Second Nature. https://www.secondnature.io/guides/nutrition/cant-stop-eating-junk-food

As well as being highly engineered to trigger our dopamine response, fast food can also be highly processed and low in other nutrients.

The future

Now that you are aware of this, it can be easier to resist fast food, and save money as well as improving your health.  

So now you know that fast food eaters do not lack willpower! Fast food is using our inbuilt brain pathways to trigger over-eating, and cravings. You now have the knowledge to avoid the “bliss point” foods, and start improving your health and nutrition.

© Lisa Billingham, 2020


Are you interested in a personalised weight loss program? You have the choice of the Virtual Gastric Band program (which runs over 4 sessions) or the in-depth Pathway to a Healthier You (which runs over 8 sessions).

If you would like more help with weight loss, or simply wish to find out more information, please email me (Lisa) on sunsetcoasthyp@gmail.com, or call 0403 932311. I will do my best to answer your questions, and to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you. All with no obligation.


References

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2019). Poor diet. Cat. no. PHE 249. Canberra: AIHW. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/food-nutrition/poor-diet
  2. Moss, M. (2013). The extraordinary science of junk food. New York Times, 24 February. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  3. Gendall, K. A., Joyce, P. R., & Sullivan, P. F. (1997). Impact of definition on prevalence of food cravings in a random sample of young women. Appetite, 28(1), 63–72. https://doi.org/10.1006/appe.1996.0060
  4. Gendall, K. A., Joyce, P. R., Sullivan, P. F., & Bulik, C. M. (1998). Food cravers: characteristics of those who binge. The International journal of eating disorders, 23(4), 353–360. https://doi.org/10.1002/(sici)1098-108x(199805)23:4<353::aid-eat2>3.0.co;2-h
  5. Johnson, P., & Kenny, P. (2010). Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nature Neuroscience 13, 635–641. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.2519
  6. Willner, T. & Moncrieff, F. (2020). Can’t stop eating junk food? Here’s why. Second Nature. https://www.secondnature.io/guides/nutrition/cant-stop-eating-junk-food
  7. Brewer, J. (n.d.). A simple way to break a bad habit. TED Talks. https://embed.ted.com/talks/judson_brewer_a_simple_way_to_break_a_bad_habit
  8. Johnson, P. M., & Kenny, P. J. (2010). Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nature neuroscience, 13(5), 635–641. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.2519
  9. Ahmed, S. H., Guillem, K., & Vandaele, Y. (2013). Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 16(4), 434–439. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e328361c8b8
  10. Featured photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash