admin, Author at Embodied Living

There are many reports of people having more frequent and more vivid and unusual dreams during this pandemic. Whilst I personally haven’t seen much of a change (mine are always offbeat), I began to wonder why this increase in COVID dreams might be the case for others.

The main function of dreams

I have always been interested in dreams. However, since studying psychoanalysis during the past year, I have more understanding of the depth that dreams contain. Freud called dreams the ‘royal road to the unconscious’ and said that the main function of dreaming is to keep us asleep.

During a dream, content from our unconscious can be presented in a way that is acceptable or digestible to the more conscious part of our mind. This partly explains why dreams can seem so weird. To ensure this presentability, our mind codes our dreams with symbols and other content is switched to ensure that the dream gets past our internal censor. Remember, the unconscious mind is far from middle class!

Night terrors – when dreams fail

If this process fails, we end up in a night terror and are woken from the dream. This is a sign that our capacity to dream has been overwhelmed by the indigestible stuff from the unconscious. This might partly explain the nature of our COVID dreams.

Creative acts

Freud said “ the function of a dream is fulfilment of a wish to appease a worry. When this works, an anxiety is satisfied, and you can sleep”. This is how dreams keep us asleep. Clever, eh? Today, we have elaborated on this understanding and dreams are seen as creative acts of psychic work to resolve conflicts or challenges, and even come up with something new. As a chemistry student many years ago, I remember being told about Kekule’s dream of a serpent devouring its tail (the ancient alchemical symbol of the ouroborus) which lead to his discovery of the benzene ring.

Understanding our dreams

However, these are not the only reasons to understand our dreams. Dreams are made of darker stuff sometimes, a wish to satisfy an instinct from the darkness of the Id. And our id holds the most ‘terrible’ instincts, even of ‘murderous’ intent. I am talking of the baby’s rage for a withholding breast. On thing is certain though, dreams have very personal meanings and you cannot look them up in a dream dictionary to understand them. Whilst there may be universal symbols at play within them, even these have deeply personal relevance.

Multiple layers of meaning

For example, I recently had an extremely upsetting dream that involved a snake. In part of the dream, the snake was cut into many pieces that were still alive and crawling around the floor. This dream would have different meanings for others, especially with such an ancient symbol of a serpent. However, I own a pet snake which I love dearly, and I have also taken up carving as an art form. One dream has multiple layers of meaning. But one (superficial) meaning of this dream for me, was a wish to not harm my pet whilst I am carving. It was a warning which alleviated this worry.

Why are we having covid dreams?

Overtly it seemed to me that the increase in vivid and strange COVID dreams was because of the trauma of COVID-19 that is around us on a daily basis. The content of dreams is often influenced by our day or recent events on our life – Freud called these top down dreams. Others are more ‘bottom up’ and come direct from the subconscious.

Knowing this explains our covid dreams another way. With less going on in our daily lives, more bottom up material is coming from the depths of our unconscious mind (if it can get past the censor in unusual ways) which is just weirder and more vivid. Freud tells us:

“Every dream that is in the process of formation makes a demand upon the ego for the satisfaction of an instinct, if the dream originates from the id, for a solution of a conflict, the removal of a doubt or the forming of an intention if the dream originates from a residue of preconscious activity from waking life. The sleeping ego is however focused on the wish to remain asleep. It feels this demand as a disturbance and seeks to get rid of it. The ego succeeds in doing this by what appears to be an act of compliance; it meets the demand with what is, in the circumstances, the harmless fulfilment of a wish and so gets rid of it.”

Interpreting dreams

So what chance do we have of making sense of such weirdness? It’s not easy, as you might guess. Despite what the abundance of dream dictionaries and the like seem to tell us. The manifest content is the story we remember and write down or tell our therapist. Yet it is the ‘latent’ content which we need to understand, the hidden message in the dream. By understanding this we have clues to our unconscious conflicts that, in a process like psychotherapy, can greatly aid in our self-development and progress.

To search for the hidden messages, here are a few tips:

  1. Look out for displacement – this is where the emphasis is moved from one item in the dream to another. So that something that seems meaningless is given great focus or there is serious anxiety in something bland
  2. Condensation – the free associations and the links that the dreamer is encouraged to make when thinking about the dream. Or perhaps noticing the play on words in dreams
  3. Secondary revision – how we wrap up the story of the dream (and maybe distort it). I did this with my snake dream (there was more to it).
  4. Symbols (considerations of representability) – this is the visual way metaphor and simile are represented in dreams (a way of by-passing the censor). It is usually an item that represents something completely different. But remember, these are often very individual.

Example dream

Maybe it would help with a recent example from a client. (I have permission, though am keeping all detail anonymous). My client dreamed he was walking down a mountain side. The path was winding and rocky and with big boulders and gaps to navigate precariously. The client found himself with a baby, there were onlookers who seemed to be family and friends and who were not threatening. The client had a dilemma – he wanted to get safely down the mountainside to the base, he wanted to do it for himself but in a way that kept the baby safe. In the dream was distracted by some beautiful pattern in the stones and rocks. The only way he could do it was to hand the baby over to the onlookers, for a moment while he negotiated certain rocks and treacherous parts. But he did not feel he could trust the onlookers with the baby. He wished he could trust them enough to hold the baby for a moment.

Mountain dreams

Overtly the client thought this dream represented a difficult patch in life that he was trying to navigate. But let’s look a bit more deeply, bearing in mind I am no dream expert. The client was going down a mountain, which might represent descent into the work into the unconscious that he was undertaking in therapy. There were onlookers who were friendly. Dreams often reverse things, so this could represent people in his life who he perceives do not have such benign or neutral intent. There was a baby that he was responsible for.

Beginning an interpretation of covid dreams

Notice how the client got more fixated on the beauty or preciousness of the pattern in the stones on the path. This might signify that the baby was something precious to him. What does the baby signify? It might be a symbol. My client is a young man and not yet a father, the baby might symbolise something precious to him. On one level, the baby might represent me, his therapist, and his wish to protect me (he recognised feeling something like this towards me at times, which is not uncommon in the client-therapist transference). I am something ‘precious’ to him and am going on a descent into his unconscious mind with him, he might fear for me of what we might find there.

Freud said that aspects or objects in dreams are aspects of our own mind. Babies are vulnerable but more importantly, dependent. So, given that my client was entering a very important phase in therapy where he was becoming more dependent on a benign caregiver (a vital and delicate part of the therapeutic process), the baby might represent this dependent part of himself. This of course is himself as a baby. And he fears of letting this baby go to others (me the therapist) whom he can’t trust in this crucial and delicate phase.

Play on words

Of course, another layer could be the play on words: in the double bind he experiences in the dream, he is ‘left holding the baby’. Which is a phrase that means “you are put in a situation where you are the sole person responsible for something, often in an unfair way because other people fail or refuse to take responsibility for it”. This might relate to people in his life and general pattern currently and in the past.

Layer upon layer

Remember that there are multiple layers of meaning in a single dream, and we can keep unpacking it. And in addition, the meaning may be different at different times in our life. Then there are traumatic dreams, which are less useful. Rather like the trauma response itself, these dreams repeat and repeat, often in very disturbing ways. This traumatic repetition is an effort to re-experience the trauma so that we can finally take control. However, it often leads to more trauma.

Hopefully this gives you a taste of the power of dreams to help us navigate our problems in life. In psychotherapy dreams can be a useful tool to initiate dialogue with the unreachable unconscious. Through this we can begin to understand the unconscious conflicts and anxieties that disturb our happiness. But there is no one size fits all approach. The therapist needs to do careful and informed work with the client to extract the personal meanings from dreams.

 

More help during COVID-19

Read more about what might help you cope in this pandemic.

What do you do to be less stressed? Before Covid-19, I used to sit around in coffee shops as regularly as possible. I would sit and watch life pass by, think and daydream – and sometimes write. Having thought about why was drawn to do this, I realised it is part of what I call the broad ‘margin’ that I like in my life. To steal a pinch from Thoreau. At its heart, I think it is all about ‘being’. Certainly being less stressed.

Creating margin

So, I ask myself, what do I do now instead to create this kind of margin in my life where I be less stressed? Two things came to mind. During lockdown I found a new hobby. Carving wood. I carve mostly pendants for jewellery and I find it beautifully consuming in a non-thinking way. I have this piece of wood, which I have found (responsibly) storm-fallen in local woods, which I know somewhat intimately. And out of which emerges something miraculous: perhaps an animal, or a symbol.

When I carve, my mind is quiet. Yes, at times the odd difficult thought emerges, but I let it go. The process of being with the natural element, takes me right back to the wood in which I found it. I can smell the trees, hear the sounds of nature and silence around me. Feel engulfed by the wood. I am not stressed in the this place. In walking with no aim in mind in that wood, I sometimes find interesting pieces to work with. In carving, I kind of have an aim, but the carving emerges, and I am not always in control. I enjoy the whole process because I puts me more into a ‘being’ mode than a ‘doing’ mode. This is a less stressful mode.

Too much time doing

I think we spend too much time ‘doing’. In this mode we are active, starting things, under pressure and a bit wired. We are more likely to be stressed. With this in mind, I watched people when I was out and about today. Coming and going, hurrying and queueing. And as I watched them I thought about the yogic concept of the gunas.  I started to notice which guna was predominant in each person. In the West certainly, we have a culture that encourages, rewards, and shapes us for doing. People often have a posture that mirrors a forward moving. go getting, achieving culture: sway back, knees hyperextended, a tense lateral myofascial line that throws the pelvis out of alignment and head hanging forward off the neck.

Existing or being?

People often simply don’t know how to ‘just be’. And their reactions to feeling stressed or overwhelmed is to do more, to keep themselves busy. Almost like if they stopped, they wouldn’t exist anymore. Of course, when they come to therapy, their body and/or their mind have already begun to ‘breakdown’ in some way. So, as I noticed the older lady behind me, who’s impatience I could feel even before she began trying to push in front of me. Or the stressed looks on shoppers faces busily scanning catalogues, or the harassed mum who quickly gulped down her takeaway coffee and was quickly on to the next task at hand. I could see ‘doing’ was written on the somatic structure of peoples’ faces, posture, body.

How can you ‘be’ more?

So I realise that margin and space is so important to me in my life.I can just ‘be’ in that space. So how can you create this type of margin in your own life? Thoreau himself went into the woods. What will you find that works? Let us know by posting in the comments below so that we can all be inspired!

For me this margin IS life. I have space to ‘be’. Of the gunas, Sattvic is light, space, lucidity, harmony. You can’t buy it or earn it by doing more or trying harder. You have to learn to be and let go of some doing and having. Perhaps this is the hardest lesson of all. Animals can be great teachers in this respect. Spend time with a cat, or a dog, or any animal and they will soon start to teach you!

 

Enjoyed reading this? Read more about stress here and happiness here.

The coronavirus crisis is forcing us to face something which human beings excel at avoiding. Death is the biggest taboo of them all and one which we spend a lifetime denying.

Many are writing about trauma during the COVID-19 crisis. We are in the midst of a trauma and that trauma is being triggered by many everyday things now. But I believe that what is even more important in our response to this crisis is our unconscious fear of death.

Read the full article on LifeLabs.

In order to help with the symptoms of trauma we need to think of the trauma response as being an accelerator. I often remind my clients that trauma is something our body does. Our body has floored the accelerator pedal (so to speak) and we have forgotten that we even have a brake.

Trauma as undischarged energy

Trauma is our body’s natural response to an unnatural situation. Think of the tiny mouse who gets pounced on by the cat. Suddenly it is trapped in sharp jaws and knows it might die. A huge surge of energy rushes through its body as accelerator hormones are released that pump blood and expand lung capacity. It is like a nuclear bomb went off inside its body. This energy prepares the mouse to flee at the first opportunity (or fight if this was a larger animal). The moment the cat drops the mouse it runs faster than it ever has to survive. And the energy bomb is dissipated. The ‘hyper-arousal’ of trauma has served its purpose.

Fall asleep

Sometimes something else happens. When released from the jaws of hell, the mouse looks like it is dead. The animal feigns death. This is less well known side of the trauma response – ‘to fall asleep’. Many animals do this as a survival mechanism. It lies on the floor completely dead. The cat walks away. But the moment the mouse senses a millimetre of safety, it springs up and races off. However, if you were to watch closer, for longer, at some point you would see the little creature jerk and throw itself around in a strange sort of way. This is the mouse discharging the energy of the trauma response. This discharge means the mouse can get back to its normal life with no lasting after effects from the nuclear bomb which has just gone off inside of it.

Symptoms of undischarged trauma

Humans are often not so fortunate. Our natural instincts can be interrupted by our logic and our higher mind. Practically, this means that we are often left with the symptoms of undischarged trauma in our bodies that stay with us long after the traumatising event. In fact, they may lie dormant, but only until another trauma event triggers this energy again.

Diagram: (Levine, Ogden, Siegel)

This diagram is commonly used to help us understand heightened brain/body reactions during adversity. The dotted lines show a healthy nervous system. This being one which is able to self-regulate and maintain an arousal level (following a difficult event) that is within manageable or normal levels. When we experience trauma, this can induce a heightened energetic response in our system (as described above) and can mean that our ability to self-regulate is compromised. This is more likely to be the case if we have had earlier trauma, including disruptions in our early attachment needs.

 

 

From Hyper to hypo

This response to trauma pushes us into one of two states, which we will inevitably fluctuate between. Hyperarousal (the ‘stuck on’ position) is where our sympathetic nervous system is in charge and is characterised by an excessive energy response. This will present itself in symptoms of anxiety, panic, fear, hypervigilance and emotional flooding. We may feel rage or anger, restless and hyperactive and it will be difficult to eat, sleep or concentrate.

However, human beings cannot maintain this state for too long. Our system takes over and plunges us into the exhausted state of hypo arousal. This is where the parasympathetic nervous system takes over and in particular the dorsal vagal complex of the vagus nerve. Effectively this is the equivalent of the animal’s ‘feign death’ mode. Here we will feel depressed and tired, have more feelings of negativity and worthlessness, feel disoriented and disconnected. A sense of flatness or numbness will take over and we won’t feel like doing anything, we may also sleep a lot. Indeed we may even feel we don’t have a future. We are, in effect, emotionally dead.

Fluctuating between extremes

Again, our bodies won’t let us stay here too long. So we may be driven to risky (even suicidal) behaviour to feel alive again.

What I often find is that people often find one state more intolerable than the other, and therefore have more of a default position of ‘switched on’ or ‘switched off’. It goes without saying that both of these extremes are confusing and disturbing to us, and to those around us. People say ‘I feel like I am going mad’, they feel messed up and long to be normal. It is a chaotic state. Of course, this layer of shame doesn’t help.

Understanding the energetic response

Nevertheless, understanding the science behind this response helps to understand the disturbing nature of these symptoms. It is vital to learn to build resources in our self that will help us to manage the chaotic nature of undischarged trauma. This will help to protect us (and others) from further harm.

Risky behaviour increases with the trauma response

Without learning how to ‘self-regulate’ we will be at risk from taking actions that somehow help us manage these states but cause us more problems. We may take an overdose if we are so frightened by the thought of carrying on with these symptoms. We may smoke or drink more to help alleviate some of the distress, or become addicted to some other process or substance. These are more risky ways of managing the post-traumatic symptoms that lead to more shame, which will only feed the cycle.

Taking refuge in our self

Our body, and unconscious mind, already have all the resources within them to help us self-regulate the trauma response and find safety. By learning, or being reminded about, the resources we have within we can find and apply the brake on trauma. We can learn when to apply the accelerator and when to use the brake to steer our self into safety.

Applying the brake and the accelerator

Whilst there are different techniques to use for the hyper state and the hypo state, there is one that can work well for either. There is a muscle inside the middle of our body, which attaches to the heart via a central tendon, and also links up with the ventral vagal complex of the vagus nerve. In short, this muscle helps to engage the newest branch of the parasympathetic nervous system – the ‘smart vagus’ – the self-regulation centre. This muscle is the diaphragm, the primary muscle of respiration.

However we cannot just breathe our way out of trauma we have to do it in a very specific way. If we can learn to breathe using the full range (25-30 cm ) of our diaphragm, through our nostrils at a rate of around five breaths a minute (that is a 12 sec breath in and out) we can find a balance point between the brake and the accelerator. For this balance, certainly to begin with, there should be no pauses at the end of the inhalation or exhalation, just a smooth flowing of in-breath into out-breath. Like an undulating wave. It is from here that we can reach coherence and begin to find ‘normal’ again.

A simple practice to achieve coherence and balance

I usually teach my clients to reach this state in a number of steps. But I usually start by teaching them to find and engage with their diaphragm.

The following is a simple practice and the best way to do this:

Listen to a podcast of the practice here.

  1. Lie on the floor on your front with your body in a straight line. (it is important that you lie on a hard surface rather than a bed).
  2. Bend your arms at your elbows and rest your forehead or side of your face on your hands.
  3. Make sure you allow a few moments to get as comfortable as possible here.
  4. Make sure your mouth is closed, lips together, and you are breathing through your nostrils.
  5. Be aware of your body lying on the floor and the contact between your body and the floor.
  6. Become aware of your breathing, and notice your abdomen pushing into the floor as you breathe in. It releases as you breathe out.
  7. Keep your awareness on this feeling of your belly pushing into the floor as you breathe.
  8. After a few minutes, you can start to exaggerate this movement and push your belly even more into the floor by drawing deeper breaths. (if at any point you feel uncomfortable or have dizziness stop for a moment and come back to the practice later).
  9. Continue this practice for as long you can. And repeat every day if possible for a while.

 

Changing default habits

Remember that the trauma response is a habit that our body has gotten into when it is triggered. You can begin to change any pattern if you practice the new resourceful behaviour for a minimum 20 minutes for a minimum of 21 days (I usually say a month, continuously, with Sunday off!). This is like restoring your mobile phone to its factory default settings. You remember to breathe how you were born to breathe. You take the first step at re-connecting with the resources within that are your human heritage as an embodied being.

This article was first published on Counselling Directory.

During a crisis situation, like Covid-19, our tendency to take risks can increase. Trauma can trigger states where risky behaviour has a kind of softening effect on the crisis we are experiencing. Invariably, it can also make us feel more alive. However cheating on our partner only brings us more problems in the long run. So why do we cheat?

Why do we cheat?

I have many people who come to me who are in an extra marital affair currently, or who have had one. And this situation invariably affects self-esteem. Yes the new relationship makes them feel loved and valued. Perhaps because these needs are not being met in the primary relationship. But close on the heels of that pleasure is the cauldron of problems that beleaguers the person. And for some the guilt and shame can be unbearable.

Who cheats?

According the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy (9.8.2013) 57 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women will have an extramarital affair. So, considering the total number of marriages involved at least one partner will have an affair in approximately 80 per cent of all marriages. (stats here: http://www.dearpeggy.com/2-affairs/statistics.html). With this many marriages affected, it’s unreasonable to think affairs are due only to the failures and shortcomings of individual ‘bad’ partners.

Why we cheat

Why do we cheat? It is always because of some need that is not being met in the current relationship. Perhaps your wife is cold and distant and doesn’t want sex anymore? Perhaps your partner is unable to express himself emotionally, or doesn’t do feelings? Or perhaps he is too needy and since the baby has come along, turns elsewhere for attention. We all have needs for connection, for intimacy. As well as for touch and for passion.

Things are different these days. Women in their 40s are doing a lot of the initiation. And divorce is on the rise for couples in their 60s. We change. And sometimes the other does not change so much. So we feel stuck or not understood. We need to be seen by another. We all long to be validated, and recognised on a deep level by another soul. This is especially true if we did not have these needs met in our childhood.

 

Attachment theory

And then there is attachment theory.  It is said that 40-50% of us are insecurely attached. We may be avoidant, with an almost obsessive need for independence as we had to rely on ourselves so much in childhood. Or we were abused physically, emotionally or sexually. Or we may be anxious-ambivalent (preoccupied) in our attachment. This is because we got inconsistent care in childhood. Needless to say, our ‘hope’ for love and care was dashed time and time again, by a mother who was unavailable herself (depressed, alcoholic etc).

So we cope. We are excellent at coping from a very young age, we have an inbuilt survival mechanism. The need for love and being cared for can feel like life or death. This desperate need for intimacy or sexual connection ends up making us fearful (literally) of intimacy or too needy and dependent on it. Both styles, I find, set us up for affairs. Insecure attachment style goes hand in hand with lower self esteem. So, the self esteem was already low, before the affair.

Intention and behaviour

I am not excusing the behaviour in any way. but the ‘intention’ behind it is positive (and to the limbic brain, can feel like life or death): to get the person what they truly, deeply need. This is not a conscious, rational choice (this need) it is wired into the circuits of the right brain, wired so deeply that it can override the superego’s objections to having an affair.

Nevertheless, the judgements of society and culture, pale in comparison to how we judge ourselves. Affairs can shatter marriages. And make the one who strayed, and the one left behind deeply unhappy. So, given that, the behaviour needs changing.

 

Healing the wounds

People need help to heal the underlying wounds in the relationship to change the relationship so needs are met. Surprisingly, 30% or more of marriages with a known affair, do survive. But usually both of them also need help in healing the underlying childhood ‘scars’ that created the impetus. The low self-esteem which is a presenting factor in most, has now usually gotten far worse post-affair thereby setting a sensitivity for more affairs.

Our relationship can survive an affair – with help

But the truly beautiful thing is, that for the bravest of couples, who honestly, authentically, courageously work through all this (themselves, the marriage) this crisis can be the catalyst for changing the relationship. The old stagnant relationship can be changed to one that is unrecognisable from the one that was decimated. It can be a route to individuation, differentiation, growth to self – for both partners. Although I am certainly NOT advocating an affair in the cause of ‘personal growth’. Given that most of us in the West today will have two or three committed relationships in our life, ‘for those daring enough to try, they may find themselves having all of them with the same person.’ (Esther Perel, After the Storm)

Resources: A Passionate Marriage by David Snarch

Resources

  1. More about relationships on our blog
  2. More about David Snarch and how sex inevitably dies in long-term relationships
  3. A wonderful video from Esther Perel

As we cope with the change of Covid-19 we might find our selves in strange states of emotional upheaval. Regulating our emotional arousal levels is a skill we can learn.

You might be coping and working, and perhaps you are even busy. But you might find yourself alternating between anxiety and tiredness, overwhelm and lack of motivation.

Here are some practices to help.

Watch the video on Psychologies LifeLabs

Find other resources to help you cope with a crisis here.

As we enter our eighth week of COVID-19 lockdown, fear is all around us. Not least is the concern about contagion and illness caused in humans by this strand of RNA that we have called coronavirus. Then there is the financial stress and concerns about our mental health during the isolation of the crisis.

We might have anxiety about going out, as lockdown begins to ease. We might not even feel safe in our own homes anymore. Nevertheless, in the midst of trauma we are deprived of the place of true safety. The safety of the present moment and the safety in our own bodies. This is a simple yet powerful technique to begin to break the hold that trauma has on you.

Read the full piece in my article on Psychologies Life Labs.

 

When we are in the throes of our problem, whether that be anxiety or depression or some other disturbance, it can be difficult to see it as something other than a terrible crisis that is afflicting us.

A ‘right brain’ way of seeing

In this respect our very way of seeing the problem perpetuates the problem. Being in the midst of the problem, consumed by it, overwhelmed by the right brain’s subjective negative experience, makes us blind to the real nature of things. This ‘veil’ prevents us from seeing reality. It is what yoga calls ‘maya’; the illusion that there is an objective reality.

Reality is projection

Maya is projection, it leads to partial understanding and wrong or false notions about our self, our identity and our reality.

In the Indian tantric myth of the rishi couple, Shiva and Parvati, who lived in a mountain village, the play of reality and illusion is brought out beautifully when Parvati asks: “the minds of people are full of tension and strife, suffering, pain, anxiety, difficulty … Why is there so much desire and craving in human beings … They constantly desire to acquire something which leads to more agitation and anxiety … Why do human beings get entangled in this vicious cycle?”

Inner disturbance is an expression of energy

According to tantra, this disturbance within each individual is an expression of the state of their energy and their consciousness. In this respect, disturbed mental states are projections of energy and consciousness. There is no reality, each of us lives in our own version of reality, which is largely a projection of our unconscious mind.

The end of an illusion

By understanding this we can begin to see our problems as simply the end of an illusion: a chance to expand consciousness to another level. But, as Jung said; “man will do almost anything to avoid facing his own soul”. When we ignore, deny or repress our spirit (our soul), in our obsessive over-identification with our body and/or our mind, the spirit only breaks through in the form of neuroses and mental disturbance.

Changing your problem

So how can you start to change your ‘problem’?

  1. Firstly, accept that your problem is a ‘gift’, a chance to overcome another level of illusion, an opportunity to learn and grow. Welcome your problem in as a cry from your soul to be heard and understood.
  2. Then recognise that you don’t ‘have’ a problem: you are the problem. This will move you from being at ‘effect’ (blame, victim, martyrdom) to ’cause’ (taking the responsibility to change the only thing you can: you!)
  3. Be brave, authentic and tender in exploring the unchartered territory of your spirit because this journey will only bring you to bliss.

In this respect, psychotherapy is ‘spiritual’ and yoga is psychotherapy, ‘all roads lead to Rome’ so to speak.

This piece was first published on Psychologies Life Labs

Before COVID-19 struck, burnout was on the increase. Carers and people in positions of responsibility are more at risk. A friend of mine recently went on holiday and had to spend 48 hours in A&E because he collapsed with exhaustion. He recently told me, ‘as the MD I am the lifeblood of the business, if I stop, it all stops.’ Do you know anyone like this who needs some help with burnout?

Burnout on the increase

Half a million people in the UK suffer work-related stress and there is a worryingly high number of cases of burnout. Anyone can get it. A stay-at-home mum, a busy business owner, students, middle managers. It is particularly prevalent in the  caring professions. During the coronavirus crisis, it does not have to be inevitable that our frontline carers suffer from burnout. We can be under even extreme pressure and not be at risk.

The first step in getting help with burnout is to be aware of the symptoms of burnout so that you can do something about it before it affects your physical and mental health.

Symptoms

There are three core categories of symptoms in burnout: emotional exhaustion; depersonalisation and reduced personal accomplishment. How do you spot them?

  • Do you feel empty? Like the life has been drained out of you? Are you unmotivated and perk up only when you think about leaving work?
  • Another insidious symptom of burnout is depersonalisation. Perhaps you are finding yourself increasingly cynical or using sarcasm more. Are you experiencing more and more feelings of bitterness or resentment? Perhaps you have just stopped caring?
  • The final symptom that hits the often high-achieving sufferers of burnout hard is reduced personal accomplishment. If the warning signs are left unheeded, burnout will inevitably start to have an adverse effect on your work performance.

The causes of burnout

On the surface these symptoms are similar to depression, but being specific to the context of work is what makes the difference. The causes of burnout can include:

  • Having to work very hard for little or no payoff
  • Pressure to achieve
  • Pessimism (those of a more pessimistic nature (glass half full) can be more prone to burnout in certain circumstances
  • Isolation (think of the pressures of being the boss, or the stay-at-home mum, or the student away from home)
  • Mindless social media consumption. The keyword here is mindless. Have you ever found yourself on social media because you are bored, or out of a compulsion or habit? However, using social media mindfully, with purpose can reverse burnout (things are never black and white!)

What you can do about burnout

Importantly, perhaps it is worth knowing about what you can do to handle burnout symptoms before you collapse from exhaustion:

  • Listen to your body and give it what it loves: exercise, good food, relaxation (avoid alcohol etc)
  • Identify areas in your life that are contributing to burnout. Perhaps it is your workload? Perhaps you have ‘issues’ around control? Do you have enough community and support around you?
  • How good are you at delegating? Rather than talking about giving the less onerous tasks to the nearest ready hand, I am talking here about working on your pattern of ‘I’m the only one who can handle it.’
  • Finally, find ways to actively antidote burnout: take your annual leave and build in time for fun.

 

If you can relate to this article, you might need some help. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not of weakness. And seeking the help of a professional can often be the greatest gift you can give to yourself, and your loved ones!

Resources to help with burnout

Here are some resources to help.

A simple self test if you are worried about yourself or someone you know.

Read more about stress on our blog.

Read more about breathing techniques to help you relax.

Find more resources here.

Conflict anxiety is rife. In my experience, most people have some fear of conflict. In fact, some will go to any length to avoid it.

Why we dislike conflict

In its essence, conflict necessitates that we be seen. If we take a stand to speak up for what we don’t agree with, we risk being seen for what we believe in. Indeed, I think it is a vulnerable place to be. If there is a part of us that says ‘I am not worth it’, it will feel scared in any kind of conflict situation.

Here is an article I recently wrote for Psychologies Mag to help you handle conflict.

Read the full article here.