Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Work versus blog!

I'm inundated in work, and having a blast, but knowing this blog is sitting here is a tad frustrating.

When I started the web site, I said I would not blog, as I didn't want the pressure. But it is one of the best ways to communicate, and as I work with strangers, I caved.

Although I have this feeling that I should write here often, my head tells me my heart is wrong. To be successful, you need to focus on what matters. To me this means: fulfilling my appointments with current clients, and meeting my magazine, newspaper, and novel deadlines.

My head tells me blogging is an extra. If it doesn't happen, it's not a big deal.

My heart kicks in and whines, "But...but... we want to be perfect!"

And that's where stress comes from.

So if you don't see me updating my blog, it's because I'm being sensible.

If you're stressed, why not examine your life and see if there's something you're doing that's not essential? Because being perfect is an impossible goal. Being happy is a perfectly possible goal. You just need to see your head and your heart in context.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Try This Simple Tip When Your Mother In Law Drives You Crazy

When you are so frustrated you want to scream or burst into tears this gives you perspective – without turning you into a doormat.

When you’re in a sticky situation, facts, assumptions and emotions all swirl together, blending into each other. Being upset blinds us to facts. And when we are overwhelmed, we tend to jump to conclusions rather than see what is truly happening. This means we’re likely to make mistakes.

There is an old saying, count to ten. Taking a time out can help. But in complex emotional situations, assumptions and biases can obscure issues. You can count to 10 as many times as you like and you still feel frustrated!

Suppose you are in this situation:

You and your husband had a nice dinner with his sister and her husband. The next morning you get a call from your mum-in-law. “You didn’t invite me!” She calls you insensitive, accuses you of trying to cut her out, and has a complete meltdown.

If this happened, you’d probably feel as if you were a monster. Selfish, unthinking. You might quickly promise never to do it again just to keep the peace. Or you might feel so angry and annoyed that you vow never to see her again. Neither will make life happier for you.

You can gain perspective by retelling the story impersonally. Like this:

Jack and Jan invite Rob and Jasmine for dinner. The next day, their friend Sam calls up, screaming that he feels left out. What do you feel now?

If you take away the factors of age and family, you’ll see that this situation isn’t about you or about dinner. Sam clearly has issues he’s trying to push onto jack. Your mum-in-law has issues of her own that she’s pushing on to you.

These issues might include control, loneliness, competition, and more. Whatever is at the root of their behaviour, perspective can help you make better decisions. Like in this example, common sense suggests that if you give in, you run the risk of having to live your life according to their rules – which they will change to suit them. That is going to be very stressful.

A sensible approach is to acknowledge their feelings, without being drawn into discussing who’s right or wrong. For example, “I’m sorry you feel left out.”

You don’t need to promise never to do it again. It’s tempting sometimes – just to keep the peace – but it’s reasonable for you to see your friends. So in future, when you’re in a sticky emotional situation, take a breath, step back and recast events in the third person. Tell yourself a story stripped of emotion. Then examine it again.

It can help you gain perspective – and in turn that can help you come up with better ways of coping that keep the peace with even the trickiest mother-in-law, without turning you into a doormat.

I wrote this originally for Malaysia Womens Weekly. Check it out, and enjoy!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Secret Clues Someone You Love is Dangerously Depressed

Especially in stressful times like these, when the world economy seems stagnant 
and the future is far from clear.

Thanks to RyanMcGuire @ Pixabay

Depression can show itself in many different ways: feeling sad or blank for days at a time, being dead tired and not taking joy from favourite pastimes are classic signs. But depression can also reveal itself in unusual ways. 

These are clues to watch for in the people you love – and in yourself. If you spot these symptoms, approach the subject gently, and talk to a professional therapist or doctor about getting a diagnosis and formulating solutions that work for you.

#1 Ragged nails and messy hair
Uncombed hair, smelly skin, ragged fingernails – it might look like a person is just being careless or disrespectful, but depression can also cause self-neglect. So if someone used to be clean and tidy but now they live in unhygienic surroundings or don’t eat properly it can be a clue that they’re clinically depressed.

#2 Sudden Anger
We often assume a depressed person is withdrawn and quiet. But sadness can sometimes surface as rage. Typically, it’s a rapid angry reaction that’s unreasonable and out of proportion. It’s happens when feelings of guilt, rejection and loss get so bottled up that they erupt as sudden anger – watch for it especially if stress as well as depression are involved.

#3 Working Way Too Much
Faced with intense dark feelings, some people try to avoid these emotions. They might sleep too much, take drugs, or drink too much, but some bury themselves in work. The problem with this symptom is that we often perceive working long hours as being ambitious or trying to provide for a family. So look for other clues: does this behaviour typically seem more like a compulsion? Perhaps he’s clearly exhausted yet he’s up every night trying to finish that report? Or she escapes into her email inbox the second you try to talk to her about her worries.

#4 Forgetting Ordinary Tasks
Depression can make it very hard to concentrate – depressed people tend to forget all kinds of weird things, from leaving their keys in the fridge to leaving the milk out in the hall again. Or they may often forget appointments or constantly be late. Forgetting things is a tricky depression symptom to spot because stress can also make people forgetful – it’s like the brain is just too “full” with worry to remember much. So look for other clues as well, like….

#5 Not being able to make even small decisions
Depression can go hand-in-hand with hopelessness. People get the idea that no matter what they do, it will all go wrong. Victims of depression get wrapped up in thoughts of the bad things to come, that they become unable to make even a tiny decision. Shall I get out of bed? What to have for breakfast? What shall I wear?… it’s all too much. They become apathetic and almost paralysed by indecision. You can go out to work and come back hours later… and they’re still in bed.

#6 Too Much Partying
Dancing on the tables can just be high spirits, but it can also be a form of distraction. If you don’t want to face your dark feelings or you’re frightened of feeling “numb”, it’s tempting to distract yourself by drinking too much or burying yourself in frantic activity. But instead of going out feeling like fun, it feels like desperation, and there’s an undercurrent of hopelessness.

This article written by me, Ellen Whyte, originally appeared on Malaysia Womens Weekly.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

5 Weird Body Clues That Show You Are Stressed

Telltale signs that you are stressed can be surprising as well. Find yourself identifying with one or more of these clues? Assess what’s going on in your life.

Normally we associate stress with bad stuff happening, like losing a job or having too many deadlines. But stress is simply a reaction. You can be stressed by being promoted, getting a raise, and even by going on holiday.

#1 Flatulence. When you’re stressed, your body goes into flight or fight mode. This includes making changes to your digestive system. When you’re stressed continuously, this can cause an upset tummy, diarrhea, constipation and gas.

#2 Weird dreams. There are a lot of theories about why we dream, and if they have an impact on our health, but studies suggest we all dream at various points in the night, whether we remember them or not. While nothing can be done about dreams, some people find they dream more – and more vividly – when they’re stressed. So strange wild dreams can be a useful clue that you’re taking on too much in your life.

#3 Skin rashes, spots and pimples. When sweat glands are blocked, trapped moisture leads to inflammation such as spots and rashes. Sweating is normal in hot tropical countries like Singapore and Malaysia, but when you’re stressed, you tend to perspire even more. At the same time, being over-stressed can affect your immune system, which can also inflame skin issues like acne. If you have skin conditions like allergies, eczema or psoriasis, these are also more likely to flare up if you’re stressed.

#4 Muscle cramps. When you’re stressed, you may tense your muscles. After prolonged tension, this can lead to all kinds of cramps. Although you might have tummy cramps one day and foot cramp the next, a lot of people find that they are affected in a particular way. I get back pain and tension headaches when I’m stressed.

#5 Menstrual problems. Stress can make your periods arrive early, late or disappear altogether. Most annoyingly, it can increase period pain. In the long-term, stress can affect fertility for both men and women. If you’re worried about this, keep a diary that includes stress level notes for auditing and talk to your gynae.

Note: I have two jobs, author and counselling psychologist. This article first appeared on Malaysia Women's Weekly on 22 December 2016.  Go over and check out the free articles, and buy the magazine copy for even more goodies!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The psychology of sudden, severe back pain

I wrenched my back rescuing a tiny kitten from a storm drain some years ago, and every now and again it goes out of whack. No biggie.

Two weeks ago when my back went I did what works for me: muscle relaxants, anti inflammatories and I lie flat for a day or two. Then I go out and about, but slowly. I also take my back for a swim, because it's a good easy way to stretch.

I tend to avoid medical information online because I'm not a doctor and so I can't critically evaluate information. However, this popped up in one of my news feeds, 10 myths about back pain and as it happens, this is the advice I've had in the past. 

This time I hurt my back on Monday but by Wednesday I was okay again, swimming for thirty minutes, no problem. So on Friday I went out. I walked a mile or two, and ended up in a mall, looking for cat treats. While there, a wildly running child ran into my back, full tilt.

Courtesy Geralt Pixabay

Luckily I was too hurt to swear at the brat. I simply limped off, took a breather on a bench, and then went on to meet up with my friends as usual.

Three hours later I was home and lying flat again. The next morning I couldn't move. Any movement provoked screaming pain. And I mean, screaming. Full blown sciatica.

About Pain And Mind

Pain is subjective, and so are reactions, but this is my experience:
Courtesy Marcelabr Pixabay

Insight #1: Extreme pain is frightening. I didn't want to be touched, and it freaked me out if anything or anyone came near me.

Insight #2: The fear messes with your mind. When pain is extreme, there's just one message you can focus on: avoid it. Everything else becomes completely unimportant.

Insight #3: Real pain causes tears - lots of them. I was okay if I kept flat and totally still, but moving was agony. Sitting made me weep. Lying down after sitting made me cry too.

Insight #4: Pain is humiliating because it makes you helpless. I was completely aware of what pain was doing to me, but even so it made me feel dreadful that I was in floods, that I couldn't move, and that I was totally useless. Embarrassing.

Insight #5: Despite the pain, certain essentials are inevitable. When pain comes and goes, it takes a certain frame of mind to move through it. With my back, I found I could lie still and be okay.  It was just moving that hurt. Ideally I was going to lie totally still until my back stopped screaming at me. However, one must pee. 

I lay in bed, thinking that I should simply stop drinking water just to avoid the agony of making myself sit up and shuffle to the bathroom. Although it's ten feet away from the bed, it was taking me a full 20 minutes to get up and shuffle there. And I'm talking one way.

What helped me!

Helpful #1: Knowing what the issues were. Yes it was scary, humiliating and horrible all round, but understanding the connection between the physical and the mental helped me manage both.

Helpful #2: Putting the pain aside from me. This is a little harder to explain but what I find useful is to think of my painful back as not being part of the essential me. I am the person, the pain is just a nasty thing that's messing up the body that carries me. It's a way of distancing myself from the pain.  I talk about it that way too, by saying, "I take my back for a swim" and "I'm going to see how my back will take to doing this".

Helpful #3: A walking stick.  I found that a stick gave me certainty. Having a solid foundation to lean on made it easier to push through the pain when getting up and sitting down. I could also use the handle to pick stuff up.

Helpful #4: Shaping my environment. I rearranged my bedside table so that I had my ipad and connections all next to me. I moved all the loo paper so I didn't have to twist or reach. And once I got out of my bed, I moved everything in the kitchen and fridge to the top shelves so I didn't have to bend. 

Helpful #5: Telling my husband what I needed. The people who love you want to help, but they're not clairvoyant. This is common sense but it's amazing what we don't do "because we don't want to be a bother".

I realised that what I really, really missed was my early morning coffee. But the machine is downstairs, which was about an hour's travel. So I asked my husband if he could bring me coffee in bed. What a difference!

Helpful #6: Socialising!  I couldn't go anywhere and I certainly didn't want people coming round, but thanks to the Net I was able to Skype and chat with friends. Very cheering! 

Helpful #7: Serious drugs. If I'd been home in Spain, I would have gone straight to the doctor. It's not my first option now because I have had some very mixed results from seeing doctors in Malaysia.

To be clear, I've met lots of excellent ones.  However, there was the man who poked me with his pen because his religion forbade him to touch women who weren't related to him, and the woman who sold me "special" medicine that I later found in the chemist and supermarket - at ten times less than she charged me. We've also had media reports of bogus medical practitioners (like this one, and this one) and problems about faked results. As such, I was too scared to go to hospital and trust in an unknown doctor.

I went to see my GP who is a rock of common sense. She knows I'm paranoid about strange doctors so she gave me a lecture on when to go to emergency (e.g., if my leg went numb). I wanted to give it 24 hours so she gave me a shot of something. I'm sorry, but I can't remember the name, I think it was Olfen but it may have been a painkiller.

She also gave me Neurorubine Forte, a combo of vitamins B1, B6, and B12 that give your nervous system a kick and OLFEN 100, an anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic.

After seeing my GP I was back in bed, exhausted with the pain and possibly the drugs too. I slept 14 hours and when I woke up, I felt a million times better. I made a point of shuffling about the house every hour on the hour. The day after that I woke up feeling another million times better. Actually, I felt fine.

WEIRD And that's the other thing about this kind of back pain: it's full on for days and then it disappears as quickly as it turned up. I'm told that nerves get pinched causing super pain and then unpinch just as suddenly. Maybe it's true, maybe it's not, but it does describe exactly how I felt. On the third day I felt bruised and a bit shaky, also nervous in case it came back, but I was okay.  Really.

Now I'm back to work, but being very careful. I lie down as often as I sit and I'm making a point this week of going for a swim every day.

Bottom Line

If you have sudden severe pain, expect to be frightened. Understand it may confuse you, so do have someone you trust to help you when you seek medical advice. Your trusted person needs to make sure all the questions are asked, and to keep track of what you need to do to get better.

Seeing pain comes with a lot of emotional upheaval, you may want to talk to someone like me. This is especially true if your pain is long term because pain and depression can go hand in hand.  So if you're suffering, for goodness sake reach out! 

And here's my professional plug: I work on Skype and Facetime, so you needn't leave your bed! Email me!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

When Happiness Is Sabotaged By Too Many Choices

We're told that having lots of choices make us happy.  It seems that it should because people have different tastes. However, turns out that this isn't quite true.

Check out this TED talk by Barry Schwartz, who presents the conclusions of various studies that explain how too many choices make us doubt ourselves and can cause a kind of mental paralysis.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Suffering from Weltschmerz? A tip to cheer you up!

Hell in a wheelbarrow, courtesy Thomas Staub pixabay
Do you feel that the world is a mean place, filled with wicked people, lazy youths and altogether heading for hell in a hand basket?  If so, read on for some discussion of what might be going on, and tips for managing the issue.

Weltschmerz meaning world-pain in German was coined by Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, a German author who wrote fun, upbeat romances in the late 18th century.  Known by his pen name, Jean Paul, he suggested that our wishes about a perfect world can never actually come true, hence our pain when reality falls short of our expectations.

Jean Paul by Heinrich Pfenninger

Weltschmerz is also used in the context of the kind of anxious depression we feel when we contemplate the ills of the world. At present, this type of reaction is the subject of some research and so far the leading impression is that connectivity is at least partly to blame.

So how does that work?

Many opinion makers point out that depression has risen at the same time as the internet has become generally available. They say we are swamped with information, a lot of it is pretty negative, and that this is one of the things that makes us more prone to depression. 

However, is this really new?

Many people point at the media as highlighting bad stuff that's happening. However, in the 1700s, newspapers were popular, especially the yellow press that relied on scandal mongering.Nasty news back then was just as hot as it is now.

I think this points to our human nature. Positive news attracts very few readers; horrific news is extremely popular. As news agencies are companies that rely on sales, they focus on death, war, torture, rape, cruelty and so on. (Although some add in the odd cute kitten to mitigate all the negative stuff.)

While the type of news we see has stayed constant over time, it's true that we have the capability to see more bad news today than ever before. I watch "on the hour" headlines from several live news feeds and read the top stories of twenty or so newspapers and magazines every day. That's a lot of bad news.

However, many people don't watch the news, don't read newspapers and get their information from social networks instead. They are not in touch with world events at all, and sometimes not even local ones.

It may be that the other things about being connected, the pressure to keep up with the Jones's, bullying, and so on, are factors, however, these pressures aren't new either and I'm not convinced they're very much different now than they were pre-internet.

I think there are two more important phenomena at work. 

Gumibears, courtesy Ronile, Pixabay
First, we are increasingly lonely.  Our homes are smaller, so we live alone or in small family units rather than with three or even four generations. Few of us can afford to live near our work, so we tend to live further away from our friends and relatives than ever before. We also work more hours than we used to, have fewer days off, and commuting means even less time with loved ones.   This type of isolation leads to increased stress and depression.

Second, we underestimate our own changing sophistication. When we're young, we tend to be naive and more optimistic because bad situations are new to us. Of course, the more experience we have, the more we become aware that happy endings aren't always the rule.  This means that when we are mature, we understand that victims won't always leave their abusive partners, that rape victims are blamed because others choose to attack them, ... and on and on it goes.

However, we confuse our own increased wisdom with moral decline in the world.  We think, "This didn't happen twenty years ago," instead of, "Twenty years ago I would have thought differently about this."

Put it all together and you have a pretty powerful negative punch, with or without connectivity.

If you suffer from Weltschmertz, simply understanding what you're feeling, what your personal triggers are, and how you can uplift your spirits with simple exercises like uncovering your own inner needs as well as pleasure scheduling will help. 

However, there is another very simple realisation that helps me when I'm having dark thoughts:

In the Book of Isaiah, written around 700BC, the author wrote, "How the faithful city has become a whore! Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them."

Horace reads before Maecenas, by Fyodor Bronnikov
Horace, a Roman poet working around 20BC, wrote in Book III of Odes, "Viler than grandsires, sires beget Ourselves, yet baser, soon to curse The world with offspring baser yet."

Look throughout history and you'll find similar examples of older people moaning that the world used to be terrific and is now horrible.

I take that as a very good sign. If people have been moaning about how wicked everyone is for thousands of years, we're probably looking at thousands more years of the same thing.

So when I'm inclined to think, "The world is becoming awful" I say to myself "It's my increased wisdom saying that, and I'm just having a Horace moment."  It works for me.  Hope it works for you!