Therapy Digest 02

The latest musings, a-ha moments, and insights around therapy and self-help from therapist Sally Baker.

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 recently 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

Lunch Time

Perkbox a UK based employee benefits provider commissioned research into the incidence of comfort eating with male and female workers and found women are nearly twice as likely to comfort eat in order to deal with stress than men.

Almost 50 per cent of women surveyed said that stress makes them want to comfort eat compared with just 26 per cent of men.
So what kind of comfort food hits the mark for stressed workers?
It is no real surprise that new research confirms that it is the high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods that satisfy comfort food cravings. The science behind this shows that these types of meals and snacks fight stress by stemming the tide of stress-related hormones that are released when people are continually exposed to stress.

Of course, this way of managing stress comes with a high price as the extra pounds can pile on and waist-lines expand exponentially.

In a study undertaken by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers investigated the effects of comfort foods on stressed-out rats. The research team found that when rats exposed to high levels of stress ate foods high in carbohydrates and fat, an unknown component in the foods acted like a brake on the cascade of stress-related hormones, that are related to the “fight or flight” syndrome.
Researcher Mary F. Dallman of the University of California, San Francisco and colleagues said, ’There is no doubt that eating high fat and carbohydrate comfort foods cheers people up and may make them feel and function better.”
‘However, habitual use of these foods, perhaps stimulated by abnormally elevated concentrations of cortisol as a consequence of underlying stressors, results in abdominal obesity,” they write. Unfortunately, this type of obesity is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.’

Where does that leave workers suffering from decision fatigue who eat the same lunch every day for often years at a time – especially if their food choices are sub-consciously made to help them deal with their work-related stress?

While it was noted by Perkbox’s research that men were less likely than women to turn to comfort eat they are more likely than women to turn to potentially harmful alternatives – such as coffee, nicotine and alcohol – to cope with stress.

Almost 1 in 4 of men will do this during times of stress compared to just 13 per cent of women. Chieu Cao, CMO & Co-Founder of PerkBox said,

‘Relying on stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine and nicotine – all of which, ironically, actually contribute to stress, tension and anxiety – is also a common but unhealthy method of stress relief. And it is especially interesting to see how much more of an issue this is amongst the male workforce.”

Cao continued,: ‘Overeating or turning to alcohol, caffeine or nicotine can have negative effects on our health. There are numerous benefits that businesses can offer which promote physical and mental health, yet are still strongly desired by staff. For example, exercise through the form of; office sports teams, free or discounted gym membership, free yoga classes and mindfulness are all ‘perks’ that play into healthy coping mechanisms for stress, yet are relatively inexpensive for businesses to set up.’

If your company has put in place activities to support better stress management let us know what works for you in the comments box below.

Avoiding Dairy? Then you need to read this.

If you are avoiding dairy products because of dietary requirements or through choice be aware that other less obvious milk-derived ingredients are concealed in pre-prepared foods with names such as:
Acidophilus milk
Ammonium caseinate
Buttermilk powder
Calcium caseinate
Delactosed whey
Demineralised whey
Hydrolysed casein
Iron caseinate
Magnesium caseinate
Potassium caseinate
Rennet casein
Sodium caseinate
Sweet whey
Whey powder
Whey protein concentrate
Whey protein hydrolysate
Zinc caseinate

You’ll need to steadfastly read labels on prepackaged foods and drinks or, better still, avoid them altogether.

If you are avoiding cows’ milk, you can buy other ‘milks’ made from various nuts. Choose the ones with the least sugar which will be shown on the label by the amount of carbohydrates contained in 100 ml. The most commonly available nut milks are almond, cashew, and hazelnut milk. Almond milk is particularly high in protein, vitamin E and magnesium, which is a boon for bone strength.

If you can eat dairy products without the symptoms lists, yoghurt can be a good source of nutrition, but there are so many brands of yoghurt available these days it is difficult to know what is beneficial. Although most are flavoured, low-fat or fat-free, your goal is to find unflavoured, full-fat (at least 10%), preferably live or pro-biotic varieties as these will provide far more nutrients and be much better for you and your digestive system. You are looking for brands with the least ingredients, no sweeteners, sugars (including ‘skimmed-milk powder’) or thickening agents. Avoid buying low-fat yoghurts as they will most likely have all of those ingredients included in an attempt to make them more palatable.

Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth. It is only full-fat raw organic milk and yoghurt that are a useful source of calcium. If milk has been pasteurised the calcium is no longer ‘bio-available’ to our digestive system. Greater levels of bio-available calcium can be found in green vegetables, the darker the better.

This is an extract from ‘How to Feel Differently About Food’ written by Sally Baker & Liz Hogon ( Hammersmith Books) Click here to buy from Amazon UK

Side-ways walking could be the way to go

Stephania Piazzalunga is a psychotherapist working in Italy and a great advocate for the curative power of walking. She says that it is when we walk that our inner thoughts are revealed to us via a sort of meditation in motion.

Piazzalunga believes that walking in silence or quiet contemplation is one of the most natural and original forms of self-help, with the mere act of moving encouraging an improved sense of well-being and self-esteem.

Walking also has a role to play in improving communications and is the ideal activity to do while having those difficult conversations.

Psychiatry professor Albert Scheflin said that the way we hold, carry, and orient our bodies—convey multiple nonverbal messages. He uses two categories, or his term ’frames’ to explain his theory.

The Vis-à-Vis frame. Is when two people greet and address each other in a face-to-face position. The vis-à-vis frame is a prerequisite for making eye contact.

The Side-by-Side frame. Often, this is a communication choice, especially among men. It precludes eye contact.

When women talk with other women, as well as men, they orient themselves toward the other and tend to use the vis-à-vis frame, maintaining eye contact. According to Deborah Tannen, women also display more general immediacy behaviours than men, such as leaning forward, nodding the head, smiling, and touching. The vis-à-vis frame enhances and encourages more eye contact, which creates more bonding and connection. It keeps people focused on each other.

Men favour the side-by-side frame as direct eye contact can be construed as challenging among men; a face-to-face frame is a more competitive posture and stance.

When a man and woman need to have a tricky conversation with one another, they will do well to take a walk together while talking. Due to the side-by-side frame, things can be said without sounding threatening or confrontational that might have been heard as more alarming or inflaming in a face to face frame.

Later, they may be able to communicate on a deeper level with greater mutual understanding in a face to face frame where they are more able to mutually ‘read’ each others micro-expressions.

Anthropologist Helen Fisher suggests a bit of gender-bending androgyny would be of assistance in improving men and women’s communications. In Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stray, she writes, ‘A woman should probably adopt at least one nonverbal, side-by-side leisure activity that her spouse enjoys, whereas men could improve their home lives if they took time out to sit face-to-face with their mates to engage in talk and active listening.’

To find out more fascinating insights from Helen Fisher you can click here to buy her book now from Amazon UK