Party panic : the nightmare of social anxiety

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Parties are fun, right? It’s true that many people enjoy the idea of a social gathering …. but a surprisingly large number of people find them extremely daunting … and some try to avoid them completely because their social anxiety completely prevents them from enjoying interacting with others in a social situation. What makes it worse is the stigma that anxiety has – sadly, it’s still not really acceptable to admit that you’d rather stay in and read a book than socialize with friends … and the fact that people don’t feel able to be honest is what often keeps the subject of social anxiety a secret.

And here’s the thing … LOTS of people are affected by it! Social situations ARE sometimes awkward and scary! Why? Well, because you’re opening yourself up to new experiences which you’re not sure about, new people who you don’t know and ‘exposing’ yourself to judgement (good or bad). In fact, most people are a bit nervous about going to a party with lots of new people… I know I am. But social anxiety disorder goes beyond that – it’s a real phobia of social interaction which affects between 10-15% of people in the community at any one time … and that is probably the tip of the iceberg because many of those people won’t seek help for it.

So what does social anxiety really feel like and how can you help yourself if you’re a sufferer?

“I don’t think people realise how stressful it is to explain what’s going on in your head when you don’t even understand it yourself”

faceThat kind of sums it up, because it’s not easily defined or categorized. Many people who try to describe their feelings of anxiety, however, use the vocabulary of fear – ‘dread’, ‘terror’, ‘distress’. Imagine what it would be like to experience those sort of emotions on a frequent basis … and you’re some of the way to understanding how anxiety feels. Add physical sensations such as sweating, palpitations, a tightening of the chest …. and you can begin to see how scary anxiety really is.

Often when people are anxious about a situation, they avoid it – this may help in the short term because the scary situation is removed. By avoiding social situations, though, you are not giving yourself the opportunity to have positive social interaction …. You are ‘proving’ to yourself that you’re not capable of facing up to your fears or of having positive social experiences … setting up a negative self-image.

So what can you do to help yourself overcome this?

  • Challenge your unhelpful thoughts – remember thoughts represent YOUR PERCEPTIONS – they are not necessarily representative of life as it really is. You might think that everyone thinks you’re an idiot, for example, but where is the evidence for that? Why would somebody think that? Don’t assume what everybody else is thinking when you simply don’t know – you’re not a mind reader!
  • Try to avoid ‘what if’ questions, focusing on the negative – ‘what if’s are things we have no idea of knowing! ‘What if I have an amazing time?’ is just as valid as ‘What if I have a terrible time?’
  • Give yourself the same advice that you would give to a friend – don’t judge yourself more harshly than you would judge someone else – why use a different criteria for yourself?
  • Try to view events and situations in a balanced and rational way – remind yourself that you’ve confronted fears before and overcome them – you CAN do it again.
  • Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ It may be that you don’t enjoy the party … can you cope with that if it happens? Chances are that you can. Now the best thing – that you have a great time. The opportunity for the positive usually outweighs the small chance of the negative.
  • Lastly, be brave! Once you start to realise that you CAN overcome a fear, that there is the opportunity for positive experiences, the fear subsides.

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Good Luck!

Best wishes,

Judith
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Supporting people with Anxiety

 

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Anxiety is a massive problem for many people. When you feel anxious about everyday life, your world really does reduce in size. It’s difficult to embark on new adventures and experiences, when you are struck down with nerves just at the thought of catching a bus or bumping into someone you know on the street. Many people can actually be afraid of anxiety itself; if you have ever had a panic attack, for example, you will have experienced first-hand that horrible feeling of imminent death or doom, accompanied by physical symptoms which are similar to those of heart attacks. And, if you have been there, chances are you never want to go there again. There’s no doubt that anxiety can be frightening and threatening.

What isn’t mentioned so much, is that anxiety also affects family and friends – who want to help but often just don’t know how to.

The ‘Just snap out of it’ mentality is clearly NOT helpful … so what is?

  • Be a listening ear for your partner or friend. Some people like to share their feelings, others don’t. Being there for someone doesn’t mean badgering them to off load if they don’t want to! But if you make it clear that you are there if they need you, that you won’t judge them and that your opinion of them won’t change … then that is worth so much to someone. Don’t assume that they know they can come to you – spell it out and then leave it up to them.pink
  • Spend quality time with them… just being there, being a friend is often enough.
  • Be available … knowing someone is just a phone call away is a comfort.
  • Encouragrunninge new activities and experiences. Someone with anxiety is more likely to try new things with a trusted friend or partner. Exercise is a great way to alleviate anxiety – and you’re more likely to stick to it if you do it with someone else.
  • Express pride at small steps – emphasise the positive rather than criticising avoidance or irrational fears and behaviours.
  • Never judge.
  • Don’t assume you know what someone needs – offer help and listen to what they want, rather than simply doing what you think they need.
  • Don’t pretend to understand how anxiety or panic attacks feel if you have never experienced them. Being genuine is key to helping someone. In the same way, try not to become frustrated … but, if you do lose your temper one day, it’s not the end of the world if you have an open conversation about how you are feeling too. You’re only human.
  • Encourage treatment but don’t push.
  • Ask for help and support yourself if you need it. There are some great support groups out there for carers and family of people who are facing mental health challenges. You’re a good friend or partner BUT you’re not a nurse – you have needs too. Don’t let your friendship become too one-sided.

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Your help and support is so important to someone with anxiety – just being there, being a friend makes all the difference!

Good luck,

Judith
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Perfection is over-rated … the art of being happy on ‘just good enough’ …

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Any parent with children born in the last 20 years or so will recognise the literary phenomenon (!) that is Horrid Henry and his ‘perfect’ brother Peter. For those readers who don’t, basically Perfect Peter, as he is dubbed, is this amazingly good child who never puts a foot wrong. He is clever, well-behaved, polite and … well, just perfect in every conceivable way possible. Is he the most interesting character in the book? – no; Does he has the most fun? – no; Is he the happiest character? – no; Is he the most likely to suffer from anxiety-related issues? – YES …maintaining perfection is just REALLY hard work!

Because perfectionism is not good for us … perfect’ is an adjective which doesn’t reflect reality, yet it is thrucloudst upon us frequently, inviting us to fail at every turn. Sadly, many of us buy into the allure of the ‘perfect’ and wonder why we feel so much anxiety trying to reach it … and so disappointed with ourselves when we don’t.

 

Targets, objectives, assessments, performance management at work, for example, can all conspire to set parameters for us which can add to pressure and actually be counter-productive. There’s no harm in striving to do well, of course, but often targets are set in an unrealistic way which set people up to fail. Sometimes, it can be a simple as being straight with your boss and saying that you need a bit more time for something. Or just having the strength to say ‘No’ for once. Funnily enough, I left a profession heavily reliant on targets … only to make my own targets for myself in my own business. The difference is that my targets are realistic and, although sometimes challenging, achievable. I also changed my mind-set … ‘failure’ became an opportunity to do something in a different way, a step towards a goal rather than reaching it immediately.

The workplace is just one area where we try to live up to sometimes unrealistic expectations. How many of the women reading this, are working mums …..trying to be the perfect employee AND the perfect mum?? Yes, it’s true that, as women, we can have a great career and a family these days but do we have to be ‘perfect’ at both? Of course not! Do we allow ourselves to shrug it off, dust ourselves down and try again when it all goes tits up? Not as often as we should!

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So how do we fight against the Perfectionism myth and minimise anxiety …?

  • Strive to ‘do your best’ rather than achieve perfection … unless you are super-human, the latter really isn’t achievable on an everyday basis.
  • Be realistic when setting yourself targets or expectations and sometimes have the courage to question the expectations given to you by other people. Work out what is possible … and what isn’t and be prepared to stick to that if necessary. You might surprise yourself by achieving much more – and that’s a wonderful bonus!
  • Try to strike a balance between what you want to achieve and accepting what is – there is still room for ambitious hopes and dreams but everything isn’t black and white and it’s perfectly acceptable to reach a compromise.
  • Break down your targets into small steps – that way you’ll feel that you’re achieving lots of things along the way to your final destination. Rome wasn’t built in a day … good things take time!
  • Most of all, be kind to yourself. You are amazing just the way you are – perfection is way over-rated!!

Good luck!

Judith, Bluebell Therapy

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Panic stations …!

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If you are an anxious person, you may feel that, even in everyday life, you are on constant red-alert to danger – whether that danger is real or imagined. Add another anxious moment on top of that (however small), and sometimes, things can bubble over into a panic attack. I’ve treated lots of people for panic attacks and, in the past, I’ve had a couple myself too. They really ARE scary – your heart is beating ten to the dozen and you may feel that you need to escape. I had a panic attack on a bus once, and before I knew it, I was getting up and running to the front of the bus to get off – without even consciously thinking it through and miles away from my normal stop.

A therapist can help you find the causes of your anxieties (that’s important) but, in the meantime, Grounding or the 54321 approach can help you deal with a panic attack when it happens:

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    • Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
    • Panic attacks can often make you feel like you are disconnected to your surroundings and have lost all control – doing this can help you to gain that connection back and help to distract you too.

Good luck!

Judith, Bluebell Therapy
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How does Hypnotherapy really work?

I’m a counsellor and hypnotherapist and probably do an equal amount of both. However, in terms of curiosity, the focus is firmly on the latter. Just what is hypnotherapy? How does it work? What does it feel like? Does it mean that you lose control? (the sub-text of this: Will you make me cluck like a chicken? !!) ….

So, I’m going to try to cover all bases – but please comment at the end if you have unanswered questions and I’ll do my best to get back to you.

F.A.Qs:

  1. What is hypnotherapy?Hypnotherapy is a type of psychological therapy which utilizes hypnosis. This process alters our state of consciousness in a way that represses the conscious part of the mind while also revealing or stimulating the subconscious part. This part is susceptible to positive suggestion, which can bring about meaningful change to thoughts, feelings and behaviours. A qualified hypnotherapist is able to use suggestion in an appropriate way to facilitate this change.
  2. How does hypnotherapy feel?Hypnotherapy feels really relaxing. Different people, however, report slightly different sensations – clients have described it as ‘floating in my own head’ for example, ‘drifting’ and so on. Whatever, your experience, it’s comfortable and pleasant! Many people also experience time distortion, where a 40 minute session can seem like 5 or 10.
  3. Will I fall asleep?The hypnotic trance is not the same as being asleep. However, you will probably feel detached from everyday life, perhaps in a bit of a bubble. When I’m hypnotized, I’ve sometimes felt like I’m in that ‘space’ between waking and sleeping – completely aware of what is going on but reluctant to emerge back into normal life. It’s a lovely, relaxing feeling – you’ll love it!
  4. Can I be made to do something I don’t want to?You are in control at all times. Stage hypnosis works on the principle that the participants want to engage in extrovert behaviour – you don’t volunteer for a stage show unless you are willing to make a bit of a fool of yourself. In a hypnotherapy session, you cannot be made to do something that you don’t want to. Moreover, the therapeutic relationship is one of trust and you and the therapist will have discussed your goals for treatment in depth.
  5. Can everyone be hypnotized?Everyone can be hypnotized if they want to be – if you go for treatment, you need to be able to relax into it. Clients are sometimes nervous the first time but a good therapist should explain the process to you so that any fears are allayed.
  6. What issues can hypnotherapy be used for?Hypnotherapy is a fantastic type of therapy for lots of different issues including anxiety and stress-related issues, phobias, weight loss, stopping smoking, habit-type behaviours and even pain management. I treat lots of people for anxiety with hypnotherapy and get great results.
  7. How many sessions of hypnotherapy will I need?This is a really difficult question to answer because everyone is different. So, for example, for a habit like nail biting, one person may stop after 1 session while others may take 3. For deep-seated issues such as anxiety, I usually think that 4 is the magic number but again it’s personal and you need to talk to your therapist about it.
  8. How successful is hypnotherapy as a treatment?It’s very successful – I see the positive effects of hypnotherapy regularly and it’s amazing to see people who now feel liberated as a result of treatment. Of course, it’s not a ‘miracle cure’ and you need to work with it – just like any other form of treatment.

There are probably loads more questions that I could cover! If you have a specific one that you would like me to answer, please comment and leave your email address and I’ll get back to you.

Best wishes,

Judith

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Come fly with me..!

It’s that time of year – almost British Summer Time, the occasional ray of sun peeking out from behind the gloom and of course, holiday adverts on the telly! For lots of people, the thought of that week in Spain signifies a bit of excitement, enough to keep them going through the unpredictability of Spring weather in the UK. But for others, it can mean anything from a surge of anxiety to the resignation of yet another holiday in Cornwall. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cornwall … but it’s nice to think that you can dance the tango in Buenos Aires too if you want to!

Flying really is a big issue for many people. It can prey on our vulnerability – anxieties and fears about death, natural disaster, and nowadays, even terrorism … it’s not surprising that it’s one of the most common phobias. And it’s multi-faceted, with elements of claustrophobia, vertigo and agoraphobia – it really is a catch-all phobia!

Sufferers describe the feeling of terror as ‘paralysing’ …. Fear of the process of flying and also anxiety that the fear will take over and cause public loss of control.

So what can you do to help yourself?

  • Tell your travel companions if they don’t already know … they will want to support you. It also means that, if you have a panic attack, you can prep them as to the best things they can do to calm you down and you won’t feel so embarrassed about it.
  • Practice ‘grounding yourself’ – noticing 5 things that you can see, hear, touch, etc in your environment. This can help you if you’re feeling anxious or panicky but focusing on your surroundings can also help you to divert your attention so that you remain calm in the first place.
  • In the same way, engage with those around you – have a chat to your friends and family, acknowledge your anxiety but don’t focus on it, instead re-direct your attentions into something else – activities such as puzzles, reading etc will help you to take your mind off your fears.
  • Try deep breathing, exhaling slowly in a controlled way. A good way to practice this is with some bubble mixture. To be able to blow big bubbles, you need to blow out slowly and gently. I often use bubble mixture to enable young clients to practice their calm breathing but adults can do it too. It’s not silly if it helps and no one sees you practicing at home!
  • Just reciting statistics to someone to ‘prove’ that flying is safe just doesn’t work – if it did, then no one would be fearful of flying. Phobias just don’t work like that. Hypnotherapy, however, is a fantastic way to overcome fear of flying. A therapist will take you through every element of the journey (from booking the holiday to landing!), replacing the fear with feelings of relaxation. It really does work!

In the words of a recent client:

“I can’t thank Judith enough. Every year, we book a holiday because I don’t want to let the family down. I worry for months before we go and while we’re there, I worry about the journey home! This year, I’m looking forward to it. I’m feeling excited about the whole thing and we’re even planning an extra weekend away. I’m no longer limited by my fear and it feels liberating! Thank you”

If you’d like hypnotherapy for your phobia, please contact me at

www.bluebell-therapy.co.uk or call 07599136677.

Happy Holidays!

Judith x

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How to beat exam stress!

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Most of us love the arrival of Spring and Summer …. But for students, whether they’re doing GCSEs, ‘A’ Levels or university exams, the warmer weather can only mean one thing …. Exams!  Nobody likes them, many people hate them and they are the cause of major stress among young people.   And with the ‘testing culture’ ever more entrenched in primary schools too, the pressure is even greater.

So what’s the answer?

Unfortunately exams aren’t going away anytime soon but there ARE things that you can do to make life a bit easier for yourself around exam time.

Here are 8 ways to reduce exam stress:

  1. Plan ahead! You’re never going to cram a couple of years’ worth of notes into your brain the night before the exam – it’s just not possible! The best way to revise is to make yourself a timetable, which sets out when you’re revising each subject and also includes free time, doing stuff that you enjoy. Just like you can’t cram in everything in one night, you also can’t spend every minute of every day working. Balance is the key!
  2. Remember that you are an individual. Work out the best times, places and ways for YOU to revise … your preferences may be completely different from your friend’s – that’s fine as long as it works for YOU!
  3. Keep your energy levels up by eating well.Olympic athletes can’t perform on a can of Coke and a Curly-Wurly …. and you will be doing the brain equivalent of running a marathon, which means you need to be on top form!
  4. Exercise and fresh air really does do you good! A change of scene and a walk round the park or (my personal favourite) a bit of salsa dancing or Zumba really does re-charge your batteries and helps with a healthy dose of perspective …. Exams ARE important but you have a life too!
  5. Yes, you do have time to sleep …! In fact it’s essential if you don’t want to find you’re falling asleep in the middle of a quadratic equation or a history essay.
  6. Talk it through. You may feel that you are alone in feeling stressed about exams but around 700,000 students take their GCSEs every Summer – that represents an awful lot of adrenaline, fear and anxiety. Talking helps – with friends, parents, teachers, school counsellors.
  7. Watch out for symptoms of stress … get to know yourself and your own triggers. Start to watch out for stress-related symptoms in your own body – they may be headaches, tummy aches, breathlessness – everyone is different so you need to learn to know when you’re getting stressed so that you can take some time out and relax.
  8. Treat yourself .. because you deserve it! Do nice things, go out, pamper yourself, acknowledge that exams are hard and you are a superstar for working hard and getting on with it.

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Lastly, remember that worry is not a productive emotion. You CAN do something to help your performance in exams beforehand….but once you’ve taken them, move on and enjoy your Summer. Worrying won’t affect your results one way or the other! And results (good or bad) don’t define who you are …. Good Luck

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Bluebell Therapy are running an exam stress hypnotherapy course after Easter – please see www.bluebell-therapy.co.uk for further details.

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Life is way too short to be afraid of cheese…

Phobias all have one big thing in common – fear. I’m pondering this as I hear a ping, the sound of a text arriving, heralding the date of my next dental check up. Immediately my heart begins racing and, in my head, hundreds of plausible excuses start to crowd in as to why I really can’t make this appointment … I’m at work, I’m picking my daughter up from an activity, I’m on a course, and isn’t there supposed to be a terrible earthquake happening on that day?? (which, bizarrely, wouldn’t even come close, in the fear stakes, to sitting in that BIG, SCARY chair and opening my mouth wide ….)

That was me prior to undergoing some hypnotherapy a few years ago – ironically my fear of dentists led me to tactically ignoring some of those helpful texts … and probably led to a couple of fillings which I wouldn’t have needed otherwise…. because fear is restricting and immobilising, it can stop you doing sensible things (like attending dental appointments), necessary things (plane rides if you need to get somewhere) and even TASTY things, like eating cheese!

My daughter (yes, I’m shamelessly exploiting family for this blog..!) had a phobia about what she described as ‘characters’ for many years – people dressed up as different characters, in sweaty costumes with hugely ill-proportioned heads. This fear, known as masklophobia, is actually quite common – largely because it’s important for us to infer different things from facial expression – and can be anxiety-inducing and even slightly creepy, when that is denied to us. Appealing to the logic is not always helpful with phobias … yes, my daughter could see that a man went into the gents with a duck costume and papier mache head under his arm and then emerged as Donald Duck … it was clear that Donald was actually an ordinary man dressed up ….. BUT, phobias don’t work like that … they transcend the logical, the intellect, they are embedded within our sub-conscious and they don’t take too lightly to being told to go away. They are rooted in a previous experience….. this initial experience is often forgotten but the feelings of terror remain. And terror is not an exaggeration for anyone who actually has a true phobia will know. Because having a phobia isn’t the same as being nervous or anxious – feeling anxiety on starting a new job is a natural response to a new situation (not a phobia of offices!). Feeling petrified and immobile at the sight of a tiny house spider is a phobia … there’s a difference (a bit like the difference between a headache and a blinding migraine!).

So how can hypnotherapy help?

Well hypnotherapy allows the therapist to get right into your sub-conscious and have a root around. Counselling can be great too … but sometimes you really can’t remember that initial experience so it’s difficult to try and ‘unpick it’ simply by talking. Hypnotherapy can use regression whereby we go back to that initial trigger and explore it, putting things into perspective and laying it to rest. I can remember where my dental phobia started – a horrible experience of four teeth taken out under gas, where I can still vividly recall a frightening dream mixed up with a close up of the dentist’s nasal hair and a pair of ‘pliers’ coming towards me. Actually, to get all this in perspective, I needed those teeth out since my mouth was too full, the gas alleviated the pain and I simply had a bad dream. Simply telling me all that never worked but, under hypnosis, amazing things really can happen … your sub-conscious is much more open to suggestion, for example, and the whole episode can be ‘re-framed’ and, in effect, ‘re-lived’ – this time in a relaxed way, therefore removing the fear. This can be done by watching back a memory on a ‘screen’ – removing or reducing its emotional proximity. I was then taken through the whole process of going to the dentist, from receiving the reminder, to entering the waiting room to actually sitting in the chair with my mouth open, all the while feeling relaxed and happy … and that is now how I feel about regular check-ups. I don’t LOVE going to the dentist (it would be weird if I did, right?) but I’m ok with it.
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I wonder what scares you? These are the ten most common phobias:

  • Social Phobia: fear of interacting with other people
  • Agrophobia: fear of public spaces
  • Emetophobia: fear of vomiting
  • Erythrophobia: fear of blushing
  • Driving phobia: fear of driving
  • Hypochrondria: fear of illness
  • Aerophobia: fear of flying
  • Arachnophobia: fear of spiders
  • Zoophobia: fear of animals
  • Claustrophobia: fear of enclosed spaces

And something a little more unusual:

  • Xanthophobia: fear of the colour yellow
  • Turbophobia: fear of cheese
  • Omphalophobia: fear of the naval
  • Papaphobia: fear of the pope
  • And the ultimate modern-day phobia ….Nomophobia: fear of being without mobile phone coverage.

Life is way too short to be afraid of cheese … seek help today!

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Procrastination – the art of keeping up with yesterday!

img1 A couple of days ago I finally got round to doing my tax return. Having put off this dreaded task for a matter of months, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was … and so hugely relieved it was finally done that I could have danced round the living room in mad abandon. Having said all this, there are many other less pressing things that I have managed to fit in whilst covertly avoiding any contact with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate …. I have twiddled about on my facebook page, spent hours re-arranging my book shelves, tidied my desk and even managed to do a spot of decorating … all in the name of procrastination. Done properly, as any expert will tell you, you can even learn to put procrastination off until the very last minute …

On a more serious note, however, real procrastination, like any self-defeating behavior, can become extremely life-limiting and can lead to people experiencing really negative emotions such as guilt, inadequacy, stress and depression.  It’s perfectly normal to have a bit of a ‘blind spot’ to a particular task but it’s not emotionally healthy to procrastinate on a regular basis.

So why do people procrastinate? There are many reasons including:
• Poor time management/organizational skills
• Task overload.
• Anxiety about the task.
• Feeling overwhelmed.
• Low self-esteem and concerns about failure.
• Avoidance of things which you simply don’t like doing.

Emotional issues like low self-esteem are more difficult to overcome than organizational skills and that’s where counsellors and therapists can help …. but there are lots of things that you can do yourself too …

• Focus on your successes to boost your confidence – you really CAN tackle that task, you really ARE up to the job!
• Spend some time thinking about what approach suits you and your personality when tackling tasks… and develop strategies that suit you.
• Remind yourself that, for the most part, the task is to your benefit. A university essay, for example, is all part of the degree that you chose and that will ultimately benefit you. You don’t really HAVE to do it, you CHOSE to do it.
• Break down the task into manageable chunks, which don’t seem so scary on their own … but build up quickly so the job is done!
• Accept that you have to do it and promise yourself a reward on completion.

Perhaps you’re still trying to decide on your New Year Resolutions..? Whatever they may be,good luck and we hope you have a fabulous, fun-filled 2016!

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Happy New Year from Bluebell Therapy!