Mental Health First Aid during the Pandemic

During this very stressful time in Hong Kong it sometimes feels like we are waiting to exhale, holding our breath, waiting to be able to feel that final relief when we know things will be ok . Whew.

But the pandemic continues and every week there seems to be a new event or policy that can bring on a new wave of anxiety. School holiday rearrangements. War in Ukraine. New covid-19 isolation centres. Vulnerable individuals hospitalised, and dying. People leaving. It seems never-ending. The solution is that we need to learn to live with anxiety, not escape it.

First aid treatments of anxiety during the Pandemic

As when we apply first aid to a physical injury we can apply clear steps to provide first aid to the mental health issue of anxiety. Firstly, we need to assess and monitor the experience of anxiety. Secondly, we need to have immediate solutions to treat anxiety in its most threatening form – when we experience anxiety attacks. Lastly, we need to have an organised treatment plan which reduces the chance of anxiety attacks in future (prevention) and builds the ability to better respond should we encounter an attack in the future.

Monitor and record your anxiety score 2-3 times a day

Step one – measure and monitoring anxiety.

It is important that you gain the ability to monitor your anxiety. It is normal to feel anxious in a time of such uncertainty. Changes in policy, the status of the pandemic, interfere with our feelings of being able to control the outcome of this situation. It is normal to experience some anxiety, some frustration, some sadness when life is disrupted. Whilst it is normal, it still requires a healthy response to protect yourself psychologically. Knowing how you are doing is the first step in figuring out how to respond.

Monitoring your anxiety regularly allows you to recognise if your anxiety is becoming more than you can take on a regular basis. Take three moments during the day to rate your anxiety on a scale of 0 to 10. A score of zero indicates no anxiety. A score of 10 would indicate severe anxiety, with heart palpitations and breathlessness, perhaps requiring hospitalization. A score under five would indicate that you still feel that you can function in performing your daily tasks – being study or work. A score over five would indicate that your anxiety is starting to affect your ability to function.

Record your score a few times a day. Make a record of the maximum score you experienced during the day. Record what you were doing just before, or when that maximum score occurred. We want to use this data to create your personlised diagnostic – noting when and under what conditions you experience the strongest feelings of anxiety, so that we can build a treatment plan just for you.

Step 2 – techniques to provide immediate relief from anxiety.

If you are experiencing anxiety at a level of 7-10 you might like to use some immediate first aid techniques to treat the anxiety in your body. Essentially you want to sooth your body back into a normal automatic breathing pattern. I recommend deep breathing exercises and distraction techniques using the senses, colour or physical activity. These techniques, and others are covered in our blog on emergency responses to anxiety attacks below.

These techniques are sometimes call grounding or self- soothing techniques. They can also be helpful when you are flooded with other strong emotions including sadness and anger.

Step 3: Build a personalised treatment plan to build better responses and prevent anxiety in the future. Every person’s experience of anxiety is unique, but there are many common elements that we can include, or exclude in a treatment plan for your anxiety. You are in the best position to monitor your anxiety. You can use the following information to decide what elements might be best for you to include in a treatment plan. Utilising an external expert, such as a counsellor, will also help you to capture information about historical triggers, and help clarifying activities that help, heal from those which may actually harm you in your recovery from anxiety.

3a) Identifying amplifiers and reducers of anxiety

By monitoring your anxiety, and reviewing your anxiety responses from the past, you can explore some of the activities which amplify your experience of anxiety. RED DOOR recently set up anxiety workshops in response to anxiety people report during the current Covid pandemic (Wave 5). Some of the things that amplify people’s experience of anxiety include excessive scrolling of news, consumption of social media and even (careless) conversations with friends and colleagues. Watch how you feel after reading the news, is your anxiety experience rating increasing or decreasing.

Think about your response to stress and anxiety. What do you do when you see that there are increasing cases, or new restrictions. Do you pass on your anxiety to others – post the bad news on the internet?. Do you want to help? What is your response? Is your response improving your feeling of anxiety, or making it worse? Being mindful of your anxiety will help you identify what escalates those anxious feelings.

It may be tempting to blame your feelings on the actions of others. “My husband makes me anxious”. Own your own feelings. People’s actions are their own. Your feelings are your own.  Whilst people’s actions can be careless, sometimes even hurtful, often our perception and interpretation of those behaviours is what hurts, rather than the actions themselves. Take a look at the section on perspectives later in this document to learn more about cognitive distortions.

Take note of those external triggers that amplify your anxiety and consider to limit them. In our anxiety workshops during the covid pandemic, actively reducing news and social media consumption has helped our participants better manage their anxiety at this time.

In addition to amplifiers, take a moment to think about those moments in the day that you feel most at peace. We are well trained to note when we feel anxious, it takes specific focus to capture yourself feeling calm. It is important to understand what people or activities that are associated with your sense of calmness or reduction of anxiety. For many people a moment in the sunshine, or a brief walk, might bring them some sense of calm. For you it may be when you take hold of a good cup of tea. Make note of these reducing activities. We need to build them into your self-care treatment plan which I will detail later in this article.

Many people respond to crises in various ways. We know about the fight/ flight response, Outflows of families from Hong Kong has been a clear demonstration of a, very natural, desire to flee from perceived danger. Some people choose to stand and fight, either in person or online. We can see that behaviour as well. Others choose to help – look at how they can add support to less fortunate. Others choose to cheer others – inserting humor or other entertainment. All of these responses can exacerbate or decrease your anxiety. Fleeing in response to perceived, rather than real danger, can solidify the anxiety-flee response. Sometimes you need to stand your ground and deal with your anxiety rather than move away. These situations are best discussed with a professional.

Choosing to help is actually a great way to achieve some sense of control at a time of uncertainty. Helping others, and volunteering, is a great for building gratitude, which is one aspect of a healthy anxiety management plan.

3b) Build a checklist.

In the longer term having a list of activities that HELP and HARM you will help you build better protection and prevent anxiety in the future.

Take the amplifiers that you identified from the exercise above, and the activities that reduce your anxiety. Put them into a checklist under the items of HELP and HARM your anxiety.  You want to build a checklist of activities that HELP you and HARM you so that you know what you need to do a daily or weekly basis.

The activities that are detailed below can be added, if you believe they might help you. Once you have a list of HELPing activities, I want you to commit to trying each one once a day or one a week, whichever frequency seems more sensible.

For those behaviours you consider potentially harmful I would recommend that you place a limit on them. For example, you can set limits on social media scrolling, you can manage the amount of times you check the news a day.

There are a set of behaviours which may seem like HELPing behaviours but may, when done to excess, become a HARM. For example, you may want to monitor your consumption of alcohol, recreational drugs, and any form of self-medication. People sometimes things that these activities help them to cope with anxiety, but actually when observed, they may notice that that they actually maintaining anxiety over time, not dissipating it.

You can build a number of items into your checklist. Have a look at our sample, read through the rest of this document, and decide what items you want to utilise to HELP you, and those items you want to start monitoring and limiting which HARM you.

3c) Check your perspective

Accepting your circumstances is, in part, a matter of perspective. Those whom are content are more likely to be able to respond positively to change when it is required, accept that some events are beyond their control and allow situations to be different than their expectations. This is because they can approach challenges with a perspective that is mindful of the extra thoughts that they may have within a situation, or in response to a stimulus, to check what is real from their “interpretation” of events.

Famous psychologist, Albert Ellis, identified a plethora of irrational beliefs that we develop as part of the way we are raised, see the world, and believe about ourselves and other people. These beliefs are filters that, like a pair of glasses, interfere with the way that we see situations. Wearing faulty filters may cause people to engage in self-defeating behaviours such as experiencing self-hatred, jealousy, self-harm, accepting abusive relationships, procrastinating, and anger.

The good news is that it is possible to change your thinking and be happier.

You can stop help yourself and remove some ineffective thinking filters by creating a constructive dispute with yourself. Experiencing faulty filters is quite common, if you discover you have been experiencing faulty filters, you can change the view. By disabling these filters, you are will start responding to what is, not simply your processed interpretation.

An article on many of the cognitive filters we can be susceptible to is attached below. I recommend you take some time to look through all the thinking filters that people often experience and then consider the type of discourse and dispute that you can create within yourself to stop some of the reactions you have.

It is important however to pay attention to three filters which cause particular concern during this time – Catastrophising, Comparing, and Mindreading/Blaming.

Catastrophising.

Catastrophising refers to the faulty thinking filter which we can apply when exploring the future of situations in regard to negative outcomes. This is very common during a pandemic because we don’t know what the outcome will be.

Whilst it is typical to occasionally feel a negative outcome, when we go for medical checks and such, excessive worry is of no help. During the pandemic you don’t need to look much further than social media to see evidence of catastrophic thoughts.

Catastrophic thinking increases your experience of anxiety

If you tend to catastrophise regularly you cause yourself immense distress. Imagining that all situations will end in disaster is exhausting. Worrying that people will die or leave you will not make those situations any easier when they do happen, it just makes you experience the situation, virtually, again and again.

People who catastrophise need to challenge their thinking with more ‘realistic’ thoughts, and remind themselves how many times in the past situations have turned out OK. Often the worry caused by catastrophising may move people to seek out reassurance from others, and this in itself can become a problem. Try to do nothing for a while first. Whilst the anxiety you feel is unpleasant you can work to distract yourself from that experience with anxiety relieving activities. Try to create a disputing dialogue.

Use the “At least” exercise to break catastrophic thought patterns

One specific cure to reset your catastrophic thinking will be to engage the perspective taking exercise of “At least”. Some individuals can become hardwired with a pessimism bias. The pessimism bias refers to the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of negative events while underestimating the likelihood of positive events. This attitude of expecting the worst is a prominently associated with the experience of depression and anxiety and can have considerable ramifications for recovery from these conditions.

If you find you naturally comment on the negative aspects of a situation, consider changing your choice of expressions, if only for a little while. We sometimes forget that when we speak, we are feeding ourselves. This negativity loop can be hard to break. In therapy one way we start to break the process is to encourage clients to start to use the phrase, “At least” when they speak, either attached to their pessimistic dialogue or to help build some sense of gratitude.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Help yourself, and your kids, find it.

This approach may seem like chasing rainbows rather than dealing with the real issues. I would challenge you to consider if your negative viewpoints are honest, comprehensive and useful. Almost every challenge has both difficult and beneficial elements. For example, I work with teens and when it became obvious that school would be online for a protracted period of time, I asked them what they liked about online school They came up with the following things they liked. I did not ask them if they like online school more than in person school. I cannot provide them with in person school when it is not possible. Rather I am helping them see the positive aspects of a situation that can feel beyond their control.

Practicing gratitude to stop catastrophic thought patterns.

Over the longer term, practicing gratitude will help develop a more positive mindset which will help be more practiced in seeking the pleasing elements of your life, leading to a greater sense of satisfaction in general.

Practicing gratitude is associated with a stronger immune system, as well as more positive emotions and happiness. Its easy to be grateful over the big things, a bonus, the birth of a child, and a promotion. The real benefit for individuals in practicing gratitude over the smaller things – a sunny day, a successful cake, a kind gesture from a friend, technology that works without trouble. That is where the magic happens.

Practicing gratitude regularly, either through journaling or keeping a gratitude jar, helps to develop the habit of gratitude. When we practice gratitude regularly, we start to mentally contrast negative news stories and voices around us, looking for the positive element rather than amplifying the negative.

Exercise- the gratitude jar. I particularly like this exercise because both adults and children can use it Take a jar and label it your gratitude jar. If you have children, you might like to decorate this jar with stickers and plastic gemstones. Once the jar is “complete” you can start to fill it. Using small note paper – such a post-it type or note paper write one or two things that you are grateful for.

Other thinking filters to overcome – the combination of mind reading and blaming.

Mind reading occurs when we assumptions about people in the absence of all the evidence, because we are convinced, that at some level, we know what they are thinking. Whilst on some occasions we may guess this right, we may also get this wrong. For example, I often talk with clients who assume work colleagues talk about them negatively or think a particular way about them. In my experience we tend to overestimate how much people talk about us, and how judgmental of us they may be. Most people are usually worrying about their own performance, and what they need to do, rather than the role we play.

Occasionally people let us down, even hurt us with their actions. Sometimes these actions are intentional. Many times, they are not.  It is good to be able to accept disappointment and the imperfections of others. If you find that you become stuck and the process of blaming others for your position in life, or in a situation you give away some of the power to fix that situation. Accepting someone’s behaviour is not an endorsement of that behaviour, it is simply acknowledging that bad realities exist, and that life can be unfair.

During a pandemic people can combine both these mind reading and blaming filters, especially when regarding the decisions of governments or health authorities. A pandemic such as Covid has not been experienced during most expert’s lifetime, even if they studied previous case studies. So, governments and health authorities can make decisions that, sometimes, look like mistakes. We make ourselves additionally anxious when we assume that they are making those decisions because they don’t care about the outcome for us as individuals, or that they want us to suffer. I don’t agree with many governments’ approaches to managing the pandemic, but I find it helpful to remember an adaption of Hanlon’s Razor, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence”.

When society is responding to a pandemic there will be setbacks. Overcoming mistakes or setbacks is a part of life and allows us to build resilience. Ask yourself, what actions by the government, or your company, or building management is really aimed to cause you harm? Are these people intentionally trying to hurt you, or is it possible they are doing the best with the information that they have, and the fears that they hold? We don’t have to give in to policy that we find unacceptable, but it will help you’re experience of anxiety to better try to understand that those making decisions are not personally trying to upset you.

The final filter to eliminate – Comparison.

It is common to consider our own attractiveness, status, success, and personal worth relative to others. During a pandemic regularly comparing yourself and your circumstances to those of others can increase your anxiety. Feeling jealous because friends left Hong Kong to live, temporarily, overseas, will not help your need to stay here. It increases your sense of worry – there must be a reason that people needed to flee. Ask yourself if that is really accurate.

Comparison is a guaranteed path to misery.

When you compare you tend to look at the world through a lens of “winners and losers” you will always find others who have achieved more than you. This is disorienting, and artificially casts you in the role of loser.

Additionally, comparisons are often driven by inaccurate information. . We often compare snapshots and these are often superficial and incomplete. For example, you might feel jealous of people sitting by the pool in Singapore whilst you have to work from home. That is nice for them. They have a pool. They can have dinner at a restaurant. You can’t, right now. That doesn’t mean things will always be that way. This doesn’t mean that everything is going well, or will go well for those people.

Comparing yourself with others will only echo the feeling that life is unfair. Some people are born with more advantages such as social connections, wealth and looks. The world is an uneven playing field. When we focus on comparisons we brood on this unfairness rather than focusing on what we have the power to achieve.

3d) Add calming activities to your daily diet

Specific activities which help to calm the body can help, not only in times of a crisis, but also to build a regular routine of self-soothing and calming.

Activities that help introduce a sense of calm in your life:

Try meditation

Meditation is a good way to bring about, a sense of peace, and help you better manage stress. These benefits do not end when the meditation exercise ends, they can be carried into the rest of your day and employed at times when you encounter something that makes you feel anxious.

Meditation is an umbrella term for the many ways to a relaxed state of being. There are many types of meditation. Committing to even a few minutes of meditation a day can help. Anyone can practice, and benefit from meditation.

During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of thoughts that may be crowding your mind and creating a state of stress.

Some of the types of meditation you might like to try include:

Guided meditation. Sometimes called guided imagery or visualization, with this method of meditation you form mental images of places or situations you find relaxing. These meditations often ask you to engage your senses and therefore act as good distraction to calm your breath and stop trails of intrusive thoughts. You can find guided meditations on YouTube or Spotify.

Breath focused meditations. This type of meditation is based on being mindful, or having an increased awareness and acceptance of living in the present moment, all whilst focusing on your breathing patterns. Mantra focused meditations. In this type of meditation, you silently repeat a calming word, thought or phrase to prevent distracting thoughts and to create a sense of calm.

Colouring books – colouring activities create a sense of calm. Colouring books are extremely popular as a result of the positive effect possible from regular colouring. Colouring is not just for children. Teen and adults benefit from colouring activities as well. Doodling is also a great way to create a sense of calm if you would rather create your own artwork.

Other calming activities.

Going for a walk, especially in nature, is one way to bring calm into your day. Some people find making art projects – sewing, knitting, woodwork a great way to achieve calm. During the pandemic many people have taken to baking as a relaxation technique. You can experiment to find out what works for you.

3e) Healthy habits

Practicing healthy habits, especially getting enough sleep, will help you better manage your anxiety. It doesn’t take more than a few nights of poor sleep for frayed tempers and foggy minds to impact your ability to cope with challenging circumstances.

Adults require 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Teens and children require more. Sleep is required to recover from the day, including processing the psychological toll that living in pandemic conditions creates. If you have trouble getting to sleep, or staying asleep, try employing many common sleep enhancing activities such as creating a calm bedtime routine, having a shower and a bath, banning technology an hour before bedtime and from the bedroom. The following article focuses on improving your sleep habit. You can consider medications such as melatonin, if your doctor agrees.

In addition to sleep other eating habits such as diet and exercise can help to better manage your experience of anxiety. The opposite is also true -being overweight and possibly hypertensive, consuming too much alcohol, sugar, smoking, or medications, can actually increase your experience of anxiety and anxiety symptomology.

A special point I’d like to offer is to please watch your consumption on alcohol in response to anxiety. Many jokes are made about “wine o’clock” as a stress response. If you find that you can not limit your consumption to one drink a day, then start to reflect on your relationship to alcohol. Many people find that they need to consider if their alcohol consumption is helping or harming them. There is no shame in taking a break if you need it. If you would like to read more on this topic our article below may help. #

3f) Utilise your social supports

Friends are important. In times of crisis, good friends are critical. Unfortunately responses to the Covid pandemic often break down social support systems and individuals can feel isolated. You may need to actively build new support mechanisms and networks to ensure that you have good people to talk to during periods of stress.

It is important to talk to people who actively help you to reduce your experience of anxiety. They may simply be the people who listen to you, and say that times are tough right now. If you follow the guidelines of monitoring your anxiety regularly, you may like to record how you feel after interactions with various friends. Talking to some friends may may you feel better, and others the opposite.

Some people seem determined to offload their anxiety onto others. If you have friends like this, perhaps ask if you can change the topic of conversation as it makes you uncomfortable. A good friend will heed such a request. If a friend can not “change the channel” , you may choose to spend less time with that person.

Times of crisis are, often and unfortunately, a time when we learn how strong and helpful our bonds with other people really can be. During the pandemic some of your friends may let you down. If this happens you will probably feel abandoned and upset. People can disappoint us sometimes. I also suspect, that if you look around you, you will notice that other friends have been more supportive and helpful than you originally anticipated. These revelations can be unsettling. Forgive yourself for expecting more of some friends than they could provide, but also be thankful for those people who show up, and offer support.

3g) Mindful Communications

Winston Churchill once commented, “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves to those we let slip out”. He was referring to sharing secrets, but this saying can also apply to how we communicate with others during a time of heightened stress.

This is particularly applicable to our communications on social media. Whilst we may have read an article which alerts us to a perceived risk, think if you really want to share it with others online. Ask yourself – is this communication helpful? Is is accurate? Is it factual rather than sensational in its content? Is it necessary for people to know this information? Is it kind for me to share this information? If you answer no to those questions consider holding off on sharing that information online.

This has been particularly true in continuing news or headlines which have been proven to be suspect or written for sensational purposes. For example, media feverishly published that Hong Kong has/had the highest death rate in the world, based on the deaths per capita calculations of the data site Our World in Data. Whilst it terrible that so many people have died, the context of the data always needs to be considered – i) this is at a certain point in time looking backward, not forward, ii) this is a per capita calculation so a relatively small population like Hong Kong with 7.4 million people looks worse than the US and iii) this number does not project any particular individuals chance of dying. If you are vaccinated and generally healthy in Hong Kong, you have a very good chance of surviving Covid. It is tragic that much of this would have been avoidable if more people, particularly older people, had received full vaccination.

So why do media publish such headlines? Because it is sensational and sells papers. Even long after this number subsides they will write that Hong Kong had the world’s worst death rate because it sells. It was these same publications which circulated horror stories of reactions to vaccines which, many have driven, resistance among the older population to agree to vaccination ahead of the fifth wave. It does not help. The news isn’t always accurate or helpful, and whilst its important to stay informed, we need to, unfortunately, be mindful of that.

You may often feel overwhelmed and anxious, and it is appropriate to talk to someone about those feelings. Friends who you know well will be a good first point of call. Consider the recipient if you post about your anxiety on line, and if you do, own your feelings. For example, write “I feel worried how my kids will be affected by interruptions in their schooling” rather than “Kids have been completely ruined by online school”. The later style of statement is may cross the line between simple venting and trauma dumping. When in doubt, keep the shares on your personal life within your private circle of friends.

3h) Pack away your baggage

At times when you are under great stress you want to reserve the energy that you have, and will need, to fight the battle you need to fight. In a pandemic, it is the worry about infection, treatment options inside an environment of miscommunication. You need to utilise your energy to keep yourself as balanced and focused as you can be.

In order to do this it may be similar for you to call a halt to any other fights that are ongoing in your life, with your inlaws or other family members, or with your neighbour or child’s school. Those fights can wait.

Unresolved trauma from the past has a way of becoming unpacked when we are presented with a new threat. For example seeing the government struggle to cope with the current wave of infections and severely sick people may remind you of your own feelings of abandonment. It may be time to put the weight of those traumas behind you with some professional help.

3i) Ask for help if you need it

If your anxiety is crippling, is persistent, or requires you to perform organised routines or practices please consider to seek additional support. You may be advised to visit a counsellor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist in order to help build a different treatment plan. Medications for anxiety are nothing to be ashamed of. We are living through a time of great uncertainty and if your doctor recommends a little extra help, perhaps consider taking it.

Putting it all together

You now know the elements of a treatment plan and you can put it together for yourself to help frame a checklist of practices that should help you during times of heightened anxiety. For some of these activities it may help to join a class to create a dedicated time to perform such activities. I recommend online art therapy and yoga classes for this time.

Even if you want to put everything into practice you may feel trapped trying to navigate your negative thought patterns or overcoming pain from the past. That is when a professional counsellor or psychologist might help. There is no shame in visiting a counsellor.

The question is not why to consider counselling, rather it could be, “why not”.

The scientific benefits of counselling are extensive, and include:

  • Improved wellbeing and health
  • Improving your relationships (friendships, professional relationships, romantic relationships and relationships with family members)
  • Decreased feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Help you get through tough times (pandemic, illness, breakups, disappointments)
  • Accept yourself and improve your self-esteem
  • Build resilience
  • Overcome past challenges and hurts
  • Help to remove roadblocks in your life which make you feel stuck
  • Feel supported and feel seen
  • Better express yourself
  • Improve your ability to manage your emotions
  • Help you feel more hopeful
  • Improve your motivation
  • Better understand yourself and discover more about yourself
  • Find your purpose in life

Counselling is for everyone. It is not just for those who are feeling anxious or depressed. Everyone benefits from receiving counselling. Wouldn’t you like to have improved relationships, better understand yourself, and feel more motivated. Give counselling a chance to help you feel stronger and do better. Certainly in times of heightened anxiety, talking to a qualified counsellor will help.

RED DOOR has been offering FREE online pandemic focused anxiety workshops on Thursday evenings since Feb 2022. You are welcome to register to join by emailing Angela at angelaw@reddoor.hk.

About the author

Angela Watkins is the Head Counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in HOng Kong. Angela is an experienced counsellor and trains and teaches counselling in Hong Kong. For more information about how counselling might of benefit to you, you can send her an email at angelaw@reddoor.hk

This article reflects the professional opinion of Angela Watkins. If you are unwell from Covid please seek the advice of a doctor or hospital. If you are feeling regularly overwhelmed by anxiety you should consider counselling in person or online.

#mentalhealthmatters #covid19 #anxiety #meditation #arttherapy #counselling #friendship #cognitivefilters #immunity

How we can build great girls

As women, and mothers’ of girls, we are constantly reminded that the women’s rights movement still has some way to go, and we can all play a role.

While I am delighted that my generation has experienced a broader remit of occupations they were allowed or encouraged to apply to  than our mothers, it begs the question, what attributes should we be encouraging in young girls to break the glass ceiling, end gender bias, and redefine what it means to be a woman.

Essential skills  for Young Women

Personal strengths – Identifying and celebrating what strengths you have, regularly, is investigated and encouraged. Believing you can face challenges is extremely important. Celebrating overcoming difficulties is particularly important. Young girls often to have an abundance of confidence, but by the time girls are 16-17 this confidence is harder to find. That loss of confidence can be undone.

Believe you CAN– As women we have a responsibility to expose our female teens to all kinds of achieving women so that they can better appreciate that women’s careers are being redefined, daily and hopefully, forever.

Teaching self-acceptance and healthy thinking patterns – Self acceptance is not only recognizing your strengths, but also accepting that you will make mistakes, you will experience failure, and that this is part of life. We need to teach girls to avoid thinking traps such as comparing, personalizing, labeling themselves negatively and catastrophizing. By adulthood many of us are limited by negative thinking patterns – building habitual thinking patterns that challenge these negative thoughts helps to raise teens who accept their mistakes, avoid self-punishing behaviours, and get themselves ready for the next big challenge.

Negotiating with confidence – We can teach girls confidence to negotiate in life, for job promotions, and for salaries. This starts from learning and using negotiation skills as early as the teen years. Negotiating for independence, pocket money, activities, and also performing chores as part of those negotiations, teaches girls that they can determine their future through their efforts, and that they have the right to challenge what is a fair wage for fair work.

You are not your body – You are not defined by your body, and loving your body will help you have a fuller life.  We need to teach girls that women come in all shapes and sizes, and none is better or worse than another. You are not your “fat thighs” or your “boring hair”. Speaking negatively about your body and yourself can be challenged, and need not be part of your self-talk dialogue.  You are more than your body, your healthy body gets you from A to B, and if you look after your body, it will look after you.

Relationships and boundaries – The teen years can include episodes of being bullied, feeling unpopular, wanting to be unique (while being just like everyone else), and wanting to please others for a multitude of reasons. We need to teach our teen girls to reflect on the decisions they make in friendships and if those decisions are to their benefit or cost in the long run. If teens fear being cut off from a group, we can teach them ways to stand their ground, be themselves, and be comfortable with the consequences. Having a broad range of friendships helps protects girls from this vulnerability.

Cyber security – With the proliferation of the internet, young children have access to a wealth of sites, information sources, and social media channels. A teenager can receive a thorough education (and mis-education) simply from spending a few hours a day on YouTube. Recently I discovered that our 15-year old girl had been talking to people overseas on the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) website forums! Some of the people were adults. She had sincere difficulty understanding why her parents responded to this with such horror. To her it seemed very innocent. We reiterated our cyber safety rules in the house:  Mum and Dad have access to your online profiles and may check them,  you can use your computer only in public areas of the house, never share personal information about yourself, and never agree to meet in real life (without adult supervision). This is a large topic and deserves a blog all of its own.

Physical safety – I believe that all girls should be prepared to protect themselves physically. This preparation may simply involve them being able to respond to unwanted physical attention in a manner beyond embarrassment. Helping girls become comfortable responding to negative attention may seem like shifting the blame for abuse onto them. This is quite the opposite. We want girls to know that they have the right to protect themselves, to be prepared to respond to a perceived threat, and, particularly, not to freeze in fear. And of course, teach boys to understand that traditional power patterns not only disadvantage girls, the limit them as well. 

We rise and fall together. Don’t harass other girls. – For example: girls who wear big hoop earrings or short skirts are not “hoes” or “sluts”. When girls degrade other girls in these superficial ways, they bring us all down. When we defend all girls, we all rise together.  We need to stop this gender depreciating madness.

The Safety Card – I am a keen proponent of the safety card – setting up a “what if” system to help teens imagine themselves in difficult situations and then determine an acceptable response. A safety card helps teens negotiate highly charged situations when they feel calm, helping prepare them for situations that may feel more out of control. For example, if you feel very depressed and even suicidal, what can you do?  If you found a friend was self-harming by cutting what could you do? If you found one of your friends had drunk too much alcohol at a concert, what could you do? Talking to teens when they are calm in hypothetical situations helps to acknowledge two important aspects of life in Hong Kong.  First, as adults we know that these behaviours do occur, we are not lecturing but helping them negotiate a potential situation. Second, we are enabling them when they are calm to set out set of steps that they can follow if they ever find themselves in difficult situations.

Let’s build a next generation of girls that are stronger, less impeded, and even more liberated than the generation that came before them.

#Internationalwomensday #feminism #teens

About the author- Angela Watkins is a counsellor and psychologist who works with many teens, helping them become stronger, more resilient individuals.

Anxiety Attacks – Emergency responses

Living with anxiety feels as if you are inhabited by a monster constantly whispering about your fears, insecurities and your worthlessness, your inevitable failures and the catastrophes which you can’t avoid and are probably creating. It is estimated that 13-14% of people in Europe [1] live with anxiety. One symptom is anxiety attacks. Some people only realise that they have been suffering from anxiety when they experience such an attack.

An anxiety attack differs from a panic attack. It is usually a response to a stressor – often a thought or feeling or specific dread. People feel apprehensive and full of fear. Their hearts may race and they may feel short of breath. Often people feel out of control and may become extremely tearful. A panic attack may include some of these symptoms, but usually occurs without a clear stressor. Both can be terribly frightening. If you experience anxiety attacks it is important that you are prepared with an emergency response.

Here are my favourite techniques to respond when anxiety attacks.

Try this exercise when you feel anxious.

Breathing exercises – Listen to the pattern of your breath when you are anxious. It can give you a clue as to how best to respond to your anxiety. If you are hyperventilating – taking fast, shallow breaths, feeling faint, and fearing that you can’t catch your breath, try to breath into a paper bag. Breathing in and out using a paper bag will recycle air, returning carbon dioxide to the body, which will naturally make the breath deeper and slower. Do this for a minute. If you don’t feel better, try again for another minute.

If you are not hyperventilating, you can use the calming breath technique. Breathing exercises such as those used in yoga classes are effective in reducing anxiety. One simple exercise I use with clients uses counting inward and outward breaths to calm the mind. Simply breathe slowly in through your nose for a count of 4, then breathe out of your mouth for a count of 4. Repeat. Then breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, and out of your mouth for a count of 6. Repeat. Then breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, then breathe out of your mouth for a count of 8. Repeat. Check to see if you feel better. If you don’t, repeat the exercise again, concentrating on the sensation of your breath.

Distraction exercises. Distraction exercises help your parasympathetic nervous system override an anxious reaction. By simply refocusing your energy to elements of your environment and allowing your underlying operating system to return to homeostatic (ie regular) breathing.

Use your senses to help calm your breathing

The most commonly used therapeutic technique asks the client to engage their senses to distract their busy minds. Identifying a number of items you can see, smell, hear, touch and taste can help you reset your body. Imagine 5 things you can see, then 4 things you can hear, then 3 things you can smell, then 2 things you can touch, and 1 thing you can taste. Then monitor your breathing again. Has it become less panicked?

Since we work with a number of teens and children at RED DOOR we also use the RAINBOW technique, often with our proprietary rainbow fidget toy, to help teens achieve quick calm. One can perform this technique without the fidget toy. Simply you count objects in your near vicinity which are specific colours. You can count the number of objects, or a specified number of objects that are red, orange, yellow, green, blue and black.

Distraction and can also be created with some physical “reset” activities such as repeatedly snapping an elastic band against the wrist or performing sets of 10 jumping jacks.

Meditation/Relaxation – Mediation, when practiced regularly, can help people reach a relaxed state more easily. Practice makes progress when it comes to mediation. If you are experiencing an anxiety attack, try to find somewhere to sit quietly or lie down. Then try progressive relaxation, also known as a body scan, which can be especially helpful. Progressive relaxation soothes as you tense and relax muscles – isolating and focusing exclusively on one group of muscles at a time. Begin with your toes, and work up through your muscles to your head, where you may focus on relaxing the muscles around your chin and eyes.  Guided progressive relaxations are available on Spotify, YouTube, and on CD.

Imagery – In the throes of an anxiety attack use your active imagination to help your de-stress. First, isolate the location within your body where you feel the greatest sensation of anxiety. Use imagery to help unwind and relax that spot. Cute, warm, and amusing imagery will be of the greatest help. If you feel tension in your shoulders imagine a collective of kittens massaging the knots away. If you feel butterflies in your stomach – imagine yourself in your stomach with them, asking each to settle on your arms and flutter no more. One client recently expressed her fear of butterflies, so, using imagery, we collected the butterflies and they turned into Golden Retriever puppies, ready for a cuddle.

This mantra might help with your negative self-concept

Mantras – Anxiety attacks are created by dreadful thoughts running through your mind. One way to settle these thoughts is to repeat a mantra. While there are mantras on the internet, you may benefit from one that you write specifically for yourself. The mantra should be full of words of kindness, understanding and love. The words “should” or “must” cannot be part of any mantra.

Centre yourself with art therapy techniques

While avoidance is not a long-term technique for managing anxiety, if you are ruminating or feeling a panic attack, distracting yourself with a change of scene or activity can help. Go for a walk, particularly in nature, to reset yourself. Try colouring, which I have detailed in a previous blog [https://reddoor.hk/2017/03/06/reasons-to-colour/ ], which involves both sides of the brain, stimulates creativity, and can help to calm the mind.   Even listening to some upbeat tunes at this time, get up and dance, just break the pattern of your anxiety for a moment to reset your emotional clock.

Talk to your anxiety – The long-term cognitive approach to anxiety is to create an internal dispute. Disputing your anxiety helps you reframe situations, see hope, and utilise self-compassion. If you experience anxiety ask yourself to challenge your view of the stressful situation – have you been overgeneralising, personalising, or catastrophizing? Is there an alternative way of looking at this issue? Sarah Wilson[2] , in her compendium of suggestions to utilise in one’s challenge with anxiety suggests an ancient adage, “ First make the beast beautiful”, meaning accept that your anxiety – it is something that originally may have been created to help you, but overtime has started to inappropriately misfire. When you make the anxiety beast beautiful you may say to yourself, “Thank you brain for alerting me to potential danger, but I know I am safe right now, you can go back to your guarding post”.  Developing the process of dispute is an area of action where a therapist can be of significant help. If you cannot create this dispute for yourself, utilise the resources of a counsellor. For more information see our post on this topic https://reddoor.hk/2020/09/07/talk-to-your-anxiety/

Prolonged anxiety is extremely challenging to your health. If you have been struggling with anxiety for a while please seek the help of a counsellor or a doctor. They may recommend a combination of therapy and even medication to help lessen your anxiety. There is no shame in needing help. Take charge of your future. Everyday is a new day for you to thrive. Start gently now.

 #mentalhealth #mantra #mindfulness #anxiety #reddoor #selfhelp #anxietyattack #treatmentanxiety

Sources

1: Prevalence –

2004: The ESEMeD/MHEDEA 2000 Investigators,2004, Prevalence of mental disorders in Europe: results from the European Study of the Epidemiology of Mental Disorders (ESEMeD) project

2011: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/sep/05/third-europeans-mental-disorder

2: Sarah Wilson, 2018, First we make the beast beautiful: A new journal through anxiety. Dey Street Books

__________________________________________________________________

Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on parenting. relationships, anxiety, OCD, career change, stress management and divorce.

Love yourself first.

In the words of Drag Goddess, Ru Paul Charles, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love someone else?” As a counsellor, I’ve met so many people who dedicated to demonstrating their love of others, but do not seem to demonstrate love of themselves.

When we celebrate love, prioritize to give yourself love first.

What is self-love?

Practicing self-love means ensuring that you invest enough time and energy in yourself to make sure you have enough love in your life, are kind to yourself, and are grateful for all that you have achieved in life. Sounds easy, right? Now you know this, you can wake up from the trance of unworthiness. Yet it seems so much other to love others ahead of loving ourselves.

What prevents us practicing Self-Love?

Ain’t got time for that.

You are in control of your time, so if you think that you don’t have the time for self-love, I would ask you to challenge how you have chosen to spend your time. How is it allocated? Could you give up scrolling the internet in order to create time for self-love? Could you give up your late-night TV watching?

It is important that you create time for your goals, including the goal to love yourself first. Reallocate your time, delegate tasks to others, challenge what you believe are your priorities so that you create time to prioritise yourself. I remember when my first daughter was born. She was my beautiful dolly. Each day I would take great care in the outfits she would wear out. One day my husband needed to look after her instead. He sent me a photo of them at the playground. Was my daughter really out, in public, in her pyjamas? The horror! In reality she was having fun, and he was being a great dad. The outtake was a gift, relax about her wardrobe. It was a priority which, really, wasn’t important.

Putting others, probably everyone else, first.

Running yourself ragged in order to look after everyone else is a recipe for disaster. Burning yourself out, just so you can have a rest, is a little extreme. An audit of your time may raise if you are performing activities only because of other’s expectations rather than for your own benefit. Are you a people pleaser? I want you to challenge this default. You do not need to be class mum. You do not need to pick up other people’s kids. Say no, move on, let go. Remember that in order to take care of others, you need to first take care of yourself.

Why do we do this? This dedication to others is a trap. People want proof of life that they exist. When people call on you, you may feel recognised, required, even, important. In reality your sense of self-worth can only be filled from within. On their deathbed, the dying do not regret completing that last load of dishes, they regret not pursuing their dreams or spending time with people they love. Not doing the to do list set by others.

Self-love is different from being entitled. When a person feels entitled, they believe that something should be theirs, even without effort or merit. This is not the same as recognising and acknowledging your self-worth and setting expectations accordingly.

Oh, the shame!

You may be embarrassed that self-love could be your goal. People tend not to praise other’s self-care achievements. “Look at Claire taking a break – go girl”. “Wow John, good for you that you got yourself a massage to relieve the stress in your shoulders.” Life is too short for you to be concerned with what anyone else thinks.

We are ashamed when we take care of ourselves – this is a trap. Let go of the belief that if you want to take care of yourself that there is something wrong with you. It is important that you preserve and protect the greatest asset that you possess – you.

When I love myself enough.

I find one way to tackle the topic of self-love with clients is to ask them to articulate some of the things they would do differently when they love themselves enough. Some of the common elements of self-love include:

Accept that you have goals.

It is important that you accept the types of person that you may need to be in order to achieve your goals. Many women, in the past, have been criticised for being ambitious. Don’t be embarrassed if you have a goal. When we love ourselves enough, we prioritise our development. We follow our dreams and work to free ourselves of the shackles of shame that others may try to impose.

Prioritising your goals.

when I love myself time management

Part of a self-love routine is to set your priorities around your life goals rather than concepts of ‘urgency”. Stephen Covey in this instrumental book, the Seven Habits, outlines a method to help prioritize tasks/activities into quadrants. I have adapted this slightly in the figure on the left. We all understand the concept of urgency. The concept of importance is somewhat trickier to clarify, and you may benefit from talking to a coach our counsellor about this. For a task to be important it needs to help achieve a value for which you want to be recognised. For example, if you want to become a senior leader in your future, you will prioritise those tasks where you have been given the opportunity to shine as a leader over those where you are simply a contributing voice.

Establish a self-care routine.

A well-rounded self-care routine is essential to your well being. This is an essential element of having a positive growth mindset. You deserve care, it is an investment in you. This would probably include eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and watching drug and alcohol consumption. How do you do, even on that short self-care checklist?

Develop an accepting self, not just self-acceptance.

Self -acceptance is saying to yourself, “I like me”. Developing an accepting-self allows us to also allow ourselves to fall down occasionally, and believe this is also okay and acceptable. This attitude of unconditional kindness towards yourself, whatever you may be experiencing helps us grow. You are a work in progress, and that is wonderful.

Add the voices of self-compassion and an inner-cheerleader, to any dialogue with your inner critic.

Our inner -critic is only just a judgemental voice who breaks us down. Sometimes it plays a role similar to a responsible parent, telling us to get out of bed and go to work, get that report completed, pay your taxes! Listening only to your inner-critic can lead to feelings of inadequacy and desire to avoid activities – denying your to do list whilst you glut watch Netflix.

When you add the voice of self-compassion and your inner-cheerleader to the dialogue the script changes significantly. You give yourself the chance to recognise and acknowledge feelings you may have around a challenge. You may produce a report you don’t really feel confident producing. Acknowledge the at many people might feel nervous in that situation. Your inner cheerleader can then add their voice. “You can do this, just give it a go”. This is when your inner critic may help – with practical advice “

Thrive rather than, merely, survive

Many of us have grown up in household with complex emotional environments. Perhaps your parents were too harsh, or not present, or you found it hard to be accepted. Almost all of us have sacrificed parts of ourselves in response to our childhood and adolescence. Perhaps it is time for you to thrive rather than just survive, overcome our box of darkness issues. IF this describes your situation you may find the articles at the end of this blog helpful.

When we love ourselves first and foremost.

When we love ourselves first and foremost, we let go of the feeling that something is wrong with us, that we are not good enough. You exist. You matter. You are loved.

About the author: Angela Watkins is a counsellor and psychologists who works with couples and individuals to help them have better relationships as well as improved mental health.

#reddoor #love  #selfhelp #selfcare #selfesteem #wellbeing #selfcompassion #goalsetting  #relationshipadvice  #relationshipadvice #relationshipgoals  #relationshipadvice

Further reading you might enjoy

Let it go, let it grow

Past hurts and old injustices can keep people stuck in old patterns of behaviour and thought traps. Bad memories can be like emotional quicksand, and can consume your thoughts taking command of your day-dreams, and leave you feeling obsessed over perceived or real losses, betrayals, and inequities.

The box of darkness: Dealing with painful “gifts”.

The American poet, Mary Oliver wrote of her experience of death in the poem “The Uses of Sorrow”: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

I must use this quote at least once a week in therapy with clients, especially those who are navigating the painful paths initiated by the actions of a loved one, a spouse who walks out, a broken friendship, the death of someone special. In our moments of shock and grief, it is indeed like we have been given a box of darkness to unpack and cope with. So painful and debilitating, action seems pointless and enormously necessary at the same time.

.

Your relationship can be better: Implement these four changes now.

valentines day

Do you want to make your romantic relationship better? It is possible. From my experience of working with couples, helping them to reconnect, here are a few considerations that I believe can make your relationship stronger.

Commit to communication.

In all relationships, communication is key. I have clients, considering separation, who can count the words expressed between her and her partner over the course of an evening on less than her 10 fingers. Communicating with each other keeps us connected and is essential when you are in conflict with each other. Rather than focusing on snappy comebacks when you argue, take a moment to reflect back to your partner what you hear them saying, before adding your opinion. Using “I feel” rather than “You did” type of comments helps keep some of the dialogue constructive.By owning your experience you can better deal with conflict.

The Gottman institute – a leading relationship research and training facility in the US reminds couples of their 5:1 rule. You should be expressing 5 positive sentiments to your partner for ever single negative or critical comment. Think about the balance in your interactions, and make this small change.

Good communication is like oxygen to a relationship. Give your relationship the breath of life that it needs.

Stay engaged and interested.

Remember how you were in the early days of your love, you knew everything about each other’s days. As time goes on, couples can become disconnected and their relationship focused on the fulfillment of a to do list. Take time to spend time understanding your partner’s experience of the day. What was the best thing that happened to them today? Did anything happen today that made them angry? Show up and show your interest.Building a stronger understanding of your shared experience allows you to build more positive times together.

Be your best self.

Give them the best of you, rather than saving it for others. Often, we are kinder to strangers or people we hardly know than people who are closest to us. Ask yourself, “Who gets the “best” of me?” and then ask, “Who gets the worst?”. Are you taking your workplace stress out on your partner? In addition to sharing your kindest and most sincere communication with your life partner, honour the promises you make to them first, before others.

Learn your language of love.

The best way to convey your love for your partner is to express your love in the language of love that they prefer. The 5 languages of love include words of affirmation, gifts, physical touch, time sharing and acts of service (you can conduct an assessment of your style on the website of author Gary Chapman (www.5lovelanguages.com) . We want to receive love in the matter that we most appreciate. Understanding each other’s preferences is the ultimate form of respect.

Happy Valentine’s Day – I hope your romance grows stronger after trying these techniques.

About the author: Angela Watkins is a qualified counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling. She conducts couples’ therapy as well as runs collaborative co-parenting programmes.

#reddoor

#valentinesday

#couplecounselling

#marriage

#love

#relationshipgoals

#couple

#relationships

#lovequotes

#dating

#relationshipadvice

Take a collaborative approach to internet safety with your teen

We can’t, as parents of teenagers, simply prohibit them being on the internet, and it’s almost impossible to out-maneuver an internet savvy teen, so I suggest that, instead,  you work collaboratively with them to keep them safe.

Much of the advice that you will find on the internet aims to help parents better control their child’s interactions on the internet. Today’s teens are actually well informed about internet risks, but you can help them do better to keep their reputation safe, watch your wallet, and keep them out of trouble.

Teens are distinctively different than children.  What I propose for teens is not what I propose for children. Once your child enters the teen years independence online, and offline, becomes a continual negotiation.

In the era when school can become a totally online experience, it becomes counterproductive to try to set boundaries that apply “outside school hours” when they actually can achieve unlimited internet access all day.

Teens social media lives raise a plethora of issues that teens can learn to navigate in collaboration with their parents. In order to collaborate with your teen, please suspend your desire to dictate the decisions and agenda. Allow discussion and negotiation to occur, and most importantly, listen to what the ideas that your teen has in mind.  Open, non-judgmental communication is going to be your greatest asset. The teen years for parents are about conceding any desire to control your child to protect them.

Talk with your teen about what they think is ok to post on social media about their lives. You may need to negotiate with them. And you may lose this discussion. Be really compared to compromise, in order to be able to remain in access.

 My own teen posts photos that I consider “too sexy”. I had to think about what I was really doing trying to control her online image. Do I think she is being too sexy in her behaviour? Was my perception of how she looked attached to my social values about what teens should look like? I don’t necessarily agree with her posts, but I know what she is like in real life. We often laugh about where the “other half” of her outfit is in a photo. But I’m allowed to look at those photos and I can see what people say to her about her shots, and most of it is a celebration of how cool she is, rather than the creepy boogeyman that I anticipated.

That said we have to also acknowledge that social media also influences how teens, particularly young women, see themselves in comparison to others. This use to be a situation exacerbated by magazines. Teens now have exposure to thousands of touched up, fake lives and stories every day. Talking to teens about how “real” their profile is, and how real the lives of other people’s lives are online has become an essential part of our current lifestyle. Ask quite openly, do you feel better or worse about yourself after looking through other people’s Instagram pages?

Social media is a key component of teens’ social lives. Looking for new contacts on Snapchat and Instagram has allowed our teens to develop friends outside of their school year group, at different schools, in different parts of the city. Usually, we would encourage this type of diversification of friendship. Having friends outside of your schoolmates is recommended, especially for girls who seem to practice and experience exclusion on a regular basis.

But don’t simply befriend everyone and anyone. Discuss some parameters with your teen. What kind of age range is sensible for them to talk with? For my own teen a general 18 month to 2-year age gap guideline applies. For younger teenagers, this range might be too broad, perhaps in the same year group might be a more appropriate guideline. Kids want the power to choose, so letting them negotiate some of ranges around age, area, and such, might be helpful. It might feel tempting to ban members of the opposite sex, or potential romantic partners, but I suspect this may lead to secrecy and dishonesty rather than compliance.

What I do encourage is that teens have the chance, in groups, to meet the people that they talk to online, in real life. When counselling teens, I often get the sense of how close many of those online relationships feel to teenagers. Often teens feel like they can talk more openly and deeply with people on the internet that they have never met in real life. But try to convert those friendships to situations in real life. Online friends can be extremely volatile, can easily change from being positive to being at odds with your teen’s point of view, not to mention be deceitful in content.  Talk with your teen about what they like about their online vs offline friends. So then, they can start to become aware of the advantages of in life friendships, and online friendships so that both can be explored.

I recommend that you encourage your teen to is making decisions about their profile by themselves, not in response to other people’s ideas, including your own. Peer pressure to post controversial content is more common than you might imagine.  Talking to your teen about what good friends expect and ask of them, and what they are comfortable communicating as a representation of who they are, will help.

Which brings us to bullying. Bullying on the internet is prolific. Your child’s school will have a policy on this behaviour, and may even involve the police depending on the act. Your child will, undoubtedly, be able to recount a story of internet bullying that they heard about at their school. Ask them about it. Rather than simply laying out the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a situation, ask them what made a bully act in a particular manner, what was their agenda, why would they want others to feel a particular way? By asking these more provoking questions rather than judging the act as good and bad, they may be able to see the human vulnerabilities that lead to people acting carelessly online. Understanding the situation will better help them avoid that situation.   

Ask your child if they sometimes get contacted by people who make them feel uncomfortable, and ask what they have done about this. Kids these days are aware of those creeps, but they may not know what to do. Ask them to talk to their friends about setting boundaries. Teens can actually get good advice, and horror stories to learn from, from other teens. My teen simply blocks anyone who gives her a weird vibe. When we discussed it further, that weird vibe was people she didn’t know contacting her out of the blue, just wanting to get to know her. Most of her contacts are friends of friends, and she will ask those friends for more background information to ascertain if that new contact is someone she might want to talk to, or not. Talk to your child about what makes them consider blocking, and reinforce their careful decisions.

We need to also talk about vent pages. Vent pages are used by teens as a way to “vent” their anxiety and pain. Teens who vent online may often learn to regret this choice. Not only do those vents become part of their online reputation, they can actually become stressful to others. Sometimes teems may forget that these pages are triggering for other people. Saying you want to “disappear” or harm yourself will upset others. This can, and has for more than one of my teen clients, ended in serious trouble. So, whilst I am a big believer in helping teens express themselves, I am also about finding appropriate avenues to do this. Encourage an old fashioned diary instead, but then- do not snoop through it.

The teen years are such an interesting time, and independence is the goal of this period. Negotiating internet safety with your teen rather than enforcing the rules, can be one way to navigate this important period of change. There is always a chance that your teen will find themselves being hurt, or in hot water, because of their internet behaviour. This is the same offline. Open, non judgemental communication helps to set the path for better protection, and future forum for collaboration. Good luck

About the author; Angela Watkins is a counsellor and psychologist working with teens to improve their mental health. She also works with families and adult clients. You can contact Angela at angelaw@reddoor.hk.

#teens

#teenager

#socialmedia

#internetsafety

#parenting

#bullying

2 years in – COVID19 continues to produce considerable anxiety.

Since early 2020 we have been experiencing continual threat from the COVID 19 virus and the numerous variants that have developed. COVID has impacted our lives significantly – how and when we can socialise, go to work or school, travel, see family, celebrate special occasions, even say goodbye to loved ones. All aspects of our regular life seem to have been altered. And we do not know when this will end. This leaves us in a repeating cycle of anxiety and flight/fight type of responses.

Anxiety can be a crippling emotional challenge. As a psychologist and counsellor I work with clients dealing with their anxiety and I want to share some information about this condition and its management.

A strategy of waiting for normalcy to return is impractical. Pandemics take years to work out so please consider adjusting to a new normal of living with COVID-19 for now.

It’s not only exhausting to spend so much time in a state of high alert, but it can also be physically damaging. The physical consequences of acute stress can include high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and exacerbation of various inflammatory illnesses. After more than 2 years of stress, people may need to explore more than some deep breathing exercises to calm their nervous systems down.

If you feel flooded with COVID-Anxiety:

  • Limit your time scrolling news about new cases and the current situation. Measure your experience of anxiety when you are looking at news sources. Sometimes no news is a good approach.
  • Acknowledge your anxiety – give it a voice, but not a megaphone. Talk to your anxiety as you would a worried child. Accept that it exists, how it might perceive the situation, and offer alternative ways of looking at the issue. Be kind to yourself.
  • Seriously consider talking to a therapist at this time. Sometimes the process of just expressing your anxiety to a properly qualified listener will help. We often can not change a situation, but bottling up our anxiety and feeling trapped within it will only make one feel more stuck.
  • Perspective is important. Try to focus on what is positive in your life when you feel weighed down by the difficulty of dealing with this situation. Many of us have not seen family, for years.  Sometimes this might feel very difficult. You may actually benefit from being thankful that things are not worse. If you get stuck a negative through cycle, start your next thought with the line, “at least ….. “.
  • Be careful when you share information. Search for facts, not rumours. At the same time, share facts not opinions – seriously wear a mask, get your vaccine, do your bit.
  • Don’t judge those who leave, or those who stay in your area as the number of cases grows or fluctuates. People make the choices that they think are best for their family.
  • Practice being grateful. Gratitude allows you to stay positive.
  • Challenge your thinking. We often employ cognitive filters when we interpret information and this can increase our anxiety. For example, if you tend to catastrophise situations it will possibly lead to exacerbated anxiety. Take a look at the following article which might help. (https://reddoor.hk/2019/03/28/change-the-view-challenging-your-thinking-filters/)

Working actively on your anxiety can help to reduce it. Sometimes talking to a professional might help. If you’d like to tackle your anxiety with Angela, or one of our other therapists, in Hong Kong, contact us at angelaw@reddoor.hk or SMS to 852-93785428.

anxiety #depression #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthmatters #stress #ptsd #therapy #health #wellness #anxietyrelief #covid #anxietyawareness

7 ways to achieve your goals in 2022.

It’s tempting to set new goals at the beginning of the year. As a counsellor, I encourage our clients to invite change into their lives. As a psychologist, I need to be able to share what makes change, through goal setting, more successful.

Here are 7 elements that will help you better achieve your goals.

1.Be SMART

 If you want to achieve a goal its important that you know what that goal looks like. For example, you might want to lose 10 kilos in this year. What do you have to do to lose this weight? Normally this would involve a combination of diet and exercise goals to make the weight loss possible. So how often are you going to exercise? What kind of exercise are you going to do? Is this the kind of exercise that typically helps people lose weight? What kind of diet changes are you going to make? How often are you going to eat, or not eat, this way? These smaller questions make your goals SMART – an acronym representing Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound. Setting SMART goals will help you understand your success in specific steps. But this is not enough, our other six ideas will help you gain the momentum to actually get required actions done

2. Tell the world.

There is a plethora of research as to how public posting of information increases not only one’s perception of being accountable, but helps people achieve their goals better. If you are the only person who knows that you didn’t achieve your goal that day, there is no pressure. Telling the world, or a team your goals, is asking others to keep an eye on your achievements.

3. Be a groupie.

Find a group of people with similar goals. Often, we are better cheerleaders for others than we are for ourselves. Join or set up a group to help keep you on track with your goals this year. Helping others achieve their goals will also create out some competitive elements for you to also show you are able to do the work.  

4. DO rather than DON’T.

Framing your goals in positive style language, rather than negative, helps you feel more positive about them. No body likes to feel like they are missing or losing something. By adding a goal, you can start with a more positive framework.

5. Plan for potholes.

People fail to achieve their goals because they do not plan to stumble or fail in their interim goals, and once they do, the abandon their overall goals. “I missed my exercise today, so I will just give up”. Planning for potholes, or small stumbles, is not only a compassionate way to treat yourself, its actually more realistic than expecting a flawless execution of your goal plan. If you missed a day of exercise, make up for it, or note it down and move on. A goal is a culmination of many days of effort, not one alone.

6. Own your goals.

Your goals should be set by you, for you. Other people do not need to tell you what your goals should be. Write about how you imagine you think your life will be better or different if you can achieve your goals. How might you feel? These are your goals to achieve, or to not achieve – no one else’s.

7. Set yourself some rewards to reinforce your success.

Did you like star charts as a kid? If you did, set yourself a new, adult star chart. Reward yourself with an appropriate reward at key junctures. If you want to lose 10 kilos, reward yourself whenever you lose 0.5 kilos. You need to select appropriate and supportive rewards.  A piece of cake would not be a supportive reward when weight loss if your goal.

#goals #2022 #mentalhealth #weightloss #REDDOOR

Let it go, Let it grow. (2022 edit)

Anytime is a good time to Let it go, and as a result, let yourself grow.  
Past hurts and old injustices can keep people stuck in old patterns of behaviour and thought traps. Bad memories can be like emotional quicksand, and can consume your thoughts taking command of your day-dreams, and leave you feeling obsessed over perceived or real losses, betrayals, and inequities.

It is possible, and probably beneficial, to give yourself a “time’s up” mandate. Just as you might join a gym in order to support your commitment to new health behaviours, you can also decide that you will stop allowing old hurts to define you, in order to let new hopes, grow.

This can be easier said than done. Part of the reason that “Let it go”, is so hard is that it is a challenging is that it is not satisfying in itself, without a benefit or alternative activity. Replacing one type of thinking with another, is easier to contemplate than simply asking an active mind to STOP. An active mind wants to remain active. In order to let it go, we need also think about alternative thoughts and behaviours to actively replace old tired traps. Hence, I ask you to consider, let it go, to, let it grow.

There are a mirage of excuses and reasons to hold on to old patterns of thinking. I hear the cry of “COVID” many times from clients as a reason that behaviours, and even thought patterns, can’t be changed. COVID, and many other challenges exist. People have faced uncertainty, the possibility of death, severely restricted travel. This is true. But hanging onto old hurts doesn’t make those realities any better.

Some ways to let go of old hurts, thoughts and harmful behaviours. 

Cease your magical thinking.

Magical thinking occurs when you assume patterns of reactions that have not previously been in evidence. For example, if you are thinking, “If I do x then y will happen”. For example, “if I get sick, he will come back and feel sorry for me” or, “If I just collect enough evidence of this betrayal, my family will finally realise they have wronged me.” The relationships that you thought you think you should be having are probably quite different from the ones that you are actually experiencing in real life.

Learn to accept that other people’s bad behaviour is (really) not about you.

It is common to become stuck when people have wronged us. Betrayal is often not about you, it’s more about our perceived “betrayers” desire to follow their desires at your expense. Whilst this feels unfair, and may not be what you signed up for in a work or personal relationship, focusing on the betrayal keeps us stuck in the role of victim. Lots of bad stuff has happened during the pandemic. Many jobs were lost. Much of this is not personal.

Challenge your labels.

Are you stuck playing the role of a victim, or as an unappreciated hero? Check if you are continuing to hold onto a role label that really has not benefit for your growth. For example, if your partner was unfaithful and ended your marriage, think about it are you not a little bit grateful for the end of a marriage that wasn’t working.

For example, think to yourself, “He had an affair which ended the ‘not the best ‘marriage. I have been stuck feeling bitter and as a victim because I didn’t cheat (even when I wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be). The affair gave us both a way out to the marriage whilst allowing me to be the good guy. I wanted that, but now I want more than just that title… “. Choose to thrive.

Check your goals.

You may be consumed with a controlling desire to acknowledged as being wronged. It is possible that you will never receive anywhere near the level of acknowledgement you aspire to. Ask yourself, why do you believe you need this  acknowledgement? Will this make you feel whole? If everyone you could list acknowledged that you were wronged, would you feel complete? Why can’t you be complete without the acknowledgement that you crave? Is that real, or perceived? 

You set your own value, not anyone else. Others do not need to acknowledge that you have been treated unfairly in order for that be true. True for you is true enough. This is a trap that many abused people can fall into. Without the abuse being s acknowledged it can be hard to move on, but it isn’t really necessary. People who have been complicit in your abuse rarely acknowledge that any abuse occurred. If you were wronged, this is your fact, your truth,  and that is enough. Feel it. Own it. Live it. Now you can move toward recovery.

Take responsibility for your role in a situationand no more.

Each party in a hurt played their role, including you. Take some responsibility for maintaining, creating, even exacerbating a situation. Make a promise to yourself that this can end, and you will end it. No situation is one sided. By admitting your careless or harmful actions, this does not automatically cast you as the bad guy. In any hurtful situation any party can be the bad guy, and the victim.


Acknowledge forgiveness, even if only for yourself.

Whilst forgiveness can feel like you are letting a bad guy off, even potentially endorsing their behaviour, there is some benefit to forgive rather than feel angry. Elizabeth Smart who was held captive for 9 months when she was 14 could have hated her captors forever. Instead, she chose to realise that she holding onto the pain and negativity of what had happened to her allowed her captors the opportunity to steal more of her life than they had already dominated. She chose to forgive them and instead focus on her happiness and freedom.

Explore possible rigidity with the power of “YET”. 

Thinking rigid thoughts such as “I can’t do that” will keep you trapped. So will thinking “it is not okay for me to move past this hurt. Add the word YET and this changes everything, suddenly you can’t do this yet, you can’t get past this hurt yet.


Write a ‘let it go’ letter

Write a letter to those who you feel hurt by. For example. “You have wronged me. I didn’t deserve the abuse you have wrought upon me. I’ve been angry long enough. I’m letting go of my feelings of anger, resentment, hurt and betrayal because I don’t need to carry those around with me anymore. I choose not to give you any more of my energy”. You do not need to send the letter. This letter is for you to capture your hurts and thoughts on a page.

Channel your energy into positive change. Let new thought patterns develop.

Transform your narrative

Rather than label yourself as wronged, or as a victim, think about who you are in the story of your life. Are you a survivor? Are you working to make yourself a better person? What are your strengths? How can you be more empathetic and realistic in your view of yourself? You are a work in progress, celebrate where you are going and what strengths you have to get yourself there. Cast yourself in a different role as you have in the past.

Future focus

What is in the future for me? What do I want in my life? What am I choosing for my future? Do not focus on what you leave behind. Imagine the past is like the border of an old country of hurt, and now you live somewhere else, and that border is closed. This doesn’t mean that you can’t look back at old albums from the ‘old country’. Rather continue to acknowledge that you no longer live there.

Get on your DIVA amour
Utilise the amour and weapons of a true diva. Being strong, being clever, continuing a struggle, are values within a cloak of amour that you put on. For me, I celebrate being a diva-hustler, (thank you #Michelle Visage #DivaRules). This means I remain determined to build opportunities for myself and take chances. Other people I’ve worked with have found their diva in other self- visualisations (eg Madame Butterfly, BadAss). The weapons you have to support this Diva-amour are your strengths (your smarts, your friendships, your focus, your commitment, your creativity.)

Write a mantra specifically for  you.

A mantra is a passage that becomes an instrument of the mind. What the mind sets as an intention and belief so that this can to fruition. Phrase this in a positive voice. Celebrate your strengths. Remind yourself of your goals. For example:

I am strong, calm, loved and forceful. When I face a challenge, which will invariably happen, I will draw strength from the people who love and support me, remember all that I have already achieved as a result of my skills, and my commitment to my family, and myself.

I can respond to challenge, I can respond to change, I am more than enough.

Decide to pursue internal love over external anger.

The cure to external anger is internal love. Even if you are still working on accepting yourself, remember that it is OK to be not okay, as long as you are a work in progress. Be kind. Keep working on supporting yourself. That project is never ending.


Gratitude

Being grateful reminds us want we have, rather than focusing on what you perceive may be missing from your life. When we see what we have we learn to that we are more complete than we first realised and have more than enough in life, and even more importantly, we are enough.

I hope you find these activities helpful. If you find yourself stuck in old hurts you can consider to consider therapy to help you let go. All of us need help sometimes, and that is okay.

#michellevisage #divarules  #recovery #reddoor #gratitude #mantra #mentalhealthessentials #mentalhealth

A version of this article was first published in 2017, before the COVID19 pandemic. This rewrite reflects an updated view on the topic of letting go of the past.

Introducing the Couples Connection

Relationship issues are one of the most common causes of personal emotional distress that challenge our mental health.

Maintaining a healthy and satisfying relationship is not always smooth sailing. Building a better understanding of why difficulties arise, and what can be done about them, is extremely useful.

RED DOOR Counselling will be offering a six-week programme to couples to better understand themselves and their personal contribution to their relationship dynamics. Our lead counsellor Angela Watkins, together with our talented counsellors-in-training, will lead 6 workshops, individual and couples therapy sessions dedicated to improving relationships.

Our counsellors offer guidance and support to empower couples and to find a resolution to relationship roadblocks, which can be an extremely helpful and healing process.

This course will offer participants topic workshops, 3-4 private couples counselling sessions, and 1-2 individual counselling sessions. 

The workshops will cover the following essential areas often addressed in couples counselling – the health status of your relationship, establishing better communication capabilities, dealing with conflict and disputes, attachment and family of origin components, repairing injury in a relationship and building and maintaining intimacy.

Who is eligible to participate? Any committed couple can enrol. If you have been in a serious relationship for at least a year, and are both in Hong Kong for the majority of the course duration (early Jan to end Feb), then you are eligible to join.

This course will be part of the training for our counsellors-in-training. As such we are offering the course at a particularly attractive fee of HKD5000 per couple (for 6 workshops, 2 individual counselling sessions and 4 couples’ sessions). For comparison, if you paid a counsellor directly for the same sessions/content, it would cost closer to 25-30,000HKD. This is a smart investment in the future of your relationship.

To ensure a high quality experience, spaces are limited to 8 couples in total. If you are interested to register or learn more, please let us know before 14 December 2021 via email to AngelaW@reddoor.hk. Couples will be accepted on a first-come-first-served basis.

KEY DATES:

Workshop dates

Jan 8, Jan 15,, Jan 22, Feb 12 , Feb 19, Feb 26

Couples and individual sessions will be organised directly between the counsellors and each couple/individual