Are you finding gin o'clock is creeping earlier and earlier?
You wouldn't be alone. A survey on behalf of Direct Line Insurance found that alcohol consumption among a sample of 2000 people had increased by 12.6 units per week since going into lockdown. Further research suggests that over 250,000 people in the UK have their first drink before midday.
There's nothing wrong with enjoying drink. However if you find you are relying on that drink to get through the day, or your mood and performance are struggling as a result, then it's time to take action.
Alcohol can be a coping strategy along with others such as overeating and over- exercising. These are all ways of distracting us from the feeling or activity we are avoiding. Most importantly for mental health and anxiety, drinking alcohol can increase levels of anxiety, lower your mood and impact sleep.
If you find that you are drinking more than you usually would, try increasing the amount of sleep that you are getting by going to bed earlier. This will improve your mood and make you less likely to reach for a drink. You could also try planning an activity for the time of the day that you find most difficult. A scheduled call to a friend, an uplifting tv programme, some happy music; anything that distracts you and makes you feel good will release serotonin, lower anxiety and reduce your need to drink.
I recently wrote this piece for Red Kite Days about 'Practising Gratitude'. You can read the post on their site here.
We have a family member called Otto. He joined us after a trip to the seaside and has sat on our kitchen table ever since. He is a gold, candle-holding Octopus and we love him. Every evening, our little family sits together, lights a candle and eats together. We ask the question ‘What’s been good today?’ and everyone answers. Even on the most miserable days, when the knee-jerk answer is ‘NOTHING’ that question is asked and answered. It’s a ritual that keeps our minds positive and our hearts full of gratitude for the good things in the world.
‘Who’s got time for lighting candles at dinner?’ you might scorn. Sometimes we do this at lunch, or breakfast, or our ‘What’s been good’ conversation happens during bath-time, but it does happen. I made this commitment because I know that gratitude is good for the brain.
When we focus on the good things in life, neurons fire in our brains, linking together and forming neural pathways. As you practice looking for the good in life, your brain becomes more adept at this. This improves resilience over time. A child is much less likely to identify something as a ‘failure’, because they can find a positive outcome in everything. It reduces anxiety, because they are able to notice the positive things in their life even when they face challenges. It also releases serotonin, improving mood and motivation. When working with clients, the first thing I ask them is ‘What’s been good?’.
Why not try this at home? If your child likes scrapbooking, then a gratitude journal is the way to go. Identify five good things on the fingers of their little paw before you kiss them goodnight. When you collect them from school, instead of ‘What did you do today?’ (Answer: ‘I can’t remember’), ask ‘What’s been good today?’ and get them to ask you the same thing. Find your own special candlestick and create a ritual that the whole family can enjoy.
Here's a piece I wrote about perfectionism and anxiety for Optimus Education. You can read the original post here.
Perfectionism is not ‘wanting things done right’. It’s a fear-based response to anxiety which wastes time and talent.
The term ‘perfectionist’ can be used to describe someone who likes things done properly, or would ‘go the extra mile’ to get a job done.
However, in my clinical practice I have observed that, for a growing number of professionals, ‘being a bit of a perfectionist’ is not a blessing, but a curse. I’ve seen teachers who lined up display boards with spirit levels. Teachers who take half a day to write an hour-long lesson plan. This may be due to greater pressures within the education sector, or that a culture of increased testing and ‘hoop-jumping’ has attracted new teachers with a proclivity for perfectionism.
What is a perfectionist?
A perfectionist is someone who:
Myths of perfectionism
Perfectionists are driven to success by their exacting standards.
A person with positive mental health will enjoy working towards goals. They enjoy the process itself, working towards an achievable goal and feeling good about exceeding that goal if it happens.
Perfectionists work towards their idea of the ‘perfect outcome’ and anything less is considered a failure. They can reach too far when setting goals and run late when they try to do too many things in the time available.
Even when perfectionists do reach their ‘perfect’ outcome, they don’t enjoy it, because there’s always something that could be done better.
Perfectionism just means 'doing things properly'.
Perfectionists indulge in catastrophic thinking. If the outcome is not deemed 'perfect', they can become highly critical of themselves (and others) for 'failing'. Perfectionists find it hard to work in (or even lead) teams because they want everyone else to do things their way. There is little room for the ideas (and imperfections) of others.
I’m not a perfectionist, I’m just stressed because I’m so busy. If we didn’t have so much marking and testing to do, I’d be fine!
Perfectionists will procrastinate. They’ll tell you that they are so busy. But in reality, they are scared and their inability to do less than their idea of perfect prevents them from getting things done. Fear of failure is crushing to the perfectionist.
Fear of failure and the 'primitive brain'
Those who experience fear of failure describe feeling ‘stuck’, almost like a rabbit in the headlights. They just don’t know where to start. What they are experiencing is very high levels of anxiety. When the brain experiences high levels of anxiety, it shuts down all the ‘unnecessary’ functions, allowing the functions necessary to survive to take over.
Perfectionism is a stress response to anxiety and as anxiety lowers, perfectionist behaviours will lessen
Perfectionists have learnt to cope with this anxiety by controlling their work, environment and often, the people around them. They can be deeply lonely, frustrated individuals, because their coping strategy is an inflexible, isolating one and other human beings fall short of their exacting standards. The key is understanding that perfectionism is a stress response to anxiety and as anxiety lowers, perfectionist behaviours will lessen.
How to help a perfectionist
In ‘Violent Child, Desperate Parents’ (Ch5, 9pm) child psychologist Laverne Antrobus met 9yr old Joseph from Stoke, who terrorises his Mum with physical violence and verbal abuse. Joe is diagnosed with ADHD and was excluded from mainstream school. He regularly swears, spits, punches and kicks his mother. We learn that he has threatened her with hammers and knives and, on one occasion, thrown a boot at her face with such force, it nearly broke her jaw. Footage is often hard to watch, particularly when we see Debbie crying after another confrontation. ‘You’ve broken me, Joe’ she sobs and it’s easy to see how.
After reviewing footage together, the adults decide that Joe needs more physical space to express his anger. As the child of an aggressive parent herself, Mum Debbie holds a fear of anger, terrified her son will turn into an ‘angry man’. This is where Antrobus’ measured approach really shines through. She encourages Debbie to examine her own behaviour, without ever being patronising or condescending. To Debbie’s credit, she engages fully with the process, always focused on supporting Joe. This is extraordinary given the pressure that she is under: not everyone would react so magnanimously to having their parenting skills examined in this way.
One of Joe’s greatest behaviour triggers is leaving the house. Even going to the park is a challenge, due to his ‘kicking off’. After a particularly difficult trip, we see his vulnerability. Antrobus identifies him as a ‘hyper-vigilant’ child, seeing fear and danger all around. Once this is identified, things begin to turn around for Joe. His family are taught to give him the explanations he needs to feel safe. He has emoji pictures to identify feelings and he learns to use these to express himself. The biggest learning curve of all, however, belongs to 13yr old brother Vinnie, who had suggested that Joe ‘needed a smack in the face’. We see him encouraging Joe as he scales a climbing wall. It’s really quite touching.
There are jarring aspects to the programme. The salacious language and shocking scene-setting are O.T.T. The formula is a bit ‘Supernanny’. What this series does have, however, is the considered approach of Antrobus, whose experience shines through as she strives to understand the reasons behind the behaviour. Rather than demonising them, this programme reminds us that violent children are still children, after all: not mad, but sad.
This morning, the 'Family of the Week' prepared to be on BBC Oxford Radio. My husband caught the train. My daughter sneaked in a quick game of 'Swashbuckle' on the Ipad. I scarfed down some breakfast. What would we talk about today? Our pet fish Carrot Cake is one today, so perhaps that. I'll be teaching later, maybe we can talk about that. But, of course, this is not what we talked about.
An explosion in a public place, claiming lives, has a huge impact on everyone. There is that odd mixture of anger, sadness, grief and relief that is hard to process. I found myself going from 'We're going to fetch a present for the fish', to responding to a major incident on BBC Radio. It made me realise what a responsibility and power the media holds in this kind of situation. It's power to induce panic, or reflect rationality and hope.
The Team at BBC Oxford did a great job this morning, as they encouraged people not to panic and to try to keep perspective. They shared stats about the chance of being in an attack like the one in Manchester (winning Euros Millions twice in a row). I talked about the impact of events like this on the brain. You can hear me here:
Julia Watson is the founding Clinical Hypnotherapist at Oxford Family Hypnotherapy. She thinks everyone has a small, still voice inside telling them what they are really capable of and likes helping them listen to it.