Is there a difference between stress and anxiety?

Quite often I get clients coming to me saying they are not anxious they are stressed/ suffering with stress…I think that is partly because there is a stigma about having anxiety and maybe a little kudos in being so busy you are stressed?

However mostly I think it is a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word anxiety… So lets think of stress as the external force that is applied to something or somebody (remember GCSE physics?); so obviously a cumulation of many stressors in somebody’s life will probably effect their quality of life and / or their mood….However some people are very resilient and manage to juggle many stressors without ending up on a therapist’s “couch”…And don’t forget that old adage: “if your life doesn’t add up start subtracting!” And don’t be afraid to say no if you are being asked to do too much.

However quite often stress the external force can cause an internal state of anxiety. And most people think that anxiety is just another word for feeling nervous, yet it can be so much more than that: so you may or may not be a worrier, but if you have brain fog, or find yourself being irritable/ snappy or you are often overthinking or over planning or being a perfectionist or you aren’t sleeping well or you are constantly restless or you have unusual physical symptoms – these can all be traits of anxiety…

“Boys will by boys”??!

Yesterday I attended a vigil in Bath for Sarah Everard and her family and all women who have been killed, threatened or inappropriately treated by men…and as usual when something becomes a meme in the media my husband and I discuss it…So we compared notes and I was able to count at least 20 times, when I was younger, that I had been either followed or inappropriately treated by people of the opposite sex; admittedly I have not been raped and no-one has attempted to kill me, but there was a close shave once when I had to get out of a car at traffic lights and then run like hell (thank goodness they didn’t have central locking in those days). My husband came up with about 5 episodes – including two women who had dementia.

So this got me thinking – even though strength and power are important factors – they are not the whole story. Neither are women inherently kinder human beings…So another important factor has to be about upbringing. As a psychologist I know that as we are brought up we are socialised into taking on certain inhibitions – some good and some bad and they then become part of our core beliefs or schemas… And people with dementia lose their inhibitions…. I don’t want to lay more guilt on parents, but I know my son would never do anything to threaten a woman… And I remember as a young parent I hated the phrase “boys will be boys”. So let’s not use it anymore, as it really is the thin end of the wedge.

ACT…

ACT is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and it was “invented” by Steve Hayes; it is essentially a combination of some CBT techniques and Mindfulness… Recently I did some training/CPD on this with Dr Russ Harris and I thought I would share the basics with you here:

  • It’s about being in the present moment.
  • It’s about accepting our emotions and feelings, even pain.
  • It’s about defusing from our thoughts (see the post I wrote awhile ago on the Train as one way of doing this).
  • It’s about being able to observe yourself – hence the image at the top of this blog.
  • It’s about knowing your values and the sort of person you want to be.
  • And it’s about committing to your goals and doing the things you want to do in your life, despite any pain etc.
  • So if you want to know more go to YouTube and look up any of Russ Harris’s videos – two particularly good ones are The Evolution of the Human Mind and The Struggle Switch

Getting the vaccine…

So I am getting my first jab of the Covid vaccine on Sunday, as I am a health worker and therefore in the first phase of people who will qualify… has it gone through my mind that it might not be safe because of the rapidity it has been developed – why yes of course, however as a scientist myself I tend to trust the scientists most of the time.

In order for the vaccine to be successful in getting rid of this virus, we need to have about three quarters of the population vaccinated eventually in order to develop herd immunity… so what will encourage people to get vaccinated?

1.Well information alone is not usually very successful, but because this is a new vaccine, information about its safety and efficacy may well be helpful this time. Especially of it comes from a trusted source e.g. the GP practice that you are happy with.

2. Social norms are important too i.e. if you notice that a lot of people like you are having the vaccine, then you are more likely to have it yourself – hence my reason for writing this blog.

3. Convenience and opportunity – if you are given an appointment that is easy to attend at a time and place that is good for you, or if you are able to have it at your place of work that will make life easier too.

4. Being prosocial will motivate many people too if they think they are helping society to get back to some sort of normalcy.

So keep calm and get vaccinated!

Knowing ourselves…

In The Psychologist this month there is an article titled “Do you know yourself?” and I will try and summarise some of the main points here…it begins with the quote by Benjamin Franklin: “There are three things extremely hard:steel, a diamond and to know one’s self.” Yet if you google knowing yourself, it comes up with lots of images for Aristotle’s words about knowing yourself being wisdom…so obviously the lay perception is that people can know themselves well, but the evidence says otherwise!

Firstly most people think they are more intelligent than the average person, which is obviously impossible (and no surprises that erroneous presumption is higher for men than women!) Secondly people are often mistaken about some of their personality characteristics – we are quite good at knowing where we are on the introversion-extraversion continuum and also on the conscientiousness continuum, but we are poor at knowing how agreeable we are!

The reason we are poor at knowing ourselves is because of optimistic bias. And this in turn protects our mental health i.e. if we have high self -esteem (without being a narcissist) we will feel like we have a more satisfactory life. However optimistic bias is not so good for our physical health:- e.g. if we think that one more biscuit, cigarette/drink is not going to harm us we are often fooling ourselves…. Yet it is not all doom and gloom – we can become more self-aware through talking therapies or by practising meditation.

Being a Nana…

The media obviously has a skewed idea of what it is to be a grandmother, as even when you search Google for images of a young grandmother you still get pictures of old ladies with grey hair!

This April I became a grandmother for the first time and I have decided to be called Nana – pronounced the same way as the end of the word banana! For those of you who know me the reason will be obvious…

Unfortunately both my grandmothers died when I was a young child, so my only role models for grandmothers are my own mother and my previous mother-in-law and how they were with my children…and from that I have learnt that there is a middle way to walk in the grandparenting role: be firm but also fun, visit occasionally but not too often, don’t give advice unless asked, babysit when needed – but don’t be taken advantage of; and just like being a parent – be authoritative rather than authoritarian or passive…

The old adage is that the great thing about being a grandparent is that you can love the grandchildren, but at the end of the day you get to give them back…However thanks to Coronavirus I haven’t had the chance to love my grandson except from a distance, so I am hoping that when the second one comes along next Spring I will get the chance anew…

A racial awakening?

A “racial awakening” is the term used in The Psychologist this month to describe what is going on with Black Lives Matter (BLM) at the moment….it’s not just about the George Floyd incident – bad though that was – but also about the effect the coronavirus has had on the black communities and all the microaggressions that racism causes, which has an impact on people and can cause trauma in black people similar to PTSD. The BPS and the Cof E – both organisations that I am involved with have finally woken up to doing something about it…Obviously the UK is different from America – but we are certainly not innocent – look at the way the British press treated Meghan Markle…and despite the Macpherson enquiry in 1999, the British police are still institutionally racist too.

What can we do? – apart from setting up / helping diversity task forces within our organisations and affirmative action, I still think that making people aware of their unconscious biases is helpful too (despite the mixed evidence to support this). It certainly worked for me – I was trained in this when I was undergoing my teacher training in the 1980s and it has helped me to recognise my own prejudices and also to challenge other teachers and my clients when necessary. So reading around the subject can help, for example I have recently read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo (which I would recommend despite it being v American).

You may wonder why, as a white woman, I think I can write about this, but for me it’s also personal, as my niece and nephew are mixed race…however I hope overcoming racism matters to all. Also I hope that any of my clients may feel free to talk to me about these issues and if they are black that they can feel free to challenge me on anything I might say or do that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Am I a TERF?

4406 So by writing this blog today I am risking going against some things that my professional body may advise, but I’m a woman before I am a psychologist…So am I a TERF? Well it seems to be used as a derogatory word for some women today in much the same way that calling women witches has been in the past. But let’s unpick the acronym: TE stands for Trans-Exclusionary, which means excluding all trans people – do I do that? Well I have no problems with men dressing up or wearing make-up – hence my photo here of Julian Clary; and I have enjoyed going to cabaret shows where men dress as women (and wonder why it’s funny when men dress as women but not so the other way round?) and two of my favourite films are “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and “Kinky Boots”, but Julian and the characters in those films don’t’ try and pass themselves off as women in their everyday lives….The RF stands for Radical Feminist – well I would call myself a feminist in that I think that women deserve equal pay to men etc but I don’t always practise what I preach, as my husband and I often share some of the roles in our house in a traditional way….so I am not really radical.

However I very much agree with what Germaine Greer and JK Rowling say about the issue; e.g. men pretending to be women just suggests that women are an inferior sort of person to men – hence the humour? And yes there are probably now more girls wanting to be boys than the other way round, because we still live in a world where white men have better life opportunities…and I do think that in this day and age where we can pretty much wear what we want and apply for any job regardless of our gender, then why is there an issue? We all have a mixture of feminine and masculine within us and yes as we develop as children there will be some social construction going on, but why can’t we just embrace who we are as we are? That is after all part of my work as a therapist – to work with people who have any sort of dysphoria – but the answer isn’t give them what they ask for – otherwise we would be sending depressed people to dignitas!! And if we feel like we should be the opposite gender, then that is just a thought or a feeling and as a CBT therapist I teach people that decisions are not best made based on emotions alone…

So, yes I don’t think the NHS should be wasting it’s precious resources on gender reassignment surgery, I don’t think we should be stopping puberty in our adolescents, ladies toilets should just be for women only not trans, trans women should not be going to women’s’ prisons if they still  have a penis, trans women should not be competing against women in their sports, trans issues are not the same as sexuality issues (so why bolt them together?); and if you can’t menstruate, fall pregnant or breastfeed then you are not a woman – biology doesn’t lie – it is in our DNA (and I am not including here intersex which is a separate more complex issue). So yes many people would call me a TERF – but do I care? No.

Coronaphobia…

shutterstock_1675205416_1 Coronaphobia is a new word around at the moment and a little of it is understandable, especially if you have seen those photos of seriously ill people in hospital or you have heard someone talk about their recovery etc. However for some people it can become a real problem, possibly leading to health anxiety or OCD or agoraphobia…and ways of recognising this are discovering that you have become obsessive about cleaning or you are not going out to places or to see people where it is probably safe…So here are 7 tips to help you deal with this type of anxiety:

  1. Baby steps – make changes gradually, for example by initially going out for walks or to supermarkets at times when it’s not busy…. but don’t stay indoors unless your GP has told you to.
  2. Be rational – for example if you are a young white woman, with no underlying health conditions, the probability that you will get ill from coronavirus is exceedingly slim. Remember that thoughts are not facts….
  3. Don’t watch/listen to too much news!
  4. Do something good for somebody else that will make them happy – to take away the focus from yourself and your body…
  5. Work out what it is you value in life and give those values more priority than your anxieties.
  6. Invite in the positive emotions like hope and gratitude instead of focussing on the negative ones.
  7. If you feel your anxieties are getting out of control, get expert help from a health professional e.g. your GP or a therapist.

ACE it…

ACE

This Venn diagram can help prevent or beat depression! It’s called ACE-ing it….i.e. if you can have the following three areas covered in your life, you are going to be doing OK and one of the reasons that people get depressed is because they stop focusing on them and instead just try and do the mundane stuff, which may seem important at the time, but is not as important as ACE: (this is provided you are in good physical health);

  • A is for achievement i.e.something to do and this can include your work, but also hobbies, exercise etc.
  • C is for connections i.e. someone to love – this doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic love and can include friends as well as family, or just making connections with people that you meet in your everyday life.
  • E is for enjoyment i.e. somewhere to go, but that is not easy at the moment in the present times, however there are plenty of things you can do that are enjoyable at home e.g. reading, listening to music etc.

And if none of that works, then it maybe that you need to have some CBT therapy to change your thinking styles.