Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Reality of Virtual Stress

Life is getting as fast pace as our cars.  We are expected to maintain a juggling act and keep all the balls in the air to work hard, play hard and still have time to see our friends and family. Also don’t forget keeping up with our virtual ‘friends’, one in ten admit to feeling anxious about maintaining Facebook relationships, and those with more than 117 online friends are more likely to suffer from a phobia about keeping up with their group*. Keeping up with the Joneses has never been so pertinent.

Although Social Media can be fun, it does beg the question whether staying connected to our virtual lives makes everyday life easier or more stressful, and if so, are we paying the price with the cost to our mental and emotional wellbeing?

With the ever growing presence of Social Media networks in our lives, we feel obliged to keep connected with everyone, for the fear of missing out.   As users, we begin developing a habit of checking and posting status updates; the routine of which can become an obligation.  We should tweet everyday, upload the latest photos or the profile itself will be outdated; we should at least “like” a friend’s status update or comment to a post to let them know we pay attention and we exist. There is a fear of being made obsolete if we don’t keep up with our virtual peers.

A recent survey conducted by Galaxy research reported that over 63% of the respondents felt that social media was a big contributor to their stress levels. The survey also indicated that social networking caused people to become anxious and pressured as they felt the need to constantly connect; checking their Facebook friends statuses, commenting on those statuses, Tweeting or reading Tweets, viewing new photo uploads, etc. Of those same respondents in the survey, 35% say they felt an “expectation” to respond to messages and status updates right away.

Feeling the pressure of doing these things often equates to having to prepare for a deadline at work or a meeting. We go into a state of hyper arousal, and with the surge of adrenalin, we begin to feel physically and mentally anxious and stressed.   Even though Social Media something that we choose to engage with, or not, we find ourselves unable to switch off from it 24/7 and our brains become conditioned to use it.  The habitual nature of Social Media can turn any of us into a frozen, screen staring zombie if we aren’t careful.  Is it really Social Media networks themselves that are the problem then, or the expectation we have of using them?

Social media is now so accessible through your Smartphones, we don’t even need to wait to get home to our computer to ‘check in’.   Many of the social outlets in the online world are much larger than those in the offline world. The online social scene enables you to keep in touch from friends all over the world, as well as locally and the opportunities for being invited to parties and social events can be extensive. Young people especially feel that they have to stay connected with those social circles to keep up with the latest gossip and social life.  As we said earlier, the fear of not keeping up with our online friends can be more anxiety arousing than trying to keep up with them!

Trawling Facebook looking at pictures of your virtual ‘friends’ latest Caribbean sun drenched holiday or reading about their amazing work promotion can also leave you feeling envious and insecure as your life doesn’t seem nearly as fun, successful or glamorous. Fear not as Facebook can paint a very different picture to the reality.  With our virtual lives we can distort the truth if we like, and only highlight those parts of our lives we wish to display in public.  The temptation to compare our lives to others, even virtually, can lead to feelings of anxiety, inferiority, jealousy and even depression.  It only reinforces our negative beliefs about ourselves and our lives, if we allow it to.   

The key is creating a balance in how we use Social Media and how much we allow it to influence our way of life.  We could choose to switch off from it altogether, though it does allow us access to a rich and interesting online world of friends and information that we wouldn’t have otherwise.  It can also enable us to stay connected more easily to our offline friends and family when our lives are very busy. Being aware of how much of a distraction sites like Facebook can be from dealing with the reality of everyday life helps ensure it is more of a pleasure than an avoidance tactic. Making time to disconnect from the internet and reconnect with our real lives and our feelings is essential, otherwise Social Media only becomes another way of anaesthetizing our emotions. We are human beings afterall. 

It does make you wonder how we managed it before we had the internet and  Smartphones.  Snail mail, anyone?

Monday, 24 October 2011

Keep Calm and Carry On with Bach

Trying to pursue a busy work schedule whilst maintain a family and social life can leave you feeling overwhelmed and caught a vicious cycle of stress and worry.  With technology moving ever faster, we are struggling to adapt and instead of our lives being made easier, we are more under pressure to keep up.  Worry isn’t always a bad thing according to research though- in fact, a healthy amount is protective health wise and can help us to succeed in life, whereas excessive amounts can be potentially hazardous.*

Bach Practitioner, Alexandra Bacon comments; “If you find keeping up with your busy life and friends is taking its toll on your emotional wellbeing then make sure you take time out to relax and re-charge. The Bach Original Flower Remedies can help you to maintain feeling well balanced and positive, even in today’s hectic, busy world. There are different remedies to suit your changing moods, which you can adapt for different periods of your life. ”

If you are feeling exhausted as a result of having to keep going and feel unable to stop then BachTM Original Flower Remedy Oak may help. This remedy helps restore physical and mental reserves and promotes self care so you can back on track with your life with more vitality. For those of us who find ourselves feeling that sense of overwhelm and despondency as a result of overwork then BachTM Original Flower Remedy Elm may also be beneficial.

Creating calm is also about changing your mindset.  Most of us are too busy thinking about our ‘to do’ list, without even being aware of what’s happening in the ‘here and now’.  BachTM Original Flower Remedy White Chestnut is excellent for helping to calm the mind when you feel unable to switch off that mental chatter so you can focus more easily.  Trying a relaxation technique like Meditation which is proven to reduce stress and physical pain may also help.ₐ A simple starting point would be to focus on your breath; as you take in deep breaths, counting in for four and out for seven and doing that for ten minutes at a time when you need to let go of stress. 

Bach Original Flower Remedies cost from £6.65 and are available from Holland & Barrett, Boots and most independent pharmacy and health food stores. For more information, visit www.bachremedies.co.uk. Always read the label.

Alexandra Bacon is an award winning Stress Management and Wellbeing Consultant based in the East Midlands.  She is also a Bach Centre registered Bach Practitioner (BFRP), CBT Therapist and NLP Coach. Her website is www.lotusheal.co.uk and she can be contacted on: 07950 568635.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Building Emotional Resilience

“In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life”
Albert Bandura

Emotional resilience seems to be a buzzword nowadays- whether in education, work or our personal life, we are told we need to be more resilient, to ‘bounce back’, to be more successful in life.  We all require some resilience in order to sustain ourselves through life’s challenges and survive.  

What makes us more resilient is something I’d like to begin to explore; are some people just more resilient than others? There are two characteristics that resilient people tend to display, whether in reaction to stress or trauma. These are:

  1. Emotional Control:  The ability to stay calm is one of the key factors in dealing with an emergency or a crisis situation.  Managing our emotions also enables us to build healthy relationships and feel a sense of empowerment in being able to regulate our experiences.  Expressing what you feel without acting out is also important.  A client of mine, Francine discovered this when she was dealing with being bullied at work.  Rather than going into ‘victim’ mode and not saying anything or attacking back, she confronted her line manager about it as soon as it became an issue and it got resolved by being assertive. 
  2. Openness to new Experiences: The second trait displayed by resilient people is openness to new experiences and managing change.  Although staying in our comfort zone may seem safe, it is through doing something new or in a different way that we expand our comfort zone and strengthen our resilience.   We also develop our character and become more interesting and self aware individuals.  For a start, try meeting new people, experiment with a new activity or improve on an existing skill.
It is easy allow ourselves to feel vulnerable in the midst of chaos and uncertainty; it can feel as if we are trapped in a long dark tunnel, without an end in sight. Life disruptions are not necessarily a bad thing though as they enable us grow and meet future challenges in our lives. It’s a lot like a muscle that was weak and is now getting stronger from being used.   As Bandura says, it also helps us to learn self efficacy or self reliance in the face of subsequent uncertainty and difficulties, rather than going into old patterns of dependency or learned helplessness.  

Charlie, who came to see me following a period of depression and work absence described his recovery as feeling like I was pulling myself out of the hole, rather than wallowing in it, and then learning to go around it rather than falling straight back in.  Although we may need the support of family or friends or a therapist to cope better with a crisis, we need to be able to do it for ourselves. Emotional resilience is also about being self aware and learning to reset our internal compass to adapt to change and act on our own inner resources.  

Seven Steps to Bouncing Back:

1.    Keep things in Perspective. As in ‘this is just hassle with my car insurance, inconvenience with being late. It isn’t a matter of life and death’. 

2.    Focus on the Positive ‘Three months from now I’ll be laughing about this meeting and it won’t matter!’

3.    View life’s challenges as an opportunity to build resilience. Learn to handle obstacles such as rudeness, being delayed, being kept waiting and feeling let down.

4.    Manage your emotions. Throwing a tantrum is not a solution.  Problems are challenges, not impossibilities. 

5.    Ask yourself, ‘what is the first step towards a solution?  Then do it!  Repeat as necessary and don’t allow change to overwhelm you. 

6.    Imagine telling the story of your mishap to your friends.  The narrative demonstrates your resourcefulness, your sense of humour and your calmness under pressure. 

7.    Take time to reflect and learn from difficulties.  Ask ‘knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?’

When unexpected events turn life upside down, it’s the degree to which our resiliency comes into play that makes these “make-or-break” situations an opportunity for growth. It is all a matter of perception.  Although resiliency is something that is learned through experience, each of us has the capacity to reorganize our life after a disruption and to achieve new levels of strength and meaningfulness.

Check out my website: www.lotusheal.co.uk for more details.

Monday, 12 September 2011

CBT & NLP Compared & Contrasted

You may have heard something about CBT and NLP but what do they involve and how can they help you? Read on for my overview to these therapeutic models and how they compare.

What is NLP?

Neuro Linguistic Programming or NLP can be defined as the art and science of excellence (consistently repeating results, unconsciously and automatically), and the study of how language and perception of external events affect our behaviour. It is based on something called modelling; the process of duplicating ‘excellent’ behaviour to create the same result, e.g. learning to drive requires you to go through certain processes in your mind and body, such as ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ until it becomes automatic and habitual.

NLP was created in the 1970’s two men, Bandler and Grinder, one a linguist and the other a computer programmer. Some of the original models of communication they developed were influenced by therapists including Fritz Perls (founder of Gestalt therapy) and Virginia Satir, a family therapist. 

NLP claims to provide simple, powerful methods for changing behaviour and producing results through the use of various techniques. It is used in business, education, training as well as therapeutic applications.  It teaches you new patterns of excellence through modelling those who are successful in different aspects of life, such as health, career or personal well being.  For example, if you wanted to learn how to run a great business, you might choose someone such as Richard Branson as your model to work from. 

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy also says that the person’s view of themselves and their world are central to their behaviour. The core idea is that individuals are emotionally disturbed by their thoughts about an actual event, rather than the event itself.  It is used to treat a variety of conditions, ranging from anxiety and depression through to eating disorders and substance abuse.  It uses thought records to challenge a person’s thoughts and behaviours, as well as exposure work in the case of phobias/fears.

CBT was developed in the 1950’s first by Ivan Pavlov, through his working with dogs and then by Albert Ellis who was one of the main pioneers through REBT. Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, a branch of CBT, shows the link between events, beliefs and feelings through the ABC model:


A – Actual Event                    Fail at maths test
B – Belief                               I’m stupid/ I’m no good at maths
C – Consequences                 Feel depressed, a failure

Alternative view:

A – Actual Event                    Fail at maths test
B – Belief                               If I work at it, I’ll do better next time
C – Consequences                 Feel motivated to achieve a goal

Aaron Beck was the next person to develop and popularise CBT in the 1960’s.  CBT focuses on problems in thinking patterns and Beck recognised that ‘automatic thoughts’ about something links with how we feel about it. If you changed how you think about it, you can change your mood and/or behaviour. 


Event: A friend is due to come round to dinner and arrive at 7pm. It is now 8pm and they haven’t called. How do you feel?

Automatic Thought                           Feeling                                    Behaviour

She is so selfish, she didn’t                 Angry             Have a go when she arrives
bother to phone!

It doesn’t matter, I can do
Something else while I wait                Indifferent         Nothing much

She might have had                            Anxious          Ring hospitals
a car crash.

We may all react differently based on beliefs, thought patterns and past experiences, and we all have our own unique model of the world from which we work from.

What can we learn from these theories?

Have you heard the saying:

‘Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t- either way you’re right’ Henry Ford             

We all have our own belief systems, many formed in childhood, which help us to make sense of the world so we can function within it and create structure in our lives. Beliefs such as ‘don’t put your hand in fire, or you’ll get burned’ are useful to us, and enable us to survive.  Others aren’t so positive or useful and can drive us to behave or react in negative ways.  Examples may include: ‘the world is a dangerous place’, or ‘I’m a failure’.  We can hold beliefs about anything and anyone and they suggest that something is fixed and unchanging, without exception.

From NLP developed something called the ‘Meta Model’, which identifies ‘all or nothing’ or distorted, generalised thinking patterns and questions them in a similar way to CBT.  It asks ‘Are things always like this, or just some of the time?’ and aims to reframe thoughts in the positive, such as ‘I find maths challenging, and I could learn to do it better if I chose to’. NLP also uses a technique whereby you imagine yourself stepping into another person’s shoes (almost like empathy) and take on their own model of the world and borrow their resources such as feelings or beliefs that you might want to adopt for yourself; or to learn a way of doing something, such as to be more confident doing presentations.  You can also use this technique to go back into your own past and utilise feelings/behaviours that you have and imagine yourself stepping back into that time and bringing those into the present or future time where they can be used again. 

Beliefs can be compared to an operating system in a computer such as Windows that enables us to make sense of things and function.  They act as filters and determine how we perceive ‘reality’ and how we feel, think and behave in the outside world.

Our brain can only take in 7+ or – 2 pieces of information at a time. We are bombarded with hundreds of pieces of sensory information every second, so in order for us to cope in the world, we ‘edit out’ and select what we want to see or experience.

Distorted filter
Anxiety filter                  →      See anything scary or ‘almost scary’

Depression filter          →        See anything negative or unhappy

If the pattern you are running is anxiety or depression for instance, you will only perceive fearful or negative things, and edit out the positives. It is a bit like when you get eight things right and 2 things wrong, you focus on the wrong things.  If this thought process happens enough times, it effectively creates a neural pathway in the brain, and whenever a negative thought is triggered, it responds with the same feeling or behaviour, and sets up an automatic ‘loop’.  CBT aims to break this thought and mood cycle by challenging the thoughts as soon as they arise, and replacing them with alternative, more positive ones, creating new neural pathways in the brain. 

How effective are they?

NLP and CBT teach you to take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings and show you how thinking and behaviour patterns are causing symptoms, rather than the events themselves.  Quite simply, they say, if you change your thoughts, you can change your world, and create new choices in how you respond.

CBT is a quick and effective therapy and helps you gain a greater understanding of the relationship between your thoughts, feelings and behaviours through breaking negative thought patterns, and forming alternative thoughts and ways of responding to situations.  It is more problem focused than NLP which instead focuses on what you want to create, such as confidence, rather than looking at what you don’t want to feel, such as depressed or anxious.  CBT is also very time limited and doesn’t look much at a client’s past emotional history or the root causes of their condition such as early life experiences.  It is also very formulated and directed by the therapist and allows little opportunity for the exploration of feelings, unlike humanistic counselling.

Clinical trials have shown CBT can substantially reduce the symptoms of many emotional disorders. For some people it can work just as well as drug therapies at treating depression and anxiety disorders. All too often, when drug treatments finish, people relapse, and so practitioners may advise patients to continue using medication for longer. When patients are followed up for up to two years after therapy has ended, many studies have shown an advantage for CBT. This research suggests that CBT helps bring about a real change that goes beyond just feeling better while the patient stays in therapy. This has fuelled interest in CBT. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends CBT via the NHS for common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety. 

However, CBT relies on the client to be self motivated and disciplined (and NLP to a certain extent) in order to use the thought records and techniques on a consistent basis in order to create long term change.  NLP also requires a good level of sensory awareness, i.e. the ability to visualise things in order to bring about changes in state. 

Without the regular support of a therapist, or lack of emotional exploration, their may be the risk of a client relapsing at a later date if underlying issues aren’t addressed.  In the case of any therapy, its effectiveness depends on the quality of the therapist, its delivery and how well the client is suited to the approach, and the complexity of their problems. 

Alexandra Bacon is a certified Advanced EFT Practitioner, Counsellor, NLP Coach, Wellbeing consultant and Trainer. To book a free 20 minute consultation, please call Alexandra on 07950 568635 or visit: www.lotusheal.co.uk