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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.
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
BORN 18 July 1921
DIED 1 November 2021
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.
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
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
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.
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
When we learn to face up to defeat, we also
discover how best to succeed in life
e are all spectacular
failures, sometimes.
From doomed
relationships and
disastrous interviews
to burnt cakes and embarrassing social
blunders, the emotional onslaught that
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
Avoid people
who are quick
to judge your
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.
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?
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?
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?
You’re losing badly at a game of Monopoly. Do you try
to disrupt and derail the entire game?
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?
Snub the socials
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.
*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.
Underdiagnosed and rarely discussed, dissociative
disorders are surprisingly common, though you
may not recognise them for what they are
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 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
* 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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
Mind Infoline 0300 123 3393
(Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm)
Call 116 123 (24/7)
Clinic for Dissociative Studies
European Society for
Trauma and Dissociation
First Person Plural
Text ‘Shout’ 85258 (24/7)
National Alliance on
Mental Illness (NAMI)
Helpline 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline:
Call 988 (24/7)
Crisis Text Line
Text ‘Home’ 741741 (24/7)
Sidran Institute (Traumatic Stress
Education & Advocacy)
Call 135 247 (8am-8pm)
Call 13 11 14 (24/7) Text 0477 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service
1300 659 467
© Getty Images / Nadzeya_Dzivakova
Dissociative disorders
often come about due to
a specific trauma
Call 1800 187 263
ReachOut.com (for young people)
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
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.
How did you manage your
panic attacks?
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...
You feel
like you’re in a
dream, and you’re
not actually
attached to
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.
© David Reiss
When did you first experience
dissociation and what happened?
Jamie is engaged to
Sophie Habboo, who
also starred in Made
In Chelsea
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
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
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
© 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
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),
and she taught me CBT
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
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
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
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.
© Getty Images / David M. Benett / Mike Marsland / Comic Relief, Alamy / Frans Lemmens
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
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.
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.
Mow the lawn
Do something
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
out loud
Take a selfie
Dance with
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
Savour some
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.
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
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
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
Feeling flattered by the attention
(44%) and feeling emotionally
deprived in the relationship (43%).
Flattery (35%) and dissatisfaction
with their sex life (32%).**
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.”
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
“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.”
“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.”
“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!”
“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.”
“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.
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:
“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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.”
*Health Testing Centers. ** YouGov survey.
Why do we mimic each other?
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
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.
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
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.
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.
The modern world
presents many
challenges, yet
amongst all the
busyness, our basic
human instincts
remain constant
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,
“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
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.
Safety, food and water,
shelter, health
Reproduction, seeking a mate
Forming secure social bonds
and relationships with others
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
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.
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
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, 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
© Getty Images / invincible_bulldog / Angelina Bambina / Vera Orlova
abounds as
to whether
language is a
human instinct
or a learned
Open your mind to this healing
hands practice and reap the benefits
in mind, body and spirit
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.
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
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
…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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Let go of
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.
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.”
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
* Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada
We look after our physical health, but our
emotional wellbeing often gets neglected.
It’s time to make it a priority
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
the invisible nature of it
means there’s a tendency
to ignore problems
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
thought that
around three
million people
in the UK have
an anxiety
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.
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 . . .
“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.
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.
“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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
“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
trying to hide
symptoms from
others can impact
physical health
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Tell yourself, ‘I am safe, I am in control, this feeling is anxiety’, and
repeat until you feel more in control of your feelings.
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.
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.
Trust is a powerful emotion that
builds relationships and connections,
but our lived experiences feed into
our ability to trust
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.
If you want to develop trust in a new relationship or
friendship, try these top tips.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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;
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
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.
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
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
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
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.”
© 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.”
When you liberate yourself from the ties
that bind you, you’ll never look back…
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
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.’
© 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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
No. Mental health problems are a risk factor but not all
the people who kill themselves are mentally ill.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
that it’s
all right
to ask
What can we do to help?
© 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
Knowing and keeping secrets
can be both a benefit and a
burden, so take a moment to
think before you share
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
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.
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?
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
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
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.
A - The quiet one
B - The one who asks questions
C - The wise one
D - The gossip
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
A - Never
B - Occasionally
C - Only when asked
D - Always! I’m entitled to it
A - You’re guarded
B - Ask them questions about their life
C - Chat freely
D - Tell them about yourself first
A - Hardly ever
B - Once a week, maybe?
C - Every few days
D - Every day!
A - Closed off and shy
B - You’re friendly, but keep to yourself
C - Easy to talk to
D - Loud, and bordering on disruptive
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?
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.
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.
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…
Worn out by worrying and dwelling on the
negative? It’s time to turn things around
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
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
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
have more
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
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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
*International Journal of Indian Psychology, 2016 **Journal of the American Medical Association, September, 2019 ***American Stroke Association, 2020
Discover how our brains can be
tricked into wanting more and more
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
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.
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
activates part of the
brain associated with
experiencing pleasure.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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?
introverts or
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
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.
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
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!
© Getty Images / mspoint /
Veronika Oliinyk
©Steve Myers, TeamTechnology.co.uk
The following table lists words and expressions that are often
associated with extraversion and introversion
How can we embrace vulnerability to
live more fulfilling lives?
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Living with a sense of not being
good enough can make us wonder
if we actually deserve joy when it
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:
Recognising that we’ve had
enough of comparing, ranking
and endlessly trying to do better
than others is a great first step.
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
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
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 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.”
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 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 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.
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
© Getty Images / Rudzhan Nagiev
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.
Discover what’s
involved with tapping
therapy and how it
alleviates stress
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.
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,
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,
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.
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
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.
* 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Who knew a simple sheet of paper could be so relaxing?
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.
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 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
Start easy with the models you
know from childhood, such as paper
aeroplanes and boats. Think about
happy memories from those times.
Don’t attempt the hardest models
first, otherwise you will just get
frustrated and give up.
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!
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
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.”
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.
Being doctor phobic could be keeping you
from vital health checks. But there are
ways to alleviate your anxiety...
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
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,
Sufferers may delay
or refuse medical help,
and ignore symptoms
that need attention
If you suffer anxiety
WHAT DOES around visiting the doctor, it’s
important to get to the root
of why tensions run high
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 . . .
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.
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
If you’ve
found someone
you have built
a relationship
with, stick
with that
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.
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).
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…
If you feel comfortable doing so, close your eyes.
Breathe in as slowly and deeply as you can through your nose – try
counting to seven as you do it if you can.
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.
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.”
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.
Sitting in a waiting room can
often be the most agonising part
of any doctor’s appointment, but
there are ways around it. When
Try to remind yourself that what you are feeling is caused by anxiety,
and whilst potentially very frightening, it is not dangerous.
Repeat as needed and you should start to
feel better within a few minutes.
Getting to grips with your attachment style
caused by past trauma could improve your
current romantic partnership
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.
our adult
relationships are
the result of
the relationship
we had with
our primary
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.”
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.”
“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:
Such as being soothed when you were
upset and being listened to when you
expressed how you were feeling.
You felt safe and that your basic
needs for survival were met,
such as shelter, food, protection
from harm, and medical care.
Being met with love and compassion
even when your parents were
angry or frustrated with you.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
is at the core
of a healthy
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.
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
“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:
© 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.
How to spot the signs of coercive behaviour and
how to escape its isolating grasp
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,
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.
is one of the
most insidious
forms of
and coercive
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,
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
Verbal intimidation and threats of physical violence are tactics
used to control victims, along with unrelenting criticism, name
calling and pointing out their mistakes.
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
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.
© Getty Images / nadia_bormotova / jemastock / stephencox123
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.
How does synesthesia combine the senses?
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
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.
Where in the brain do synesthetes
have their senses combined?
Mirror-touch synesthetes feel the
sensation of being touched on the
opposite side of their body.
When hearing and seeing are
connected, synesthetes can see colours
when listening to sounds.
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
In some cases, different
smells can cause people to see
patterns, and vice versa.
Some of the most common forms of
synesthesia involve the sense of sight.
The brain’s grey matter holds most
of the neuronal cell bodies and is
responsible for sensory perception.
At birth, neural connections in
the brain can overlap. In some
cases these remain connected.
By the age of four months, the areas
of the brain that perceive vision,
hearing and other senses separate.
When two of these regions of
the brain are still connected
to each other, a multisensory
experience can take place.
One theory for the cause of
synesthesia is that neuronal
pruning isn’t fully completed.
This may be hereditary.
© Getty Images / RadomanDurkovic
There can be too much of a good thing
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.
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
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.
© Shutterstock / Good Studio
Forget artificial
intelligence, the human
brain is the original
neural network
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
between brain
cells make
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.
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:
The very front of the brain
is responsible for working
memory. It provides short-term
storage while we’re learning.
This cluster of brain cells manages
motor learning – or ‘muscle memory’
– and the formation of habits.
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
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.
Found in part of the brain called
the temporal lobe, this structure
records past events, allowing
us to learn from experience.
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:
Neurons pass signals to other
neurons by sending chemicals
called neurotransmitters
across microscopic gaps.
Chemical messages pass signals
from one neuron to the next. After
learning, the amount of these
each neuron releases goes up.
Receptors detect the
neurotransmitters released by
other neurons and trigger fresh
electrical impulses. After learning,
their numbers also increase.
Wraps of myelin insulate the
electrical signals passing along
axons, allowing them to travel
faster and without interference.
Star-shaped support cells tune
the speed of communication by
controlling the thickness of the
insulation around each neuron.
During learning, cells called
oligodendrocytes coat nerve
cells in extra myelin, increasing
the speed of nerve conduction.
These fatty cells wind around
the axons of nerve cells like the
plastic around electrical wires.
Neurons send messages
across the brain by passing
electrical signals down long,
thin structures called axons.
The cell body houses genetic code and protein factories. Dendrites receive
incoming signals, and the axon passes electrical messages to other cells.
Loss of
to diseases
such as
Sensory neurons detect touch, taste, light, sound and smell. Motor neurons
send signals to the muscles and interneurons connect other neurons together.
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.
Neurons rely on other cells to do their job properly. Astrocytes
maintain chemical balance, oligodendrocytes insulate electrical
signals and microglia guard against infection.
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:
The learner becomes aware
that there is a gap in their
understanding. This can either be
motivating or demoralising.
The learner practises the
skill and starts to learn,
but they need to concentrate
hard to be successful.
The learner is completely
unaware that they lack the
skill, and may even be
overconfident in their ability.
© Getty Images / BRO Vector
The learner masters the skill.
They are now so good at it that
they can do it without thinking.
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?
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?
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.
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.
Although existential depression can be difficult to treat, there are some
methods that can help to ease the angst and isolation faced by sufferers.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
Guilt is a complex and
powerful emotion, but why do
we feel guilt and what happens
when guilt becomes too much?
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?
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 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’.
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…
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
hold energetic
and healing
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.
Sound baths
alter theta
and delta
brain waves,
which trigger
healing and
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.”
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.
© Getty Images / Rudzhan Nagiev / Vectormine
Boost sleep with beditation
Seeking advice for sexual issues is no
longer taboo – here’s why everyone
should consider seeing a sex therapist
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
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
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
worries and
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.
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.”
Could spending time near
water be the key to feeling
healthier and happier?
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’.
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
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,
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
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.
Get the feel-good benefits of water with these
easy ideas to work into your day
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
A relaxing dunk in the tub will deliver benefits, says Catherine.
Add healing minerals that are found in seawater.
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.
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
and menopause
*International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
© Getty Images / fitie, Shutterstock / Good Studio
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.
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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.