NEW VOLUME 5 Psychology Now TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR MIND FOR A HAPPIER, HEALTHIER LIFE “YOUR BODY IS FUNCTIONING BUT YOU’RE NOT REALLY ATTACHED TO IT” 132 pag es OF EXP ER ADVICE T JAMIE LAING INTROVERTS, EXTRAVERTS THOSE IN BETWEEN ON PANIC ATTACKS, ANXIETY & DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS VOLUME 5 Digital Edition MENTAL HEALTH + OVERCOMING BETRAYAL UNDERSTAND THE DARING TO BE VULNERABLE BREAKING FREE FROM THE PAST ADDICTION VOLUME 5 Psychology Now TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR MIND FOR A HAPPIER, HEALTHIER LIFE Understanding human behaviour and mental processes, whether our own or those belonging to others, is essential if we want to make better decisions and lead happier lives. Why do we feel certain emotions in specific situations? Why do we behave in particular ways? And what can we do to overcome the things that hold us back? Delve into the world of psychology and build a better relationship with your mind. Learn how to be kind to it, unlock its full potential and use it to your advantage. In the pages that follow, we explore the benefits of setting yourself free of the past, how to thrive on failure, the science behind addiction, and what happens in our relationships if we find the courage to be vulnerable. We also look into human instincts, the chameleon effect, and how to overcome betrayal. Packed full of expert guidance from psychologists, counsellors and other professionals, we also speak exclusively to Jamie Laing about anxiety, panic attacks and dissociative disorders. The mind is a powerful tool. Learn how to take control of your own mind today for a happier, healthier tomorrow. VOLUME 5 Psychology Now Future PLC Quay House, The Ambury, Bath, BA1 1UA Editorial Group Editor Sarah Bankes Art Editor Madelene King Senior Art Editor Andy Downes Head of Art & Design Greg Whitaker Editorial Director Jon White Contributors Edoardo Albert, Sarah Bankes, Julie Bassett, Claire Cantor, Jo Dunbar, Scott Dutfield, Eva Gizowska, Rose Goodman, Philippa Grafton, Emma Green, Ailsa Harvey, Faith Hill, Ali Horsfall, Leah Larwood, Natalia Lubomirski, Laura Mears, Julia Mitchell, Dan Peel, Louise Pyne, Jenny Rowe, Christabel Smith, Faye M Smith, Julia Wills Cover images © Getty Images / Rudzhan Nagiev / miakievy / invincible_bulldog / everything bagel / Olga Tsareva / Aleksei Naumov / dar woto Jamie Laing © David Reiss Photography All copyrights and trademarks are recognised and respected Advertising Media packs are available on request Commercial Director Clare Dove International Head of Print Licensing Rachel Shaw email@example.com Circulation Head of Newstrade Tim Mathers Production Head of Production Mark Constance Production Project Manager Matthew Eglinton Advertising Production Manager Joanne Crosby Digital Editions Controller Jason Hudson Production Managers Keely Miller, Nola Cokely, Vivienne Calvert, Fran Twentyman Printed in the UK Distributed by Marketforce, 5 Churchill Place, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5HU www.marketforce.co.uk Tel: 0203 787 9001 Psychology Now Volume 5 (LBZ4779) © 2022 Future Publishing Limited We are committed to only using magazine paper which is derived from responsibly managed, certified forestry and chlorine-free manufacture. 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Future plc is a public company quoted on the London Stock Exchange (symbol: FUTR) www.futureplc.com Chief executive Zillah Byng-Thorne Non-executive chairman Richard Huntingford Chief financial officer Penny Ladkin-Brand Tel +44 (0)1225 442 244 CONTENTS 8 28 INFLUENTIAL PSYCHOLOGISTS: PAST & PRESENT LIFE AFTER BETRAYAL 48 32 12 THE CHAMELEON EFFECT LEARNING TO TRUST HOW TO THRIVE ON FAILURE 14 UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS 50 THE IMPACT OF LIVING LIFE ONLINE 34 HUMAN INSTINCT 101 54 38 HEALING WITH REIKI SET YOURSELF FREE OF THE PAST 40 56 YOU CAN’T CONTROL EVERYTHING INTO THE BLACK (SUICIDE) 42 62 YOUR MENTAL HEALTH MASTERCLASS CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? 26 15 WAYS TO MAKE LIFE MORE FUN 6 PSYCHOLOGY NOW CONTENTS 66 89 REDISCOVER YOUR OPTIMISM FOLD AWAY YOUR FEARS 90 70 WHITE COAT SYNDROME UNDERSTANDING INTROVERTS & EXTRAVERTS 94 WHAT’S YOUR ATTACHMENT STYLE? 98 COUNTERACTING COERCIVE CONTROL 78 THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE 84 110 112 WHY DO WE FEEL GUILT? 116 MODERN MEDITATION 102 SEEING SOUNDS & SMELLING COLOURS TAPPING IN TO TRAUMA 86 HOW WE LEARN THE PAIN OF EXISTENCE WHY WE GET ADDICTED 72 106 104 DOPAMINE FASTING 120 COULD SEX THERAPY HELP YOU? 124 EMBRACE THE BLUE PSYCHOLOGY NOW © Getty Images, David Reiss THE LOST (MISSING PEOPLE) 7 INFLUENTIAL PSYCHOLOGISTS PAST & PRESENT INFLUENTIAL PAST PRESENT Don’t know where to start with psychological theory? Here are ten of the most important and fascinating psychologists that you need to know about WORDS JULIA MITCHELL SIGMUND FREUD BORN 6 May 1857 DIED 23 September 1939 Known by many as the ‘father of modern psychology’, Freud is renowned for his theories which, at the time, were groundbreaking. His work spanned across many areas, delving into the interpretation of dreams, childhood, sexuality and the unconscious mind. He also developed psychoanalysis – a form of therapy that aims to treat mental illness by delving into the unconscious mind and analysing the thoughts and feelings that lie there. Other notable theories penned by Freud include the division of the adult personality into three areas: the id, the ego and the super-ego, and the somewhat controversial idea that all children go through a process of psychosexual development. This includes the oral, anal and phallic stages, all of which must be successfully navigated in order to prevent becoming ‘fixated’ on a certain stage, thus causing mental illness later in life. 8 PSYCHOLOGY NOW INFLUENTIAL PSYCHOLOGISTS PAST & PRESENT IVAN PAVLOV BORN 26 September 1849 DIED 27 February 1936 While Pavlov was not a traditional psychologist (he actually won the Nobel Prize in 1904 for his work in physiology) his place on this list is indisputable due to the considerable contributions that he made to behavioural psychology. Within this field he is well known for his work around conditioning, theorising that learning can occur when a participant is trained to respond in a particular way to a stimulus. He demonstrated this through a series of experiments with dogs, where they were trained to salivate in response to a neutral stimulus. He achieved this by training the dogs to associate the noise with receiving food, and thus they began salivating when hearing that noise. Crucially, Pavlov believed that these reactions were an automatic response caused by the training and not a conscious decision on behalf of the dogs. This theory is known as classical conditioning. B. F. SKINNER BORN 20 March 1904 DIED 18 August 1990 Another behavioural psychologist, but this time convinced that the classical view of conditioning was not reflective of the complex human mind, Skinner created a theory known as operant conditioning. He proposed that behaviour is more likely to be repeated depending on the outcome of that behaviour, and involves a decision being made on behalf of the participant, weighed up against a consequence. For example, a puppy is more likely to follow commands if they are given a reward. Operant conditioning acknowledges that the puppy has chosen its behaviour based on the likelihood of its desired outcome. As explained previously, classical conditioning on the other hand theorised that behaviour could be conditioned using a stimulus that would create an involuntary response, so this was a huge development on what started out as a fairly simplistic idea. JEAN PIAGET BORN 9 August 1896 DIED 16 September 1980 Piaget was one of the early child psychologists, interested in children’s cognitive development. He theorised that a child’s intelligence isn’t inherently determined, and that it instead grows as they age, moving through four key stages. The first of those is the sensorimotor stage (ages 0-2) followed by the preoperational stage (2-7), the concrete operational stage (7-11) and finally the formal operational stage (12 and up). Within these stages, Piaget emphasised that much of the child’s cognitive development comes from within, as they interact with and learn more about the world. For example, children first learn about object permanence during the sensorimotor stage, and their understanding of objects continues to develop as they move through the stages, becoming able to depict objects through words and images in the preoperational stage. PSYCHOLOGY NOW 9 INFLUENTIAL PSYCHOLOGISTS PAST & PRESENT AARON BECK BORN 18 July 1921 DIED 1 November 2021 ABRAHAM MASLOW BORN 1 April 1908 DIED 8 June 1970 You’re likely to have heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – a theory that is still discussed today and you’ll sometimes see in memes or other forms of popular culture. Maslow first proposed his theory in 1943, suggesting that all of our actions are based on a hierarchy of our needs. For example, the bottom layer of the hierarchy concerns basic needs that we require to survive, such as food, water and sexual reproduction. The second layer features security and safety needs, such as healthcare, employment and housing. Above that are social needs (family, social groups and friendships), esteem needs (appreciation and respect), and finally, the top layer concerns selfactualisation needs, which includes creativity and personal growth. Furthermore, Maslow identified with the humanistic psychologists, who were interested in wellbeing and positive mental health, rather than mental illness and abnormalities. Aaron Beck is often referred to as the creator of one of today’s most practiced forms of therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Beck theorised that depression was underpinned by negative automatic thoughts. While that might seem obvious now, other psychologists at the time believed that depression was caused by an innate tendency towards suffering, meaning that his theory was a huge departure from those of his psychoanalytic peers. Beck developed CBT as a collaborative form of therapy, encouraging his patients to be critical and evaluate their negative thoughts, and to change these thoughts and behaviours to help them feel better. Beck went on to apply his theory to help others who are experiencing forms of mental distress, and CBT can now be applied to a wide range of mental illness presentations and patients. STEVEN PINKER BORN 18 September 1954 Focusing on cognitive psychology, Pinker has carried out research into a variety of areas including psycholinguistics, the area where the study of psychology and language overlaps. He is most well known for the theory that language is a biological ability that’s hardwired into the human brain from birth, building on research by the late linguist Noam Chomsky. Pinker has also conducted research into visual cognition, which concerns the ability to imagine shapes and recognise faces and objects, before moving into his research on language and the linguistic development in children. In this area he looked at how children develop the ability to use language, from their prelinguistic state to that of a native speaker with fully developed language. He also writes popular psychology for a general audience. other psychologists at the time believed that depression was caused by an innate tendency towards suffering 10 PSYCHOLOGY NOW INFLUENTIAL PSYCHOLOGISTS PAST & PRESENT STEVEN HAYES BORN 12 August 1948 Hayes is a clinical psychologist who first developed a third wave cognitive behavioural therapy known as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which combines psychotherapy with mindfulness and acceptance, with a strong focus on aligning with one’s values. Hayes has additionally carried out research into the use of ACT in the context of treating addiction, finding that this form of therapy can help people to reduce the shame and stigma around their addictions, thus finding that as shame levels reduce positive outcomes increase. Hayes is also the author of Relational Frame Theory Theory,, which outlines how relating one concept to another is a psychological foundation of human language. It’s known to be quite complex but also very interesting, and depicts the complexity of human cognition in comparison to other animals. this can help people to reduce the shame and stigma around their addictions BORN 20 July 1951 The founder of compassion-focused therapy (CFT), Gilbert is a clinical psychologist who began to develop his approach in the 1980s. Drawing on a wide variety of psychological approaches and theories, CFT is regarded as another third wave development in cognitive therapy, and is based upon the idea that having someone focus on the emotional tone of their thoughts can help them to develop a more compassionate and supportive way of thinking. This is interweaved with the principles of both Buddhist and evolutional psychology, and the therapy itself can be applied to a wide variety of symptoms and diagnoses. The approach benefits not just individuals but society as a whole, and Gilbert’s work focuses on cultivating more compassionate and less shame-filled communities. PSYCHOLOGY NOW ALBERT BANDURA BORN 4 December 1925 DIED 26 July 2021 Another psychologist interested in the science behind how people learn, Bandura’s social learning theory focuses on the importance of observation in the development of young minds. He found that children imitate behaviour from those around them, known as ‘models’, which can include anyone from family and friends to a character on television. This enables them to learn and imitate behaviour demonstrated by those they perceive as similar to themselves. His study, known as the ‘Bobi Doll Experiment’, studied aggression in children, demonstrating how preschool-aged infants are capable of engaging in violent behaviour that’s modelled to them by adults. It’s an intriguing study, which demonstrated how children can learn attitudes and behaviours from those around them. © Alamy, Getty Images / VectorMine PAUL GILBERT 11 HOW TO THRIVE ON FAILURE HOW TO THRIVE ON When we learn to face up to defeat, we also discover how best to succeed in life WORDS JENNY ROWE e are all spectacular failures, sometimes. From doomed relationships and disastrous interviews to burnt cakes and embarrassing social blunders, the emotional onslaught that W 12 follows can be overwhelming – even debilitating, if we dwell on it for too long. On the other hand, trying to erase it from your memory means you may overlook the knowledge you gained from trying at all. Here’s how to deal with failure in a more positive way so you can move on to your next exciting challenge with renewed determination. Listen to your emotions “Approaching any failure with self-compassion can be transformational,” says clinical psychologist and founder of Good Thinking PSYCHOLOGY NOW HOW TO THRIVE ON FAILURE Avoid people who are quick to judge your circumstances or decisions Psychological Services, Dr Marianne Trent. This means acknowledging how you’re feeling and giving yourself some time to process what has happened. Focusing on your emotions, rather than justifying why you failed, might actually help you learn from the experience and lead to you putting more effort into a second attempt, according to one study*. DO IT Label your emotions as they arise and sit with them for a moment. This will motivate you to do better next time in order to avoid being in the same situation. DO YOU WELCOME OR RUN FROM FAILURE? If you respond to failure by getting upset and giving up, you’re missing out on vital life lessons and motivating forces. Respond to failure more positively, and you may well get further in life. Your idea for a work party was vetoed. Do you get embarrassed and wish you’d not said anything? YES NO There’s a mistake in a craft gift you’ve made for a friend. Do you decide that it’s better to give him/her nothing than to publicise your artistic failings? YES NO Own your truth “Putting heavy emphasis on the opinions of others might well be linked to a previous trauma in your personal or working life – like having a dragon boss,” says Marianne. But in many situations, only you know the full truth, and the opinions of others might only amplify or confuse your feelings surrounding a failure. For example, when a long-term relationship breaks down, your friends can be quick to take sides and offer up unhealthy statements such as, ‘But you were such a power couple’. This may introduce or intensify any feelings of regret or guilt, which just make the situation even more painful. DO IT Avoid people who are quick to judge your circumstances or decisions. If you can close your ears to the misinformed perceptions of others, you’ll come to terms with failure more quickly and peacefully. You’ve submitted a piece of work that you feel isn’t your best. Do you wallow in disappointment and despair even before you’ve received feedback? YES NO You’re losing badly at a game of Monopoly. Do you try to disrupt and derail the entire game? YES NO A colleague gets the promotion you’ve worked really hard for all year. Have you avoided telling anyone you applied in the first place, so no one knows you’ve failed and you commiserate alone? YES NO Snub the socials HOW DID YOU SCORE? If you answered ‘yes’ more times than ‘no’, take note… couture dresses 24/7 only exist in the movies – this is real life. Consider your own journey and ask yourself: ‘Have I really failed here?’ DO IT Concentrate on taking small, tangible steps to improve an area of your life. In your career, this might mean developing a new skill rather than over-stretching for a promotion straight away. You might find the smaller goals lead to the bigger one, and there’ll be more wins to celebrate along the way. Lower the bar It’s simple: if you set unrealistic goals, you’ll feel a sense of failure more often. Super-slim stars with smooth, glowing skin that wear Stay inspired Many investors won’t consider parting with a penny unless an entrepreneur has at least one flop of a business to his or her name. And what kind of a lawyer only ever wins cases? Instead of being terrified of failure, turn your gaze to successful people, and realise that it’s often a necessary step on the road to success. “Many of the greatest lessons we learn will come from times when things haven’t run smoothly,” says Marianne. “And those struggles mean that success will feel all the sweeter when it does arrive.” DO IT If you feel you’ve failed, don’t keep it to yourself. You’ll be empowered when people – especially those who you perceive to be successful – respond by sharing similar experiences of their own. 13 PSYCHOLOGY NOW *Journal of Behavioral Decision Making © Shutterstock / Good Studio “It used to be said that today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper, but in the digital age it’s far harder to escape from pain,” says Marianne. There’s nothing like a feed full of holiday snaps and healthy meals to make us feel inadequate. And if you don’t receive enough ‘likes’ or comments on a particular life update, social media may even serve to downgrade what you subjectively experienced as a success into a failure. DO IT If you find you’re struggling to bounce back after a particularly disappointing or life-changing failure, try a digital detox. In a crisis, a friend’s smile is likely to be far more reassuring than any grinning emoji. UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS Underdiagnosed and rarely discussed, dissociative disorders are surprisingly common, though you may not recognise them for what they are WORDS JULIE BASSETT T he mind has many ways of coping when it’s under extreme stress, whether that’s due to a particular incident or traumatic experience, or as part of a mental health condition such as anxiety. One of the ways that the mind might cope is through ‘dissociation’, which can leave a person feeling disconnected from their thoughts, feelings, own identity, surroundings, and/or memories. What are dissociative disorders? Dissociative disorders can present in several ways and for different lengths of time. Some people experience feelings of dissociation for just a few hours or days, whereas others can feel disconnected for much longer – for weeks or even months. In more extreme cases, these disorders can last many years. Symptoms vary from feelings of disconnection from yourself and your environment, to forgetting certain information or memories, and feeling unsure about who you are or having multiple identities that are distinct from each other. Some dissociative disorders can lead to feeling less or no physical pain. While dissociative disorders are mental health conditions, they lead to a range of both psychological and physical problems. For some, these periods of dissociation are triggered by traumatic events from childhood as a way of coping; for others, they come on later in life after personal experiences that are particularly stressful or painful to process. They may be linked to other mental health conditions that increase levels of stress too. Whatever the trigger or type, dissociative disorders can be scary to experience, hard to explain and difficult to diagnose. They are not talked about as often as other, more common, mental health conditions, dissociative disorders can be scary to experience and difficult to diagnose 14 and it can be a very lonely experience as a result. There are resources and services that can help, which you can see in our boxout within this feature. Thanks to people like presenter and television personality Jamie Laing (see our interview after this feature), openly speaking out about dissociative disorders, we can slowly begin to break the stigma surrounding these complex conditions. The first step is in understanding what these conditions are, the signs and symptoms, and having access to the right resources and treatment. Dissociative identity disorder Dissociation is an umbrella term that covers different types of dissociative disorders, which have their own set of symptoms, though there is often some overlap. You may be most familiar with a condition called dissociative identity disorder (DID), which used to be called multiple personality disorder, though that term is an older definition and a lot more is now known about the disorder. The reason you may have heard of it is because it has featured in numerous films and TV series as a plot point, using a character’s PSYCHOLOGY NOW UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS PSYCHOLOGY NOW 15 UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS DID to portray varying personalities to feed into the narrative. In the late ’90s, Fight Club rose to popularity, and revealed, at its climax, that the unnamed narrator and the impulsive creator of the eponymous ‘fight club’ Tyler Durden were the same person. While these cultural representations might be helpful in highlighting such mental health disorders, they are rarely accurate – DID is most often triggered by intense childhood trauma; in Fight Club the disorder is used to highlight the psychological trauma caused by modern materialistic culture and its trappings, to make a statement, rather than to portray the true complexities of such a condition. The same can be said of earlier cultural examples, such as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Hyde,, or Psycho, Psycho, which may contribute more to the misinformation and misunderstanding around this condition. More recently, the 2022 Marvel television series Moon Knight features DID central to its narrative. However, the team behind the series have said that they spent a lot of time researching DID to ensure an accurate depiction on-screen. Having multiple distinct identities is one of the main symptoms of DID. These identities are usually identified by their own names, and can have distinct mannerisms, accents or ways of talking; they may present as different ages or genders. Each identity might have a different understanding of their own history, particularly when DID is in response to a traumatic childhood event – an identity may be created to escape from a difficult reality, omitting certain events. As such, someone with DID is likely to experience memory gaps around personal information and historical events, and feel uncertain about their own identity. Often those with DID will have an awareness of the other identities, but sometimes have an understanding of one identity that they feel is their core or ‘host’ identity. It is a complex psychiatric condition, thought to be diagnosed in around 1.5% of the global population*. A number of people in the public eye have talked openly about their struggles with DID. Actress Roseanne Barr said in 1994 that she suffered from DID, with multiple distinct personalities. She said at the time that her DID was caused by alleged childhood abuse. Former NFL player Herschel Walker has also talked widely about his experience with DID, writing a book in 2008 called Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder Disorder,, in which he reveals that he had a high number of alter egos, some that caused dangerous behaviours. Other forms of dissociation GROUNDING TECHNIQUES If you find yourself feeling disengaged with yourself or the world around you, try some of these grounding techniques to help centre yourself and feel more embedded with your reality. These can also be useful if you’re feeling very stressed or anxious, or if you’re suffering from a flashback. Grounding techniques use your senses to help ground you in reality. SOUND You may find it helpful to listen to some music that you find calming, paying attention to the lyrics to focus your attention. If you can’t listen to music, then try to listen to the sounds around you instead. TOUCH You might want to feel something comforting, like a blanket, or find a texture in your present environment. You may wish to focus on your feet and physically ground yourself by noticing what you’re standing on and pushing down to feel the ground. BREATHING Breathing techniques can also help. Try breathing in for four, holding for four, breathing out for four and holding for four. Or just breathing in and out slowly, but noticing each breath and its pattern. Another type of dissociative disorder is dissociative amnesia, which is when a person 16 PSYCHOLOGY NOW * Mitra P, Jain A. Dissociative Identity Disorder [Updated 2022, May 17] **Depersonalisation disorder: the condition you’ve never heard of that affects millions, The Guardian, 2015 Depersonalisation and derealisation: assessment and management, BMJ 2017;356:j745 UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS can’t remember certain personal information or events from their past. This isn’t the same as being forgetful or having a bad memory, and these lapses are not linked to a medical condition or medication/treatment. It’s more like certain things have been wiped from a person’s memory completely, which can again be triggered by a particularly traumatic incident as a coping mechanism. Dissociative amnesia can also cause a person to have blank episodes where they can’t remember where they are or how they got there, with the condition lasting anything from a few minutes to days. In complex and rare cases, dissociative amnesia can last for many months or years, and can be combined with a state of fugue. Dissociative amnesia with fugue is when a person completely loses awareness of their own identity, and is often linked with travelling to a new location and/or with a new identity with no recollection of previous events. Sometimes, dissociative disorders don’t fit into simple categories and can be unspecified (unspecified dissociative disorder) or specified (other specified dissociative disorder). All dissociative disorders can be difficult to diagnose, and symptoms can often be attributed to other conditions before a full diagnosis is made. Depersonalisation and derealisation Other types of dissociative disorders are more common, and are likely to be underdiagnosed so we don’t really know how many people suffer from them. Depersonalisation disorder (DPD) and derealisation disorder are two similar, but slightly different, mental health conditions that impact a greater number of people. Depersonalisation leads to feelings of being ‘outside’ of yourself, as though you are observing your life and actions from a distance without feeling connected to yourself. You might also feel as if you’re floating away from your body, or can’t define boundaries between yourself and other people. Some people describe it as though they are watching a film about themselves. Derealisation is when your environment feels like it’s not real, and you can feel disconnected from everything around you. This can be disorientating, as objects can seem undefined and less solid. It is possible to have depersonalisation and derealisation individually or together, and you may have a long period of disconnection, or many short periods. In the interview with Jamie Laing following this feature, he talks about his own experiences with depersonalisation at the age of 27, after suffering from general anxiety disorder for many years previously. It’s thought that DPD could affect up to 2% of the global population, equating to over a PSYCHOLOGY NOW million people in the UK (about one in 50 people) and over six million in the USA**. Many people don’t even know that what they’re experiencing is depersonalisation or derealisation, as they’re not very well-known conditions. Signs and symptoms Given the complexity of these types of disorders, the signs and symptoms can vary hugely from person to person. Some of the symptoms present with other conditions, which is why a detailed assessment is necessary to help build a picture of the full impact of the symptoms being presented. What makes it harder is that even those who have experienced a dissociative disorder struggle to describe their experiences. Conditions like dissociative identity disorder can, in some ways, be easier to diagnose, given the presence of distinct multiple identities. However, depersonalisation and derealisation are difficult to put into words. Those experiencing symptoms might describe their life as ‘living in a dream world’, or feeling ‘detached’ from their environment or the people around them. Other descriptions often used include the feeling that the world is ‘foggy’ or ‘lifeless’, or as a person they feel ‘robotic’ or watching their life from outside their body. Usually those people with these conditions are aware that what they’re feeling isn’t really their reality, but feel powerless to stop it from happening. In terms of specific signs and symptoms, there are some to be aware of that may point towards a dissociative disorder. This can include things like having blank It can be hard to explain how you’re feeling periods in your life around certain events, or gaps in your memory, including personal information. You may find yourself in a strange or different location, with no recollection of how you got there. You may have a sensation that the world around you isn’t quite real, and that objects and places seem to change and distort. You might feel robotic or lifeless, or feel like the world is blurred or foggy. You may feel detached from your reality and environment, or from your own body, like you’re watching your life from the outside. You may be disconnected from your sense of identity, or notice that other identities are present. This can make it very difficult to define who you are, which can be confusing and overwhelming. Getting a diagnosis A family doctor or GP is the first port of call if you’re worried that you have the symptoms of a dissociative disorder. It can be hard to explain how you’re feeling, so it’s worth writing down any episodes you can remember, or thoughts you are struggling with. Accounts of many episodes and occurrences can help to build a picture for the doctor to help diagnose these conditions. 17 UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS First, a doctor will need to rule out other causes for the symptoms. Certain drugs or medications, for example, can cause dissociation, as can alcohol misuse. There could be a physical cause for the feelings of dissociation, such as a head injury, or another condition, such as anxiety. If there is no clear cause, then a full mental health assessment is likely to be conducted, ideally via a psychotherapist or psychiatrist with a background in dissociative disorders. This assessment requires honesty to get a reliable diagnosis. It may be that the symptoms are more likely to be linked to another mental health condition, and the way the episodes impact on your everyday life will be taken into consideration too. It can still be difficult to get diagnosed with a dissociative disorder, partly due to an overlap in symptoms with more common mental health conditions; partly due to a lack of understanding of these conditions; and partly due to the difficulty in describing the symptoms. Not everyone finds a specific diagnosis helpful, particularly if the symptoms are SUPPORT SOMEONE WITH A DISSOCIATIVE DISORDER It can be really hard if someone you care for is experiencing a dissociative disorder. There are some practical things that you can do to support them, such as help them to get the treatment or therapy they need. That might be booking a doctor’s appointment to discuss options, finding a good therapist or helping them make a crisis plan for periods of dissociation. They may need someone they trust to act as an advocate for them, especially as dissociative disorders can be hard to diagnose. You can also aid them to stay safe during an episode, by understanding their triggers and helping them to avoid them or navigate them. They may also need to talk about what they are going through, and you can listen, even if you can’t do anything. Dissociative disorders can be hard on friends and family, especially if someone you care for is exhibiting different identities, or has long periods of dissociative amnesia. Make sure that you look after your own wellbeing, as you will find it hard to support them if you are burnt out yourself. Get adequate rest and sleep, engage with support groups to talk with others who are going through a similar experience, and ask for extra help if you need to. 18 short-lived, infrequent or don’t have a huge impact on your day-to-day life. In these cases, self-help and online resources can be useful, and you can still ask for help with your symptoms, even without a formal diagnosis. It might be that you come across dissociative disorders as a result of your own research and readings, trying to make sense of the way you feel and what you’re experiencing. What causes dissociative disorders? Dissociative disorders often come about due to a specific trauma, though not everyone who experiences a difficult or traumatic event will experience dissociation. These disorders are more likely in those who experience some form of abuse or neglect, particularly at a young age or over a long period of time. The younger a person is when they experience trauma, the more likely dissociation is, as the young mind cannot cope with processing what is happening to them. More extreme cases of dissociation are often triggered by childhood experiences like physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or severe neglect, when dissociation is the only way that child can remove themselves from a situation. Dissociation is also more likely to occur if a child doesn’t have a source of comfort or support in their life during a difficult time, or if the neglect or abuse is caused by someone they are emotionally attached to. It also means that, as an adult, that person doesn’t have any other mechanisms to cope with stress and will dissociate during difficult periods. Other causes and risk factors are oneoff incidents of extreme trauma as adults that can’t be processed in any other way. It’s normal to dissociate during the initial traumatic event as a way of coping and to protect the mind. The problem occurs when dissociation continues for a long time afterwards and it can become a coping mechanism for everyday stresses too. When linked to a particularly traumatic event, your mind may block out certain memories. However, something can trigger these memories and cause flashbacks, which can be very difficult to cope with, especially if the memory has been repressed for a long time. Depersonalisation and derealisation are not always caused by a specific trauma or event, and can happen alongside other mental health conditions that put the body in a state of stress. No one is really sure why we experience dissociation when stressed or traumatised. In difficult situations, the mind goes into ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ mode, and this is relatively well understood. Dissociation might occur when neither of these options are viable, when you can’t escape or fight a situation, PSYCHOLOGY NOW UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS as a way of protecting you from what you’re experiencing. Dissociation may stop us forming solid memories or understanding where we are or what is happening, changing the way we think and feel until the real or perceived trauma has passed. This would explain periods of amnesia, or sensations of detachment and unreality. Links to other conditions Dissociative disorders can appear on their own, or alongside another mental health condition. This is why it can be hard to define a dissociative disorder and it’s not uncommon to get a diagnosis of a different condition instead. When dissociation is triggered by a specific traumatic event, a person may also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This causes a person to relive a traumatic event and suffer from flashbacks. PTSD is thought to affect one in three people who experience trauma, and can be more likely if the trauma is experienced in childhood and/or over a sustained period of time. Depersonalisation or derealisation can be experienced by people who also suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. The panic attacks can convince the mind that it is undergoing a traumatic event and the mind reacts to the perceived threat just as it would a real one. Long-term anxiety can build up and create a lot of stress in the body, which can trigger dissociation to escape the situation. Depression, phobias, insomnia and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can also create situations where the mind is over-stressed and triggers a dissociation episode. If a person suffers from a dissociative disorder for a long period of time, this can also lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicidal tendencies, as they struggle to connect with themselves or the world around them. Treatment and self-care Once a dissociative disorder has been recognised or diagnosed, there are treatments available. For many people, this will be in the form of a talking therapy, such as counselling. This gives you the space to talk through how you are feeling and to face the causes of stress in your mind and body. This might be specific trauma counselling, which can be very difficult, but sometimes by facing the trauma in a safe environment and being given the chance to confront it can help to relieve the symptoms of dissociation. PSYCHOLOGY NOW For those who experience depersonalisation or derealisation linked to anxiety, depression or panic attacks, learning techniques to help cope with periods of disconnection can make dissociative episodes easier to manage. We have covered some ideas for grounding techniques in the boxout, which are things you can do in the moment if you feel disconnected or disengaged from the world around you or from yourself. Many people find that the right counselling is enough to recover from a dissociative disorder, especially if the underlying cause or trigger is addressed and coping mechanisms and techniques are learned. There are some medications that are used, however there is nothing specifically for dissociative disorders. Rather, there are medications that can help to treat triggers, causes and other symptoms that might then help with the dissociation. For example, being unable to sleep (insomnia) can make dissociation harder to cope with, so medication might be prescribed to help. Anti-depressants can also be used to manage depression or anxiety when present alongside dissociation. There are also some self-help techniques that can be useful. Some people find that keeping a journal helps, writing down your thoughts and feelings so that you become more aware of them. For people with DID, this can help to connect different identities, and for those who experience periods of amnesia, a diary can help with memory gaps. Other tips include writing notes for yourself with useful information, such as the time and date, emergency contact numbers and reminders, so that if your dissociation causes memory blanks or conflicting identities, you have a practical reference. It’s also important to look after yourself in other ways. The fundamentals of a healthy life can help you to cope better with a dissociative disorder, such as eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and doing some exercise. These things help to manage your mental health and wellbeing, which in turn can help with dissociative disorders. If you are worried about yourself, a friend or a loved one suffering from a dissociative disorder, then please refer to the useful resources, tips and links in the boxouts throughout this feature. ESSENTIAL RESOURCES AND LINKS UK Mind mind.org.uk Mind Infoline 0300 123 3393 (Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm) Samaritans samaritans.org Call 116 123 (24/7) Clinic for Dissociative Studies www.clinicds.co.uk European Society for Trauma and Dissociation www.estd.org First Person Plural www.firstpersonplural.org.uk SHOUT giveusashout.org Text ‘Shout’ 85258 (24/7) USA National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) www.nami.org Helpline 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: https://988lifeline.org Call 988 (24/7) Crisis Text Line www.crisistextline.org Text ‘Home’ 741741 (24/7) Sidran Institute (Traumatic Stress Education & Advocacy) www.sidran.org AUSTRALIA Samaritans thesamaritans.org.au Call 135 247 (8am-8pm) Lifeline www.lifeline.org.au Call 13 11 14 (24/7) Text 0477 13 11 14 Suicide Call Back Service www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au 1300 659 467 © Getty Images / Nadzeya_Dzivakova Dissociative disorders often come about due to a specific trauma SANE www.sane.org Call 1800 187 263 ReachOut.com (for young people) https://au.reachout.com/ 19 UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS INTERVIEW Jamie Laing TV presenter, podcaster and entrepreneur Jamie Laing talks to Psychology Now editor Sarah Bankes about his experiences of dissociative disorder We know there’s a link between dissociative disorders and other mental health conditions – tell us a bit about your background and what mental health conditions you’ve experienced over the years… being someone who was, in my eyes, totally normal, to someone who was basically living on the verge of panic at every single second. I was a really anxious kid, without even knowing it. I was hyper, I had ADHD, I didn’t listen, I didn’t sit still. You’d put me in a room and I’d just scream and shout. I was born in 1988, and back then in the 1980s and 1990s, parents would just think you were naughty. I was known as a naughty kid. I was always looking for attention, I was very needy. At eight years old, I was sent to boarding school, which was probably the worst thing to do to a child like me, because nobody understood me and I then developed attachment issues from being sent away. At night-time, I used to get a lump in my throat, and I thought I was choking. I didn’t tell anyone. I now know it was anxiety, but I didn’t know what anxiety was back then. Many years later, I joined Made In Chelsea Chelsea.. Like many young people with anxiety, I was really outgoing, I was upbeat, I was sporty, I was popular, and one day while I was filming for the second series of Made In Chelsea I had a panic attack. I had this overwhelming fear that I was dying. My heart was racing, I I didn’t tell anyone because I thought it was this totally alien thing. I kept saying to my friends, “Do you ever feel nervous?” And they were like, “Yeah, when I do a speech or something.” And I was like, “No, do you feel nervous all the time?” And they were like, “No.” So I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling. I got through it by drinking a lot. Re iss How did you manage your panic attacks? vi d © Da Jamie has found exercise to be an effective selfhelp technique © Getty Images / Ricky Vigil M was feeling faint, I was wobbling all over the place… I felt worse and worse, and took myself to hospital where I told them, “I’m dying.” They said, “No, you’re not. You’re having a panic attack.” I asked what a panic attack was and they told me that my fight or flight mode was kicking in. They told me to go and have a Coca-Cola and said I’d be fine. So I left the hospital, and for the next ten hours I thought I was dying. I woke up the following day, and it was the beginning of something called GAD – general anxiety disorder. And I went from Like many young people with anxiety, I was really outgoing, I was sporty, I was popular... 20 PSYCHOLOGY NOW UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS You feel like you’re in a dream, and you’re not actually attached to yourself About six or seven months later, I was in the shower, and I suddenly said to myself out loud for the first time, “What’s wrong with me?” I broke down and phoned my mum. I asked her the same question: “What’s wrong with me?” and she put me in touch with a doctor. The doctor told me I had severe anxiety, that I should go to therapy, and that I should be on medication. I said no to both those things, and just tried to deal with it myself. Every day was a struggle, but I dealt with it by myself from the ages of about 23 to 27. I was in a constant battle with anxiety for about four years, but not telling anyone. I just pretended I was fine. At 27 years old, I was sitting in a restaurant with my friend, Spencer, and I’d just had an argument with my girlfriend at the time. I was feeling so stressed, and was all over the place. Suddenly I felt what I can only describe as a fog that came over my eyes. It was like an Instagram filter. I felt like I wasn’t attached to my body. That feeling existed for about two weeks. It was there all the time. I felt very odd and different, and didn’t feel like I was normal. I took myself to a therapist and the therapist didn’t know what was wrong with me, so they sent me to a psychotherapist. The psychotherapist analysed me and told me that I had something called depersonalisation disorder, or ‘disassociation’ or ‘derealisation’. I asked what this was and he said it’s where you’ve experienced such heavy trauma for many years, and your body has gone into protective mode. He said this trauma can come from depression, anxiety, PTSD, stress or psychosis. And so typically, me being me, I thought well I’ve got psychosis. I’m going mad. And actually, when you look deep into depersonalisation, a lot of people with it think they’re going mad, because what happens is you feel like you’re floating above your own body. You feel like you’re in a dream the entire time, and you’re not actually attached to yourself. Your body is protecting you; your mind is protecting you. And so I had that for six to seven months. PSYCHOLOGY NOW © David Reiss When did you first experience dissociation and what happened? Jamie is engaged to Sophie Habboo, who also starred in Made In Chelsea 21 UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS There was not one moment when it wasn’t there. Every single day I’d wake up and there’d be this fog and detached feeling. It never left. It was horrendous. I didn’t tell anyone about it, apart from this psychotherapist. Every single morning, I’d wake up but wouldn’t want to open my eyes because I’d see this fog or blurriness, and feel as though I wasn’t attached to myself. After seven months, I went on holiday for about ten days and completely rested for those ten days, and this feeling finally lifted. And it was as if someone had just flicked off a switch in my head. How did your diagnosis make you feel? For me, it was intense. My anxiety had been so intense for so long that my body had just gone, ‘I’m giving up and I’m putting you in autopilot mode’. It’s very much like being in autopilot mode, where your body is functioning but you’re not really attached to it. It’s very scary. It made me then start having therapy. The problem was, when it lifted, I was so scared it was going to come back, and still to this day I’m scared that it might come back. Like any mental health disorder, it can come and go. When I first started getting anxiety, someone said to me, “You’ll live with it for the rest of your life.” I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to live with this… ever!’. I fought it all the time and would say to myself, ‘This is not me, this is not me’. But I think although that was the hardest thing to hear, it was also the biggest thing I’ve learnt. Once you accept that A MULTIMEDIA STAR Jamie hosted BBC Three dance and dating show I Like the Way You Move in 2021. He is also the host of the highly successful podcast Private Parts, which gives listeners a witty insight into his celebrity guests’ lives. Highlights include comedian and actor Jack Whitehall, singer KSI, and award-winning writer Elizabeth Day. Alongside the podcast, there has aso been a sold-out live UK nationwide theatre tour, Private Parts Live. 2020 saw the launch of Jamie’s hugely popular BBC Radio 1 Sounds podcast 6 Degrees From Jamie and Spencer, which he co-hosts with Spencer Matthews. In the same year, he was a contestant on BBC One primetime entertainment show Strictly Come Dancing. He won over the judges and public alike with his standout performances, reaching the grand final that was watched by more than 13 million viewers. In the autumn of 2021, Jamie released his debut memoir novel I Can Explain with Orion Books Seven Dials. Jamie is also known for being a key cast member of E4 hit show Made In Chelsea, and over the years progressing on screen with credits including the BBC’s BAFTAwinning comedy series Murder in Successville alongside actor Tom Davis, and his own show for Channel 4, In Bed With Jamie. A natural in front of the camera and behind the mic, Jamie was a Saturday show presenter for Heat Radio and has blazed a trail online with his new media content. With charities being close to his heart, Jamie is an ambassador for the Young Minds organisation and CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), which takes a stand towards suicide, and children’s charity Barnardo’s to help vulnerable children. He appeared on Channel 4’s Celebrity Hunted for Stand Up to Cancer and BBC One’s Comic Relief documentary Famous, Rich and Hungry, raising awareness for food poverty in the UK. Jamie with some of the cast and crew of Made In Chelsea at the Arqiva British Academy Television Awards 2013, where the show won the Best Reality and Constructed Factual award 22 PSYCHOLOGY NOW UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS anxiety or depersonalisation disorder can’t actually harm you, and lean into them rather than run away from them, it really helps. Jamie and Francis Boulle have hosted the podcast Private Parts since 2017 How did it impact your everyday life? You’re constantly thinking about what you’re feeling and what you’re seeing. It’s like you’re in constant distraction mode. You know when you’re talking to someone and you know they’re not really listening? I was like that person not listening for about six to seven months, but I was also in a TV show where I had to be energetic and fun and exciting and funny. It was horrendous because I was feeling detached from my body and out of sync, yet having to do all the things I would normally do, like interacting with friends. Why did you not tell anyone what you were going through? I didn’t tell anyone because no one understood it. And because no one understood it, that made me even more scared of it. No one else I knew had it. I didn’t know if it was going to go, I didn’t know if it was going to kill me, or if I was going mad. As humans, we need to know what’s going on. That’s why when you catch a tube, it tells you on the platform how many minutes you need to wait for the next tube, because we can’t deal with uncertainty. Without the support of loved ones, then, how did you cope? Jamie and Spencer Matthews have hosted the podcast 6 Degrees From Jamie and Spencer since 2020 PSYCHOLOGY NOW © Getty Images / Dave M. Benett / SOPA Images / Dave J Hogan I was fortunate in the sense that I had a roof over my head, I could afford to eat, I had a job that was quite fun – even though it was contributing to the stress and anxiety and depersonalisation, it was still a fun job. I was in a fortunate position where I could get through it, because I just had to suck it up. I’m quite resilient, so I just dealt with it. I couldn’t give up because I was so worried that my work and my business would come crumbling down. I thought if I gave up, then all those things would fail, so I just had to keep going. I didn’t tell anyone because no one understood it... And that made me even more scared of it 23 UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS How did therapy help you? What techniques helped in particular? I went to therapy with this one guy, who was great. He was the psychotherapist, so he helped me to understand my brain. Then I met a magical woman called Maleha Khan, who I still see every week now (I saw her yesterday), CANDY and she taught me CBT KITTENS and how to understand Jamie always dreamed of having depersonalisation and not his own sweet brand, and in 2012 be fearful of it. She taught he turned this dream into a reality. me acceptance. That’s Jamie co-founded the gourmet sweet what people need to company Candy Kittens. 12 bags are realise – we worry about sold per minute nationwide in UK high being ourselves because street stores and supermarkets. we worry about what The popular brand has also people are going to think launched in Walmart in the USA. or how we’re going to come across or whether people are going to like us, but accepting who you are is the most important thing. It sounds like such a cliché, but over the years I’ve slowly accepted myself – my good, my bad, my ugly, whatever it is. By teaching me CBT, Dr Khan helped me to understand depersonalisation much more, and to question it. For example, you say, ‘Well, what’s the worst that can happen?’. And once you’ve figured out what the worst thing is and accept that you’re not going to die, you realise you’re okay. Candy Kittens celebrated its ten-year anniversary in July 2022. Here Jamie is pictured with Candy Kittens chairman Jonathan Baines (left) and co-founder Edward Williams (right) Are there any self-help techniques that work for you? I started exercising and that was a massive help for me. And also cold therapy. This was a game changer for me. It sounds like nonsense, but I had Wim Hof as a guest on my podcast and he told me to try it for two months, so every morning for two months I had a cold shower. Now I do cryotherapy, where I go into a chamber and it freezes you for three minutes. I’m convinced it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. Cold therapy is so accessible too – after having a hot shower in the morning, turn your shower to cold for two minutes, or one minute or even 30 seconds. After two months, you’ll see a difference. It relieves stress and brings your anxiety levels down. It does this by I started exercising and that was a massive help for me. And also cold therapy 24 Jamie appeared in the 18th series of Strictly Come Dancing in 2020, where he was partnered with Karen Hauer and even made it to the final PSYCHOLOGY NOW UNDERSTANDING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS Cryotherapy, more commonly known as ‘cold therapy’, is increasingly being used to treat mental health conditions, such as stress and anxiety. Research on the effects of ‘whole body’ cryotherapy is ongoing, but it’s believed to be an effective mood booster as well as having a whole host of other positive outcomes. Cold therapy was brought to our screens in 2022 by ‘Iceman’ Wim Hof on Freeze The Fear. In this BBC One series, celebrities took on epic adventures and freezing temperatures so Dutch extreme athlete and motivational speaker Wim Hof could force them out of their comfort zones, testing them both physically and mentally. I encourage anyone out there who is struggling to reach out to someone shocking you in the morning. We tend to live in comfort, so when anxiety hits, we’re so scared of it because we’ve been living in such comfort for so long. We actually need to stress ourselves, so stressing yourself out with this cold therapy every morning really helps. I find it more beneficial than meditation, because with meditation you have to sit still for 10, 20, 30 minutes and just not think! Jamie was part of a star-studded line-up for 2022’s Red Nose Day How do your friends and family support you now that your experiences are out in the open? Wim Hof (pictured here) encouraged Jamie to try cold therapy, and he now swears by it PSYCHOLOGY NOW I told my mum and she helped a lot. I also have a great friend called Toby, who is a bit of an alpha male. I was so nervous about telling anyone about how I’d been feeling, and I’d felt so anxious and awful for so long, but I phoned Toby up and just started crying. I think he thought I was dying. I didn’t know what I was going to say to him, but I ended up saying, “Toby, I’m really struggling. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I feel awful and upset all the time,” and he said, “Don’t worry, we’ll go through it together.” I encourage anyone out there who is struggling, with whatever mental health condition it might be, to reach out to someone close to them, because you will get an echo back, without a doubt. We’re so afraid to do that, but I would tell anyone to do that before trying anything else. Then do the therapies and speak to professionals, but reach out to one person – a friend, a relative, a partner – that’s the most important first step. 25 © Getty Images / David M. Benett / Mike Marsland / Comic Relief, Alamy / Frans Lemmens COLD THERAPY Jamie confided in his good friend Toby Wilkinson, and recommends other people reach out to at least one person if they’re struggling with their mental health 15 WAYS TO MAKE LIFE MORE FUN 15 WAYS TO MAKE LIFE WORDS ALI HORSFALL W hether you’re feeling run down or life feels a little bit like Groundhog Day, you might be wondering how you can feel lighter and have more fun. But don’t worry, there’s no need to make any drastic changes. In fact, according to research published in the Review of General Psychology, at least 40% of our happiness is down to our day-to-day choices and activities. Here are 15 surefire ways to bring a smile to your face. 1 Boredom got you down? Try these happiness hacks to boost your wellbeing Go for a walk followed by a sprint A brisk ten-minute walk can increase self-esteem while reducing anxiety and stress, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Exercise decreases stress hormones while increasing mood-enhancing ones. And, if you add a 30-second sprint at the end, this doubles the endorphins and improves your mood for up to 90 minutes. 2 Mow the lawn 3 Do something spontaneous Chemicals released by a freshly mowed lawn enhance happiness and could even fight cognitive decline, according to researchers from the University of Queensland. Spending at least 15 minutes a day in the open air will also help you to keep vitamin D levels topped up, lowering your risk of depression. Book a last-minute holiday or head for an unplanned night out. Changing our normal routine reminds us to prioritise happiness and that we have the freedom and power to do such things. 4 5 Pucker up Apart from being good for your relationship, kissing your other half can make you feel happier. It releases the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin – the latter helps regulate our emotions. Take a sniff Vanilla is anything but bland when it comes to boosting your mood. Studies have revealed that breathing in its scent can elevate feelings of joy and relaxation. Choose candles and diffusers with essential oils and breathe in deeply. 26 PSYCHOLOGY NOW 15 WAYS TO MAKE LIFE MORE FUN You may already reach for a bar of chocolate when you’re feeling low, but there is some science behind it. The feel-good sensation of chocolate is due to a natural chemical found in cocoa called phenylethylamine, which researchers believe can create a feeling of mild euphoria, similar to the experience of being in love. 7 Go on a day trip According to psychologists at San Francisco State University, experiences make us happier than new objects, because the excitement of buying something new fades faster than memories. So skip the shopping and go on a short break instead. 8 Get appy Taking note of how you feel daily can give you a more positive frame of mind. The Daylio Journal app (free with in-app purchases, iOS and Android) lets you track your mood using emojis. You can also match your mood to daily activities and with the ‘Statistics and Calendar’ you can spot patterns in your moods and behaviour. 9 Fake a smile Flashing your gnashers could help lift your mood. Experts say that how we act physically can affect how we feel emotionally. The act of smiling can tilt your emotions towards being happy and is likely to prompt a smile in return. PSYCHOLOGY NOW 10 Achieve a goal Whether it’s submitting that work on time or simply getting that scrunched-up piece of paper into the bin, successes have a big impact on your mood. Set yourself a realistic and specific goal to help give you a boost. 11 Express yourself “Self-expression involves engaging in an activity that allows us to transfer the energy harboured in our thoughts and feelings into that practice, such as through words by writing journals, poems or stories,” says neuroscientist Dr Lynda Shaw. “Self-expression can also be depicted in the clothes we wear or the music we choose to listen to.” 12 Connect with others After the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re more aware about the importance of staying connected. “And not only can lack of socialising affect our mental health but scientists using brain imaging also found that when people experience social exclusion and social distress, some areas of the brain are similarly activated as if they were experiencing physical pain,” says Dr Shaw. 13 Laugh out loud 14 Take a selfie 15 Dance with abandon Many studies have proved that laughing can improve our mental health. “According to an article in the Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine, dopamine and serotonin levels can be altered by laughter,” says mental health therapist Miyume McKinley. “They directly impact our mood and it’s believed that these levels are correlated with depression.” A study by researchers at the University of California asked students involved to take a smiling selfie every day for four weeks and found they enjoyed a surge in happiness, and became more confident on camera. Don’t worry, you don’t have to show them to anybody! © Getty Images / Vectornation 6 Savour some chocolate Put on your favourite song and dance like nobody’s watching. Research at Australia’s University of New England found that participants who learnt to tango reported lower levels of anxiety, stress and depression. 27 LIFE AFTER BETRAYAL LIFE AFTER Whether you’re thinking about getting back with your ex partner or you’re ready to meet someone new, here’s how to move forward after infidelity WORDS ROSE GOODMAN F eeling hurt after betrayal and not sure how to move on? You’re not alone – in fact, cheating is one of the top ten reasons why couples split, with a recent survey* revealing that 46% of people in a monogamous relationship admit to having affairs, causing stress and emotional upheaval for the wounded party. Still, 24% of married couples decide to stay together, enforcing new rules for the relationship, such as sharing phone passwords, avoiding certain friends and putting limitations on going out, to minimise the likelihood of further affairs. But, whether you want to make your relationship work, or you’re thinking about leaving your partner and eventually finding someone new, the fallout after infidelity can cause you to feel lost and unsure how to move forward. Here, we ask our relationship experts how you can navigate your feelings after betrayal and find happiness again – however that might look. Managing the aftermath Don’t rush into anything. “Give yourself time to get over whatever has come before the split, whether it’s divorce or bereavement,” says Barbara Bloomfield, Relate counsellor and relationship expert. “Make sure you are in a comfortable and confident enough place before looking for a partner in later life, because it can be really tricky. I suggest that after a split, you give yourself plenty of time to heal and steady yourself. Then, when you are ready, ask a trusted friend to spend a day with you, giving positive advice on your strengths and how you present yourself.” Of course, it has to be someone who really cares about you and who is positive, rather than critical. Barbara suggests you consider the following questions: How do infidelity can cause you to feel lost and unsure how to move forward 28 you want to be seen by others? Which outfits make you feel good about yourself? Might a friend come and help you to repaint a bedroom or clear out a kitchen, to kick-start the process of ‘New You’? “Never underestimate the power of a haircut! Also, don’t forget counsellors MOST COMMON REASONS FOR CHEATING WOMEN Feeling flattered by the attention (44%) and feeling emotionally deprived in the relationship (43%). MEN Flattery (35%) and dissatisfaction with their sex life (32%).** PSYCHOLOGY NOW LIFE AFTER BETRAYAL PSYCHOLOGY NOW 29 LIFE AFTER BETRAYAL do things you want to do, when you want to do them are helpful to the process of building self-esteem,” adds Barbara. This is also a great time to do things you want to do, when you want to do them. “Either resuscitating an old waylaid hobby or starting one you have always wanted to try is a great way to get back to yourself,” says Dr Madeleine Mason Roantree, psychologist, dating coach and director of relationship psychology services at The Vida Consultancy. “Spend time with friends, and make new memories that are just about you.” YOUR HEALING HANDBOOK Deciding whether to leave “As a counsellor, I see a lot of couples who have broken up because they lacked the skills to solve their problems and maybe were too embarrassed to ask for help from a counsellor,” says Barbara. “What we notice at Relate is that, when separated couples take the big step to ring for an appointment, no matter how bad things have been, their desire to try to heal the split means the majority of those couples will end up reuniting.” Don’t be hasty Thinking about getting back together? Don’t rush into it. “I’m a great believer in couples taking a short time apart if they can do this. It is an acknowledgement that they have been unable to resolve their differences and it’s time to reflect separately and cool things down, and perhaps to see how Follow these top tips from Eharmony’s relationship expert Rachael Lloyd ALLOW YOURSELF TO GRIEVE “When someone cheats on you, the relationship you thought you had with them is effectively over. Your best memories with that person are tainted, as a third party has invaded your emotional space. Don’t bottle things up. Even if you’re raging, remember that beneath anger is grief and if you suppress it, the recovery process will be compromised.” DON’T COMPARE AND DESPAIR “Comparing yourself to the person he or she cheated with, is pointless. Because your confidence has been hammered, you’re likely to put them on a pedestal and see them as far more desirable than they really are. This isn’t a competition, and what you need to focus on now is rebuilding your own sense of worth.” NEVER OBSESS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED “Sometimes people who are cheated on want micro details about exactly how, when and where the cheating took place. This is often an attempt to control and manage feelings, but it usually leads to even more trapdoors opening. Step away!” TALK IT OUT “Lean on your support network of good friends and family and communicate whenever you need to. If you’re really struggling, see a professional therapist or coach and get rock-solid back up.” HEAL YOUR BODY “Trauma has a profound effect on our bodies as well as our minds. Therapies like EFT (emotional freedom technique), which involve tapping on specific pressure points, can be hugely transformative as can regular massage,” says Rachael. Try Nick and Jessica Ortner – The Tapping Solution on YouTube. And exercise, such as Pilates, can help. 30 PSYCHOLOGY NOW LIFE AFTER BETRAYAL READY TO MOVE ON? You might be wondering how you will know you’re ready to hit the dating scene again but there are some subtle indicators. “You’ll stop comparing new matches with your ex,” says Rachael. “You’ll also have worked through much of the anger, grief and baggage that is inevitable for anyone who’s been cheated on. My advice is once you feel ready, ease into the dating scene gently. Approach each new date as an opportunity to meet someone new and have refreshing conversations.” Take it slowly and follow these expert tips: DO THE WORK “You need to make sure you’ve worked through the most dramatic feelings related to the betrayal before leaping into something else,” says Rachael. “This takes time, it’s not an overnight job. I strongly recommend you see a coach or therapist if you’re in any doubt about whether you’re ready to move on.” BE HONEST Once you start seeing someone new, be honest about any trust issues or lack of confidence you may be having. “Make sure the new partner knows these issues are not about them. They’re historic things that you take responsibility for, and are willing to work hard at resolving,” says Rachael. “As long as you try, and you show them love and kindness, you can make it work.” PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE There are plenty of ways to meet new people depending on your preference. Whether that’s through more traditional ‘in real life’ means via socialising, or you want to sign up to a matchmaking service that will search for you, or you find internet dating sites and apps more accessible – there’s something for everyone. Intrigued? There are plenty of free dating sites out there. “The trick is to know what you are looking for,” says Dr Mason Roantree. “I recommend you create a list of three to four values that are important to you, and three to four deal-breakers, and use that as your guide to meet someone compatible.” BE OPEN-MINDED “Don’t limit yourself to transient aspects such as weight, age and wealth, or superficial markers such as height and education, as they are likely to limit the pool of people you can date,” adds Dr Mason Roantree. “For example, just because someone is slim or tall, doesn’t make them kind, trustworthy or respectful.” FURTHER SUPPORT For couples counselling in the UK, visit relate.org.uk or call 0300 100 1234 to find out about your local service and their fees. You can also visit freepsychotherapynetwork.com to search for a low-cost therapist in your area. If you’re in the US or Australia, visit betterhelp.com. How to get over infidelity “If you and your partner have separated due to an affair, and want to reunite, it’s important to think about why the affair happened,” says Barbara. “What was not working well in the relationship? And what is the status of the affair? We believe it can take up to two years to trust your partner again, after an affair has taken place.” Be careful not to fall into the trap of ‘forgetting’ what happened while being caught up in the thrill of reconciliation. This might feel great in the moment, but will only cause these unresolved issues to pop up in the future, and potentially cause more problems. “Talking about what happened and trying to understand is a good basis for heading off any future repetition,” says Barbara. “I suggest couples set aside ten minutes, twice a week. Make yourself comfortable, listen carefully to your partner for five minutes without saying anything, even if you don’t agree. At the end of five minutes, swap and your partner will listen to you for five minutes. Don’t interrupt or try to solve anything. Just listen! If you can understand their point of view, it’s the greatest gift you can give your partner.” © Getty Images / Malte Mueller much you miss each other,” says Barbara. “However, when children are involved, a physical split may not be right as it’s important to put the children’s needs first.” 31 PSYCHOLOGY NOW *Health Testing Centers. ** YouGov survey. THE CHAMELEON EFFECT THE EFFECT Why do we mimic each other? WORDS AILSA HARVEY ave you ever been in midconversation with someone, when you look over and find them standing in the same position as you or holding the same facial expression? It may seem like they have consciously copied you, but it is much more likely that this is the chameleon effect at play. The chameleon effect is the nonconscious mimicry of another person’s gestures or mannerisms. Just as a chameleon H 32 blends into the background to match any environment’s colours, people acquire the behaviours of others to bring them closer together and help make their interactions smooth and well-received. When was the chameleon effect realised? Evidence that the chameleon effect was a real phenomenon was demonstrated in an experiment by psychologists John Bargh and Tanya Chartrand in 1999. The duo wanted to see if the chameleon effect worked in both acquaintances and complete strangers. The first of their experiments included 78 people, who each spoke with an experimenter. During three parts of the test, Bargh and Chartrand studied whether participants would copy the actions of someone they hadn’t met before – such as waggling the foot and touching the face. The second experiment measured the impact that copying someone has on the person being mimicked. PSYCHOLOGY NOW THE CHAMELEON EFFECT Why do we do it? Due to these mirrored movements being carried out without conscious thought, researchers don’t have all the answers as to why we create moments of symmetry. However, studies such as this have shown that when someone copies our behaviour, we develop more positive feelings about them. These interactions could be a person subconsciously willing to be liked, and forming a moment of connection and empathy. To understand the empathetic theory of the chameleon effect, consider how you would respond in a situation where your close friend tells you they have just passed an exam they had been really worried about. If your friend tells you the news in an excitable and happy manner, the chances are you respond in a similar tone. This is because it is part of human nature to share feelings and navigate through life with companions. Most people want to share in the happiness of their friends or show others that they want the same outcomes. Another theory about why the chameleon effect exists is as an adapted survival trait. Being able to fit in with those around you, and being accepted into a group means that there are others who can have your back when under threat. In modern life, the brain may react similarly when moving abroad or into another new group. Because those who live in the same country or community usually share the same behaviour, traits, knowledge and attitude, it is natural for outsiders to initially feel vulnerable. Chameleon talk In some instances, the chameleon effect targets speech. As your brain processes a strong new accent during conversation – or is exposed to new vocabulary – you may begin to adopt a different accent to the one you use daily. Similarly, if you spend enough time talking to someone who uses a particular word or phrase, it is easy to unintentionally incorporate new phrases into your regular speech. Accidentally developing the foreign accent of the person you are talking to can come across as offensive and mocking, as many people have never heard of the chameleon effect. Couples and close friends are significant targets for the power of the chameleon effect. Some happy couples, for example, are described as being ‘made for each other’ as they seemingly live life in synchronisation. For most couples, their similarities grow over the years. By spending significant amounts of time together during each day, couples develop some of each other’s quirks and routines until they both appear to be very similar to an outsider. Meanwhile, those in the couple are unlikely to notice much or any change in their persona, themselves. Your own signs of the chameleon effect may go unnoticed, but some celebrities in the public eye can’t escape this awareness and are frequently called out for their changing behaviours. One example can be heard in the video of English football player Joey Barton being interviewed in a French accent that went viral in 2012. This wasn’t because of what he said, but because he had only lived in France for a matter of months. The football player had recently been signed to play for Marseille, and had been living there for the season. As he answered questions at the press conference in France, his Scouse English accent was swapped for French pronunciations. The accent wasn’t put on to allow the French audience to better understand him, as he was speaking to his French translator. In an interview later on, he explained that he had no idea that was how he was speaking at the time, but came to realise it around 15 minutes into the interview. According to psychologists, when the chameleon effect occurs to you during time in a country that speaks a different language, self-consciousness is heightened. Those who actively worry about fitting in and not being able to communicate are most likely to subconsciously develop new accents and mannerisms in a foreign country. Couples are significant targets for the power of the chameleon effect PSYCHOLOGY NOW The main reasons behind humans’ social flexibility and mimicry are positive. However, too much of the chameleon effect can be damaging. Some people carry this chameleon trait to the extreme, causing them to drastically change in different situations. When this happens, people can lose their sense of self. Those who change their entire personalities in different groups often go undetected. But more common signs of the chameleon effect are easier to pinpoint. Next time you are in a social gathering, take a look around for subtle mirroring gestures, and you might just see some chameleons for yourself. CHAMELEONS AT WORK When working in a job, most people mimic the behaviour of people in the workplace in some way, whether consciously or not. This is because, in general, many people like to keep their work and social life relatively separate. For others, there is a certain persona that they believe they need to achieve to progress in their profession. One study, carried out by psychologists at the University of Cambridge, found that most people felt they had to suppress some aspect of their personality at work to appear professional. Of those who did this, introverted people found it easier than extraverted people. The study concluded that extraverts felt more stressed and exhausted by fitting in to the tone of their jobs. Psychologists think this may be because there are more opportunities for introverts to return to their true selves at work, as opposed to extraverts. Employees can spend time working alone in most jobs, which doesn’t benefit the extraverted chameleon so much. © Shutterstock / Kosinskaya Tatyana In the first stage, when gestures were applied, participants increased their face touching by 20% and their foot movement by 50%, while in conversation about a photograph with the experimenter. The individuals weren’t aware of what they were being studied for, and the photograph was used as a distraction to ensure subconscious acts. The second part of the experiment involved half of the participants being mimicked, and then rating the likeability of the experimenter. The results showed that those who were mimicked scored the experimenter higher. 33 HUMAN INSTINCT 101 INSTINCT 101 The modern world presents many challenges, yet amongst all the busyness, our basic human instincts remain constant 34 WORDS CLAIRE CANTOR any of us in developed societies live in a fast-paced, often mind-blowing world of high-tech innovation, far-flung travel and virtual reality. We are generally safe, have access to healthcare, education and food. Yet if our basic needs are threatened, our human instincts will kick in to restore balance. How often are we encouraged to ‘follow your gut’ or ‘trust your instinct’? What does this really mean? Over the centuries, biologists, psychologists and other branches of scientific thinking have struggled to agree on a definition, and human instinct remains a complex construct that we are still trying to comprehend. According to the website study.com, study.com, “Instinctive behaviours are critical for survival for all animal species. They are not skills that can be taught or learned. Instinct is defined as an unlearned behaviour that is inborn, developed through evolution and shared by all the members of a species.” Reflex and instinct are close relations – with reflex being the automatic response to an M HUMAN INSTINCT 101 PSYCHOLOGY NOW 35 HUMAN INSTINCT 101 external stimulus, such as blinking when a fly goes in your eye, or the Moro response, which is the reflex of a baby startled by a loud noise. unlearned, genetically determined behaviour pattern. We lose some of our human instincts as we age, such as the rooting instinct when babies feed. that encompasses self-preservation. He explains that at the most basic human level we need air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing and reproduction. The history of instinct The ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates described instinct as “the nature of animals which is untutored.” In the 18th century, new theories emerged saying that all behaviours come from ideas and intelligence, and some behaviours eventually become habits. In 1859, Charles Darwin wrote a chapter on instincts in his seminal work On the Origins of Species. Species. In line with this treatise, the early 20th-century behavioural psychologists discounted the idea of human instinct. Behaviourists believed the mind to be a blank slate with no inherited knowledge or instinctive behaviour. Mainstream thinking now defines human instinct as a stereotyped, apparently What are the key human instincts? Sexual instinct The three basic human instincts that drive human behaviour are: In the biological sense, sexual instinct is the idea that organisms seek sexual relations as an instinctive compulsion to reproduce. On the other hand, 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer thought sexual instincts comprised a part of what he called human will. The psychologist Sigmund Freud tried to understand how sexual instinct relates to the mental and emotional mechanisms governing human behaviour. SELF-PRESERVATION Safety, food and water, shelter, health – SEXUAL INSTINCT Reproduction, seeking a mate – SOCIAL INSTINCT Forming secure social bonds and relationships with others Self-preservation Without self-preservation we cannot fulfil the other basic human instincts. Humans need to feel safe and secure, free from threat. Once security is established, we can go out and seek food and water. At the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the physiological grouping Social instinct The pandemic and lockdowns exposed us to the often painful and damaging effects of not being able to fulfil our social instincts. Humans need community and contact to survive and thrive. Isolation is used as a form of torture, and psychologists warn that loneliness can lead to depression and anxiety. Dr Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist and creator of The Feel Better Academy, Without self-preservation we cannot fulfil the other basic human instincts COMPASSION AS A HUMAN INSTINCT Darwin believed that humans have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacity to care for those in need and cooperate. Social scientists call this ‘survival of the kindest’. Dacher Keltner, faculty director of The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley University, and author of The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness, has built on this theory in his work. Through a series of experiments in his lab he found that if you can get people to feel compassion, they start to feel deeply connected to different groups. In particular, they feel they are similar to and share a common humanity with people who are in need or are vulnerable. This enables a more altruistic behaviour towards them. Groundbreaking, yet controversial research by the evolutionary psychologist David Buss (University of Texas) across 37 countries and 10,000 people, found that kindness was the most sought-after quality in a mate. 36 PSYCHOLOGY NOW HUMAN INSTINCT 101 something disgusting, for self-preservation. As a parent of a new baby we have to overcome disgust to change nappies, or if you recall a time where you ate or drank something which made you sick – your instinct is to avoid it next time. Your instinct is keeping you safe, but your thinking mind can override this.” New fields of thought in evolutionary psychology suggest that we have retained many of the survival traits of our ancestors, such as the instinct to fight when threatened. As Nigel Nicholson writes in the Harvard Business Review, Review, “You can take the person out of the Stone Age, but you can’t take the Stone Age out of the person.” suggests that we have been raised as social beings, schooled to be social and to acknowledge people when we see them, and therefore it is unclear whether being social is an instinct or a learned behaviour. “People on the autistic spectrum often report that they don’t feel the same social pressure or instinct to acknowledge people.” “Embedded in our social instinct, humans are instinctively cooperative, kind and loving, but also violent, prejudicial and aggressive,” explains Professor von Hippel, professor of social psychology at the University of Queensland and author of The Social Leap Leap.. “Different circumstances lead to these two very different types of reactions. At a general level we can say that being with members of one’s own group, kin, or romantic and coalition partners tends to lead to the former, and being with members of other groups, competitors or people who are viewed as a threat to the ingroup or family tends to lead to the latter.” Do we have the same instincts and behaviours as our ancestors? “Human biological evolution over the last few million years means that today the biggest PSYCHOLOGY NOW difference between us and our chimp-like ancestors is in cooperativeness, as we’re way more cooperative than they were,” says Professor von Hippel. “Our cultural evolution over the last few hundred or thousand years, and the advent of cities 5,000 years ago, has slowly taught us to live with greater tolerance in a world of strangers without resorting to violence to resolve our differences or as a way of competing with each other.” Debate abounds as to whether language is an innate human instinct or a learned behaviour. In his 1994 book The Language Instinct, Instinct, psychologist Steven Pinker argues that children are born with a genetic instinct for speech whereas the theory of learning suggested by the 20thcentury Austrian-English philosopher Karl Popper is that we are born knowing nothing, but able to learn everything. Can we override our instincts? “We can override any and all instincts, and some people refer to the process whereby we do so as free will,” says Professor von Hippel. Marianne Trent explains that we often overpower our instincts in everyday situations. “Take the instinct to avoid 37 © Getty Images / invincible_bulldog / Angelina Bambina / Vera Orlova Debate abounds as to whether language is a human instinct or a learned behaviour HEALING WITH REIKI WITH REIKI Open your mind to this healing hands practice and reap the benefits in mind, body and spirit 38 PSYCHOLOGY NOW HEALING WITH REIKI WORDS JULIE BASSETT PSYCHOLOGY NOW for its growing popularity. It can be used for adults, children and even animals. Reiki doesn’t just treat physical ailments; it’s a whole-person therapy. This means that those who have had Reiki might feel better in both mind and body, with more balanced emotions and an overall feeling of wellbeing. As a therapy, it’s gaining some interesting traction as a complement to conventional procedures and medications. It’s often offered to those who have been through cancer treatment, for example, as it’s safe and can help relieve feelings of worry, stress and anxiety, as well as lift fatigue and boost energy levels. One review study looked at a number of existing clinical trials into the impact of Reiki, entitled ‘Reiki Is Better Than Placebo and Has Broad Potential as a Complementary Health Therapy’ (PMID: 28874060). The study concluded that, “Viewed collectively, these studies provide reasonably strong support for Reiki being more effective than placebo. From the information currently available, Reiki is a safe and gentle ‘complementary’ therapy that activates the parasympathetic nervous system to heal body and mind. It has potential for broader use in management of chronic health conditions, and possibly in postoperative recovery.” That said, having an open mind is key to the effectiveness of this type of treatment. Reiki works best when there is a connection between the practitioner and the patient. There is no need to undress for this type of treatment, which can make people feel more comfortable. Usually the treatment is given lying down, and you should be asked if you prefer the treatment to be performed with a light touch or no touch at all. During the treatment you may enter a calm, meditative state – some people even fall asleep. A Reiki practitioner will use a series of standard hand positions, which are designed to balance the energy in your body in that area and deal with any ‘blockages’. In most sessions, all the hand positions will be covered to treat the whole body, but the practitioner may spend longer in some areas than others if they sense that work is needed. You can also request that certain areas are worked on for longer – communication is key when it comes to creating that all-important sense of connection. After the treatment, you’re likely to feel somewhat blissed out – ideally you would go home and rest, and enjoy the sensation, rather than rushing straight back into real life. You may also need to drink plenty of water, as the energy flows faster around your body. It might all sound a bit ‘woo-woo’, but evidence of the effectiveness of Reiki is rising. In any case, when life gets a little too much, there is no harm in trying. The chance to relax in a calm environment and switch off a busy mind can be incredibly powerful for healing, in and of itself. But if you let your mind open to the possibility, Reiki could give you so much more. USE REIKI FOR SELF-HEALING True Reiki can only be performed by a person who has completed Reiki training, and to get the most out of it, it’s worth investing in a few sessions. However, you can take some of the principles of Reiki home with you and perform on yourself to enhance the benefits and make the wellbeing boost last a little longer. It starts with a calm, quiet environment where you won’t be disturbed, and a comfortable place to rest – lying down is best, or a chair is fine if that suits. You may prefer silence, or some gentle ambient music. You can then perform some hand positions on yourself to help flow your energy through your body. Usually you start with your eyes, your head, your chest, your ribs, your stomach, your back and your legs/feet. Each time, you rest your hands in the area, focusing your attention on it and feeling energy flood into the region. This practice can be combined with meditation and gratitude for enhanced self-healing. © Getty Images / Use Create Enjoy T he modern world can feel constantly busy, overwhelming and suffocating. It’s no wonder, then, that so many of us are turning to practices like meditation and gratitude in the hope of finding peace, relaxation and relief. We’re searching for a balm to soothe our souls after another draining day of juggling work, family and daily life. Maybe the answer lies in Reiki, a Japanese technique that promises to restore your life energy and promote healing and wellbeing. Reiki is a spiritual practice, but it’s not associated with any one religion or belief system. It’s about balancing the natural ‘life energy’ – ‘Rei’ meaning ‘Universal Life’ and ‘Ki’ meaning ‘Energy’ – that flows through all living things. Its modern roots are only around 100 years old, through a system founded by Dr Mikao Usui. Dr Usui spent time studying in a Buddhist monastery and had a deep interest in medicine and psychology. During his travels, he studied different healing systems and ancient Sanskrit symbols, which led him on a journey of self-discovery. Bringing together everything he had learned, Dr Usui developed ‘Usui Reiki’ and opened his first clinic offering the practice in 1922. However, the principles of Reiki and its healing powers are thought to date back around 2,500 years. In the last century, Reiki has developed and grown, splintering off into many different types and styles. The original Reiki taught by Dr Usui at his clinic, ‘Usui Shiki Ryoho’, is a very pure and spiritual form of Reiki that has been passed down a very specific lineage, from master to practitioner, starting with Dr Usui himself. Many modern versions now exist, with a number of different origins, such as Gendai Reiki Ho, founded by Hiroshi Doi in 1993, or Reiki Plus founded by David Jarrell. However, if you head to your local treatment centre, it might not always be obvious which lineage or system is used, with the treatment simply listed as ‘Reiki’. At the core of all Reiki treatments is the base principle of flowing energy from the practitioner to the patient in order to promote healing. This energy transfer comes through the hands, gently placed on the body or close to it. The practitioner then seeks areas that feel low in energy, helping to flow positive energy into these areas and cleanse negative energy. The idea is that when we have low life force energy, we feel unwell, stressed or tense and might get poorly more often; when we have high levels of life force energy, we instead feel invigorated, happy and healthy. It’s a simple treatment that is safe for everyone, which is part of the reason 39 YOU CAN’T CONTROL EVERYTHING YOU CAN’T EVERYTHING …but that is okay, because there is joy and magic to be found when you free your thoughts, says former Buddhist monk Björn Natthiko Lindeblad 40 PSYCHOLOGY NOW YOU CAN’T CONTROL EVERYTHING WORDS FAITH HILL A 2020 study revealed that we humans have a staggering 6,200 thoughts per day*. But being able to let go of at least some of these helps us to reduce anxiety and stress, making our lives feel lighter and less complicated. 1 Listen to your inner wisdom Learning to listen to yourself, to your innate voice of inner wisdom or intuition, is a valuable life tool. Björn calls it “the intelligence of the moment” and describes it as a finely honed, quiet compass inside you. Other voices may get in the way of your inner wisdom, such as when you seek advice from others. Your ego has a voice too – “It often drowns out everything else with its noisy demands,” says Björn. These extra voices shut off access to your own intelligence. DO IT Create moments of stillness to allow your inner wisdom to speak up. Choose a quiet room and pick a time when you won’t be distracted. Björn advises tracking your breathing to find stillness. Follow each inhale, each exhale and any pauses in between. 2 Practise empathy You may be annoyed by people’s behaviour or have opinions about how they should or shouldn’t be, but developing empathy will allow you to let go of unhelpful thoughts. Björn lived closely with many different people and all their quirks throughout his monastic journey. “It’s only human to find other people annoying. But it can be an unnecessary drain on your resources,” he says. Accepting others, just as they are, makes life easier and relaxes you both. The same goes when you feel accepted, just as you are; you feel welcome, without judgement, and are able to move forward with all of your strengths and talents. DO IT To build empathy for other people, Björn suggests visualising yourself and everyone around you as pebbles on a beach. “When we get to the beach, we’re all rough and jagged pebbles. Then the waves of life roll in. And if we can find it in us to stay there and let the other pebbles on the beach jostle us and rub against us and wear us down, our sharp edges will slowly but surely fade.” 3 Accept you may be wrong It can cause suffering if you hold too tightly to fixed thoughts, beliefs or opinions. They may stop you from moving forward when you want to make a change in your life, or means you don’t truly listen to someone else in the middle of a disagreement. Being able to let go of a thought or opinion, even if you believe it to be right, can be liberating. DO IT A wise senior monk shared a valuable mantra with Björn 20 years ago, which has helped him to let go ever since. The mantra is: ‘I may be wrong. I may be wrong. I may be wrong’. The next time you sense a conflict brewing, repeat this mantra to let go of fixed thoughts and to become more open to other ideas. 4 Leave room for miracles When you think about the future, your mind might spiral into unhelpful negative thought patterns, especially if you have a tendency to imagine worst-case scenarios. For example, if an investment goes south, you might think you’ll never recoup the loss. But just because one unwelcome thing happens, it does not mean another will follow. “Loosening our grip on these types of convictions is a sign of wisdom,” says Björn. “Trying to direct and predict everything just makes life hard.” DO IT Leave room for miracles to happen, advises Björn. Don’t overpack your diary to ensure you have a little time and space each day to ‘just be’. A valuable idea or wondrous thought could come at such a moment. 5 Let go of ‘should’ Over time, you develop ideas on how things should be, how tasks should be done, or how people should behave. This mindset reduces your flexibility and narrows the chance of you learning something new. BJÖRN NATTHIKO LINDEBLAD Swedish public speaker and meditation teacher Björn Natthiko Lindeblad spent 17 years as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, England and Switzerland. He is the author of I May Be Wrong: And Other Wisdoms from Life as a Forest Monk (Bloomsbury, £16.99 ($19.65)). Björn witnessed his own ‘should’ thoughts when he joined a new monastery, which to him was rather disorganised, where “things weren’t done in a proper way.” DO IT Practise Björn’s simple hand movement to let go of ‘should’ thoughts: “Clench your fist really hard and then let it unfold into an open hand. It’s a good illustration of how we can let go of things we cling to too hard, like feelings or convictions.” 6 Balance control with trust The phrase ‘trust the universe’ holds wisdom – it not only encourages positive thinking, but it also helps you to relinquish control. While Björn says there is a place for control in certain circumstances, such as organising your taxes or choosing childcare, there’s value in learning to trust, especially if some aspects of life are outside of your control. “My guiding star on my journey back to work was trust,” says Björn who had to navigate re-entry into ‘normal’ life and find a job after 17 years as a monk. DO IT “Trying to control everything makes life lonely, tough, fraught and anxious. Trust life a bit more!” says Björn. Ask yourself if trust or control is best for you in a certain situation – perhaps a balance of both is required. You can plan a holiday, but you may have to trust that you will enjoy it. © Getty Images / dane_mark Create moments of stillness to allow your inner wisdom to speak up 41 PSYCHOLOGY NOW * Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada YOUR MENTAL HEALTH MASTERCLASS 42 PSYCHOLOGY NOW YOUR MENTAL HEALTH MASTERCLASS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH We look after our physical health, but our emotional wellbeing often gets neglected. It’s time to make it a priority WORDS NATALIA LUBOMIRSKI espite a staggering one in four people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem each year, the invisible nature of it means there’s often a tendency to ignore problems and just get on with it. But, as Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind, says, “Mental health is just like our physical health: everybody has it and we need to take care of it.” He adds, “Thankfully, we’ve seen the national conversation on mental health move forward, but those with mental health problems still face barriers.” The topic remains taboo, especially for older D the invisible nature of it means there’s a tendency to ignore problems PSYCHOLOGY NOW 43 YOUR MENTAL HEALTH MASTERCLASS generations – a YouGov survey revealed 25% of over-55s think it’s more difficult for them to discuss mental health than younger people. Some 71% felt this was because, in the past, anxiety and depression were seen as weaknesses, rather than health conditions. ROAD TO RECOVERY These figures are no surprise, especially after the recent pandemic. But it’s how we deal with it that’s important. Thankfully, there are things we can do. “Eating healthily, sleeping well, exercising and seeking help are all key,” says Stephen. “Different treatments work for different people and the journey to recovery won’t always be easy.” Here, Mind shares its advice on three common mental health issues. DEPRESSION What is it? In its mildest form, it means being repeatedly in low spirits – at its most severe, it can be lifethreatening, making you feel suicidal. The impact? Symptoms can include “feeling low, numb, worthless or without hope,” says Stephen. “You may sleep too much or too little, and withdraw from social contact.” Help yourself List activities, people and places that make you feel good, and try to find ways to bring these things into your daily routine. Do something new This can boost your mood and break unhelpful patterns of thinking. You could try volunteering – it makes you feel better and less alone. Try self-help Explore cognitive behavioural therapy. ANXIETY What is it? Feeling anxious is a natural response when we feel under threat. But if you regularly experience anxiety, including panic attacks, which are strong, last a long time and are difficult to control, you may need help. The impact? You avoid situations that may make you feel anxious. You’ll find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy. Help yourself focus on breathing, especially during a panic attack. Inhale through your nose and out through your mouth, counting from one to five. Try complementary and alternative therapies, including meditation, aromatherapy, massage, yoga and reflexology, to aid relaxation. Not sure if you have a problem? Read on to find out more about the secret signs of anxiety. OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD) What is it? An anxiety disorder with obsessions (unwelcome thoughts, urges and worries that appear in your mind, making you feel anxious) and compulsions (repetitive activities to reduce anxiety, such as checking a door is locked or repeating phrases). The impact? You might avoid situations that trigger it, including work or seeing friends or family. You may feel ashamed of your thoughts or feel the need to hide your OCD. Help yourself Talk to someone you trust or write down feelings to discuss together. Learn to relax Manage stress COULD YOU BE SAD? Does your mood and energy dip in the winter months? SAD is a mood disorder or depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. Symptoms, including a persistent low mood, anxiety, loss of interest in everyday activities, irritability, feeling lethargic, sleeping for longer, craving carbs and gaining weight, are more apparent during winter. What helps? When it comes to SAD, “the same rules apply as to general depression,” says Dr Jeff Foster (drjefffoster. co.uk). He suggests exercise, a healthy diet, reducing alcohol intake, socialising and keeping mentally active as ways to reduce symptoms, as well as getting outside as much as you can during daylight hours. 44 It’s thought that around three million people in the UK have an anxiety disorder and try techniques such as deep breathing or mindfulness. Try peer support This brings together people who have had similar experiences. It helps you feel accepted and confident. NO MORE FEELING ANXIOUS! Millions of us are experiencing anxiety, often without even realising it. Most of us probably think we know what anxiety feels like. Your heart races, you’re short of breath, and your body is bathed in a sheen of sweat. But there are plenty of hidden signs, too. Follow this advice on how to spot the hidden signs and do something about it. “Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid,” says Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK. It can be caused by a number of factors, including feelings of uncertainty, physical health problems, stress, and your childhood experiences. It’s thought that around three million people in the UK have an anxiety disorder, and while clammy hands and a pounding heart could signal anxiety, some signs are less obvious. Here are the more subtle symptoms to look out for . . . YOU OVER-DRAMATISE SMALL FAILURES “There’s a catastrophising nature to anxiety that makes you perceive things being much worse than they actually are,” says Nicky. If you’re overdramatic, you may have an over-the-top reaction to a small failing, which could lead to a meltdown or cause you to stay at home for the next few days, unable to face the world. – PSYCHOLOGY NOW YOUR MENTAL HEALTH MASTERCLASS WHAT IS STRESS? Being under pressure is part of life, and it can help you take action, feel energised and get results. But if you are overwhelmed, these feelings could be a problem. While stress isn’t a psychiatric diagnosis, it’s closely linked to mental health. Manage external pressures and develop your emotional resilience so you’re better at coping, including looking after physical health, giving yourself a break and building support networks. YOU OVERTHINK “When you’re anxious, you’re desperately trying to make sense of a situation. Overthinking and labouring over every eventuality is a way of protecting yourself and gaining control,” says Nicky. – YOU’RE AFRAID TO TAKE RISKS Sticking to your ‘comfort zone’ means you won’t have to face frustration, embarrassment, sadness, anger or disappointment – all extreme feelings for someone with anxiety. “When we’re anxious, we want to protect ourselves and can see risks as threats, so we become risk-averse,” says Nicky. – YOU TALK TOO MUCH You may be in a ‘high-functioning’ state when you’re anxious, meaning your mind is going at 100mph. As a result, your actions – such as talking a lot – may follow suit. YOU’RE CRITICAL OF YOURSELF AND OTHERS “Being anxious leads to you being hard on yourself. It thrives on the lack of self-esteem you have for yourself and, as a result, you become self-critical and critical of those around you,” says Nicky. – YOU CAN’T SLEEP When we’re in an anxious state, it can be hard for our body and mind to relax, and we can have trouble sleeping, which can lead to bouts of insomnia. – YOU’RE DISTRACTED “We may be preoccupied with our thoughts and easily distracted,” says Nicky. Experiencing racing thoughts is common with anxiety, but this attention to the ‘inner dialogue’ can result in others perceiving us as distant. – Being anxious thrives on the lack of self-esteem you have PSYCHOLOGY NOW 45 YOUR MENTAL HEALTH MASTERCLASS trying to hide symptoms from others can impact physical health YOU’RE UNWILLING TO MAKE FRIENDS Opening yourself up emotionally can make you feel vulnerable and exposed. You may already be imagining losing that friendship before it’s even started. “Anxiety may isolate us by way of protecting ourselves from unknown territory,” says Nicky. – YOU FEEL UNWELL Constant anxiety has a big effect on the immune system, and trying to hide symptoms from others can impact physical health. “Anxiety can make us fatigued and even sick. Plus, adrenaline released can have a negative impact on our stomachs, as well as other parts of the body,” explains Nicky. When it’s more serious . . . Seek additional help and support if anxiety is disrupting your day-today life and stopping you from doing activities you previously enjoyed. SHORTCUTS TO SERENITY These quick tips can help, so make sure you practise them daily: A person who feels they are not worth listening to will speak quickly, because they don’t want to keep others waiting on something not worth listening to. A person in authority speaks slowly; even if you don’t feel 46 PSYCHOLOGY NOW YOUR MENTAL HEALTH MASTERCLASS PSYCHOLOGY NOW Keep talking. Having a chat with a loved one, sending a text to a friend, or asking your colleague to go for a walk is the best tonic for a low mood. – Standing tall and straight makes you feel better about yourself. Imagine a piece of string is pulling the top of your head towards the sky, and the rest of your body straightens accordingly. – Immerse yourself in nature. So-called ‘green therapy’, being outdoors is a powerful mood-lifter. A Stanford University study showed that a 90-minute walk in nature reduced ruminations, which is a risk factor for mental illness. HOW TO BE CALM “If you’re feeling anxious, there are ways you can step back and take control before the symptoms build up and take over,” says Nicky. DO A BREATHING EXERCISE Breathe in through the nose for three seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out through the mouth slowly for five seconds. © Getty Images / Rudzhan Nagiev / miakievy / invincible_bulldog / everything bagel / Olga Tsareva / Aleksei Naumov / dar woto very confident, try slowing down and see how it feels. – Too much to do? Write down each task you can’t do right now on a separate piece of paper. Then, every other day, take a random one and do it. You’ll soon get through the list. – Learn to recognise negative selftalk (‘I can’t run any more, I’ve got to stop’). Visualise it as an irritating bug, stamp on it, kill it, then replace it with a positive one (‘Come on, I can do this! Only half a mile left!’). – Laugh often. Watch a funny film or a YouTube video and have a good belly laugh. Science shows it helps to lower the stress hormone cortisol and can shift a low mood. – You are what you do, so if you change what you do, you change what you are. Act in a positive way, take action instead of telling yourself you can’t. Talk to people in a positive way. You’ll soon start to notice a difference. – If you choose to say ‘no’ to something, mentally rehearse the conversation beforehand, saying it simply and directly, giving no more than one key reason. Do not get into explaining or arguing: just repeat ‘No, because...’ quietly and firmly. – Before always saying ‘yes’ to demands, take a deep breath, so you can touch base with yourself to discover what you would truly, honestly prefer to do. – Have a list of useful apps that benefit your mental health. Try Headspace, Stress & Anxiety Companion, and Catch It. – Don’t aim too high. Set a goal you know you can achieve, then achieve it. You’ll feel good. Now set another and achieve that. Soon you’ll be setting bigger goals and achieving those, too. – Visualise yourself at your most confident, then link this feeling to a physical action, such as pinching your thumb and forefinger together. Next time you need to feel confident in a situation, pinch your thumb and finger together to get back to that positive mental state. – USE A DISTRACTION TECHNIQUE Try the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique – acknowledge five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and finally one deep breath in and out. TRY POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS Tell yourself, ‘I am safe, I am in control, this feeling is anxiety’, and repeat until you feel more in control of your feelings. MAKE DIETARY CHANGES Small changes to your diet can make a difference to anxiety symptoms. Try eating less processed food, drinking less alcohol, and cutting back or stopping caffeine. Don’t forget that caffeine can be present in chocolate and soft drinks, too. GET ENOUGH SLEEP Maintain a regular sleeping pattern by going to bed at the same time each night, switching off screens at least one hour before bedtime, and ensuring your bedroom is dark and the right temperature. 47 LEARNING TO TRUST TO TRUST Trust is a powerful emotion that builds relationships and connections, but our lived experiences feed into our ability to trust WORDS JULIE BASSETT T rust is a key part of good relationships and friendships, yet it doesn’t come as easily to some of us as it does to others. It’s hard to define what trust is. Sure, there is the dictionary definition – ‘a firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something’ – but real trust is far less tangible than that. Our ability to trust in the people around us is influenced by our experiences, our past, our instincts and our personality. Trust is something that is at the heart of our daily life in many ways. We have to put our trust in people at work, when commuting, for our medical health and so on. Every time you order a taxi, you’re putting your trust in the driver to get you safely from A to B. When you hire someone to deliver a service (a tradesperson, for example, or a babysitter), you have to trust that they will do a good job. When you have a confidential business conversation with a new client, you need to trust that they won’t pass knowledge on. You need to have trust in medical professionals, government bodies and employers to have your best interests at heart. Trust is a thread that runs through all our connections, from the closest relationships to people we meet only fleetingly. When trust is broken, it can be hard to restore, and it can influence how we trust in the future. 48 PSYCHOLOGY NOW LEARNING TO TRUST 5 WAYS TO BUILD TRUST If you want to develop trust in a new relationship or friendship, try these top tips. LISTEN When someone you’re with is talking, listen to them properly and intently. Trust is a two-way connection and as they open up to you, you’ll feel more confident about opening up in return. COMMUNICATE YOUR WORRIES If you find it hard to trust due to a specific past experience, then don’t be afraid to explain this, and that you’re trying to learn to trust again. Honesty breeds trust. TAKE YOUR TIME Don’t rush into anything. Take a little time to build a new relationship and the trust that comes with it, and stick to your boundaries. DON’T ASSUME Set aside your doubts for a period of time; it can be easy to fall into a trap thinking that a person is going to let you down in some way that you’ve experienced before, but you need to give each fresh connection a chance to flourish (or not) on its own terms. TAKE A RISK Be bold! Put yourself into a situation where you need to put a little trust into the other person. Book an activity to do together, or arrange to go somewhere new, putting you both outside of your comfort zone a little and therefore needing to have faith in each other. it’s an emotion, and like any emotion it can be hard to control or question. There is also, potentially, a chemical element to trust. The working theory is that trust can be linked to oxytocin, which we already know plays a key role in social bonding and love. One study* suggests that oxytocin plays a role in a person’s willingness to accept social risks – choosing to trust someone does require taking a risk. Whether you’re someone who trusts too easily, or someone who is very distrustful, there are ways that you can manage to develop a healthy level of trust. It starts with being able to set your own boundaries and values, rather than being influenced Our ability to trust is influenced by our experiences by society, family or belief. Focus on what you believe in, what values you hold close to your heart and who you are. This will help you to live your life in a way that’s true to you as a person, and these new experiences will then feed into your instincts and trust, helping you build new relationships. When you meet people, explore your feelings and gut instinct over whether you trust them – question why you feel that way and what could be feeding into those emotions. Over time, you’ll learn to trust your instincts, finding a balance between being able to trust and being open to new relationships, and protecting your boundaries and wellbeing. If your inability to trust comes from a significant past trauma, you may need professional help to move forward. Talking to someone through therapy, for example, can help you to face your experiences and give you the support you need to move forward, helping you to learn to trust again. 49 PSYCHOLOGY NOW *Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P. et al. Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature 435, 673–676 (2005) © Getty Images / Liubov Mahda When it comes to meeting people for the first time, we unknowingly take a lot of cues from the environment around us, as well as the behaviour and appearance of the person we’re meeting. Not only that, cultural and societal influences have a large part to play in our ability to trust. Think back to your childhood: how often were you told not to speak to strangers? How many stories have you read over the years where terrible things have happened to victims at the hands of people they trusted? How many times have you heard of people falling for scam emails or phone calls because they trusted what they were told? Everything we have heard, seen and experienced in our life feeds into our ability to trust people now. If you’ve had your heart broken, you may find it hard to trust a new partner. If a friend spills your secrets, you won’t be able to trust them in the future. If you’re passed over at work for a promotion you were promised, you might not be able to trust your boss is looking out for you. If you’re misdiagnosed by a medical professional, you may always distrust doctors. There are hundreds of scenarios throughout our lives that contribute to the way we trust. The deepest trust is developed over time, whether that’s with our partners, our family or our oldest friends. Those people who we feel comfortable around, share our secrets and fears with, and feel safe among. But we need to be able to build trust with new people too. Trust is complex. Without knowing it, we subconsciously apply all of these learnings and experiences to situations in which we need to trust someone. Often this manifests itself as instinct; when we meet someone new, we get a ‘feeling’ about whether we can trust them or not. We also need to trust our own instincts; if we’ve been burned once by someone we put trust into, we may then not trust ourselves to not make the same mistakes again and question our ability to read situations or people. How much these past experiences influence future trust varies hugely from person to person, depending on our personalities. Some people can dissociate past experiences from future experiences – they understand that because one person treated them in a particular way, doesn’t mean that another person will be the same. Others find it harder to let go and project past trauma into present situations. Some people are naturally more cynical about the world around them; some are incredibly open and accepting for new possibilities. Trust is more than a feeling; THE IMPACT OF LIVING LIFE ONLINE 50 PSYCHOLOGY NOW THE IMPACT OF LIVING LIFE ONLINE IMPACT OF LIVING LIFE THE Working from home, socialising via Zoom and minimal face-to-face contact were things we all had to adapt to during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here, the experts tell us how lockdown affected our brains WORDS JO DUNBAR e might be fully grown adults, but our brains never stop changing or developing in response to our experiences. So, it stands to reason that the matter of living through a pandemic – with all of its emotional, social and practical implications – will have had an impact on our brains. W Dr Peter Gallagher is a senior lecturer in neuropsychology at Newcastle University. He explains, “The brain is a very plastic, adaptable thing. It’s going through changes all the time – connections are constantly made and pruned. That’s how our memories are formed, by making and breaking connections. It’s a very dynamic organ.” So, although we did far less back in 2020 than our normal lives would usually living through a pandemic will have had an impact on our brains PSYCHOLOGY NOW 51 THE IMPACT OF LIVING LIFE ONLINE LOST FOR WORDS Along with feeling out of practice when it came to rudimentary chatter, many of us experienced feeling at a loss for words. Experts believe that a side effect of lockdown-living affected our concentration skills, so although we felt as though we had far less going on in our lives, our heads were buzzing with plenty of thoughts. For example, while our social lives and friendship circles were much smaller during the various lockdowns, the very act of living in a modern pandemic put strain on our brains, hence feeling as if we were grasping for words that were on the tip of the tongue. Dr Clara Russell, a GP who has launched her own brain-health supplement company, Noggin, tells us that being constantly distracted is a key factor in our inability to focus and remember day-to-day facts. “Combining this with the repetitive nature of life under lockdown, without clear schedules or routines, it can make it very hard to tell one day from the next – unless, of course, it is bin day.” So, while our physical worlds shrunk considerably, our worries multiplied. Whether you experienced concerns over juggling working from home, spending extended periods of time staring at a screen combined with possible financial worries, or having to engage in home learning for children alongside your job, fretting about the children and teens in the family, dealing with concerns for older relatives, coping with any added relationship strains magnified by lockdown, or you were simply worried for your own health and on edge with each news alert, it meant our brains were constantly mulling over several stressful situations at once, on a continuous loop. And as many of us have experienced, so many balls in the air and worries on our minds can be pretty debilitating, not to mention extremely distracting. Dr Russell agrees. “All these factors can also contribute to chronic stress, which can impact our short-term memory.” While the greater issue of the pandemic was out of our control, there were actions we could take to improve our attention spans. Dr Russell suggested simple mindfulness exercises, which “can remind us how to pay attention, as can adopting a regular meditation practice.” It was also recommended that families played memory games together to improve verbal fluency, which could help us grab on to those elusive words. have dictated, our brains continued to react and reshape according to what we were doing. Even doing the majority of our communicating on apps like Zoom changed our brains. “Every experience we go through causes some degree of change within the brain,” adds Dr Gallagher. “There are millions and millions of connections and they alter in response to our experiences. What we went through during the pandemic was – depending on the individual – a period of low or high stress. Stress elevates certain chemicals in the body, and those chemicals can change things in the brain. Cortisol, sometimes called the stress hormone, is one of these chemicals and it reacts to stress. So, if we are chronically worried, our cortisol levels are probably higher than they would be if things weren’t like this. We need cortisol to make memories, but if levels are too low or high, that can cause problems for memory, and also affect our mood.” Making memories If you found you struggled to stay motivated or focused during the pandemic, or found your days all blurring into one, that’s because our memories weren’t forming as they usually would. The circumstances of lockdown affected the brain’s ability to make and store memories, basically because we hadn’t done anything different for such a long period of time. During the pandemic, Dr Gallagher explained, “Ordinarily, you might have a fixed routine Monday to Friday, but your week is punctuated with events, whether it’s seeing friends or going to the gym or taking a different route to work. Every day is a bit different and those rich experiences allow us to remember things better. By being in the same four walls, week in week out, During the pandemic, our memories weren’t forming as they usually would 52 PSYCHOLOGY NOW THE IMPACT OF LIVING LIFE ONLINE many of us were missing out on the bonding experiences of small talk we’re losing that richness, which is why the days feel as though they blend into one.” No small talk; big impact Screens vs sleep Many people struggle with sleep, either from an occasional bad night, or an ongoing issue. Dr Russell reminds us how vital sleep is to our PSYCHOLOGY NOW PREPARING FOR RE-ENTRY If our brains weren’t making memories at the same rate and our concentration levels were impaired during the pandemic, how did we react when the world opened up again and we could experience normal life a bit more? A return to society certainly felt overwhelming for some, but to others it felt like a celebration. Dr Gallagher said it would be on a case-by-case basis, because, “How we all adapt is a very individual thing.” While some of us fitted straight back into life, for others it felt awkward. Initially, people were potentially carrying a virus, so many of us were a little bit nervous and acting with caution, but things slotted back in as we picked these skills up again. brain health. “When we sleep, our brains perform unique tasks that can only happen when we are asleep. Broken sleep impacts how we deal with stress, our appetite, and our memory and risk of Alzheimer’s disease.” Sleep also has a direct relationship to the presence of feel-good dopamine chemicals in the brain. If we don’t get enough sleep, or our rest is disturbed, dopamine levels will drop, affecting our anxiety levels. Since the pandemic and our lives moved online, it’s not uncommon to spend hours in front of a screen to then switch to video calls to socialise and then plug into a film to relax. We then may struggle to sleep. Dr Russell says, “Ongoing exposure to blue light from screens can affect our natural melatonin production, the hormone that has an important role in our ability to fall asleep at night. Excessive exposure to screens can suppress melatonin, therefore making it harder for us to sleep.” Dr Russell recommends avoiding screens during the evening and ensuring you see some daylight in order to keep your body’s circadian rhythm, our body clock, functioning. Be kind It might sound like a platitude, but according to Dr Russell, acts of kindness can have a direct impact on the health of our brains. “Our brains have mirror neuron brain cells that mirror the behaviour and emotion that we see. Noticing acts of kindness, as well as being kind ourselves are ways we can help our brain and emotional health.” If you’ve found yourself feeling particularly gleeful at the prospect of receiving a takeaway or waving at a friend from a distance, it’s because it’s our new parameter of joy, explains Dr Russell. “The small things have become the big things during this experience for most of us. We have had to alter our behaviours and how we find joy during this experience – the excitement of a delivery, sending a postcard to a friend or the joy at seeing a neighbour or a friendly face.” 53 © Getty Images / Irina_Strelnikova / Natalia Darmoroz / VectorFun / Ponomariova_Maria Thanks to the majority of us working from home and doing most of our socialising over screens, the way we communicated altered, as we had to work harder to connect via screens and read others’ reactions. Without face-toface communication, a natter at the school gates or water cooler at work, there was an absence of chatter in our lives, which might sound inconsequential, but is a building block for communication. The lack of opportunity for exchanging niceties in person could have affected our confidence and concentration. Dr Angharad Rudkin, clinical psychologist and co-author of What’s My Teenager Thinking? (DK,£16.99) with Tanith Carey, said that as communication became very functional online, with emails becoming more brusque and conversations becoming very goal-based, many of us were missing out on the social niceties and bonding experiences of small talk. “A lot of the psychological strokes we get from everyday work experiences such as a chat around the kettle, or sharing a funny story over lunch, are now missing and this can leave people feeling less confident and more anxious than before. This can all have a knock-on effect on our concentration, empathy and self-esteem.” As online interaction became the norm, plenty of us felt brain strain as we logged on for hours of screen time with little interpersonal contact. “Our brains are highly complex systems, designed to take in thousands of stimuli every minute,” says Dr Rudkin. “Socialising and working online takes away a lot of the cues we would ordinarily pick up on, meaning we have to work harder to function. Anecdotal evidence suggests that people feel more tired after being on screens and social interactions are less satisfying. So that’s why we feel so drained and unfulfilled after another meeting online or at the prospect of a Zoom quiz.” SET YOURSELF FREE OF THE PAST 54 PSYCHOLOGY NOW SET YOURSELF FREE OF THE PAST FREE OF THE PAST When you liberate yourself from the ties that bind you, you’ll never look back… WORDS CHRISTABEL SMITH W Stop sabotaging yourself Do you sometimes feel you’re your own worst enemy? Perhaps you buy that bag you can’t really afford, eat doughnuts after a workout at the gym, wake up hungover before a job interview, or put off saying yes to a potentially exciting date. Coach Kim Morgan (barefootcoaching. co.uk) says it’s self-sabotaging behaviour and many people use it in a misguided attempt to protect themselves from difficult experiences and emotions. The way through is to understand what drives your behaviour. You may feel deep down that you don’t deserve that fulfilling job, healthy body or loving relationship. Do it Write down examples of happy relationships in your life past or present, work successes, or times you’ve felt good about the way you look. It’s the first step to turning negative beliefs ‘positive’, which, in time, leads to stronger self-belief. Get rid of pesky ANTs We all have those annoying earworms with a harsh, critical voice that tell us we’re PSYCHOLOGY NOW not good/slim/clever enough; that we’re a bad parent/partner/child/employee. Psychologists call them Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs), and acknowledging and challenging them can be very helpful. For example, imagine yourself rushing and spilling tea on the carpet. You berate yourself: ‘I get everything wrong!’ Now take that thought to court. Where is the evidence that that statement is true? Isn’t it fairer to say you don’t generally drop drinks? The verdict is, we all slip up, especially when we’re stressed, and the simple learning is to give ourselves more time in future. Do it When an ANT invades your head, Emily Bradley (founder of the blog imperfectdivablog.wordpress.com) suggests trying the STOP technique. Stop. Take a breath (a deep one – five counts in, five out). Observe how you’re feeling. Then notice how the world is still spinning. chopping wood, flopping forwards from your waist and releasing a loud ‘Aah!’ as you do so. Learn to be an imperfectionist Perfection is impossible for any human, yet we all fall into the trap of seeking it. Who in all honesty can claim to have the ideal work-lifelove balance, a dust-free home and A* children with sparkling teeth? Aiming for it and inevitably failing can lead us to feeling worthless and too scared to try anything, in case we don’t excel. Do it Embrace the Japanese concept of ‘wabi-sabi’, which finds beauty in the seemingly imperfect. Your child may be struggling at school, but they have so much else to give and be celebrated for. As a singer, Emily Bradley urges imperfectionists to create a ‘blooper reel’ (imaginary, written down or recorded), as a celebration of our off-notes or banana-slip moments, without which we’d learn nothing. Forgive to flourish During Nelson Mandela’s 27 years in prison, he wrote, ‘To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others’. He forgave his captors. We can’t all be Nobel Peace Prize-winners, but we can cut off the oxygen supply to old demons and watch them fade away. To heal, you need to release the emotion in whatever way it takes, whether that’s yelling, crying or bashing a pillow. Next, try to understand why someone acted as they did. Compassion heals wounds. Do it Combining mind and body can release emotional blockers, says psychologist Nina Dhiman. Do ‘the woodchopper’. Standing with your legs apart, put your hands together above your head (this is your axe). Inhale. As you exhale, bring your arms down fast, as if Stop worrying about what ‘they’ will say One of the most undermining forces we face is the fear of what other people might think of us. Who we really are gets drowned out if we obsess over what ‘they’ will say. Imagine you’re at a vintage market stall and fall in love with a wacky hat or some funky purple boots. You hanker after them, but find yourself wondering what your friends would think, or your neighbour, or the person who works in your local shop. Check yourself. Would you judge others so harshly? No. So don’t be stifled. What’s the worst that can happen? Do it If you’ve always wanted to join a street protest or wanted a bright pink car, go for it. As Emily Bradley suggests, ‘Chances are, the people whose judgement you’re so worried about won’t turn a hair.’ 55 © Getty Images / Angelina Bambina e can all relate to Freddie Mercury blasting out ‘I Want to Break Free’ – deep down, who doesn’t want to shake off their shackles and soar towards a world with no limits? But somehow it just isn’t that easy. We put it down to our past, other people or circumstances, but the truth is, all that’s holding us back is the voice inside our own head. Happily, we have the power to shut that nagging old parrot up, and listen to something much kinder instead. Follow these ideas to make a start. INTO THE BLACK INTO THE Suicide wrecks lives. Researchers are trying to understand why people kill themselves and what we can do to reduce the numbers of people it affects WORDS EDOARDO ALBERT S uicide is common. Too common. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that close to 800,000 people die by suicide each year. Every 40 seconds, someone in the world ends their own life. The pain that suicide leaves in its aftermath throws a dark cloud upon the world: a 2018 study by Julie Cerel showed that, on average, each person who dies by suicide will have known 135 people. So, apart from the pain that leads to 800,000 people taking their own lives each year, the aftermath of suicide will affect a further 108,000,000 people. The dark numbers In 2019, the last year for which we have 56 complete data, suicide ranked as the 15th most common cause of death around the world. Nearly twice as many people died from suicide as from homicide. It is a worldwide phenomenon but there are significant differences in the rates of suicide between countries. The highest suicide rate was in Lesotho, at 87.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019, while at the other end of the scale the lowest rate of suicide, just 0.3 per 100,000 people, was recorded in the Caribbean countries Barbados, and Antigua and Barbuda. In terms of the share of deaths overall, 4.5% of deaths in South Korea were by suicide, while curiously Syria had the lowest share of deaths by suicide in 2019 at only 0.38%. This last statistic highlights the PSYCHOLOGY NOW INTO THE BLACK rates of suicide increase markedly as people get older fact that global suicide statistics probably under report how many people take their own lives each year. Suicide remains illegal in at least 20 countries, while in a much larger number it retains a major social stigma, leading to an understandable desire on the part of families and coroners to ascribe death to some other cause. One good number, however, was clear evidence that, worldwide, the rates of suicide in most countries had fallen between 1990 and 2017, with particular improvements in Sri Lanka (where rates fell from 43 per 100,000 in 1990 to 19 per 100,000 in 2017) and Hungary (a reduction from 34 to 14 deaths per 100,000). South Korea, on the other hand, saw a marked worsening of their suicide statistics over this period, from 12 to 20 people per 100,000. What we do not know, as yet, is the impact that the events of the Covid pandemic and the economic misery caused by governments’ reactions to the disease, will have on worldwide suicide rates. Age profile of suicide Perhaps contrary to popular thought, rates of suicide increase markedly as people get older, with the highest suicide rates among people who are over 70. However, because there are many other causes of death for people older than 70, the proportion of people dying by suicide in this age range is lower than for younger people. In terms of absolute numbers, the greatest number of suicides occur among people between 15 and 29. In the UK, people between 50 and 60 have the highest suicide rates. However, in the UK suicide was the main cause of death for people between 20 and 34 years of age. This is a result of young people being at much lower risk of dying from any of the usual causes – heart disease, cancer – so deaths from suicide stand out in comparison to all other causes. PSYCHOLOGY NOW 57 INTO THE BLACK Men and women and suicide In every country in the world, more men kill themselves than women. Overall, roughly two men kill themselves for every woman who does so. The countries with the highest absolute numbers of suicides in the world are the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, and in each the ratio of men to women killing themselves is comparatively low. 1.6 men for every woman in China and 1.3 men for every woman in India. Elsewhere, the ratio is much more skewed, with some countries recording ten male suicides for every female suicide. Across Europe as a whole, 4.6 men kill themselves for every woman, and in North America the figure is 3.5 men for every woman. However, many more women attempt suicide and self harm than men. The difference in outcomes appears to be due in part to men using more lethal methods when attempting suicide, meaning that a far higher proportion of male attempts at suicide end in death. Poverty and suicide Poor people are at greater risk of dying by suicide than rich people. This holds true within and across countries and cultures. For instance, in Scotland people in the lowest social class were at three times more risk of suicide in comparison to those people in the highest social class. The sort of inequalities that lead to higher suicide rates among the poor when compared to the rich also produce higher death rates from all other causes: the rich, on average, live longer. So, when seeking an answer to the question of what we can do to reduce the rates of suicide, one of the most important answers would be to reduce poverty, at home and abroad. This becomes even more important in light of the economic calamity suffered by so many people in the world following governmental responses to the Covid pandemic. We know that recessions lead to greater numbers of suicides. Researchers believe that the economic crash that hit America and Europe following the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 led to an extra 10,000 people killing themselves. While First World countries were able to shield their populations from much of the economic impact of lockdowns, the same was not true in many Third World countries. The political and economic collapse of Sri Lanka in 2022 is just one PERFECTIONISM AND SUICIDE The psychological trait most strongly associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviour is perfectionism. However, it is clear that it is one sub-type of perfectionism that creates problems. Perfectionism questionnaires typically seek to measure three separate axes of the trait: self-oriented perfectionism – what we expect of ourselves; social perfectionism – what we believe other people expect of us; and other-directed perfectionism – what we expect of other people. Of these three axes, it is social perfectionism, what we think other people want of us, that is strongly correlated with suicidal thoughts and behaviours. The critical point is that social perfectionism becomes dangerous when we mistake what we think other people expect from us for what they actually expect from us. Dangerous social perfectionism springs from the voice in our minds telling us that what we do is never good enough to please others. Who these others are is often undefined. But the voice, it harps on and on, telling us that what we do is never going to be enough. This is the voice that leads into the dark. It is the voice that should be shunned. Effective treatments have been developed to help people suffering from perfectionism and if you do hear these sorts of voices in your mind, it would be advisable to speak to a mental health professional. example of what governmental reactions to Covid has done to less robust economies. Who is at risk from suicide? There is no one factor that predisposes somebody to take their own life. It is clear from all the research that the decision to attempt suicide is brought about by the interplay of a number of different causes. However, the single most robust predictor of attempting suicide is someone having made a suicide attempt before. About one fifth of people attempting suicide have made a previous effort to end their lives. Nevertheless it is important to note that even among people who have attempted suicide, the great majority will never make another attempt to take their life, but instead will go on to live full and fulfilling lives. After a history of suicide attempts, the next greatest risk factor is mental health problems. the decision to attempt suicide is brought about by a number of different causes 58 Of these, the most common presenting at the time of suicide is depression. But even here, less than 5% of people diagnosed with clinical depression will commit suicide. Nevertheless, suffering from a serious mental illness does significantly increase the risk of suicide, so one of the best ways to reduce the prevalence of suicide is the early diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems before they become chronic. Tied in with mental health issues are problems with substance abuse. People addicted to alcohol and/or drugs are at significantly higher risk of suffering mental health problems and of dying by suicide. On its own, substance abuse is a risk factor contributing to suicide, but since substance abuse can lead to or exacerbate mental health problems, it often produces an amplified risk of suicide. Substance abuse and mental health problems produce an unholy cocktail of issues from which, for too many people, the only escape appears to be taking their own life. While there are societal pressures that can produce increased risks of suicide, it is clear from twin studies that there is a genetic component to suicidal behaviour. It is certainly not the case that there is a ‘suicide PSYCHOLOGY NOW INTO THE BLACK gene’ but rather that there can be a genetic predisposition towards the risk factors that make suicide a more likely outcome when situations become intolerably stressful. Speaking of societal pressures, research has shown that social isolation is another risk factor among the constellation of causes around suicide. Loneliness is a direct cause of lower life expectancies for a whole range of reasons, as lonely people suffer from worse health than people who have a wide range of social connections. Alongside loneliness, the experience of childhood trauma also leaves people more vulnerable to suicide. The trauma can have been experienced in a variety of ways, from neglect through to outright abuse, but the common factor is that a happy, secure childhood is a protective shield against the whole range of adult mental health and behavioural problems, including suicide. Why did they do it? Why? It is the question that torments those left behind. Why did he or she do it? Why did they kill themselves? Sometimes people do leave a letter giving their reasons but, contrary to popular thought, less than a third of the people who kill themselves leave behind any message to say why they did it. Most of the time, their bereaved family and friends are left searching through memories and hints, trying to find some sort of reason why. On the surface of it, the answer would seem to be that people kill themselves because they want to die. But research has shown quite clearly that in the great majority of cases this is not true. People kill themselves to make the pain stop. Their vision has become so narrowed that death has come to seem the only possible way to take the pain away. They are trapped and suicide appears to be the only way out. This experience of unsupportable pain is backed up by analysis of suicide notes. While it is true that most people who kill themselves do not give their reasons, careful study of the messages left by those who did shows that more than 90% of them were experiencing a level of psychological pain and distress that they could no longer endure and that killing themselves to make the pain stop had come to seem a final and permanent solution. From this, it’s important for those left behind to realise that the person they have lost did not want to die: they just wanted the pain to end. Tunnel vision and being trapped Further analysis of suicide notes, and interviews with people who have survived suicide attempts, indicates another key finding. In the weeks and days, sometimes just the hours and minutes, leading to a suicide attempt the focus of the person staring into the dark has narrowed. One of the key early researchers on suicide, Edwin Shneidman, said that suicide represented a permanent solution to what were usually temporary difficulties. But the problem is that for the person on the brink, all they can see is that one way out. An underappreciated but important contributory factor to this tunnel vision phenomenon that leaves the sufferer feeling completely trapped is lack of sleep. The vast majority of people suffering from suicidal thoughts report difficulty in sleeping. We know that lack of sleep and poorquality sleep both affect people’s cognitive processes, making it that much harder to find solutions to the problems they are facing. They are trapped. The debilitating consequences of being trapped and unable FOR THOSE COPING WITH THE AFTERMATH OF SUICIDE In helping people struggling to cope in the wake of a loved one’s suicide, these points are worth bearing in mind: People are unique and each person’s grief is unique, too. Don’t tell someone what they should be feeling. People will go through their grief in different ways – don’t try to force them into the six stages of grieving model. It’s not just immediate family who can be deeply affected by a suicide, but friends and even apparently quite distant colleagues – allow them to grieve, too. In the aftermath of suicide, people’s feelings can switch from overwhelming to times of relative calm and back again. Grief is unpredictable. Its intensity will change without warning in the days, weeks, months and years afterwards. Mixed up with grief can be a whole range of feelings, including guilt, anger, fear, shame, shock and rejection. The mental health of those left behind can be affected, plunging them into depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. There can also be a sense of acceptance that the person they loved is no longer suffering. All these feelings are deep and valid. They should be accepted. PSYCHOLOGY NOW 59 INTO THE BLACK to find an escape from bad or threatening situations has been explored among animals and people. Animals that are beaten in a fight over social status but are prevented from retreating to safety will often collapse into a state of helplessness. People trapped in a state of mental anguish from which they can see no escape can think the only way out is suicide. Using psychological tests of internal and external entrapment, researchers have found that feeling trapped is a key indicator of suicidal behaviour. Furthermore, where internal entrapment is being trapped by one’s thoughts and feelings and external entrapment is being trapped by one’s surroundings and environment, it is the feeling of being unable to escape one’s own thoughts and feelings – the voices yammering ceaselessly in one’s mind – that is most dangerous. From thinking to doing While we have gone through many of the factors that increase the risk of suicide, the simple fact is that even among people who are burdened with every single one of these The majority of people who contemplate suicide do not go on to attempt it risk factors, the majority will not attempt suicide. Among the most heartbreaking of suicides are those young people who kill themselves having given almost no sign that they are in distress. Perhaps the most important avenue in suicide research is to try to understand what changes suicidal thoughts into suicidal behaviours. After all, we’re all familiar with ideas, imaginings and fantasies that are far from wholesome, but in the majority of cases we don’t follow up on these temptations. The great majority of people who contemplate suicide do not go on to attempt it. What causes the behaviour in those who do? Research indicates that there are a number of factors that make it more likely that thoughts will turn into actions, ranging from the environmental to the physiological, 5 MYTHS ABOUT SUICIDE PEOPLE WHO TALK ABOUT SUICIDE WON’T DO IT People don’t always directly say they want to die, but talking of feeling their life is worthless or that they can see no way out of their predicament are red flags. Sometimes people do say straight out that they want to die. This is not attention-seeking; it may be the last chance to help. YOU CAN’T STOP THEM IF THEY’RE SERIOUS The door to suicide does not normally stay open for long. Actively moving towards ending one’s life is not long term and, if the crisis passes, it may never recur. ONLY MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE KILL THEMSELVES No. Mental health problems are a risk factor but not all the people who kill themselves are mentally ill. PEOPLE KILL THEMSELVES BECAUSE THEY WANT TO DIE No. People kill themselves because they can no longer bear to live the life they are living. If they can see another life is possible, then they will live. TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE MIGHT ENCOURAGE SOMEONE TO COMMIT SUICIDE No. There is still a taboo around talking about suicide and many suicidal people see themselves as a burden. Asking directly if they are suicidal gives them permission to speak and shows that you do not see them as a burden. 60 with social and psychological factors in between. Let’s examine them in turn. For if any of these factors can be disrupted or dissolved, then we will make it less likely that someone will attempt to take their life. Ways to do it Killing is not easy. If someone has easy access to a reliable method of killing themselves, then they are more likely to do it. Indeed, making it more difficult to physically do the deed seems to be the most reliable way of reducing suicide attempts. Evidence for this comes from the UK, where the domestic supply of gas changed from coal to natural gas in the 1960s and 1970s. Coal-derived gas contains carbon monoxide and is toxic, whereas natural gas does not. Prior to the changeover, many people killed themselves by the simple expedient of sealing the windows and doors and sitting in the kitchen with the stove on but not lit. Trying this with natural gas produces a bad headache. Therefore, one of the most easily accessible methods of suicide was removed from the mix. However, studies have shown that this produced a real and permanent decrease in the number of suicides. The majority of people who would have gassed themselves did not try to find another method of killing themselves – they lived. Other measures, such as restricting access to pesticides, the installation of catalytic converters on car exhausts and selling paracetamol in packs containing a maximum of 16 tablets have all contributed to a decline in suicides. Planning A key indication of moving from suicidal thoughts to acting on those thoughts is the formulation of a plan. Should someone confide that he or she is having suicidal thoughts, ask if they have worked out a way to do it. It might sound callous, but if they have, and the plan is detailed and they have the means to carry it out, then it is time to act. Contact a GP, mental health professional or the emergency services immediately. If someone suffering from suicidal thoughts has previously had someone close kill themselves, then that increases the chance that their thoughts will be acted upon. We are all affected by our social environment and if that environment has included someone else who has committed suicide then we are at more PSYCHOLOGY NOW INTO THE BLACK risk of following their lead. There is unfortunately clear evidence that the children of a parent who committed suicide are more likely to kill themselves too, the grief passing down the generations. However, it must be emphasised that this is a risk factor: it is not in itself enough to shift someone from thinking to doing. Impulsivity is another factor that acts towards translating ideas into action. At the surface level it is clear why. People who are more impulsive are more likely to act on suicidal thoughts than those who are not. However, while some suicides appear to be made almost on the spur of the moment, others are clearly the result of careful planning. Alcohol and other drugs can also reduce impulse control and lead to risky and suicidal behaviour. Dying is very rarely painless. People who have higher tolerances to physical pain and less fear of death are more likely to translate suicidal thoughts into attempts on their own lives. So if someone you know tells you that they feel trapped and that they don’t fear dying, then ask immediately if they are thinking about acting on their suicidal thoughts. Finally, as mentioned above, previous self-harming and suicidal behaviour makes it more likely that someone will try to kill themselves. But it must be emphasised again that this is a relative risk. The most recent and comprehensive study found that of patients admitted to hospital for self-harm, one in 25 would go on to commit suicide in the next five years. This is obviously much higher than the general population, but it still means that 24 of those 25 people do not die by suicide. person permission to speak about his or her difficulties, as well as showing that you do not consider them a burden. Other ways to assist include encouraging them to seek help and support, from charities such as Mind and the Samaritans or through their GP, as well as offering emotional and practical support. Doing so will help reconnect them with other people as well as demonstrating that they are valued. On a practical level, if the person you are worried about has talked about how they might kill themselves, then removing the means to do so is a good idea: in most cases a disrupted suicide plan leads to the postponement or abandonment of the idea rather than to search for alternative methods. And on the simplest level, just listening, quietly and calmly, to what someone has to say after you have broached the difficult subject of their suicidal feelings is a good start towards taking their hand and leading them back towards the light. If you think someone is feeling suicidal, research shows that it’s all right to ask them What can we do to help? PSYCHOLOGY NOW © Getty Images / Jorm Sangsorn It is by no means always obvious that someone is at risk from suicide. But social isolation – loneliness – is a common factor in suicidal behaviour. However, many people have also reported how they have been brought back from the brink by some small gesture, a simple reaching out by another human being. Even the power of a smile cannot be overstated. Remember how suicidal people feel trapped? One lady in her seventies, living on her own and struggling after the death of her sister and ill health, described how she was saved by a neighbour, a person she had only ever said, ‘Good morning’ to, slipping a note through her letter box asking after her and asking if she would like to meet for a coffee some time. If you think that someone you know is feeling suicidal, then research and reports both suggest that it is all right to directly ask them. This might be difficult – asking if someone is feeling suicidal remains a taboo subject – but doing so gives that 61 CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? CAN YOU KEEP A Knowing and keeping secrets can be both a benefit and a burden, so take a moment to think before you share WORDS JULIE BASSETT our friend leans in and whispers to you: “Can you keep a secret?” Naturally, and almost automatically, you respond with a “yes.” There’s something about the sharing of secrets that feels intimate, connecting you to another person through mutual knowledge. Then there’s the thrill of a secret; a small rush of adrenaline that makes you feel good knowing something that others around you don’t. However, secrets are tricky things. Whether they’re our own or they’ve been imparted to us by someone else, they can start to get heavy over time and could become an unwanted weight on our minds. It depends on what the secret is, of course. Some secrets are quite trivial, little more than office gossip. Other secrets are intense or overwhelming, and can be hard to stop thinking about. Secrets can be both a benefit and a burden. The act of confiding in Y someone can help bring you closer together and form the bonds of friendship or a relationship. When it’s a happy secret, it can feel joyful and light and special. On the other hand, holding on to others’ secrets can be hard, as we worry about accidentally spilling it. Even our own secrets – those we don’t feel we can tell anyone – can start to preoccupy the mind. Secrets can take over our thoughts and lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. One study, ‘The Benefits and Burdens of Keeping Others’ Secrets’, says: “The closer one is to the confider, the more one’s mind wanders toward the secret, predicting increased feelings of intimacy, but also burden. The more a secret has overlap with one’s own social network, the more one conceals the secret on the other’s behalf, predicting increased feelings of burden.” The thing is, we all have secrets, whether we want them or not. What makes up a secret is quite personal – some people hold certain information close to their hearts that others are very open about. PSYCHOLOGY NOW CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? Sometimes whether something is a secret to us or not is informed by our cultural and environmental experiences, our upbringing and our relationships. Simply, a secret is something that you don’t want other people to know. Why, then, do we have the urge to tell our secrets, and why do we have some secrets we’ll never unveil? Why do we share secrets? Secrets form a kind of self-protective aura. We have the power to reveal just those things we want to those around us – they can help define us, either by telling them or by omitting them. We might tell more to those closer to us, and less to acquaintances or colleagues. Not everything we don’t tell freely is a secret; it’s an active choice around what information we want to convey. But there are always those things that we don’t want everyone around us to know; things that we think about often and might have an impact on ourselves or others if they are revealed. Even then, there’s an instinctual urge to share our secrets, despite the potential outcome. Some of this urge comes from feeling like we just can’t hold on to the secret anymore; that it’s getting too much to carry and it needs to come out. Telling a secret can feel like a release; a relief from the burden of being the only person who knows something. We also know that there are sometimes consequences to us revealing a secret, which is why, on occasions, we spill our secrets to strangers or people outside of our usual social circle. You might chat to your hairdresser during an appointment, for example, or to your Uber driver on a commute. This gives you the relief at having spilt your secret, without the consequences of the wrong people finding out. These people don’t know us well enough to judge us based on our secrets, and they’re unlikely to pass it on when it has little relevance in their own lives. If you’re holding on to a lot of secrets, it can start to feel like it’s too much for your mental load. This is where secrets can have a negative impact on your quality of life and wellbeing. It can also be quite isolating to feel in possession of knowledge that you don’t feel you can tell others, which again can have an effect on your mental health. In this case, you may need to find someone you can talk freely with. This could be someone Why do we have the urge to tell our secrets, and why do we have some secrets we’ll never unveil? PSYCHOLOGY NOW 63 CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? WHO TO TRUST WITH SECRETS If you have a secret that you need to tell someone, then it can be hard to decide who to reveal all to. It should be someone who you trust, who would have your best interests at heart and not spread your secret further. This could be a family member or a friend – depending on the nature of the secret. Consider how the person you’re speaking to might be impacted themselves about the secret – if it’s related to a mutual friend, for example, you may be placing an unfair burden on them, so someone neutral can be a better choice. Also consider what you’re looking to achieve by telling your secret. Do you need advice, compassion, understanding? Some people will be better placed to offer this than others; maybe they have some experience that will place them in a good position to help you, or maybe they are just fair and kind, and you know they won’t judge you. When you do speak to them, offer a choice – don’t just spill your secret, but first ask them if they are comfortable being your confidant and keeping your secret. already in your life who you trust, or you could speak to a professional, such as a counsellor or therapist, to talk about those issues you can’t share with anyone else. Mum’s the word It’s different when you’re entrusted with someone else’s secret, however. It’s not your secret to tell, which means you don’t have an outlet if it all gets too much. The only person you can speak to about it is the one who gave you the secret in the first place. This can be particularly hard if the secret would impact someone else in your social circle, and that burden can be difficult to bear. We still feel that same urge to tell, to help relieve the pressure of holding on to it, but we also have an obligation to keep quiet. In this case, you could try using a journal or diary to give you a safe outlet for the secret you’re keeping. Occasionally, secrets come out anyway, and you need to face the consequences of that. This might be because you’ve shared something you shouldn’t by accident, or you just couldn’t keep it to yourself anymore. While this can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, it’s best to be honest with the person who told you the secret in the first place – they’ll only find out anyway and living with the guilt at sharing a secret you shouldn’t can be as heavy as the secret itself. Some people are just more prone to secret-telling than others. First, we know that secrets can create bonds, so we may use secrets we have to secure a connection 64 with another person. It might just come out in conversation without any forethought while we’re trying to gain someone’s trust or respect or to get them to like us. You might regret the action instantly, but it’s impossible to put a secret back once it’s come out. Some people are just more chatty and open than others, and secrets can come out more frequently. Whereas others are naturally quieter and more introverted, therefore less Before you start spilling secrets, take a moment to think about the potential consequences likely to spill a secret, but the toll on them can be greater if they’re holding a lot in. Another reason you may tell secrets you shouldn’t is because you feel guilty for keeping it in the first place. This can be hard, especially if you’re weighing your loyalties. If you know something that will directly impact on someone you love, for example, it can be very difficult not to let something out. Before you start spilling secrets, whether yours or someone else’s, take a moment to think about the potential consequences. Are you handing over a burden to someone else, who might not want it? How will you feel about someone else knowing one of your deepest secrets? What will happen if you share a friend’s secret with someone else, and how will they react? Sometimes all you need is to take a moment and think before you speak; your gut instinct will drive you in deciding whether to reveal your secrets or keep them locked inside. PSYCHOLOGY NOW CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? 1. AMONG YOUR FRIENDS, YOU WOULD DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS… A - The quiet one B - The one who asks questions C - The wise one D - The gossip 2. A FRIEND TELLS YOU A SECRET. YOU… A - Take it to your grave, obviously! B - Share it with your therapist for her thoughts C - Tell your partner if it’s important D - Tell other friends on the down-low 3. HOW OFTEN DO YOU SHARE YOUR OPINION ON SOMETHING? A - Never B - Occasionally C - Only when asked D - Always! I’m entitled to it 4. YOU MEET A NEW PERSON, HOW DO YOU REACT? A - You’re guarded B - Ask them questions about their life C - Chat freely D - Tell them about yourself first 5. HOW OFTEN DO YOU TEND TO POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA? A - Hardly ever B - Once a week, maybe? C - Every few days D - Every day! 6. HOW WOULD YOUR COLLEAGUES DESCRIBE YOU? A - Closed off and shy B - You’re friendly, but keep to yourself C - Easy to talk to D - Loud, and bordering on disruptive PSYCHOLOGY NOW HOW DID YOU SCORE? MOSTLY As SECRET KEEPER You’d much rather observe a situation than participate. Even when someone asks, you’re pretty reluctant to share any private information. It’s totally okay to be private, but some people might think you’re ignorant – which isn’t the case! Why are you closed off? Do you need to learn to trust yourself? MOSTLY Bs THE QUIZZER You’re fairly active in conversations and like to ask questions. You’re curious about other people, but don’t give much back. People may find it difficult to trust you, and your relationships might not be as strong as they could be. Share your feelings and start feeling connected. This would help professionally too. MOSTLY Cs CHATTY CHUM You know exactly what you’d like to share and what to keep private. This is a good balance for your friendships and professional life. But are you being authentic, or doing it to keep the peace? People like you for you, so try to keep a conversation flowing naturally rather than faking it according to the situation. MOSTLY Ds CHRONIC OVERSHARER You’re an open book, more than confident chatting to new people and sharing with others. However, it often borders on inappropriate and you tend to overshare. Learn what works for each situation. How good a friend are you if you share secrets so easily? Think about how you’d like to be treated before speaking. © Getty Images / PrettyVector Trusted confidante or chronic oversharer? Take our quiz to find out how you like to communicate… 65 REDISCOVER YOUR OPTIMISM REDISCOVER YOUR Worn out by worrying and dwelling on the negative? It’s time to turn things around WORDS EVA GIZOWSKA t can be hard not to let negativity seep in to your day, especially during stressful periods of life. A dose of optimism not only makes you feel better, but it’s also good for your physical and emotional health – even if initially you need to force yourself to feel more positive. “An optimistic person is always looking for the best in any situation and expecting good things to happen,” says Kimberly Reed, author of Optimists Always Win (£10.95, Health Communications Inc.). “Even if something negative happens, such as the loss of a job, an optimist sees the silver lining. For example, the chance to pursue a more fulfilling career or hobby, or take a much-needed break. Optimists believe their actions result in positive outcomes, that they are responsible for their own happiness, and that they can expect more good things in the future.” If you’re an optimist you try to look for good in every situation. “An optimist views adverse events (such as your car being broken into, redundancy and so on) as a result of something outside of themselves,” explains Kimberly. “But, even if it’s something that happened as a result of an action they I took, an optimist will always try to see what they can learn from the experience. They think of an unfortunate event as a temporary setback – not a permanent way of life. Even if something awful happens, a positive thinker believes good things will come again.” “Optimists look on the bright side,” reveals psychologist Dr Sandra Wheatley (potentpsychology.com). “They emanate a hopeful positivity. But, being optimistic doesn’t mean you go into denial and pretend everything is fine when it’s not. It’s a frame of mind where you hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” She adds that an optimist can look at a situation squarely in the eye and plan what to do if things go wrong. “By having a contingency plan, this makes it easier to turn things around before there’s a huge problem.” Get the optimistic mindset “Optimists tend to share several positive characteristics that can lead to greater happiness and promote good health,” says Kimberly. An optimist: Thinks about, reflects on and emphasises the good things in life An optimist thinks of an unfortunate event as a temporary setback rather than a permanent way of life 66 Tries not to waste time and energy on complaining when something goes wrong, but focuses on what they do to change or learn from a situation – Feels that nothing can hold them back from achieving success and reaching their goals – Sees challenges and obstacles as opportunities to learn – Feels gratitude for the good bits – even in a negative situation – Has a positive attitude towards themselves and others – Is tenacious and carries on when the going gets tough – Doesn’t let one bad experience colour their expectations of the future – Accepts responsibility for mistakes but doesn’t dwell on them – Is always looking for ways to make the most of any opportunities that come their way There’s a common assumption that optimism is the same as happiness, but that’s not the case. “While optimism can lead to greater happiness, it’s actually to do with how you view the world,” says Dr Wheatley. “Optimists experience difficulties PSYCHOLOGY NOW REDISCOVER YOUR OPTIMISM PSYCHOLOGY NOW 67 REDISCOVER YOUR OPTIMISM optimists have more effective coping strategies and problems like anyone else. To be an optimist doesn’t protect you from feeling negative emotions. If something bad happens, you still feel the pain, upset, grief, betrayal or disappointment. It’s just that an optimistic mindset helps you cope better.” In a recent Indian study* it was shown that optimists tend to have more effective coping strategies, which helps them to feel less stressed. Pessimists, on the other hand, have a tendency to dwell on stressful feelings, which can make them feel worse. So, what makes some people more optimistic than others? “Some people are just born naturally optimistic, it’s part of their genetic make-up,” explains Dr Wheatley. “But your upbringing also has an impact. If you grew up in an environment where there was a focus on the positive, the likelihood is that this would have had an effect on your own attitude to life.” Likewise, research shows that if you had a parent who was pessimistic or depressed, you’re far more likely to have a pessimistic outlook on life as an adult. But, ultimately, optimism is a choice, and anyone can acquire a more optimistic mindset 68 that will help you to face life’s challenges and feel confident that you can expect positive things to happen in the future. Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 2014, it was shown that optimism is associated with reduced pain and symptoms after heart surgery. HEALTH BENEFITS OF BEING AN OPTIMIST You’re more likely to live longer Latest research shows that optimism is associated with a number of physical and psychological benefits. Optimists are more likely to live a longer life – 11-15% longer – and have a greater chance of reaching 85 years of age, compared to those who have a more pessimistic disposition. These are the findings of a study by the Boston University School of Medicine in 2019 that followed nearly 70,000 women and 1,500 men over a timespan of 10 to 30 years. It can help you to manage pain It’s good for your heart In a recent US review of 15 studies that looked at 200,000 people** it was shown that optimists had a 35% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 14% reduced incidence of early death. It lowers your stress hormones A study at Concordia University, Canada, asked participants to measure their daily stress levels. Optimists were found to have lower levels of stress hormones (such as cortisol). Pessimists, who were shown to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode more frequently, triggered by negative thinking that exacerbated stress, had higher stress hormones. When cortisol remains constantly elevated, this can lead to health problems. You’ll recover better from illness A positive mindset can help you to cope better with disease and recover better. In a recent study*** it was shown that optimists had less inflammation and recovered more quickly after a stroke than those who had a more negative outlook. In another study, published in the According to a recent review, optimists who expect positive outcomes are better able to cope with and manage pain. It seems that a positive attitude can help to reduce the perception of pain. Whereas feeling negative, pessimistic and depressed appears to have a more adverse effect on someone’s experience of pain; for example, they find it more difficult to manage. It’s an antidote to depression and makes you more resilient to stress Another study, in the Natural Medicine Journal in 2017, showed that people who are optimistic consider themselves as inherently protected (not vulnerable) and think about the world as a generally good place. They tend to be happier, have a lower chance of facing depression, and manage stress more effectively. They’re more likely to practise healthy habits such as exercising, following a healthy diet and not smoking. And they are more likely to seek help if they need it than a pessimist would. PSYCHOLOGY NOW REDISCOVER YOUR OPTIMISM 7 WAYS TO BE MORE OPTIMISTIC “This doesn’t mean you feel positive all the time; it’s having the confidence to know you can cope with whatever life throws your way,” says Dr Wheatley. “It means acknowledging the negative, while making a conscious effort to think optimistically. For example, it can be as simple as choosing to smile when you feel glum. It’s your choice to feel down, or to do something positive to take your mind in a different direction. You can’t control everything, but if there’s one thing you can control, it’s what you think.” 2. BE MINDFUL OF NEGATIVE THINKING Next time you catch yourself having a negative thought, swap it for a positive one. “This might take some practice but after a while it will start to feel more natural,” says Dr Wheatley. “If you’ve had a bad day, tell yourself, ‘Tomorrow will be better’ and plan on what you can do to make it that way. Or, if you know you’ve got a Zoom meeting with a tricky client, rather than approaching it with dread, prepare for the challenge and do your best, but afterwards let it go.” 3. PRACTISE GRATITUDE “Gratitude allows you to redirect your focus,” says Kimberly. “When you feel grateful, your mind shifts your focus from what you should have more of, to what’s good in your life right now. Practising gratitude is a process of trying your best to see and be thankful for the positives in your life, even in the midst of a difficult situation.” 4. TURN OFF THE NEWS How often do you wake up in a perfectly good mood, only to turn on the news and you end up feeling angry, disappointed, fed up, fearful or depressed with everything that’s going on in the world? “Limit yourself to anything that makes you feel bad,” says Dr Wheatley. “If that includes watching the news, then watch something uplifting instead and let in the information that supports you.” 5. BE MINDFUL OF WHO YOU SPEND TIME WITH “When you surround yourself with people who make you feel happy and relaxed, this automatically makes you feel more positive,” explains Dr Wheatley. “That doesn’t mean you can’t share problems, or have off days, it’s just that if you’ve got a good circle of friends, who uplift and inspire you, it’s easier to feel optimistic.” She adds that negativity often comes from spending too much time on your own and overthinking things. “That’s why it’s important to make time for your friends – even if it’s just to meet for a walk or talk on the phone.” 6. GET ACTIVE “Rather than complaining, moaning and feeling sorry for yourself, take a walk, go for a bike ride, or hit the gym,” says Kimberly. “The idea is to get your body moving. Physical activity releases endorphins and you’re less likely to feel pessimistic with these feel-good neurochemicals circulating in your body. If you don’t know where to start, download a fitness app.” 7. REFRAME PAST SETBACKS If you find your mind wandering to a past disappointment, such as a job or relationship that didn’t work out, think of all the details you can remember, trying to be as objective as you can. “In what way would you have wanted the situation to turn out better? Now reframe the situation by letting go of what you wanted to happen and write a paragraph about what good came out of it,” says Kimberly. Perhaps you got a better job, or made a new circle of friends. © Getty Images / Elena Solodovnikova 1. RECOGNISE OPTIMISM IS A CHOICE YOU CAN MAKE EVERY DAY 69 PSYCHOLOGY NOW *International Journal of Indian Psychology, 2016 **Journal of the American Medical Association, September, 2019 ***American Stroke Association, 2020 WHY WE GET ADDICTED WHY WE GET Discover how our brains can be tricked into wanting more and more WORDS SCOTT DUTFIELD A ddiction is a biopsychosocial disorder, meaning that its occurrence is a combination of a person’s biology, mental health and societal factors. It’s typically associated with a dependency on different harmful substances or behaviours, such as the use of narcotics, alcohol or gambling, but can also apply to overdoing anything that leads to harm. What unites addictions is their ability to increase the levels of dopamine in the body. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s made in the brain. When it’s released, it activates the nucleus accumbens, also known as the pleasure centre of the brain. Outside of addiction, dopamine is released during pleasurable experiences, such as getting food, watching a film or anything that brings you joy. However, this built-in reward system can be hijacked by other substances and damaging behaviours. Some substances, such as heroin, marijuana and nicotine, mimic the presence of a chemical messenger that activates nerve cells called neurons. When activated, neurons generate electrical signals to tell the brain to release dopamine. Other substances, like cocaine or amphetamines, flood the dopamine system and cause it to release abnormally large amounts of neurotransmitters. They also disrupt the cycling of dopamine to make its presence last longer. These drugs can trigger the release of between two and ten times the amount of dopamine that is naturally produced from normal pleasurable experiences, such as eating food. The point at which we become addicted is when our brains adapt to the presence of this excess dopamine. When that excess is missing, the body craves it. When the body experiences these false ‘hits’ of dopamine, over time it will begin to start reducing the level of naturally produced dopamine and we become addicted when our brains adapt to the presence of excess dopamine 70 PSYCHOLOGY NOW WHY WE GET ADDICTED also reduce the number of dopamine receptors. With low natural production of dopamine and a decrease in the number of receptors cycling it, addicted individuals will continue to use a substance or engage in behaviours that bring the brain to its newly adapted dopamine levels. the body experiencing withdrawal, symptoms of which include headaches, fatigue and decreased motivation. However, unlike other more destructive drugs, studies have shown that quitting caffeine is much more easily achieved than quitting substances like cocaine. Coffee addicts Infinite scroll You might be an addict without actually realising it. In the Western world, more than 80% of humans ingest caffeine on a regular basis in amounts that are large enough to affect their brains. Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant that affects the same part of the brain as cocaine, but in a very different way. It mostly enhances concentration and improves mood, but it creates a surge in dopamine similar to other addictive drugs, but on a much smaller scale. Caffeine drinkers also experience an increase in their tolerance, meaning the more coffee they drink, the more they need in order to receive the same energising results. Like any other drug, the removal of caffeine-packed coffee will result in It remains unclear how addictive social media is, but since the invention of the infinite scroll in 2006, social media platforms are making it harder for you to quit. The infinite scroll was invented to allow users of a social media platform to scroll down through content seamlessly and endlessly instead of clicking at the bottom of a page for more content. The switch to infinite scroll means that we’re always anticipating the next piece of content, causing dopamine levels to slightly spike and then quickly fall when the next piece of content is revealed. This dopamine system will continue until you make the active choice to shut down social media or your phone’s battery runs out. THE SCIENCE OF SMOKING NICOTINE NEURON FALSE SIGNAL DOPAMINE This stimulant alkaloid is found in the nightshade family of plants, including tobacco. Nicotine interacts with neurons, which in turn send signals to the brain to release dopamine. When nicotine enters the neuron it imitates a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, causing the neuron to create an electrical signal in the brain. When released, this neurotransmitter activates part of the brain associated with experiencing pleasure. NORMAL LEVELS NICOTINE RUSH Without the presence of nicotine, neurons operate normally, activated by a type of neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Within the first few seconds of inhaling the smoke of a cigarette, nicotine binds to neuron receptors that normally bind with acetylcholine. PSYCHOLOGY NOW BURNT OUT ADDICTION Once nicotine has been used up and is no longer present, receptors return to normal function. At the point of addiction, neuron receptors wait for the arrival of nicotine and the body craves the resulting rush of dopamine. © Getty Images / Malte Mueller After just one puff, nicotine can get its claws into you 71 UNDERSTANDING INTROVERTS & EXTRAVERTS INTROVERTS EXTRAVERTS For centuries, scholars and psychologists have attempted to define personality theory. Here we explore what it means to be introvert, extravert or somewhere between the two WORDS LEAH LARWOOD nderstanding why and how our personality is shaped and formed is an incredibly fascinating area. Nowadays there are several major theories on personality, which include: dispositional (trait) perspective, psychodynamic, humanistic, biological, behaviourist, evolutionary and social learning perspective. There are often a number of wide-ranging factors that contribute to the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character. There are many aspects of our personality, temperament and predispositions that are already highly formed from the moment U 72 PSYCHOLOGY NOW UNDERSTANDING INTROVERTS & EXTRAVERTS we are born. This is an old idea stemming from Hippocrates in 370 BCE – a concept that evolved into mainstream philosophy and medicine up until the 19th century. Then came the notion that we are also born without predispositions and that personality can actually be shaped. This concept started to feature in studies in the early 20th century, after claims from Sigmund Freud and other physicians, such as Alfred Adler and Harry Sullivan. Shortly after, in 1921, Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung published a book, Psychological Types Types,, which laid out that people are different in essential ways. He claimed that we have a multitude of instincts that he called archetypes, and which drive us from within. Specifically he said that we each have a natural inclination to either extraversion or introversion, combined with our preference for one of what he called the four basic psychological functions: thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition. The birth of Myers-Briggs Jungian theory, a psychodynamic perspective, is still used in ‘personality type questionnaires’ today. It started in the 1950s when Isabel Briggs Myers, a layperson, alongside her mother, Katharine Briggs, together created a questionnaire for identifying different kinds of personality, based on Jung’s Psychological Types Types.. They called it the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The test uses Jung’s idea to describe the predictable differences between the ways in which people behave in different situations and which groups personalities into eight categories: Extravert-Introvert, Judging-Perceiving, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling. The Myers-Briggs model of personality focuses on how we prefer to behave rather than how we actually behave. Often we change our preferences and natural tendencies over time – either due to patterns or preferred behaviours we’ve learnt or inherited from friends, family, society, culture, workplaces and other environments, all of which can influence our beliefs. Our preferences therefore, can and will, often change over time. we each have a natural inclination to extraversion or introversion PSYCHOLOGY NOW 73 UNDERSTANDING INTROVERTS & EXTRAVERTS Q&A: ASK THE EXPERT Steve Myers (no relation to Isabel Briggs Myers) is a visiting fellow at the University of Essex and the author of Myers-Briggs Typology vs Jungian Individuation. WHAT DO THE TERMS EXTRAVERSION AND INTROVERSION MEAN? The same terms can mean different things to different people, depending on which theory they use, or which aspect of the theory they focus on. Some definitions are simple, but others are more complex. For example, Five Factor theory (also known as the Big Five) is relatively straightforward because it defines extraversion as how outgoing or sociable a person is, or how much they are energised by being with other people. Hans Eysenck’s definition is a little more complex because, for him, extraversion refers to higher degrees of brain arousal in response to external stimuli – though this produces some overlap with the Big Five. THE TWO TERMS INTROVERT AND EXTRAVERT WERE ORIGINALLY COINED BY CARL GUSTAV JUNG. ARE HIS DEFINITIONS SIMPLE OR COMPLEX? They are complex. Within his developmental theory, which he called individuation, extraversion and introversion are complementary attitudes or mechanisms within the individual that are akin to systole and diastole in the heart. We need to use both, and we all do. However, Jung observed that some people had a habit of using one mechanism more than the other – and he described those people as extraverts or introverts. But he also said there is a third group of people – the largest group – who have a balance between the two. Erich Neumann developed the idea of extraversion and introversion within the individuation process and, in agreement with Jung, suggested that their interaction can sometimes lead to a new, third attitude, which Neumann called centroversion. THE IDEA OF CENTROVERSION – OR AMBIVERSION, PERHAPS – IS NOT WIDELY DISCUSSED, NOT EVEN IN ISABEL BRIGGS MYERS’ POPULAR THEORY THAT IS BASED ON JUNG’S CONCEPTS. WHY IS THAT? Isabel Briggs Myers modified and simplified Jung’s theory to suggest that everybody falls into one of two groups, depending on whether they prefer to deal with the external world of people and things or the internal world of ideas and information. She believed that this was much more relevant to everyday psychology. It gives people a simple, heuristic toolkit for dealing with relationships and teamwork, and it supports some degree of personal development. However, this meant that she left out the more advanced developmental aspects of Jung’s individuation. There is some value in both – the Myers-Briggs toolkit and Jung’s individuation. CAN YOU GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF THE TOOLKIT, FOR EXAMPLE HOW IT CAN HELP AN EXTRAVERT AND INTROVERT SITTING NEAR EACH OTHER AT WORK? Extraverts tend to develop ideas at work by discussing them with other people, whereas introverts tend to think them through. Both can produce good results, but their interaction can sometimes lead to conflict. For example, the extravert might see the introvert ‘doing nothing’ and start talking. But the introvert is thinking things through, and the extravert’s interruption makes them lose their train of thought. On the other hand, when the introvert wants to discuss something, they might send an email, with a large attachment to read. This is a waste of time for the extravert, who would rather the person sitting six feet away just talk to them. And even when they do start talking, they misunderstand the nature of each other’s ideas. The extravert fails to recognise how much thought has gone into the introvert’s ideas and tries to change them (to the annoyance of the introvert). The introvert fails to recognise the provisional nature of the extravert’s ideas and dismisses them as ill-thought through (to the annoyance of the extravert). Rather than getting annoyed with each other, the toolkit helps them recognise their different styles, respect the stage of development at which their ideas are shared, and work out how to accommodate each other’s preferences. 74 PSYCHOLOGY NOW UNDERSTANDING INTROVERTS & EXTRAVERTS The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire is arguably the world’s leading personality test and many organisations and businesses use this type of psychometric testing in the workplace. However, as with any kind of personality questionnaire, the results might not always reveal an accurate portrayal. So although tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can provide an incredibly useful framework, it’s important to use the results as a guide. Individuals can then use their findings to reflect carefully on what feels true for them. What can be of more value is to bring awareness and understanding to our process, and explore preference versus actual behaviour, before discerning which personality type is best suited. Extravert sparkle, introvert glow The difference between extraversion and introversion can be boiled down to this: extraverts focus on the outer situation whereas the introvert concentrates on inner ideas and mental concepts. Many people may have a good inkling which of the two they have a leaning towards. The Myers-Briggs model of personality is based on four preferences: 1. Where, primarily, do you direct your energy? – 2. How do you prefer to process information? – 3. How do you prefer to make decisions? – 4. How do you prefer to organise your life? extraverts focus on the outer situation, the introvert concentrates on inner ideas Introverts Introverts have a characteristic pause before actions. They direct their energy and attention inward and receive energy from their internal thoughts, feelings and reflections. Characteristics of most people who prefer introversion include: Being drawn to their inner world – Preferring to communicate by writing – Being able to learn best by reflection, mental ‘practice’ – Having depth of interest – The tendency to reflect before acting or speaking – Being private and contained – The ability to focus readily Extraverts Extraverts focus on external events. They direct their energy and attention outward and receive energy from external events, experiences and interactions. Some of the characteristics found in extraverts include: Being attuned to external environment – Preferring to communicate by talking – Learning best though doing or discussing – Having breadth of interests – Tendency to speak first, reflect later – Being sociable and expressive – Taking the initiative in work and relationships Understanding where you sit However, sometimes it can be tricky to decide which is the dominant preference. Each person will have a range of characteristics that span introversion and extraversion at different points. It can be ASK YOURSELF NOW: Where do you tend to direct your energy? Towards the external world of activity and spoken words? Or is your focus on your inner world of thoughts, emotions and feelings? PSYCHOLOGY NOW 75 UNDERSTANDING INTROVERTS & EXTRAVERTS pure introverts or extraverts don’t exist interesting to explore which behaviours are learned, or else, a response to current demands – the latter can reflect a person’s true preference. However, as Carl Jung once said, “There is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert.” We can often be a mixture of the two depending on the situation and circumstances. Case Study: When types swap preferences German scientist and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe observed two functions of the human heartbeat: the ‘systole’ – a movement of convulsion in the heart or lungs; and ‘diastole’ – a movement of dilation or relaxation. Systole and diastole are also known as interplay of polarities. Jung applied this familiar idea to personality theory. It’s a more complex part of Jung’s theory – this idea of systole and diastole – though they have a practical and helpful extension. One example can be applied to a marital relationship. Offering a day-to-day example of this idea, visiting fellow Steve Myers said, “Suppose an extravert woman marries an introvert man and, during their careers, the husband takes a break after their second baby to spend time with the children while his wife re-enters the world of work again after a few years leading on domestic life. During the husband’s break from work, the wife is out all day in an extravert job – which is systole in Jung’s metaphor. When she gets home at the end of the day, although she is an extravert, she still needs to compensate a bit by spending some time on the diastole – that is, she needs to introvert for a while. However, the husband has been on his own with the children, doing introversion or diastole for most of the day. So, when the wife walks through the door, even though her husband is an introvert, he needs to compensate THE GESTALT VIEW: PERSONALITY BEGINS WHERE LABELLING ENDS Identifying and understanding more about our personality ‘type’ can be an empowering experience. For many it can also provide reassurance and lead to more confidence, enabling us to play to our strengths and to become unapologetic about who we are. Understanding more about preferences and ‘type’ can also help people to make informed choices. However, although understanding different personality types and their functions can be useful, more often than not, it can be helpful to view this information as a guideline. Naturally, it isn’t as black and white as grouping people into introverts and extraverts – often we can be each type in different environments and with different people. Gestalt psychology (a humanistic perspective) refers to personality within its concept of self, which is viewed as being co-created in the process of making contact with the environment. Meaning that, when we have contact with another person, persons, activity, place or thing, we may respond differently depending on the factors at play. Gestaltist Dave Mann coined the term selfing, turning the noun into a verb, illustrating how self can be viewed as an active state or occurrence. It’s a widely held view in Gestalt that selfing is driven by the environment, and contact we make with other individuals, and selfing is expressed or experienced differently depending on the context. For example, some people may experience themselves differently when in contact with their parents or family members versus when interacting with friends or colleagues. Viewing self as a changeable notion opens up the idea of possibility, hope, change and reassurance in the implication that personality doesn’t have to be viewed as fixed. 76 PSYCHOLOGY NOW UNDERSTANDING INTROVERTS & EXTRAVERTS WHERE DO YOU DIRECT YOUR ENERGY? INTROVERSION SOCIAL PRIVATE EXPRESSIVE QUIET MANY FEW BROAD DEEP INTERACTION CONCENTRATION OUTWARD INWARD ACTION BEFORE THOUGHT THOUGHT BEFORE ACTION by spending time on systole – he needs to talk to her. So, there is a conflict between her wanting a quiet time and him wanting to talk. That sounds very similar to the example in work. What difference does this make in the marital setting? “When they got married, she married an introvert husband, and he married an extravert wife. But in this new scenario, when she walks through the door, she only sees her husband in extravert mode and he only sees his wife in introvert mode. The other person, that they each now see, seems opposite to the one they married. In the worst-case scenario, this can lead to a breakdown of the relationship. But if they have the toolkit to understand these dynamics of extraversion and introversion, they will realise that neither of them have changed. Rather, the dynamics of their systole/ diastole interactions have changed with the new circumstances, which means they tend to see a side of the person that they previously hadn’t noticed so much. With this insight, they can then reconstruct their lifestyle to get back to a more balanced experience of each other.” Extraverts can open doors, but introverts can keep them open Who is the best networker – the extravert or the introvert? Some may instantly assume that it would be the sociable extravert and others may be certain that introverts are better at deeper connections. Catherine A Baudino (www. drcatherinecoaching.com) PhD, FRSA, MNCP, executive coach and author of Stepping Into My PSYCHOLOGY NOW Shoes, said, “The essential point here is what you mean by networking; it is not about walking around a room (some even say ‘working the room’), collecting business cards and then coming back to the office, asking yourself who these people are, what they do and what that means for the future of their business. That is the extravert. “The re-trained introvert (whom we will call Pat Intro), on the other hand, will enter the same room, in the same circumstances, and engage with the other guests/delegates and actively listen to their statements. In doing so, Pat is already entering into a relationship with the other parties and creating a bond with their interlocutor. The truth of the matter is that Pat Intro can learn as much as their counterpart (whom we will call Pat Extra) can from them.” Catherine believes that the extravert can teach ‘Pat Intro’ how to break the ice, with oneliners that can be used when approaching a stranger; these could be open questions that require more than a yes or no, like: What did you think of the last speaker? What is your interest in this subject? I saw you speaking earlier to [person’s name] – how do you know them? She adds, “The introvert will teach Pat Extra to (literally) shut up, listen and ask pertinent questions. They will teach them to develop an honest interest in the needs of others and, dare I say, actually teach them some modesty. Whilst the extravert will be there for the sole purpose of being centre-stage and promoting themselves, Pat Intro will use their listening skills to explore how they can help their interlocutor. Above all, Pat Extra has to realise guests at this event are not there to buy their services, but to sell their own. By finding out what the other party is interested in, the introvert will be able to offer introductions that can be of interest, and, in doing so, they will initiate a long-term connection.” The wonderful thing is that we can all learn from each other. Vive la différence! 77 © Getty Images / mspoint / Veronika Oliinyk EXTRAVERSION ©Steve Myers, TeamTechnology.co.uk The following table lists words and expressions that are often associated with extraversion and introversion THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE THE TO BE VULNERABLE How can we embrace vulnerability to live more fulfilling lives? WORDS JULIA WILLS umans have always needed to connect with one another. Indeed, for most of our history, fitting in with the group has been essential to survival by greatly improving our chances against food shortage, predators and enemies through co-operating. A safety in numbers. But even today in our modern, sophisticated and technologically savvy world, that instinct remains strong. We’re still social animals. From the moment we’re born, we appeal to our parents for food, warmth, love and shelter. As babies we need our carers to respond to our every need to stay alive. We are vulnerable. We don’t pretend – we let others know what we need by crying and demanding attention. We’re real. Authentic to our feelings. But as we grow up, we become more aware of what others might think of us when we share our true needs H and feelings, and we learn to respond to signals of how we’re loved best – perhaps by showing good manners, being kind, liking certain things or achieving high grades at school; in short, by becoming the ‘nice person’ that people will like. In doing so, we often showcase the best side of ourselves to friends, family and colleagues, choosing to keep our less ‘likeable’ feelings to ourselves. In this way, we learn to forfeit being wholly true to ourselves in order to fit in. But is that the most fulfilling way to live? Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, thinks not. For the last two decades she has studied vulnerability, shame, courage and empathy. She’s written six New York Times bestsellers, hosted the podcasts Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead and shared some of her discoveries in Netflix’s The Call to Courage. Courage. Refreshingly, she simply describes herself in three we learn to forfeit being wholly true to ourselves in order to fit in 78 words: researcher, storyteller, Texan. In her TED Talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, she candidly shares how she was drawn to social work, leaving a career in management at AT&T to search for a way to mend people’s lives and fix the systems supporting them. Instead, she discovered that social work was about “leaning into the discomfort” and allowing others to find their own way. As a born ‘fixer’, it wasn’t for her. Instead, armed with the knowledge from her academic studies that connection gives meaning to our lives, she chose to research that. However, what she discovered was that her research subjects insisted on talking about disconnection instead: broken hearts, being let down by others, isolation and shame. Not good enough Shame is something we all feel – save for those individuals who are unable to feel any human empathy – and it can eat away at us, telling us that we are simply not thin enough, rich enough, smart enough, fashionable enough, young enough, mature enough, pretty enough, athletic enough – anything at all enough – to be part of the group. Of course, our modern world is complicit in making us feel our perceived shortcomings. PSYCHOLOGY NOW THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE Every day, advertisements suggest what we might need to worry about before promising that their product is all we need to fix us, make us better and help us fit in more happily. Social media offers us the golden opportunity to play the comparison game 24/7, enabling us to measure our own lives against posts of others pictured in their best moments, encouraging us to fret about how we square up against our friends and celebrities. Not to mention the way we crave ever more likes on our posts as more proof of acceptance, but cringe when someone publicly disagrees with us or, worse, calls us wrong or stupid. Brown says that shame nurtures an “excruciating vulnerability” within us. It’s a psychological barrier that stands in the way of truly connecting with others. In continuing her research, she has become a world expert on vulnerability and, moreover, in revealing that by choosing to nurture and share it with others, we can live better. It’s this groundbreaking work that she shares in her TED Talk ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ and her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead Lead.. 79 THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE Shame resilience Some of us are more resilient to the shame we feel, a discovery that prompted Brown to investigate why. She called these shameresilient people “wholehearted” and found that whilst they understood shame and its impact on us, what set them apart was their sense of feeling worthy of love and belonging despite this. Moreover, wholehearted people kept that sense of worthiness alive inside them no matter what life threw at them. She summed up their way of living as believing, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging’. Essentially, ‘I am enough’. Of course, as she points out, this doesn’t just magically happen. It’s something we have to work at. Wholehearted people, she discovered, lived their lives with courage, compassion and connection each day. The courage to be who they really are, the compassion they show to themselves and others and the commitment to building genuine connections. Importantly, they “identify vulnerability as the catalyst.” However, these findings weren’t without personal cost to Brown. Comparing how she was living her own life to the way wholehearted people lived theirs unravelled her and she sought therapy. How to develop resilience to shame VULNERABILITY IS NOT… WEAKNESS Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” So, it’s little wonder that sharing feelings like sadness might make us feel uncomfortable and somehow ‘less than’ others. Yet that same vulnerability enables us to feel happy things too, like love. After all, falling in love definitely comes with plenty of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. But just look at what it can bring in return. Whilst Brown believes that shame is simply too powerful to be overcome, developing a resilience to it is possible. Her research highlighted four things that can help us to do this: Becoming mindful of shame and aware of what sets it off – Listening to what it’s telling you. Are its messages about who you are and what you’re doing really accurate? –– Connecting with others to share your feelings –– Talking about it OVERSHARING Vulnerability isn’t about attention seeking. It’s not in the blaring headlines of another newspaper exclusive about a celebrity’s broken heart. Brown explains that vulnerability is about sharing our true feelings with those people who deserve to know. A SOLO EFFORT We need the support of others to help nurture our vulnerability. But the good news is that sharing is contagious. Research done by Fuda & Badham (2011) revealed that showing our vulnerability to others inspires them to do the same. 80 As Brown points out, these things feel like the opposite of what you want to do. You’re more likely to want to hide or appease or get angry. Her answer, however, is to “trust the process.” She shares how she deals with her own shame attacks: talking to someone she trusts, treating herself with the same compassion she’d treat someone she loved and “owning the story” – that is, accepting what’s happened and choosing her way through it. By talking to people close to you, by asking them to listen, you may find them sharing similar experiences, therefore making that essential connection PSYCHOLOGY NOW THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE of showing empathy, and reminding you that you’re not on your own. But it’s in starting the conversation that takes the ‘daring greatly’ of her book title; the deep breath, the willingness to drop the façade and step out. So, vulnerability is a good thing? Most of us have come to regard vulnerability as a bad thing. A sign of weakness. Our Achilles’ Heel. The Kryptonite that drains Superman’s powers. The sunlight that turns Dracula to dust. The flaw that ultimately brings us down, whether warrior, superhero or immortal creature. Yet Brown has discovered through both her research and her own personal life that engaging with our vulnerability brings us all the good things we really do want to have in our world – things like joy and love and contentment. Vulnerability, she concludes, is “the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Daring to show up Brown readily acknowledges that showing our vulnerability makes us uncomfortable. How could it not when it grows from emotions like sadness or disappointment or perhaps having done something wrong? All the things we’d prefer to keep tucked away to remain looking great on the outside. Yet listening to her talk about vulnerability is empowering; the idea of “daring to show up and let ourselves be seen.” She makes the point that, essentially, unless we engage with our vulnerability and the uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure that it’s comprised of, then we cannot truly engage with others. And we need to start now. We simply don’t have time to wait until things are absolutely right for us to take up the challenges in our lives, start a relationship with someone, change jobs or have that difficult conversation. In waiting, she says, “We ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable.” For her, stepping into those situations, without guarantees, without knowing what will happen and risking the possible hurt, is a measure of courage: courage through vulnerability. So, how can we do it? engaging with vulnerability brings us all the good things we really do want We can then allow ourselves to be seen and heard and know that we are enough just as we are. – DROP THE PERFECT Perfect doesn’t exist. So, aiming for it, as a perfectionist, sets us up to failure and disappointment and – yes, you’ve guessed it – more shame. – NURTURE SELF-COMPASSION This is about accepting that we’re human, that we have flaws and choosing to show ourselves the same understanding and support that we’d give a good friend. Sure, we mess up, but we are still worthy of love and connection. – LET YOURSELF FEEL YOUR EMOTIONS Don’t try to numb the bad stuff in order to feel better. Whether it’s food, gambling, alcohol, shopping or medication drugs that take the edge off feeling down, disappointed or fearful, the problem is that numbing doesn’t differentiate. We can’t numb the emotions we don’t want and still hang on to the ones we do, like joy and happiness and feeling grateful for all the good things that are in our lives. – EMBRACE JOY Living with a sense of not being good enough can make us wonder if we actually deserve joy when it SHAME ON YOU Although nearly everybody feels shame, Brown discovered some clear differences in what sparks the feeling in men and women. For women, it’s about how they look, with feelings around motherhood coming close behind (something that affects nonmothers too). Worse, however well women are accomplishing the things in their life, there’s still the unspoken need to be natural and modest about it all. Don’t show off. Stay sweet. For men, it’s about being seen as strong – everywhere. The necessity to not show weakness, to ‘man up’ starts early in life and goes on to permeate adulthood at home, at work, in sport and romance. In fact, one particular shame trigger for men was sexual rejection. Becoming vulnerable The answer, Brown says, is to lose the ‘‘vulnerability armoury,’’ and to drop our weaponry. That’s easier said than done, so it’s heartening to know that she struggles too. Yet, by persevering she has found strategies that work, including: BELIEVE ‘I AM ENOUGH’ Recognising that we’ve had enough of comparing, ranking and endlessly trying to do better than others is a great first step. PSYCHOLOGY NOW 81 THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE if we are prepared to drop our masks and share the real us, our lives can be much richer they know they mess up; Joseph’s authentic people “recognise (instead) that different people have different strengths, talents and abilities and are all equal as human beings.” Vulnerability in the wider world turns up. Brown calls it “foreboding joy” – not being able to delight in a moment without wondering what the catch might be. The trick is to feel gratitude in that moment. Joy doesn’t have to last forever. In fact, it won’t. But by spotting those moments, those little things and allowing ourselves to really experience them, we enrich our lives. Vulnerability and authenticity Becoming vulnerable is about jettisoning who we think we should be for who we really are. Another area of study that resonates with this is the authenticity research done by Professor Stephen Joseph of Nottingham University in the UK. He is a leading voice in positive psychology and his book Authentic: How to Be Yourself and Why It Matters explains how we can flourish in choosing to live true to ourselves. In his book, Professor Joseph shares his ‘authenticity formula’. It comprises three things: Knowing yourself – Owning yourself – Being yourself As with putting Brown’s findings into practice, none of these things is easy to do. However, Joseph’s book shares lots of practical exercises across all three areas to help us become authentic. The first step, that of getting to know ourselves, is about understanding the things 82 we do to deceive ourselves. This includes behaviours like defence mechanisms, for example, denial (‘Of course I’m not drinking too much’) or rationalising our reactions (‘I didn’t really want that promotion anyway’). Other behaviours that can stand in the way of seeing ourselves clearly include acting out (throwing our toys out of the pram) and displacement (shouting at the dog when you’re angry with your partner). Although defence mechanisms can be useful at times, perhaps getting us through tough times, they can stop us from really seeing how things are. It’s not always easy to do this by ourselves and sometimes we might need help in finding our way. But, by noticing how our self-fooling behaviours can get in our own way and by listening to our inner wisdom instead, we can take that second step. We can choose to take genuine responsibility for the way we act. Finally, it’s about putting it all into practice, moment by moment. We begin to use what we’ve found out in the first two steps to re-build a more genuine self-image and live differently – say, putting in the boundaries we need, becoming more assertive with others and accepting ourselves for who we actually are. In this way, as with Brown’s vulnerability, we can drop the constant ranking and comparing with others. Whilst Brown talks of “shame resilience,” Joseph goes a step further in talking about “shame resistance,” but both becoming vulnerable and living authentically share that same willingness to take a stand against shame doing its thing and holding us back from living better. Brown’s wholehearted people believe that they are enough even though It’s true that the world of late hasn’t been any easier to live in. Wars, the pandemic, political wrangling, recessions – they all undermine our sense of feeling secure in our lives. And as Brown points out in her book, “rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability), we’re angry and scared and at one another’s throats.” She discovered this dynamic in play at work, in schools, at home, in politics and in the community at large, with the three factors of shame, comparison and disengagement at their heart. It’s there in the workplace when we don’t share the good idea we have for fear of it being dismissed. It’s there in the classroom where the student doesn’t feel able to challenge the teacher because they want to keep getting good grades. And it’s in the home where parents want to do their best for their children but are still battling with their own sense of worth and inadvertently send messages to their kids about what makes them more or less loveable. If we look, we’ll see shame, comparison and disengagement at work amongst our family, friends and colleagues, in our media reporting and communities, from the people we meet each day to those in the highest reaches of power. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Shame in organisations can be tackled head-on if we are honest enough to seek it out and expose it and talk to one another. Brown sees feedback as essential and that it ‘fosters growth and engagement’. Again, most of us might cringe about opening up in such a way, particularly in a professional setting, and Brown admits that people need training in how to give and receive it. Feeling discomfort is natural. But, instead of shying away from it, we can learn to normalise it as a part of the process. And that way, change is possible. The big challenge for PSYCHOLOGY NOW THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE GUILT Guilt is about doing something bad. For example, someone who steals something can learn that they did something wrong and can change their behaviour in future. SHAME Shame is about being something bad. Here, someone who steals something comes to believe that they are a thief and so has far less incentive to behave differently next time. For Brown, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and do better.” VULNERABLE According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the word ‘vulnerable’ comes from the Latin vulnus (‘wound’) and means being able to be physically wounded or having the power to wound others. More recently, its meaning has widened to include defencelessness against all forms of attack – physical, emotional and psychological. AUTHENTIC Authentic means genuine. In terms of human psychology, being authentic is about choosing to be honest with ourselves and living according to who we really are. HUMILIATION Humiliation is being made to feel ‘less than’ by others. It can make us uncomfortable, can hurt us and is often embarrassing. However, psychologist Donald Klein believes that humiliation is less damaging than shame and maintains that we can choose not to internalise it and that instead, by seeing the problem as lying with the humiliator, we can remain robust. leaders of all communities as Brown says, is “to teach the people around us how to accept discomfort as a part of growth.” Again in the wider world, Professor Joseph points out that whilst there is no one style of leadership to fit all, what works well against a toxic workplace is an authentic leader who can see different sides of a problem, several perspectives and understand information in a balanced way. They can then express themselves without seeming manipulative. It’s something we can all be a part of. We can all learn to actively listen to “people inquiring about what is happening in their lives and speaking truthfully about our own experiences while staying in the present moment,” which accords with Brown’s hope for the shame-resilient feedback that can bring about change for the better. PSYCHOLOGY NOW The courage to be vulnerable The research shows us that if we are prepared to drop our masks and share the real us, our lives can be much richer. So can those of our children, our communities and workplaces. Our world can change for the better. Of course, neither becoming vulnerable nor taking the steps needed to live authentically are easy. Both take courage. We must dare to show up. And that’s scary. But not, as Brown concludes in her talk (‘The Call to Courage’) as scary as “getting to the end of our lives and having to ask ourselves, ‘What if I would’ve shown up?’” Perhaps it’s time for us to find out. At home, being aware of shame can help us not to use it in moulding our children’s behaviour. However, they’re still going to encounter it when they walk out the front door: Not being picked for the team or invited to the party, or being belittled or teased. However, Brown maintains that as long as children know they can talk to their carers about what happened, then shame resilience can be nurtured and children can develop a sense of their own worth. A feeling of belonging to the family is central here – that in the family they can be who they are and they are loved for it. Of course, there will be behaviours 83 © Getty Images / Rudzhan Nagiev GLOSSARY OF TERMS that need changing, but the children know that they are wholly accepted. They are loved and belong unconditionally. For Joseph, unconditional love is the balancing act between supporting children in developing their own agency and letting them know that they are valued just the way they are. Of course, children will still pick up ideas about what make them more attractive to others but parents can help children build a sense of true worth in the way that they praise them. For example, Joseph explains, telling a child that they are pretty or smart – qualities that the child has no control over – is less helpful than praising them for what they do have control over, for example, their effort or commitment. “Authentic parents,” he says, “offer their children the freedom to be themselves and to remain loved for being themselves.” Of course, parenting authentically depends on how authentic one is as a person and, just as in Brown’s work, actions speak louder than words. As she shares, you can’t tell your child that stealing is wrong and then joke with them about how the cashier forgot to ring one of your cans of beans through. TAPPING IN TO TRAUMA IN TO TRAUMA Discover what’s involved with tapping therapy and how it alleviates stress WORDS NATALIA LUBOMIRSKI any of us struggle with our mental health. Whether we’ve experienced trauma through losing a loved one, suffered with stress from job loss or money worries, or struggled with isolation and loneliness, our minds, as well as our bodies, have been put to the test over the past few years. So what can we do to help ourselves recover? If celebrity ravings are anything to go by, the newest therapy on the block could help. M Royal seal of approval In May 2021, Prince Harry revealed to Oprah, on the pair’s new Apple TV+ show, how a certain therapy helped him process the trauma of losing his mother. EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing), which involves tapping and eye movement (called bi-lateral stimulation) is, according to the Duke of Sussex, a mental health saviour. The therapy – also popular with British broadcaster Kate Garraway and Hollywood actress Evan Rachel Wood – involves tapping your hand on your body, or moving your eyes from side to side while replaying the traumatic event. Treatment for trauma The NHS now offers two different types of therapy to deal with trauma: CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and EMDR. The latter, 84 PSYCHOLOGY NOW TAPPING IN TO TRAUMA The results may be similar – make the trauma lose its intensity and help process and store the memory correctly – but the process of the two therapies is quite different. “When we use trauma-focused CBT to treat people with PTSD, we are asking them to relate the trauma as a narrative, where they talk it over with their therapist repeatedly, listen to it back (having recorded themselves) and notice the differences between the ‘here and now’ and the ‘then’,” explains Dr McNeill. You may be more suited to EMDR than to trauma-focused CBT if... . You find it challenging to verbalise emotionally painful or traumatic experiences . You’ve previously tried CBT but your symptoms persisted . You find it difficult to engage in therapy homework . You’d rather not relate the content of the trauma to the therapist. “[Instead] you process the memory while using the bi-lateral stimulation, without verbalising it to the therapist,” explains Dr McNeill. which is used extensively by the military to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was invented in 1987 by senior research fellow Dr Francine Shapiro at the Mental Research Institute in California. It’s based on the idea that the mind can heal from trauma by using external stimuli (eye movement or tapping) to allow the brain to process the traumatic event. It’s thought that thinking about the event while doing mundane tasks creates a new default memory, and allows our brains to cope better. British actress Jameela Jamil, who underwent EMDR for childhood trauma, explained how it helped remove the emotion linked to a traumatic memory. “Things I used to find terrifying are now boring to me,” she said. She recalled how revisiting the memory made her feel distressed, but as the therapy session progressed the feelings dissipated and they never came back. “It works by encouraging you to think about a memory that you find upsetting or disturbing and, in doing so, the memory begins to lose its intensity,” explains chartered psychologist Dr Jane McNeill*. “Fundamentally the memory isn’t forgotten, however, it has been desensitised and reprocessed.” She adds, “Overwhelming traumatic events are not stored like other memories in the brain and can remain active and intrusive. A noise or smell that brings back the memory of an accident, for example, can trigger the brain to respond as if the accident is happening in the present. EMDR enables the brain to process and store the memory correctly.” So does it actually work? Psychology professors Scott O Lilienfeld (Emory University) and Hal Arkowitz (University of Arizona), who co-authored a paper entitled EMDR: Taking a Closer Look, Look, believe the answer isn’t straightforward. It’s thought that thinking about the event while doing mundane tasks creates a new default memory It’s never too late Traumatic events, like a death, can be very difficult to come to terms with and, often, the only way to overcome PTSD is with professional help. The NHS believes it’s possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the event (like Prince Harry and the death of his mother), which means it’s never too late to seek help. It’s important to keep trying out options, to find one that works for you. MORE TAPPING THERAPY EMDR isn’t the only therapy to use tapping. It also features in emotional freedom technique (EFT) – an alternative therapy for anxiety and stress in which tapping lightly with your fingertips on certain parts of your body is said to rebalance your energy – and in Rapid Tapping. This is a faster version of EFT that involves quickly tapping your body for two minutes to help change your emotional state. © Getty Images / Flash vector / fedrelena EMDR VS CBT They reveal that studies have shown it’s certainly better than doing nothing, and probably better than talking to a supportive listener, but they don’t think there’s enough evidence to suggest it’s superior to exposure-based treatments, such as CBT. Yet EMDR is widely recognised by international organisations and medical experts. “Alongside trauma-focused CBT, EMDR is the frontline evidence-based treatment for PTSD, as recommended by the NHS, the NICE guidelines (National Institute for Clinical Care and Excellence) and the WHO, and also used by the UN and the Ministry of Defence,” explains Dr McNeill. Emotional trauma expert Antonia Harman** believes that just a few EMDR sessions can have the same benefit as years of psychotherapy. “Unresolved trauma can lead to years of deep suffering and trigger a multitude of illnesses, so anything that can be done to lessen emotional pain is beneficial,” she says. It might not work for everyone, she adds, but it’s worth a try. “I strongly suggest you go in with an open mind,” she says. 85 PSYCHOLOGY NOW * Dr Jane McNeill is a chartered psychologist at Clinical Partners, one of the UK’s leading providers of mental health services. ** Antonia Harman is a multi award-winning emotional trauma expert and healer. She is the founder of divineempowerment.co.uk THE LOST THE WORDS EDOARDO ALBERT very year about 170,000 people go missing in the UK. Worldwide, researchers estimate that eight million children disappear each year – no one really knows how many adults go missing. It is clearly a large problem but it is a complex issue too, with many different reasons for these disappearances. E The numbers Millions of people go missing in the world each year. We try to understand why they do it and the impact on the people left behind 86 In the UK, of those 170,000 people reported missing annually, roughly 100,000 are adults and 70,000 are children. Thankfully, the vast majority of missing people are quickly found. Among missing adults, 75% are found within 24 hours and 85% within 48 hours. However, 5% of missing adults will still be missing after a week. In the case of missing children, 80% are found within 24 hours and 90% within 48 hours. However, 2% of missing children will still be missing after a week has passed. But although the vast majority of people are found within a relatively short time, a small proportion of the lost remain missing for a year or longer. However, since so many people go missing each year, this small proportion is quite a large number. In Britain, there are about 5,000 people who have been missing for longer PSYCHOLOGY NOW THE LOST than a year. Of these, about 1,700 are children and 3,300 adults. Equivalent statistics do not exist worldwide. Countries have widely differing definitions of what constitutes a missing person and in some places privacy laws mean that unless the police have reason to believe that someone has gone missing because a crime has been committed, they will not investigate further. Why do people go missing? There is no single reason. There is, however, a difference between the reasons children go missing and why adults disappear. However, there has been much more work done on the reasons for children and young people going missing than on why adults disappear, so it is possible that some of the factors making adults walk out of their lives have not yet been discovered. With children and young people, a major cause of disappearances, reported in more than half of cases, is trouble at home. Neglect, abuse or conflict with parents lie behind the young person’s decision to leave. Mental health issues also played a role in about 20% of the cases, with 10% of missing children reporting that they had self-harmed and 4% being at risk of suicide. Sexual exploitation also leads to many children and young people going missing. Among these are many who are in care. Children and young people are trafficked across borders by organised gangs for use in prostitution and other criminal activities. Many of these run away and are then placed into care. But even there, marked by their experiences, they still tend to run away. In fact, children who have been placed into care for whatever reason are markedly more likely to go missing than those living with their families. With respect to adults, much less work has been done to understand why they go missing. But the research we do have suggests that mental health issues play a large part in the majority of the cases. This can be ongoing chronic mental illness or a sudden acute episode. For instance, someone might be under so much stress that they start the process of leaving, switching countries have widely differing definitions of what constitutes a missing person PSYCHOLOGY NOW off their phone and communications, and keep going until the stress has lessened sufficiently for them to return. The other major factor, mentioned in 30% of adult cases, is the breakdown of a relationship. With older people, dementia is a factor, confusion leading to them becoming disoriented and lost. Smaller numbers of people, in the region of 1 in 50, report that money worries or the fear of violence played a part in their decision to disappear. What to do if someone has gone missing It is not necessary to wait 24 hours before reporting a missing person to the police. In particular, if the person missing is a child or an adult you think is at real risk, then report them missing straight away, calling your country’s emergency line. Otherwise, report the missing person at the nearest police station. With adults, unless you have immediate cause for concern, try searching for them yourself first, remembering to check for messages and their most recent posts on social media. Leave a message on their phone explaining how worried you are, but adding that there will be no ramifications for them when they come back. Be sure to contact friends and other family members to see if anyone else knows the missing person’s location or intentions. Try to keep a record of where you have looked. Should you have to report the person as missing to 87 THE LOST the police, this will be useful information. Police forces around the world emphasise how important the first 24 to 48 hours are in tracing a missing person. The memories of witnesses are still fresh and other traces are easier to find. This is even more important in the case of missing children. on 116 000. In Australia, contact Missing Persons at www.missingpersons.gov.au. In the US, call local law enforcement. If the missing person is a child, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children on 800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678). Why do some people never come back? it remains stuck in a grey place between policing and public health In some cases, the person is not able to come back. Sadly, they may have died and their body has not been discovered or it has remained unidentified. But in other cases, people can feel overwhelmed by guilt at the distress they have caused and not feel able to face the people they abandoned. Some adults have simply decided to walk out of their old life and, having left it, do not wish to return to it. Some people who go missing are convinced that they are a burden or problem to their families and therefore decide not to return to them. © Getty Images / Pict Rider / ne2pi The effect on the people left behind A missing person is not the same as a dead person. When someone dies, however tragically, there is a clear legal process to go through and we have social and religious rituals to lay the dead person to rest. There is an ending. But when someone goes missing there is no ending. It’s like a story cutting off half-way through. The people left behind are stuck, caught in a loop of hope, worry and despair. For the people left behind, the experience is isolating and almost uniquely unsettling. There are also major practical issues involved that make dealing with the missing person’s estate a legal minefield. In most countries around the world, someone can be declared dead in absentia between seven and ten years after their last-known appearance. There is also provision for people to be declared dead without a body being found when it can be reasonably presumed that the person is dead but their body will not be recovered. For example, passengers and crew missing from the Titanic were declared dead soon after the ship’s sinking. The reasons why people go missing and what we can do to stop it happening has received relatively little attention from researchers when compared with other public health issues, such as suicide. It remains stuck in a grey place between policing and public health because the reasons for which people go missing often involve both of these as well as other factors. As an issue, it urgently requires further attention. If you know someone who has gone missing, fear that someone will go missing or are struggling against the urge to walk out of your life, then contact Missing People at www.missingpeople.org.uk or phone them 88 JOUHATSU THE DISAPPEARED In Japan, there is a name for people who voluntarily disappear: jouhatsu. The word first came into use in the 1960s when it was applied to people who disappeared to escape unhappy marriages, as divorce proceedings were difficult and attracted social opprobrium. It has since widened to include people who leave their old lives for a wider variety of reasons: unhappy marriages remain a major cause but falling into debt, escaping the stress of being a salaryman and a host of other problems are also reasons. What is unique to Japan, however, is that companies have sprung up to help jouhatsu escape their old lives and start new ones. These businesses are called yonige-ya (‘fly-by-night shops’). Yonige-ya charge jouhatsu according to the amount of help their client requires, the exact bill being determined by how far the client wants to move, what he or she wants to take from the old life, and evading debt collectors among other things. Japan’s strict privacy laws prevent police from trying to trace missing people unless there is reasonable suspicion of accident or crime, so jouhatsu may remain undiscovered for the rest of their new lives. PSYCHOLOGY NOW FOLD AWAY YOUR FEARS FOLD AWAY Who knew a simple sheet of paper could be so relaxing? WORDS FAYE M SMITH Samuel is the author of The Book of Mindful Origami, Origami, £9.99, £9.99, and The Magic of Mindful Origami, Origami, £10.99, £10.99, both published by Hodder & Stoughton. TRY ONE YOURSELF For inspiration, pick up a copy of Samuel’s book (see below), look on YouTube, or try this plane model. Samuel recommends you find a model that has a personal meaning to you (such as a crane, which represents peace). 1 3 5 7 2 4 6 FINISH 1 Fold paper in half, make a crease and unfold 2 Fold to meet the centre line 3 Fold to meet the centre line 4 Fold into the dotted line 5 Fold in the dotted line 6 Fold in half 7 Fold both sides in the dotted lines and adjust in 90° origami allows you to block out negative thoughts PSYCHOLOGY NOW 5 TOP TIPS FOR FEEL-GOOD FOLDING 1. Start easy with the models you know from childhood, such as paper aeroplanes and boats. Think about happy memories from those times. 2. Don’t attempt the hardest models first, otherwise you will just get frustrated and give up. 3. Origami should be viewed as a puzzle, something that you may not be able to solve on the first, second or even the tenth try. But, as with a puzzle, there is immense satisfaction when you finally do crack it! 4. As a general rule, don’t reuse the same paper again and again, as it will get so weak that it will rip, which isn’t good for positivity. © Getty Images / Alena Kalinina M ove over colouring-in books, origami is the best mindfulness trend to help you find inner calm. It might have been around since the 17th century, but in recent years it’s become well known that taking part in the art of paper folding can work wonders for your wellbeing. “I call origami ‘yoga for the mind’ as it allows you to stretch and exercise the creative and artistic areas of your brain,” says ‘mindFOLDness’ teacher Samuel Tsang (mindfulorigami.com). “While folding paper you are using your hands, eyes and mind – allowing you to block out distracting and negative thoughts and focus on the present moment. There is something beautiful in turning a plain piece of paper into an amazing 3D object with your hands.” In fact, origami has so many levels, that even the type of model you create can have symbolic meaning. “If you are folding a paper plane, your thoughts might stray to your childhood or maybe it represents a holiday,” says Samuel. The best thing about origami is it can be a cost-effective form of meditation. Plus, it can be done at any time. “A surgeon told me that he folds origami just before he operates to help focus and relax his mind,” reveals Samuel. “I personally like to fold on my commute as it allows me to focus out the stress that can be associated with travelling.” 5. Fold in a quiet room with no music – which can affect our mood in a positive or negative way – so you can fully focus on the paper in your hand. 89 WHITE COAT SYNDROME WHITE COAT Being doctor phobic could be keeping you from vital health checks. But there are ways to alleviate your anxiety... WORDS LOUISE PYNE t’s fair to say that going to the doctor’s is never much fun – whether it’s attending a routine cervical screening or seeking help for a rash/pain/annoyance that simply won’t go away. But for some of us, visiting the doctor triggers debilitating stress and high anxiety levels, which can feel terrifying – and as we get older we often face a higher risk of health complications that can further exacerbate any worries. Research by health test provider Medichecks found that during the first Covid-19 lockdown, out of 2,000 people polled in the UK, one in five had a health condition that they would ordinarily have sought treatment for, but did not. For those who already had a phobia of doctors, the pandemic reinforced their conditioned response to steer clear, and worsened the anxiety of getting worries checked out. The research also highlighted that 30% of people were less likely to use A&E than they were pre-lockdown – this can be attributed to multiple reasons, from long wait times to dismissing personal concerns. “There are different reasons why people might avoid going to see the doctor,” says Dr Jorge Palacios from silvercloudhealth. com. “One of the main ones is fear of hearing I 90 bad news, so people may procrastinate about making trips to the surgery. This can, of course, be dangerous because you may miss a vital diagnosis.” White coat syndrome An extreme fear of doctors is a condition called iatrophobia. You might know it by the more common term ‘white coat syndrome’. Sufferers may delay or refuse medical help, and ignore symptoms that need attention. Their blood pressure might rise when in a medical setting and they may even suffer from anxiety or panic attacks. The shift in the way appointments are now carried out has also, in some cases, had a knock-on effect on mental wellbeing. Data from The Royal College of GPs showed that before lockdown approximately 25% of GP appointments in the UK took place remotely, with around 75% in person, but since the pandemic began these figures have been reversed – which has acted as both a blessing and a curse. Picking up the phone can be easier both for the patient and for overstretched doctors, and it can mean you are treated promptly instead of waiting days or even weeks for a slot. And if you’re feeling anxious about scheduling a face-to-face appointment, PSYCHOLOGY NOW WHITE COAT SYNDROME Sufferers may delay or refuse medical help, and ignore symptoms that need attention PSYCHOLOGY NOW 91 WHITE COAT SYNDROME If you suffer anxiety WHAT DOES around visiting the doctor, it’s FEAR DO important to get to the root TO YOUR of why tensions run high BODY? Fear ignites the body’s flight or fight reaction in the nervous system, which sends the hormone cortisol coursing through the body. On a physiological level, this surge of hormone results in increased heart and breathing rates, tense muscles as blood flow is diverted from our digestive system to our brains, and often dizziness, nausea and diarrhoea as our body goes into overdrive mode. Increased levels of anxiety have been linked to a higher incidence of depression, insomnia, migraines and IBS. a virtual consultation allows you to be in a comfortable and familiar environment when communicating with your doctor. But, equally, there are downsides. It’s not uncommon to experience difficulty getting through on the phone to schedule a primary appointment, and this can be discouraging if you are already feeling reluctant to be seen. Some people are also worried about being misdiagnosed during remote consultations as there is no opportunity for a physical examination. But Dr Natasha Fernando, a GP and head of clinical excellence at Medichecks, maintains that doctors are very willing to adapt to every individual patient’s needs: “It’s really important that the public are aware that we’re here and there are different avenues to reach us. This is led by the patient’s wishes, as well as by clinical need,” she says. Find the trigger If you suffer anxiety around visiting the doctor, it’s important to get to the root of why tensions run high. Acknowledging the cause that underlines your feelings can help to put the situation into perspective. Is a past medical trauma still plaguing you? This could be a result of a previous health condition being misdiagnosed, or a nasty experience with a medical profession who dismissed or undermined your health concerns. “First of all, it’s important to identify what’s causing the anxiety,” says Dr Fernando. “Is it the fear of the unknown outcome of the consultation and that a health concern may point to something sinister? Is it an anxiety about being in a healthcare setting and the risk of catching something? Or perhaps anxiety of dealing with healthcare professionals in general, or a previous bad experience. It’s important to find out what the root cause is.” Don’t be tempted to self-diagnose. Googling symptoms and obsessing over worst-case fears will only magnify any health worries and put you off scheduling a check up. Instead, to help you feel more at ease, we’ve shared our expert guide to keep your feelings in check . . . DO YOUR HOMEWORK Everyone wants to see a doctor with a friendly bedside manner, so do you research. “Practice websites have biographies on them with fields of expertise for individuals working in the surgery. You may want to book in with a specific person who has expertise that reflects your particular concern,” says Dr Fernando. Asking around for recommendations is also a good starting point. Continuity is important, too. If you’ve found someone you have built a relationship with, stick with that doctor if possible. – WRITE DOWN YOUR WORRIES Scribbling down any anxious thoughts is a good strategy when flare-ups strike. It can help you to see things in a different light and stop feelings from spiralling out of 92 PSYCHOLOGY NOW WHITE COAT SYNDROME If you’ve found someone you have built a relationship with, stick with that doctor PSYCHOLOGY NOW you arrive, you could call up the reception assistant to inform them that you will be waiting outside and politely ask them to notify you when the doctor is ready for you. If you do need to go in the waiting room, bring something to distract yourself. “A book, a game, or your phone – anything to take your mind away from the environment,” advises Dr Fernando. – PUT YOUR HEALTH FIRST Remind yourself that your doctor is there to help, and that your health is of paramount importance. “You are more than entitled to do whatever you need to take care of yourself. Make the doctor aware you are nervous and don’t be shy about making a follow-up appointment if you have questions later,” suggests BACP accredited therapist Caroline Plumer (cppclondon.com). HOW TO CALM DOWN FROM A PANIC ATTACK When you’re in the moment, a panic attack can feel terrifying, but there are steps you can take to help you calm down. Try the following technique from Caroline… STEP 1 If you feel comfortable doing so, close your eyes. STEP 2 Breathe in as slowly and deeply as you can through your nose – try counting to seven as you do it if you can. STEP 3 Breathe out as slowly and deeply as you can through your mouth – try counting to 11 as you do it if you can. © Getty Images / Maria Voronovich / Olena Chernenka control. “In general, if someone is incredibly anxious or overwhelmed they can get mind fog, so a useful tactic is to sit down before the appointment and jot down what your worries are, what you want to achieve from the consultation, and use that to direct your time with the GP,” says Dr Fernando. – BREATHE OUT STRESS Deep breathing can be extremely calming when anxiety kicks in. “Breathe in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four,” says Dr Palacios. “Focus on the image of the breath (putting an image on it helps, for example, a coloured fog) entering your body and exiting your body, and when you hold, allow the breath to drop deeper into the lungs, releasing your diaphragm.” – REACH OUT FOR HELP Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask a friend or family member to help. “By having an accountability partner, such as a friend or family member, who sits with you as you set up a consultation, you are receiving support through the difficult task of booking an appointment,” says Dr Palacios. Don’t forget, if you feel super-nervous, you can always bring a chaperone who can help you through it all, and make you feel safer. – KEEP BUSY Sitting in a waiting room can often be the most agonising part of any doctor’s appointment, but there are ways around it. When STEP 4 Try to remind yourself that what you are feeling is caused by anxiety, and whilst potentially very frightening, it is not dangerous. STEP 5 Repeat as needed and you should start to feel better within a few minutes. 93 WHAT’S YOUR ATTACHMENT STYLE? WHAT’S YOUR ATTACHMENT Getting to grips with your attachment style caused by past trauma could improve your current romantic partnership WORDS ROSE GOODMAN D 94 o you wonder why you feel insecure in relationships or avoid intimacy with your partner, especially if you haven’t experienced any significant ruptures in your adult relationships, such as infidelity or divorce? It could be down to your attachment style – this is how you relate to other people – and is known in the field of psychology as ‘attachment theory’. According to British psychologist, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, our adult relationships are the result of the relationship we had with our primary caregivers as infants. PSYCHOLOGY NOW WHAT’S YOUR ATTACHMENT STYLE? our adult relationships are the result of the relationship we had with our primary caregivers as infants Intrigued? We’ve asked our experts for the lowdown on the four different attachment styles – secure, anxious, avoidant and anxious-avoidant – and how to change yours if you think it could be affecting your love life. How it all starts Relationship in a rut? The issue could have started when you were very young. “For a child’s social and emotional development, they need to form a relationship with at least one primary caregiver,” explains Neil Wilkie, relationship expert, psychotherapist and founder of The Relationship Paradigm (relationshipparadigm.com). “This attachment normally develops through four stages from about six months up until the age of about three.” PSYCHOLOGY NOW From childhood to adulthood Early childhood lays the foundation for how we experience the world throughout our lives. And – just like the foundation of a house – stability is incredibly important. However, as humans, we’re able to adapt to our situations and will manage to survive a shaky start. What does happen though, is we create defensive behaviours that allow this survival. And while they might serve us in our childhood, when we bring these (unconscious) thought patterns and behaviours into our romantic relationships, they can be problematic. “That is the core of attachment theory,” says psychotherapist Audrey Stephenson (audreystephenson.co.uk). “Without a conscious effort to address imbalances and wounds, early relationships with our caregivers form a kind of blueprint for the relationships we have as adults.” SECURE ATTACHMENT “Having a secure attachment style means that your needs were met in early childhood, or that you have worked hard to get here,” says Neil. These needs include: EMOTIONAL SUPPORT Such as being soothed when you were upset and being listened to when you expressed how you were feeling. 95 WHAT’S YOUR ATTACHMENT STYLE? – SECURITY You felt safe and that your basic needs for survival were met, such as shelter, food, protection from harm, and medical care. – UNCONDITIONAL LOVE Being met with love and compassion even when your parents were angry or frustrated with you. – STRUCTURE Including rules, limits and boundaries. This helps a child predict how an adult will behave, and how to behave themselves. Common attributes of those with a secure upbringing are: You’re able to establish emotional intimacy and trust people. You’re comfortable with being alone, but you’re also comfortable in a relationship. – You have a positive selfimage, a strong sense of self, and healthy self-esteem. – You’re warm and straightforward with others, and able to open up about your feelings. – You’re comfortable with mutual dependency: you like being able to rely on others and have others rely on you. – You’re aware of your emotions and can easily express them. ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT An anxious attachment style is the result of having an unpredictable and critical caregiver. “The roots of this attachment style are based on perceived neglect – the parents did not necessarily actively neglect the child, but the child perceived that his or her needs were not met,” explains Neil. Growing up, people with this attachment style start to prioritise the needs of others while neglecting their own. “They expect that, if they are nice and caring to someone, he or she will like them and take care of them in return. This turns into preoccupation with the needs of others and leads to lack of sense of self,” says Neil. SO, HOW DOES THIS IMPACT YOUR RELATIONSHIPS? Common attributes of those with anxious upbringing are: You prioritise others. – You struggle being alone; you crave relationships and intimacy. – You have relatively low self-esteem and seek validation from others. – In relationships, you often exhibit clingy and needy behaviours. On the other hand, you’re sensitive towards your partner’s needs and preoccupied with taking care of them, which might cause them to feel suffocated by you. – You fear that you will scare people away and that they will reject, criticise or abandon you. – You can get extremely upset when you receive disapproval (in any form). – When your partner is unavailable and spends time away from your relationship, you can become jealous, frustrated and resentful. – You overanalyse and worry excessively about relationships. At the same time, you easily ignore or misread signs of relational issues. AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT Confusion can arise in a relationship without an awareness of attachment theory. “Understanding your attachment style can help you to recognise what you really need for a truly successful partnership,” says Dr Madeleine Mason Roantree, psychologist, dating coach and director of relationship psychology services at The Vida Consultancy (thevidaconsultancy.com). “Whatever your attachment style, effective communication is at the core of developing a healthy relationship.” As Amir Levine and Rachel SF Heller explain in their book, Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love (£8.85/$10.65, Amazon), it’s important to speak openly and honestly with your partner about your feelings. Expressing your concerns in a loving way will help you figure out if your partner is right for you and, if they are, help you to maintain a successful relationship. “For those who have an anxious attachment style, understand that they need reassurance that they’re loved and wanted, and a simple remedy should they get distressed,” says Dr Mason Roantree. “For those who are avoidant, understand that it can feel overwhelming for them to let go of their sense of independence and need for space, and perhaps need support to trust that it’s okay to open up and share feelings.” 96 “The roots of avoidant attachment are based on perceived rejection: the parents did not necessarily reject the child actively, but the child’s needs were not met, which was perceived as a form of rejection,” says Neil. “Children with this attachment style grow up to be independent and self-sufficient. They have learned to rely on themselves and not on others. This doesn’t necessarily mean that such individuals do not want to have relationships. It’s just that the dismissive characteristics are getting in the way.” effective communication is at the core of a healthy relationship PSYCHOLOGY NOW WHAT’S YOUR ATTACHMENT STYLE? Common attributes of those with avoidant upbringing are: You avoid being emotionally intimate with others, and tend to pull away when someone tries to get close to you. – You’re uncomfortable with opening up to others. – You exhibit dismissive behaviours; you seem distant and aloof and tend to minimise your emotional expressions. – You see yourself as self-sufficient. At the same time, you might exhibit a false self to the world. – You find it hard to get close to, trust, and rely on others. You prefer to rely on yourself. ANXIOUSAVOIDANT ATTACHMENT As the name would suggest, an anxiousavoidant attachment style is someone who is both anxious and avoidant in their relationships. What this means is you push people away when they get close, yet you desperately crave intimacy and connection. “This attachment style is based on perceived fear – the child starts to perceive the source of safety (the caregivers) as a source of fear or unpredictability,” says Neil. “Sometimes, parents are tentative. They appear to be frightened by the child and lack confidence in parenting. At other times, parents are scary and frightening. They might be too aggressive or become threatening in a way that overstimulates the child.” In more extreme cases, the parents are abusive. “The other strong contributing factor to the development of anxious-avoidant attachment is parents who have highly dissociated themselves – because they have unresolved loss or trauma,” says Neil. You often feel helpless in life and you tend to have poor goal-oriented behaviour. – You want to be in a relationship but have a hard time bonding with, opening up to, and trusting others. You fear that your partner will abandon, reject or hurt you. If you feel you need help from a past childhood trauma, which is affecting your relationships or general happiness, make an appointment to see a doctor for a referral or local recommendations for a counsellor. Or research relationship therapists in your area. you push people away when they get close, yet you crave intimacy and connection CAN OUR STYLES CHANGE? “Our attachment models are not set in stone. One person will not necessarily display the same levels of anxiety and avoidance over time or across different relationships,” says Dr Mason Roantree. So how does this happen? “It essentially comes down to the life experiences and relationships we have in later life. For example, if you have an anxiousavoidant attachment style, being around attachment figures who are consistently supportive and responsive can help you learn secure behaviours.” One way for this to happen is through going to therapy. “The relationship you build with your therapist reflects how you engage in relationships, and as you continue in therapy you learn to tolerate difficult feelings better and how to voice your thoughts and concerns which you might not ordinarily do in a way that gets heard,” adds Dr Mason Roantree. “Most therapy forms will be able to address this, although the relational therapies are probably most effective, such as person-centred therapy, psychodynamic therapy and third wave CBT.” Third wave CBT is a type of holistic therapy that attempts to understand the client as a whole person – which focuses on the connection between their body, spirit and mind. Common signs of this attachment style are: PSYCHOLOGY NOW © Getty Images / fedrelena You show contradictory behaviours in intimate relationships. Sometimes, you’re clingy and needy, and at other times dismissive and distant. – You often exhibit instability, upheaval and storminess in your intimate relationships. – 97 COUNTERACTING COERCIVE CONTROL COERCIVE CONTROL How to spot the signs of coercive behaviour and how to escape its isolating grasp WORDS SCOTT DUTFIELD D omestic abuse presents itself in many different forms, from the blatant brutality of physical violence to the cloak-and-dagger mind games of mental torture. Coercive control runs the fine line between the two. Simply put, coercive control is often defined as a pattern of controlling behaviour intended to psychologically control, and often leads to the physical weakening of someone in an intimate relationship, such as a spouse or family member. Coercive control is used as a psychological tactic employed by a close persecutor to undermine others’ self-worth and restricts the autonomy of a person’s life. The outcome of such abuse is a subdued victim entangled in the belief that their abuser is their entire support system. Due to the many branches of abusive behaviour that creates the overall tree of coercive control, the psychology tactic has long been difficult to define and understand. The term ‘coercive control’ was first proposed by sociologist and forensic social worker Evan Stark, when he published his seminal work on the concept, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, Life, in 2007. Stark explores the genesis of coercive control on a social level, suggesting that as society’s institutional control of women over time became socially unacceptable, controlling behaviour instead transferred into the home, tucked away from view. While hidden behind closed doors, this type of control can fester and spore fruits of self-doubt and a loosening on a person’s grip of reality. Stark argues that although coercive control is a form of abuse, rather than exclusively a crime of violence, it seeks to strip away the victim’s liberty and freedom. The signs and symptoms of coercive control The foundations on which coercive control is built is isolation. By restricting another person’s connection with friends and family, GENDER DIFFERENCES IN COERCION Domestic abuse doesn’t discriminate when it comes to gender, however women are disproportionately impacted when compared to men. For example, in the UK, around 73% of all domestic abuse-related crimes were committed against women. In 2020, 97% of those convicted of coercive control were men, according to Women’s Aid. However, there is a distinct lack of research surrounding the impact and abundance of coercive control amongst male victims, as well as members of the LGBTQ+ community. A study conducted by the University of Central Lancashire investigated the scope of coercive control amongst men. The study revealed that in many cases, men in similar domestically abusive relationships experienced comparable levels of coercive behaviour in several areas of coercion by female abusers, such as intimidation, isolation and economic control. Due to males being the predominant perpetrators of coercive control, the study explains that “false allegations, or the threat of making these, to the police and social services as a pattern of abuse are experienced by almost two thirds of male victims in our survey.” The study authors acknowledge the need for large-scale national studies to better understand the scale and scope of coercive control in male victims. 98 PSYCHOLOGY NOW COUNTERACTING COERCIVE CONTROL gaslighting is one of the most insidious forms of psychological manipulation and coercive control which is one of the main characteristics of this form of abusive behaviour. Although Paula and Gregory’s relationship is a work of make-believe, the central behaviour in the movie is far from fiction. Gaslighting is one of the most insidious forms of psychological manipulation and coercive control due to its ability to make the victim feel as though they are the problem. Over time, a ‘gaslighter’ will manipulate their victim by withholding information, challenging their memory, trivialising the victim’s feelings or ignoring them altogether. Perpetrators of gaslighting are typically pathological liars, often with narcissistic tendencies, who will spread malicious rumours about a person’s mental state, often issuing concern to others to further perpetuate the false concept that a victim is unstable. Over an extended period of time, this form of manipulation will cause their victim to question the validity of their own thoughts and feelings, typically leading them to being confused and compromising their mental stability. One of the ways that coercive control can cross the line from mental abuse into physical is through sexual coercion. This type of coercion involves unwanted sexual activity by pressurising, tricking or threatening a the perpetrator strips away their victim’s potential support system. This not only limits the chance of a perpetrator’s coercive behaviour being discovered by someone outside of the relationship, but it also begins to build a psychological barrier around their victim in which the abuser gains control over many aspects of their lives. Signs of coercive behaviour centre around surveillance and reinforcing an idea that the victim is worthless, and that without the perpetrator they couldn’t survive or navigate through life. According to the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, those who experience coercive control can be controlled in all aspects of everyday life, including where they go, what they wear and even when they sleep. Control can extend to diet, medicine and financial restrictions, leading the victim to become completely dependent on their abuser. Controlling behaviour is often accompanied with repeatedly putting the victim down, humiliating and dehumanising them. One of the most common acts of manipulation under the umbrella of coercive control is the concept of gas lighting. The term ‘gas lighting’ originates from the title of a stage play in the early 1900s, which was later adapted in the well-known movie in 1944 by the same name. In the movie Gaslight, Gaslight, the protagonist Paula meets and marries a man in Italy before jetting back to London. However, Paula’s new husband, Gregory, embarks on a relentless and surreptitious scheme to convince his wife she is losing her mind. Lie after lie, Paula retreats further into herself and begins to believe Gregory, becoming increasingly dependent on her husband for care and reassurance. The name of the film comes from Gregory using gas in a locked-off room where he is committing crimes, which causes gas lanterns in the rest of the house to flicker. Gregory convinces Paula that she is imagining the flickering, leading her to question her sanity, PSYCHOLOGY NOW 99 COUNTERACTING COERCIVE CONTROL person through non-physical means. For example, perpetrators may make a victim feel they owe that person sex, or will threaten to spread lies about their victim if they don’t have sex with them. This type of coercion extends to people in power over others, such as a boss, teacher or landlord, who have the authority to influence aspects of a victim’s life to pressure them into sleeping with them. In 1956, an American psychologist called Albert Biderman outlined the methods used by the Chinese during the Korean War to ‘brainwash’ American prisoners of war to elicit false confessions. Biderman created a chart of coercion that described eight tactics employed by the captors to coerce prisoners. This included isolation, deliberate exhaustion, degradation, threats, enforcing trivial demands, displays of power, occasional indulgences and, finally, distorted perspectives. Biderman proffered that the same tactic of coercion used during the war are the same utilised by perpetrators of domestic abuse. Biderman also listed “monopolisation of perception” as another coercive technique, whereby a perpetrator will attempt to alter the views of their victim, punish actions of resistance and place the blame onto their victim. Signs of coercive control aren’t limited to verbal degradation that impact a person’s mental health. Perpetrators may also “induce debilitation and exhaustion” according to Biderman’s chart. By depriving their victim of sleep, food and even medicine, their victims are less likely to resist their control and continue their coercion. Coercive control and the law Historically, cases of domestic abuse have been largely characterised by physical and sexual assaults. However, within the last decade, laws around the signs of coercive control aren’t limited to verbal degradation 100 world are changing to reflect the wider range of abusive behaviours that a victim may be subjected to, including mental abuse, as well as coercive control. England and Wales were the first countries in the world to make controlling behaviour, such as coercive control, illegal back in 2015. Under the Serious Crime Act 2015, those convicted of coercive control are punishable by up to five years in prison. “Controlling or coercive behaviour is an insidious form of domestic abuse and this Government is committed to ensuring all victims are protected. We recognise that coercive or controlling behaviours may escalate following separation, and that members of a victim’s extended family may be involved in control or coercion,” Victoria Atkins, former Minister for Safeguarding, wrote in a 2021 ministerial statement. However, also in 2021 a review into the 2015 law revealed that although the number of recorded coercive control offences had increased, police only charged perpetrators in 6% of reported cases between 2018 and 2019. Of those that were charged, the conviction rate was 52%. Since England and Wales introduced their law protections, some other European countries have followed suit, including France, the Republic of Ireland and Portugal. The Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, was signed by 39 European states and ratified by 21 with the intent of protecting victims of domestic abuse. However, only six of those ratified countries have complied with the part of the treaty that addresses psychological violence, called Article 33, which states,“Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the intentional conduct of seriously impairing a person’s psychological integrity through coercion or threats is criminalised.” The only other countries to enact legal protection against coercive control outside of Europe are the United States and Canada. At the time of writing, three US states have adopted legal protections against coercive control and five states have protective bills currently pending. In 2020, a bill was passed in California that expands the power of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act to include coercive control. In the bill, coercive control is defined as “a pattern of behaviour that unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty and includes, among other things, unreasonably isolating a victim from friends, relatives, or other sources of support.” Hawaii also enacted laws in 2020 to protect against coercive control, and Connecticut followed suit in 2021. Queensland in Australia is set to pass laws on coercive control by the end of 2023. PSYCHOLOGY NOW COUNTERACTING COERCIVE CONTROL 5 SIGNS OF COERCIVE CONTROL MICROMANAGEMENT Abusers will restrict access to aspects of a person’s life, such as finances, social contact and even medical support. Micromanagement can even extend to when and where you attend school or work. MONITORING Abusers tend to monitor a victim’s time and communication with others by reading text messages and emails. Some perpetrators will install spyware software on their victims’ computers to remotely stalk their actions online. THREATS AND CRITICISM Verbal intimidation and threats of physical violence are tactics used to control victims, along with unrelenting criticism, name calling and pointing out their mistakes. ISOLATION Coercive behaviour typically involves isolating a person from seeing their friends and family. Victims will often spend more time in their homes and not be allowed out to social events. Escaping control The nature of coercive control makes it a difficult form of domestic abuse to break away from, especially as it can occur within many kinds of relationships. For example, coercion isn’t limited to just romantic partners, and can occur between family members, friends and colleagues. Breaking these various chains of coercion can be complex, especially when additional factors like children are involved. Building a support system is essential when it comes to breaking free from a controlling relationship. Depending on the length of the relationship and the level of isolation a victim has succumbed to, this might feel like an impossible task, but mending lost relationships and rebuilding connections can help you to construct a long-term plan for the future. Putting together a post-break up plan before exiting a relationship will also allow victims to take back control of the many aspects of their lives – it PSYCHOLOGY NOW is preparation for their rediscovered independence. Plans should include living arrangements – both a short-term solution after leaving, and legally requesting an abusive partner vacate a property – as well as any required financial steps. Seeking help from domestic abuse charities or national hotlines can be a great way to gather local resources and information about how to escape from an abusive relationship. However, information from online browsing history or telephone call history should be erased from devices to prevent being seen by an abusive perpetrator. Victims of abuse should consider using public means of communication, such as library computers or public telephones. When dealing with coercive control outside of an intimate relationship, such as in the workplace, victims should consider documenting every event in which a perpetrator is using manipulative tactics like sexual advances, gaslighting and humiliation. Keep a record of abusive correspondence, such as emails, voice messages and notes. Gathered information can then be taken to your company’s human resources department, who are responsible for ensuring workplace safety and tackling harassment and abuse. In domestic abuse cases, if a victim is seeking the prosecution of their abuser, then documentation can be key to their conviction. Before making any attempt to leave an abusive relationship, it’s important to first assess the victim’s safety and to be acquainted with the relevant laws. Ending a controlling relationship can be as simple as an uncomfortable conversation, but others may escalate into physical violence. If a victim feels unsure and the relationship has become dangerous, they should avoid an in-person confrontation and leave the situation as a matter of urgency. When confronting a coercive partner, it may help the victim to have another person from their support system in attendance. Coercive perpetrators may continue to gaslight a victim during the separation in an attempt to reinforce the idea that they’re not abusive and the evidence for such is just in the minds of their victims. Persistent apologies and declarations of willingness to change is also a tactic used to coerce a person back into their controlling grasp. Therefore, a victim might consider writing a plan for an in-person separation, stick to the points outlined in the plan and stay strong when challenged. However, if the separation isn’t accepted by an abusive partner or family member and a victim is harassed or stalked, then they might consider seeking legal action, such as a personal protection order or restraining order. 101 © Getty Images / nadia_bormotova / jemastock / stephencox123 DENIAL When confronted, the abuser will shift the blame onto the victim for causing the abuse or simply deny it ever happened. Alternatively, a perpetrator might acknowledge what’s happened but insist they have a problem. SEEING SOUNDS & SMELLING COLOURS SOUNDS COLOURS How does synesthesia combine the senses? WORDS AILSA HARVEY O ur senses help us perceive and interact with our environment, whether that’s observing colour through sight or using the surface of our skin to feel the shape and texture of objects through touch. The human brain categorises these senses in different areas, but for a minority of people, they can become intertwined. Synesthesia is a neurological condition that can present itself in many forms. People with this condition – referred to as synesthetes – experience the stimulation of several senses from information transmitted from sensory organs that usually activate just one. The sensory cues that are affected differ among those with the condition, with more than 30 variations of synesthesia recorded. One type is chromesthesia, which causes an individual to see shapes of different colours when listening to sounds. For example, someone with this form of synesthesia might see a green triangle when 102 STUDYING SYNESTHESIA In 1812, George Sachs wrote the first scientific report on synesthesia. This work was based on his own sensory experiences. However, at this time, internal feelings couldn’t be analysed by science, and thus the details of his accounts faced great scepticism. In 1980, neurobiologist Richard Cytowic carried out the first neurophysiological studies on people with synesthesia. Cytowic is credited with returning the topic of synesthesia to science and sparking more research into understanding the condition. Modern technology means that brain activity can be studied through an electroencephalogram (EEG). Sensors are attached to the head to detect the strength of electrical signals in the brain. By monitoring which areas of the brain are stimulated when exposed to different sensory cues, scientists can determine which neural connections may be linked in an individual. PSYCHOLOGY NOW SEEING SOUNDS & SMELLING COLOURS Where in the brain do synesthetes have their senses combined? TOUCH Mirror-touch synesthetes feel the sensation of being touched on the opposite side of their body. HEARING When hearing and seeing are connected, synesthetes can see colours when listening to sounds. TASTE Lexical-gustatory synesthesia is rare, but causes someone to taste words when hearing, reading or thinking them. People with synesthesia are usually born with it or develop it early in childhood they hear a violin playing, or associate different notes with various colours. Research suggests that in the majority of cases, these associations stay the same over time. The green triangle that appears when a violin sounds will continue to represent this sound many years later. People with synesthesia are usually born with it or develop the condition early in childhood, and the sensory associations become more predictable over time. There is no treatment for synesthesia. In fact, many synesthetes embrace their differences, seeing it as an enhancement to their lives. Scientists think that synesthesia can go unnoticed, as each individual only knows how they perceive the world, and may assume that to be ‘normal’. How your senses can get mixed up SMELL In some cases, different smells can cause people to see patterns, and vice versa. VISION Some of the most common forms of synesthesia involve the sense of sight. PSYCHOLOGY NOW PERCEPTION The brain’s grey matter holds most of the neuronal cell bodies and is responsible for sensory perception. – BRAIN AT BIRTH At birth, neural connections in the brain can overlap. In some cases these remain connected. – NEURONAL PRUNING By the age of four months, the areas of the brain that perceive vision, hearing and other senses separate. – MULTIPLE SENSES When two of these regions of the brain are still connected to each other, a multisensory experience can take place. – CROSS-ACTIVATION One theory for the cause of synesthesia is that neuronal pruning isn’t fully completed. This may be hereditary. © Getty Images / RadomanDurkovic A MATTER OF GREY MATTER DOPAMINE FASTING FASTING There can be too much of a good thing WORDS ROSE GOODMAN & ALI HORSFALL W e’ve all heard of the saying ‘everything in moderation’ when it comes to weighing up how many glasses of wine we have in the evening, or whether to eat that second slice of cheesecake. But did you know that the same concept can apply to our ‘feel-good’ hormones? Cutting out those everyday things that bring us a flood of short-term joy – such as scrolling through Facebook or watching Netflix – can mean ramping up that pleasure response in the brain when you get them back. So, are you ready to try dopamine fasting? The pleasure hormone Dopamine is the mighty chemical messenger involved in motivation. It rises in response to rewards and encourages us to seek gratification. Because of this, dopamine is blamed for addictive behaviours, such as compulsive online shopping and emotional eating. MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU Dopamine fasting doesn’t mean cutting out everything, just those activities that you compulsively rely on for that flood of dopamine. It will be different for everyone. If it’s social media, try no screen time. If you find yourself binge-watching box sets on Netflix instead of getting a good night’s sleep, try bedtime yoga or meditation. And, if you can’t resist sweet snacks, opt for sugar-free days. While some people have taken this wellness trend to the extreme, you don’t need to ‘fast’ for long periods of time. Try one or two hours in the evening or one day at the weekend. Or simply switch off while on your staycation – whatever works for you. It’s backed by science The wellness trend, popularised by Californian psychiatrist Dr Cameron Sepah, may balance negative behaviours linked to by abstaining in the short-term, you’ll reboot the brain’s reward system 104 dopamine surges. The thinking is this: by abstaining from sins, stimulants and small pleasures in the short-term, you’ll reboot the brain’s reward system to value them more when you indulge. It also means trying to find pleasure in more natural activities, such as going for a walk or meditating. And, perhaps being able to address, and take control of, compulsive behaviours that are having a negative impact on our happiness. PSYCHOLOGY NOW PSYCHOLOGY NOW 105 © Shutterstock / Good Studio HOW WE LEARN HOW WE Forget artificial intelligence, the human brain is the original neural network 106 PSYCHOLOGY NOW HOW WE LEARN WORDS LAURA MEARS T he brain is a collection of an estimated 86 billion neurons, connected together in a communications network more complex than the internet. Neurons pass messages like telephone wires, shooting electrical impulses at speeds of up to 290 kilometres (180 miles) per hour. They exchange signals using packets of chemicals called neurotransmitters, which can either tell the next neuron to pass the message along or to stay quiet. The connections between neurons are the basis of memory, and making them is how we learn. The theory of human learning is founded on the idea that one brain cell can’t learn on its own – it’s the connections between brain cells that make learning possible. In the late 1940s, psychologist Donald Hebb explained that “nerves that fire together wire together.” This essentially means that when brain cells are repeatedly activated at the same time, they become physically and chemically linked. Learning a new skill is all about strengthening the connections between the brain cells that send the signals to perform that skill. This concept is called ‘Hebbian learning’, and at a cellular level, it looks a bit like this: when one brain cell sends a message to another brain cell, the second cell has to decide whether to pass the message along. At first it’s not always clear if the message is important, but if the cell sends the same message again and again and again, something starts to change. The first cell starts producing more neurotransmitters so that it can send a bigger signal, and the the connections between brain cells make learning possible PSYCHOLOGY NOW ARTIFICIAL NEURAL NETWORKS AI works in almost the same way as the human brain. Instead of thousands of brain cells, machine learning algorithms have thousands of nodes. Just like a neuron, each node receives incoming signals and has to decide whether to pass them on to the next node. To make this choice, it gives each signal a weight, which determines how important it is. A higher weight means a higher chance the signal will be passed on. To begin with all the weights are set at random, so the algorithm is essentially guessing what to do with each signal. To learn, it makes tiny changes to the weights, and then sees whether its guess is better or worse than before. This trial and error tunes the network, strengthening good connections and weakening bad ones – just like human learning. 107 HOW WE LEARN second cell makes more receptors so that it can detect the signal more easily. Together these changes strengthen the connection between the cells, ensuring that the message always gets through. In the real brain, the situation is a bit more complicated. It’s rare that communication happens only between two cells. In reality, each neuron makes up to 1,000 connections to others, and signals can arrive all at once. Each neuron has to weigh up every message it receives and decide whether to pass it along. Learning is the process of balancing those decisions. One of the easiest ways to see this in action is to look at organisms with simpler nervous systems than our own. Sea slugs have an organ called a siphon, which they use for moving, feeding and breathing. It’s quite delicate, so if they sense danger they quickly pull it away. This reflex normally doesn’t happen if they feel a really gentle touch on their siphon. But they can learn to withdraw from this nonthreatening situation if the connections between their neurons are altered. Researchers at the University of California attached electrodes to sea slug neurons. They chose one neuron from the siphon and another from the tail, both of which pass messages to a third neuron that controls siphon movement. Before the experiment, the movement neuron didn’t really respond to messages from the siphon neuron. To change this, the researchers passed electrical impulses along the siphon neuron to simulate a gentle touch. At the same time they passed strong electrical impulses along the tail neuron to simulate a danger signal. This taught the synapse that the gentle touch signal meant that danger might soon be coming. During the experiment, the connection between the siphon neuron and the movement neuron strengthened so much that eventually a light touch on its own was enough to trigger the withdrawal reflex without any danger signal from the tail at all. The brain’s learning centres These five brain areas are essential for learning and memory: PREFRONTAL CORTEX The very front of the brain is responsible for working memory. It provides short-term storage while we’re learning. – BASAL GANGLIA This cluster of brain cells manages motor learning – or ‘muscle memory’ – and the formation of habits. – AMYGDALA This structure is responsible for the emotional content of memories. We learn better when experiences are emotionally charged. It’s rare that communication happens only between two cells LEARNING ON A MOLECULAR SCALE Signals pass from one neuron to another across microscopic gaps called synapses. The first neuron releases small packets of chemicals called neurotransmitters, which cross the gap and hit the second neuron. Receptors on the second neuron detect the neurotransmitters, and if the signal is strong enough, they trigger a fresh electrical impulse. Learning increases the neurotransmitters the first neuron releases, and boosts the number of neurotransmitter receptors on the second neuron. These changes strengthen the connection between the two cells, making it easier for them to exchange signals in the future. 108 HIPPOCAMPUS Found in part of the brain called the temporal lobe, this structure records past events, allowing us to learn from experience. – NEOCORTEX This is the brain’s main storage bank. The hippocampus transfers learning to the neocortex while we’re sleeping. Tuning the brain’s connections On a microscopic level, learning is all about the connections between brain cells: SYNAPSE Neurons pass signals to other neurons by sending chemicals called neurotransmitters across microscopic gaps. – NEUROTRANSMITTER Chemical messages pass signals from one neuron to the next. After learning, the amount of these each neuron releases goes up. – RECEPTORS Receptors detect the neurotransmitters released by other neurons and trigger fresh electrical impulses. After learning, their numbers also increase. – MYELIN SHEATH Wraps of myelin insulate the electrical signals passing along axons, allowing them to travel faster and without interference. – ASTROCYTE Star-shaped support cells tune the speed of communication by controlling the thickness of the insulation around each neuron. – SHEATH THICKENING During learning, cells called oligodendrocytes coat nerve cells in extra myelin, increasing the speed of nerve conduction. – OLIGODENDROCYTE These fatty cells wind around the axons of nerve cells like the plastic around electrical wires. – NEURON Neurons send messages across the brain by passing electrical signals down long, thin structures called axons. PSYCHOLOGY NOW HOW WE LEARN 5 FACTS ABOUT YOUR NEURONS 1. THEY HAVE THREE PARTS The cell body houses genetic code and protein factories. Dendrites receive incoming signals, and the axon passes electrical messages to other cells. Loss of neurons contributes to diseases such as Alzheimer’s 2. THERE ARE THREE TYPES Sensory neurons detect touch, taste, light, sound and smell. Motor neurons send signals to the muscles and interneurons connect other neurons together. FROM ZERO TO HERO 3. THEY DON’T LIVE FOREVER Like us, nerve cells in the brain and body get old and die. Loss of neurons contributes to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. 4. THEY NEED SUPPORT Neurons rely on other cells to do their job properly. Astrocytes maintain chemical balance, oligodendrocytes insulate electrical signals and microglia guard against infection. 5. THEY CAN REGENERATE Researchers once thought brain cell regeneration was impossible. Now we know that even in adults there are stem cells capable of creating new neurons. Invented by Noel Burch in the 1970s, the four stages of competence explain how we think and learn: CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE The learner becomes aware that there is a gap in their understanding. This can either be motivating or demoralising. CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE The learner practises the skill and starts to learn, but they need to concentrate hard to be successful. UNCONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE The learner is completely unaware that they lack the skill, and may even be overconfident in their ability. PSYCHOLOGY NOW © Getty Images / BRO Vector UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE The learner masters the skill. They are now so good at it that they can do it without thinking. 109 THE PAIN OF EXISTENCE THE PAIN OF It is said to be the same kind of depression that plagued the titular character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but what exactly is existential depression? WORDS EMMA GREEN xistential depression is part of the human condition to ponder the big questions in life. Does God really exist? Why do good people suffer? Is there any meaning to this life? The lack of concrete answers to these questions can be both frustrating and distressing, resulting in a type of fear that can only be described as existential dread. Most people at some point in their lives will experience existential dread, where after deep introspection, a lack of certainty about the mysteries of life may overwhelm them. This fear usually passes shortly though, and most people are able to carry on with their lives, resolved to the fact that they may never discover the answers to such colossal questions during their lifetime. But what happens when the repeated cycling of existential matters starts to have a major impact on somebody’s wellbeing? E 110 An inability to stop ruminating over the big questions in life can result in a never-ending downwards spiral of anxiety, apathy and despair, where that person may begin to wonder what the point in even living is. This can lead to the development of depressive symptoms or what may be referred to as the onset of existential depression. Like other depressive disorders, such as clinical depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the symptoms of existential depression are typical of other depressive episodes: chronic low mood, a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, low motivation and energy levels, and, sometimes, suicidal thoughts. With existential depression though, there may be additional indicators, including an obsession with death, a loss of one’s self-image, goals and values, a fixation on tragic events, suffering and the state of the world, and a general sense of futility and helplessness. This may also be accompanied by ‘existential anxiety’, where the same preoccupation with existential matters can result in agitation, a sense of impending doom and panic attacks. Although much has been written about this type of depression, it is not formally recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the handbook that doctors and mental health professionals use to make diagnoses. This is one of the reasons why existential depression can be so difficult to treat – unlike other types of depression that can be caused by biological or situational factors, existential depression is predominantly a crisis of the soul that doesn’t respond as well to a standard course of treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or antidepressants. PSYCHOLOGY NOW THE PAIN OF EXISTENCE PSYCHOLOGY NOW to face life alone. Meaninglessness is the culmination of these three concerns and queries if we are ultimately destined to live a temporary, uncertain and lonely existence, what is the point of any of it? Some people try to cope with an existential crisis by adopting maladaptive methods such as numbing themselves with drink or drugs, becoming so absorbed in daily distractions that they don’t have time to think about existential matters, or by throwing themselves wholeheartedly into a religious or spiritual framework because life is too hard to face without certainty. Other people become preoccupied with what anthropologist Ernest Becker referred to as ‘immortality projects’: grand acts that will preserve someone’s legacy after their physical death, such as becoming a celebrity, or through procreation, by passing on their genes. Some people believe that existential depression though can be a positive catalyst for change and growth. According to Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration, Disintegration, symptoms of distress, such as existential depression can be a sign of personality development or the ‘pain’ of growing into oneself. Exploring challenging thoughts and feelings can lead to what Dabrowski refers to as ‘reintegration’: a new deeper level of understanding and self-awareness, and a renewal of our values and purpose in life. TREATING EXISTENTIAL DEPRESSION Although existential depression can be difficult to treat, there are some methods that can help to ease the angst and isolation faced by sufferers. FIND THE RIGHT KIND OF THERAPY The best form of therapy for dealing with an existential crisis is existential therapy, which focuses on processing the thoughts involved surrounding death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness, and helps you to accept and integrate these concepts into your life. Humanistic therapies, like transpersonal therapy, can also be effective in treating existential depression as this type of therapy emphasises living authentically and finding a path in life that best suits you. ALLOW YOURSELF TO GRIEVE If you have suffered any kind of loss, whether it be a death, a relationship or a part of your identity, then give yourself time to mourn. Grief is a process that involves different stages of acknowledging, accepting and moving on, and shouldn’t be rushed. CREATE YOUR OWN MEANING It is essential to have some kind of meaning or purpose in life if only to stave off being completely consumed by the grip of depression and apathy. Whether that’s through helping others, discovering your passion, or contributing something to the world, living a life of purpose can have a huge impact on your wellbeing, as well as that of others. © Shutterstock / Good Studio Existential depression can manifest at any time, but it is often linked to the occurrence of a major life event, such as the death of a loved one, a job loss, a divorce or the diagnosis of a serious illness. It may also be caused by transitioning to a new life stage, such as moving away from home or retirement. Anything that forces us to face our own mortality or brings into question the uncertainty of our existence, like a crisis in faith, can be a potential trigger. Anyone can experience existential depression, but it tends to be more prevalent in certain groups of people than others. Researchers have suggested that those with high IQs or individuals who fall under the gifted and talented bracket, such as artists, scientists and intellectuals, are more likely to experience existential depression without a specific event causing it. This could be because it takes a great deal of substantial thought, reflection and curiosity to contemplate and scrutinise such lofty matters. Some notable figures that have reportedly suffered an existential depressive episode at some point during their lives include Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and Eleanor Roosevelt. Furthermore, those with highly sensitive temperaments may also be vulnerable to suffering from the throes of existential depression. This occurs when their idealistic view of the world doesn’t match up to the harsh reality they see around them of suffering and injustice and they realise that there is very little they can do, if anything, to prevent such cruelty. The term ‘existential depression’ has its roots in the philosophy that shares its name: existentialism. Existentialists, like nihilists, believe that the world has no objective meaning, but unlike nihilism, which concludes that it is pointless to try and construct any purpose for your life, existentialism actively addresses this by encouraging you to create your own meaning. In his book, Existential Psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, psychiatrist Irvin Yalom writes that the four primary topics that existential questions focus on are death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness. Concerns about death might include what happens to us after we die, death’s inevitability and the purpose of our fleeting physical existence on Earth. Our worries about freedom regard the overwhelming number of choices and consequences we face in this life without any real guide to tell us what to do. Feelings of isolation can be caused by the realisation that despite our relationships with other human beings, we can never truly be understood by another person or vice versa, and so we are condemned FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN DO You may not be able to change everything in this world, but focusing on what you can control and taking small steps towards that which is possible can boost our confidence and help us to remain hopeful for the future. 111 WHY DO WE FEEL GUILT? 112 PSYCHOLOGY NOW WHY DO WE FEEL GUILT? WHY DO WE FEEL Guilt is a complex and powerful emotion, but why do we feel guilt and what happens when guilt becomes too much? WORDS JULIE BASSETT hat do you feel guilty about right now? Is it that bar of chocolate you had after lunch when you’re supposed to be focusing on healthy eating? Is it that white lie you told a friend because you didn’t want to go out for a drink last night? Is it because you have to work late again, and your family are waiting for you at home? W If you’re honest with yourself, chances are there is something you feel guilty about. And you’re not alone. According to one study, carried out by Intrepid Travel, the average person in the UK feels guilty for more than six hours a week (based on a poll of 2,000 adults). American psychologist Guy Winch (guywinch.com) suggests that we experience five hours a week of guilty feelings. Whichever stat you take, that’s a lot of time spent every single week feeling guilty about something. And much of this guilt is related to quite small day-to-day events (as opposed to bigger issues, like committing a crime or having an affair, for example). We’re talking about things like giving into a craving, ordering a takeaway when you’re supposed to be saving money, not returning a call to your parents, snapping at someone at work, missing a deadline, not doing the housework… the list of potential guilt triggers is endless. We even feel guilty about things we have no control over, like snoring in bed and keeping a partner awake. Understanding guilt But what is guilt? Well, it’s an emotion, just like love, hate, panic, fear, joy or surprise, and it acts as a signal that we’ve done something wrong. We feel guilt when our PSYCHOLOGY NOW 113 WHY DO WE FEEL GUILT? SYMPTOMS OF GUILT actions, or even inaction depending on the circumstances, cause real, potential or perceived harm to another person or group of people. Sometimes our actions are deliberate; other times accidental. Guilt is a powerful emotion. In one study, more than 1,000 German adults were contacted to provide epidemiological information on guilt feelings. It found that a quarter of the adults surveyed rated their current guilt feelings as ‘rather strong’ or ‘very strong’. Guilt can be a positive emotion, as it signposts us to what’s right and what’s wrong. It helps us to live up to our own personal standards and make good decisions. We know that if we break the law – going over the speed limit, for example – our guilt is informing us that our actions were wrong. Guilt also supports us within our relationships, by helping us to remember birthdays, to show up to events on time, to spend quality time with our loved ones. In this way, guilt can be quite productive, driving you into positive action. If we do something wrong and we have to apologise to the person we’ve upset, it ensures that we won’t make that mistake again, building it into our personal moral code. We’ve all had a ‘guilty pleasure’ moment too, where we listen to a song we love, even if it’s not to anyone else’s tastes, or enjoy a glass of wine on a week night. So, guilt is not an inherently bad thing. The problem is that guilt can build up and 114 become a chronic condition. Excessive guilt can lead to feelings of stress or depression, low self-esteem and anxiety. If you have a lot of unresolved guilt running around your brain, you can feel weighed down by it; it can become a heavy burden to carry. Sometimes guilt can be a symptom of a mental health condition, like anxiety, depression or OCD; conversely, guilt can also be a trigger for a mental illness. Guilt is a moral emotion, conditioned by external factors. Our upbringing, culture, environment, beliefs, family, friendships and lifestyle all feed into what makes us feel guilty. Something that triggers guilt for one person may not for another. Some reasons for guilt are universal, such as direct harm towards another person or animal, breaking laws or regulations, or betraying the trust of a loved one. The way we were treated as a child also builds into how we cope with guilt as an adult; if we were constantly told off at home or school and made to feel guilty, we might carry that guilt with us throughout life making us more conditioned to feel guilt more often. You may even carry While guilt is an emotion and comes with a lot of mental turmoil, there are also some physical symptoms of guilt you might feel if you’re carrying a lot of guilt or suffer from chronic guilt. Feeling guilty can increase the level of stress hormones in our bodies, leaving us feeling irritable, low, anxious and overwhelmed. You may also struggle to sleep, especially if you’re worrying about a situation you feel especially guilty about. Some people also find that they have digestive issues or stomach pains when they’re feeling guilty about something. You may also feel tense in your body, and feel pain in your lower back or have more frequent headaches. If you spot any of these symptoms, then it’s important to explore the source of your guilt and think about how you can resolve it or come to terms with it, so that the symptoms don’t continue. For unresolved guilt or chronic guilt, it can be helpful to get some professional help via a therapist or counsellor. very old unresolved guilt from things that happened a long time ago that you still dwell on now even though the situation has long passed and can no longer be resolved. In psychology, there are generally considered to be three main types of guilt. There is reactive guilt or natural guilt, which is when we feel guilty in reaction to something Something that triggers guilt for one person may not for another PSYCHOLOGY NOW WHY DO WE FEEL GUILT? Why some of us feel more guilt Not all of us feel guilt to the same extent. Some of us are just prone to feeling guilt more frequently and over more things. Others are better at letting go of guilt or just not feeling so guilty in the first place. Imagine a scale of guilt, going from one extreme to another. At one end is a complete lack of guilt and remorse, which can be a sign of psychopathy, and at the other end is overly excessive guilt that forms part of serious mental illnesses such as depression or PTSD. We all fall somewhere in the middle of this scale, but there is a still a big difference between those of us who feel guilt some of the time, and those of us who feel guilt all of the time. What gender you are may impact how often you feel guilty and for what reasons. One study, found that ‘habitual guilt’ is more intense in women than men across all age groups, while another looked at both shame and guilt among men and women, and found that women reported significantly higher rates of shame and guilt than men. If you’re a perfectionist, you are more likely to feel guilty on a regular basis if you don’t do things exactly the way you would like to. If you’re an overachiever, you may feel guilt at not performing your best. People who are naturally more empathetic may also feel guilty more often, as they are more sensitive to other people’s reactions in situations than others would be. Guilt can also depend on how much you’re influenced by external cues, and how sensitive you are to societal pressures and conventions. If you are someone who feels guilty a lot, this could be having an impact on the way you live your life. Guilt can act as a barrier, preventing us from enjoying life or making decisions that are good for our wellbeing. Take this scenario: you’ve had a busy day at work, and you just want a nice hot bath and to read a few chapters of your book. Then you get a message from a friend you haven’t seen in ages begging you to go out with them and catch up. It might be tinged with a guilt trip – ‘But it’s been ages! You’re always busy’. So you go out anyway, putting your friend’s desires before your own because you feel guilty PSYCHOLOGY NOW 5 TYPES OF GUILT PARENTS’ GUILT Parental guilt can be all-consuming, stemming from a feeling of being judged or blamed by other parents or not doing things the ‘right’ way. GREEN GUILT A YouGov survey commissioned by BRITA found that 28% of British people feel guilty about their non-sustainable lifestyle habits. It stems from an increased awareness of environmental issues and the need for global changes. FINANCIAL GUILT This can manifest in several ways, whether it’s guilt around spending money we don’t have, or a guilt around earning more than others around us. Money and finances can create guilt in lots of areas of our lives. GUILT TRIP A ‘guilt trip’ is a deliberate attempt to make someone feel guilty and influence them into a certain action. It can be hard to resist a guilt trip, but it’s important to set boundaries and also to understand the reasons behind the guilt trip. SURVIVOR’S GUILT A complex and traumatic form of guilt, this is felt by those who survive a difficult or life-threatening situation, when others didn’t, even though they couldn’t have influenced the outcome. about it, making you feel more burnt out than before. Sound familiar? If excessive guilt is starting to seep into all areas of your life, then it’s time to take a proactive approach to bring your guilt back down to a healthy level. How to feel less guilty It starts with being able to categorise your guilt, and see what’s normal and what’s excessive. Feeling guilt when you have actually done something wrong is normal and desirable. The best thing to do is resolve the guilt if you can – apologise to the person you’ve wronged. Your instinct might be to avoid them at all costs, but you’ll only be carrying that guilt around for longer. The longer you hold on to it, the heavier it will get. However, if the guilt you feel is well out of proportion or if you feel guilty in a more abstract way regularly (ie, because you perceive having done something wrong, rather than having actually done anything wrong), then it’s time to reflect on your feelings and emotions. Try to identify where the guilt you feel is coming from. Is the guilt based on an expectation set by family or society? Does the guilt stem from overanalysing situations, or from creating possible scenarios that haven’t happened? Journaling can help, writing down your feelings when you experience guilt to expose patterns in your thought processes. Talking to someone you trust can also be therapeutic, as they may be able to put your sense of guilt into perspective. It won’t be a quick change. If you are prone to feelings of excessive guilt, this may stem from experiences in your younger days and this will take both time and effort to resolve. Try starting to say ‘no’ to things you don’t want to do – it will feel uncomfortable to begin with, and you will feel guilty, but over time, as you start to benefit from making decisions that put yourself first, that guilt will lessen. By testing scenarios out and realising that nothing really bad happens, you will begin to rewrite the signals in your brain that trigger guilt. Once you face up to your feelings of guilt, and begin to recognise that some guilt is healthy and some is excessive, you will be open to a more balanced relationship with this powerful emotion. 115 © Getty Images / Mari_C / Olga Strelnikova we have done that goes against our personal moral code or societal standards. Then there is anticipatory or free-flowing guilt, which is where we feel guilt without doing something to cause guilt. This kind of guilt is what stops us from carrying out certain actions, because we know it’s wrong and that we would feel guilty about it. And finally, there is existential guilt, which is more difficult to pin down. It’s often described as a guilt that we’re not living up to our own personal life’s potential or a guilt around general global injustice: ‘I should be doing more with my life’ or ‘Life is so unfair sometimes’. MODERN MEDITATION MEDITATION Didn’t think meditation was for you? You might think again once you’ve tried one of the many new ways to find your inner zen… WORDS LOUISE PYNE editation is nothing new. Humans have been paying attention to the breath and practising selfawareness for centuries, and for many years researchers have been exploring the benefits of meditation on both our physical wellbeing and our minds, with the body of scientific evidence steadily growing. The list of benefits is pretty impressive. Slowing down racing thoughts has been shown to slash the risk of depression (or help treat it if you’re already struggling with your mental health), by altering the release of mood-altering cytokines (inflammatory chemicals that are thought to lead to the development of chronic depression). It’s also been shown to improve focus and attention, and help to beat insomnia. “Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, enhance self-awareness and increase the ability to self-regulate emotions. It helps you to get to know yourself, process what you are going through in life and puts some space M between learned behaviours and knee jerk reactions,” explains meditation expert and founder of Lunar Living, Kirsty Gallagher. If traditional methods of meditation don’t appeal, there are other meditation techniques that promise a chill fix. Here are some nontraditional ones you might want to try. . . Walk your way to zen Reconnecting with nature on a weekly basis helps to boost physical and mental wellbeing according to a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Plymouth, and there’s probably no better way to lower the stress scales than with a walking meditation. This involves bringing full presence and awareness into walking, something that many of us do all day every day without even thinking about it. A separate study commissioned by the National Trust found that soaking up the sounds of nature relaxes us more than if we listen to a voiced meditation app, and results from tests showed that it reduced feelings of stress and anxiety by over a fifth. Connect with your senses on a mindful level Reconnecting with nature on a weekly basis helps to boost physical and mental wellbeing 116 PSYCHOLOGY NOW MODERN MEDITATION PSYCHOLOGY NOW 117 MODERN MEDITATION to experience all that new seasons have to give, from crunching leaves, crackling fires and the pitter patter of a rainy day. “Begin by simply standing and bringing your awareness into your body, where you feel the weight, how you’re standing on the earth, bring full awareness and presence into your body. Then begin to walk slowly and feel each step mindfully. Put your awareness fully and completely into how it feels to be walking; fully experience the act of walking,” shares Kirsty. Every time you notice your mind wandering, stop, bring your attention back into your body and begin walking again. Try to be truly present in that moment in the act of walking. 3 MEDITATION TIPS FOR NEWBIES 1. MAKE A SCHEDULE Try to set a meditation goal for two weeks or a whole month. Even if you feel like you won’t have time, once you see the benefits you’re likely to want to find the time to practise. Allocating roughly the same time for your practice each day will help with consistency. Harness the power of crystals Semi-precious stones and crystals have been used for thousands of years to cure ailments and support emotional wellbeing. During the first lockdown of 2020, there was a surge in Google searches for ‘healing crystals’. Crystal enthusiasts claim that these powerful gemstones hold energetic and healing frequencies that can be a helpful aid to meditation. “For example, rose quartz will help amplify love, self-love, healing of the heart and energies of compassion and acceptance. Citrine will help with abundance and happiness. Amethyst will help bring calm and relaxing vibes, and something like black tourmaline will 2. KEEP A JOURNAL Scribble down how you feel before and after each session. Even jotting down a short sentence or two will help you to keep track of how the sessions are helping you. 3. SET AN INTENTION Not to be confused with a goal, an intention is something you want to align with in your life such as a purpose or attitude you’d like to commit to. Before each practice, set a specific intention to help focus your mind and heart. It could be to ‘release fear’ or ‘to practise being kinder to yourself and to others’, anything that is connected to your values and life principles. these gemstones hold energetic and healing frequencies that can be a helpful aid help you to feel grounded and protected,” claims Kirsty. “As you meditate with your crystal, it will emit these vibrations to you so that you can more easily begin to tune in to these things in yourself.” Some people find crystals useful as they provide a ‘touchstone’ through a meditation practice to help focus your intentions. “So, you can program your chosen crystal with what you would like to bring more of into your life and each time you sit and meditate with your crystal it will bring you back to your intention,” Kirsty adds. 118 PSYCHOLOGY NOW MODERN MEDITATION Sound baths alter theta and delta brain waves, which trigger healing and relaxation With the pressure of work and family commitments, it can be a challenge to quieten your mind after a busy day so that you drift off to sleep. As many as 16 million of us suffer from poor sleep with a third confessing to insomnia according to one study by Aviva. Sleep has a huge impact on long-term physical and mental wellbeing, and while how much we need per night varies from person to person, around seven to eight hours is the recommended amount. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine journal, which compared two groups of adults with sleeping troubles, found that practising a mindful meditation program was more effective at improving insomnia than a sleep education class that taught ways to improve sleep habits. And furthermore, if your goal is to improve sleep, practising meditation before hitting the hay (a technique called beditation) could possibly improve snoozing time more effectively than meditating during the day. “Beditation is the act of consciously releasing your day helping you to de-stress, relax and let go ready for a good night’s sleep,” explains Kirsty. The great thing is that you can practise beditation from the comfort of your bed. “Close your eyes and take a few long, slow, deep breaths. Take a mental scan of your physical body and also how you feel energetically, mentally and emotionally. Notice anywhere that you feel tightness or as though you are gripping or holding on. This could be physical or emotional tension.” She goes on to add that with each long, slow, deep breath, simply let go. “Feel as though you are processing and releasing your day ready for a restful sleep. Stay here for as long as you need to, simply exhaling and letting go until you feel a sense of becoming more relaxed and present.” PSYCHOLOGY NOW Meditate to music If sitting in silence doesn’t do it, try a sound bath. This ancient therapy uses the sound of crystal singing bowls and chimes to ignite a relaxed, meditative state. Music makes us feel good, so it’s no wonder that 88% of us turn to music when we need a boost. Sound baths work by altering the theta and delta brain waves, which trigger healing and relaxation. All you have to do is lie back, get comfy and listen. Advocates maintain that the repetitive sounds and frequencies vibrate through your body creating a sense of peace. Gaze at the moon Celestial believers maintain that the lunar cycle affects our mood and energy levels, and we can tune in to its powers for guidance. “Usually we would use a new moon to meditate on what we want to create and bring into our lives and a full moon to do the work of releasing what we no longer need,” believes Kirsty. Living by lunar cycles is a centuriesold concept, but harnessing its purported mystical powers is something that we can bring into modern life, as Kirsty describes. “On the night of a new moon, make a list of your new moon intentions and what you would like to create in your life over the next lunar cycle. Then take a meditation where you visualise all of this coming easily and effortlessly to you. See yourself as though you already have all that you want and how that would feel. Sit in gratitude for all of your intentions coming true.” Once the full moon arrives, you can meditate under the moonlight. “Make a list of all that stands in your way and all you would like to let go of. Then lie on your back and begin to breathe slowly and deeply. With each deep exhale, feel as though you are gently breathing away anything that you no longer need. Feel yourself relax and surrender into the earth beneath you as you just let go with every breath,” instructs Kirsty. 119 © Getty Images / Rudzhan Nagiev / Vectormine Boost sleep with beditation COULD SEX THERAPY HELP YOU? 120 PSYCHOLOGY NOW COULD SEX THERAPY HELP YOU? COULD HELP YOU? Seeking advice for sexual issues is no longer taboo – here’s why everyone should consider seeing a sex therapist WORDS FAYE M SMITH A round 28% of Brits have seen a counsellor or psychotherapist, a survey by the British Association for Counselling found. But there’s still a type that many of us find scary or intimidating. That’s sex therapy – and while the thought of talking to a stranger about the most intimate parts of your life may seem terrifying, it could be a huge help. Maybe your confidence levels have plummeted, your desires have changed, or perhaps your sex life has become non-existent. Just like with any other health concern, there are professionals out there ready to listen to your worries and help you through them. “For some people, sex is a source of great anxiety and worry,” says Annabelle Knight, sex and relationship expert with sexual wellness brand Lovehoney. “Sex therapy is an integrative approach to treating and eliminating underlying PSYCHOLOGY NOW challenges. These concerns may be physical, such as the inability to become aroused, or they may also be psychological concerns, such as anxiety, stress, and confidence issues.” And there’s no need to worry about having to strip naked. “Sex therapy is a type of talking therapy,” says Annabelle. “It’s designed to help individuals and couples address medical, psychological, personal or interpersonal factors impacting sexual satisfaction.” While it might not always be a magic cure, it’s definitely a great starting point. “The goal For some people, sex is a source of great anxiety and worry 121 COULD SEX THERAPY HELP YOU? WHAT IT CAN TREAT of sex therapy is to help people move past physical and emotional challenges to have a satisfying relationship and pleasurable sex life,” says Annabelle. Here’s how it works. . . What happens in sex therapy? Sex therapy can help with a number of issues. “Sexual dysfunction is common,” says Annabelle. “In fact, four out of ten women and nearly a third of men report experiencing some type of sexual dysfunction during their lifetimes.” These dysfunctions may include: . Erectile dysfunction . Loss of libido . Lack of interest . Premature ejaculation . Low confidence . Lack of response to sexual stimulus . Inability to reach orgasm . Excessive libido . Inability to control sexual behaviour . Distressing sexual thoughts . Unwanted sexual fetishes Sex therapy sessions are actually pretty simple. “It’s like any type of psychotherapy. You treat the condition by talking through your experiences, worries and feelings,” says Annabelle. “Together with your sex therapist, you then work out coping mechanisms to help improve your responses in the future so that you can have a healthier sex life.” During your initial appointments, your therapist will either talk with just you or with you and your partner together. The therapist is there to guide and help you process your current challenge. And they won’t ever judge you. “They are not there to take one person’s side or to help persuade anyone,” says Annabelle. “With each session, your therapist will continue to push you towards better management and acceptance of your concerns that may be leading to sexual dysfunction. All talk therapy, including sex therapy, is both a supportive and an educational environment. It’s meant to provide comfort and encouragement for change. You will likely leave your therapist’s office with assignments and work to do before your next appointment.” Your therapist can also refer you to a medical doctor if they suspect you have physical sexual concerns. What you may be asked to do Exercises for sex therapy are varied depending on who you see, says Annabelle. They can include: Establishing mutual responsibility between partners for addressing sexual needs and concerns. – Providing information and education about sexual You treat the condition by talking through your experiences, worries and feelings 122 PSYCHOLOGY NOW COULD SEX THERAPY HELP YOU? function and sexual activity. – Being willing to change attitudes about sex. – Getting rid of any sexual performance anxiety. – Helping couples improve communication around sex and sexual techniques. – Reducing problematic behaviours and sex roles in the relationship. – Giving homework to help couples change their sexual relationship for the better. Is it embarrassing? Does a sex therapist touch you? In rare cases, a sex therapist may touch you, but only with your permission. “Sex therapists talk with their patients to help them confront their sexual problems and improve their sex lives. But some patients need more – they need practise in the bedroom, and have no spouse or partner to turn to,” says Annabelle. “For these patients, some sex therapists turn to surrogate partners – people who help patients with intimacy issues using a hands-on approach. This can include having sex with the patient.” It might sound shocking, but it could be a lifeline some people need. “Although use of surrogate partners is rare among patients of both genders, they are increasingly being used by women whose physical or mental health problems prevent them from enjoying a healthy sex life, experts say. In the past, such therapy was employed almost exclusively by men,” adds Annabelle. PSYCHOLOGY NOW if you are embarrassed, keep remembering that having sex therapy will be beneficial in the long term Going solo If your partner is refusing to see a sex therapist, that’s okay. “You do not have to bring your partner with you to sex therapy. For some individuals, solo sex therapy is adequate to address concerns. For others, having both people present during therapy may help improve satisfaction and build a stronger connection,” says Annabelle. “Talk with your partner about your choice to begin therapy. If you would like them to be involved, ask.” Where to go Think a sex therapist could help you? Going to someone experienced and reputable is essential. “A certified sex therapist can be a licensed psychiatrist, psychologist, marriage and family therapist, or clinical social worker,” says Annabelle. “These mental health experts undergo extensive additional training in human sexuality in order to be accredited as a certified sex therapist.” Consulting your doctor can be a great first step, because they might have sex therapists whom they value. And, if you find you don’t connect with your therapist, feel free to go elsewhere. “Therapists are unique,” says Annabelle. “Successful therapy depends largely on how well you communicate with your therapist and how much you trust them and their guidance to help you through your concerns. If you don’t feel comfortable with a sex therapist at any point, look for another.” © Getty Images / Nadzeya_Dzivakova / Anna Kondratenko First things first, you don’t have to take your clothes off (unless you’re looking for a specialist treatment – see below). “The sex therapist will not be having sexual relations with anyone or showing anyone how to have sex,” says Annabelle. While it’s natural to feel embarrassed when talking about sex to a stranger, it shouldn’t last. “The stigma that sex therapy is embarrassing is out there, but it should not prevent you from receiving the help you need. First, sex is very personal, private and intimate, and so it seems like a strange thing to do – to talk with even a psychotherapist specialising in sex.” And, if you are embarrassed, keep remembering that having sex therapy will be beneficial in the long term. “The benefits of sex therapy far outweigh the initial embarrassment that you might fear,” says Annabelle. “Getting help for yourself, your relationship, and your ability to enjoy sex can have a positive impact on your life.” 123 EMBRACE THE BLUE EMBRACE THE Could spending time near water be the key to feeling healthier and happier? 124 PSYCHOLOGY NOW EMBRACE THE BLUE WORDS ALI HORSFALL f you’ve ever fallen asleep to the sound of the sea or been brave enough to take an invigorating, wild skinny-dip, you can’t deny the positive effects of being in and around water. The ancient Greeks soaked in mineral-rich thermal springs to help them feel better, and seaside trips were often prescribed by doctors during Victorian times. And it seems they were on to something, because now there’s a body of science-led evidence to prove that water can indeed heal. Keen to learn more? Here’s how to ride the wave of ‘blue therapy’. I Join the blue gym The great outdoors is a healthy place to relax and recharge, as many of us discovered when embracing the goodness of green spaces during the pandemic. But along with fields, forests and our favourite parks, natural water is an element of mother nature that offers similar wellbeing benefits. “The term ‘blue space’ is used to refer to our oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and waterfalls – but can actually include all kinds of water, and research is increasingly showing how these watery spaces can help us physically and psychologically,” explains Dr Catherine Kelly, geography academic and author of Blue Spaces: How & Why Water Can Make You Feel Better (£14.99 ($17.50), Welbeck). The concept of spending time in blue space was introduced over a decade ago in the UK as an initiative by the Department of Health and Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, and it’s since been championed by wellness experts and water-lovers as a very valid way to feel good. The overarching idea is that coastal and natural water environments – dubbed the ‘blue gym’ – can be used specifically to increase physical coastal and natural water environments can be used to increase physical activity and reduce stress PSYCHOLOGY NOW 125 EMBRACE THE BLUE activity, reduce stress and build stronger communities. One study* found that living near blue spaces, visiting them, or even just enjoying a nice waterscape view, is associated with a lower risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders, as well as encouraging relaxation. A space to switch off Ocean advocate Lizzi Larbalestier says she feels deeply attached to the Cornish coastline, where she lives and works as a blue health coach – helping others discover the wellbeing benefits of the sea (goingcoastal. blue). “I see people arrive anxious and stressed by the daily pressures of city life and the digital world. Stepping into blue space enables them to slow down, breathe and awaken their senses, connecting with a wider, more analogue world that has light, shade, colour and form,” she says. The environment proves to be the perfect antidote to time-pressured, device-driven lifestyles. “Blue space is a sensory landscape, 126 meaning we engage all of our senses when we are in it,” says Catherine Kelly. “We hear the sounds of the water ebbing and flowing, we notice the colours of the sea or stream, we can feel the sandy beach beneath our toes, smell the sea air or the wildflowers along a canal bank, and we can taste the salt on our skin after a dip in the ocean.” The outcome is positive. Busy minds will quieten without effort and it’s possible to have tangible and tactile experiences that are not mediated by technology. “Water is medicine and in our fast-paced world, the sense of peace and presence it provides is undervalued and underutilised,” says Lizzi. “You soon realise that we are part of an ecosystem, far from being disconnected and isolated, and that we each have a contribution to make.” Body benefits of blue Research reveals that spending time by water also encourages us to be more active, whether that’s surfing the waves or having a riverside stroll. “We then get all the physical benefits associated with exercise, such as improved cardiovascular health, combating osteoporosis and endorphin releases. Being next to a large body of natural water inspires a sense of awe. Gazing at the horizon gives a sense of perspective on daily life PSYCHOLOGY NOW EMBRACE THE BLUE Plus, the happy hormones, serotonin and dopamine, rise when moving on, in or near water,” says Catherine. Tempted to take a dip? Studies show that swimming in natural water may help with anxiety and depression, digestive issues and menopause symptoms. “Cold-water swimming stimulates the vagus nerve in the body, and this can induce an antiinflammatory response, which researchers are linking to improved health,” says Catherine. Visit outdoorswimmingsociety. com for tips on doing it safely. Water for mental wellness There’s a biological reason why respite and reflection become possible in blue spaces. “Levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol in the body can drop, breathing regulates and the heart rate slows, so in essence we feel calmer and our mood improves,” says Catherine. In this blue mind state, it’s easier to practise mindfulness – water’s meditative quality brings us into the present moment and allows us to press pause on our worries. “Being next to a large body of natural water inspires a sense of awe. Gazing at the horizon gives a sense of perspective on daily life and there’s a feeling of being part of something bigger,” says Catherine. 5 WAYS TO SOAK UP BLUE SPACE Get the feel-good benefits of water with these easy ideas to work into your day 1. SWITCH UP YOUR WALKS Blue space walking is a simple way you can connect with water. “Check an online map to find your nearest water sources such as a river, lake or canal, and factor them into your weekly walks,” says Catherine. Not near the sea? Get a city fix 3. HAVE A RESTORATIVE BATH A relaxing dunk in the tub will deliver benefits, says Catherine. Add healing minerals that are found in seawater. 4. TAKE AN ENERGISING SHOWER As advocated by Wim Hof, aka The Ice Man, turn your shower to cold for an invigorating blast that will stimulate anti-inflammatory action in the body. “Start with 30 seconds for a few days, then build up to one minute, until you can handle two or three minutes of completely cold water,” says Catherine. 5. ENJOY A WATER-BASED HOBBY You don’t have to sail, surf or swim to have fun around water. Try stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) – you can do this on lakes and canals. Sketch or paint a sea view, or take regular bike rides along a blue route. swimming in natural water may help with anxiety and depression, and menopause symptoms 127 PSYCHOLOGY NOW *International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health © Getty Images / fitie, Shutterstock / Good Studio 2. SOOTHE WITH SOUNDS Listening to water inspires calmness, focus and creativity. Even the smallest garden or balcony has room for a battery-powered water feature, or download an app that has sounds of the ocean. Try Naturespace (free on App Store and Google Play). Urbanites can still seek refuge in blue space. “In towns and cities, you can walk by a river or canal on the way to work, or find an outdoor fountain to sit by as you eat lunch,” suggests Catherine. “If you deliberately notice the sight and sounds of moving water, you’ll learn to tune out other stimuli. Focus on relaxing your breathing and enjoy a moment of peace.” Many cities also have great outdoor lidos, which offer the ‘fresh-air experience’ while boosting social and physical wellbeing. Discover adventures of a lifetime with our inspiring travel books Understand human behaviour from our mental health to our emotions Get essential advice on how to make positive changes to your health and wellbeing INSPIRING READS FOR A HAPPIER YOU From travel and food to mindfulness and fitness, discover motivational books to enrich and enhance your life Learn delicious recipes and nutritional information for all tastes and lifestyles Follow us on Instagram @futurebookazines www.magazinesdirect.com SUBSCRIBE & SAVE UP TO 61% Delivered direct to your door or straight to your device Choose from over 80 magazines and make great savings off the store price! Binders, books and back issues also available Simply visit www.magazinesdirect.com No hidden costs Shipping included in all prices We deliver to over 100 countries Secure online payment 1a3g2 es p 9021 OF EXPERT ADVICE Psychology Now TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR MIND FOR A HAPPIER, HEALTHIER LIFE 9000 Human nature is a fascinating concept. From the way we think to the way we behave, the mind is a powerful yet delicate tool, and must be nurtured in the same way we take care of our bodies. Gaining a greater understanding of human behaviour and mental processes will ultimately lead to a better understanding of ourselves. And once we realise why we and others behave in certain ways – whether alone or in group settings – it becomes much easier to avoid stressful situations, reduce anxiety, make better decisions, and live a more fulfilled life.