I've always loved undoing knots. I don't know why, particularly, only that I find it a peculiarly satisfying activity. The other evening, when called upon to assist my husband with a knotted shoelace, followed in quick succession by the knotted string on the top of a bag of logs, it brought the pattern into consciousness.
As a child, I always enjoyed the challenge of undoing knots - my father would pass me things to undo; a necklace of my mother's, perhaps - hopelessly tangled - or a tiny chain destined to become part of something he was making or mending. I remember I once spent a happy evening undoing the fine wire encasing a Chianti bottle, just for the joy of it.
As I thought of these things, it occurred to me that even now in my work as a therapist, this is what I do - I help people to untie the "knots of their own making" as Rainer Maria Rilke called them:
"If we surrendered to earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. Instead, we entangle ourselves in knots of our own making and struggle, lonely and confused..."
Sometimes we just need somebody outside ourselves to help us see the knots are there... and then to help us to disentangle ourselves so that we might, indeed, rise up as our true, congruent self.
What actually is stress? Stress can be defined as a psychological and physiological reaction caused by a perceived lack of resources; it is also the feeling we get when something we care about is under threat, and it is actually our body's way of giving us the ability to do something about that threat. We do not get stressed about something we don’t care about – stress and meaning are, in fact, inextricably linked; our stress is a reflection of our values.
Stress is a part of life. It's vital to us - stress creates motivation and enables us to adapt to deal with new experiences. The more we can adapt our responses, the less rigid we are in our thinking. If we are very rigid in our thoughts and beliefs, so that something "has to" be a certain way, then we will find it stressful if things are not the way we want or expect them to be. The more flexible we can become in our thinking, therefore, the less negative stress we will experience and the more peaceful we will become.
Events or circumstances are not actually stressful in themselves - it is our own personal perception of the event in that moment that makes us feel stressed or not; which is why some people are stressed about certain things (going to the dentist, for example) and others are not. Stress is therefore a subjective response to a given situation. If an individual believes they cannot cope or perceives they have a lack of personal resources, then they will experience a “fight or flight” threat stress response.
When we are regularly living and working in a “fight or flight” state, our ability to cope with day to day life can become compromised and we can end up feeling overwhelmed and reacting badly in our interactions with other people. We react this way because, in that moment, we believe we have no choice in our behaviour; our resources of calm and consideration appear to have deserted us and left us with negative emotions such as anger, fear or overwhelm as our only way of being.
Understanding how our body's stress response can actually assist us to deal with the situation can be very helpful... What if stress is not actually bad for us? What if it is, in fact, a resource in itself? Stress is far more than just “fight or flight” – it is a biologically appropriate response to a given situation. Depending on the ratio of hormones our bodies produce, we actually have a variety of different stress responses, each supporting a different coping strategy.
Our three main stress responses are:
Recent research has indicated that the way we think about stress itself has an impact on our physiology. If we view stress as a completely toxic state, then everything that engenders that state becomes something to be avoided. However, if we choose to accept that there is a connection between stress and meaning, then it can help us change our mindset and increase our self-belief in our ability to cope with the challenges of life.
Instead of believing stress is bad for us, if we believe that it is our body’s way of preparing us for the challenge ahead, this has actually been shown to positively affect the physiology of the stress response; changing a “fight/flight” response into a healthier “challenge” response. In other words, research suggests that stress is only bad for us when we believe it is.
Changing the perception of the stress response from something that is harmful into something that is a positive resource could have profound implications for health and wellbeing. Whilst the everyday stressors may remain, believing the stress response to actually be beneficial to long-term health could potentially create a much reduced incidence of stress-related physical and psychological symptoms.
1. Lipton, B.H., 2008. ‘The Biology of Belief.’ USA: Hay House.
2. McGonigall, K., 2015. ‘The Upside of Stress.’ UK: Penguin Random House.
3. Crum, A.J., Salovey, P., Achor, S., 2013. ‘Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response.’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 716-33.
In our world of fast-developing technology, and the need to stay connected with friends and colleagues through texts, emails and social media, the irony is that in our face-to-face relationships with others we are becoming increasingly disconnected. The need to check messages and emails as they arrive, to scroll through social media just to "catch up with what's going on" means that time spent together is often time spent on phones and tablets, and that means we are not "together" at all. In that distraction, we are not being present with our partner or family.
In my therapy practice, I am seeing increasing numbers of clients who are experiencing "relationship issues" for one reason or another...
Relationships are not about “getting it right”, they are about connecting with another person. The most important aspect of connection is the ability to listen… when was the last time you did that? Really listened, with total presence and with no other distractions at all?
Listening is a skill we all possess; it is a natural, innate ability. However, as we grow and develop, we learn different, adapted ways of listening, which require effort.
What can happen when you just listen…? Listen with no judgement, no effort, and without trying to offer solutions. Even if the other person is in a negative place – what happens if you just be with them, and hold the space, with compassion and empathy…?
Put your phones down, people, and just be present with each other... talk to each other... and, more importantly, listen... it's the biggest gift you can offer.
For any couples who feel they would like to spend some time together to reconnect, you may like to know that I offer a very special course... Because it’s only for one couple at a time, it’s tailored for the individuals concerned, and whatever you want to get out of the day. (You may also like to know that there is absolutely no mobile signal in our training and consultation offices at 'Planet Wykeham'!)
Self-Awareness and Relationships is an experiential workshop-style day, with some bits of NLP – understanding how we think, and how we each do that differently from one another; there are also some bits from other psychotherapeutic modalities too, because the day is all about having fun as well as learning about yourselves and each other within your relationship. It’s designed to be very much a future-oriented day, rather than looking back at whatever has happened in the past – it’s all about developing connection and understanding, and creating your future together.
If you'd like to know more, just give me a call and we can have a chat to see if this is something you'd like to do together.
We have exciting news... As the seasons change, so change is taking place for us, too...
At the beginning of November, we will be moving into our beautiful new training and consultancy offices in Langley House, at Wykeham Business Centre near Scarborough. Whilst we have really enjoyed holding our courses at Wydale Hall, it will be lovely to have the flexibility of our very own space, where we can put down roots and grow. Our new offices also have wheelchair access, which is wonderful for our less mobile clients and students.
We will be arranging an "Open Day" for everyone to pop in and visit us, and maybe share a coffee or a glass of Prosecco... and we'll have more details of that in our November newsletter - if you are not already a subscriber, you can sign up on the website home page.
In the meantime, the first course in our new training room has been arranged for Monday 21st November - Mindfulness and Self-Hypnosis for Personal Change. If you would like to join us for this relaxing day, then full details are on the website. There are only six places, though, so if you would like one then please book quickly! We also have a number of other courses arranged for the winter months; full details are on the SCNLH website.
In the coming months we are hoping to organise some weekly classes in relaxation, as well as Pilates and possibly T'ai Chi - watch this space for more details.
We are really looking forward to welcoming you to our new home!
Last Thursday was haircut day... we have a wonderful, patient lady who, every four weeks, comes to the house for the morning and creates order out of chaos; leaving behind three tidy dogs and an enormous bag of fluff. (The fluff is much appreciated by the local bird population in the spring, for nest-lining purposes... I would imagine that Lhasa fluff in particular must be very cosy - it certainly all disappears very rapidly.)
For Luna, who adores being brushed and loves meeting people, the arrival of Tracy is one of unrestrained joy and excitement. Lily is slightly more circumspect, but happy to hang around as she knows there will be biscuits in the offing... Theo, however, is horrified. After joining Lily in a traditional (and noisy) Schnauzer greeting, he scurries off at high speed in order to find a hiding place where, he hopes, we will be unable to find him until after Tracy has left... under my office desk is his sanctuary of choice. If he can't see us, he reasons, there's no way we'll be able to see him.
Unfortunately for Theo, cowering behind the office chair, we somehow always manage to locate him and lift him, by now shivering piteously, onto the grooming table. Half an hour or so later, when nothing very terrible has happened to him apart from the loss of some fluff amidst lots of cuddles, he's ecstatic to receive his obligatory biscuit from Tracy and run off joyously into the garden, to forget his fears until the next time.
Our worries and stresses are subjective - it depends what we have going on inside our heads as to how we perceive, and therefore how we experience, any given situation. When we are anticipating an event, we will have an internal representation of how we think the event will be. If we are focusing on a positive outcome, then we might feel pleasure, or excitement. But if we are focusing on what might go wrong, we are effectively playing out a scary movie inside our heads, which will result in us feeling stress and anxiety, even though our anticipated scenario may be far from real, or even likely.
So Luna caught a mole yesterday evening… I’ve no idea where she found it, as there are no evident mole hills in the garden, but she was exceptionally pleased with herself. She refused to relinquish her prize in the garden, and carried it triumphantly into the house, where she was eventually persuaded to part with it in exchange for three biscuits – a deal which she subsequently regretted, if her disappointed searching was anything to go by…
The mole was, sadly, deceased by this point and was decently interred under the hedgerow across the lane. Cat families will often be distressingly familiar with this scenario, but with our dogs it is not so frequent (although certainly not unheard of!).
We somehow forget, when we are throwing the fluffy, squeaky toy in a fun game of chase, fetch and throw-in-the-air before chasing again, that in addition to the joyful interaction we are both having, we are also assisting our little hairy friends to hone their hunting skills…
Dogs are natural predators – it is their essential nature to hunt small, squeaky, furry or feathered things. Why should we expect them to be less dog, and more human, just because we choose to share our lives, our homes and our sofas with them?
...and the Canine Members of Staff