Playing for connection

Playing for connection


Playing for connection

Maybe it is as if the addictive power of the latest shiny tech smartphone or tablet might be loosening its grip on us all at last – or at least for some of us. Or, maybe it’s just not so great after all that everyone is plugged into their own gadgets having their independent, but solitary experiences online.

Whatever the cause, there has been a recent resurgence in the popularity of playing board games with friends in cafe´s or bars and for families spending an evening together in their sitting rooms.

A clue for this is that the most powerful drive of human nature is of connection to one another. We thirst for it and literally cannot thrive without it. It’s primaeval and these instincts are hardwired into our ‘old brain’. The ‘old brain’ is the innermost part of the brain, the part nearest the spinal cord.

It’s this part of our brain that carries out the same functions for us today as they did for our ancient ancestors. The ‘old brain’ is in charge of basic survival functions, such as breathing, moving, resting, and feeding, and creates our experiences of emotion. Further brain layers developed in mammals including humans that provide more advanced functions—for instance, better memory, more sophisticated social interactions, and the ability to experience emotions.

In recent years smartphones and tablets have changed the way we spend time together so that even when in the same room together attention can be fractured or disassociated by the sound of an electronic ping.

A board game is a perfect antidote to the tech overwhelm many are experiencing today. In fact, there’s nothing like a board game played between two or more people to bring attention back to the here and now.

What is also great about board games is how the structure and rules of a game allow friends or family to express healthy competition under the guise of playing a game.’

With board games, there is a compelling emotional link to childhood for people. In many cases, although of course not everyone, childhood felt like a less chaotic or challenging time, and we can be nostalgic for that too.

Family Playing Board Game At Home With Grandparents Watching


Board games give people an even playing field to compete with each other and permission to go all-out to win. This can make thrashing your mates at Scrabble momentarily heartening especially for those who are struggling in other areas of their life.

Work for many has never felt more pressured, and relationships can be complicated, so even a small victory is a victory.

Research by Alex Lickerman, M.D., author of ‘Happiness in this World: Reflections of a Buddhist Physician’ confirms that when couples actively compete together whether in a sporting capacity such as on a volleyball team; a treasure hunt team; or even the same team for a group board game there are definite benefits.

For instance, it enhances their sense of cohesiveness, often even if they lose.

He further suggests a strong connection is reinforced by shared experience, the antithesis of our tech experience.
Gil Greengross, Ph.D., author of ‘Humor Sapiens: The laughing ape and other insights into the nature of funny.’ recommended catching a funny movie or going to a comedy club.

Hip also said “Sharing a laugh together is always helpful, but often couples are too stuck in their routines to crack each other up. Letting someone else tell the jokes takes away pressure.”

All of these activities break patterns of behaviour that can make our intimate relationships or how we interact with our friends seem stuck in a routine that might not give us what we need.

Robert Taibbi, the author of ‘Fixing Families: Tools for walking the intergenerational tightrope,’ gave some great advice when he said “If you need more affection, give it. More sex, offer it. More listening, do it. By giving what you desire, you break old relationship patterns and let your partner know what relationship elements matter to you.”

So, if you’re looking for a more significant connection with the people love and care about turn off the tech and sit around a table to play some board games. You never know where a game of Scrabble could lead…

If you are struggling to find a connection with others or even connecting to yourself you may need a few more strategies than a game of Monopoly can afford to make the first move and connect with me via the Discovery Call link on this page and we can take it from there.

If you want to lead a happier more fulfilled life it’s almost impossible when you’re doubting yourself or sabotaging your chances of success. Therapy isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ‘tried everything’ it could be just what you need. You can book an obligation-free 30-minute discovery call to find out for yourself.


Are drug users in your workplace?

Are drug users in your workplace?

Are drug users in your workplace?

It is no surprise that a recent report by a US federal government agency acknowledged that some 69 per cent of illicit drug users in the United States is in employment.

As a London based therapist often the clients who come to see me for help with their addiction problems are high-earning, high achieving, high functioning alcoholics or Class A drug dependents although of course, they would never describe themselves in this way.

The metropolitan professionals I see are mainly, although not exclusively men and they often normalise their recreational drug and drink consumption either in secret or in the carefully chosen company of friends or work colleagues who pretty much share their habits.

What they come to see me for as a therapist it is to cure them of their unexplained panic attacks; alarming bouts of paranoia or to relieve their symptoms of anxiety.

Alternatively, they may come to see me about how insomnia is ruining their life. Or perhaps how their violent outbursts of rage with their partner leave them feeling shaken. They are often overwhelmed by the emotional fallout from their extreme mood-swings ruining their relationship and yet at a loss to know where all their anger came from.

It only takes a few open questions to find out about their usual levels of drinking and drug use.

It is often initially described to me as occasional; recreational; just weekends. Then after a few more questions, it becomes apparent that it’s almost every, if not every weekend and that the weekend often begins on a Thursday night and can run through to a Tuesday.

In therapy, clients although initially resistant, begin to acknowledge the elephant in the room and see the correlation between their addictive behaviour and its impact on their mental well-being as well as the detrimental effect it is having on their private life.
However, it is not just out of hours of behaviour that can be compromised by their drug use. It impacts on how they are at work too and if you are an employer and you have reason to suspect that drug use is affecting an employee’s performance and/or relations with co-workers, here’s some guidance on what to do

1. Don’t ignore the signs.
Obviously, if an employee has dilated pupils, slurred speech, or an unsteady walk, or if he or she smells of alcohol, you have every reason to suspect that person is having a problem. But you should also be on the alert for more frequent absences, especially with suspicious excuses, deteriorating relationships with co-workers, inattentiveness, taking longer to complete tasks or alternating between completing tasks quickly or slowly, evading responsibility for errors, and decreased attention to grooming or hygiene.

2. Make sure you know the law.
If you believe an employee may be suffering from a drug or alcohol problem that is affecting his or her work, don’t wait for it go away. Plan to sit down in private with the employee to address the problem. Before your meeting, make sure to review your legal rights and obligations to your employee.

3. Don’t assume that you know what’s truly going on–or that your employee will tell you.
Years ago, in what seems like another life now, I led a sales team. They were all younger than me and exuberant and high energy most of the time. They worked hard and as well as working together they often partied together at the weekends. I began to notice a pattern of behaviour with them collectively. Monday’s would be a slow day with a hung-over quietness amongst the team. There would be fewer calls made to sales prospects and plenty of staring vacantly into space and cigarette breaks. Regular Monday morning’s hang-over city is probably pretty common when you employ lots of young single extroverts enjoying their life in the capital and they needed lost of rallying and prompting to get through their work.

Nothing compared to the mayhem of Tuesday’s though. The team members were often agitated and argumentative with each other and worse with me. They could even be short with prospective customers on the telephone or inept at following up ‘warm calls’ that could lead to sales. Some members of the sale’s team were particularly difficult and unreasonable – but only on a Tuesday!

I couldn’t work out why this was happening and did some research to find that use of Class-A drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy cause this Tuesday mood change as people’s bodies go through the effects of a physical withdrawal from their weekend drug use.
I had to work to resolve this by focussing purely on the performance results of the team. Eventually, I promoted the worst offender to head up the team and made his pay bonuses dependent on the results the team achieved collectively. This proved to be the only way for a culture change to take place and with the insider knowledge he had of his team members he was able to make them behave more responsibly, motivated as he was by his own pay-cheque.

4. Steer the employee toward professional help.
Whatever you do, don’t try to counsel the employee yourself, or organise an in-office intervention. Your employee needs help from a trained professional, not a boss or friend, however well-meaning. If your company has an employee assistance program, you should point the employee in that direction. If not, come to the meeting prepared with brochures and phone numbers for local organisations that can provide help along with information about services your company’s insurance will cover, if any.

5. Don’t cover for the employee.
If an employee is failing to complete assigned work due to a suspected substance abuse problem, you may be tempted to lend a helping hand by finishing up some tasks yourself or re-assigning work to someone else. While you need to make sure that the work gets done, make sure to document any instances where you or someone else has to complete tasks that were the employee’s responsibility. Don’t try to save the employee from embarrassment by making excuses when he or she misses a meeting or deadline.

Your employee’s sub-standard performance should have consequences, so a record of these incidents will be a valuable tool to either compel the employee to face up to the problem or provide cause for discipline or termination if that becomes necessary. But more to the point, if you care about your employee, know that you aren’t helping him or her by providing cover — you’re enabling the substance abuse to continue. In the long run, that will only make things worse, for yourself, your employee’s co-workers, and your company.
(Some points of this guidance were first published by

If you recognise that your own drug or alcohol use is getting out of control or already has impacted on your relationships and work then reach out now and make an obligation free call via the link on the page.

If you want to lead a happier more fulfilled life it’s almost impossible when you’re doubting yourself or sabotaging your chances of success. Therapy isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ‘tried everything’ it could be just what you need. You can book an obligation-free 30-minute discovery call to find out for yourself.


Women quit sex after cancer

Women quit sex after cancer

Women quit sex after cancer.

I was saddened but not surprised to read a recent headline in the Daily Mirror newspaper quoted the results of a survey from the UK’s Breast Cancer Care charity.

They asked nearly 1,000 women of whom almost 95% said cancer treatment had stopped them from having sex. This figure included a high percentage of women who had been diagnosed three or more years previously indicating that women struggle with this problem for a long time.

Of the total of women surveyed 94% reported that side effects of their life-saving treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or hormone therapies had stopped them having sex and they blamed the adverse impact on their libido, uncomfortable vaginal dryness and reduced self-esteem.

More than two-thirds said they were not warned about the possible detrimental impact of their treatment on their sex life and the majority reported they did not receive adequate support from health professionals.

Samia al Qadhi, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Care, said, ‘These figures paint a troubling picture of the reality for countless women whose relationships and sex lives are sidelined – sometimes permanently.’ She continued, ‘Everyday we hear from women with dramatic scars, hair loss and intimate physical changes. The treatment for breast cancer can be utterly traumatic and side effects can continue for years.’

When I read the article in the newspaper, it hit home to me that for every traumatised woman there must be quite often a traumatised partner too also sidelined and cut adrift by a system not geared up to resolve the emotional fallout of these treatments and the inevitable physical changes that survival has demanded.

Clearly, cancer survivors, in particular, are exposed to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from both the diagnosis and the rigours of the treatment.

It feels cruel indeed to submit women to all of what cancer treatment entails to continue living and yet not be given every possible support to thrive fully.

I work with a lot of clients living with chronic disease and have worked over the years with many women survivors of breast cancer too.

The work often needs to begin by exploring how their image of who they are has so fundamentally changed and that naturally brings with it grief and sadness for the person they were before their illness.

There are similar feelings of loss acknowledged by most of my clients who are living with the fall-out from chronic disease. The loss of one’s former self is felt very strongly and deserves to be acknowledged and mourned.
There is no expectation of clients having to accommodate a blanket acceptance of everything that has happened to them on the premise of ‘I can’t dwell on this because I’m lucky to be alive’. The work gives a voice to all of their emotions from anger and sadness to fear, and the work can only be transformational if those emotions are acknowledged as valid.

When working therapeutically with life-changing issues such as these, it is wonderful to be able to work directly with the sub-conscious mind. Working in this way cuts through all of the subtle and not so subtle pressure to be brave or stoic or whatever else is going on so that powerful changing can be made at a profound level.

It is important not to underestimate the enduring trauma of partners, parents and other family members too. Their need for therapy to resolve the residual fears they are holding on to and their own sadness can get lost in the relief of their loved one’s recovery. However, it is vital to work so that everyone is able to unite once more in their new landscape.

Survivors of cancer need to find a way to fully come home to themselves and that journey is just as vital for their complete recovery than the chemo or whatever else they had. Therapy can bring them back to who they are, even as charged as they may be. It can also give them the choice and hopefully the desire to reconnect with the sexual part of themselves and renew their emotional relationships. The aim is never just to survive but to fully thrive again.

If you have recovered from cancer or know someone who has who continues to struggle to reconnect with who they are then you can book an obligation free call with me here on this page. If you thought survival was your goal but now you’re ready to thrive then its time to reach out.

If you want to lead a happier more fulfilled life it’s almost impossible when you’re doubting yourself or sabotaging your chances of success. Therapy isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ‘tried everything’ it could be just what you need. You can book an obligation-free 30-minute discovery call to find out for yourself.


Nudge yourself towards success

Nudge yourself towards success

The Nudge Theory is about nudging or encouraging behavioural changes through positive reinforcement and indirect suggestion. In the wider world Nudge Theory has been applied to economics, politics and health. Supporters in the effectiveness of the theory exist in the hallowed halls of academia, the White House under Obama and in the British Government to name but a few.

So, how can Nudge Theory be applied to you eating healthier in your own life?

Your existing habits, thoughts and beliefs have brought you to where you are today, so nudging towards making positive changes is vital in allowing easy changes and maintaining them in the future.

Decide when
In practical terms, this means choosing a time to initiate changes that have the most chance of success. It is surprising how many people set themselves up to fail by launching a new initiative without thinking through how much they already have to do with their life.

Look at your diary for an opportunity when there may be a lull in stress levels at home or work or a time when you can give more energy to embrace fundamental changes to your usual eating habits. If you are canny with your timing, you will be giving yourself a head start towards success.

Ditch the crap
Behaving with your usual default habits around food perpetuates you feeling the same way about yourself. It is a truism that if you keep doing what you have always done, you’ll get the same results you’ve always got before.

Reaching for snacks in your kitchen that you have always reached for maintains the status quo, so an essential part of your preparation is to ditch the old low nutritious, poor quality processed foods in your cupboards and replace them with tastier and highly nutritious options. If you’re not the only family member using the kitchen, then separate out their foods from yours and claim space and ownership of the foods you want to eat.

Ideally your efforts to maximise your health and well being would be supported by all family members, but more often than not you will face resistance. If you wait for everyone in your life to come on-board you could wait a lifetime so be the change you want to see in your life; set your own standard and let them see how much healthier and happier you are. It’s about doing something for yourself.

Just because you’ve decided to nudge yourself towards better nutrition doesn’t mean you will magic away all your impulses to snack.

This is especially true while you are adjusting to this new way of eating and feeling about food. The nudge ensures everything you need is at hand to fulfil your mealtime and snacking requirements to maximise your nutrition. This may mean shopping differently and stocking your cupboards and fridge with different foods.

You will find a comprehensive list of real foods in the ‘Foods to Marry’ section of Sally Baker & Liz Hogon’s book ‘How to Feel Differently About Food’ published by Hammersmith Books. Available from Amazon

If you want to lead a happier more fulfilled life it’s almost impossible when you’re doubting yourself or sabotaging your chances of success. Therapy isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ‘tried everything’ it could be just what you need. You can book an obligation-free 30-minute discovery call to find out for yourself.


Tea-toxes can do you more harm than good

Tea-toxes can do you more harm than good

Tea-toxes are just the latest, all-shiny, all-promising, new detox products to gain prominence in a market always on the lookout for the next quick fix.

The idea of detox products ridding the body of toxins shows how many people have become polarised in their relationship with food. It is true that in, and of itself, food is simply neutral – except of course for those people with allergies or a medical diagnosis that means they need to avoid certain foods.

However, the thinking of food as either being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is a symptom of food no longer signifying nourishment but of taking on other loaded connotations that are not necessarily true or balanced. If you are of the opinion that some foods are ‘bad’, then it is not too far a step to believe that they could cause a toxic build-up in one’s body.

Some people may be lulled into a false sense of security with a tea- detox as something that is benign and safe. For them drinking tea feels very familiar and even comforting with positive emotional connections to home and hearth.

They may well be the same people who would shun the quasi-scientific based detoxes and choose a tea-detox as something that to them feels more natural and holistic.

They might well dismiss a regime based on consuming obscure sounding powders or pills or having to drink odd tasting juices in favour of a familiar ‘cuppa.’ Their very familiarity with tea may blind-side them to the fact that some of the tea-detox ingredients can have potentially uncomfortable digestive effects and even make a person feel quite ill.

Most people who undertake a detox would say it was because they are motivated to improve their health. Perhaps they would admit less freely of their willingness to subject themselves to what is often in effect an extreme, crash diet.

Most detoxes including some of the tea-detoxes encourage people to replace one or two of their daily meals with the detox product.

This can leave people feeling light-headed and quite dis-orientated as they are trying to function normally with low levels of nutrition or highly restricted calories. This method of self-imposed fasting can also disrupt blood sugar levels and can trigger feelings of anxiety and panic for some people.

So much disordered eating is hidden in plain sight as it takes place in secret in a person’s subconscious mind. For those vulnerable to disordered eating, or someone who has experienced an eating disorder in the past, the purchasing of detox products can be a way to legitimise their unhealthy eating patterns. It can also be used as their excuse to obscure what is really happening with themselves and food.

An intense detox regime which encourages replacing or skipping meals for a period can trigger a pattern of feast or famine with emotional eaters or disordered eaters who are regular yo-yo dieters. Failing to complete a strict detox can affect levels of self-esteem and plunge an emotional eater into a tsunami of negative self-talk, irrational shame, self-blame and even bulimic behaviour.

For those who experience weight loss during a tea-detox, they might well be encouraged to override the manufacturer’s guidance and quickly repeat the process to achieve further weight loss. If the tea-detox incorporates a laxative, then prolonged exposure can have long-term medical implications. It can cause the colon to require increasing amounts of laxatives to function to produce bowel movements. The colon can become ‘lazy’ in its ability to remove waste and ineffective. This can lead to many digestive disorders including severe constipation, colon infection, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and, even contribute to the risk of colon cancer.

The problem with all commercial detoxes is that the medical profession is united in their conviction that they do not work. Doctors stress that a normal, healthy body is already perfectly equipped for any detox duties required. Doctors also agree that if toxic build-up really were an issue, then emergency medical intervention would be needed to save a person’s life.

With the medical evidence in mind, it is difficult if not impossible to see any benefits from subjecting oneself to a detox. The premise is so deeply flawed that it might be possible to undergo one safely without causing harm, but it is simply not worth the money or the deprivation it would require. This is particularly true when almost all weight lost through detox is rapidly regained when returning to normal eating patterns.

If you recognise that your use of laxatives has become far too regular and that you increasingly rely on laxatives to be able to go to the loo then book an obligation free discovery call with me to discuss strategies and how to bring your body back into balance.

If you want to lead a happier more fulfilled life it’s almost impossible when you’re doubting yourself or sabotaging your chances of success. Therapy isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ‘tried everything’ it could be just what you need. You can book an obligation-free 30-minute discovery call to find out for yourself.


Striking a digital balance

Striking a digital balance

In a bid to improve his quality of life regarding mental health and happiness the creator of the X-Factor, Simon Cowell has revealed that he has not used his mobile phone for almost a year.

He told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that his phone-abstinence had absolutely made him happier.

His comments tie in with a recent survey by Deloitte of just over four thousand British adults. The research found that 30% thought they were using their smartphones too much. The percentage rose higher to more than 50 per cent when targeting 16-24-year-olds.

There are opposing views on whether accessing social media and the use of smartphones is detrimental to one’s mental health or not. I was recently interviewed by mental health blogger Fiona Thomas for the online newspaper exploring the positive effects of modern communications for those feeling isolated or depressed. In the feature ‘Stop telling me to go on a digital detox; social media is actually helping my mental health’ I recounted how some of my clients had felt supported by their experience of social media and it had helped them make progress in their real off-line life too.

You can read the feature here  

Clearly, though the uncontrolled use of electronics of themselves is having an impact on our lifestyles and over-use for some people may be detrimental especially where sleep is concerned.

Poor sleep patterns can have an impact on general health, including an increased risk of many preventable medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. The immune system is also compromised in its ability to fight infection, while insomnia is a common precursor of an increased risk of anxiety and depression.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) published a report in April 2016 noting that 10 million prescriptions for sleeping tablets are written by doctors in the UK each year. In their poll of 2000 adults, they reported their average sleep time is 6.8 hours compared with the 7.7 hours they felt they needed. This amounts to a sleep deficit of about one hour per night, which cumulatively amounts to losing the equivalent of an entire night’s sleep a week.

It is important to consider changing your habits around going to bed and improving your ability to sleep soundly throughout the night.  One way would be to keep the bedroom an electronics-free zone. If you usually keep your smartphone on your bedside table to use its alarm function, you can purchase a cheap alarm clock as an alternative.

Also, give yourself a buffer zone between being fully awake and bedtime. Ideally, turn off your computer, TV, pad and smartphone at least 30 minutes before retiring.

This is easy to achieve if you switch from watching television to reading a novel in the final hour before bed.

Taking a shower or bathing too before bedtime could be a good idea if that is something that would help you to unwind.

All of these things are routines that, once established, send messages from your brain that it is time to relax and sleep. They are akin to the sleep training you might have had from your parents as a baby. Somehow, all the good habits you may have learnt have got lost, but you can reclaim them. Psychologists estimate it takes twenty-one days to embed a new routine until it becomes a habit, so stick with this new behaviour for at least that length of time.

Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the highly influential Huffington Post online newspaper went from burn-out to being a convert to the importance of sleep.

In her recent book ‘The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time’ she explores the ways we can use sleep to help regain control of our out of kilter, sleep deprived lives. 

You can buy it here from Amazon UK 

If you want to lead a happier more fulfilled life it’s almost impossible when you’re doubting yourself or sabotaging your chances of success. Therapy isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ‘tried everything’ it could be just what you need. You can book an obligation-free 30-minute discovery call to find out for yourself.