Life Between Therapy Sessions.
Choosing to have counselling can be a positive decision, as having a regular session with a trusted professional with whom we've developed a strong relationship can be so helpful in supporting us to work through whatever it is that we are finding difficult.
However, most therapists will only see us for around one hour a week, so it's important to think about the wider context of our lives and to see therapy as a small part of a much bigger support system which we gradually develop for ourselves. Therapy can enable us to work through pain, think, feel and understand who we are in a kinder and often more creative way, but to get the best from the experience we need to pay attention to developing our own self support system rather than becoming passive recipients of our weekly session. Here are a few ways that we can get the most out of our counselling outside of the therapy room:
Begin to notice the changes in our emotions or energy patterns each day. What lifts our mood; what brings us down? Do certain people or situations create more stress? Do we have a tendency to shove uncomfortable feelings aside in order to please others? Are we doing too much and getting exhausted? If we can begin to reconnect with our feelings we can then begin to make changes which feel more self supportive. Some people find keeping a simple journal can be helpful; noting down daily changes in mood and physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach discomfort, back pain etc. and then looking at what else has been going on that day. It can be surprising to discover just how much we can be influenced by sleep and diet patterns, work related stress, relationship conflict and also environmental factors such as seasons and weather.
When we've been feeling depressed or very stressed for a long time, it's easy to get into the habit of bothering less about the vehicle that we live in. Eating erratically, lack of physical exercise and poor sleep habits are all things that can be improved with a little conscious attention. Good body care makes big difference to our sense of self worth so it follows that lying around all day in a pair of skanky pyjamas and with unwashed hair will only bring us further down. 'Fake it til you make it' can be a surprisingly helpful attitude when we feel as though life is grey and pointless. Fresh clothes and clean hair might sound like a waste of energy, but small acts of self care reinforce the truth - we are important and worthy of attention. When we look better - we tend to feel better, even if it's just a little.
Even with reduced appetite it's not a good idea to skip meals; erratic blood sugar levels can have a surprisingly negative effect on mood. Many of my clients report that they feel more prone to anxiety when they've not been bothered about eating. We can also get stuck in a cycle of not eating when we need to - realising we are ravenous, and then shovelling up sweets and snack foods. These are then followed by another blood sugar crash which encourages more of the same. Eat at regular intervals throughout the day and get plenty of fresh colourful foods and good sources of protein. A beige banquet of mostly bakery foods isn't good for body or mood. If we find ourselves constantly eating, a good question to ask is; Does my body need food, or am I really hungry for something else?
Sleeping can be a real problem when we're worried or stressed, but there's lots we can do to improve it. An issue for many of us these days is excessive screen watching. We are surrounded by sources of artificial light, including too much blue spectrum light emanating from our televisions, computers and phones. Staring at a screen late into the evening can leave our brains feeling wired and overstimulated making it harder to sleep. Try and have a screen free period for at least an hour before you go to bed at night. Use blue light filtering apps and extensions such as f.lux for your computer and Twilight for your phone - both free. They work by gradually reducing blue light and increasing warm tones in synchronicity with sunset in your location. Have a no caffeine rule after 5pm and eat dinner earlier so you aren't going to bed on a full stomach. Obviously, sleep and food are vast subjects which I intend to cover in more depth in future posts.
Whether or not you are somebody who enjoys physical exercise there is little doubt that engaging in regular physical activity does wonders for body and mind. The problem is that when we have been feeling depressed or anxious for a while it can feel very hard to motivate ourselves. This probably isn't the time to set unrealistic goals about starting an hour long running programme each morning, but getting out of the house to go for a brisk 15 minute walk each day, or doing 10 minutes of yoga stretches can help reconnect us to our bodies and improve circulation and muscle strength. Starting with what feels manageable can bring a feeling of success and encourage us to do a little bit more. Also, exercise increases our endorphin levels creating a happier state of mind.
Healthy relationships are incredibly important to our well-being and if yours are bringing you down, then this is something you might want to bring to therapy. Either individual or couple counselling can be helpful for understanding what is going on in our relationship with our partner. In other relationships with family members or friends, finding ourselves frequently drained or low after spending time with a particular person might indicate that it would be wise to reduce the amount of time spent in their company? When we are feeling less than resilient we are far more vulnerable to negativity from others and less able to stand up for ourselves. Nevertheless, hiding away and avoiding social activity altogether is unlikely to do us much good. Is there one person we can trust? Can we spend regular time with somebody who won't judge us and helps us feel better in their company? Again this is all part of paying attention and learning to move away from what or who makes us feel worse and move towards what make us feel better.
If we are already in therapy, we can use our sessions to explore a more holistic body and mind approach and work out what is most helpful for us. We are all different, and what works well for some may not be quite right for another. The whole point of counselling is greater self awareness and understanding. Once we begin to discover who we are, we will be more able to work out what works well for us and how to create a more balanced life